July 31, 2002

Let me be damned, let me be vile and base, but let me kiss the hem of the garment in which my God is clad; let me be running after the devil at that very moment, but I am still thy son, O Lord, and I love thee, and I feel the joy without which the world cannot be and exist.

Too many riddles oppress man on earth. Solve them as you can, but see that you don't get hurt in the process.
- Dostoyevsky "Brothers Karamazov"
Remembrance of Communions Past
My life is but a string of Hosts
since the age of reason
for only thou who is Life
comprises life sans treason.
Flos Carmeli has a good blog on what makes a Catholic novel. Words are helpless things, easily misconstrued indeed. Even clear words and sentences such as in Matt 16 can be shrugged off. (A Baptist pastor once told me that Christ giving Peter the keys to the kingdom was an 'obscure' passage that would've been repeated elsewhere in the NT if it were important). Words are symbols of larger things and therefore are necessarily limited.

Thanks for that thought-provoking post, SR. I suppose I am still thinking along the lines of Amy Welborn's question of how to evangelize the culture and how art could play a role. Flannery O'Connor once said she wrote very harsh novels because that is what it takes to get through to people these days (I'm paraphrasing).
John Updike can flat-out write. But his books teem with vivid sexual imagery, at least for a writer who happens to be Christian (he even won the Campion award given to him by the Catholic Book Club). I'm fascinated how he can, sans scruples, reconcile writing hard-core salacious stuff with his Christianity. I've wondered: am I being puritanical in no longer reading him?

I've gotten hints in the past of how he reconciles it. In a footnote in one of his non-fiction books he basically writes off the Gospel of Matthew, saying it depicts a harder, harsher Jesus than the other gospels and so it apparently doesn't count.

Here is what Karol Wojtyla says in Love and Responsibility about the line between art and sexuality:

Art has a right and a duty, for the sake of realism, to reproduce the human body, and the love of man and woman, as they are in reality, to speak the whole truth about them....[and] sexual aspects are an authentic part of the truth about human love. But it would be wrong to let this part obscure the whole - and this is what often happens in art.

Pornography is a marked tendency to accentuate the sexual element when reproducing the human body or human love in a work of art, with the object of inducing the reader or viewer to believe that sexual values are the only real values of the person, and that love is nothing more than the experience of those values alone.
Just as there is a danger that faith become merely intellectual, and not personalized, there is the danger faith be only personalized without intellectual assent. My 21-year old stepson seems to be of the latter. He loves science and is open-minded enough to realize that it strains credibility that this is all an accident. But he tends to take a very utilitarian view of religion, considering it something he may believe "when he needs to", i.e. when nearing death, or for purposes of fostering mental hygiene or happiness. He identifies with Mark Twain's quote that religion is something that everyone knows not to be true, but believes it anyway. He goes to church services sometimes and tries to have a relationship without the underpinning of intellectual assent. God works with that just as he does with everything else, which is why I so love the "hound of heaven" imagery so much.

I don't mean to be hard on him. Everyone's motives, of course, are mixed with self-preservation. After all, trying to avoid hell is that. And the constant danger is that prayer and the Mass become something for me rather than for Him. In my past I held fast to Tertullian's quote, "Credo quia absurdum" ("I believe because it is absurd"), which comforted somehow because I found in Tertullian that resonance that 'hey, yeah, I know this seems impossible to believe'. Now I distance myself from Tertullian's quote, fearing it would be misconstrued as advocating the divorce of faith and reason. But my helplessness was and continues to be the most valid faith experience I can have because the moment I forget my total dependence on Him is a lost moment. And I held on to Jesus, always finding Him and his story credible.

July 30, 2002

Our Holy Father, in his pre-papal book "Love and Responsibility" has some interesting things to say about art and the line where pornography begins. He admits the need for literature to reflect reality and sexuality is obviously a part of reality, even sexuality misused. Really great books are great because they can be interpreted multiple ways, often in seemingly opposite ways - almost to the point where an agnostic can read it and interpret it as "pro-agnostic" and a Christian can read the same thing and think it "pro-Christian". I recall a convert friend who read Percy's "Love in the Ruins" totally differently after he converted and "Love in the Ruins" had absolutely no part in the conversion. Percy was a sort of Christian existentialist, which seems to me almost a contradiction in terms. Don't get me wrong, I love reading Percy, and am deeply appreciative that someone so talented was also a believer - but I wonder how truly "Catholic" his novels can be considered when an agnostic sees them in sync with his/her worldview. I realize the purpose of art is not to proselytize. But this is sort of personal to me since I have agnostic friends who could seemingly be reached by art - they are hugely turned off by a more direct approach - but art that to me is transcendent to them, well...
Google hits
I'm fascinated by how visitors from Google accidentally find the site - it must be more eclectic than I thought. Here's what some typed into the search engine and landed here:

St. Therese hairshirt
does trickle down economics work
lake cumberland nudity
"david lodge" email birmingham
scat eat
cults in the mojave dessert

Can you say some of those on a Catholic blog?
My Turn for a Mea Culpa
I hit my own link to the "Blogs for God" guy and he assiduously noticed it via tracking and visited my site. Unfortunately my whine was a pretty recent post, and he didn't fail to miss it. I was unfair to him in assuming that he got some of his blog list here. He says the links seem to have been holdovers from Martin Roth's web index.

July 29, 2002

Fiction Monday
  Winston Churchill, on the eve of battle, enjoyed a brandy at 10 Downing with President Roosevelt. He lit a Royal Tannebaum cigar, special issue, and sat in the cherry-wooded room surveying the works of the ancients.

   “Should the bombs fall, we can retire to the basement where I have a collection of stamps that has left me positive febrile! Oh all the old monarchs, their pictures in winsome miniature portraiture!”

And so the bombs rained, and Goering’s raiders took evil delight while FDR pondered the upside-down Wright brother’s plane.

“What think ye sir, most benefits a man?” asked FDR.

“What do you mean?”

“What are the permanent things, what should absorb a man. Stamps? War?”

