Monday, October 21, 2013

Proclaim the Word!

Beloved:
Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed,
because you know from whom you learned it,
and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures,
which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation
through faith in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is inspired by God
and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction,
and for training in righteousness,
so that one who belongs to God may be competent,
equipped for every good work.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and by his appearing and his kingly power:
Proclaim the Word!
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

(from the second letter of St. Paul to St. Timothy, 3:14-4:2)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Avoiding Misunderstandings and Offense

Life is full of misunderstandings. We all experience them. Stories are told about them. They can cause all sorts of trouble in this human sphere, sometimes serious. Many of these misunderstandings occur through no particular fault of any given party. It's just a consequence of the nature of our limited perceptions/perspectives and the boundaries imposed by language.

Life is going to give us enough of these without our help. We can do our part to minimize them. Here are some possibly obvious but terribly challenging guidelines for doing so:
  1. Don't assume people know what you know. Do what you can to ensure a mutual understanding of relevant information.
  2. Don't expect something of another without making it clear to that person what you expect. Be prepared for the unavoidable cases when they may not agree that your expectations are fair, reasonable, or realistic.
  3. Don't expect everyone to see things the way you do, nor to value the same things you value. In fact, it is basically a given that they don't, and it's just a question of scale in how much you differ.
  4. Be patient with others and try to understand things from their perspectives, in as much as you can.
  5. Don't guess at others' motivations. Doing so is a source of much unnecessary ill will in the world. Often people don't even know what their own motivations are, so how much more likely is it that we don't know what they are? Instead, give people the benefit of the doubt, ask questions to understand, and honestly, truly listen to them.
  6. Don't take offense. Just don't. It's basically never a good thing to do.
This last one calls for some clarification. This is not to say that you should never feel offended. It's also not to say that your feelings of being offended are wrong, though they very well could be (and probably often are, especially where personal offense is concerned). The point is not to take that feeling and embrace it, wallow in it, or otherwise stagnate in it. 

If your conscience is well formed, then it's entirely possible that your sensibilities are good, and that when they are offended, it is an indicator that something is not good. On the other hand, I would argue that very few of us, and maybe not any of us, have such perfect consciences that we should uncritically trust them. 

The main problem with taking offense is that it tends to throw logs on the fire of anger, and when we get angry, we tend to stop thinking clearly. We start from the offended sensibility that tells us we (or someone else) was wronged, and then we get angry, and then it makes it that much harder to think critically about if our feeling of offense was right, was true.

A better way is to be on our guard in relation to the feeling of offense, to train our minds to immediately set aside the feeling and go through a self-examination and reflection when we feel offended. 
  • Are we feeling offended because of our own pride? If so, it's probably not good and should be dispatched immediately. 
  • Are we feeling offended on behalf of another? If so, what are the rational grounds for that feeling? Is it because we have affection for them? If so, then we need to examine the supposed offense more carefully with a view to whether or not we are reacting due to our emotional attachment and not for good reason. If we are not attached to them, is there some real injustice?
If we think we have discovered a real injustice, the next thing to do would be to ensure that the offense was intended (see above). Chances are more often than not, the offense is due to some misunderstanding, and it would be better to find that out than to move on under the assumption that the offense was intended and that your emotional response is justified. 

In any case, the way forward is not to hold onto the offense but rather to move on from it to a more soundly-based motive for further action, one that doesn't tend to shut the brain down. Likely what needs to happen is to recognize our own failing, our own pride or unqualified affection; maybe we just need to discover and dispel a misunderstanding, or maybe it is a real injustice that we need to counteract. Whatever it is, it's highly unlikely that taking offense and staying offended is the best way forward.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Disconnecting from Catholic Social Media

After the latest brouhaha resultant from this post (and the convo before it I mentioned), I have been pushed over the edge. I'm done with Catholic social media.

It's not like this hasn't been long in coming. It seems what passes for the majority of Catholic blogging, and perhaps more so social media, is a sludge of conservative outrage inducing link regurgitating. The echo chamber is in full effect, and it has gotten worse since our new pope has been elected. Now it's not just the broader decadent Western culture that has the watchdogs frothing at the mouth, but apparently the Pope himself is not Catholic enough for them.

Enough already. It is downright embarrassing and, for me, infuriating. It's all just so much gossip.

We conservative Catholics need to stop conflating political ideals with Catholic doctrine, as if the Right has a corner on truth and goodness. We need to stop vilifying those on the other end of the political spectrum. We need to stop overreacting to everything homosexual and abortion-related. We need to stop setting ourselves up in our own personal popedoms. We need to relax about the liturgy. We need to relax about the world's sexual profligacy. We need to relax. Chill out a bit. Take a deep breath and stop wigging out every time something in the world doesn't align with the way we think it should be.

It goes without saying (for me) that I'm not suggesting keeping silent when we should speak. I'm not suggesting not being active in the political process how we should be. I'm not suggesting ignoring or suppressing Truth, Goodness, or Beauty. I am by no means suggesting we don't share the Gospel--exactly the contrary!

Look. Either God is in control or he isn't. If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, that ain't nothing new. The way things used to be ain't as great as we like to pretend it was in our whitewashed memories. Human nature is human nature. It always has been. Mass sinfulness has always been with us; it's just the predominate kinds of sin that change with the passage of time.

Thankfully, God doesn't judge us by the political order and culture we live in; he judges us individually by what we as individuals think, say, and do. If God intended to set up a perfect political party or government, we'd have that. But we don't, and it's not our job to try to set it up.

What we do have is the Truth. What we have are the Sacraments. What we have is each other. Real people whom we are called to truly love, even if we don't agree with them. 

And don't tell me about "speaking the truth in love." Hogwash. The Truth is easily abused and can be wielded as effectively to drive people away from God as it can to guide them to Him. The Truth is also understood incompletely, by us. It is often miscommunicated, by us. It is also often misunderstood, and we are responsible to minimize that--we must be sensitive to where people are and adjust when and how we share the Gospel with them. 

And this extends beyond social media (it just seems exacerbated by it, as are most things online, where it's so easy to reduce people in your head to mere ideas and words, stripping them of the dignity and love they deserve from us). My own dear lay Dominicans were recently discussing a situation where one of them found out that someone they have do some handyman work is gay--who was "married" recently. Apparently this was the source of great anguish--should she keep paying him to do a job? What if he brings up his gayness?? "You have to share the truth [in love] with him," says someone. 

Really?!? Have we become so oversensitized to this issue that it becomes a major personal crisis to find out that someone you have hired to do a job that has absolutely zero to do with their sexuality is gay? Are we really obligated to foist our opinion of their life choices on them uninvited? Must we all shake our heads and tut tut about it? Would we have the same crisis if, say, we found out that they were a terrible gossip or an inveterate liar? Somehow I doubt it, especially if their sin was also one we personally struggle with.

And that's the crux of it. If this behavior is not the very definition of what Jesus was counseling against in Matthew 7, I don't know what is. All this outrage-inducing "socializing" does is keep our focus on others' sins and errors rather than our own, much less does it help us to share the Good News. I'd say the Devil is pretty pleased with the state of Catholic social media right now. Pretending for a moment that this is "New Evangelization" is utter self-deception.

Sharing the Gospel is the key. It's not good enough to say something is a sin. That's sharing the Truth incompletely. That, at its best, is ethics. Being a "good person" doesn't get anyone to heaven. What we really need to share is not "you are living in sin" but "Christ can transform your life, give you joy and give you peace." That's the message. That's the focus. Sin is just an opportunity for us to receive God's grace. We need to share that the mercy and grace of God is greater than all our sins put together

We need to stand with our fellow sinners, not so as to condone sin but rather in recognition that we are all sinners, that we all fail, that we all utterly need the grace of God. If we are not truly with them, then we are not truly loving them. Compassion is the word. Suffering with others. Us versus them is not authentic love. Pointing out sin is not authentic love. It is pride masquerading as love.


And, so, for myself, all this outrage-rich social media is a very near occasion to sin (not to mention a waste of time and talent), because I am repeatedly tempted to hold these brothers and sisters in disdain, because I myself become preoccupied with their sins rather than my own, and so, give into pride. 

