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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happy St. Ignatius Day :)



Friday is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Some may wonder why I so like Ignatius. It's because through him I was introduced to a God I had always thought too good to be true. To explain what I mean, I've posted an excerpt below from a book by David Fleming SJ - What Is Ignatian Spirituality?.

The excerpt begins with ex-soldier Ignatius at his family home, recovering from a serious wound. He has nothing to read but a book about the life of Jesus and one about the saints, and slowly he begins to have a spiritual conversion born of experience. What's interesting is that, of course, he was already a practicing Catholic but this conversion experience touched his heart in a new way and taught him something different about God .......

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Gradually, a new and inspiring image of God began to form in Ignatius's mind. He saw God as a God of Love. This was no abstract philosophical concept. God as Love was no longer just a scriptural statement. Ignatius experienced God as an intensely personal, active, generous God, a God as Love loving .....

God's love is unconditional. It is not something we earn, or buy, or bargain for. God does not say, "I will love you if you keep my commandments" or "I will love you if you go to Lourdes." Lying on his sickbed -- in pain, crippled, agitated -- Ignatius came to understand that active loving was God's most outstanding quality. This is his foundational image of God. He arrived at it by "noticing" how God dealt with him in his body, soul, and spirit, and through the people and events in his everyday life ......

This image of God affects how we understand the purpose of our lives. If we think that God loves us only if we act in a certain way, we will see our lives as a time of testing. We need to rise to the challenge, to avoid mistakes, to labor to do the right thing. But if God is Love loving, our life is a time of growing and maturing. "All the things in this world" are ways to become closer to God. Lovers don't test each other. Lovers don't constantly demand that the other measure up. Lovers give to those they love ......

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You can read Fr. Fleming's book, What Is Ignatian Spirituality?, free online, and you can learn more about Ignatius of Loyola at IgnatianSpirituality.com


Tom Reese SJ on health care reform


- Dr. McCoy (Spock in the background)

There's a kind of funny yet disturbing post by Thomas Reese SJ about health care reform at the Georgetown blog - Depressing Health Care Debate. Here's the part I especially liked ....

"The problem [with health care reform] is that voters prefer lies to truth. Doctors still believe that they should be treated like gods with offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Hospitals want to continue business as usual but just be given more money. Patients want a doctor with Welby's charm and McCoy's technology. Oh, yes, and it is to be cheap with no government regulations or insurance forms .... Is depression covered by this plan? Where is my happy pill? "

I'm interested in the health care debate in part because most of the jobs I've had have been working in hospitals, non-professionally, in the surgery. I just sort of fell into working at the hospital when I graduated from college, was starting to lose my vision, and could find no jobs in my major. It was so nice to work there - I got to wear scrubs :), I literally run around the surgery all day (and in my last job all night on the graveyard shift), and I saw stuff and participated in stuff, sometime of a hair-raising sort, that made me wonder about the nature of the human person, about the meaning of life and of death.

Anyway, I hope Fr. Reese is being too pessimistic and that universal health care will soon be not just a hope but a reality.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Adam and Eve's Dog

Here's a poem I saw today :) ....

Adam and Eve's Dog
- Richard Garcia

Not many people know it but Adam and Eve had a dog.
Its name was Kelev Reeshon, which means, first dog.
Some scholars say it had green fur and ate only plants
and grasses, and that is why some dogs still like to eat grass.
Others say it was hairless like the Chihuahua. Some
say it was male, some female, or that it was androgynous
like the angels or the present-day hyena. Rabbi Peretz,
a medieval cabalist in Barcelona, thought it was a black
dog and that it could see the angels which were everywhere
in the garden, although Adam and Eve could not see them.
He writes in his book of mystical dream meditations,
The Sefer Halom, that Kelev tried to help Adam and Eve
see the angels by pointing at them with its nose, aligning
its tail in a straight line with its back and raising one paw.
But Adam and Eve thought Kelev was pointing at the birds.
All scholars agree that it had a white tip on its tail,
and that it was a small dog. Sometimes you see
paintings of Eve standing next to a tree holding an apple.
The misinterpretation of this iconography gave birth
to the legend of the forbidden fruit and the fall from grace.
Actually, it was not an apple, but Kelev's ball and Eve
was about to throw it. One day, although there were no
days or nights as we know them, she threw the ball
right out of the garden. Kelev ran after it and did not return.
Adam and Eve missed their dog, but were afraid to leave
the garden. It was misty and dark outside the garden.
They could hear Kelev barking, always farther
and farther away, its bark echoing as if there were two dogs barking.
Finally, they could stand it no longer, and they gathered
Kelev's bed of large leaves and exited the garden.
They were holding the leaves in front of their bodies.
Although they could not see it, and angel followed,
trying to light up the way with a flaming sword,
And the earth was without form outside the garden.
Everything was gray and without shape or outline
because nothing outside the garden had a name. Slowly,
they advanced toward the sound of barking,
holding each other, holding their dog's bed against their bodies.
Eventually they made out something small and white,
swinging from side to side; it seemed to be leading them
through the mist into a world that was becoming more visible.
Now there were trees, and beneath their feet, there was a path.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?

I've been reading about Nancey Murphy. Here's some of what Wikipedia has on her ....

Nancey Murphy is a Christian theologian and philosopher .... currently Professor of Christian Philosophy at the Fuller Theological Seminary .... Her first book, Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning, won a prize from the American Academy of Religion. The Templeton Foundation awarded it the 1999 Prize for Outstanding Books in Theology .... More recently, Dr. Murphy has written a book entitled Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? .... Murphy serves on the Board of Directors of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. She also serves as an editorial advisor for Theology and Science, Theology Today, and Christianity Today.

I haven't read her book, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?, but I found a 2005 interview with her in which she answers a couple of questions on that subject .....

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As you’ve pointed out, science has made it extremely hard to posit something like the soul that exists independent of the body, or a mind that exists independent of physical processes in the brain. Some would say the dualistic view was never a biblical view to begin with, though it has long been part of Christian tradition. Do you agree?

I follow New Testament scholar James Dunn in holding that the biblical authors were not interested in cataloguing the metaphysical parts of a human being -- body, soul, spirit, mind. Their interest was in relationships. The words that later Christians have translated with Greek philosophical terms and then understood as referring to parts of the self originally were used to designate aspects of human life. For example, spirit refers not to an immaterial something but to our capacity to be in relationship with God, to be moved by God’s Spirit.

It is widely agreed that the Hebrew Bible presents a holistic account of human nature, somewhat akin to contemporary physicalism. The New Testament authors certainly knew various theories of human nature, including dualism, but it was not their purpose to teach about this issue.

Soul language is often invoked when people contemplate the status of a human embryo or fetus, or speak about someone with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a way of saying: there is something here that goes beyond physical reality and deserves respect. Do you think human dignity can be preserved without invoking soul language or something similar?