“Good point you. War, for all its disaster, occupies a warm place in man’s heart, for it is there virtue is nurtured, honor born, sacrifice given, and glory-“

“Though it be a incredible immoral waste.”

“Indeed, war is, I suppose, the thing that gives men no excuses. They cannot say, ‘this does not matter’, for their country, their lives are on the line. Men live only when the stakes are high, they merely survive when the stakes are low.”
I usually attend an Eastern Byzantine Catholic liturgy, which is similar to the Orthodox liturgy that Dostoyevsky would've attended (except for language of course). And I can see what he means by Orthodoxy's emphasis on mystery & mysticism....The gospel readings are usually the miracle stories of Jesus, rather than the parables. And the heavy use of incense and singing (even the gospel is sung) leads one to a more mystical experience rather than an intellectual one. The emphasis is more on obedience and our sinfulness and need for grace. Less practical or utilitarian and more monastic in flavor, there is not the slightest hint of political concerns or social justice but a sort of pure faith that presumably leads to "doing the right thing" in the business or political sphere.
I whine, therefore I am
Come on, every blog in Christendom appears at this self-appointed blog index except this one. Oh, and our favorite nemesis Nihil Obstat. If Nihil did, that would really transcend reason.

I've taken a preverse sort of joy that this blog infinitely approaches total obscurity because I refuse to ask anyone to link to it or in any way be "political". Whatever tiny merit it might have, I want visitors to come by it honestly. The wonderful democracy of blogs is that hit counters don't lie, and I use it as a sort of very rough indicator on the possibility of a writing career.

Obscurity hopefully allows me to be a little more free with my posts, and maybe more honest, having no reputation to protect or audience to please. In my opinion no one even approaches Amy Welborn's site anyway.

UPDATE: I am now on the blogsforgod.com site so all is well with the world and total obscurity has morphed into nearly total obscurity.

July 26, 2002

the Grand Faith
"My name is Avercius, a disciple of a holy shepherd,
who pastures flocks of sheep on mountains and on plains,
(and) who possesses huge eyes, which he casts down everywhere.
Faith led me everywhere
and everywhere served a fish from a spring as nourishment,
(a fish) which was enormous and pure, (and) which a holy virgin grasped.

And she (Faith) bestowed it among friends so that they could always eat it,
as they had excellent wine and as they gave it in its mixed form with bread.
While present I, Avercius, said that these (words) were to be written here,
when I was in fact in my seventy-second year.
Let everyone, who understands these (words) and who is in unison (with them), pray on his behalf." - AVERCIUS OF HIEROPOLIS

Dated somewhere about 200, -- a time when it was not safe to make too open profession of Christian faith; hence Avercius phrases his confession in mysterious language which has a double meaning, yet is easily intelligible to one "who understands."
Psalm 132 says, "For the Lord has chosen Zion; he prefers her for his dwelling. 'Zion is my resting place forever; in her will I dwell, for I prefer her.'"

And so was the great comfort of Israel, that they were the Chosen ones. But now, in the new dispensation, God desires the salvation of all and prefers to dwell in all. So I can rejoice because God chooses to dwell in useless me, a Gentile, and I can rejoice for having been baptized and have access to the sacraments. If the sacraments are efficacious then how can one not feel chosen? For there is no merit in being Catholic by birth...

I see the attraction of the "no salvation outside the Church" types, who see the Catholic Church as the new Israel and its members as the new Chosen ones. For there is a great attraction to be chosen, to be called by name, to be singled out in some way. Love usually means exclusivity in humans - we choose one spouse among all the others - whereas with God love means inclusivity. But wow, what a tension - I long to believe in universalism, but I can't seem to do that without denigrating the sacraments, and therefore Christ, because that would be saying the sacraments have no special efficacy. God is not bound by the sacraments but if he routinely works around them then isn't it like what they say about miracles - if they happened all the time then they wouldn't be miracles, i.e. special?

July 25, 2002

Garry Wills....I see he's provoked 28 comments on Amy's site. He's a really interesting dude.
1) He's an intellectual with the highest credentials. He's not a knee-jerk liberal on political matters (he wrote for Nat'l Review a long, long time ago), so you would think he would be broad-minded enough to be credible on other matters. The fact that he is Catholic also gives him credibility in that you would think he would be fair to the Church. Here, you might think, is the perfect writer for the Church - someone who's fair-minded, broad-minded, not a Church Triumphalist nor a Jack Chick....
2) He's still Catholic. That amazes me, given that he believes the Church is wrong about just about everything that the modern world holds dear (i.e. birth control, abortion, etc). I just don't "get" why he's still Catholic except as a superior marketing ploy - the New York Times adores a someone from inside since they don't have to be accused of anti-Catholicism. It seems like just as it is hard to be an Amishman and believe that modernity is okay, it seems strange that someone who is Catholic should not believe the Church has infallible authority. I mean, isn't that what sets Catholics apart? The truth claim that the Church has authority given to it via apostolic succession?

I've decided that the faulty premise, and it is a huge one, is that the fact he is Catholic gives him credibility. That could easily be a detriment rather than an advantage. He probably was hit by nuns in grade school in the 50s and never forgave them for it. Many who grew up during that time have axes to grind against the institutional church. Plus he might've fallen to "Justice Souter" disease - i.e. someone who falls in love with his press and moves to the liberal side of things.
Russel Kirk's "Principals that Have Endured"
From amazon.com
Kirk wrote that certain principles endured over time, having arisen from centuries of trial and error in human experience. They included:
1) belief in a transcendent order and natural law;
2) affection for variety and mystery over uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarianism;
3) recognition of natural hierarchies and talents over equality;
4) belief that freedom and property are connected;
5) preference for prescription, custom, and convention over rational or economic planning
More Dostoyevsky
"He was hypercritical of Western Christianity, which he said had 'distorted the image of Christ' in both Catholicism and Protestantism. A Russian nationalist, he suggested his country not look to Europe for any sort of enlightenment:
"I assert that our people became enlightened long ago, by taking into its eternal soul Christ and his teaching…".

