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Friday, October 31, 2008

Memorial of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ

- Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ

I posted this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ a couple of years ago, but wanted to again ....

In Honour Of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.

On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A watercolor by Grace

Steve sent me a postcard which pictured a painting by his daughter Grace. I thought I'd post it ....

Cowardly me

Today is the day I was supposed to take Kermit to the vet, but I called and cancelled at the last minute. I was filled with dread from the moment I got up this morning and it only got worse as the day went on. It's not that the vet place is a bad place. I've known the vet for many years and she's very competent, the kind of person who lets you call them at home on a weekend if you're worried about your cat, the kind of person who cried when we put my cat Spot to sleep. The staff is great too. Still couldn't make myself go. Partly it's that Kermit is so terrified of going there that she routinely urinates in the car on the way before descending into a kind of coma of despair - I always feel like I'm betraying her by taking her. Partly it's that I think she's really sick in a way that isn't fixable, and I don't want to hear them tell me that. And to be honest, I'm afraid they'll think I'm a bad cat parent for letting Kermit deteriorate so much. They'd likely be right. I guess I'll remake the appointment in the next week or two. Anyway, thanks to those of you asking about Kermit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008



Tony Hillerman, RIP

- One of Hillerman's most well known mysteries, his second, was Dance Hall of the Dead, which received the 1973 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

I read the other day that novelist Tony Hillerman has died - Tony Hillerman, 83, dies; bestselling mystery author provided insight into the native people and culture of the Southwest (LA Times). I've read a number of novels by Hillerman, who was a purple heart winning infantryman in WWII, and liked them a lot, learning a bit about the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo cultures while being entertained with a mystery. Here's a bit of the news story ...


Bestselling author Tony Hillerman began writing his contemporary mystery novels set in the Navajo region of the Southwest, in part, he once said, because "they have a fascinating religious philosophy and a lot of good values."

And, he told Newsweek magazine in 1989, "they're the very bottom of the pecking order among Indian tribes out here. They're the country bumpkins. And I've always identified with that."

The critically acclaimed author, whose mysteries featured two Navajo tribal policemen and were known for providing insight into the native people and culture of the Southwest, died Sunday. He was 83 .....

Beginning with "The Blessing Way," published in 1970 and introducing Lt. Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police, Hillerman wrote 18 novels featuring Leaphorn and the younger officer Jim Chee and set in the sprawling Navajo region of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

The longtime Albuquerque resident, whose novels were known for their atmospheric blend of contemporary crime and traditional tribal beliefs and customs, remained something of a critically acclaimed cult favorite until his 1986 novel "Skinwalkers" propelled him onto bestseller lists and his mysteries, including "A Thief of Time," began selling millions of copies.

His legion of fans included Robert Redford, who acquired the film rights to Hillerman's mystery series and executive-produced "The Dark Wind," which was released in Britain in 1992, and others for PBS.

Hillerman, whose novels have been published in more than 30 languages, received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1991 ......


Monday, October 27, 2008

Out and about in blogdom

I can't think of what to write today but I thought I'd mention some of the stuff I cam upon on my blog travels this morning ......

Saw a great photo of my friend Susan's husband and son at her blog, Sweet Rocket ....

Saw another photo, this one of Liam, at sententiae et clamores's post, Vote Irish :) ......

I was happy to see a post at Musings from the Big U that let me know I'm not alone in all my views - Where I Stand - and reminded me that I really need to look into World of Warcraft :)

I read a post at the Rev. Susan Russell's blog - From Fr. Geoff - on an interesting day spent by Fr. Geoffrey Farrow, the Catholic priest who spoke out against proposition 8 and was removed from his post. Among other things, he met the Terminator! :)

Ben Witherington has an interesting post on a book by Russell Shorto - Descartes' Bones, which, as Wikipedia notes, traces the wanderings of the literal skull and bones of René Descartes through three and a half centuries, and also traces the metaphorical remains of the French philosopher in the modern world. Sadly, my library doesn't seem to have it, but Ben's post is worth a read - The Architecture of the Post-Modern Mind, Part 1.

James Martin SJ has another interesting post at America magazine's blog - Mad Men, Priests and the Catholic Worldview - on the latest episodes of the tv series Mad Men, and asks astute questions like why is Father dressed up like an altar boy, in cassock and surplice, at the pulpit? Where are his vestments? .....

And finally, I stopped by Fr. Marsh's blog to read one of his past homilies for this week, the 30th week in ordinary time. It's for Luke 18:9-14, a parable Jesus tells of two men who went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector, and of how the tax collector is the better at praying. Here's the homily ....


Sunday Week 30 Year C - October 28th, 2001 - Rob Marsh SJ

This is one of those stories where Jesus turns everything upside down, but, unfortunately, two thousand years and a whole life’s listening have turned it back the wrong way up. We know that Pharisees are the baddies and we know that Jesus used to hang around with tax-collectors and all that knowing takes the sting out of the tale.