Therefore, I am cutting off that aspect of my life rather than continuing to fall into sin. I have deleted circles. I have unliked pages on FB. I will continue to cull these things from my life as they come up. As I slowly rebuild my Catholic social connections, I will use this as a bar: Does this person refrain from fostering outrage and indulging in judging and condemning others? Does this person share things that build people up? Does this person appear to be truly concerned with sharing the Gospel and will they help me to? 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Getting a Firearms Permit in New Jersey

Finally got my firearms permits! w00t!


In NJ, it is quite the process, and mine was somewhat exacerbated.

A Little Background/Why I Did It
It all started back in the beginning of April when I decided to pull the trigger (ha ha) and go through the process. It's worth mentioning that I grew up in OK and AR, where gun ownership is no big deal. My first rifle was a gift from my step-dad--a very old, somewhat crusty bolt action .22 cal. I spent a lot of time restoring it, and in the end, it was an effective rifle even without a scope. I guess seeing how I took care of that one led him to give me a newer one that had a scope.

My other family also had guns, mostly rifles and shotguns, and we weren't rabid hunters, but we did hunt sometimes. As a teenager, I took a gun/hunting safety course, in addition to being mentored by my family. I've also spent a fair bit of time at ranges shooting rifles and the occasional handgun.

When I moved to Florida in 2003, I left my rifles with my dad because I didn't expect to need them and thought he could make use of them. Since then, I haven't had a gun, but mostly just because I was busy with other things.

This year, though, the gun debate heated up again, and it got me thinking about it. I also don't live in the safest city in NJ. And I wanted to experience what it is like for a law-abiding citizen to exercise his constitutional right to bear arms in a highly restrictive state like NJ. Together these things foisted me out of my complacency, and I began the journey.

I'm hardly a gun nut, but I am definitely on the "right" side of the issue. I think Larry Correia sums up the reasons why better than I can. (BTW, since I read that, I started listening to his Monster Hunter series--good stuff!)

Step 1 - Figure Out What You Gotta Do
The easiest way is to Google something like "getting a gun in NJ." That ultimately landed me on what I thought would be a reliable source--the state police Web site. I also read up on the actual statutes (not fun reading, as you might expect). I was surprised to learn that to get a permit to carry, you basically have to have evidence that your life is being threatened by, e.g., a stalker, or that you need it for your job. I figure living where I do is justification for me to carry--considering that all the criminals around here do, but hey, I figured I'd save that battle for a different day.

Step 2 - Download and Fill Out the Forms 
So I downloaded and filled out the forms from the state police Web site and called my local PD, who told me to just drop it off.

Step 2.3 - Drop Off Forms in Person
I went to our police HQ (in an even-less-great part of town than I live in) and dropped it off. Next day I get a call from the detective in charge of permits, who says I filled out the main form wrong, was missing a form, and that I needed to type up my application using the editable PDF (the one I had already filled out by hand). He said to come and pick up a "packet" to apply. Then, once I had the packet done, I was to set up an appointment with him to go over them.

Step 2.5 - Pick Up the Forms
So I went back to the HQ, stopped by the desk, and asked for the "gun permit application" package. The lady handed me a package, and I said thanks and left.

Step 2.7 - Fill Out the Forms Again
There were more forms in the packet, including the mental health history form, as well as a handful of other things (like making copies of your DL) to do. I did all that and called the detective back. We set an appointment for Tues at 10a. Great--things are moving along.

Step Minus 1 - Get Appendicitis and Miss Appointment
Unfortunately, the Sunday (4/14) before my appointment, I came down with acute appendicitis and went into surgery for an old-fashioned appendectomy in the middle of Monday morning. So I had to call the detective and cancel. He said he had to put permits work on hold due to an investigation and wouldn't be able to get back to it for a few weeks. That happened to work for me because a little less than two weeks after my surgery, I had my family vacation planned. So we agreed to meet after that.

Step 3 - Turn in the Forms & Meet
It ended up being 6/5 before we could meet. I showed up with completed package in hand, only to find out that the lady gave me the wrong one--the renewal package instead of the new one. Thankfully, the detective was kind enough to let me fill out the correct extra forms right there (which included referral requests from people who will vouch for my character).

In addition, he gave me a new set of forms that I had to take to a local fingerprinting agency, which was also a surprising $57.50 that I was not expecting. That agency didn't have an available slot until 6/13, so more waiting...

Step 4 - Get Fingerprinted
Go to a separate agency, pay them about $60 to put all your fingers on a digital scanner a few times. Oh yeah, there was another form for this you have to fill out, both online and on paper.

Step 5 - Take Fingerprinting Form Verification to Police
Amazingly enough, even though the fingerprinting is digital and even though there is a digital form you fill out with the agency online, you still have to manually take the completed/verified form back to the police HQ and drop it off in person. It's almost as if they don't want you to get guns...

Step 6 - More Waiting
The detective warned me that his backlog is longish, so not to expect a rapid turnaround. Okay, by this point I am become one with the waiting, so I go with it (as if I have a choice). They have to do the background check and referral check.

Step 7 - Call to Check on Status
As I said, I am one with the waiting. Plus, it's not like I am in urgent need here, so I give it until 7/23. I called and asked to verify he got the fingerprinting paperwork and just to find out where we are. Next thing I know, the following day I got a call from the front desk lady saying my permits were ready to be picked up.

Step 8 - Pick Up Permits
Okay, phew. One last (I hope) trip to the police HQ. I stop by, and the lady takes me back to the detective's desk. The permit card is all filled out, but I guess they wait until you pick it up to put the date on the handgun permit--because they expire. That was considerate. She fires up an ancient typewriter and plops the date on, has me sign the card and the handgun permit, and fingerprints me again on the actual permit card.

Oh yeah, the rifle and shotgun permit is $5, and each handgun permit (you have to apply for those individually) is $2. I had to bring that in cash, exactly--they don't make change.

Summary
Okay, so I had to go to the police HQ FIVE TIMES in person to get my permit. In addition, I had to go to a separate agency for fingerprinting. That's a total of SIX interruptions of workdays--as with most government offices, they have restrictive hours you have to show up in (8a-4p). Luckily my employer is flexible about stuff like that, but I can't imagine how most working (i.e., upstanding citizens) folks whose employers are not so flexible would have to deal with it.

I started this process at the beginning of April, so it took roughly four months to complete the process. Who knows if I hadn't called if it would have been longer--I doubt they had just happened to finish it then. State law says that once the app paperwork is done, the department has 30 days to complete. And you'll note on the card, it was supposedly issued on 7/13--one month after I turned in my fingerprinting forms. ;) Now granted, I had a few-week interruption that was my fault, so we could say it took three months.

In terms of money, there is obviously the cost of transportation for those six outings. On top of that is the $57.50 for the fingerprinting and the $7 for the permits. So I spent probably $65-70 just to get the authorization to purchase guns. That's not the cost to buy an actual gun, to buy the ammo, to buy the safe to keep it safe. That is just to get authorized to buy.

On top of that, the closest gun range to me is 45-50 minutes away. There are some private ranges, but you have to go through a whole, multi-year process to get into those, not to mention do community service with them. In order to get any kind of competency then, I am going to have to drive about 2 hours to a range, pay someone to train me, buy a gun (or more). Living in a city, I can't just practice in the backyard. ;)

Commentary
As I said, part of the reason I did this was to go through the experience of just how much of a pain in the ass it is to legally get a gun in NJ. So far I've only been authorized to buy one, but what a pain. Time off from work. Several trips to agencies. Spending $70. All of this to exercise a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Now compare that to voting, another constitutional right. Certain people scream from the rafters if you even suggest that we require something as simple as a photo ID, which the vast majority of upstanding citizens already have. They yell about disenfranchising.

And yet, look at what it takes to exercise our 2nd Amendment right in NJ. How many citizens--especially those who live in areas where they might realistically need a handgun for self-defense--could afford to go through that process? Talk about disenfranchising.

More importantly, how many people who would abuse firearms would go through that process? I live in a city with high incidence of gun crime. I regularly see reports of illegal firearms on crimemapping.com in my area.

All this crap doesn't work to prevent the vast majority of gun crime. Further, it adds an apparently significant administrative burden to our already-stretched-thin police departments. If it takes that long to process permits, that's time that could be spent actually fighting actual crime instead. And yet there is a whole bunch of silliness about adding even more restrictions--even here in NJ. Heck, how about creating less overhead to get citizens guns and reinvest the time saved in free, police-led training programs for citizens? That sounds like a far more effective approach to me..

