Blog Template Theology of the Body: February 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

All Things Anglican Use

Fr. Aidan Nichols O.P. is a friend of the Church's Pastoral Provision for converted Anglican and the keynote speaker at the Anglican Use Society's annual meeting several years ago. Fr. Nichols' name has been mentioned, in both the religious and secular press in England, as a possible successor to the present Archbishop of Westminster. He has also just published a new book -- "The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England."

He says:

".... if Catholic Christianity conveys in human form the divine revelation which is the greatest truth, goodness and beauty man can know, then all the elements of truth, goodness and beauty in the theory and practice of other forms of Christianity ... would come to their crown in this context, would come to their intended fulfilment. It's because I believe this to be true that for instance I support ... the scheme for an Anglican church-body united to Rome but not absorbed."

HT: Fr. A.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

American Catholic Bill Buckley Dies at 82

William F. Buckley died today in the arms and graces of the Church.

I love this American family. Bill's writings, and my acquaintance with his brother Reid were a great encouragement to me while I was considering entering the Catholic Church. When I was stranded in Nairobi for a few days in a recent summer, I kept company with Bill Buckley's spiritual autobiography, Nearer My God, which is beautiful. The book, like its author, is an unapologetic apology for a full, traditional, loving life in Christ's Church, and it struck me about the time when I was grappling with such silly questions, like whether entering the Church would mean becoming culturally stranded from everyone who drank gin and engaged in witty repartee about the glory days spent at Yale and on safari while wearing seersucker on lawns, etc. (The Buckley brothers did away with this inane hesitation in about ten seconds)

I'm grateful for Bill Buckley's life... for his good taste and his brilliance, and for his love for our Lord.

requiescat in pace

Americans Changing Faith- for the Growth of the Church, or not?

Commentors at NPR and other places have been going mad over this recent article at the New York Times: Americans Change Faiths at Rising Rate, Report Finds:

"WASHINGTON — More than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion, according to a new survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report shows, for example, that every religion is losing and gaining members, but that the Roman Catholic Church “has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes.” The survey also indicates that the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated. More than 16 percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth largest “religious group.”

Huh. The Pew Forum's stats on the decline of Catholicism do not quite match the more academic findings of Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, solicited by yours truly. The Time's report of the Pew findings also contradict the NPR's report of the same, via Luis Lugo:

"One of the major findings, Lugo says, is that immigration trends are affecting religion demographics in America — tilting the Christian balance in the U.S. toward Catholicism and diversifying the range of choices that are nontraditional to the U.S....The survey confirms that the United States is "at the doorstep" of becoming a minority Protestant country, Lugo says. He says mainline Protestantism has seen the greatest losses. Although a good number of Catholics also have left the church, immigration has helped keep the Catholic percentage steady, Lugo says."

But oh well.

What has interested me most is the reflection by a secular commentator who explained that such shifts in religious affiliation are simply the logical outgrowth of Protestantism's inistence that authentic religious affiliation is a matter of individual, personal preference and choice, aka, adventurous explorations. Shades of the Enlightenment!

So there you have it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Who's Afraid of the Analogia Entis

Millinerd explains a crux of Protestant versus Catholic understanding, here.

This is the notion that the very being (entis) of the created world offers an analogy by which we can (in a very limited way) comprehend God. For example, if you've looked at a sunset and wondered that perhaps God is similarly beautiful, you've intuitively employed what theologians call the analogia entis.

As Bonaventure puts it: "All created things of the sensible world lead the mind of the contemplator and wise man to eternal God... They are the shades, the resonances, the pictures of that efficient, exemplifying, and ordering art; they are the tracks, simulacra, and spectacles; they are divinely given signs set before us for the purpose of seeing God. They are exemplifications set before our still unrefined and sense-oriented minds, so that by the sensible things which they see they might be transferred to the intelligible which they cannot see, as if by signs to the signified" (Itinerarium mentis ad Deum, 2.11).

The analogia entis comes under severe Protestant attack. Why?

The 20th century Protestant theologian Karl Barth, in an overstatement that recalls Luther's remarks on the Mass below, called the analogia entis the "invention of the antichrist"(x). I imagine he did so because of its potential to obscure the mediating role that belongs to Christ alone. Instead Barth proposed the analogia fidei, (the "analogy of faith"), meaning the only link between ourselves and God is one of faith in Christ, recalling of course the Reformation's sola fide. In so doing, Barth burned all bridges but one, remembering that there is "one mediator" and "one foundation."