How do you put it back? Dominic Crossan tells it this way, ‘A pope and a pimp went to St. Peters to pray …’ (but, as you hear, that just makes us laugh) … I thought of telling it with Mother Teresa and Osama bin Laden … but that made me too uncomfortable.

So, back to the drawing board… Let’s set the scene. It’s the temple … not just any church but the Church, the one place of sacrifice … let’s say it’s time for the afternoon sacrifice and the special moment when the Priest enters the Holy Place to burn incense for the forgiveness of sins. The tax-collector is stuck at the back, not out of humility, but because people like him were kept back so as not to make others ritually impure. The story is all about impurity. To take part in the temple rituals that brought forgiveness and forged a people for God you had to be pure. And that’s not just morally good. All the rules and rituals of the Law, and all the extra ones followed by a Pharisee, were about making sure you didn’t become impure and in that way out of the whole ritual economy of God’s people. And the ways of becoming impure were many—like breaking a Sabbath rule or eating the wrong kind of food or food that had touched other foods or dealing with gentiles or having certain kinds of sickness or touching a menstruating woman or just being a woman. All that or just bumping into someone else who was already impure. Basically, if you were poor or just an ordinary person living from day to day you didn’t have the time or the opportunity to be ritually pure, so you were stuck at the back watching and not taking part. And if anyone was impure it was our tax-collector, who had the dirty job of sitting in his toll-booth squeezing the tax that his boss demanded, because some bigger boss said so, because the Roman governor had levied it.

Our Pharisee, on the other hand, gets to sit up front, close to the action and be so sure of its power that he doesn’t even have to ask for forgiveness—he can just stand up tall and thank God for his good fortune. Our Pharisee was not on his own. Here’s the advice of the Rabbi Judah: ‘One must utter three praises everyday: Praised (be the Lord) that He did not make me a heathen, for all the heathen are as nothing before Him; praised be He, that He did not make me a woman, for woman is not under obligation to fulfil the law; praised by He that He did not make me an uneducated man, for the uneducated man is not cautious to avoid sins.’ Let’s give our Pharisee the benefit of the doubt and presume that he is sincere in his praise of God for making him good and keeping him from impurity. Let’s presume too that he is honest and he really does do what he says he does and isn’t just being a hypocrite like some of the other Pharisees that get the sharp edge of Jesus’ tongue. Well, If they are both honest and both sincere what’s the difference between them? Why does Jesus say the tax-collector is the one who goes home redeemed by God?

It’s not sincerity that makes the difference. It surely can’t be what the two actually have done in their lives because the Pharisee really is good and the tax-collector really is bad—a corrupt, debt-collector, working for the occupying army. It’s not sincerity and it’s not morality and I don’t think its humility either. There’s been so much dodgy stuff taught through the years about not thinking well of yourself as if that could redeem you in God’s eyes. Half of us need to think better of ourselves not worse to be true to God’s own vision of us.

I think that all that separates the two actors in our drama is empathy. The Pharisee has had life so good, so easy, that he has no grasp of what it might be like to have life tough. He doesn’t know what life can be like on the other side of the street. And because he doesn’t have that basic empathy he can slander the debt-collector and the rest of mankind and not know what that feels like. He can’t put himself in the shoes of the grasping, unjust, adulterous of ordinary people. And because he can’t the doors of grace are shut to him. He is a door shut to grace. All God’s redeeming grace finds no opening in him.

Thank God that we who pray here today are not like that Pharisee—self-centred, hard-hearted, and unfeeling … but of course we are like him. We are human. We are all of us, each of us, capable of any heroism and any atrocity. That’s the tax-collector’s gift to us: the empathy to make us one of the crowd, just another sinner, just another human being, just someone else, like him, standing in need of mercy, in hope of redemption. Here we are God; we need you; redeem our lives or they are wasted.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fr. Martin's Jesuit joke

I came across this YouTube while looking for something else - it's one of a series of Fr. James Martin SJ, writer of My Life With The Saints and editor at America magazine, giving a talk about humor and religion. Some good jokes lie within, including one about the Jesuits :) -

Women lectors and Mesiter Eckhart

Edit, edit, edit :)

- here's a YouTube of Fr. Paul Coutinho SJ talking about some of the ideas in his book, How Big Is Your God?

The last part of the book-group sharing at Creighton University's Daily Reflection page is just in, and we're done with the book, How Big Is Your God? by Jesuit Paul Coutinho. There were a lot of things I disagreed with in the book, but also many I liked. One chapter I found especially interesting talked about the difference between having a personal relationship with God and "practicing religion", and used the analogy of a river and a well.

What brings this to mind today is a post I saw at dotCommonweal about the possibility of an official role for women lectors - NEWS FLASH: Pope may allow women lectors!. I'm under-whelmed. Lately I've been more and more discouraged about being Catholic. I seem to disagree with so much and sometimes it's hard to remember what the whole thing is all about - not the perpetuation of an institution but a relationship. OK, yeah, not just a relationship with Jesus/God, but with our neighbor too, but how did we get from "community" to an infallible hierarchy that demands the submission of will and intellect?