Next Steps
On the positive side, at least with some effort, money, and patience, we here in NJ can actually exercise our rights. Now that I'm allowed to exercise my constitutional right (as odd as that sounds), I'll be figuring out how to make some time to get to a range and do so. Glad to be through the process!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fearology of the Body

Yesterday I had an.. interesting experience on Google+. As a joke I posted this:

So pissed. Today I saw FB using yet another one of my selfies in their ads!  Gah! Faaacebooooook!!!!
I posted this on my Public feed. I thought it was funny. I also posted it on Facebook, where I found it.

So big deal, right? Yeah, that's what I thought, too. Until some folks started taking me to task for posting something that they consider to be too tempting for them (or maybe some imaginary lascivious person they are worried about being tempted).

Frankly, I thought the whole exchange was embarrassing. Not because I felt chastised but because I thought it displayed that not-unfounded caricature of Christians (and possibly more so, Catholics) as silly prudes--sexually oppressed and afraid of their (and others') sexuality. It is an unfortunate stereotype, and the reality that it is extrapolated from is equally unfortunate.

The reason those chastising me were wrongheaded is not that our current culture of licentiousness is right but rather that the foundation of fear upon which such a perspective is based is askew. Fear is the cornerstone of fundamentalism and the basic motivator for all that is bad in religious fundamentalism.

As Christians, we believe in the essential goodness of creation because God, the creator of all that is, visible and invisible, is essentially good. Our sexual nature as humans, while corrupted through sin, is also essentially good, and that includes our sex drive, our "sexual appetite."

Where problems involving sex arrive is with a distortion of our essentially good sexual nature. The most common distortion is inordinate desire, that is, desire that is out of proportion to what it rightly should be. From that stems the most common forms of sexual sin, such as habitual masturbation and many of the forms of sex outside of sacramental marriage. Often mixed up with inordinate desire is disordered desire, i.e., the desire for sexual gratification that is fundamentally disconnected from the primary purpose of sex--reproduction.

St. John Paul II's "theology of the body" did much to deepen Catholic thinking in a way that enhances our understanding of the positive, good nature of sex. I feel unworthy of the task of summarizing it, but the bottom line is that it provides a way to speak about sex as gift and as a language, a way to communicate our mutual, complete giving of ourselves to another in sacramental marriage, an intimate expression of that lifelong commitment, and ultimately, an expression of love that is inextricably intertwined with the purpose of procreation (and raising one's children in a family that is an extension of this self-giving love).

It is also in this way that, as St. Paul said, marriage is a reflection of the relationship of Christ and the Church, even of the infinite loving communion of persons in the Holy Trinity. This is why and how we Catholics speak of sex as beautiful and how we can cheerfully embrace the Creator's gift of sexuality to us. It is, fundamentally, a corporeal realization of theological love.

Contrast that with what I'm calling "fearology of the body." It's the perspective that is so afraid of the sexual appetite, so afraid of sexual sin, that it casts sex in an essentially negative light. Sex and sexuality become things to be shunned and avoided, or at the very least something to be dealt with from a distance with a hazmat suit on. Anything to do with sex becomes a kind of hazardous material. Dealing with sex becomes a list of don'ts, which is fine in as far as it sets more or less concrete limits, but it doesn't do much for helping us understand and realize the essentially good, theological nature of sex.

That kind of approach also warps our perspectives and makes us less free, that is, oppressed in a real sense, not in the popular sense of having limits on license but rather in the sense of being so afraid that you become not free to act, so afraid that you are not free to lovingly engage with others who do not share your perspectives, and more than that, so afraid that you begin to insist on constraining others' freedom due to your own fears and weaknesses.

And that's where this particular incident comes into view. If someone you know can't share an image of some guys standing around in their undies without taking him to task for supposedly providing an occasion of sin, your perspective on sex is seriously warped. This kind of thinking is what leads men to force women to wear burqas--because they might be tempted. It's the same kind of thinking that blames women for rapes. It is an abdication of personal responsibility and self control based in your own fears and inability to cope with your sexual appetites.

Yes, our sexual appetites are distorted due to sin. Yes, we must cultivate the virtues of temperance and fortitude, subjecting those appetites to the reason God has given us. But we must never think that mere avoidance of temptation is growth in virtue. It is, on the contrary, an indicator of a lack of the virtue of fortitude.

True self-mastery in chastity involves not this negation of our sexual nature but subjecting it to our will and channeling it into appropriate expressions. For married folk, this involves the aforementioned fidelity and mutual self giving to each other and, by extension, to our children. For celibate/unmarried folk, this means sacrificing the physical gratification of sex as an expression of our sexuality's essentially self-giving, creative, loving nature towards a larger community of persons, such as in religious communities, parishes, schools, hospitals, and even the world as a whole. In both states of life, chastity involves the integration of our sexual nature, not a rejection or fear of it.

Such fear of sexual sin also bespeaks of a misunderstanding of or lack of confidence in the grace of God. While we absolutely are called to greater virtue and holiness, which calls for action on our part, we must never become so bold as to think that it is our practice of virtue that brings us to God. God's grace is perfected in our weakness, as The Apostle put it. It is precisely that and when we do fail that we are blessed with the mercy and grace of God, which is a tremendous gift indeed, much more of a gift than if we were to achieve perfection on our own through the practice of virtue.

So we should not live in fear of our appetites, sexual or otherwise. While it is wise not to intentionally expose ourselves to occasions of sin, it is at least a bit off to try to coerce others to cater to our own weaknesses. If they choose to accommodate our weakness out of love for us, that is praiseworthy, but to require that of others for our own good is wrong.

Instead, let us focus on cultivating our own virtue in regards to our sexuality. Let us embrace it for what God meant for it to be. And for goodness' sake, let's not lose our senses of humor about such things. Humor is a good guard against fear. It also reminds us to not take ourselves too seriously and to rely on God's grace rather than our own (self-perceived) goodness.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Quantum Physics Proves a Spiritual Dimension

I made the title intentionally provocative, but this is interesting nonetheless. This is my extrapolation on what this scientist is saying in this article about science and free will (also Part 2). At the very least, it seems to make room for a spiritual dimension in reality, i.e., a dimension that is unaddressable through material-scientific means.

It would be interesting if, as we advance in our understanding of the cosmos, that rather than increasing some folks' certainty that God does not exist, we instead decrease that certainty. Of course, for the honest truth-seeker, there is no problem here. As most modern atheists claim to just follow the science where it leads them, then if they are honest, this should lead them in that direction.

Now they would doubtless point out that such a dimension, assuming that it does exist as indicated, hardly proves the existence of God. They'd be right. On the other hand, it does at least to some degree break down the "no scientific evidence" position that seems central to their conclusions. Keep in mind this is not about a "gap" (as in the "God of the gaps" critique) but a scientifically observed phenomenon that indicates an extra-material dimension. Given that science is prescribed by observable material phenomena, the discovery of an extra-material phenomenon indicates that science, as it is understood by most today, is not equipped to account for or explore that dimension. Some other means is needed.

We have that means today--reason and lived experience. In other words, this dimension is in the realm of philosophy and, potentially, theology.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Speak the Truth--In "Love" -> Barf

Barf

The next time I hear a Christian tell me, "we need to speak the Truth--in Love," I may just barf up all over them. Puh-lease. I mean, Really?!? 

You see, it's not that the concept of speaking the truth is abhorrent, nor that loving others is. (Duh.) It's not even that sometimes, yes, you do have to tell someone something unpleasant for their own good.

The problem is that all too often this "love" is just a pretense. It is just a sham, a get out of jail free card. It is an excuse to make said Christian feel justified in taking others to task for their wrongdoing. Not only that, it is a habit that is easy to learn, and there are support groups for it that also pretend to be doing some great good (i.e., orgs that make it their mission to be perpetually outraged watchdogs). It is pervasive and pernicious.

Let's see.. what would Jesus say?
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
If your idea of "evangelizing" is to point out what people in society are doing wrong, to denounce and decry loudly from the street corners that they are doomed, you're doing it wrong.

