Friday, March 28, 2008

Order through Prayer

In teaching my students about what it means to be an image of God, a much clearer view of human nature has emerged within my own spiritual vision.

What is natural to man? Is indulgence in worldly affairs natural? Is revelry in sexual adventure that which completes man? Are we naturally bound to the desire for the accumulation of material goods? To know what is natural to man, one must first know man’s nature.

To say that something is natural, one is claiming that that which is deemed natural is in accordance with the nature of the thing being observed. For example, is it natural for a fish to swim? Of course it is. By observing the nature of the fish, the conclusion is easily reached that swimming is natural to the fish, for that is in accordance with its nature. A fish that doesn’t swim quickly dies. A bird that doesn’t fly falls to its death. A man that doesn’t pray is crushed under the weight of the world, for he is not made for the world in both his and its present state.

What, then, is man’s nature? The answer is both simple and profound -- man is an image of God. The image must tell us something of that which it reflects, and if the image is a reflection of the eternal, then to reflect eternity for all eternity is what is natural to it. This is confirmed by St. Gregory of Nyssa in his Catechetical Orations in which he writes:

If humanity is called to life in order to share in the divine nature, it must have been suitably constituted for the purpose…That is why humanity was given life, intelligence, wisdom, and all the qualities worthy of the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire what is akin to it. And since eternity is inherent in the godhead, it was absolutely imperative that our nature should not lack it but should have in itself the principle of immortality. By virtue of this inborn faculty it could always be drawn towards what is superior to it and retain the desire for eternity.

God is all good, and order is good. Therefore, God is Order itself. We see a reflection of the face of God in His creation. The Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement in his book The Roots of Christian Mysticism writes:

Each being manifests the creative word which gives it its identity and attracts it. Each being manifests a dynamic idea, something willed by God. Ultimately each thing is a created name of him who cannot be named.

There is order in creation, for its Creator is Order itself, and Order begets order. Man is an image of God; therefore, he is made in the image of Order. Order is part of man’s nature as an image of God; therefore, disorder is unnatural to man.

In God, all of His attributes are one. Because he is eternal and infinite, He cannot be made of parts, nor does He possess parts. He is one is His essence. This has infinite implications, a few being that His order is His love, His love is His justice, His justice is His love, His love is His order, etc. God is all these good things, and man being an image of God finds in them his natural habitat. It is natural for man to have order both in the world and in his mind, will, and body. It is natural for man to love, to seek justice, etc. It is unnatural for man to do anything else. In saying that it is unnatural to man, although man seems tends towards these, I mean to say that it goes against his nature as an image of God. Yet more often than not, we do that which is unnatural to us and claim that it is simply human nature. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! To do anything but love, seek justice, obey God, etc. is to introduce disorder into our minds, wills, and bodies. Disorder in the human soul is manifested in many and various ways, all of which are hideous to the ordered soul.

Who is the man that embraces disorder? He is the one that is confused, addicted, angry, materialistic, yet all the while convincing himself that he has found happiness and contentment. Of course, the conclusions of a disordered mind will almost always be disordered.

How must a disordered system be overcome? By introducing order into the system. When it comes to the human soul made in the image and likeness of Order, Order must be brought into the disordered soul. By an opening up of the soul to the influence of Order through the indwelling of Order can the human soul begin to banish from it the darkness of disorder. This opening up of the soul is called prayer, which is as natural to man as barking is to a dog, as flying is to a bird, as swimming is to a fish. Yet we are like dogs that do not know how to bark and fish that cannot swim. We are dominated by the world which was created to be dominated by us. How absolutely unnatural!

Prayer is our best bet for happiness as happiness can only be found in order. In fact, order is happiness. The purpose of prayer is to turn outside of ourselves, to empty the image in order to be filled with the reality. It is our nature to empty ourselves to both God and neighbor, that in emptying ourselves we may be filled. Fulfillment in emptiness! Yet another of those wonderful Christian paradoxes.

How can we know that our calling is to turn and open to others? If we were created to turn in on ourselves, then our eyes would be facing the opposite direction. We would be created to look inward. But according to nature that is not so. We look outward. It is in looking outward that we can empty ourselves just as the greatest Man, the God-man, did: “Who though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped; Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave…”

Through prayer, we look outward to the Source of all order and happiness. Through prayer, we empty ourselves of our worldly accretions, placing ourselves under the direct influence of a Perfect Order. As Order begins to reign in our souls, so, too, does love, truth, joy, peace, and all other attributes of God.

We pray in order that the unnatural might be overcome by the natural, that darkness might become light, and that disorder be crushed under the liberating weight of Order.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Dignity of Women: A look at Mulieris Dignitatem (post 3)

After examining the original solitude and original unity of man and woman as created in the image of God, both as individuals and collectively, John Paul II describes the nature and consequences of original sin. In order to properly understand the dignity of women, we must first understand how this dignity has been affronted through the fall of humanity. The introduction of sin ruptured the original unity between man and woman. This fall from grace has irrevocable effects on all relationships.

The mystery of sin can only enter the world through humanity because man and woman reveal the image of God. Although destined and called to freely share in the inner life of God, man and woman must still choose God and willfully make a sincere gift of self. God endowed man and woman with the natural goods of reason, free will, and a partner to help them understand their call to communion and the sincere gift of self, yet man still rebelled.

By committing sin man rejects this gift and at the same time wills to become "as God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5), that is to say, deciding what is good and what is evil independently of God, his Creator. The sin of the first parents has its own human "measure": an interior standard of its own in man's free will, and it also has within itself a certain "diabolic" characteristic, which is clearly shown in the Book of Genesis (3:15). Sin brings about a break in the original unity which man enjoyed in the state of original justice: union with God as the source of the unity within his own "I", in the mutual relationship between man and woman ("communio personarum") as well as in regard to the external world, to nature. (MD: 9)

John Paul II makes it clear that independent of the ‘distinction of roles’ that Adam and Eve performed in the narrative recounting original sin; both man and woman are equally responsible for the transgression against God. Man rejects likeness to God by refusing to make a sincere gift of self, and this destroys the communion of persons. This willful disobedience puts a tragic strain on the relationship between God and man that God cannot ignore. God is offended, man and woman are deeply affected, and man’s eternal destination for supernatural happiness has been rejected.

The mystery of sin brings about the experience of suffering. The great offense done to the creator affects all of creation and more particularly this rupture resounds in the physical and spiritual condition of man. The newfound knowledge discovered by man was toil, pain, and death imbedded in the human experience for all generations.

Original Sin also creates a fundamental division between man and woman that threatens their ability to enter into an authentic relationship of love. Scripture describes one of the consequences of sin to the woman: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). John Paul II states that this dominion over women by men denotes a “loss of the stability of that fundamental equality” that man and woman mutually possessed in unity with one another. This dis-unity diminishes both the dignity of man and woman because the authentic communion of persons depends upon the equality rooted in their dignity (MD: 10).

In a way, this division connotes a type of primordial divorce between the sexes that threatens the sacramental meaning of marriage and this danger exists in every generation.

The matrimonial union requires respect for and a perfecting of the true personal subjectivity of both of them. The woman cannot become the "object" of "domination" and male "possession". But the words of the biblical text directly concern original sin and its lasting consequences in man and woman. Burdened by hereditary sinfulness, they bear within themselves the constant "inclination to sin", the tendency to go against the moral order which corresponds to the rational nature and dignity of man and woman as persons (MD: 10)

The consequence for men is a tendency to objectify women as objects of lust rather than subjects recipient to love. The “inclination to sin” will continuously burden the mutual relationship between man and woman.