Anyway, enough ranting :) Here's a little bit of what Fr. Coutinho wrote in that chapter I mentioned above .....


[...] Meister Eckhart, the great medieval mystic, believed that everyone needs religion as a well to take them to the river of God's love and divine life. This is a wonderful analogy. Wells are fed by rivers of life-giving water, but how often the well - and not the water it can provide - becomes the goal of our lives. Since we are seeking a big God, let's ask ourselves: has the well become the goal of our lives?

It often does. We fortify our well; we decorate it and adorn it with elaborate and beautiful liturgies; we say, "Look at our well. Look at what we've done and how wonderful it is." And we are never taken to the river. The purpose of the well is to take us to the river. The river gives us freedom and salvation. Everyone needs religion, yes. Religion is a means to freedom, but it is not an end in itself. Religion helps us find the river of life and the river of freedom, and it's in the river that we experience the love of God and divine life. A question we must ask ourselves is once we find the river, once we are experiencing the divine love, do we still need the well? Once Paul found the river in his Damascus experience, did he still need the Mosaic law?

Many of us settle for the comfort and security of the well without realizing that the river exists ...... When the Lord comes, he will ask, "Did you know me?" "Have you seen the face of God?" "Have you experienced the Divine?" Did you see the river, or were you so lost in the well that it became an obstacle rather than a pathway to the river? ......


Saturday, October 25, 2008


Song in my head today - Sogno, sung by Andrea Bocelli. Translation of the lyrics below the Tube.


Go, I will wait for you
The flowers in the garden mark the time
Here I will draw the day of your return
You are so sure of my love
You take it away with you
Cupped in your hands
when you touch your face
As you still think of me
And if you need to, you can show the world
The world that doesn't know what life there is
in an uncaring absent heart
Doesn't know what life there is
In that only the heart can feel
Doesn't know.

Here I will wait for you
And steal kisses from time
Time is not enough to erase
The memories and the desire that
Remains closed in your hands
That you bring to your face.
You still think of me
It will follow you and passing me in the city
I'll still be here
Dreaming of things that I don't know about you.
Where is the road that You will take on your return
I dream

Here I will wait for you
And steal kisses from time
I dream
A noise, the wind awakens me
And you're already here.

Ignatius and Aristotle (and Aquinas)

I saw a letter to England's Gordon Brown from Aristotle at Thinking Faith on the subject of the financial crisis, and probably wouldn't have been that intrigued, aside from the Aristotle-having-been-dead- awhile part :) but then I saw that Ignatius was involved, so thought I'd post just the beginning of the letter (read the whole thing at the link) ......


Aristotle writes to Gordon Brown by Joe Egerton

Dear Prime Minister

Please don’t be alarmed at a missive appearing in your Inbox from somebody who has been what you call dead (and we call truly alive) for the last two thousand three hundred years. You may not think of me as the most obvious source of advice as you try to steer the country through the financial crisis, but let me offer you some food for thought. A number of us talk earthly developments over and I have learned from those who have arrived after me – as you will see from the four propositions that I now offer for your consideration, Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius of Loyola have especially enriched my own thinking.

First proposition – Greed is not the cause

It is a large error to regard the crisis in the financial system as caused by “greed”. Greed is the name of a particular type of desire, a particular motive for the activity of acquisition, the activity of obtaining more. To cause the crisis, people had to do things. They had to move from having an inordinate desire to putting it into effect. Ignatius pointed out that he had discussed this in his Spiritual Exercises[1]: when an evil thought comes to me, “I can sin venially by dwelling on it slightly, or admitting some pleasure in the senses, or when I am somewhat slack in repulsing the thought”[2]. Then “I can sin mortally in two ways. The first is when I consent to the bad thought, intending to carry it out if that is possible. The second is when one actually carries out the sin. This is graver… through [the] greater harm [it causes] to other persons.”[3]

Ignatius explains why greed may be a motive but it cannot be the action that causes a crisis. As he says, you need action to do harm – and harm certainly has been done. What was this action that caused the crisis? I say it must have been the activity of seeking more. Eudemus’s[4] note of what I said in my course on Personal and Spiritual Development[5] all those centuries ago is absolutely correct – but there has been a difficulty in translating the Greek. There is no exact equivalent in Latin or English for the words I used – pleonexia to name the defect opposed to the excellence or virtue of justice or integrity, and pleonektikos as the adjective applied to the one who lacks integrity[6]. Pleonexia is simply the activity of acquiring more. I did explain what I meant. I said that the unjust person[7] is pleonektikos, that is somebody who is going round the place always acquiring more good things – or avoiding bad things.[8]

Thomas Aquinas carefully explained exactly what I said in his Commentary [9] and then went on to take exactly the same position that I did in the Summa Theologiae. Because he did not have Latin words that exactly corresponded to the Greek words, he spelt out what he considered injustice to be[10] in the very terms I used. Thomas – according to his English translators - at various points uses covetousness to label this vice. It is highly instructive that that Thomas distinguishes between “covetousness” and “the daughters of covetousness”[11], a series of gravely wrong actions, including violence, perjury and fraud. To these Thomas added treachery, citing as an example Judas’s betrayal of Christ for 30 pieces of silver.