Much of Christian thinking about the preservation of human life takes a strange detour. We know that Jesus taught us to value all people. His ethic is unusual in the specific focus that he puts on two groups: our enemies and those we consider to be "least of these" (Matt. 25:46). So regarding the most vulnerable of people, we know as Christians that we need to protect them -- and then we invoke the concept of the soul to explain why. But why not just say "because Jesus commands it"?

There may have been a reason in the past to invoke the concept of soul for this purpose. In a culture that was not Christian but did accept dualism, soul language could be used apologetically to argue for protection of the vulnerable. The attempt to use it now for ethical arguments in the public arena simply adds another obstacle, since most secular folk do not believe we have souls (and some don’t even know what the word is supposed to mean).

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You can read a review of Murphy's book, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?, here, where the reviewer sees her argument as mainly against dualism.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

First Principle and Foundation


- Angels of Creation by Edward Burne-Jones

Here's another post about Ignatius of Loyola's spirituality as we approach his memorial day .......

Near the start of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises is the First Principle and Foundation, Ignatius' view of the purpose of life in relationship .... Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created ...

I like the way William Barry SJ describes Ignatius' Principle and Foundation in his book, Letting God Come Close: An Approach to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, because it reflects the experiences I've had myself when I've looked at the stars or the clouds and been filled with a longing to merge with the universe ....

"[...] As it stands in the Spiritual Exercises, the Principle and Foundation is a rather dry theological statement of the reality of the human situation. People often fail to recognize that this set of truths is based not so much on deductions from theological premises as on reflection on lived experience ....

When I have the experience of desiring "I know not what," I am experiencing God as creating me now in all the particulars of my present existence. I do not worry about my past failures and sins or about what the future might hold. I feel at one with the universe and as whole as I could possibly be. Moreover, the desire I experience is the deepest desire within me. That desire is in tune with God's one intention in creating the universe, and this desire can become the ruling passion of my life if I let it .... Ignatius spells out the implications of the foundational experience of God's creative touch in the Principle and Foundation."

What brought this up was a short past Compass article by John English SJ. In it he is responding to an earlier article opining that Ignatius, in his First Principle and Foundation had shown a utilitarian approach to nature, seeing it as having no intrinsic worth but as valuable only in how it can be useful to us. Fr. English disagreed. Here's part of the article .....

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St. Ignatius's Approach to Nature Was Not Utilitarian

- by John English SJ

In her article in the May/June issue of Compass, Anne Lonergan .... traces the origins of the instrumental view of nature and suggests that "the famous `Principle and Foundation' of St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises exhibits the same instrumentality: `Everything else on earth has been created for man's sake.'" As a practitioner of the Spiritual Exercises in the late twentieth century I would like to comment on these words.

While I can understand Lonergan's concern, the actual words suggest relationship rather than dominance, as "for man's sake" implies. The text itself goes beyond the strictly utilitarian: "The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created" (Sp. Exx. [23]). Today we might wish to say, "The other things on the face of the earth are created as companions to assist us and all of the earth to attain the fullness of relationship with God." My experience in listening to people's prayer over the First Principle and Foundation is that they are captivated with the need for freedom with regard to all that is not God--a freedom that involves a correct relationship with all creatures and is negated by the abuse of our companions on the way to union with God ....

Ignatius relates to creatures in a personal way. In the exercises on sin he calls us to "a cry of wonder accompanied by surging emotion as I pass in review all creatures. How is it that they have permitted me to live, and have sustained me in life!...And the heaven, sun, moon, stars, and the elements; the fruits, birds, fishes, and other animals--why have they been at my service!" (Sp. Exx. [60]). Similarly, in the "Contemplation to Obtain the Love of God," Ignatius has us "reflect on how God dwells in creatures...elements...plants...animals....So God dwells in me" (Sp. Exx. [235]).

Besides the misunderstanding of the Spiritual Exercises as a book of doctrines, we also need to be wary of the post-Enlightenment approach to spirituality as a vertical and individualistic relationship with God. This was totally out of Ignatius's ken. His whole life was communal. He realized that salvation and spirituality were communal affairs. So he could see the Spirit of God in all creatures. Today we need to question our post-Enlightenment assumptions and approach the First Principle and Foundation in a more nuanced way ....

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You can read more about the First Principle and Foundation at Ignatian Wiki


Friday, July 24, 2009

The Lost City of Z



My latest book from the library is non-fiction - The Lost City of Z by David Grann, journalist for The New Yorker. Here's what the Wikipedia blurb has ....

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon tells the story of the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett who, in 1925, disappeared with his son in the Amazon while looking for the Lost City of Z. For decades, explorers and scientists have tried to find evidence of his party and the Lost City of Z. More than 100 people perished or disappeared seeking Fawcett. Grann made his own journey into the Amazon, revealing new evidence about how Fawcett died and showing that Z may have indeed existed. The book was optioned by Brad Pitt's Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures

You can read a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal - The Endless Allure of El Dorado - and even watch a little slide show there too.

Read more about Percy Fawcett.


Another hollyhock ...

... this time a white one




Thursday, July 23, 2009

The first Jesuits and mental prayer

As we inch closer to St. Ignatius' memorial on July 31, here's another Ignatian-themed post ....

One of the books I'm slowly reading is The First Jesuits by John O'Malley SJ. Here's an excerpt (pp. 162-64) on the unique contribution made by the early Jesuits to individualized interior prayer -

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In their sermons, sacred lectures, confessional counsel, and catechesis, the Jesuits consistently recommended prayer to those with whom they dealt. This of course included liturgical prayer of the mass and Hours, and the Exercises simply assumed that persons making them assisted regularly or daily at both these functions. Nonetheless, when the Jesuits spoke of prayer and encouraged it, they generally meant something else .... meditation, contemplation, or some other form of interiorized prayer done by the individual. They often somewhat infelicitously termed these forms "mental prayer" .....

The Jesuits were not the first to do this. They borrowed or adapted the techniques and methods for such prayer from earlier traditions. However, their peculiar insistence upon it, their belief that it could be fruitfully practiced by persons of every station, and their access to the handy codification and explanation of methods in the Exercises all indicate that because of them a significant reshaping of the practices of the devout life was underway for many Catholics.

Erasmus's Modus orandi Deum (1524) provided examples of prayers that individuals might compose for themselves and especially tried to foster an attitude to assure that the heart as well as the lips prayed. The Modus was widely diffused and still read in Rome in 1558, as a passing comment by Laínez makes clear. It failed, however, to recommend or explain mental prayer, an omission typical of Erasmus.

In explaining why the Exercises generally effected such great changes in persons who made them, Nadal said that the methods of prayer in the Exercises enabled individuals to penetrate in their hearts and spirit the inner mysteries of Christ's life, passion, death, and resurrection. Thence arose the historical significance of the Exercises: "Briefly, we see that today prayer has collapsed, devotion has disappeared, contemplation been forgotten, and spiritual sensibilities sent into exile ... God wanted through the Exercises to rush assistance to this distressing situation in the church. But you object: this is too much! -- as if we preach that we are the ones who through our Exercises are going to save prayer from utter collapse." Nadal denied, of course, such an arrogant claim. He hoped, in fact, that God might inspire others to discover an even better method of teaching prayer to everybody -- a discovery, we easily infer, that he thought highly unlikely to occur.