We should be very, very reluctant to take others to task for what they are doing wrong because it almost surely means we are not looking at what we are doing wrong. And what makes it worse is that in overlooking our own faults, we fall into the even greater fault of spiritual pride and, quite possibly, begin to despise them. Heck, I am probably screwing up by just writing this post; I almost deleted it. See? It's a dangerous business..

If we truly want to love others, we need to first and foremost encourage them and celebrate the good that they do and then to have sorrow and compassion with them in their failings and difficulties, reassuring them that we're all in the same boat, that all of us need the grace of God, and that this grace is a freely given gift.

Read that last bit again. It's the pie slicer for our humble pie. Internalize it. This prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas is pretty good way to do it--pray it daily (excerpt):

My most holy Lady,
          I also beseech you to obtain for me
               true obedience and true humility of heart

So that I may recognize myself truly
          as a sinner--wretched and weak--
     and powerless,
               without the grace and help of my Creator
               and without your holy prayers,
          to do any kind of good work
          or even to resist
               the unrelenting assaults of evil.
...

Obtain for me as well,
     O most sweet Lady,
          true charity with which
               from the depths of my heart
          I may love
               your most holy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
               and, after Him,
          love you above all other things,
          and love my neighbor
               in God and because of God.

Thereby may I 
          rejoice in his goodness,
          sorrow over his evils,
          despise no one,
          never judge rashly,
          and never in my heart exalt myself over anyone.

Pray. Try. Remember. When you fail, try again.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Benedict Lover Defends Francis

A Post Wherein You Will Find Much Boring Centrism and Multi-Pope-Loving



Yesterday I read this post entitled "The Pope of our Punishment strikes." There are many ways to take a title like that. One of them is positive, in that I have seen others commenting on how "challenging" the new pope is to our comfort zones. One of them is negative, which is as a lament of how the new pope really is in some way a punishment (from God?) for us. And a third is a kind of satire--skewering the people who tend to do the latter by exaggerating the kinds of things that they say/complain about.

For a good portion of the post, I honestly thought it was the last one. Because the criticisms seem so insignificant--it's like the author is trying to find something to criticize and be offended. Alas, as I shared with my Catholic peeps on Google+ (where I came across this piece--sorry if ya can't see it), it is not satire; it is the second way above--true complaining and lamentation, which is odd given that the author's first post using that term was more of the first; I have no beef with that--I agree.

Unsurprisingly, the author took me to task for my ├╝ber brief criticism on G+, and I fully intended to elaborate anyways. (At the time I was on my phone, which has a way of encouraging you to be brief.  Now I sit before my full keyboard, so prepare yourself for my trademark verbosity! :) )

Let's analyze the post a bit. But before we do, by way of caveat, let me say to my non-Catholic readers that this post is probably going to seem somewhat bizarre, but then specialized concerns often do seem that way to outsiders. 

Also, for my Catholic readers, this blog post outlines the reason for my general distate for the whole "Pope Francis is better than Benedict" theme that is still prevalent--I'm hardly one of those who fits into that crowd. Above in the pic you see (taken by my eight-year-old this morning) what is on two of our cabinets in our kitchen. The one is a thanksgiving note to Pope Benedict (BTW, I am the person behind thankyoupopebenedict.com); the other is of our new pope, celebrating his election--we celebrate and pray for them both as a family regularly. We also attend the nearby EF mass, and our oldest boy is a junior server there. And lastly, I am/have been a huge fan of Pope Benedict; I have read a lot of his stuff and followed most of what he said/did in office. In many ways, I felt like we were kin, intellectually and spiritually speaking. So this is where I am coming from--I'm not a flaming liberal. Ironically, for those who see Benedict and Francis as one being better than the other, here you'll find a long-time fanboi of Benedict defending Francis.

So without further ado, back to the concerns raised in the "punishment" post, which is couched in a criticism of Francis' purported "refusal to submit to the nature of the papal office," which the author seems to equate with, essentially, living large as pope.

Criticism #1) Pope Francis won't live in the papal apartments. The author speculates about how this must be costly/problematic for the exercise of the office. Maybe so, maybe not. It's just speculation. He goes on to impute falseness of character to the Pope--that Cardinal Bergoglio really must have been making plans for world domination as pope, even though he said multiple times that he didn't desire it or expect it. The irony here is that Francis has shown quite a tendency for off-the-cuff behavior (which the author also criticizes later), so why should it be hard to believe that he decided off the cuff to not live in the apartments? 

On the contrary, this choice of living is not in line not with some disingenuous false humility but rather right in line with his way of life previously on record in Argentina, as archbishop and cardinal. If he's feigning humility, he's been doing it for a long time, and if he's been planning to be a falsely humble pope, he sure has been preparing for a long time.  Talk about playing the long game!  

Or we could just take him at his word, which seems more likely given his prior behavior (not to mention, it is more charitable to do so). And it's not just about some political need to "feel freer of curial bureaucracy" but the stated closeness and connection with those who are visiting. 

2) I don't like how Pope Francis does mass. "But a papal Mass served by, say, gardeners in their gardening kit – is that humble or just inappropriate?" 

Maybe it's not about being "humble"? Maybe it's about being close to average Catholics? It's hard to take seriously the criticism of a faithful Catholic gardener at daily mass being dressed in his work clothes while serving. Crap. Now I'm feeling guilty for all the times I served at daily mass while dressed in my work clothes. ;) Oh wait, no, I'm not..

This whole objection is exactly what the same author mentioned in his prior article: "those who have over-valued the trappings and ephemera of liturgy rather than directing their zeal more completely to the proper celebration of what is the Church’s liturgy." (Emphasis the authors.. and mine..)  I have to admit a certain amount of sympathy here. I am personally a fan of smells and bells and high ceremony at mass, but I am not confused that my personal preferences should be the universal, unbreakable, only way to celebrate mass properly. 

Pope Benedict himself spoke of "mutual enrichment" of the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms. It's not a one way street, despite the way traditionalists want to paint it--both forms enrich each other, i.e., "mutual." Whereas Benedict emphasized the EF, apparently it's time that Francis emphasize the OF. Those of us who are humble will try to learn from both and see the good in both--they are after all both part of the Church's liturgy.

"same simple (fast becoming monotonous) style" - So now the Pope has to change his "style" regularly in order to entertain (i.e., eliminate monotony)? What is the OF criticized for if not for over-innovation to entertain? Irony, anyone?

"humility or willfulness? Certainly the Pope has a right to set the tone of his papacy, but it is emerging very much a papacy the theme song of which could be Sinatra’s I did it my way. Strong – yes; humble – not so certain? Perhaps if this hermeneutic of humility were to be laid aside I would find his style not quite so disturbing."

Now we see a return to the accusation that the Pope is feigning humility, that he is using it as a show. See above. Not only is this uncharitable, it is hardly supportable. Did it occur to anyone that maybe he is just being himself? If I take anything from Francis, it is that he is authentic. It's not like he dramatically changed from who he was as Bergoglio. This is just who he is. Sometimes it comes across as showy, but it is hard not to come across that way when you are the Pope. People watch everything you do, so being humble by its very nature is at odds with the office, and it will inevitably seem showy.

And on that point, much could be said about Benedict. I hear it in my head now--the traditionalists trumping how Pope Benedict was doing something to "teach by example" in regards to the liturgy. "See? He wore this or that? So all the priests should! See? He put candles up--so all the priests should." Now that the new Pope is teaching something different by example--something that makes them feel uncomfortable, there are accusations of falseness flying around. The irony again, and this time more so because his teaching by example is truly, for him, just a way of life--probably far less premeditated than Benedict's examples in liturgy.

3) He really needs to get a clue what it means to be Pope. "He is successor to St Peter, holds the highest teaching authority in the Church, and needs to remember that his words now have a significance they never had when he was a priest or a diocesan bishop."

Does that statement not reek of condescension? Do we really believe that Pope Francis is some simpleton that does not, despite having lived his whole life as a Catholic, a priest, a bishop, an archbishop, and a cardinal, understand the impact of the papal office? It's not as if he was elevated from some rural parish; he was an archbishop and cardinal. One would think he understands the impact of the office.

"It does not serve his role as supreme teacher that the Vatican is having constantly to catch up with his unscripted words and try to record them and make them available."