What caused the financial crisis was pleonexia – the activity of acquisition, not just by the bankers but, as far as I can see, by most of the western world; people were borrowing huge amounts to acquire. Of course as they did so – Thomas is quite right to point to the daughters of this vice of acquiring – some did all sorts of other wrong things as well. But only a tiny amount of the damage was done by fraud, and even less by violence. The damage to the system was done by nearly everyone trying to acquire ...........

[1] I am using the translation by George E Ganss SJ of the Institute for Jesuit Sources; references are preceded by EXX.
[2] EXX 35
[3] EXX 36-7
[4] The reference that follows is to fifth book of the Nicomachean Ethics (EN V) – a set of notes of a course on Personal Development given by Aristotle attributed to Nicomachus; but most modern scholars regard EN books 5 to 7 as coming from the set of notes of another course also given by Aristotle made by Eudemus. Anthony Kenny uses the term “Aris­totelian Ethics” to name the three books that are common to the Nicomachean Ethics (EN) and the Eudemian Ethics (EE). But it is probably easier to stick to the traditional way of referring to these texts, which places them in the EN.
[5] None of the works actually “published” by Aristotle in his lifetime (384-322BC) have come down to us other than the Constitution of the Athenians. The texts that have survived are usually described as “lecture notes”; although this is misleading as it gives the impression that Aristotle stood on a podium and “lectured” his pupils. The evidence we have suggests Aristotle conducted something much closer to workshop or seminar – a proposition that explains some of the problems with the texts that have come down to us.
[6] EN Book V section 1, 1129a30 – 1129b30
[7] If we translate “ho dikos” as “the person of integrity” rather than “just person” there is no English phrase that is its opposite in the way “ho adikos” is the opposite of “ho dikos” To get opposites, we need “the just” and “the unjust” or “the righteous” and “the unrighteous”
[8] Ibid, 1129b1 to 1129b11; pleonexia is used by Thucydides to describe the Athenians’ efforts always to expand their Empire; their success in growing their power drove the Spartans to war with them, a war that culminated in the complete defeat of Athens in 404BC.
[9] St Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, Lecture 1.
[10] ST IIa IIae Q59 Art 1.
[11] A phrase of St Gregory the Great discussed at ST IIa IIae Q118 Art 8


Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Shack

I haven't yet read the novel, The Shack by William Young, and don't know if I will, but I've read two interesting reviews of it, one a while ago by Ben Witherington, and a more recent one in Fr. Ron Rolheiser's column.

Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of the book ....

he Shack is a Christian novel by William P. Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk, published in 2007. The novel was self-published but became a USA Today bestseller, having sold 1 million copies as of June 8. It has also maintained its status as #1 Paperback trade fiction seller on the New York Times best sellers list since June 2008 ..... The plot is based on a man, Mackenzie Philips, who has lost his youngest daughter to tragic events. The book is a journey of questioning & discovery and revolves around Mackenzie's conversations with God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and his process of healing ...

Here is a little of what Fr. Rolheiser wrote about the book in his post, Evangelizing the Religious Imagination, and in it he puts forth again an idea that he's mentioned before, that God does not save us from suffering but offers instead a relationship that compensates for that suffering now and redeems it later (why do I so dislike this idea? :) ......


[...] What Young gives us in The Shack is a very healthy theology of God and an insight into the Trinitarian nature of God. Like Pope Benedict's first Encyclical, this book might too be entitled: God is Love. It is a good corrective to many popular and intellectual images of God that conceive of God as cold, distant, impersonal, and needlessly judgmental. The God that you meet in The Shack is personal, warm-hearted, invitational, loving, understanding, with a sense of humor; and He is closer to the God that Jesus preached, the God who embraces the weakness of the prodigal son and the anger of his older brother, who washes the feet of his servants, and who lets his sun shine on the bad as well as the good, than is the God that is often met in popular theology and ecclesiology. The God you meet in The Shack will walk with you, no matter what your journey, and, like the God of Jesus, wants more than anything else that we forgive each other. Judgment, this God says, is not about punishment or destruction, but about setting things right and ultimately about reconciliation and forgiveness.

How does the God we meet in The Shack answer the question of evil? Pretty much like Jesus at the death of Lazarus, when he is asked: Where is God when bad things happen to good people? God, Jesus tells us there, does not necessarily rescue us from suffering and death. Rather He enters into them with us and ultimately, though not immediately, redeems them.

Asked if he could have prevented Mack's daughter's death, God answers: Yes. First, by not creating at all. ... Or secondly, I could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance. The first was never a consideration and the latter was not an option for purposes you cannot possibly understand now.

So what is God's answer to the problem of evil? The God we meet in The Shack replies: At this point all I have to offer you as an answer is my love and goodness, and my relationship with you; essentially what Jesus offers us in the Gospels, not an intellectual answer but a relationship ......