He foresaw disaster in the West because of a failure to be faithful to Christ, and, in contrast to the deep universal brotherhood characteristic of a genuinely Russian vision, he 'concluded that the comedic multicultural identity of Europe’s bourgeoisie and intelligentsia simply could not be taken seriously as the natural or proper form of human unity'." From the Vatican website

Interesting both in light of the West (a disaster, as predicted) but also in his overconfidence w respect to Russia...
More Eucharistic overtones... mentioned by our priest yesterday:
Bethlehem means "City of Bread"...a manger is a feedbox...

July 24, 2002

Been over-commenting over on Amy's blog; evangelization is a topic that is both fascinating and crucial, so I just couldn't help myself though I really don't have the answer:

One of the glories of modern medicine has been pain management and the ability to relieve suffering. The typical person suffers far less, and dies far later, than the typical person a century or two ago, which tends to induce less concern about eternal things. Suffering & the threat of death concentrate the mind remarkably. Was it Socrates who said that if you have a shrewish wife then at least you'll have philosophy (religion)? Now you just get divorced...

And then there is our scientific mindset. I'm a firm believer that your type of work begins to warp who you are (sometimes in a good way, so perhaps 'warp' is a bad word choice). Something you do day in and day out for the best part of every day influences you to a great degree. Edward Gibbon wrote, "as soon as I understood the principles, I relinquished for ever the pursuit of Mathematics; nor can I lament that I desisted before my mind was hardened by the habit of rigid demonstration so destructive of the finer feelings of moral evidence which must however determine the actions and opinions of our lives."

That "mathematical hardness" is something that now courses through our veins in this computer age, this age of "rationality". Why do so few scientists believe in God? Thomas Edison said he couldn't believe in God because his training was to believe only what he has scientific evidence for. But God steadfastly refuses to be "proven" for it would no longer be a relationship of faith & trust and would remove our free will.
Comments from Amy's blog
"I'm always reminded of Our Lady's pleas for prayer with the heart. Or when she asks for prayers for the "unbelievers" we find that we who think we believe can also be considered in that category since her definition of this type are those who do not feel God's love in their hearts. Amazingly simple..."
"Frank Sheed once gave an example of a man who had never shaved before discovering a razor. The man would discover that the razor cuts and use it to cut wood. He didn't cut very much wood, and he ruined the razor. Sheed goes on to say that one cannot use one's life rightly nor serve one's fellow man without a true knowledge of purpose."

July 23, 2002

Amy Welborn's asking the hard questions...
My sense is that modern society is very utilitarian. Therefore, to the extent that Christians are no different from anybody else then there is less desire to explore Christianity.

I can think of two remedies: one is "no salvation except thru the Church", which basically promises the consumer something he/she can't get anywhere else. (I think the Church has tried that and feels that argument has lost it's potency.) Or there is Eve Tushnet's solution which is to love Christ and then the Church will be something you love because of its relationship to Him.

But that's the story of all time isn't it? Threat of punishment, or attraction of love? Two ways to come to God.
Dostoyevsky constantly mentioned that he absolutely detested the idea of salvation as a judicial or forensic act - but stressed instead the mystical conversion experience. - Jay Rogers
The ever complex Thomas Merton
It is a timeworn literary conceit, but some writers seem to be several people....a kind of multiple personality disorder keeps turning up in writers-and writers with a religious bent seem particularly susceptible, as they keep in play not only complex human realities but divine realities as well. Dostoyevsky, Graham Greene, Walker Percy, and many other distinguished names attest to how common a phenomenon this is. But of all the great modern religious writers, no one harbored within himself a larger cast of dramatis personae than Thomas Merton.

Even for a man not vowed to silence, Merton's several dozen books would have been an extraordinary output. But adding the journals...can a man committed to the wordless apophatic way and a forgetting of self be preoccupied with recording-and publishing-every thought and act?

Merton made a gradual turn from a convert's effusive gratitude to the type of critical stance usually associated with cradle Catholics. Partly this was a reaction to monastic restrictions and a widening and deepening of his knowledge of human nature. But there was a more rebellious element in him as well. Merton sometimes took pride in what he regarded as the fact that poets and monks are marginal people. The Trappist life occasionally seemed good to him because it represented the greatest nonconformity in the world.

Merton is beyond doubt one of the great spiritual masters of our century. His personal turmoil and the misjudgments in his social thought notwithstanding, he is a forceful reminder that what may appear the most rarefied of contemplative speculations have powerful and concrete implications for the world. God dealt Thomas Merton a difficult hand. His greatness as a man lies not only in that he was able, more or less, to keep several different persons together in difficult times under the banner of "Thomas Merton," but that he provides an enduring witness to all of us much less gifted seekers who have to shore up our own fragmentary lives in quest for the "hidden wholeness."
- Robert Royal

July 22, 2002

Xenia, Ohio to Corwin, Ohio on bike
...so began the fourth annual, the bike trip that traverses small, unseen Ohio towns like Corwin, Spring Valley and Oregonia. As far back as the 17th century one exercise fan wrote, “Oh, how much misery is escaped by frequent and violent agitation of the body!”. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both recognized the mental benefits of exercise and described those who tend to sit around and think all day as likely to be “melancholic”. But to me it was just a great excuse to take a half-day off work, which in itself reverses melancholy. Not to mention the enjoyment derived from the long exposure to sun and other natural phenomenon like snakes, herons, beavers, lily-padded lakes, small waterfalls and strangely attired bikers.

In fairly fast time (unless measured by other bikers, who apparently traveled at a rate of speed that made the tree’s leaves blur), we arrived in the euphoniously named Spring Valley. Oh to live in Spring Valley, where it is eternally spring! It’s a little Mayberry of a town, with a small ice cream & antique shop called the “Spring Valley Mercantile Exchange”. There, behind a counter, a slow-moving man makes the sweets that keep the bikers going. An olde picture in the shop shows the Exchange in feister days, displaying a banner that said: “Spring Valley Against the World!”. One can only imagine what the little Mercantile was fighting for or who won.