It is very important to understand that the dominion of men over women occurred as a consequence of sin, and that John Paul II claims that this dominion over women and tendency to objectify must be overcome through God’s grace. Still, given modern debate of “women’s rights,” another danger arises. In trying to liberate women from the sin of male domination this should not attempt to “liberate” women of their femininity.

Consequently, even the rightful opposition of women to what is expressed in the biblical words "He shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16) must not under any condition lead to the "masculinization" of women. In the name of liberation from male "domination", women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine "originality". There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not "reach fulfilment", but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness. It is indeed an enormous richness. (MD: 10)

Women must act in an authentically feminine way as embodied in the openness and humility of Mary, the mother of God. The richness of being woman is intimately connected to her femininity. Modern feminism that tries to trivialize the sexual differences of man and woman attack the natural goodness of sexuality and sexual differentiation. Love does not seek to irradiate sexual difference but to conquer sin.

The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different. Hence a woman, as well as a man, must understand her "fulfilment" as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the "image and likeness of God" that is specifically hers. The inheritance of sin suggested by the words of the Bible - "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" - can be conquered only by following this path. The overcoming of this evil inheritance is, generation after generation, the task of every human being, whether woman or man. For whenever man is responsible for offending a woman's personal dignity and vocation, he acts contrary to his own personal dignity and his own vocation. (MD: 10)

Every woman has the task of exploring the meaning of her femininity and her special dignity as a woman. Every woman reflects the image of God in a unique way, and she plays a particular role in the family of God. The meaning of being man and woman cannot be understood apart from the other and apart from the reality of being made in the “image and likeness of God.” Because of the inter-connectedness between the sexes, the dignity of woman must be protected by man and male dominance must be resisted for the sake of both man and woman.

Original sin leaves humanity in a dire predicament. Next week I will discuss the mercy of God on humanity and what has been named the “proto-evangelium” which foretells the prominent role of woman in the redemption of humanity.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Song of Songs and the Triduum

Last night, I read the Song of Songs as a meditation the Easter Triduum, and I couldn't believe I'd never placed it in that context before. The beauty and depth of its poetry had never seemed so profound. As the Bride of Christ, the Church, we are asked to enter into the mysteries of Holy Week with a deep and holy intimacy. We receive the gift of Christ's flesh and blood with renewed gratitude on Holy Thursday; we celebrate His passion with broken hearts, "faint with love" on Good Friday; we wait in silence on Holy Saturday for the resurrection that our Bridegroom promised; and then on Easter, we rejoice at the sound of His voice, knowing that He has risen and asked us to rise with Him.

The Song of Songs begins as the Bride asks to be brought to the chambers of her lover, who is both shepherd and king. In a particularly striking image that prefigures the Passion and Resurrection, the Bridegroom calls His Bride "a lily among thorns" (Song 2:2). They share an intimate meal - as we do when we celebrate the Eucharist - which the Bride describes in this way:
I delight to rest in his shadow,
and his fruit is sweet to my mouth.
He brings me into the banquet hall,
and his emblem over me is love.
... His left hand is under my head
and his right arm embraces me. (2:3-4, 6)
Then the Bride has a dream that makes it seem as though her lover has left her:
On my bed at night, I sought him
whom my heart loves -
I sought him but I did not find him.
... Have you seen him whom my heart loves? (3:2-3)
But just after she says this, she finds him and says that she "took hold of him and would not let him go" (3:4). Her desire to hold fast to the Bridegroom recalls the disciples' desire to cling to Christ and their refusal to believe that He was going where they could not follow.

Then the daughters of Jerusalem - the faithful - are urged to gaze upon the King as he comes in a royal procession, surrounded by the "valiant men of Israel" and
In the crown with which his mother has crowned him
on the day of his marriage,
on the day of the joy of his heart. (3:11)
This is Good Friday, the day of Christ's marriage to His Church, when He receives His crown of thorns, the crown shared by His sorrowful mother, and His love for us is consummated on the cross. The day is "good" because it pleased God to redeem us, it was indeed "the day of the joy of his heart."

The Bridegroom praises His Bride and tells her that "until the day breathes cool and the shadows lengthen," he will "go to the mountain of myrrh, / to the hill of incense," presumably to offer a sacrifice for her (4:6), just as Christ went to the hill of Calvary to sacrifice Himself for us.

Then the Bride has another dream, more heartbreaking than the first, because in this dream, she is not reunited with her lover. "I was sleeping," she says, "but my heart kept vigil" (5:2). She hears her lover knocking at the door, but she does not rise immediately to open it. She is afraid. She has taken off her garment - the veil of the temple has been torn - and her feet have been washed - as the Lord washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper - and she hesitates, but the sound of her lover's voice makes her heart tremble (5:4), so she rises. With fingers "dripping choice myrrh" (5:5) - an image which recalls the anointing at Bethany in Matthew 26, as well as the spices used to anoint Christ's body for burial - she goes to open the door, but she opens it to darkness and silence:
My lover had departed, gone.
I sought him but I did not find him;
I called to him but he did not answer me. (5:6)
When the Bride goes looking for the Bridegroom, she is "struck" and "wounded" by the watchmen of the city (5:7), but she praises her lover, even in his absence. She knows he will return. Then her joy is restored when she meets him in the garden and sees the lilies and the vines in bloom, and they retire together to their marriage bed (7:12-13). Again she is able to say, "His left hand is under my head, and his right arm embraces me" (8:3).

So too, we share in Christ's suffering as we celebrate His Passion, but we praise Him even in His seeming absence. We know what he has promised: "you are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you" (John 16:22).
We know He will return to us, and so on this Holy Saturday, as the Bride of Our Lord, "we wait in joyful hope," keeping vigil in our hearts and listening for His voice. We wait in silence, knowing that in the morning we will hear Him say:
"Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come!
For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone." (Song 2:10-11)

Friday, March 21, 2008

An Acceptable Sacrifice

We celebrate today the greatest sacrifice ever made, a sacrifice that dwarfs our feeble attempts at imitation. With this in mind, we must come to an understanding of what it means to offer an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord. In other words, are our sacrifices offered in union with and in the same spirit with which the Christ offered His, or are they offered in the same spirit as Cain’s?

Genesis 4:1-16 recounts a story that reveals the destructive nature of the darkness hid within our hearts. Two brothers offer sacrifices to God. One is accepted while the other is not. But why? A close reading reveals a possible reason for the denial of Cain’s sacrifice:

“The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?’” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Cain’s immediate response to God’s rejection of his sacrifice was not one of humility as one might expect of a person in such a position. It was anger. Rather than seeking out the proper way to please God, Cain digs his heels deeper into pride and presumably rationalization of his unacceptable sacrifice. God’s questioning is meant not only to provide an invitation for self-examination, but also for Cain to understand what it is God is actually seeking from him. God is not so much concerned with the sacrifice per se evidenced by the fact that sacrifice is not once mentioned when God speaks to Cain. He is concerned with the very heart of Cain, for the heart is what determines the acceptability of one’s sacrifice, not the other way around. The words, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” indicate something deeper than the mere rejection of a sacrifice, for God is speaking not of the acceptance of sacrifice, but about the acceptance of Cain himself. In other words, the sacrifice serves its purpose when the heart is pure. A heart polluted by envy and anger is a heart that pollutes. Cain’s sacrifice was polluted by his self-love and vanity, thus making it unacceptable in God’s eyes. Mother Teresa taught us that God calls us to do small things with great love as it is the great love that determines the greatness of the act. Cain, unfortunately, allows his vanity and self-love to devolve further into unjustified anger.