And here's a bit from Ben Witherington's post, Shacking Up With God - William P Young's "The Shack". His review is pretty long and detailed, so I've just pasted a little from the beginning, and then a part farther along that deals with a point that Fr. Rolheiser raises - God's intervention, or lack of intervention in suffering, due to the need of preserving our free will. I have to say, I like better what Ben writes on this issue .....


[...] I want to say from the outset that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, as it involves a lot of interesting theologizing about God and the divine-human encounter, and it clearly has struck a nerve with many people who are longing to have a close encounter with God of the first sort. I am happy this novel can provoke thought and stir up people to reconsider the God of the Bible and what having a relationship with God might mean and be like. And because it is a work of fiction, no one should evaluate this work as if it were an exercise in systematic theology as if it were Barth’s Dogmatics for the Emerging Church, as its aims are much more modest. But there is both good theologizing and bad theologizing that can go on in popular fiction (remember the Da Vinci Code), and so it is certainly fair to ask what is going on in this novel and why has it struck a nerve. This novel is not a literary masterpiece. Its value stands or falls on some of the provocative and interesting things it says about our relationship with God, and it is in regard to its theology that I want to comment in this post. I accept that this novel has gone through various revisions, and rewrites, and could be called a work in progress. What I would suggest is that it needs considerable further theological refinement ........

At one point Jesus in the novel says “To force my will on you…is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful and healthy.” (p. 146). The concept is then broached about how God has submitted himself to our human choices in various ways. The problem with this is it eliminates part of the Biblical paradox. The Bible is all about divine intervention. God is always intruding into our affairs, like a good parent should when his children are as wayward as we are. Is it really the case that God never rescues us against our will? Does God stand idly by, when a normal human parent would leap in and grab the child about to step out onto a highway and be smashed by a sixteen wheeler? Or listen to the following passage on p. 188. God says:

“Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” And then God adds “my love is a lot bigger than your stupidity…I used your choices to work perfectly into my purposes.” (p. 192). Now it is clear enough that Young is not an universalist in the sense that he thinks all will ultimately respond positively to God’s will. But when you once allow that God is busy working all things together for good for those who love Him, whether they realize it or not, then it becomes perfectly clear, as also in cases like when God flattened Paul on the road to Damascus that there are times when God doesn’t wait on our permission to do things on our behalf, and in various cases does things that would have been against our wills at the time. And herein lies the mystery—God, by grace both gives humans limited freedom, but is prepared to intervene and make corrections, redirections etc. for God is free as well, and there is something more important than human beings ‘having it their independent way’ and that is rescuing them. A drowning person can’t save themselves, they require a radical rescue—but how they respond to that rescue thereafter, whether in loving gratitude or with a bad attitude—well that’s another matter and involves human volition.

In other words, the answer to the question of why tragedy happens in the world is not just because God won’t violate our wills, or just because our wills are bent and fallen, and we are the orchestrators of our own tragedies. It’s far more complicated than that ..........


Can't I have the Jesus/God of relationship who respects my free will while still keeping the Jesus/God who intervenes to defeat suffering?

NO on prop 8 ad

In a past post (which seems to have disappeared :) I mentioned some YouTube ads I'd seen for Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage. Today I saw a welcome contrast, a YouTube of a number of religious giving their support for a "no" vote on Prop 8 (hat tip to Susan Russell) ........

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Who speaks for the Church?

Sorry my posts have been so erratic - appearing and disappearing, etc. I'm not getting much sleep with Kermit sick and the "little grey cells" are not functioning within acceptable parameters. Part of the problem too is figuring out what's ok to post ..... my political and religious views seem pretty different from others' and my interests outside those areas are odd too. I don't know where I fit in or what might be of interest, or, solipsistically, if that even matters. But trudging on .....

I saw a post at America's blog today that asked an interesting question and had an answer to it that I liked ..... Who Speaks For The Church? by Michael Sean Winters. Here's a little bit of it ....


Who speaks for the Church in the realm of politics?

The question has been the subject of some controversy in recent days. Bishop Martino in Scranton showed up at a politics forum that was discussing the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference document "Faithful Citizenship." Instead of commending his flock for listening to, and discussing, the bishops’ instruction, he denounced the text: "The USCCB does not speak for me," he thundered ......


The same night the Bishop of Scranton was denouncing his confreres, I attended a presentation by Msgr. Stuart Swetland for the group Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). He gave a fine and even-handed presentation of the Church’s teachings. In the Q-and-A, someone asked for whom he was going to vote and he declined to answer. "I think it is a mistake when a priest indicates who is going to vote for," he said. "You all have to decide for yourselves how to apply the Church’s teachings to the concrete circumstances of the election."

So, who speaks for the Church at election time? You do. We all do.