In passages like this we get about as close as we can to how the first Jesuits thought they brought succor to the "collapsed" religion of their times. Like the Devotio Moderna and similar movements, they wanted to promote a more intensified interiority, and they found in mental prayer the most direct and efficacious means of doing so on a long-term basis. They were not professedly anti-liturgical, as has sometimes been charged, but they certainly put an emphasis on other forms of prayer as constitutive of an authentic Christian life.

This emphasis perforce reflected the priorities they had established for themselves as Jesuits. Nadal revealed and somewhat overstated the priorities when he described for his fellow Jesuits the difference between public and private prayer:

"Public prayer consists principally in the mass, which has supreme efficacy as sacrament and sacrifice. It also consists in other prayers commonly held in churches, like litanies and similar things. Private prayer is the prayer that each one does in his room, and it ... should always take order and priority over public prayer because of its power, and it especially befits us because we do not celebrate public prayer in common -- we do not have choir. This means that for the Jesuit his room becomes his choir."

In practice, however, Jesuits tried to find ways to correlate "private prayer" with the public prayer that was the mass. This first generation produced three lengthy works that illustrated in detail the correlation they fostered. It is significant that each of them took the texts from the Gospels read at mass during the annual liturgical cycle as the materials for these meditations. Borja, Nadal, and Canisius were the authors ....

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NT Pod



For those who have enjoyed Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway, he has something new .... NT Pod. Here's the blurb ...

Podcast about the New Testament and Christian Origins. Condensed comment from an academic perspective for everyone interested in historical approaches to the New Testament. By Mark Goodacre, Associate Professor of New Testament, Department of Religion, Duke University.

I've just been listening to the latest post, NT Pod 5: Simon Peter in Mark's Gospel, and it's quite interesting, bringing up the idea of skandalon or "stumbling block" (plus, nice accent, Mark :)


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mary M

Today's the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene. James Martin SJ has a post about her at America magazine's blog - The Woman from Magdala - and Andy Alexander SJ has an interesting contemplation about her at Creighton U's daily reflection page. Both of them mention that Mary was not the fallen woman portrayed by the Church for so many years. When looking for some pics of her, I was struck by how very different the representations of her were ......


- Penitent St Mary Magdalene by Titian


- Mary Magdalen by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


- Mary Magdalen in the Grotto by Jules-Joseph Lefebvre


- Mary Magdalen Exalted by Angels by Charles Marochetti


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Inkheart pix

A few photos from the movie Inkheart ....


- Mo (Brendan Fraser) at the bookstore


- Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) and Gwin


- Elinor (Helen Mirren)


- another of Gwin


- Farid, Meggie, Resa, and Mo


- Roxane (Jennifer Connelly)


- Dustfinger reunited with his wife in Inkworld


Monday, July 20, 2009

The discernment of spirits

As it gets closer to the memorial of Ignatius of Loyola, here's another post about Ignatian stuff ....

Perhaps the most important gift of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises is the practice of the discernment of spirits. Ignatius believed that our thoughts, feelings, and moods arise not just from our own interior processes, but can also be the result of the influence of good/bad spirits leading us toward or away from God. Discernment allows us to figure out which voices we are listening to. I find the concept of the discernment of spirits very challenging because it takes for granted the idea that not only good but also evil exists in the world and that we can be influenced by both ......

St. Ignatius of Loyola began to learn about the discernment of spirits while convalescing from serious battle injuries. He noticed different interior movements as he imagined his future .... Ignatius believed that these interior movements were caused by “good spirits” and “evil spirits.” We want to follow the action of a good spirit and reject the action of an evil spirit. Discernment of spirits is a way to understand God’s will or desire for us in our life.

Talk of good and evil spirits may seem foreign to us. Psychology gives us other names for what Ignatius called good and evil spirits. Yet Ignatius’s language is useful because it recognizes the reality of evil. Evil is both greater than we are and part of who we are. Our hearts are divided between good and evil impulses. To call these “spirits” simply recognizes the spiritual dimension of this inner struggle.
- Introduction to Discernment of Spirits

The one book I own that's specifically about the discernment of spirits, Spirit of Light or Darkness? by Jules Toner SJ, has this to say on the subject ....

"What is meant by 'spirits' in this context? By that term we refer to the Holy Spirit and to created spiritual beings (angels, Satan, and demons). There are some who question the reality of created spiritual beings .... Ignatius without doubt was sure of their reality, and we will speak from his point of view. But is there any reason for us to concern ourselves with any spirit other than the Holy Spirit? With the good angels, no: for whatever way they would influence us would be what the Holy Spirit wants them to do. About evil spirits, however, we need to concern ourselves very much. Most of the rules [Ignatius' rules for the discernment of spirits] are taken up with discerning when the evil spirit is acting upon us and how to defeat him. In the context of our study, the term "evil spirit" will be extended to include not only evil spirits in the proper sense of the term, that is, created personal immaterial beings, but also the dispositions of evil within ourselves, the evil structures of society, all that can be a source of inner movements (of thoughts, affective feelings, and affective acts) contrary to what the Holy Spirit wishes to work in our lives through faith, hope, and love. The term will not include in its meaning those antispiritual movements themselves. Some commentators seem to understand evil spirit to mean such movements; They seriously misrepresent Ignatius's thought by doing so."

Most spiritual directors, I think, would tend to emphasize the good and bad spirits Ignatius writes of as metaphor for psychological states, but here's an interesting bit from JP Meier's A Marginal Jew, as published in Jesuit spiritual director William Barry's book With an Everlasting Love .....

... it is important to realize that, in the view of Jesus ... human beings were not basically neutral territories that might be influenced by divine or demonic forces now and then. . . . human existence was seen as a battlefield dominated by one or the other supernatural force, God or Satan (alias Belial or the devil). A human being might have a part in choosing which "field of force" would dominate his or her life, i.e., which force he or she would choose to side with. But no human being was free to choose simply to be free of these supernatural forces. One was dominated by either one or the other, and to pass from one was necessarily to pass into the control of the other. At least over the long term, one could not maintain a neutral stance vis-à-vis God and Satan.

For more on how William Barry SJ sees the discernment of spirits, take a look at How Do I Know I’m Experiencing God?, an excerpt from his book A Friendship Like No Other, posted at the Loyola Press Ignatian Spirituality site.

What made me think of posting on this subject was an article I read yesterday at The Way, a Jesuit spirituality journal, by Fr. Robert Marsh SJ - Discernment of Spirits: A Cosmological View.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Justice

I'm still thinking about that past post with NT Wright's mention of justice. He wrote on the subject of whether allowing all baptized people the chance to be a bishop is just ......