The instruction from God to Cain to do well went unappreciated and unheeded. Though God called out to Cain, pointing him in the direction of perfection, Cain sought his own way and offered an even more abominable sacrifice, the life of his own brother.

We’ve all got a bit of Cain in us. Some more than others, but we’ve all got it. I’m not speaking of fratricide. I’m speaking of the profound lack of insight that characterizes our relationships with the Almighty. We lack insight as to what God truly wants of us, and we tend towards a false belief in the sufficiency of offering Him our own works apart from our very selves, when in reality, all He really wants from us is a pure and humble heart in submission to His will expressed through physical sacrifices.

The Psalmist makes the above thought clear when he writes: “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire; but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’”

The Psalmist reveals to us that God’s desire is man himself, not his bull, ram, or cereal offering. The offering is to be an expression of the man, taking on value by virtue of the purity of his heart and delight in God’s will.

In stark contrast to Cain’s offering is the offering of Christ Who offered His purity and His entire being which He made completely and absolutely in union with God’s will.

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9)

St. Paul teaches us that the suffering of Christ was characterized by godly fear, supplication, and obedience. Because of this, he was made perfect, and thus, He Himself was made an acceptable sacrifice to the Father. As a sort of correction of Cain’s abominable sacrifice that led to his brother’s death, Christ offers His own life to save the lives of His bothers.

During this Triduum and throughout the Easter season, let us continue to examine the acceptability of our own sacrifices, discerning if we have offered ourselves to Him or a pathetic substitute.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Overcoming the Obscurity of Saint Patrick

People obsess over the color green on Saint Patrick’s day, while Saint Patrick spent a great deal of time obsessing over God. I wonder how I can keep from making another obscure holiday out of another obscure saint. This year, I decided to start by making the saint less obscure. While this may not be possible for someone like Saint Valentine, this certainly is possible for Saint Patrick. Beyond the legend and folk lore that surrounds Saint Patrick, I have access to his writings, and his words speak volumes about his relationship to God and his view of divine grace.

There exists only a small collection of Saint Patrick’s writing. The smallness of his works may be appropriate to the simplicity and humility of the man. Yet great strength shines through his reliance on God. Patrick confessed himself as a simple countryman, unlearned, and least among the faithful. Both his Confessio and his Letter to Coroticus begin with “I, Patrick, a sinner” emphasizing his unworthiness and God’s constant grace and faithfulness.

Patrick acknowledges his faults of the past, but does not think his imperfections are enough to prevent him from doing God’s work. Rather he finds them as reason to rely on grace and exalt God’s name. In his writings, Patrick ardently celebrates his salvation, the Gospel message, and his mission. For these reasons, he journeyed as a missionary to Ireland; to serve God and the Irish people in the land he was once enslaved.

Speculation surrounds Patrick’s exact place of origin but many people speculate Britain. His Confessio reveals that during a raid, the sixteen-year-old Patrick was captured and sent as a slave to Ireland. Patrick viewed his capture as a symbolic exile representing his spiritual isolation from God at that time. Before his capture, Patrick admits to not living a very religious or good life.

In exile, Patrick accredits God with protecting him and consoling him as a father does his son. God made Patrick knowledgeable of his unbelief during his captivity, and gave Patrick the grace to respond in prayer. His conversion occurred during this time.

But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. (Confessio: 16)

Working as a shepherd, Patrick gained a steadfast faith that would provide him with the courage and patience to know that God will provide. After six years in enslavement and prompted by the Lord, Patrick endured a dangerous escape completely trusting in God’s providence. He traveled two-hundred miles to discover a boat leaving port the day of his arrival.

During his six years in Ireland, Patrick learned the language, culture, and people. Patrick desired the conversion of the Irish people. Once free, Patrick sought out training to become a missionary. He was convinced that God wanted him return to Ireland after a vision in which Patrick heard the voices of the Irish calling for him. However, it would be a great number of years before he could return as a missionary with the support of the Church. During this time, Patrick never gave up hope.

And many gifts were offered to me with weeping and tears, and I offended them [the donors], and also went against the wishes of a good number of my elders; but guided by God, I neither agreed with them nor deferred to them, not by my own grace but by God who is victorious in me and withstands them all, so that I might come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure insults from unbelievers; that I might hear scandal of my travels, and endure many persecutions to the extent of prison; and so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others, and if I should be worthy, I am ready [to give] even my life without hesitation; and most willingly for His name. And I choose to devote it to him even unto death, if God grant it to me. (Confessio: 37)

After thirty-nine years of pilgrimage and formation, Patrick eventually returned to Ireland as a bishop. He challenged the religion of the druids and engaged them in spiritual discussion trying to proclaim the Gospel. On such an occasion of challenge, Patrick is reported to have been describing the mysteries of the divine Trinity and using a shamrock as a natural example of three in one when the queen converted. Whether or not this happened, Christian Ireland was born in his lifetime. Other issues Patrick had to combat were human sacrifice and enslavement, both of which became obsolete by the time of his death. Patrick, who preached that nothing is impossible for the Lord, demonstrates this reality in his mission. Ireland became a Christian nation without physical force.

So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish [Scotti] and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ. (Confessio, 41).

With the absolute dedication of Patrick to God, much of Ireland became converted. He never rushed or forced the will if God but patiently waited as he actively sought ways to fulfill his destiny. Providence is present in the life, works, and writings of Patrick. He always heeded that divine grace is always present and guiding him at every moment. He lived in the constant presence of God. He showed the mercy God granted to him to the people he served. He appealed to the Irish’s desire for truth through humility and love. Furthermore, the fruits of his labor continued long after his death. The disciples of Patrick helped re-evangelize a ravished Europe torn apart spiritually through Arianism and physically through countless invasions that lead to the fall of the Roman Empire.

In honor of Saint Patrick, we should remember the missionary zeal we must have in proclaiming the Gospel. Though humble, Saint Patrick never sacrificed truth or love. Rather, he courageously sacrificed himself in service to God and to the Irish, his adopted family. He came to love the land of his captivity, and its inhabitants.

The following is a prayer from the Lorica of Saint Patrick:

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe in the Trinity in Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity,
I believe in the Trinity in Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

Friday, March 14, 2008

He Has Finished the Race

In our catholicity, when one part of the Body of Christ suffers, the whole body suffers. We mourn with those who mourn.

Zenit, The New York Times and the BBC are covering the death of Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq. His body was recovered two weeks after he was abduction by Muslim extremists. Three of his aides were killed in the kidnapping. It is unclear whether or not the 65-year-old archbishop was murdered or died of natural causes.

We stand with the Holy Father and the Archbishop's flock in mourning his death and praying for peace in Iraq and the safety of Iraq's Christian community.

During the Holy Week in front of us, as we contemplate the passion of our Lord, may we remember that the crosses we may be expected to bear in our Christian witnesses can go far beyond the things we give up for Lent and the moderate trials of affluent Western living. Those crosses could include maintaining our testimony in the face of those who violently oppose our faith and are willing to kill for our silence. While opposing secularist efforts to remove any reference to faith from the public square (e.g., the war on Christmas) can be good, and internal acts of offering our little sufferings up to the Lord is even better in our pursuit of holiness, our lives belong to Christ, and He may ask everything of us.