I agree with this, but how do we decide how to decide for ourselves? :) I've been thinking a lot about why I have the opinions I have on the political issues - why am I so sure same-sex marriage is ok though the Church is against it, why am I pro-choice when the Church is not, why do social programs for the poor, the state of the environment, and the way animals are treated matter more to me than to some other Catholics? I'd like to say my choices are something of a combo of ethical (A Framework for Thinking Ethically - Santa Clara University) and Ignatian (Decision -Making in a Faith Mode - John Veltri SJ) rumination, but I'm not sure. At least, though, the choices are (sort of :) mine.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Finally back ....

... after having my computer crump and then having to find a replacement and a new internet connection. Hope to be back to posting soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jesus and Socrates

There's an interesting post at Fr. Ron Rolheiser's site. It's about a rather famous homily once given by Michael Buckley SJ. I first read about this homily at Fr. Marsh's blog in his excellent post What Makes a Good Priest?

Fr. Rolheiser mentions in his post that the Buckley homily compares Jesus and Socrates, both of whom were put to death by the state for their teachings, and concludes that Jesus was the "weakest" of the two, making him, paradoxically, the better of the two. I like Socrates, and I'm not sure I agree with the homily's assessment of him, but I do really agree with what Fr. Buckley has to say about Jesus' vulnerability, sensitivity, and the absolute worth of those characteristics, not only in a priest, but in all of us.

I tried chopping up Fr. Rolheiser's post but it just wouldn't work, so here is the whole thing .....


Beset By Weakness

Some years ago, Michael Buckley, a Jesuit theologian of exceptional insight, delivered a homily at the first mass of a young man who had just been ordained. His approach was paradoxical. Instead of asking the young man: "Are you strong enough to be a priest?" he asked him: "Are you weak enough to be a priest?"

That's a curious reversal that needs to be understood: The "weakness" to which he is challenging this young man (and the rest of us) is not the weakness of moral failure or sin, but the weakness that Scripture attributes to Jesus when it says that he was "beset by weakness" in every way, except sin.

How was Jesus weak and how are we meant to be weak?

Buckley explains this by comparing Jesus to Socrates in terms of human excellence (as this is often judged). Here is his comparison:

There is a classic comparison running through contemporary philosophy between Socrates and Christ, a judgment between them in human excellence. Socrates went to his death with calmness and poise. He accepted the judgment of the court, discoursed on the alternatives suggested by death and on the dialectical indications of immortality, found no cause for fear, drank the poison, and died. Jesus - how much to the contrary. Jesus was almost hysterical with terror and fear; 'with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death." He looked repeatedly to his friends for comfort and prayed for an escape from death, and he found neither. Finally he established control over himself and moved into his death in silence and lonely isolation, even into the terrible interior suffering of the hidden divinity, the absence of God.

I once thought that this was because Socrates and Jesus suffered different deaths, the one so much more terrible than the other, the pain and agony of the cross so overshadowing the release of the hemlock. But now I think this explanation, though correct as far as it runs, is superficial and secondary. Now I believe that Jesus was a more profoundly weak man than Socrates, more liable to physical pain and weariness, more sensitive to human rejection and contempt, more affected by love and hate. Socrates never wept over Athens. Socrates never expressed sorrow and pain over the betrayal of friends. He was possessed and integral, never overextended, convinced that the just person could never suffer genuine hurt. And for this reason, Socrates - one of the greatest and most heroic people who has ever existed, a paradigm of what humanity can achieve within the individual - was a philosopher. And for the same reason, Jesus of Nazareth was a priest - ambiguous, suffering, mysterious, and salvific.

Jesus was weak in that his sensitivity and love prevented him from protecting himself against pain. Because he loved deeply he felt things deeply, both joy and pain. Sensitive people suffer more than others because their sensitivity leaves them vulnerable and unable to seal themselves off against pain - their own, that of their loved ones, and that of the world. As Iris Murdoch once put it, "A common soldier dies without fear, whereas Jesus died afraid." That shouldn't surprise us. Sensitivity leaves you open to pain.

When we are insensitive we sleep well, even when others are suffering and we may have contributed to that; when we are insensitive we have less fear, especially of hurting others; and when we are insensitive we are, from many points of view, stronger because we are more able to insulate ourselves against pain and humiliation. In the arena of athletics, we admire the player who can absorb a hard hit without apparent effect. To be hard and tough is admirable. That isn't as true in the arena of the soul.

John of the Cross, the great doctor of mysticism, uses the question - How vulnerable and weak are we? - as an important criterion to judge whether or not we are on the right path in following Christ.

We enter more deeply into life, he submits, when we try to imitate the motivation of Christ. But how do we know whether we are doing that or are simply deluding ourselves?

His answer: We know whether or not we are imitating Christ or simply rationalizing our own desires by what begins to flow into our lives. If I am truly imitating Christ, I can expect to experience in my life the things that Jesus experienced in his, namely, a certain vulnerability that leaves me existentially incapable of protecting myself against certain kinds of pain. When I am genuinely imitating Christ, I will find myself "weak" in the same ways that Jesus was weak - more liable to physical pain and weariness, more sensitive to human rejection and contempt, more affected by love and hate, more pained over the state of things, more overextended, more prone to humiliation.