... lest this humble blog be accused of chronic earnestness:

1. Anglicans are Kitschy too!

2. Paul Griffiths and Paul Mankowski on whether the American Academy of Religion is ridiculous...

3. Rowan and the Holy Father- or, why Rowan is more of an Eeoryean thinker than a leader.


I love these YouTube videos and what these guys did to the Mac v. PC commercials. I especially appreciate the last logo and quick tip they show at the end of each episode. There are 6 videos total, just search "NFP vs. Contraception." Enjoy!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Saint Polycarp, AD 156: Bishop and Martyr of Smyrna

One of those who would have known some of the original Twelve, and who then died for it.
An example of the Church's early episcopacy.

A heroic martyr who prayed the following at the time of his death:

"Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and powers, of the whole creation and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight, I bless you, for having made me worthy of this day and hour, I bless you, because I may have a part, along with the martyrs, in the chalice of your Christ, to resurrection in eternal life, resurrection both of soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, among those who are in you presence, as you have prepared and foretold and fulfilled, God who is faithful and true. For this and for all benefits I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be to you with him and the Holy Spirit glory, now and for all the ages to come. Amen."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Salvadore Dali on the Freedom of Christ

A Lenten reflection presented at the Catholic Church of St. Mary the Virgin on Friday.

I am humbled to be able to share with you tonight about a sculpture that has meant a great deal to me in my understanding of our Lord: Salvadore Dali’s sculpture entitled “Christ of St. John of the Cross.” May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The sculpture is a simple image, originally modeled in wax and then cast in pure gold by Salvadore Dali after his conversion and return to the Church in 1949. The sculpture was inspired by another piece of art on which Dali meditated: a drawing by the same name, which was attributed to Saint John of the Cross himself, and housed in the Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila.

I first encountered this little sculpture years ago on a hot summer’s day in Florence, in some crumbling Medici establishment turned art museum. I had rounded a corner following a journey through the Pitti Palace, where one becomes overwhelmed with thousands of images of Christian martyrs bearing the instruments of their torture; in fact, that day was my first introduction, in art, to the images of St. Catherine’s wheel, the knives that flayed St. Bartholomew, the arrows that pierced St. Sebastian, the image of St. Lucy offering her gouged eyes to heaven. In contrast to this myriad celebration of the martyrs, and the instruments of their offering, Dali’s sculpture seems to hover- weightlessly and freely.

The first thing that strikes you about this gentle weightlessness is that here, in contrast to other iconography, there are no instruments of martyrdom attached to the body. As a study in the pure freedom of form, Dali’s sculpture hearkens to two of his paintings: The Crucifixion, of 1954, and Dali’s painted depiction of Christ of St. John of the Cross, of 1951.

In both of these paintings, we find the same utter freedom of Christ’s body; we look at his hands and his feet, and we see that there are no nails for binding Him. The Cross itself is suspended in mid air, and Christ seems merely to align himself with it, as though He were bound only by some mysterious gravity that we cannot see.

These images are beautiful, as Dali intended them to be; the story goes that Dali, like St. John of the Cross, had been experiencing dreams about Christ, and wished to depict “a Christ who is beautiful, like the God who He is”- or, perhaps, he wished to depict the Christ who is human, the utterly attractive Jesus of Nazareth who was a vigorous young man about my age. And indeed, our Lord was a young man. I imagine that Jesus laughed a lot, and that he was beloved by His friends, and that His eyes sparkled with the joyous secrets that He shared with His mother- and with His Father. But Lent is a time when we recall that our natural affections for this attractive Jesus will fail Him every time; now, He is hung on the Cross, an ugly instrument of bondage, torture and shame.

In this regard, Dali’s sculpture is a radicalization of his vision of the beauty of the crucifixion; here, there are no ugly instruments. There is not even a cross. Rather, critics have noted that the image conveys a sense of the flame of Christ’s own divine love rising up to consume the offered sacrifice of His body; or, as Dali describes it, Christ Himself has become His Cross.

The idea conveyed is one of unconstrained freedom.