We re-entered the bike path under blazing sunshine. The threat of rain appeared a distant bad memory. We continued along towards our goal of Corwin, the half-way point, or mile 14. We rode by a masterwork vista of several farms dotting the landscape and a large white house on the hill looking as pristine as paradise.

We came to a proverbial fork in the road, or at least an animal with a forked tounge. Mary gave a whoop and a yell at a huge lumpy snake in mid-path..Mark could not tell us the type of snake, but it looked like a rattler, for its tail shook and sort of rattled and its head cocked up and menacingly danced from side to side. It might have been a cobra, come to think of it, for it had that sort of look about him. Dangerous as sin. Soon another biker happened by, one dressed in the inexplicable fashion of bikers these days – in a tight suit of loud colors, this time red, white and blue. The biker was stopped dead in his tread when he saw the snake. He confessed his great fear of snakes. Mary, in a nice understatement, said something like, “well I guess you’ll be stuck here”.

Onward we pressed, but Mark noticed a disturbing development. The sky behind us seemed a swollen black and blue, like some sort of horribly disfiguring injury. It looked angry as some sort of huge pus abscess, soon to be drained all over us. We moved on to Corwin, had ice cream & cokes, and waited for the inevitable. Which came in buckets and buckets. And so we were stranded in the small Corwin Peddler for at least an hour and a half.

Our long national nightmare – being trapped with strangers at a claustrophobic shop in Corwin, Ohio - finally ended when I convinced Mom & Mark to take a chance and ride in the slight drizzle. Apparently all the other bikers felt similarly, for they all passed us within a matter of a minute or two never to be seen again.

And so we traveled back through Spring Valley, I noticed confirmation of Tom’s law of inverse patriotism – those who have little show the most, those with grand houses the least. I passed by houses the size of small cabins with big flags and window-sticker red, white & blue’s. I recall that when I drive through some of the poorer neighborhoods in Columbus, there are all sorts of flags & decorations but when I drive by the McMansions, well, flags are more rare. But then there are more pink flamigos in poorer neighborhoods too, so maybe it doesn’t prove anything....
Currently reading the Pope's Love & Responsibility, a wonderful tonic for the sexual ethic quagmire:

"Beauty is essentially an object of contemplative cognition, and to experience aesthetic values is not to exploit..Thus sensuality really interferes with apprehension of the beautiful, even of bodily, sensual beauty for it introduces a consumer attitude to the object; 'the body' is then regarded as a potential object of exploitation."

"[The sexual life process] has not a consumer orientation - nature does not have enjoyment for its own sake as its aim."

"The sexual urge in man is a fact which he must recognize and welcome as a source of natural energy - otherwise it may cause pyschological disturbances. The instinctive reaction in itself, which is called sexual arousal, is to a large extent a vegetative reaction independent of the will...An exuberant and readily roused sensuality is the stuff from which a rich - if difficult - personal life may be made. It may help the individual to respond more readily and completely to the decisive elements in personal love. Primitive sensual excitability (provided it is not of morbid origin) can become a factor making for a fuller and more ardent love. Such a love will obviously be the result of sublimination."
The great debate...
Modernism - by James Akin
Pope Piux X dubbed Modernism "the synthesis of all heresies." Modernists viewed doctrine not as a means of obtaining supernatural knowledge, but as a symbol of an unknowable ultimate reality or as a symbol of human religious expression. Because they do not contain genuine knowledge of the supernatural, theological dogmas are relative and may adopted or rejected based on whether they exercise power over people's imaginations. Those dogmas which are found productive to people's religious sentiments are to be accepted, then abandoned when they are no longer found satisfying. Dogmas may thus change over time, either being completely rejected or reinterpreted and given a meaning different than what they originally had.

Since dogmas do not give us knowledge of the supernatural and religion is best viewed as an expression of human religious aspirations, no real, objective knowledge of God is possible. Intellectual arguments in favor of his existence are useless, as are arguments based on miracles or fulfilled prophecies. In the Modernist view, the only knowledge we can have of God is subjective, found in individual religious experiences (which are binding on only those who receive them).

Since God is found primarily or exclusively in the human heart - in subjective experience - he is profoundly immanent in the world. Modernism has a tendency toward pantheism (the doctrine that God is identical with the world or a part of it), emphasizing his immanence at the expense of his transcendence.

Because theology does not give us knowledge of the supernatural, Scripture is best viewed as an expression of profound religious experiences had by its authors, but not as a sure guide to a knowledge of God and his ways. Scripture is not free from human error and contains much symbol and myth. Since it is historically unreliable and based on human religious sentiment, there is a gap between what it records and what actually took place.

In view of the fact that theological dogmas are relative, all Christian denominations are equal. Even non-Christian religions are valid expressions of man's religious yearnings. It follows that the Church should have no special relationship with the state and that the state has no duty to uphold and promote the true religion. Instead of openly acknowledging that the state's power comes from God (Rom. 13:1) through Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18), the state should be indifferent to all religions and to those with no religion.

July 18, 2002

Ravelstein said it
“I was always drawn to people who were orderly in a large sense and had mapped out the world and made it coherent. We had a buddy back in the States who liked to tell us, 'Order is charismatic.'

“On especially enjoyable days I suffer an early afternoon drop – fine weather makes it all the worse. The gloss the sun puts on the surroundings – the triumph of life, so to speak, the flourishing of everything makes me despair. I’ll never be able to keep up with all the massed hours of life-triumphant.”
- Saul Bellow's "Ravelstein"

The summer ignites a certain carelessness – the sun flings herself so freely, cold beer feels better against summer’s hot skin, and the languorous vacation days extend brotherly even into the work week…Nature feels so over-the-top now.