May we give God gratitude for the relative ease in which we live. May we be provoked to find ways to offer ourselves more fully to Christ and our brothers and sisters, that we may suffer with them as Christ suffered for us. May we be instruments of peace.

Fasting in a McWorld

Given that we live in a McDonald’s culture, fasting may seem at odds with the quick and indulgent gratification complex that characterizes the moral landscape of our society. This is exactly why fasting is probably more relevant now than at any other moment in time. The privilege of being Catholic has provided us with a season set aside for specifically this purpose. If we are going to overcome the self-indulgent McWorld in which we live, we must be imitators of Christ our Light even in His example of fasting.

While fasting and abstaining during Lent is a given to most Catholics, these same Catholics have little to no idea as to why we fast, which nearly defeats the purpose. For many, it is simply a cultural practice devoid of any spiritual motivation.

Olivier Clement writes in The Roots of Christian Mysticism of the nature and purpose of fasting and other forms of ascesis:

"[Its purpose] is to transform the vital energy that has gone astray and been ‘blocked’ in idolatrous ‘passions’. Praxis gives birth to the virtues, which love will then synthesize.

To move from the blessings of this life, which are fundamentally good, to a radical demand to go beyond them, we must first have become aware of a higher perfection, and have received a pledge of God’s ‘sweetness’ (even if later he has to withdraw it and ask us to go through the desert places)."

Diadochus, a fifth century bishop of Photike, writes in much the same language:

"But voluntarily to abstain from what is agreeable and abundant is a sign of great discernment and higher knowledge. We do not readily despise the delights of this life if we do not taste with complete satisfaction the sweetness of God.”

The motivation for fasting must be a recognition of the higher things of God, those things that sustain our humanity in ways that mere food does not. The hunger felt during fasting is a physical expression of the desire to be filled with God’s Word, for to be filled with the blessings of the material world is to leave no room for the greater blessings of the spiritual. Christ assures us that our human nature demands much more than the nature of animals when He teaches, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” This line of thought is in harmony with Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in which we learn that the body serves to express the soul. If in our souls we desire detachment from the things of the world in order to attach ourselves to God, then we must express this through the body. Fasting serves as such an expression. On the other hand, to fast without true spiritual motivation is to express a spiritual desire that does not exist. It serves as a lie, and is, therefore, an unacceptable sacrifice.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"We do not know how we are to pray."

"We do not know how we are to pray, but the Spirit himself pleads for us with inexpressible longings." - Romans 8:26

Many of the readings in the Office of Readings for the Lenten season offer beautiful reflections on prayer. This Lent, I have returned several times to one reading in particular: a homily by St. John Chrysostom, in the office for the Friday after Ash Wednesday. "As the eyes of the body are enlightened when they see light, so our spirit, when it is intent on God, is illumined by his infinite light," St. John says. Prayer, he explains, is "the light of the spirit, true knowledge of God, mediating between God and man."

Beautiful thoughts, to be sure - but St. John is quick to clarify what he means by "prayer," and the challenge he presents is directed not towards people who don't ever pray, but rather towards those of us who pray often, who like to think that we know how to pray. He says:
"I do not mean the prayer of outward observance, but prayer from the heart, not confined to fixed times or periods but continuous throughout the day and night... I speak of prayer, not words. It is the longing for God, love too deep for words, a gift not given by man but by God's grace."
Prayer, St. John reminds us, is not a practice; it is a way of life. Prayer is not merely part of our daily schedule; it should be part of all that we do. Prayer is not - as we like to think it is - an act within our power; it is made possibly for us only by God's grace. Prayer is not our gift to God; it is His gift to us. How many of us can say that our prayer springs from a "love too deep for words," or that we do not feel the need to use words when we pray?

St. John goes on to quote St. Paul, who says in Romans 8:26: "We do not know how we are to pray, but the Spirit himself pleads for us with inexpressible longings." If we want to be honest with ourselves and with God, we must admit as St. Paul does that we do not know how to pray. We cannot venture such a claim. Too often we forget that even the desire to pray is not our doing. Even the desire to pray is the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

We would do well to keep this truth in mind as we enter into our Lenten observances more deeply and prepare to celebrate the Easter Triduum.

St. John Chrysostom, pray for us.

The Dignity of Women: A look at Mulieris Dignitatem (post 2)

In last week's post, I looked at some of the reasons Pope John Paul II offered for writing Mulieris Dignitatem. The foundation of Christianity and salvation history intimately depends on the participation of women. This role is exemplified in the unfallen femininity of Mary who achieves perfect union with God. In order to bring this discussion into a broader context, John Paul II directs his attention to the creation narrative to understand the beginning of man.

One of the things that may be difficult for some people to discern is when John Paul II uses the term "man" to refer to both man and woman and when "man" only refers to man and not woman. I hope that it will suffice to point out that man, at least in the English translation, is used both ways in Mulieris Dignitatem. Although I find the usage of man reasonably obvious, I have heard many people complain about the opposite.

Any attempt to comprehend and construct a Christian anthropological understanding of man must flow from understanding man as made "in the image and likeness of God." John Paul II claims that man—both man and woman, is collectively the culmination of creation. In reference to the first creation account in Genesis, John Paul states:

This concise passage contains the fundamental anthropological truths: man is the highpoint of the whole order of creation in the visible world; the human race, which takes its origin from the calling into existence of man and woman, crowns the whole work of creation, both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God's image. (MD: 6)

Accordingly, this "image of God" translates into a quality common to all humans that constitutes a major way humans differ from animals: rationality. As rational beings, humans have the conscious ability to know, choose, and intend to follow the will of God or, as we soon discover, to rebel against God. "Every individual is made in the image of God, insofar as he or she is a rational and free creature capable of knowing God and loving him." (MD: 7) While reason is definitely a likeness to God, another significant and primary way humans reflect this reality consists of the original unity between man and woman.

The second creation account of man found in Genesis uses metaphorical language to express human likeness to God in terms of the communion between man and woman. Man, in his original solitude, recognized more differences than similarities between himself and the animals because he was of a different essence. In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II explains that original solitude refers to the experience of man as such because the experience of original solitude is substantially prior to the masculinity and femininity of the original unity (TOB; 8:1). We must realize that experience of original solitude is universal to all humanity, prior to masculinity and femininity, and yet prefigures this sexual duality. Furthermore, this experience of solitude translates into every human's experience as a unique autonomous individual. In contrast to the original solitude, we learn that it is not good for man to "be alone." Already God reveals something of his own inner-mystery. Man ought not to be alone because God is not alone, but a communion of persons.

In the description found in Gen 2:1 8-25, the woman is created by God "from the rib" of the man and is placed at his side as another "I", as the companion of the man, who is alone in the surrounding world of living creatures and who finds in none of them a "helper" suitable for himself. Called into existence in this way, the woman is immediately recognized by the man as "flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones" (cf. Gen 2:23) and for this very reason she is called "woman". In biblical language this name indicates her essential identity with regard to man - 'is-'issah - something which unfortunately modern languages in general are unable to express: "She shall be called woman ('issah) because she was taken out of man ('is)": Gen 2:23. (MD: 6)

Only when both man and woman are present to each other can they transcend the original solitude, and this is called the original unity. Man is able to understand himself in an essential way of which he was not capable before the presence of woman. Likewise, the woman can only understand herself in the presence of man. Thus, both the man and woman become mutual helpers of each other. For between man and woman there is more similarity than difference. Man expresses this truth in his confession to the woman: "flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone." While man found more difference than similarity among the different plants and animals, only in the face of woman does he find someone of the same essence and dignity. Through the experience of the other, man and woman come to understand their own human nature.