To me, the thought of a totally free offering is the most terrible aspect of Christ’s Passion. You see, I really cannot stand the idea of torture. I can’t watch it in films or read about it in books- I will literally faint. As a child, I wanted to avoid all thought of the agony of the crucifixion, but it was the agony in the Garden that really got to me. To think of having options in the matter, and yet to choose freely a terrible pain was a paralyzing prospect to me. It would be so much better and easier, I thought, if one did not have a choice; surely the greater agony is in offering your assent, or in willing the pain that will assault your body. I thought about this a lot as a child, partly because I was raised with stories of child martyrs who confessed Christ, and thus freely chose confinement and tortures. I thought about this with regard to going to the dentist for various involved surgeries that I had when I was very young. (My dentist was something of a Spartan who did not believe in much anesthesia). For me, the worst part of each ordeal was not to consider before hand the dentist’s needles or probes, nor even having to endure the procedure itself; no, the most terrible part was the point at which my mother would drop me at the curb outside the dentist’s office before the procedure and say, “go on in and tell them you are here for your appointment while I park the car.”

That was the most dreadful part; having to walk myself into certain pain of my own free volition. How I wished for someone to strap me in, to carry me on, to force me to assent passively to whatever would come next; but there was never any such luck. No: I had to walk in and present myself. Surely we have all faced something similar- the dreadful moment when we freely choose something that will hurt. The freedom of the decision makes it worse, and indeed is often the worst part- the dreadful anticipation. And knowing the dread of such decision myself, I could never fathom the dreadful freedom that our Lord endured before His crucifixion.

How did the omniscient and omnipotent Lord of the universe, with our nerve endings, and our stomach, choose this? What is the agony involved in giving your consent and bidding your torture to begin, when you are omnipotent? Knowing that our Lord could have called a legion of angels to change everything at any moment, my childish prayer went something like this: “Jesus, how did you get yourself to the cross? And once there, how did you stay put?” I put this quandary into a little poem when I was in high school:

Whenever you are ready, they said to me. No one dragged or pushed or persuaded; there was just the long road, and the hill to the cross, one step after another. But once you got there, Lord...once on the cross, how did you stay on?

So Dali’s images provokes me: when you have nothing to restrain you, nothing to compel you, nothing to hold you in place, how do you consent to your own suffering such that it continues one moment… after another… after another, each moment a willful decision?

St. Augustine expressed it this way:

For He who was manifest as man, was hidden as God; and He who was manifest suffered all these things, and He Himself arranged them all… Who can thus die when he pleases, as Christ died when He pleased? Who is there that thus puts off his garment when he pleases, as Christ put off His flesh at His own pleasure? Who is there that thus departs when he pleases, as Christ departed this life- at His own pleasure?

...So how did Jesus, in utter freedom, approach His cross?

The history of Christian theology resounds throughout the ages with a clear answer. With respect to His divinity, of course Jesus walks to His cross in such perfect freedom that nothing is needed; no instrumentality, no compulsion. Commensurate with the classic notions of God’s unchanging, perfect, undivided and underived self-sufficiency and freedom, Dali reminds us that God incarnate needs nothing, reacts to no exigency; in Anselm’s terms, the creative and cherishing Being who supports and surpasses all, who surpasses and fills all things, who is highest and best and greatest of all existing beings, from and through whom all other beings gain their existence, and in whom we hope, does not need a cross to hold in place His self-offering, as Lord and ruler of all, for the sins of all. As Augustine taught further, Christ’s suffering on the cross can only be rightly understood in terms of the free, self-sufficient power of His Godhead, by which He was raised from the dead on the third day; we see how freely He laid down His life for us when we recall that He had it in His power thus to take it up again. In the medieval period, St. Bonaventure similarly equates this divine freedom with the total power that is both hidden and revealed in the act of Christ’s total suffering: “Truly it is clear, how inexplicable (is) the fortitude of Him, whose infirmity was so strong.”

His infirmity on the Cross was so strong: with respect to His humanity, united to such perfect freedom and such utter power that He makes a cross of Himself, the young man from Galilee is in mortal agony. And here the question arises for us with greatest compassion: He is a young man with sorrows and fears, and a body. How does He muster the human will to offer Himself, moment by moment while He remains utterly free? How did He focus His mind? How did He pray in order to endure His cross? The answer could be useful to us, since we are told that we too must take up our crosses and offer ourselves totally to the Father; but the fact is, we are not told how. We are just told that Jesus did so, by His own human and divine will, with nothing to force Him or to bind Him.