The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.

I don't know much about the philosophy of justice, so I looked up the concept at Wikipedia :) I'd like to mention two interesting things I read there, before I get on with it ...

According to a 2008 study done at UCLA, the idea of what is fair is wired into our brains (Brain reacts to fairness as it does to money and chocolate, study shows), and we are not alone - a 2003 study done at Emory University showed that animals also understand the concepts of fairness and justice (Monkeys reject unequal pay).

But now back to NT Wright and what he wrote about justice not being "treating everyone the same" but "treating everyone appropriately according to their circumstance" ....

Justice is a big topic and even after reading the Wikipedia article (heh heh) I obviously don't understand all the nuances, but one thing I found interesting was one of the ideas of John Rawls, an American philosopher Wright mentioned. The idea is that of Original position.

Rawls thought that people are both rational and reasonable, and though it's rational to want to have one's needs met, it's also reasonable to allow others to meet their needs too, to cooperate. But given that we are all so different in our needs, due to our different situations, how can we find a principle of justice that will work for us all? Rawls imagined a situation in which representatives of citizenry choose a plan that will work for all, based on ignorance of what situation the citizens they represent are actually in ....

the original position — a thought experiment in which the parties are to choose among principles of justice to order the basic structure of society from behind a veil of ignorance — depriving the representatives of information about the particular characteristics (such as wealth and natural abilities) of the parties that they represent. Justice as Fairness is developed by Rawls in his now classic book, A Theory of Justice. (Justice as Fairness)

I can't say I understand Rawls, but from what little I've read of him, I'm not sure Wright used his ideas correctly in his op-ed piece quoted above ..... I mean, Rawls does see the necessity of addressing people's varying needs in distributive justice, but he affirms (I think) that they should be treated equally in that they should have an equal opportunity for goods (even if the equality is achieved by inequal means, like affirmative action) .... if I'm wrong, someone correct me.

More interesting to me is Rawl's idea of the veil of ignorance and how that affects the way we view the decisions we accept or dissent from made not just by our secular society but by our Church. Imagine for a minute that you didn't know what your station in life was. Imagine that there was an equal chance you might be not a Christian, but Jewish, or athesit, or a woman instead of a man, or not straight but gay ..... would you be as sanguine as you now are about the validity of the interpretation of some of the teachings of our Church?


Bluejays


- a western scrub-jay, courtesy of Wikipedia

I think I mentioned that a pair of western scrub-jays lived in the yard and that I'd bought a little plastic bird bath for them. They recently built a nest in the magnolia tree and had one baby, but a few days ago he seems to have fallen out of the nest before he could fly. For a couple of days the mom bird could be seen hanging around bushes near the nest, and I could hear the baby in there chirping. I didn't know if I should try to catch him and put him back in the nest (or actually get my sister to do it for me), and by the time I decided I should, he and his mom had gone missing, dad too. I don't know if they've moved on to greener pastures (my yard is turning brown and crunchy) or if something bad has happened to them, but I miss them :(


Saturday, July 18, 2009

A couple of paintings


- Madonna by Harold Hitchcock


- The Awakening by Thomas Cooper Gotch


Friday, July 17, 2009

Evil into good

Episcopal Cafe video of Bishop Bruce Caldwell telling how presiding at the funeral of Matthew Shepard changed him ....




Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rahner on being a Jesuit


- Spain, 1955, Loyola Castle where Ignatius was born and converted, Scott 867 from Jesuit Stamps

Getting ever closer to the memorial of Ignatius of Loyola :) I thought I'd post this short article I saw at Loyola Press' Ignatian Spirituality page - Why Become or Remain a Jesuit? by Karl Rahner SJ ......

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Many will ask how a modern man can still remain or become a Jesuit. The reply to such a question can only be the very personal one of each Jesuit. I would like to give my own reply to that question in all simplicity even though it may sound somewhat pious.

I still see around me, living in many of my companions, a readiness for disinterested service carried out in silence, a readiness for prayer, for abandonment to the incomprehensibility of God, for the calm acceptance of death in whatever form it may come, for total dedication to the following of Christ crucified.

And so for me, in the final analysis, it is no great matter what credit in the history of culture or of the Church goes to a line of men with a spirit like that, nor does it matter to me if a similar spirit is found in other groups, named or nameless.

The fact is that the spirit exists here. I think of brothers I myself have known—of my friend Alfred Delp, who with hands chained signed his declaration of final membership in the Society; of one who in a village in India that is unknown to Indian intellectuals helps poor people to dig their wells; of another who for long hours in the confessional listens to the pain and torment of ordinary people who are far more complex than they appear on the surface.

I think of one who in Barcelona is beaten by police along with his students without the satisfaction of actually being a revolutionary and savoring its glory; of one who assists daily in the hospital at the bedside of death until that unique event becomes for him a dull routine; of the one who in prison must proclaim over and over again the message of the Gospel with never a token of gratitude, who is more appreciated for the handout of cigarettes than for the words of the Good News he brings; of the one who with difficulty and without any clear evidence of success plods away at the task of awakening in just a few men and women a small spark of faith, of hope, and of charity.

From “St. Ignatius Loyola Speaks to a Modern Jesuit” (1978).

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Health care reform

I haven't been keeping up with the national health care plan debate, but I did notice a post today at Think Progress with this headline .... Right-Wing Escalates Fear-Mongering Rhetoric: Warns Americans Will Die If Health Care Reform Passes. I think what the right-wing means to say is that people "such as themselves" may die - in case they haven't noticed, people have been dying under the present health care system for a long time, but of course they're mostly, you know, the poor. I've spent much of my life without private health insurance and I know what it's like to get health care at the emergency room or at a free clinic, so I do hope we end up with socialized medicine.

Here's some of the Think Progress post .....

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[...] A couple of right-wing congressman voiced similar doom-and-gloom rhetoric on the House floor yesterday:

Rep. Steve King (R-IA): “They’re going to save money by rationing care, getting you in a long line. Places like Canada, United Kingdom, and Europe. People die when they’re in line.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX): “One in five people have to die because they went to socialized medicine! … I would hate to think that among five women, one of ‘em is gonna die because we go to socialized care.”


...

“Many Americans are under the delusion that we have ‘the best health care system in the world,’” the New York Times editorial page wrote in 2007, but “the disturbing truth is that this country lags well behind other advanced nations in delivering timely and effective care.”

Comapred with Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, the United States ranks last in all dimensions of a high performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The United States currently ranks 50th out of 224 nations in life expectancy, with an average life span of 78.1 years, according to 2009 estimates from the CIA World Factbook.

Canada, Great Britain, and many of the other countries that the right-wing enjoys beating up on actually like their health systems and wouldn’t want to trade places with an American. Moreover, Americans don’t get a good bang for our buck. A Business Roundtable study found that compared to France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, U.S. workers and employers receive 23 percent less value from our health care system than the citizens of these other nations ....