I come by my back-to-nature roots naturally. At 11, I was already deeply attracted to stories like that of an L.A. architect who became a farmer in Iowa. The show, "Apple's Way", was shortlived. But it activated some sort of primeval purity button in me, as did “Little House on the Prarie” and “the Waltons”. I mainlined those shows and they still have an influence.
One year, in a vain attempt to recover the white trash within me, I bought an old pick-me-up truck and a bumper sticker that read, "Work is for people who can't fish". I didn't put it on since I thought it intellectually dishonest given that I haven't been fishing since I was a pre-pubescent (aka rugrat, drape crawler). I still have the bumper sticker, a symbol of the road not taken (i.e. the unshaven, divorced me with a beer belly the size of Manhattan). Last Christmas, in a vestigal thirst for redneckdom, I asked my parents for the tackiest lawn ornament they could find (I suggested starting in the pink flamingo aisle). Call it a late, late, late adolescent rebellion. Well come Christmas, you can imagine the effort it took to paint a smile on when I opened the gift and found a handsome, tasteful bronze-green leprechuan. I display it proudly next to the shrubs, but it's not what I had in mind. There's no neon.
"In the dark little library I became a crabbed squire, a cranky country hobbyist, a 19th-century minded custodian of uniform sets of Balzac and Dickens, O. Henry and Winston Churchill.” -- John Updike, “Toward the End of Time”
Read an interview about a member of the French Resistance during WWII. Some of the hero's friends joined the Resistance, some actively supported the Germans, and many stayed quiet and kept their heads down. Was it surprising who did what?

"I'd asked if he was surprised when the guy betrayed the group. No, he said, he wasn't really surprised by anyone's behavior during that desperate preriod. 'Even the kids in my high school," he said, 'I could have predicted beforehand how almost every one of them would act. It wasn't so different from how they'd always been before'.

At the time it seemed a stunning thought: that by our routine behaviors and seemingly banal choices, we reveal what we're ultimately made of. But of course it is absolutely so. It is by the incidental tests, day by day and hour by hour, that we establish what we are about; and, indeed, how we will respond when most severely tested."

-Harry Stein

July 17, 2002

Our Dominican priest has a different view of the Church than non-Catholics or perhaps even some Catholics have. He stresses the great freedom of belief – how wide the pasture of what one can believe is - because the Church’s doctrine are fences on the far edges of the landscape pointing to the cliffs. There are many theologies and one doctrine. An example he mentions is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin – the doctrine - and whether she died first or was taken up before death - the theology. (He pointed out that it shouldn’t be irrational that Mary, whom the angels called blessed, should be taken up to heaven when Elijah and Enoch were in the OT). Another example is the idea of limbo for unbaptized babies. You can believe they are in heaven. Or not. But then what kind of thing is that? If I am a mother who lost an unbaptized child, you could probably guess what I'd believe.

So, there is a freedom of belief, one that Fr. Hayes finds good. Why? I like to believe the answers are all nice and neat in print, without holes or inventions; maybe because I don’t then have to depend on Somebody for the answers? The bible says the Holy Spirit will teach you. But I look around at the variety of beliefs and think: how do you know if the HS teaches you? The Church I can believe. Me? Protestants haven't gotten very good results from that type of thinking...

Thomas Aquinas would sometimes lean his head against the Blessed Sacrament during long times of prayer over difficult issues, as if in a gesture for help. That we must sweat and pray for truth is surely just another evidence of the Fall - why should our fallen state not extend to truths we might've forgotten?

Father Hayes says he has been taught by God in his heart, things he knows. I would that I had his confidence. Instead of faith being a set of answers at the back of a math book, it is a relationship of dependency upon the Deity. And though I know we will not be held accountable for believing a falsehood in a some matter which the Church allows latitude, it would really rankle. And I'm not sure why - maybe pride.

Perhaps it is a question of not being properly thankful for the truths we do have. The Catechism is a very rich diet. The problem many of us cradle Catholics have is that we have no appreciation for the truth given to us because it was too rich a diet for a 5th or 8th grader or high schooler. Doctrines were not appreciated, instead they were scrutinized for inconsistencies or omissions. For a Simeon or the apostles after the Resurrection, the NT was simply breathtaking in its revelatory power.
Via All But Dissertations "Women's clothiers shrink sizes to flatter buyers' vanity." link

Perfect metaphor for our time...shrink standards to make us feel better. SATs too low? Let's dumb them down. Morality too difficult? Let's loosen...

Standards and sizes make us uncomfortable because they reveal the truth...they are too objective by a half.
Interesting comments from Steve Mattson:
"The emphasis on having the "right" ideas for oneself, in one's head, is prevalent....

The answer to liberal Protestant and Catholic intellectuals and conservative Fundamentalists is faith. Not fideistic, naive, unthinking faith. But faith in Christ who promised the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth. At the end of the day, faith is an act of submission and obedience more than strictly intellectual effort.

Faith requires our willingness to have the Truth enfold us instead of striving always to prove to ourselves that we're smart enough to be saved. In other words, salvation (like faith) is not rooted in propositions, but in a Person. When faith gets reduced to "truths" we trot out for review, instead of confidence in the person to whom we must submit all we are and hope to be, we don't yet know the Truth that sets us free.

As Catholics, we embrace mystery as part of our faith. So we must trust, we must have faith, in Him who said He would guide the Church into all truth. That does not mean each of us will have all truth-- nothing, in fact, is less likely. However, the Church makes up for what we lack. In fact, as St. Paul said, the Church is the Pillar and Bulwark of the Truth. I don't know about you, but I'd say that's real good news. I'm glad I don't have to work it all out for myself.

In contrast, the desire to possess tidy faith formulations that can pass muster with the world (on Wills' side) or Sola Scriptura (on the Fundamentalists') is vanity. In the end, it produces more pride than love. And it leads to the lifeless faith that Amy described so well."

My take on this is that it is true, we defer to Christ's Church for truth, but the maddening thing is that we must admit even the Church "looks through the glass darkly" as St. Paul wrote. Israelites of OT times surely thought they possessed truth, and they did in a sort of elementary way. But the hard fact remains: can we not say that Christianity has developed such that we no longer persecute those who do not believe as we do? From "errors have no rights" to religious freedom? Two hundred years from now it's hard to believe that those looking back will cast an eye on us and think not that our doctrines were wrong, but that they were crude. And that is humbling, which is to say, saving.

July 16, 2002

From the Rat's blog: "There are five reasons for drinking: the visit of a friend, present thirst, future thirst, the goodness of the wine, or any other reason." —attributed to Père Sirmond, 16th century

Sounds like Père had been drinking...