Here again, our tradition cherishes the role of Christ’s human freedom in His offering.

A spiritual director of the fourteenth century wrote a series of Meditations on the Life of Christ for Lent, and he suggests that we imagine the point of crucifixion not as Christ being stretched out upon His cross with great submission, but rather that we think of Jesus eagerly embracing His cross by ascending a ladder to its center, where He voluntarily turns Himself around stretches out His arms to be nailed, first one, and then the other, saying to the Father “Behold, I am here; I accept; I offer myself to you for those whom you gave to me; for the love and salvation of mankind, it pleases me.” It's as though Christ were seizing His own agony. The same sentiment was expressed even earlier by the second century martyr Polycarp, who refused to be bound to the pyre at which he was to be burned, proclaiming with joy that on Christ’s example he expected that the grace of God would enable him to remain on the pyre unmoved, without being secured by nails.

For me, Dali’s sculpture portrays the Passion of Christ in its entirety. Perhaps when He was a child, Jesus of Nazareth had a foreboding of His crucifixion; He assents. The response that the human heart longs to make to the Father is yes, as Jesus would have heard from His Mother. Jesus is the vigorous young man who turns His face to Jerusalem because He yearns over her; and then, at the last hour, He assents to the Father in Gathsemenee, such that the suffering to come is to be understood as Jesus’ own will. Shall I say to my Father, deliver me? I shall not; for this reason I have come into the world. No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord. The events that follow are voluntarily embraced by the one on whom they fall, for the joy that is set before Him, and we see Jesus going to His dreadful death for our sakes, as though He were running to it, as though He would make a cross of His own body if there were no other cross to hold him at the end.

The death that Jesus chooses on Golgotha is a voluntary death at every moment, and involved an ongoing, agonized decision, made moment by moment, so that we might be reconciled to God. Jesus not only chooses Golgotha at the outset; He chooses to endure it.

Augustine taught that Christ thereby showed His deriders that He was the Son of God; and having allowed Himself to be lifted on to the Cross, He does not come down as they challenge Him to do, although He could. The Cross does not constrain Him. Rather, He bears with His insulters when they challenge Him, throughout His pain, because His cross is taken not as a proof of power, but of profoundest patience. In Augustine’s words, "there He cures your wounds, where He long bore His own; there He heals you of death eternal, where He vouchsafed to die the temporal death. What a death is this, which slew death!"

This is the Son of God, who has come to restore our fellowship with the Father; this is God, suffering with respect to His humanity. C. S. Lewis puts it this way in The Problem of Pain:

“ self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm of all creation and of all being. For the Eternal Word gives Himself in mortal sacrifice; and that not only on Calvary. For when He was crucified on Calvary He did that in the wild weather of His outlying provinces what He had done at home in glory and gladness. From before the foundation of the world, Christ surrenders begotten deity back to begetting Deity, in obedience.”

Indeed, there is no cross that can hold the Son of God. There is no cross that is necessary. He makes Himself the sacrifice; and He is held in place for His offering not by nails or stakes or weakness, but rather by constant free decision at each moment on His cross, because He loves you. He really loves you.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Feb 5: Vatican Calls for More Exorcists in Training

...this should spark Fr. Nelson's interest.

"Fr. Amorth told IBN that "the action of the Devil is a lot more widespread than in the past, not because he has more strength, but because he is given more space."

Pope Benedict, who "is said to be a firm believer in the existence of evil," has called for hundreds of priests to be trained as exorcists and made available to every Bishop. "Thank God there is a pope who wants to fight the devil head on," Amorth told IBN.

The Vatican has never given up belief in the reality of demonic possession, but the practice of actual exorcisms has waned over the last few centuries. Now, however, the Vatican's chief exorcist has revealed that Pope Benedict XVI takes the problem very seriously and is "setting up exorcism squads to deal with the rampant growth of Satanism."

More Here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Justin Martyr on the Eucharist, AD 100-165

"And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone."

The First Apology, Chapter LXVI - "Of the Eucharist"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

MM's Valentines

Steven Spielberg, for taking a costly and powerful stand against Questionable China for the people of Sudan.

All the manly converts of 2007, and those who will join their ranks in defending Christ's Church in 2008.

Catholic physicians who bravely advance the culture of life.