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NT Wright and TEC

The Times has an op-ed piece by NT Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, on the recent approval by the Episcopal Church of D025. Here's part of it .....

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationships. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”.

Granted, the TEC resolution indicates a strong willingness to remain within the Anglican Communion. But saying “we want to stay in, but we insist on rewriting the rules” is cynical double-think. We should not be fooled ....

The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire” ....

Contrary to some who have recently adopted the phrase, there is already a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”. It is called the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is now distancing itself from that fellowship. Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level.


I think he's wrong on a whole number of levels, from his reference to scripture (which is an interpretation and there are other interpretations just as worthy), to his dragging in of Jesus at the very end to justify the merits of exclusion over inclusion and tradition over justice.

But there's a rebuttal to Wright's Times piece that is much more detailed at Seven whole days, a blog by Episcopal priest Scott Gunn -
When Tom Wright gets it totally wrong…

Here is just the last bit of Scott's post .....

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But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. - from Wright's Times article

Whaaa? One begins to wonder if Bishop Wright ever read the bits before Matthew in his Bible. Or if he is aware of the practice of polygamy in Muslim cultures. Sure, Medieval Christianity decided that lifelong marriage between one man and one woman was the ideal, but those same Christians taught clerical celibacy. I encourage Bishop Wright to read his Hebrew Scriptures before he says that Jewish and Christian teachers have “always” taught his view of marriage. I wonder if he still adheres to Jesus’ teachings on, say, divorce? If you want to look more broadly, I wonder if Bishop Wright sold all his possessions and gave the money to the poor when he became a follower of Christ? Mostly, I’m astounded at anyone who cites a “Biblical view of marriage” as if that settles it. It’s all much more complicated than that. It’s about love, fidelity, and faithfulness, mostly.

Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. - Wright

So I guess that would make racism or slavery A-OK. Both racism and slavery are very Biblical, by the way. No, I’m afraid Jesus didn’t put any asterisks on the Great Commandment. It is not “love SOME neighbors” but love all neighbors. I find it fascinating that Bishop Wright here argues for contextual or situational ethics and then pretends to cite timeless cross-cultural values in another sentence.

Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level. - Wright

Ah, now the punchline. This was all a justification for supporting the supposed conservative victims. The problem with the fiction of pastoral provision for conservatives is that they are not, in fact victims. No one has ever asked them to leave. No one has said women priests or straight priests have to be in every congregation. Congregations are free to call lesbians or WASPy men, as God guides them. No one will have to perform same-sex blessings. Seminarians can go to Nashotah House or EDS.

But it’s much more convenient to justify schism if one plays the victim card.

Let’s all be clear about two things. First, the Episcopal Church is (imperfectly, to be sure) trying to answer God’s mission imperatives in this place and in this time. Second, we are committed to our bonds of affection with our sisters and brothers overseas. To say otherwise is to distort the truth and to refuse to listen to what our General Convention and our Presiding Bishop have repeatedly said.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Martyrdom Scenes



Pretty soon it will be the memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (July 31) and so I've been looking at Ignatius-related art. One interesting item I found was the Martyrdom Scenes at Santo Stefano Rotondo, the National church of Hungary in Rome, which in 1579 came into the hands of the Hungarian Jesuits. Here's a bit about the the art above from the Web Gallery of Art ....

"The centrally planned sixth-century church of San Stefano Rotondo was restored under Gregory XIII, partly in accordance with his papal bull of 1580 uniting the colleges for German and Hungarian Jesuits at the site. Around the periphery of the interior of the church, Niccolò Circignani, who had worked for the pope at the Vatican Palace, led a team of artists that painted a fresco cycle of thirty-one scenes of explicitly graphic martyrdoms. Beginning with Christ's Crucifixion, it continues through the execution of the Apostles and early Christian saints - appropriate subjects for the Early Christian martyrial structure. The cycle derives from a book commissioned by Ignatius of Loyola to instruct the faithful and to provide a focus for meditation on the Gospel stories through both notes and images. The frescoes are notable for their blatant didacticism, uniting words to images. Each martyrdom carries a hortatory biblical inscription across the top and each has double caption below - one text in Latin, another translating Latin into Italian - which identifies the figures in the painting."


- church interior


Basque priests / Spanish Civil War

Given the upcoming movies, There be Dragons, about Opus Dei founder Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer and his years during the Spanish Civil War during which time he has been said to be a supporter of Franco, I was interested to see this story today at Independent Catholic News about the Basque priests killed by Franco's side during the war - the Church supported Franco's 1936 insurgency against the left-wing Republican government, but the Basques, including their priests, were mostly Republicans ......

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Spain: Bishops apologise for Church silence over Civil War killings

A memorial service was held on Sunday, for 14 priests executed by Franco’s forces in the Basque Country during the Spanish Civil War.

The bishops of the Basque Country have issued an apology for the Church’s silence over the episode. None of the priests was given a proper funeral, nor did most of them have their deaths registered.

Speaking at the Mass in the Cathedral of the Basque regional capital yesterday, The Bishop of Vitoria, Miguel Asurmendi, said: “today we settle an outstanding debt, for the unjustifiable silence of Church officials over the deaths of the priests…" "Such a long silence was not only a wrongful omission, but a lack of truth and an act against justice and charity, for which we ask pardon," Bishop Asurmendi said.

The service was attended by the Bishops of Bilbao and San Sebastián, representatives of the Basque government and other politicians, more than 200 priests, and friends and family of the priests who died.

Bishop Asurmendi asked for forgiveness in the name of the Church in the Basque Country, saying the intention is not to ‘reopen wounds’ but to help to heal them. He called on God to give the Basque people the strength they need to reject violence as a way of resolving differences and conflict.

Only two of the deaths were recorded on parish registries, and the remaining 12 are now to be officially registered, with details also on each of the priests to be published in the official bulletin of their respective dioceses.

The apology marks the first time the Church in Spain has expressed any remorse for its role in the Spanish Civil War. The Church hierarchy supported Franco from the moment the war began in 1936 and continued throughout the 40-year dictatorship.

The priests, killed in 1936 and 1937, had been officially forgotten. The "painful circumstances" surrounding their deaths were unknown, Bishop Asurmendi said, but "testimony from many of their parishioners and companions indicates they were seized while they carried out their duties. For years their names were relegated to silence.” Two of the priests were known to have been shot.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

God calls any individual

In a (spiritual) galaxy far far away (from Catholicism) there's a church that believes that God has called and may call any individual in the church to any ordained ministry.

I've been trying to keep up with what's happening with the Anglican Communion and saw in the news today that the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church (The House of Deputies) has, at their General Convention adopted a resolution by more than a 2-1 margin that declares the ordination process of the Episcopal Church open to all individuals. In other words, they voted to bypass the ban placed on consecrating gay/lesbian bishops imposed during the last Lambeth conference. The resolution must still be voted on by the House of Bishops.