Here we are again, speculating about how difficult it must be for Vatican staff as a justification for criticism. It smells of reaching. It's their job--boo hoo if it's a little harder on them. Not to mention, we have no idea how they feel about it; maybe they love it--new, exciting, challenging. How about comparing the relative brevity of Francis to Benedict? So let's speculate that what effort Francis adds by not always using prepared remarks, he relieves by being brief. I'm just engaging the point, but I really think it's not very weighty in any case. 

4) His impromptu style causes PR gaffes. "Already we have seen more than one gaffe from his papal impromptus." 

This is where I really got suspicious that it was satire. Are we really going to pretend that having papal gaffes is conditioned by whether or not remarks are prepared?  Regensburg, anyone? Condoms? SSPX? Without wanting to encourage Benedict bashers, there is a whole litany of PR gaffes he made, and he was nothing if not prepared and very considered in what he said. 

And as the author just pointed out, the Pope's words have a lot of significance. People watch what he says. Most of these people lack a lot of context and background and will misunderstand him. It's not a question of if but when, and prepared or not, it's going to happen. 

As vicar of Christ, I suspect Peter didn't often speak from prepared remarks. Indeed, Christ told him, "do not worry about what you will say--the Holy Spirit will give you what to say when you need it." Obviously, this kind of thing only goes so far, and I wouldn't suggest everything the pope says is directly from the Spirit; however, if we're going to talk about appropriate styles, I think there is oodles of precedent for speaking from the heart rather than from whitewashed, PR-appropriate remarks.

"In fact it is so theologically muddy, and has been so misinterpreted by the media, that his words had to be clarified and explained."  

Because yeah, that has never happened before in the history of papal communications. Oh hang on.. touches earpiece I'm being told this has happened a lot...

"Part of the problem is the Pope’s emphasis on doing good works, even outside the context of faith (ie by atheists). His words lend themselves to the easy imputation of Pelagianism."

This is called the slippery slope fallacy. And as we see below, it's not even a sustainable objection.

5) The Pope was mean to some people who told him how many prayers they said for him. Plus, he doesn't even know what Pelagianism is. Now we move on to the question of the Pope's own anti-Pelagian remarks. Quoting His Holiness:

I share with you two concerns. One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council… One feels in 1940… An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me; when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting… And these groups return to practices and to disciplines that I lived through – not you, because you are not old – to disciplines, to things that in that moment took place, but not now, they do not exist today…
The author of the article continues, "There are so many problems with this passage. There is the tone, which appears patronising and condescending as he looks down on (and resists the temptation to laugh at) those who might offer a spiritual bouquet of rosaries for his ministry."

Really? Because if you read what he actually said, you don't get that: "it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect." Hardly condescending, but again, if you are looking to be offended...

"now-ridiculed faithful" - The Pope did no such thing. He said explicitly he received their gift with respect, not something to be laughed at. The problem here is that defensiveness is causing a hermeneutic of ridicule that is not there.

"Any pope before him would have been delighted." There is no way we can know this. Would Peter have been delighted? Who can say? I speculate that Bl. John Paul II might have also shared the concern, though maybe he would not have said so. 

"Far worse is his equation of this spiritual bouquet with Pelagianism." He did no such thing. First of all,  he is specifically concerned about the counting aspect, not the prayers that were offered for him. Secondly, he says "Pelagian current"--there is no "equation" with the heresy but saying that it smacks of it. Equating "Pelagian current" with formal "Pelagianism" is the same as equating the actual intent and documents/teaching of Vatican II with the "spirit of Vatican II." 

What could he mean by Pelagian current, then? He hints at it--"this thing of counting." I know what he is talking about because I encountered that mentality when I attended an FSSP parish for over a year, and I have seen it to more or less degrees in the traditionalist circles I have ranged in both in person and online since then. 

There is this mentality--it is one that says, "do this many things" for some good end, or that this prayer or this object is a sure guard against this or that evil or is a promotion of this or that good. We're not talking about the sacraments here but, at best, sacramentals (which have no divine guarantees). It's the same mentality that tries to put numbers of years on indulgences. It engenders superstition; it is questionable theologically, and it puts the focus on the means instead of the end.

The mentality that wearing this or that amulet will protect you from harm causes one to put his trust in the thing rather than God. Similarly, saying "do this many things" has the effect of focusing the trust in the number of things done, rather than in God. This kind of superstition is problematic in the "mode" of the religious act. St. Thomas illumines this principle a bit in discussing the question of wearing "divine words" about the neck. He says, "if hope be placed in the manner of writing or fastening" then it is superstitious. Also, we hear in Scripture Christ himself warning us about the heathen who pray, "hoping that they will be heard for their many words."

In all these cases, when the hope attaches more to a thing done (be it the wearing of a special object, the repetition of special words, the number of prayers said, and so on), it is superstitious, or at least tending towards superstition. 

And we can easily see the connection with a Pelagian mentality here--one that puts one's trust in things we do or make rather than in God, one that detracts from or obscures the importance and value of God's grace. It is a mentality that stresses our doings rather than God's doings, our works rather than God's grace. It is not black and white. Again, the Pope doesn't equate the specific errors of Pelagianism with what is going on here; he says they share a current, i.e., a mode of thinking about spiritual things.

Francis spoke of "restorationist" (that's a polite way of putting it) groups that do really want to turn the clock back to pre-Vatican council days. They really do provide an environment for this kind of superstitious/Pelagian mentality to grow. The reform of this mentality was a positive outcome of Vatican II, and I believe this is what Pope Francis is talking about here.

Perhaps it was insensitive of him to choose the example he did, but the concern is real, and it is pastoral. It's great to pray for the Pope--his first act was to ask us to do so. But that doesn't preclude him from guiding people away from ways of praying that can be problematic. In any case, he was hardly ridiculing them.

"we might ask how else could they convey the scale of their corporate act? The number reveals that goodly number of people prayed a goodly number of roasries – for the Pope!"

I might ask, was it necessary to convey the precise number? Was it an opportunity of pride for them? As the Pope said, why not just say "we pray for you"? Or even, "many of us have been praying for you," or even "thousands of us have been praying for you"? The important thing was that they were praying for him, whether or not he actually knew about it, much less how many people, much less how many rosaries. 

I have participated in a significant "spiritual bouquet" before, and I can attest that there was a certain amount of pride in the group from just how many things we had done, maybe even a bit of back-patting. That doesn't make the prayers bad, but maybe not counting could have removed the occasion for both pride and engendering a mentality that our "many words" would make us more heard. 

Sure, it is nice to let people know you are praying for them. It is a good comfort for them. But maybe we can all do better by not trying to keep track of just how much.

"Moreover, how does one reconcile these remarks with his advocating atheists to do good works in the context of Christ’s blood having redeemed all humanity, even atheists?"

In short, his remarks about atheists have nothing to do with Pelagianism, and the connection attempted here just doesn't work other than as a way to, dare I say, cause confusion about what the Pope said. He wasn't suggesting that atheists are saved by their good works. He said that their good works are a way to a cultural meeting. IOW, it is a way to have something in common, a common ground, a path towards peace. 

More than that, though, is that "these acts of love are in fact evidence of God’s activity in the person." This part of the "clarification" gives some insight into how the words on good works fit within the context of speaking of universal redemption. This ties in well with the Scripture that prompted the homily.

I would elaborate on this and suggest that such acts of goodness can be preparatory towards actual individual salvation. God gives the grace to do good, and that practice of goodness can incline one towards the Good, i.e., God. In our understanding of sin and virtue, such a concept is commonplace. Sin, even venial sin, develops a habit of sin that leads us away from God; similarly, doing good creates a habit of virtue that leads us towards God. It is a "beautiful path" one might say. ;)

6) "It is all very confusing, and a pope should not be in the business of confusion. He should not need help in making his remarks susceptible of orthodox interpretation."

So he's not batting 1000 on clarity in simplicity? I think we should, rather, judge by the vast majority of what he's said. He has an amazing knack for making difficult theology accessible. He treads the line between being comprehensible by the world and hardline orthodoxy very well. He challenges us regularly in our complacency and, I would say, in our navel gazing.