From the previous passages, we can deduce that man became the "image of God" not only through his own humanity and rationality, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning. The sexual designation of the body and spirit only make sense if the opposite sex exits. Man and woman exist mutually for each other. The presence of the other allows man and woman to recognize their call to communion and love, and this communion of love mirrors the divine mystery of love that originates in relationship between the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Human love and family finds its source in God. Man ought to love because God is love.

To say that man is created in the image and likeness of God means that man is called to exist "for" others, to become a gift. (MD: 7)

The experience of being either man or woman, masculine or feminine, exists as "two reciprocally completely ways of 'being a body' and at the same time of being human" and "two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body" (TOB; 10: 1). This duality calls us to an interpersonal communion with the other. The original unity becomes the basis for all community and the economy of the gift. The good of the individual is united to the good of every other individual. From the beginning this call is manifested within marriage, but as the whole of human history unfolds, other ways to express this communion open up on the horizon of salvation history. The summary of this truth is that man and woman cannot find themselves fully except through a sincere gift of self.

In my next post, I will focus on the rupture in the relationship between man, woman, and God. With the introduction of sin and the original dis-unity, John Paul II points to the tendency of male dominance and the reduction of women as objects of lust rather than mutual helpers that has consistently plagued humanity in every generation. Contrary to the original unity, sin always threatens to distort the proper relationship between man and woman.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Vocations of Man and Woman by St. Edith Stein, Part One

St. Edith Stein wrote often about the natures of men and women, including their vocations. This is a rather controversial topic today, but might be less so if more people understood what a vocation actually is and why men and women have separate ones. I will therefore write a bit about that in this first part of a short series on the topic.

In her essay, Vocations of Man and Woman, St. Stein begins by clarifying what a vocation actually is. She states that it is not simply “gainful employment,” as many people view it today, but that the word vocation entails a call from someone. She says that the calling comes through a person’s ability and education, or their human nature and place in life. These are, as St. Stein writes, the work of God—and, therefore, it is God who calls us to a vocation specific to our gifts and abilities.

Next, St. Stein wades through the reasons why men and women have different vocations (the controversy begins!). First, it is clear that men and women, though equally God’s children, are DIFFERENT, and that this difference is immediately shown in the first creation story in Genesis. Though they are different, however, they are initially given the same vocation when they are “created in the image of God” and told to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it, and be masters over the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, and all the creatures which move upon the earth.” Therefore, the threefold vocation of men and women at the time of their creation was to: a) be the image of God, b) bring forth prosperity and c) be masters of the earth.
The second creation account includes more detail about the creation of man. In this story, Adam has been made steward of paradise, but has no suitable companion. St. Stein writes that the Hebrew used to describe Adam’s lack of a partner is very difficult to translate, and that the phrase “a helper as if vis-à-vis to him” would be the closest English equivalent. This describes someone complementary to Adam, but not identical. Noticing this lack of companionship, the Lord, in His INFINITE wisdom, created woman. So both sexes have been created, and are described as “helpmates” and “companions,” and it is written that man will cling to woman and both will be one flesh. Therefore, we should think of the first human pair as “the most intimate community of love.” They were in perfect harmony and loved each other chastely. Before the fall, there is no indication of a sovereign relationship between the two; however, pre-eminence is suggested in that man was created first.

St. Stein then explores why it would not have been good for man to have been alone. She uses the Trinity as an analogy, writing, “God created man in His own image. But God is three in one; and just as the Son issues from the Father, and the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son, so, too, the woman emanated from man and posterity from them both. And moreover, God is love. But there must be at least two persons for love to exist” (60).

After the Fall, however, the dynamic between man and woman was changed irrevocably. My next post will go into St. Stein’s writings on this in more detail.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Education and Play - Seeking the Proper Order (Part II)

In Part I of this topic, I wrote of the transcendent nature of play as that which is an expression of our nature as images of God. Developing this idea a bit further, speaking of the proper place of play within academia should be taken up.

Part I ended with the conclusion that play exists as a sort of signpost, and it is merely that. It reminds us of our ultimate end at which point we will exist in a state of timelessness, order, and perfect unity and justice. It also reveals our own sort of impatience. We want that higher existence now, not later. We even train our bodies to become better athletes and musicians in order to perfect performance with the hope that greater performance results in greater play. Greater play means greater anticipation and clarity of that world that we are seeking to imitate even if done so unknowingly. Play is our creative expression as images of God and is, thus, a gift from God that should reveal to us our true nature. But it is still just a signpost. It cannot and should not be the final destination.

As heaven is that final destination about which I write, then it is incumbent upon us to put every tool and gift God has given us to reaching that destination. This is not to say that we can somehow earn our salvation, rather it is an acknowledgement that God has placed us upon this earth to reach greater heights of holiness and love before He calls us to judgment. The most obvious gifts God has given us to reach greater knowledge of love of Him are our intellects and wills. Without them, we can neither know Him nor love Him, and this knowledge and love is expressed through the body. This reveals to us the role of education as that which forms the intellect to accept not only the truths of God’s creation which we call the sciences, but also that which the sciences were created to reveal – the wisdom and beauty of God Himself. Because the intellect informs the will, a well-formed intellect should lead to well-informed decisions, and thus a greater display of proper character. This is where play, especially the form seen in sports, is insufficient.

Is it, then, wrongheaded to believe that sports should play no role within academic institutions? I believe that it is. Because of the unifying effect of sports, it plays a role that cannot be filled by education alone, but it must be acknowledged that the role of sports within academia is only that of unification and, therefore, representation of the entire student body. Sports and other forms of play within schools are at the service of the greater good of education and the entire student body, not the other way around. They are meant to enhance education by fostering unity. Sports must be seen as the handmaiden of the gentle master that is education. This is the proper order that exists between play and education, and to stray from this is to inject within this system a principle of chaos. One begins to see the tail wagging the dog. Sports begins to demand service from education and sets itself up as an entity independent of the greater student body, seeking recognition beyond its calling. Rather than being a force for unity, it establishes itself as a source of divisiveness and even belligerence towards that which it must serve. This naturally becomes the mindset of those engaged in such play, and a culture which sees sports as the greatest good to the detriment of education is now at work. But the divisiveness doesn’t end there. If this is what the athletic world then begins to offer, then it must necessarily turn on itself, eating its own children. If its children are fed the same bitter food, then the children become divisive amongst each other, separating themselves from the good of team unity, seeking personal aggrandizement and grossly high pay for something that by its nature should neither demand nor deserve such things. This should also raise questions about the forms of play on which a school focuses. As mentioned before, there are forms of play such as music that seem to better reflect our human natures and that to which God has called us. Is it, therefore, intellectually consistent to uplift the lower forms of play while degrading the higher forms?

It is for the benefit of both academics and sports that the proper order be sought and eagerly embraced. To do otherwise would be to destroy both.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Praying with the Church: The Liturgy of the Hours

"O God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit..."

The Liturgy of the Hours - also called the Divine Office, the Canonical Hours, or the Breviary - like so many Catholic practices, is drawn from Jewish tradition. In the Psalms, we find references to the practice of praying at different hours of the day and night: "In the morning my prayer comes before you" (Ps 88:13); "May the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice" (Ps 141:2); "At night His song is with me - a prayer to the God of my life" (Ps 42:8); "Evening, morning, and noon I cry out..." (Ps 55:17). The Psalms, the most ancient prayers of the Church, remain a central element of the Liturgy of the Hours to this day.