Adorable Aled Jones, who has subtly produced the most worshipful set of vocals I've heard in a long time (Check it out on Pandora Radio!)

My father, who combats crazy feminism by sending enormous bunches of roses to his daughters first thing on every Valentine's Day, as he has done ever since I can remember.

Happy Valentine's Day, All!
(Who are your valentines? Dare you share?)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Upcoming Lectures at the University of Dallas

- by MM and Lux's Advisor!

The Theology Department invites you to two public lectures by


of SMU Perkins School of Theology

February 19, 7:30 PM Gorman Room C



February 21, 7:30 PM Art History Auditorium


"Professor Marshall is a renowned scholar of historical and systematic theology and a much sought after lecturer. Formerly a Lutheran, he entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2005 while continuing to teach at Perkins School of Theology. His publications include: Quid Scit Una Vetula: Aquinas on the Nature of Theology” The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, (University of Notre Dame, 2005), “Do Christians Worship the God of Israel?” Knowing the Triune God (Eerdmans, 2001). Trinity and Truth (Cambridge University Press, 2000), Christology in Conflict: The Savior in Rahner and Barth (Blackwell, 1987)."

Just One More Reason to Homeschool.

Maryland Judge Rules Against Parents on Homosexual Curriculum

ANN ARBOR, MI (LifeSiteNews) - Maryland Circuit Court Judge William J. Rowan, III, ruled last week that it is permissible to teach 8th and 10th grade Montgomery County public school students how to use condoms during anal and oral sex, as well as that homosexuality is inborn, even though in 2007 Maryland's highest appellate court ruled there is no scientific basis for such a conclusion.

Read the whole article here.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Magnificat Breakfast

The Catholic Women's Ministry, Magnificat will be hosting a ladies breakfast Saturday February 16th from 9-12pm. It will be held at the DFW Hilton in Grapevine, Texas with Mary Ann Kuharski, Director of PROLIFE Across America and author of Raising Catholic Children and Outnumbered, Raising 13 Kids with Humor and Prayer as the guest speaker. In addition to being a well respected author and her work with PROLIFE Across America, Mary Ann Kuharski is a stay-at-home mother to 13 and advocate for adoption.

Tickets for the breakfast are $18 and can be acquired through Nancy Ferri at 817-498-7980. February 12th is the purchase deadline. The Breakfast will also include sections of praise and Eucharistic devotion followed by opportunities for confession. More information on PROLIFE Across America can be found at their website:

Saint Josephine Bakhita, Awaited

Saint Josephine Bakhita is a modern Sudanese saint, who was canonized by John Paul II, and then chosen by Pope Benedict to highlight the practice of hope in his latest encyclical. Her example and profile in the encyclical were discussed at Yale on her feast day, February 8; she is described by the Holy Father, below.

To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God.

The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter's lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

No More Monkey Business

Taylor and Ben both have had interesting things to say about Rowan Williams' recent promotion of the possibility of Shariah law in England.

I had dinner with George Weigel last night, and we discussed his new book on Islam and the West. It looks excellent. As George pointed out, does Rowan have any idea how conservative Shariah law is? When we bear in mind that Rowan recently celebrated a eucharist for a community of practicing homosexuals, and said nothing when British courts held that Catholic charities should be forced to hand orphans over to adoptive homosexual couples, it seems that at least Shariah in England might provide for a departure from moral monkey business in the mother land...

John Hare speaks on Spes Salvi

I attended a colloquy presented by Yale's Professor John Hare in his home in New Haven on Thursday night. Professor Hare, for those of you who do not know him, is the son of Oxford Natural Law philosopher R.M. Hare; and, John Hare was asked to be the Gifford Lecturer in 2004, recognizing him officially to be one of the world's greatest philosophical theologians. The topic that the evangelical Hare selected for a group of his students was Pope Benedict's latest encyclical, Spe Salvi, on the theological virtue of hope.
The (great) conversation centered around the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life, Benedict's appropriation of Martin Luther and Kant, and the Church's unique capacity to gift the world with social justice not through procedures or movements, but through the embodied lives of her saints.