UPDATE - The House of Bishops has passed an amended version of Resolution D025 by a nearly 2-1 margin. You can read more about it at Susan Russell's blog.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who had given a sermon at the Episcopal General Convention a few days ago that basically told them not to do this, expressed his "regret" about the vote .... "It remains to be seen whether the house of deputies will be endorsed by the house of bishops. If they choose to block that then the moratorium stands .... I regret the fact there is no will to observe a significant part of the moratoria." - Guardian

I saw a comment to all this to a post at Thinking Anglicans that so well expressed my feelings, I thought I'd post it ....

What an unfortunate comment by the Archbishop!

Throughout the process of ACNA setting up its schism in North America, he has been repeatedly asked to support the Episcopal Church and disown the schismatics, yet has said absolutely NOTHING. Yet, when the overwhelming majority of the laity and clergy of TEC give expression to what is, after all, the sensus fidelium, he intervenes immediately, even before the bishops have voted, to try to influence the outcome.

There is something very wrong with his view of how the Church works here. TEC cannot operate in defiance of the sensus fidelium in the reality-ignoring way which the C of E bishops are used to. If two thirds of the fathful believe that discrimination is wrong, then there is no point in trying to cajole them to act otherwise. Such tactics only work in England becase the laity are so supine: but then they are also losing interest in their national church fast, perhaps as a result of a history of such poor, and essentially high-handed, governance.
- Posted by: Fr Mark on Monday, 13 July 2009 at 12:38pm BST


Imagine .... a church that believes God calls any individual .... it sounds like science fiction, but it shouldn't.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Nothing but the hurt left here.
Nothing but bullets and pain
and the bled out slumping
and all the fucks and goddamns
and Jesus Christs of the wounded.
Nothing left here but the hurt.

Believe it when you see it.
Believe it when a 12-year-old
rolls a grenade into the room.
Or when a sniper punches a hole
deep into someone’s skull.
Believe it when four men
step from a taxicab in Mosul
to shower the street in brass
and fire. Open the hurt locker
and see what there is of knives
and teeth. Open the hurt locker and learn
how rough men come hunting for souls.
- Brian Turner

The title of a recent movie is taken from the poem above. The movie is, as Wikipedia states ....

... a 2008 American award-winning war thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Shot on location in Jordan, the film is based on recently declassified information about a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) (bomb squad) team in present day Iraq. The Hurt Locker is written by Mark Boal, a freelance writer who was embedded with a bomb squad ....

I was looking around Roger Ebert's movie site and chanced upon his review of The Hurt Locker, and though I'm not normally a fan of modern war movies, peace-nik that I am, I was intrigued enough because of the poem to read the review (4 stars) and then Ebert's blog post on the film. Here's a little from the blog post .......

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"The Hurt Locker" represents a return to strong, exciting narrative. Here is a film about a bomb disposal expert that depends on character, dialogue and situation to develop almost unbearable suspense. It contains explosions, but only a few, and it is not about explosions, but about hoping that none will happen. That sense of hope is crucial. When we merely want to see stuff blowed up real good in a movie, that means the movie contains no one we give a damn about.

We care a lot about the people in "The Hurt Locker." It does what many good movies does, and gives us a feeling for the personalities and motivations of its characters. What happens to Staff Sgt. William James matters to us. He is a brave and complicated man, and we worry about him. It is a good thing he is doing. He is risking his life to defuse bombs intended to kill and maim not only military forces but random civilians.

But my purpose is not to praise "James," as everybody always calls him. It is to praise Kathryn Bigelow, who comes into full focus in this film as an artist in the classical Hollywood tradition. She is, I wrote in my review, "a master of stories about men and women who choose to be in physical danger. She cares first about the people, then about the danger." If we create a list of other directors who did that, even crusty old Howard Hawks and Sam Fuller, it is safe to say they would have admired, even envied, "The Hurt Locker."

The film's action involves James (Jeremy Renner), Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), the head of his support team, and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), an unseasoned rookie who is scared to death half the time. These three venture in their armored vehicle into the streets of an Iraqi city to a suspected bomb site, where James puts on a cumbersome protective suit designed to shield him from a possible blast. Then he walks up to a bomb and hopes to dismantle it. He hopes the suit does its job, but there's no guarantee ......

"The Hurt Locker" is completely apolitical. It has no opinion on the war in Iraq, except that there is one, and brave men like James and Sanborn are necessary, and rookies like Eldridge of course are sometimes terrified, and will get no quicker sympathy than from veterans like Sanborn and James. In that sense, "The Hurt Locker" is arguably the most pro-Army feature to emerge from the war. Pro-Army, not pro-war. But the U.S. military declined to assist in its production or allow the film on a U.S. base, and the Bigelow team shot with its own resources in Jordan, sometimes within three miles of the Iraqi border. It was not an easy shoot. Renner speaks of boards with nails in them being dropped on them from rooftops, and he was shot at more than once .....

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I don't know if I'll see the film - it's a strange thing for me, the tension between the anti-war part of me that hates violence, and the part of me that is weirdly interested by it anyway, at least in movies and books. Maybe that's the thing - modern war movies make the situation so real that I can't so easily distance myself from the violence of it, as I can in for instance Stargate Atlantis .... more grist for reflection :)

Here's the trailer ....




Friday, July 10, 2009

More yard pix


- a rose of one of the bushes I planted long ago


- baby orange, about the size of a golf ball. It looks like it belongs to that branch it's next to, but that's actually a plum tree


- the little plums are done


- under the walnut tree


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Happy Birthday, Tesla


- David Bowie as Tesla

Today's the birthday of inventor, physicist, mechanical and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, and since a past post I did on him has gathered more hits than almost any other, I thought I'd wish him the best. Here below is a video of the bits from the movie The prestige which have to do with Tesla (played in the film by David Bowie). What's amazing is that pretty much all that's shown in the film about him is true .... Thomas Edison's smearing of his work, his science lab in Colorado Springs where he discovered terrestrial stationary waves within the earth and lit neon tubes by conducting electricity through the ground, and his work on a teleportation device.

The video begins with a magician (played by Hugh Jackman) talking to an assistant at Tesla's Colorado lab, then seeing a public demonstration of his work on electricity, meeting Tesla himself to ask him to build a teleportation device for his magic act, the destruction of Tesla's lab, and the delivery of the device ......




- Publicity picture of a participant sitting in his laboratory in Colorado Springs with his "Magnifying Transmitter" generating millions of volts. The arcs are about 7 meters (23 ft) long.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ignatian spirituality and GMOs

In reference to my last post, I thought I'd put up one of the articles I linked to at the bottom as it's very short and I really liked it :) ....