Traditionally, the Divine Office consisted of eight fixed "hours" of prayer: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. It was composed in the fifth century, and it development was more or less completed by the end of the sixth. The Church has of course made changes and additions to the Office over time, but its character remains largely unchanged. It is one of the most treasured prayers of the Church, and each day it gives hundreds of thousands of the faithful the opportunity to pray together in one voice.

Perhaps the reform of the Divine Office best known to us is the revision promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970 with his Apostolic Constitution Laudis Canticum. In this document, the Holy Father explains the reasons behind the reform, which were twofold: first, to encourage its use by more of the faithful, and second, to give the canonical hours a more logical relationship to the chronological hours to which they are assigned:
"The office has been drawn up and arranged in such a way that not only clergy but also religious and indeed laity may participate in it, since it is the prayer of the whole people of God. People of different callings and circumstances, with their individual needs, were kept in mind and a variety of ways of celebrating the office has been provided, by means of which the prayer can be adapted to suit the way of life and vocation of different groups dedicated to the liturgy of the hours.
"Since the liturgy of the hours is the means of sanctifying the day, the order of this prayer was revised so that in the circumstances of contemporary life the canonical hours could be more easily related to the chronological hours of the day."
Today, the Liturgy of the Hours consists of the recitation of the following prayers: the Office of Readings (formerly Matins), Morning Prayer (Lauds), Daytime Prayer - which consists of one or all of Midmorning, Midday, and Midafternoon Prayer (Terce, Sext, and None), Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Night Prayer (Compline). The "major hours" are the Office of Readings, Morning and Evening prayer. The recitation of Prime was eliminated by the Second Vatican Council, and in Laudis Canticum Pope Paul VI attributes this change to the aforementioned aim of making the canonical hours correspond more closely to the times at which they are prayed.
The great beauty of the Office lies in the unity that it makes tangible. As Pope Paul IV wrote so beautifully:
"Everyone shares in this prayer, which is proper to the one Body as it offers prayers that give expression to the voice of Christ's beloved Bride, to the hopes and desires of the whole Christian people, to supplications and petitions for the needs of all humanity.
"This prayer takes its unity from the heart of Christ, for our Redeemer desired 'that the life he had entered upon in his mortal body with supplications and with his sacrifice should continue without interruption through the ages in his Mystical Body, which is the Church.' Because of this, the prayer of the Church is at the same time 'the very prayer that Christ himself, together with his Body, addresses to the Father.' As we celebrate the office, therefore, we must recognize our own voices echoing in Christ, his voice echoing in us."
If you're interested in praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can find guides to praying it online, or use the guide provided with your breviary, should you choose to purchase one. The four-volume set is expensive ($145), but it contains all the canonical hours, while the single volume, Christian Prayer ($36), contains only Morning and Evening Prayer for the year. My four-volume set was a gift from two friends of mine, and now I can't imagine living without it!
If you don't have money for a breviary, or you're still waiting for yours to come in the mail (or if you've misplaced your breviary, as I often do), you can find the Hours for each day online (free!) at Universalis.

"May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Influence of the Late William F. Buckley, Jr.

I wish I were a full member of the John Paul II Generation, but the circumstances of my upbringing don't allow it. Sure, I came into the Church in 1999 with incredible devotion and unquestioned fidelity to the late Holy Father, but in my formative years, my admiration for John Paul was not geared towards the man himself but for his stands against abortion and communism. I grew up as as an anti-Catholic fundamentalist in Denham Springs, Louisiana, a town on the Protestant side of the border between Cajun Catholic country and the Bible Belt. As some of you familiar with the region may know, our crosses carried no corpus but were often draped in Old Glory, and there was no separation in our perception between the Gospel of Christ and the politics of Ronald Reagan. Reagan, and not John Paul II or even Billy Graham, was the ultimate hero of my childhood with considerable promotion by my parents.

My father's world view was not merely shaped by his conservative cultural environment but through spending his spare time at the State Library and watching the pundits go at one another. While watching "The Firing Line" on PBS at my daddy's knee, I came to respect William F. Buckley. My father convinced me before I could fairly decide for myself that Buckley was the smartest man alive, and after a decade of firmly coming to my own conclusions that differed with my father, I am convinced his opinion of Buckley was correct. Indeed, it was in part due to my father exposing me to the intellectuals of the conservative movement like Buckley that I came to a begrudging respect for Catholics.

Buckley died last week at the age of 82. Many young people, even young educated people, have little idea of who he is, although they probably laughed at Robin Williams' Genie doing his best WFB impersonation in the Disney film Aladdin. The average College Republican drawn in by the frat party atmosphere combined with the combative nature of campaigning may not have even noticed the news of his passing, but he was mourned by the movement conservatives whose doctrine dripped from the pages of The National Review, the magazine founded by Buckley in 1955 which promised in its first issue to stand "athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no other is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."

As news of Buckley's death became public, modern conservative icon Rush Limbaugh offered a lengthy and moving tribute. Limbaugh reminisced of the man considered by many to be the Father of American Conservatism (although Russell Kirk may have greater claim) and perhaps the last great public intellectual given society's preference for sound bites rather than informed debate:

My desire to learn actually came from outside the classroom. It came from my father, perhaps the most brilliant man I ever knew intimately, and my grandfather, of course, and many members of my family, and tossed into the mix was Mr. Buckley, who had a newspaper column. I remember at age 12 or 13 it was published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, which was the morning paper in St. Louis at the time that was conservative for the most part. No longer publishes, of course. But I remember at age 13, 14, all the way up through high school just being mesmerized. It was the things that Buckley wrote in those columns that literally created my desire to learn. Of course, listening to my father just rant on about a number of things constantly regarding politics, cultural things, we were a very active family in that regard, and, you know, the old image of families sitting around the dinner table and talking about stuff was true at our house. For me it was a listening experience, and, of course, peppered with questions and so forth. The single greatest motivation I had to learn to read, write, speak the English language the best I could, to expand my vocabulary, came from Bill Buckley.

And although I have never mastered the frequent use of multisyllabic wit designed to send the opposition into stupor, and while I have never said anything as witty and as true as, "I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University," Buckley was an early role model in my attempts to educate myself. Limbaugh mourned a man whom he came to know personally as a second father, and last week, still feeling the weight of the death of my own parents in the last two months, I felt a sense of loss for a man I never met but for whom I shared an admiration from afar with my father.

And just as much as I have come to disagree with my father over the years since my conversion to Catholicism, I have found myself breaking from the strange fusion of ideologies in the American conservative movement. I found reasons to disagree with Buckley, frequently based on materialist and individualist ideals that seemed to clash with my new found allegiance to John Paul the Great and Catholic Social Teaching. Indeed, the conservative Buckley often referred to himself as a libertarian, and the contradiction begged the question: What exactly is the conservative movement trying to conserve?

Buckley was a practicing Catholic who frequented the Latin Mass and challenged the secularist stranglehold some on the left attempted to place on the academy and public life. Rod Dreher, a former employee of Buckley's, gave testimony to Buckley's graciousness and generosity. But Buckley was also a public dissenter to the Church's ban on contraception and frequently at odds with her teachings on social justice.