July 15, 2002

From John Derbyshire in the Corner:
"As soon as I understood the principles, I relinquished for ever the pursuit of Mathematics; nor can I lament that I desisted before my mind was hardened by the habit of rigid demonstration so destructive of the finer feelings of moral evidence which must however determine the actions and opinions of our lives."---Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life
Heard Tammy Bruce, a pro-choice lesbian, defend Dr. Laura's famous "homosexuality is deviant behavior" comment on C-Span yesterday. She's for free speech, and is basically a libertarian except in the case of prostitution and drugs (since those are not victimless crimes, in her estimation, but apparently abortion is). She said she was tired of being lied to by the left. Rosa Parks wasn't a tired old lady who didn't want to go to the back of the bus but a leader in the NAACP who staged it. Betty Friedan wasn't a bored housewife, but an activist in the Communist Party....Interesting.
Okay I'm over my whiney, Kumbayi moment. I got a little vaklempt there. The damned are damned but God's mercy is great. Case closed.

P.S. I suspect that my concern for other's salvation is more a concern for self, in the form of worry over my own soul. Would that I trust God enough to say like Job (albeit in a different context) "though you slay me, yet.."
Been listening to a lecture on tape about Early Christianity by Luke Timothy Johnson and he has an interesting definition for a religious experience (i.e. in contrasting it with a aesthetic experience). If one goes to church and hears a magnificent sermon on the Good Samaritan and afterwards you tell the priest how much you liked the sermon but then your life doesn't change, then you had an aesthetic experience. If you go to the symphony and hear Mozart and then go home and buy a violin and begin study, you had a religious experience. Then funny thing is, he said, that you can never tell whether you are having a religious experience at the time you are experiencing it...

From the Gratuitous Nonsense Dep't
I worked briefly for the Mexican government in the Mexican Immigration Service (MIS) in ’89. I was hired to stop the flow of illegal Americans crossing into Matadoros, Mexico. I was given a badge and a gun and told to shoot anyone with blonde hair and blue eyes. Brown-haired Americans should be interviewed to determine if they are Mexicans before being jailed.

My first day on the job was unsettling. I saw what looked to be an obviously American family in a late-model van crossing the border. I stopped them.
“What business do you have in Mexico?” I asked.
“We are here on vacation,” the driver said.
“How do I know you’re not here to steal Mexicano jobs?"
“What Mexican jobs?”
I stammered, “I ask the questions."

Damned if this North American family didn’t proceed to run the barricade. They had entered Mexico illegally! My first customers. The dust rose up like a fog and they were gone.

I called it into my supervisor.
“No, no no! No one from Ohio comes to Mexico for a job…they come to escape non-stop rain!”

From then on I was ready. A family with Indiana plates drove up.

“State your business,” I said.
“We are here on vacation.”
"Aren't you really here to escape the constant clouds of the Midwest?”
"Well, to be honest, yes."
“And you expect me to believe you will leave sunny Mexico and return to 300 days of cloudy weather in Fort Wayne?”

They made a run for it too. Had my gun ready, but I didn’t shoot. I figured they were right. I’m now working at a specialty supermarket for gringos in central Mexico.

July 12, 2002

I read the bible with one hurt: I identify too strongly with the underdog. That is, of course, an American trait. I pity those born before Christ who had to live under that onerous Law and for their existence as old wine in old wineskins and not "new creations" in Christ. I feel sorry for the pagans who lived outside Israel, or before her time. For those who did not possess the “Ark of the Covenant” in battle. For those who weren’t the Chosen People. I feel sorry for those Israelites who didn’t recognize Jesus as the savior. I even have some pity for Judas. The idea of predestination, in the form of grace withheld, pains most of all: (Aquinas said that God predestined some to hell in the sense of not providing grace - they, of course, exercised free will in sinning, thus damned themselves - somehow that feels unsatisfying. Imagine reading Aquinas and it being a 'near occasion of sin' - ha).

It seems in order for us to be appreciative, we need to see ourselves in relation to someone who has less than we. Thus the new Christians can feel joy at losing the Law and gaining the Spirit. Thus the Israelites can feel euphoria in acquiring the Promised Land or in just knowing they are the Chosen people. Is the notion of exclusivity something humans need to feel in order to know they are loved? We marry one person only in order to show that person they are special and beloved?

In short, I long for fairness, while living in utter unfairness. For it is utterly unfair that I live in physical comfort, after Christ...
One for the ages:
"The worst thing you can do is exactly what I ask." - my boss.
Great post from Amy Welborn on Garry Wills' Papal Sin book.

"You're too smart to believe in God".- a co-worker.
The fact that intellectual elites have largely abandoned religion has made the rest of us, quite naturally, sensitive on the subject. Just as a boy who is continually told that he is weak and puny will try to develop muscles, so there is a natural reaction to defend the faith intellectually, i.e. on the terms that the "other side" sets. My motives (as always) are mixed? I want to defend the faith to people I respect but in doing so I also want to defend myself. Pride.

I've often wondered about the connection between truth and hubris. Does God do us a favor in keeping us in the dark for humility's sake? On a "Catholic Authors" program on EWTN, the guest said that the great danger is the middlebrow. Those who are brilliant tend to see how little they know; those at the other end also know they don't know much. But 'tweeners...

July 11, 2002

“Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.” - Hosea 11:3-4.

July 10, 2002

Great post on Blog for lovers on play as a virtue. Scroll down for best results.
Post-vacation Euphoria drying up....
..but oh that it be true that for one grand and glorious moment, that I escaped the quotidian, there on that blessed ground, that holy ground, upon an emerald lake under a giving sun. Oh to think, as I wind down the slate gray stairs with the exposed insulation, oh to think that I was there...and vicariously I fly to it again, with our dog in the lake, swimming, a life preserver on him, oh the caninity! Oh to be flopping, flapping in the coddling waters of Lake Cumberland....Oh to have been on that pontoon with Aquinas and a beer and the spectacle of it all...the stratified rocky cliffs, the benevolent water, the shade-giving trees....It doesn't matter that I'm not there now, just that I was and glimpsed it and can reclaim it. Like that happy Lab that leapt when his owners returned, so Shakespeare's words jump and sprite to mind!