Proper sensitivity lays bare the heart and leaves it vulnerable. That doesn't always make you look good, but that's okay. The best people in the world don't always look good!


Friday, October 10, 2008

Who are my mother and my brothers?

I'm still reading that book by Jesuit Paul Coutinho, How Big Is Your God?. It reminds me of books by William A Barry SJ, perhaps because they're both Jesuits, but I like Fr. Barry's books more, so far, I think because though a lot of their ideas are the same, they're presented more starkly in Fr. Coutinho's book. Here's an example from Chapter 9, Do You Have a Living Relationship with God, or Are You Just Practicing Religion? ......


Here is a little test to determine whether you have a living relationship with God or you just practice religion: Imagine yourself as a passenger on the Titanic, and it is sinking. Then see yourself in a lifeboat all by yourself, safe and secure. Around your lifeboat are little children struggling to stay afloat. You can reach out to them and save them all. But a little off in the distance are your loved ones - your father, your mother, your brothers and sisters, your children perhaps, maybe your spouse or the love of your life. If you do not try to reach out to them, they will all certainly drown and die. Unfortunately, you cannot save both the children and your loved ones. Who would you save?

Now, if you save the children who are physically closer to you and painfully watch your loved ones die, you have the compassion that comes from a deep relationship with the Divine. Your God is an infinite God connecting and unifying all. Who is my father, my mother, my brothers and sisters? Everyone is. And if you reach out to your loved ones because they have supported you and cared for you and you have a relationship with them of mutual dedication and commitment of some kind, this is good, but you practice charity that comes from religion and has the self as motivation. This act of charity is good, but we need to strive to attain the ideal of compassion ...


There are passages in the gospels that seem to support this take. Here's one of them ..... And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." And he answered, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mark 3:31-35)

But I'll never make a good Christian because I don't think I could save others while watching my loved ones die. I'd probably be so conflicted I'd be immobilized and would watch everyone else die while I chewed my nails. I tried to imagine what a really "good" person would do, or at least what a good person in the movies would do :) If this was Die Hard # 5, I think Bruce Willis' character would manage to find a way to save them all, thus resolving the conflict, and I like that idea.

The way Fr. Coutinho's Titanic scenario is set up, it is, at least to me, a no-win situation. I think for Fr. Coutinho, though, it is not ..... for him, one wins when one saves the children, because one person is just like another, interchangeable and of equal value, when you have a living relationship with God. I think he's wrong. It's not that I think some people are more valuable than others, but I thnk love is complicated ..... or maybe that's just what I want to believe because I can't do what's requird.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Them bones, or lack thereof

- Paris catacombs

I saw an interesting post at dotCommonweal - The Empty Tomb: Cardinal Newman’s last laugh?. Another article, this one at Independent Catholic News - Report from 1890 sheds light on Newman's empty grave - had some insight into why the bodies, bones and all, might have so quickly decompiled ......

A vivid first hand description of the funeral of Cardinal Newman published in a Birmingham newspaper the day afterwards may help to explain why no bones where found when his grave was excavated last Thursday.

A long report in the 'Birmingham Daily Post' on Wednesday August 20 1890, ended: "When the rites had been achieved, the crowd without the gates was suffered to enter by batches and see the grave; and then the coffin was covered with mould of a softer texture than the marly stratum in which the grave is cut.

"This was done in studious and affectionate fulfilment of a desire of Dr Newman's which some may deem fanciful, but which sprang from his reverence for the letter of the Divine Word; which, as he conceived, enjoins us to facilitate rather than impede the operation of the law 'Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return'." ......

But you've got to wonder (or I do, having watched way too many episodes of The X-Files) if there's not some convoluted Vatican conspiracy responsible for the lack of remains, or at least some cool event like ascension :) because bones usually do tend to last. An example is in the book I just finished reading, The Magician, where the main characters end up the famous Paris catacombs, surrounded by piles and piles of bones.

At any rate, I'm glad it appears that the man who wrote ... I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John's grave - and I give this as my last, my imperative will. ... didn't have his wish disregarded after all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Compassion and charity

One of the themes of the book I'm reading with that Creighton group, How Big Is Your God? by Paul Coutinho SJ, is the difference the author sees between charity and compassion. He believes that when a person practices charity, they are in control of the situation, can pick and choose when to help, who to help, how much help to give, how much that help will cost them, but when a person is being compassionate, they do not consciously decide to act, they have no control, they are sucked into the situation on an emotional and unconditional level, there's no limit imposed on how much help is given, and they don't count the cost.

When I read this, the thought occurred to me that Jesus' response to those in need is one of the best examples of such compassionate engagement. That reminded me of a homily by Rob Marsh SJ in which Jesus raises the dead son of the widow of Nain, provoked by splagchnizomai. Here's part of Fr. Marsh's homily ....