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Genetic Engineering Evaluated from the Perspective of Christian and Ignatian Creation Spirituality

By Roland Lesseps, S.J, Promotio Lustitiae,
Social Justice Secretariat,
Society of Jesus (Rome). 2003
http://www.sjweb.info/sjs

Introduction: My Position Concerning GMOs

My position on the questions raised in the Introduction is that the evidence we have now does not support promotion of GMOs in agricultural systems. The present GE technology does not permit the insertion of the foreign DNA into a particular location on the host chromosome, nor the addition of the normal regulatory mechanism. Insertion of DNA can cause deletions and rearrangements of the original DNA at the insertion site. This information helps us understand that GE is significantly different from conventional breeding techniques.

I think that our human family should, at the very least, follow the precautionary principle and not adopt a technology that is still inadequately tested. We already have many examples of serious problems brought about by our not being able to see the undesirable consequences caused by our use of what seemed to be a wonderful benefit, e.g the insecticide DDT was later found to lead to death of bird embryos by thinning the egg shells and to cause cancer. The refrigerant gas chloroflourocarbon was found to be destroying the ozone layer, and the tranquilizer thalidomide caused severe abnormalities in over 7000 children born of women who took the drug during pregnancy.

I will not in this short article attempt to give elaborate answers to the above questions about GMOs, partly because I am sure that most of these questions will be addressed by others in this issue of Promotio Iustitiae. Rather, what I will try to do is offer some reflections on genetic engineering that arise from our Judaeo-Christian and Ignatian spirituality.

Judaeo-Christian creation spirituality and GMOs

A fundamental principle to guide us in our reflection about GMOs is that all of God’s creatures have intrinsic value, in and of themselves. Nature is not just useful to us humans, but is valued and loved in itself, for itself, by God in Christ. A scriptural basis for this appreciation of all creatures is in Genesis 1: "God saw that it was good…God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good." This is an amazing statement, points out Sallie McFague: "God does not say that creation is good for human beings or even, more surprising, good for me, God, but just good, in fact very good. God is saying that nature is good in itself -- not good for something or someone but just plain good. God’s pronouncement here is an aesthetic one: appreciation of something outside oneself, in itself, for itself. The writer of the first chapter of Genesis leaves no doubt that the goodness of creation is its message: it is repeated seven times in the space of 31 verses. How have we missed this?"

If we are willing to shift from an anthropocentric view of other creatures and recognise that other creatures have intrinsic value, then we will be able to accept that these creatures also have rights including the right of each species to preserve its genetic integrity. Sean McDonagh puts it this way: "From an ethical perspective the nub of the issue revolves around whether other creatures have 'intrinsic' value. If they do, then it seems logical to argue that they have rights that their own 'specialness,' especially the species boundary, be respected by another creature."

Thomas Berry attributes the cause of the present environmental crisis to "the effort of western peoples to produce a civilization that recognizes the rights of humans and grants no rights to any other mode of being." Berry, however, claims that "every component of the Earth community has three rights: the right to be, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfil its role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community." Fitting well with these rights is certainly the right of each species to preserve its genetic integrity.

Ignatian creation spirituality and GMOs

God’s appreciation of creatures as very good is clearly reflected in Ignatius' relation to creatures. It is striking that David L. Fleming expressed this Ignatian thought as the obligation we have to appreciate and use these gifts of God insofar as they help us toward our goal of loving service and union with God. We who are made in God's image ought to reflect God’s attitude toward nature: appreciation. We are to appreciate things in themselves, for their intrinsic value. "Neither Genesis nor the Exercises offer licence to misuse the things God made. On the contrary, 'insofar as any created things hinder our progress toward our goal, we ought to let them go' is freedom and respect, not abuse and rebellion."

This Ignatian approach to creatures, which he shares with Francis of Assisi, may be even clearer in the Contemplation for Learning to Love Like God. God dwells within all creatures. "The world is charged with the grandeur of God," wrote Gerald Manley Hopkins. We experience the creative love of God flaming at the core of all creatures and are moved to respond with our own deep love, love for God and for all God’s creatures, a love expressed in our deeds. "The Contemplatio proposes a reverential respect for all things. It calls for the threefold relationships among God, humans, and nature to be not only respectful and generous, but also loving."

God labours and works in all creatures, continually calling them out of chaos and nothingness. God continues to create all things at each moment. If, through some impossibility, God would ever cease creating, we would all immediately disappear back into nothingness. This "work" of our Creator God is very different from that of a human tinker, fixing, adjusting, mending, repairing. John F. Haught presents the theological position that our God is humble, self-emptying, suffering love.

"Since it is the nature of love, even at the human level, to refrain from coercive manipulation of others, we should not expect the world that a generous God calls into being to be instantaneously ordered to perfection. Instead, in the presence of the self-restraint befitting an absolutely self-giving love, the world would unfold by responding to the divine allurement at its own pace and in its own particular way. The universe would then be spontaneously self-creative and self-ordering."

God lovingly renounces domineering omnipotence and allows the universe to evolve without divine intervention, even with all the suffering, struggle, waste, and loss that have occurred. It is Ignatius' dream for us in the Contemplatio that we imitate this divine self-restraint, God's humble love. The application of this to the GMO debate is obvious: we should abandon our arrogance and our acceptance of the principle that, because we can, it is good for us to modify the genetic makeup of other creatures in such a profound way.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Falling star


- by Witold Pruszkowski

I thought of this painting when I read a homily today for week 14 at Fr. Marsh's blog ...... "I saw satan falling from the sky like lightning." ...... It's worth a read.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Below is a video of the President hosting a reception for LGBT Pride Month in the East Room of the White House on June 29, 2009. Back when Obama was running for president, I felt he wasn't really behind gay rights (my post on Gavin Newsom), I guess only time will tell, but I do feel better about him. Good speech, I thought ....




Sunday, July 05, 2009

The historical Mary


- The Girlhood of Mary Virgin by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I saw an interesting post at Far From Rome about The brothers and sisters of Jesus, and it made me think about Jesus' mother, Mary. In looking around, I came across a 2005 America magazine article about the historical Mary (no immaculate conception/perpetual virgin stuff :) . Here's part of it .....

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The Historical Mary

[...] Focusing on Mary’s Jewish roots, writers like Raymond E. Brown, S.S., in The Birth of the Messiah, John P. Meier in A Marginal Jew and Elizabeth A. Johnson in Truly Our Sister have carefully examined the religious, economic, cultural and political circumstances of her daily life. The scene they reconstruct is quite different from the idyllic portraits of medieval artists and the serene rhapsodies of musicians and poets.

Mary was actually called Miriam, after the sister of Moses. Most likely she was born in Nazareth, a tiny Galilean town of about 1,600 people, during the reign of Herod the Great, a violent puppet-king propped up by Roman military might. Nazareth was of little consequence for most Jews: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). It is never mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, nor in the Talmud. Mary spoke Aramaic, with a Galilean accent (see Matt 26:73), but she also had contact with a multilingual world. She heard Latin as it slipped from the tongues of Roman soldiers, Greek as it was used in commerce and educated circles and Hebrew as the Torah was proclaimed in the synagogue.