As news of Buckley's death spread, Vox Nova, a group blog presenting Catholic social commentary, found heated combox debates over Buckley's legacy as a Catholic intellectual. Much of that debate centered on Buckley's dissent to Mater et Magistra, an encyclical on social justice by Pope John XXIII. One combox poster critical of Buckley referenced an address on Mater et Magistra by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver which characterizes the divide between Catholicism and contemporary political allegiances:

. . . if we say we’re Catholic, we need to act like it. When Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia publicly disputes Church teaching on the death penalty, the message he sends is not all that different from Frances Kissling disputing what the Church teaches about abortion. I don’t mean that abortion and the death penalty are identical issues. They’re not, and they don’t have equivalent moral gravity. But the impulse to pick and choose what we’re going to accept is exactly the same kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” in both cases.

Very often we treat the Church the same way we treat our flesh and blood mothers. We want the mommy part, but we don’t want the teacher part. We want her around to feed us, encourage us and comfort us when things are going badly. But we don’t want her advice, especially when it interferes with our plans. When Pope John XXIII’s encyclical first came out, the conservative author William Buckley, who didn’t like the Pope’s economics, wrote a famous column called, “Mater si, Magistra no!” – mother yes, teacher no. That led Louise and Mark Zwick to characterize him in the Houston Catholic Worker as “the inventor of cafeteria Catholicism and the pro-choice stance (at least in economics), who accepted encyclicals he agreed with and rejected others.” I think they’re right.

Archbishop Chaput, a man whose loyalty to the Magisterium is without question, credits the Father of American conservatism with inventing cafeteria Catholicism. And while I agree with him and all those rightly pointing out that it is not only those on the left trying to recreate the Catholic faith according to philosophies designed to promote their own vices, I cannot help but feel some need to show loyalty to Buckley my teacher, some loyalty that reaches beyond the silencing wisdom that says the man is recently dead and we should be praying for his soul instead of arguing his legacy.

William F. Buckley, Jr. rose to national prominence with the 1951 publishing of God and Man at Yale, which criticized the professors of his alma mater for attempting to indoctrinate the students with anti-religious sentiment. Buckley was the first president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the founder of Young Americans for Freedom, two organizations that offered dissent to the leftist orthodoxy of the academy. While his fusionist movement brought religious traditionalists, libertarians, and national security hawks under the faulty banner of conservatism, debate and distrust of the ivory tower prophets of progress kept the United States from falling into the complete cultural disarray of Europe. And I am certain that the intellectual prowess of the Catholic leaders of Buckley's influenced many towards the sacraments if not to complete doctrinal fidelity.

It is fair to point out the spots of darkness in Buckley's public discourse, especially when he clashes with the Church, but it ought be done with the humility that recognizes that we never know where it is that we might be completely blind to our own faults. Likewise, we are apt to miss such brilliant light coming from broken people if we are only searching out their darkness.

In our mission to redeem intellectual life, we are trying to sow seeds with unfailing loyalty to the Magisterium in ground that has been broken by the movement conservatives of Buckley's era. Their struggle made our "heterodoxy" towards political correctness an easier burden to bear. In spite of some significant differences which cannot continually be swept under the rug lest we lose our Catholic identity while measuring up to conservative orthodoxy, we owe Buckley and the movement he led more than prayers for their soul.

We owe gratitude.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Vote Parousian

My Friends,

Cory Bordelon from the UL Parousians has informed me that "Arrival: The Parousian Weblog" was nominated for the Catholic Blog Awards in the following categories:
# Best Apologetic Blog
# Best Group Blog
# Best New Catholic Blog
# Best Overall Catholic Blog
# Best Political/Social Commentary Catholic Blog
# Best Written Catholic Blog
# Most Informative & Insightful Catholic Blog
# Smartest Catholic Blog

This is an incredible honor. Thanks to everyone involved in the nominating process. There are many worthy blogs nominated, including quite a few that inspire us. In sincerity, I am not sure our content is in the same league as certain blogs receiving nominations in the same categories.

Because we are just a small group of friends who have the ambition of bringing together Catholic scholars and students in an effort to redeem intellectual life, we are asking our readers to vote for us.

In the long run, it is our hope to have a journal of the revival of Catholic intellectual life, a scholarship and fellowship program, national and regional conferences, a speakers' program, chapters near and far networking likeminded Catholic thinkers. Thus far, we have students meeting in homes, giving presentations and leading group discussions, contributing to this blog on occasion, making pilgrimages to local points of Catholic interest, and giving reasoned witness to the faith in the classroom. The first chapter at LSU has been able to lend itself out to help establish groups at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the University of Florida. The Parousians have done this on student budgets with all of the routine pressures of college life. What we hope to do is well beyond our means, but so was everything else we have already done. The Catholic Blog Awards are not the fairy dust covered answer to our every wish upon a star, but in a small but significant way, the nominations are helping us establish recognition and credibility beyond our little corners of the world in Louisiana and Florida.

These awards will be chosen by anybody willing to register and vote here.

Remember, the Parousian blog is the candidate of change and hope and experience, able to do the job from day one. Our blog never voted to raise your taxes. And we love babies. Please vote for us.

All kidding aside, if you think our content is worthy, please vote for us. But if you are aware of more worthy content, please consider voting for us still based on our potential. These awards do not mean too much in the real world, but perhaps our little effort here on Arrival may leak outside of cyberspace and actually have effect in bringing the New Evangelization into ivory towers across the lands if certain students, professors, or charitable givers follow a link when the awards are announced.

And as you can tell, we are more concerned with finding people to share in our mission than actually winning an award. Regardless of if you vote for us or not for these awards, there are other ways you can vote Parousian. If you know anybody who might be interested in standing with us in our mission, please send them a link to our blog and ask them to contact us by e-mailing . That's a vote of confidence in both the Parousians and the person you e-mail.

Likewise, no matter if you can give us a vote of confidence or not, we are asking all of you to stuff heaven's ballot box by remembering to write in "Parousians" among your prayer requests. That election operates under the rules of Chesterton's democracy of the dead. The Parousians yield to our forebearers and honor their traditions. We are all Catholics here, and every member of the Communion of Saints is welcome to vote in this one. The Parousians are partial to St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese, and Pope John Paul the Great, but all of you willing to ask for the intercession of St. Jude on our behalf have our blessings.

Again, thanks to the Catholic Blog Awards for honoring our blog with nominations and providing yearly recognition to hard working Catholic bloggers everywhere.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Education and Play - Seeking the Proper Order (Part I)

Peter Kreeft has written of those ways in which Heaven haunts earth. Such things as the effect of timelessness experienced when engrossed in a beautiful piece of music are things that reveal to us the other-worldly nature of many of our worldly experiences. They serve as reminders that we are not purely natural but also supernatural, that is, not only corporeal but also spiritual.

Another interesting phenomenon of human experience is that of play. In fact, it is such an important element in the human experience, Pope Benedict saw fit to mention it in relation to liturgy in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. He makes the point that play is much like liturgy in that it is characterized by its own set of laws and time independent of the laws and time of the world in which play is done. It becomes an independent world within a world.