About navel-gazing... 
On G+, another priest-friend challenged me in my being critical of this article. He said I was not being equally critical of another problematic piece I shared that was written by an evangelical Protestant. Even though, when I replied to him, I clarified I was not endorsing the article as a whole but the one quote I offered as a good observation, I would further say simply that I expect more of Catholics, especially of priests, especially of religious priests.  Maybe I shouldn't, but I do. 

More to the point, though, the other article was praising Francis' evangelical witness, something I strongly appreciate in Francis. This article I'm responding to here, though, is criticizing stuff that is anything but evangelical. It's all about us--the purported cost to the Vatican of the pope's humble and impromptu way of life, our being bored by the monotony of his liturgical choices and lack of ritual pizzazz, his not complete delight in and approbation of a spiritual bouquet he received from us, that we can argue with him on the appropriateness of likening that to a Pelagian current. It's all us, us, us. Navel, navel, navel.  An evangelical outlook is, on the other hand, just that, an "out" look. It is concerned with the salvation of souls.

This is a point that I see Pope Francis challenging us on directly. Catholics need to be more evangelical. The New Evangelization needs to be more than just another Church program. It needs to change the way we think about the Church (some of us more than others). We need to open our eyes to the world around us--yes, to the poor and needy but also to the middle class atheists. We need to meet them where they are, find common ground and good we can share together.

To further illustrate this, consider the comments on his article and the ensuing article that was, shockingly, a clarification. Wait! I thought those weren't allowed?? ;)

"He has few languages (very limiting for a modern pope) and not much more theological grounding."

Really? I mean. Really?!?  You can't be serious...  First of all, number of languages is nigh on irrelevant. He has access to translators. Secondly, the guy is a Jesuit. We may not like their liberal approach to theology, but to suggest the Pope lacks theological grounding is 1) uncharitable, 2) untrue, and 3) the epitome of pride--as if we are the judges of that. Personally, since we're all offering our assessments of his theology, I've seen an amazing amount of it--it takes a lot more understanding to say things succinctly like he does than to elaborate in tomes.

"Quite honestly anyone who fundamentally disagrees with your original post cannot truly call themselves orthodox or faithful Catholics (perhaps that is a point they may revel in, who can say)." 

And it goes on to even more shocking claims. Granted, this is not the author of the blog, but the author does respond:

"Thanks for your post, FC. You get where I am coming from. And quite frankly, what I wrote does not even make the scale when compared to some things the saints have written to and about particular popes."  


What utter pride and narrowmindedness, to blanket deny the orthodoxy and faithfulness of anyone who disagrees with the original post. Wow. Not only is it just a dumb, insupportable thing to say, it is again pride--as if they are the judges of quality theology, orthodoxy, and faithfulness. 

7) "You are a blind pope-lover."

Okay, not in so many words, but that's the stereotypical defense when you come to the defense of the Pope with Catholics. What he did say was, " There are some also who see popes are little short of God re-incarnate."

This line is the last line of defense for the sedevacantist. They, of course, are the orthodox faithful. We who support the Pope are the Arians. 

This reasoning is so pernicious. I have yet to find a way to break through it. It's the same reasoning used by Protestants and every other sect who considers themselves to be "the true believers." The reason you can't challenge it is that, naturally, their interpretation of reality is the only right one. Point out that the Church Magisterium exists to externalize judgment and provide us with the objective pillar and ground of truth, and they will claim that they are that pillar and ground.

Now, I will give Fr. Hugh some credit on this score. He reiterates his fidelity to the "office" of the Pope, and he is anything but a sedevacantist. I am not suggesting he is anything but a faithful Catholic priest. I only point out a path where the "but Arianism" line of thinking leads, especially for folks who think that they are the ultimate arbiters of orthodoxy. If you challenge such folks and defend the papacy, you de facto become part of their problem.

In this situation, I agree--we are talking about matters of prudence, and that is fair game. It is fair game to criticize and it is fair game for people to defend. In criticizing, Fr. Hugh is no more of a heretic than I am one for defending the Pope. I hope we can all agree on that.

What would St. Catherine do?
That said, as a Dominican, I'll bring up one of the pope-excoriating saints that Fr. Hugh probably had in mind--St. Catherine of Siena. A fellow lay Dominican, she railed against the pope at the time to return to Rome. Keep in mind, though, that in their defense, the Avignon popes had plenty of reasons to be in Avignon. They were none of them evangelical reasons, though. Plenty of worldly, practical considerations kept them there, not a care for the salvation of souls. St. Catherine called them out on that. Rightly so.

Can we even begin to suggest a similar case for Pope Francis? I hardly think so. Both St. Dominic and St. Francis were evangelical at heart, just as Christ and the Apostles were. These saints lived in a fully Christianized Europe--at the height of medieval Christendom. And yet they saw the need for a New Evangelization in their time and acted on it. Our Orders are evangelical at heart.

I think it is not for nothing that Pope Francis took on St. Francis namesake. He has said it on multiple occasions--his closeness to the poor and needy is not simply a humanitarian concern. Apostolic poverty is about the salvation of souls. It is evangelical. It's what animates Pope Francis. What he does needs to be interpreted in light of that. 

His is not a feigned, showy "hermeneutic of humility"; it is a lively care for the salvation of souls. And that includes souls within the Church who are in danger--at all levels, from the curia who are tempted to careerism and worldliness down to the average Jane who can be tempted to superstition and the snare of private judgment. I think it also includes those who have become so enamored of their idea of "the Church" and "the liturgy" and what they think is or is not appropriate for hierarchical "offices" that they lose sight of what we're all about, what the Church is for.

The Pope needs our prayers. He needs our support. He needs our defense even. What he doesn't need is public criticism that will almost certainly never reach his ears. That is more akin to gossip than fraternal correction. St. Catherine of Siena didn't hang out in a tavern and badmouth the pope. She made sure he could hear her. If we honestly feel the Pope needs fraternal correction, then we need to take it up with him, not spout off about it on our little corners of the internets.

HAPPY FATHERS DAY TO OUR HOLY FATHER AND ALL OUR SPIRITUAL FATHERS!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Where is All the Righteous Indignation Now?


You know. One really does try to be fair and not give into conspiracy theories, but the continued utter lack of reporting on anything that can be construed as against abortion by all of the major news media outlets does give one pause.

I truly think that if more people understood the horrible reality of abortion (and didn't just argue about it abstractly in terms of rights and choice and life), we'd have precious few advocates of that obviously evil practice. The problem is that it is so horrific, so utterly despicable and disturbing, that you literally cannot stomach to think about it very long, much less see the results of so many mangled little human bodies. It is literally the same level of disturbing as the videos the Allies took in WWII after entering concentration camps. It is a Holocaust, one that is swept under the rug, probably much like the Nazi one was swept under the rug in Germany.

Oh look, HuffPo did finally pick up a story on it. Just look at the comments. One person says, "why have I not heard of this before?" But then you have the absolutely incredible assertions that "this is the kind of thing we'll have if abortion is outlawed." Hello? Abortion is LEGAL, and it happens. In what alternate reality does it make sense to say, "we need to make it more legal so this won't happen"??

People who support abortion generally are not monsters. That is because they either willfully ignore and suppress the horrific reality or have been so duped by our society that hides it that they don't really even know about it. Very few people who face the reality of abortion could possibly still advocate for it without some serious mental gymnastics and a large does of turning a blind eye. It is simply that disturbing and evil.

And yet these same people will, as a rule, treat you like you are some evil KKK white racist homophobe if you don't support what they, again euphemistically, call "marriage equality." Oh, they very nearly shudder with indignation if you dare to even question the matter. But barbarously butchering babies by the billion?  No problem for them. No outrage. No indignation.

Talk about having things bass ackwards...

UPDATE (12 April 2013): This article also compares coverage to the coverage of serial and mass murderers. Another analogy is the coverage of the "bullying" at Rutgers. Another example is the coverage of the Penn State scandal. Of course, there's also Sandy Hook, and countless other examples. There was even more coverage of Philly's own Michael Vick and his abuse of dogs..

Again, where is the moral outrage about Gosnell? Why isn't this plastered over every news media outlet daily for weeks or longer, as in the case of these others. Why? Because it might cause people to question their thinking on abortion and come to terms with its brutishness, its evil, its utter unacceptability.