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise . . .
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea...
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
Nancy Nall blogged about the pledge. I admit to a little schadenfreude, or joy in another's pain, when I see liberals contorting in anger over something George Bush does (i.e. breathing), or now about the pledge controversy. Conservatives went through purgatory during the Clinton years, so there is a sort of rough justice.

As a Christian, you can bet I enjoyed the Congressional marionette show and their rush to pledge allegiance to their re-election. In other ten years they won't even bother...

Personally, I wonder if a little ol' fashioned hypocrisy isn't a good thing now and then. For instance, it's been said that some of the Catholic bishops were hesitant to discipline wayward priests because they themselves were wayward. So to protect against hypocrisy children had to be abused. Now that just ain't fair.

July 09, 2002

"Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters." - John Updike writing about Ted Williams
FYI, here's the original Touchstone article.

Lee's response to my email:
Both in the OT and NT the bridegroom analogy is applied to Yahweh/Christ and Israel/the Church, emphasizing: that there is only one God, and that he has only one Church. It was not consistently applied to individuals until after Bernard, who popularized it.

Receptivity does not equal femininity. Obedience is a military virtue.

John was a Son of Thunder. His femininity (and homosexuality) is a modern invention.

Gibbons and others project the state of modern Christianity back into patristic times.

Critics of my book have not pointed out any factual errors in my data. I am looking for the truth of the matter. The only modifications I would consider my thesis are:
1 the rise of courtly love may be more important than Bernard's mystical theology, but they quickly got mixed up.
2 The Eastern churches have to be studied to see if they show any signs of feminization when they are not under Western influence.

I cannot believe that God created half the human race to less fit for salvation - I am not a double predestination Calvinist. Thanks for the comments however.

The ugly point, however, is that it appears (on the surface at least) that some are less fit for salvation by their very nature, and so his quibble seems to be with numbers, given that 50% is too high a threshold (or else it is because he is a member of that 50%).

We have a very learned, highly orthodox Dominican priest at our parish who told us that receptivity is a feminine aspect, which is the reason priests are male - i.e. they are an icon of Christ and Christ is the initiator, pollinator...He said it is hard for lay men to deal with this imagery.
A Spiritual Reading List
How many have you read? Here's why...

July 08, 2002

the Podles Controversy
Leon Podles dates the feminization of the Church to when "Bernard of Clairvaux taught that the relationship to the Christian soul to God was that of a bride to a Heavenly Bridegroom. In this he continued an allegorical exegesis that goes back to Origen.."

This was actually rather bluntly stated by Christ, who referred to Himself as the bridegroom in Matt 9:15, Matt 25:1-13. "Similar OT imagery depicts Yahweh as the husband of Old Covenant Israel (Is 54:5, Jer 3:20, Hos 2:14-20). Jesus takes this role upon himself and is now the divine spouse of the New Covenant Church (Jn 3:29, Eph 5:25, Rev 19:7-9)." - Ignatius Study bible.

Like it or not, humans are stuck in a passive role given that we are receivers and not initiators. If the male role is to initiate (if only in a biological sense, but that is important given that God created the idea of gender) then that is explicitly a role given to God. We have only to wait and respond. I would say that Christianity, if feminized, comes by it honestly at least with respect to the bridegroom analogy.

Podles also says that the "age of the martyrs evinced no great signs that Christianity was especially for women but Gibbon, in the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", wrote that "The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the last remains of the military spirit were buried in the cloister."

It's difficult not to surmise that just maybe women are better people and that's the reason they are more religious. Rather than bending and twisting Christianity to gain male adherents why not recognize that there are all kinds of inherent advantages that religious people have that others do not. For instance, people whose father abused them have a hard time believing in God, while those with a strong family are more likely to believe. Poor people in aggregate have a greater faith than rich. Those born with a rational, scientific-type minds seem to struggle with faith (scientists have about a 10% rate of belief in God).

Bottom line is that religious faith has all types of natural fetters, and we can only assume that God will reward each according to the faith given to him or her. That more may be required of a woman or a man with less testosterone is, I don't think, unreasonable. It could be argued that the least masculine figure among the apostles was John, who also was the one most loved by Jesus.
Sex & the Church
Amy's having quite a blogcussion on the Leon Podles controversy. I am fascinated that Podles allegedly lays the blame for a feminized Church at the feet of Hans von Balthasar and Pope JPII. I'll have to read more about that. It seems like one of Gerard's contentions is that sexual sin should not be viewed horrendously. Amy Welborn in the past has said something similar - that the Church is too hard on sexual sins at the expense of other types of sin. Michael Jones has a very interesting view of the question; he's a hardcore "see everything thru the lens of sex" type, but then men are supposed to think about it every six seconds. I've heard many others claim that the Church is obsessed with sex, but then so is modern society. Perhaps the Church has to be obsessed with whatever society is obsessed with. Crocker's take on it seems to be that the Church has guided a middle ground despite the seemingly sexophobic Augustine (and St. Paul?). Crocker points out that the influential theologian Origen actually had himself castrated. So I guess Augustine does look a little moderate compared to Origen.
What I Did on my Summer Vacation
Wednesday shone jewel-like, empty of duty. It began with clipping some of the errant limb'd maples out back. Then I sat in the hot shade and even hotter sun and melted beneath God’s beauty-earth, eventually merging my chair with the tomato plants…..ahh…'twas nearly 2:00 before the clock lent some sense of urgency, so I threw the bike in the truck bed and did the whole, expanded bike path. It ended with the pleasant sound of church bells, pleasant until I discovered they were connected to a cemetery instead of a church. On the ride back I listened in the long heat to NPR & Terri Gross interviewing the makers of “Frank Sinatra & Hollywood”. Heard outtakes of the Rat Pack recording a movie tune, Frank restless and ready to go back to Jersey. A metaphor for us all. There amid the passing farms I felt the unlikeliest of emotions – longing. Later I would feel it more profoundly when stopped at a Pizza Hut forty miles north of Lexington, KY. While waiting the obligatory twenty minutes, I ran a pluperfect rural route. Shortly after take off, I noticed, there upon a hill, a white house with wrap-around porch and a truck set jauntily on a dirt drive. Something in it, maybe the whiteness of the house, or its nearness in look to Tara of "Gone With the Wind" set me off and I experienced an ache of longing akin to pain. At the end of the lane I came to a house with a huge yard full of automobiles, a motley crew of perhaps fifty cars in all states of rust; they were crowded together like some sort of car lot from hell. I thought: only in America that such wealth could marry such lack of taste.