It is safe to say that this sort of organized play is a particularly and peculiarly human activity. But why is this so? What is it about being human that drives us toward forsaking the world in which we are bound for a game-world even if only for a few hours? As Christians, we believe that we are images of God, a God who creates out of nothing, is bound by nothing, and has brought order to chaos. Is it any wonder that the image reflects that of which it is an image? Let us entertain the example of our beloved football game. Time begins and stops, implying an existence not bound by time’s onward march. A set of rules peculiar to that game is enforced. To stray from those rules is to invite punishment; it contains within itself its own sense of justice. It mimics a battle against good and evil in its physical aggression between opposing teams which has proven to be something of which the human mind and imagination never seem to tire. There is also the coach, the one who establishes and demands order and unity among those whom he directs. It is a sort of universe within a universe with all the necessary elements present. Not only does it become this sort of universe to those engaged in the actual play, but also to those entering into it as spectators. In the opening paragraph, I mentioned the medium of music and the role that it plays in lifting us out of time and space. What may be less obvious is that it functions in much the same way as a typical game of football. The fundamental elements that constitute them as play are nearly identical in both. In music, specifically orchestral or choral performances, there is the presence of a unifying principle, that of the musical piece itself. Within the piece, time begins, accelerates, decelerates, and stops. There are certain rules set down within the piece in order to play it effectively such as dynamics and key. To stray from this is to produce bad music, noise instead of beauty; thus there are consequences for not following the rules. The dynamics produce the effect of tension and release, elements present in a life that is not stagnant, that is, a full life. There is also the conductor upon whom are all the eyes of the musicians looking to him for guidance and following his every movement. He is the one who ultimately determines the movements of all the musicians, but they must exercise free will to follow him. One would be hard pressed to find a clearer example of the spiritual life.

Even more profound about musical play is its presence in all cultures of the world. Music has proven itself to not only be present within all cultures, but to even be a defining expression of that culture, and music also serves as a reflection of a culture’s height. A culture that embraces high standards of education typically embraces high standards of musicianship. There is an irrefutable connection between education and music within cultures. Conversely, cultures that embrace low forms of music tend to be lacking on the educational side of things. In this, we can see that some forms of play even inform and nourish our ideas about education, something that is not readily apparent as an effect of sports. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be true in that a greater emphasis on sports leads to a general de-emphasis on education. The conclusion that can be drawn is that in some way, music reflects and nourishes the entire human intellectual person in ways that sports cannot. The reason for this is the greater connection between music and human nature than between sports and human nature. As human nature includes intellect, will, and body, there are some things that appeal to all three to greater degrees than others. Music uplifts all three due to its inherent requirements of a trained intellect, a focused will, and a body trained to perform. While sports certainly requires fitness of the body, strong intellects have not proven to be key elements within athletics.

In my next post on this subject I will look at the proper relationship between the academic institution and the sports that it sponsors.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Dignity of Women: A look at Mulieris Dignitatem (post 1)

Pope John Paul II delivered Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) at St. Peter's in Rome on August 15, 1988, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, during the Marian year. On January 31, 2008, the Vatican Congress celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem in hopes to encourage an authentic promotion of femininity. On February 7th to the 9th, this commemoration was followed by a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Counsel for the Laity entitled "Woman and Man, the 'Humanum' in its Entirety" which culminated with a Papal address from Pope Benedict XVI.

Because of the importance of this document, I would like to take the opportunity of exploring some themes, insights, and relevant text of this letter. If nothing more, I hope to give an adequate summary. John Paul II has done much to try to fight the reduction of femininity that exists in modern feminism circles in hopes to create a new feminism that is rooted in the divine plan and dignity of womanhood.

Given the domination and objectification of women that tends to be perpetuated throughout the ages since the fall of man, there is always a need in the church to emphasize the dignity of women and the particular challenges that culturally arise in every generation. The Church must continually reflects on the nature of human dignity and develops Her social consciousness. Much of what John Paul II says in Mulieris Dignitatem has been stated elsewhere, yet the beauty of this document stands on its own. In fact, the organization Women Affirming Life has a collection of links to all of Pope John Paul II's writings on The Feminine Genius.

Appropriately, Mulieris Dignitatem begins by quoting from the Closing Message of the Second Vatican Council:

The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling. (MD: 1)

In light of the ongoing battle to advocate for the role of females within society, the Church must reveal the nature of true femininity and aid women in living out their vocations and professions in an authentically feminine manner. However, given modern notions of femininity and attacks on the family, the true meaning of womanhood is often vague and obscure in the minds of modern men. John Paul II has championed the need to develop an adequate anthropology and theological foundation for understanding the role of the sexes within the order of divine love. He makes clear the need to explore the place of women in the Church and society in this quote from Pope Paul VI:

Within Christianity, more than in any other religion, since its very beginning, women have had a special dignity, of which the New Testament shows us many important aspects…; it is evident that women are meant to form part of the living and working structure of Christianity in so prominent a manner that perhaps not all their potentialities have yet been made clear. (MD: 1)

The very foundation of Christianity and its present holiness depends on the involvement of woman. Thus, a discussion on the dignity of women cannot be separated from the role women play in God's plan of salvation and ultimately Mary, the Mother of both Jesus Christ and the Church, because she holds a special place of honor for all humanity. More so than any other human person, man or woman, she acts as the perfect model of faith and vessel of God's grace. The Marian dimension of the Church encompasses relationship of God with the entire human family.

The mystery of salvation cannot be understood or fulfilled without human participation, and Mary stands at the center of this mystery with her fiat. Mary discovers the meaning of her femininity in her fiat by which she abandoned herself to the will of God, making a sincere gift of self. The discovery of her authentic femininity is united to her awareness of God's grace and generosity. She recognizes herself as a creature and handmaiden of the lord.

Mary attains a union with God that exceeds all the expectations of the human spirit. It even exceeds the expectations of all Israel, in particular the daughters of this Chosen People, who, on the basis of the promise, could hope that one of their number would one day become the mother of the Messiah. (MD: 3)

It is right to emphasize Mary as an example for all women because she acts in an un-fallen femininity that reveals the true nature of womanhood and sets an example for all humanity. Her humility and openness exemplifies the true motherhood and blessedness by which God exalts her. Similar to Eve, Mary was conceived full of grace. Unlike Eve, Mary was obedient to God and said yes where Eye said no. In Mary, we see how blessed women can really be!

Therefore the "fullness of grace" that was granted to the Virgin of Nazareth, with a view to the fact that she would become "Theotókos", also signifies the fullness of the perfection of" what is characteristic of woman", of "what is feminine". Here we find ourselves, in a sense, at the culminating point, the archetype, of the personal dignity of women…The dignity of every human being and the vocation corresponding to that dignity find their definitive measure in union with God. Mary, the woman of the Bible, is the most complete expression of this dignity and vocation. For no human being, male or female, created in the image and likeness of God, can in any way attain fulfillment apart from this image and likeness. (MD: 5)

God has honored Mary, a woman, by entrusting Himself completely to her. Mary receives God completely so that God through the incarnation could give his life for the salvation of all humanity. In this way, Mary has given her life to God. Because of her openness, Mary has become mother and the fruit of her womb, Jesus Christ, brings the Church into existence. The motherhood of Mary stands at the center of salvation history.

John Paul II points out that women represent the archetype of union with God. With total surrender and a willful yes, the Church as a whole takes on a feminine nature. Beyond mere symbolism, Mary is able to fulfill a union not possible by men—the union between mother and son. The reality is not that all humans become masculine in their relationship with God, but that all people must become feminine in their relationship with God. This is why the Church is appropriately referred to in the feminine and Christ is considered the bridegroom and we the bride. Our earthly understanding of this divine reality finds its roots in human love and the designation of human marriage. All feminine and masculine qualities find their perfection in God. This is why "man" — male and female — made in the image and likeness of God can find femininity or masculinity as two different ways in which the human person is created in the image of God.