There's also this--a pro-choice reporter essentially admitting guilt--that they haven't been covering it but should.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

We Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

The New Jerusalem by Nicolas Bataille
The New Jerusalem by Nicolas Bataille (1373-1387)
Some time ago, my lay Dominican chapter president asked me to prepare a study "on the Resurrection" for our March meeting. That meeting was Palm Sunday. The study went well, I thought, but it occurred to me that maybe others would be interested in it.  So here are my study notes, slightly edited.

I asked chapter members to find and bring a favored Scripture passage on the Resurrection. Maybe you can think of one that you like now.

What do we mean by Resurrection?
I think when most of us think about Easter, we think about the Resurrection of Christ. It is after all the historical event that we are remembering. Most of the chapter members, as I expected, shared passages about this. One that I liked in particular focused on Mary Magdalene, whom we call "The Apostle to the Apostles" because she shared the Good News with the Apostles. She is also co-patroness with Our Lady of the Dominican Order, for this reason.

So yes, absolutely when we speak of the Resurrection, the first and most natural thing we think of is the Resurrection of Christ. It is a good thing for us to remember, but despite how awesome and amazing the event is itself, what is even more amazing is what it means for us.

READ 1 Cor 15:1-4; 15:12-22

Then also:


I think sometimes we can get caught up in the recounting of the story of the Passion and Death of Christ, that it becomes more of a story about someone else, or maybe we personalize the story, so that we put ourselves in the feet of the Apostles, imagining what it must have been like for them. The sadness, the fear, the disappointment, the guilt--and then the elation of Easter, that Christ is not dead; he is raised from the dead. Again, we are overjoyed at his Resurrection--what a relief! He's not dead; he is risen!

This is all very good, but it is just a nice story if we stop there, if we do not go on to consider what it means for us. The significance of Christ's Resurrection lies precisely in that by his Resurrection, his conquering death and hell, we too can take part in it. Our Christian hope is in this--the resurrection of our own bodies.

But what does this mean? It is interesting how this fundamental aspect of the Christian faith is so often obscured and, in a sense, minimized, while it is actually the core, the kernel, the essence of the Gospel. It comes towards the end of most of the creeds, and it is easy to just rattle it off without really thinking about it. So in this study, I thought it could be helpful to focus on this aspect of what we mean when we say "the resurrection," in particular, what is referred to as "the general resurrection," meaning that which will occur for all people (hence "general") at the end of the world.

THE GENERAL RESURRECTION

Read Catechism 988-1004

Read 1015-1019 (Follows)
1015 "The flesh is the hinge of salvation" (Tertullian, De res. 8, 2:PL 2, 852). We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh.

1016 By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives for ever, so all of us will rise at the last day.

1017 "We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess" (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a "spiritual body" (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44).

1018 As a consequence of original sin, man must suffer "bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned" (GS § 18).

1019 Jesus, the Son of God, freely suffered death for us in complete and free submission to the will of God, his Father. By his death he has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all men.

This is the basic outline of our doctrine, but let's dig deeper, with the help of good ol' Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. If you recall, I recently drew from this book for a study on theological grades of certainty, so the bits in parentheses speak to that.

FIRST PROPOSITION
All the dead will rise again on the last day with their bodies. (De fide.)

Nearly all of the most ancient creeds specifically say "resurrection of the body" (or of the dead, which can only mean body). (I followed Ott's references to Denzinger to find that out.) Now let's go to the Scriptural references.

OT
Jo 11:24 - Martha professes faith in the resurrection.
2 Macc 7:9-11 - Maccabee martyrs profess faith in it.
Dan 12:2-3
Is 25:8; 26:19

NT
Jo 5:28-29; 6:39-40
Matt 22:29-32
Lu 20:37-38
Acts 24:15
And the passages already referenced above.

You can see this is one of the better attested teaching, and that is of course why it is considered de fide--as being directly revealed by God.

You may also want to read Summa, Supplement, Q75, a1.

Many of the Fathers wrote treatises on it, by way of apology and instruction of the faithful, some of them extensively: Pope St. Clement I, St. Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tatian, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ephraem, St. Basil, St. Epiphanius, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, St. Peter Chrysologus, and of course St. Augustine


SECOND PROPOSITION
The dead will rise again with the same bodies as they had on earth. (De fide.)

This is a slightly more challenging proposition because it raises a number of interesting difficulties. Let's dig into it a bit more. First, let's establish it is de fide.

Job 19:25-27 - this passage is now disputed with reference to the original languages, which St. Thomas did not have access to. At best, it seems the meaning attesting to the "this same body" aspect is less clear, although it can still be seen.
2 Macc 7:11 - "these [tongue and hands]" will be received again
1 Cor 15:35-58 - this passage can be difficult, but St. Thomas helps tease the meaning apart. Note "What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies." This is the basic argument for understanding that it is this body, and not some other. We cannot rightly call it resurrection unless it is the bringing back to life of that which died, our bodies.
Phil 3:21 - change our lowly bodies, not give us a different one

Now from Denzinger, the parts that Ott refers us to.

Denzinger 429, The First Chapter of the Fourth Lateran Council (12th ecumenical council, 1215--against the Albigensians, Joachim, Waldensians, etc.) declares, "And finally the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, incarnate by the whole Trinity in common, conceived of Mary ever Virgin with the Holy Spirit cooperating, made true man, formed of a rational soul and human flesh, one Person in two natures, clearly pointed out the way of life. And although He according to divinity is immortal and impassible, the very same according to humanity was made passible and mortal, who, for the salvation of the human race, having suffered on the wood of the Cross and died, descended into hell, arose from the dead, and to render to each according to his works, to the wicked as well as to the elect, all of whom will rise with their bodies which they now bear, that they may receive according to their works, whether these works have been good or evil, the latter everlasting punishment with the devil, and the former everlasting glory with Christ."

D 16, the "Faith of Damasus" formula of the creed, Gaul c. 500: "...We believe that cleansed in his death and in his blood we are to be raised up by him on the last day in this body with which we now live…"

D 40, the Creed "Quicumque", a.k.a., the Athanasian Creed (some ascribe to St. Ambrose, also one "Anastasius"), which was used with authority in east and west, and in the liturgy, says, "…at his coming all men have to rise again with their bodies…"

D 287, Council of Toledo XI (675, against Priscillianists), The Creed of Faith, "In this example, therefore, of our Head we confess is accomplished (with true faith) the true resurrection of the body of all the dead. Neither do we believe that we shall rise in an ethereal or any other body (as some madly say) but in that in which we live and exist and move. When this example of His holy resurrection was finished, our same Lord and Savior returned by ascending to His paternal home, which in His divinity he had never left."

D 347, Pope St. Leo IX, in a letter of congratulations to Peter, the newly consecrated bishop of Antioch, in 1053, sharing the symbol of faith (the formula here was very much like the questions proposed to bishops being consecrated, "…I also believe in a true resurrection of this body, which now I bear, and in eternal life."

D 427, from a formulation of faith for recanting Waldensians, 1208, from the archbishop of Terraco, "We sincerely believe and with our mouth we confess the resurrection of this flesh which we bear and not of another."

D 464, 2nd Council of Lyons, 1274 (14th ecumenical council, concerning the union of the Greeks), from the profession of faith of Michael Paleaeologus: "The same most holy Roman Church firmly believes and firmly declares that nevertheless on the day of judgment 'all' men will be brought together with their bodies 'before the tribunal of Christ' 'to render an account' of their own deeds (Rom 14:10)."

D 531, Pope Benedict XII, edict Benedictus Deus, 1336, "…all men with their bodies…"

We see from these sources, including Scripture and ecumenical councils, that this doctrine is de fide, but we can do more to consider how it is so and what exactly the bodies will be like. For this, we turn again to St. Thomas, in the Summa Supplement, Q79ff. In it, you will see him referring back to many of the Scriptures above.

From these we better understand Some characteristics of resurrected bodies:

  • Incorruptible - they will not be subject to deformity, decay, or destruction.
  • Immortal - they will not die again.
  • Identical - they will have the same form and matter.
That they are incorruptible and immortal is, according to Thomas, due to two reasons. First, he explains that the principle of change in our bodies will be removed; this is due to the overall change in the state of the universe at this time--the new heaven and new earth will also no longer be subject to the same changing nature. This is equally true of the damned and the just.