Thursday was July 4th, brutally hot even by 10:30am, so I tarried barely a minute before leaving the scene of the supposed parade (apparently not a 10am start). By 11:30 we were on our way to the Red’s game. We had nice seats; with only 16,000 fans the blue lay unoccupied and downright breezy. No body heat here. Unforunately the Redlegs lost a 4-3 lead with 2 outs in the 9th, but that was a technicality. Watching a game and caring about the outcome (at least in July; September's different if it's still a race) is like going to a symphony and being upset that the last note was an e-minor.

Friday morn we set off for Elizabethtown, KY (known to locals as "E-town") and ended up at a desultory campsite with a weed-eaten pool and neighbor camper blaring the Broadway soundtrack from “Momma Mia”. But the redeeming quality was the farm behind us, and so I sat upon a huge tree stump while the girls showered, and stared as dusk molecules slowly greyed the slate. The barn was red and grey and peeling and one support leaned slightly, and a tree leaned in sympathy with the crumbling barn as if for purely photogenic reasons. A closer tree, with an exotic look about it, gave off the impression of the African savannah. The unbearable part of the tableau was that the tree and barn sat atop a slight hill that did not allow any view beyond them. And so there was that inscrutable mystery – what lay just over the hill? Uncomfortable with mystery, I tested the fence for voltage (editor’s note: the low-tech way – put hand against it) and then climbed o’er the barbwire and advanced a few steps before seeing that there were people walking into the house. A sometime respector of private property, I climbed back to the tree stump, forever wondering what lay just over that little hill. (Probably more farm.)

On Saturday we discovered a minor ponc. Lake Cumberland wasn’t 20 minutes away but 2 hours. I wasn't in charge, I was just along for the ride. So we packed up everything and headed southwest. Away from Louisville to deep south Kentucky. After a drive in the brilliant sunshine we made Cumberland and fortunately found a camping spot. More work ensued, which made me think: one goes camping to trade drudgery and cooking and cleaning one’s home for drudgery and cooking and cleaning one’s campsite. Viva le’ difference. By 2:30 we were all set up and ready for action. The camping vacation would begin officially right now! Since all the "funtoon" boats were rented out, we settled for two fishing boats. We swam in the emerald green water in a private cove surrounded by picturesque rock cliffs… Cumberland has that irresistable feature of having a million "fingers" or coves and thus there is always a new vista or private island just ahead. We split the calm waters at a good pace and cut across other boat wakes and oogled a dead fish with pop-eye’d eyes...

July 03, 2002

Oy vey...Nihilstic Obstreperous (intentional sic) has landed. Well they say there's no such thing as bad publicity. She found a niche, so there you go. There must be a market for schadenfreude else she wouldn't have visitors. Good time for me to go on vacation and avoid plural's. <- Just teasin' N.O.!
No bloggin' for awhile. Lake Cumberland calls. A long weekend. Blessed bliss...

Written in 1909 on 1860s baseball:
“Baseball was then just coming into its own. It was no child’s play either, in the original package. Curved balls were undreamed of….There were no great padded gloves, either…”.

The curveball was only 35 years old when he wrote that, but the interesting thing here is that the ‘great padded gloves’ of 1909 were NOTHING compared to today’s gloves! Now we would call the 1909 gloves a joke.

July 02, 2002

Re: Amy Welborn's blogcussion (i.e. blog discussion) on faith...:
"In believing, we entrust ourselves to the knowledge acquired by other people. This suggests an important tension. On the one hand, the knowledge acquired through belief can seem an imperfect knowledge, to be perfected gradually through personal accumulation of evidence; on the other hand, belief is often humanly richer than evidence, because it involves an interpersonal relationship and brings into play not only a person's capacity to know but also the deeper capacity to entrust oneself to other's, to enter into a relationship with them which is intimate and enduring." - JPII Fides et Ratio

July 01, 2002

Funny stuff from National Review Online:
“The sun is hot, the beer is cold, and the thoughts are long and languid. It is vacation week at the ocean.

We do this every year. Fourteen or so of our closest immediate family members, plus a parasitic teenage guest or two, pile into a large house near the Corolla Lighthouse. Huge stores of provisions are loaded in: the better parts of pigs and cows; eggs, fruits, vegetables, bags of candy bars, cookies, and enough beer and wine to stun a Russian division.

Vacations like these, of course, are much about family, and more than one friend has observed that their own families could not gather under one roof for much more than a holiday meal. They ask the secret for success. The answer is fairly simple: People are like nations, and nations get along best when they are given space and respect, no matter how little they deserve either. During the day, we are a group of individuals: walking, running, sunning, swimming, fishing, reading, doing business over the computer, practicing musical instruments, and in the junior division chasing chicks. These are undertaken alone or in small clusters. We all gather for the evening meal, at which time it is imperative to know which subjects to avoid.”

Poem Illustrating the Plight of Christians Who Find Themselves Astride the World & the Kingdom, Full Citizens of Neither.

Deep 'side an Irish lea
lies a mermaid
in a capricious pose
half-reclining, half-sitting
as her half-and-halfness dictates.
She takes her coffee with cream:
Half & Half naturally-
and is half-way committed
to the cause of boycotting tuna
for the fish in her sympathizes
but the woman in her
loves her Starfish.
Longing for love
she sighs a wistful sigh
for neither the marlins satisfy
nor the fishermen that happen by.