She belonged to the peasant class, which eked out its living through agriculture and small commercial ventures like carpentry, the profession of both Joseph and Jesus. This group made up 90 percent of the population and bore the burden of supporting the state and the small privileged class. Their life was grinding, with a triple tax burden: to Rome, to Herod the Great and to the temple (to which, traditionally, they owed 10 percent of the harvest). Artisans, who made up about 5 percent of the population, had an even lower median income than those who worked the land full time. Consequently, in order to have a steady supply of food, they usually combined their craft with farming.

The picture of the Holy Family as a tiny group of three living in a tranquil, monastic-like carpenter’s shop is highly improbable. Like most people at that time, they probably lived in an extended family unit, where three or four houses of one or two rooms each were built around an open courtyard, in which relatives shared an oven, a cistern and a millstone for grinding grain, and where domestic animals also lived. Like women in many parts of the world today, Mary most likely spent, on the average, 10 hours a day on domestic chores like carrying water from a nearby well or stream, gathering wood for the fire, cooking meals and washing utensils and clothes.

Who were the members of this extended household? Mark’s Gospel speaks of Jesus, “the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here among us?” (Mark 6:3). Were these “brothers and sisters” children of Jesus’ aunt (see John 19:25) and therefore cousins? Were they Joseph’s children by a previous marriage? We do not know their precise relationship to Jesus and Mary, but it is probable that they all lived in close proximity within the same compound.

In Palestine at that time, women ordinarily married at about 13 years of age in order to maximize childbearing and to guarantee their virginity, so it is likely that Mary’s espousal to Joseph (Matt 1:18) and the birth of Jesus occurred when she was very young. Luke indicates that Mary gave birth to Jesus during a census required by the Romans around 6 B.C., in a cave or stall where animals were stabled. A feeding trough served as his crib, as today poor refugees use cardboard boxes and other homemade artifacts as makeshift beds for newborn infants.

It would be a mistake to think of Mary as fragile, even at 13. As a peasant woman capable of walking the hill country of Judea while pregnant, of giving birth in a stable, of making a four- or five-day journey on foot to Jerusalem once a year or so, of sleeping in the open country like other pilgrims and of engaging in daily hard labor at home, she probably had a robust physique in youth and even in her later years. We also err when we picture her as Fra Lippo Lippi’s gorgeously dressed, blue-eyed, blond-haired Madonna, who often adorns Christmas cards. Whether she was beautiful or not, she would have had features like those of Jewish and Palestinian women today, most likely with dark hair and dark eyes.

It is doubtful that she knew how to read or write, since literacy was extremely rare among women of the time. The culture was highly oral, with public reading of the Scriptures, the telling of stories, the recitation of poems and the singing of songs.

A Jewish culture permeated Mary’s life. One might legitimately ask: Did she keep a kosher kitchen? Was there a mezuzah on the doorpost of her family’s modest home in Nazareth?

Her husband, Joseph, seems to have died before Jesus’ public ministry began. We know that Mary herself, however, lived through the time of that ministry (Mark 3:31, John 2:1-12). Her separation from Jesus as he went out to preach was undoubtedly painful for her. In a passage that has always embarrassed Mariologists, Mark tells us that Jesus’ family thought him mad (Mark 3:21); but what mother, upon seeing her son challenge Roman authority rather dauntlessly (this often meant death), might not have said to him, “Are you crazy?”

John tells us that Mary was present at Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:25-27), though the other evangelists are silent about this. At that time she was probably close to 50 years old, well beyond the age at which most women in that era died. She lived on at least into the early days of the church. Luke states that she was in the upper room in Jerusalem with the 11 remaining apostles “who devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women...and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). The lovely paintings and icons of Pentecost that picture the Spirit descending on Mary and the 11 apostles hardly do justice to Luke’s text, which indicates that she was there with a community of 120 persons.

After Pentecost, Mary disappears from history .......

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Hasta la vista, baby



Sarah Palin resigns from office and the wildlife of Alaska breathe a sigh of relief (me too :). Think Progress wonders if she's resigining ahead of a scandal ..... Did an embezzlement scandal force Sarah Palin to resign?


Library booty

My latest books from the library ....

Another novel about art restorer and Israeli agent Gabriel Allon (Moscow Rules). In this one, he must forge a Mary Cassatt painting in order to catch a Russian arms dealer who's hanging out in Saint-Tropez :)


- Lydia Seated in a Garden with a Dog by Mary Cassatt


- the old port at Saint-Tropez

And I'm just starting Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History, about the behind-the-scenes stuff at the natural history museum in New York City. The author is one of the two guys who wrote Relic, one of my favorite books. The blurb on the book from the writer's site ....

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is one of the best-loved museums in the United States. Some four million people come through its doors every year. They marvel at the dinosaur skeletons, the meteorites, the elephants and the gems. And yet less than five percent of the Museum’s collections are on display.

Beyond the exhibition halls, along seemingly endless corridors, basement rooms, attic vaults and locked cabinets, the Museum houses a veritable stockpile of world records: the biggest elephant tusks, the finest uncut emerald, the world’s smallest beetle, millions of spiders, butterflies, dinosaur bones, whales, diamonds, gold masks, gigantic rubies, thousands of mummies, shrunken heads, and much more.

How was all this started? Who amassed these fabulous collections, and how? Here you will read the true story of the discovery and transportation of the world’s largest meteorite; the discovery of the first T. Rex; the incredible theft of the Star of India in the biggest jewel heist in history; the bizarre story of the Copper Man; the failed search for the “Arctic Atlantis,” and much more. You will read stories of expeditions to the ends of the earth, true tales of heroism, defeat, discovery, death, madness, and even murder—all in the pursuit of science.


WooHoo! :)

Here's a little video for the museum .....




Thursday, July 02, 2009

Doubting Thomas


- by Carl Heinrich Bloch


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The first Jesuit university



I saw today that Mark Goodacre, professor of New Testament studies at Duke, is blogging his trip to Rome, where he will be participating in the SBL International Meeting taking place at Pontifical Gregorian University. Mark has some interesting reflections and photos too :)

Here's a little about the university from Wikipedia ....

Pontifical Gregorian University (Italian: Pontificia Università Gregoriana) (also known as the Gregorianum) is a pontifical university located in Rome, Italy. Heir of the Roman College founded by St Ignatius of Loyola over 450 years ago, the Gregorian University was the first Jesuit University. Containing faculties and institutes of various disciplines of the humanities, the Gregorian has one of the largest theology departments in the world, with over 1600 students from over 130 countries.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order) established a "School of Grammar, Humanity, and Christian Doctrine, Free." On February 18, 1551 in a house at the base of the Capitoline Hill. St. Francis Borgia, the vice-king of Catalonia (who became a Jesuit himself) provided financial patronage. With a small library connected to it, this school was called the Collegio Romano (Roman College). Within the first year, due to the number of students, the site was transferred to a larger facility behind the church of San Stefano del Cacco. After only two years of existence, the Roman College already counted 250 alumni .......




You can visit the university's web page here.