The second relates to the restoration of original justice and the total subjugation of our bodily nature to our spiritual (also attested by St. Paul in the passage from 1 Corinthians 15 above--the "spiritual body," i.e., the body subject to the spiritual nature), so our immortal spiritual nature can prevent corruptible changes from happening to our bodies. This is only true of the just, who have received this grace of right ordering of our human nature.

As for identical matter, this presents some more interesting difficulties. It doesn't take a modern understanding of biology to find the difficulties in this teaching, and you can see even the ancients, both Greek and Jew, had trouble with it: Acts 17:18; 31-32; 26:5-8. And there is further evidence in the early Fathers' apologies and explanations around this subject as mentioned above.

St. Thomas first addresses the reasons why it must be the same, in Q79, a1: "For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body." Then also in a2: "... to maintain that he who rises again is not the selfsame man [199] is heretical [200], since it is contrary to the truth [201] of Scripture [202] which proclaims the resurrection [203]."

So it can help to ask, what does it mean to be identical? 
Q79, a3 - does it have to be the exact same matter in the exact same place ("the ashes")?  To answer this, Thomas gives us the analogy of identical matter of clock, toy, etc: "Now in artificial things, in order that the same artificial thing be remade, from the same matter [301], there is no need for the parts to be brought back to the same position. Neither therefore is it necessary [302] in man [303]." In other words, it doesn't matter if the same kind of matter is used to remake the various parts (heart, bone, ears), as long as the result is it is the same heart as pertains to it being my heart for me.

If we cast this is slightly more modern scientific words, we could rely on the concept of DNA. Our DNA forms, as it were, the schema for our bodies, the set of instructions that are used to give our bodies their particular identities. It isn't important that the exact matter in our body at any given time remain for us to retain our identities. We gain weight; we lose weight. Our hair and nails grow; our cells regenerate, and so on--the matter of our bodies is in constant flux. We no more have the same matter we had ten years ago, then we will in the resurrection, and yet we will have the same identical body.

Of course, St. Thomas didn't have the luxury of our modern scientific knowledge, and yet it is interesting how he uses different words that speak to the same realities. He speaks of "the truth of human nature," in terms of what will need remain for us to retain our identities. Q80, a3: "Whatever belongs to the integrity of human [118] nature [119] in those who take part in the resurrection [120] will rise again." And further in a4: What belongs to "the truth (essence/being) of human nature," which he says is, "what first belonged to the substance [346] of a man's body… and of that which was added secondly, thirdly, and so on, as much as is required to restore quantity."

He hits on the concept of DNA in Q80, a4: "all that was in the substance of the seed will rise again in this man who was begotten of this seed." St. Paul also speaks of a "bare kernel" and how God gives "to each of the seeds its own body."

He continues, "while certain parts are on the ebb and others are being restored to the same shape and position, all the parts flow back and forth as to their matter [391], but remain as to their species [392]; and nevertheless the selfsame man [393] remains." Again, it is not as if we could grasp the current matter in our bodies and say, "this is the matter I will have in the resurrection," but we can say, these arms, these eyes, this hair, in the sense that we would recognize them in ten years, and in the sense that if we had a DNA test, it would return positive.

The difference is that any defects in our DNA will be repaired, so our bodies will be the perfect body they should have been were it not for those defects and disorders. For the just, we will not be subject to either inordinate nor disordered desires.

In Q81, he addresses questions of age, size, male and female, animal functions. Our age will be the perfect age of maturity, meaning the point at which our body naturally achieves maturity, but before it begins to decay. Many speculate around 30 years or so. The same can be said for size/stature, except again, no defects or deformities will remain--we will have perfect health. Because being male or female is part of human nature and identity, we will retain our sex (and it will be rightly ordered), but as we will no longer have need of our animal functions, we will be "as the angels in heaven." Because we do not need to materially maintain our bodies nor to grow them, we won't need to eat. Because we will not need to propagate the species, we won't need to have sex. And so on.

For those who lack of matter for the resurrection of their bodies, St. Thomas says in Q80, a4: "substitution is made by Divine power so far as the perfection of quantity requires, as it does in those who die before the perfect age." This is also true if our matter were to be, for instance, shared in some way. For instance, we die, and our bodies feed other plants and animals that then are consumed by other humans--in such cases, God will make up for the insufficiency of matter.

Somewhat amusingly, Thomas also addresses the question of whether all of the matter that belonged to our bodies will rise again, in a5: "body of one who rises again will be very dense, or it will be immoderate in quantity." LOL. Just imaging our bodies if it were true that all the matter were resurrected. We'd be as dense as diamonds or as bloated as a blimp! He goes on, "the whole of what is in man will rise again, if we speak of the totality of the species which is dependent on quantity, shape, position and order of parts, but the whole will not rise again if we speak of the totality of matter." Again, the concept is akin to the idea of reconstructing the human body from DNA (as in the cloning in science fiction, if you will).

Our bodies will be our bodies (again about DNA), from Q81, a2: "At the resurrection human nature will be restored not only in the self-same species but also in the selfsame individual : and consequently we must observe in the resurrection what is requisite not only to the specific but also to the individual nature."

To put it briefly, it is not the exact same particular matter from any point in our lives (much less what was there when we died or remained thereafter) but the identity of our bodies, free from defect and disorder, and restored to perfect maturity, health, stature, and so on. What particular matter is used to form this body is for God to figure out, but it will be my body, this body, not some other and not some non-physical spiritual/ghostlike body. That's pretty awesome.


THIRD PROPOSITION
The bodies of the just will be remodeled and transfigured to the pattern of the Risen Christ. (Sent. certa.)

The qualities of the resurrected bodies of the just as outlined above:
- Perfect - completely whole, healthy, of optimum age, and rightly ordered

And also, as in Summa, Suplement, Q82-85 - the four qualities of beatified bodies
- Impassibility, the incapability of suffering
- Subtlety, spiritualized nature--not spirit but a spiritualized body--completely subject to the soul
- Agility, capability of the body to obey the soul with the greatest of ease and speed (near instantaneous)
- Clarity, brightness, the "glory" of our souls being seen in our bodies

These are drawn from Scriptural sources, either specific statements about our bodies, taken from the Transfiguration, and from that related about Christ's body after his resurrection. Our bodies will be conformed to his, like his, so we can derive these truths about our bodies based on what we are told about his.

FOURTH PROPOSITION
The bodies of the godless will rise again in incorruption and immortality, but they will not be transfigured. (Sent. certa.)

The understanding of the quality of the bodies of the damned are taken also from Scripture, implied in what is said of them. St. Thomas deals with this topic also in Question 86 of the same part.

Q86, a1: ""The dead shall rise again incorruptible"; where a gloss [13] says: "The dead, i.e. sinners, or all the dead in general shall rise again incorruptible, i.e. without the loss of any limbs." Therefore the wicked [14] will rise again without their deformities."

a2: immortal and incorruptible: " It is written (Apocalypse 9:6): "In those days men shall seek death, and shall not find it, and they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them."
Further, the damned will be punished with an everlasting punishment [78] both in soul [79] and body (Matthew 25:46): "These shall go into everlasting punishment [80]."

a3: not impassible: "Now on account of the former co-operation not only the soul [129] but also the body will be rewarded after the resurrection [130]. Therefore in like manner the bodies of the damned will be punished; which would not be the case were they impassible. Therefore they will be passible."

SUMMARY
As noted already, these truths are at the very heart of the Christian faith. They are part and parcel of the Good News. Even that dealing with the damned is in accord with this being Good News, not because we, much less God, are spiteful and wishful that any should so perish--God forbid! Rather, it is in that part of God's perfection is perfect justice, and the only just recompense to a rejection of God's mercy is to be judged without the application of that mercy. We know that God does not desire that punishment, but in his justice, he allows for it. We know that God gives each person sufficient opportunity to take advantage of his mercy, so no one is thus condemned unjustly.

This is good news because we know that God is and remains perfectly just and that he rewards each of us according to what we have done. Even more, for those who throw themselves on God's mercy, they will be receive the additional grace of having their resurrected bodies glorified, transfigured to be like Christ to live with God forever.

"Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”  Rev 21:3-4