Thursday Week 24 Year I

[...] To know how Jesus chose you only have to take a look at a word at the heart of today’s gospel—it appears here buried under the weak translation, ‘Jesus felt sorry’. ‘Felt sorry’. Some translators say ‘pity’ and others ‘compassion’ and in some places it’s ‘anger’. It’s an awkward Greek word with the sense of what you feel in your spleen. Jesus feels sorry for the woman—but powerfully, passionately… something convulses his bowels, turns his stomach over—that’s why he puts out his hand and brings a corpse to life.

Luke uses the word in only two other places: he uses it when the prodigal Father can’t help but rush down the road to meet his returning son; and he uses it in the story of the Good Samaritan, where the wrong person is stirred up to do the right thing.

Three events. Three characters who can’t help but act because they have experienced something so powerfully it grabs them in their guts. They experience the need, the pain, the joy, the life, of another human being and feel it like their own—in their innards. It takes a particular kind of weakness to let that happen. A real vulnerability. You don’t learn that vulnerability from a distance. You only learn it through your own pain, your own need, maybe only through failure … when our natural insulation one from another can no longer cope and the barriers go down ......


I feel more comfortable with charity than compassion. It's not that I don't feel compassion (I think), but it calls for involvement and actually sort of hurts (me, anyway). I give money instead, hoping charities will care, so I don't have to. But sometimes the bowel-churning trumps caution - that's how I ended up with my four cats :)

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Pericope Adulterae

- Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Guercino, 1621

A couple of weeks ago I read a column by Fr. Ron Rolheiser that really bothered me - The Problem of Suffering and Evil. I've been thinking about it ever since, trying to find a way, I guess, to prove him wrong.

Here's a little of what Fr. Rolheiser wrote ...


How can there be an all-loving and an all-powerful God if there is so much suffering and evil in our world? Perhaps that is the most difficult religious question of all time. Why does God not act in the face of suffering? ........

Inside of Christian theology, Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, and Teilhard de Chardin, among others, have written insightful books on this question. Christians believe that what is ultimately at stake is human freedom and God's respect for it. God gives us freedom and (unlike most everyone else) refuses to violate it, even when it would seem beneficial to do so. That leaves us in a lot of pain at times, but, as Jesus reveals, God is not so much a rescuing God as a redeeming one. God does not protect us from pain, but instead enters it and ultimately redeems it. That might sound simplistic in the face of real death and evil, but it is not. We see a powerful illustration of this in Jesus' reaction to the death of Lazarus. In essence, this is how the Gospels tell that story:

The sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, send a message to Jesus telling him that "the man you love" is gravely ill. Curiously though Jesus does not immediately rush off to see Lazarus. Instead he stays where he is for two more days, until Lazarus is dead, and then sets off to see him. When he arrives near the house, he is met by Martha who says to him: "If you had been here, my brother would not have died!" Basically her question is: "Where were you? Why didn't you come and heal him?" Jesus does not answer her question but instead assures her that Lazarus will live in some deeper way.

Martha then goes and calls her sister, Mary. When Mary arrives she repeats the identical words to Jesus that Martha had spoken: "If you had been here my brother would not have died!" However, coming out of Mary's mouth, these words mean something else, something deeper. Mary is asking the universal, timeless question about suffering and God's seeming absence. Her query ("Where were you when my brother died?") asks that question for everyone: Where is God when innocent people suffer? Where was God during the holocaust? Where is God when anyone's brother dies?

But, curiously, Jesus does not engage the question in theory; instead he becomes distressed and asks: "Where have you put him?" And when they offer to show him, he begins to weep. His answer to suffering: He enters into peoples' helplessness and pain. Afterwards, he raises Lazarus from the dead.

And what we see here will occur in the same way between Jesus and his Father. The Father does not save Jesus from death on the cross even when he is jeered and mocked there. Instead the Father allows him to die on the cross and then raises him up afterwards ......

And what we see here will occur in the same way between Jesus and his Father. The Father does not save Jesus from death on the cross even when he is jeered and mocked there. Instead the Father allows him to die on the cross and then raises him up afterwards .....


I gave what Fr. Rolheiser wrote a lot of thought because I have a serious emotional investment in believing Jesus/God does intervene. I mulled it over each night and I almost gave up finding an instance of intervention, remebering times in the NT where Jesus came on the scene after the bad thing had happened to someone, and restoring then them. But then I thought of the story of the adulteress in John's gospel (I know that passage is thought to be an add-on and not part of the original text, but it's the only instance I could think of, so I'm not giving up on it).

John 7:53-8:11, the Pericope Adulterae, describes a confrontation between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees over whether a woman, caught in an act of adultery, ought to be stoned. Jesus acts, he intervenes, and keeps the stoning from taking place, rather than standing aside, letting it occur in all its "free-will-ness", and then raising her from the dead afterwards, like he did with Lazarus.

So to those who think God doesn't intervene, I quote the Dude from the Big Lebowski ..... "That's just like your opinion man." :)

OK, maybe I should give some time to figuring out why it's so important to me that God does intervene and make bad things right, rather than letting the bad things happen and somehow redeeming things after the fact, but I doubt knowing why will change my feelings.