It was a healing joy to read this latest letter from the Holy Father. The enyclical is relatively short, and rich, and as broadly pastoral and inspiring as they come. I encourage all of you to read it. If you have already, please share your own thoughts in the comments and continue the conversation...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ashes to Ashes, Dust for Dust

Today is Ash Wednesday. In a few hourse, I will walk into a quiet church, and receive my priest's thumbprint of ashes in the shape of a small cross on my forehead. He will say to me "remember, oh man, that thou art dust, and to dust you shall return." These are grim words. They are also true. And in the context of Lent, they are to me a great relief; they are the quiet reminder that my Lord and my God, in free love and compassion, took on this dust for me.

"The prayer that accompanies the distribution of ashes comes from Genesis 3, where the divine judgment is pronounced over all human beings, who had become sinners. The divine judgment falls dark and hopeless over all: "For out of the earth you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return. This judgment is directed to the whole person: you are dust; the human person, therefore, and not just a part of his essence, is dust.

Dust- truly a splendid symbol. Dust, this is the image of the commonplace. There is always more than enough of it! One fleck is as good as the next, and all are nameless. It is the symbol of indifference; what does it matter whether it is this dust or that dust? It is all the same. Dust is the symbol of nothingness, because it lies around so loosely. Dust is the symbol of coming to nothing; it has no content, no form, no shape, is nowhere at home.

But God speaks to us: you- the whole of you- are dust. We are always in the process of dying. We are the beings who set our course for death, clearly and inexorably. And through our practical experience we come to realize this.

Dust doubtlessly has an inner relationship, if not an essential identity, with another concept of the Old and New Testaments: the concept of "flesh," the concept of the whole human being. It designates the whole person precisely in his basic otherness to God, in his frailty, in his intellectual and moral weakness, in his separation fro God, which is manifested in sin and death..

From this conclusion, however, we must understand the change that the sentence "the human person is dust" undergoes in the Christian economy of salvation. The good news of salvation rings out: "The Word became flesh." Flesh has become the hinge, the pivot of salvation. Since then, flesh designates not only the pivot and hinge of the movement into nothingness and death, but also the pivot and hinge of a movement that passes through death's nothingness and forlorness into life, into eternity, into God.

Ever since that moment, the sentence of terrifying judgment, "dust you are" is changed for the person of faith and love. The old sense is not abolished; the old sense must be endured and experienced in tears, in the bitterness of nothingness and deahth, in evil and dying, in the bitterness of limitations. But the downward motion of the believer, the descent with Christ into the dust of the earth, has become an upward motion, an ascent above the highest heavens. Christianity does not set us free from the flesh and dust, nor does it bypass flesh and dust; it goes right through flesh and dust. And that is why the expression "dust you are" is still applicable to us; rightly understood, it is a complete expression of our life.

When on Ash Wednesday we hear the words "remember you are dust" we are told then that we are brothers and sisters of the incarnate Lord. We are told everything that we are: nothingness that has been filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God's life forever."

- Karl Rahner, Dust You Are

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lenten Regulations on Fast and Abstinence

Ash Wednesday, February 6th, marks the beginning of Lent. The
following fast and abstinence regulations should be observed:

• Abstinence from meat is observed on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and
all the Fridays of Lent by all Catholics 14 years of age and older.

• Fasting is observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all
Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 60 years of age. Those
bound by this rule may take only one full meal. Two smaller meals are
permitted as necessary to maintain strength according to one's needs.

• The special Paschal fast and abstinence are observed on Good Friday
and, where possible, on Holy Saturday. On these days, Christians
prepare themselves by these disciplines in anticipation of the
renewal of their baptismal commitment on Easter.

From its earliest days, the Church has urged the baptized and the
catechumens to observe the threefold discipline of fasting,
almsgiving and prayer as a preparation for the celebration of Easter.

During Lent, the Church encourages attendance at daily Mass,
reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, self-imposed times of
fasting and personal prayer, and generosity to local, national, and
worldwide programs of sharing.

The Stink of Cheap Peace

...Or, why MM has issues with the term "Irenicism."

Some of the friends who I've respected the most have appropriated a favorite new word in their theological work: in its various manifestations, the term is "Irenicism." It's a comforting, lukewarmish term for being dialogically peaceable; because I live with the burden of associating flavors and textures with words, this particular word reminds me of something like viscous fish soup. As far as I can tell, in its usage in distinctive language-games, it seems to be a term that is remarkably useful for making and maintaining stasis and self-identities intact in the Middle Way.

Frankly, as I've thought about the staunchly Catholic Tolkien this week, the term reminds me a bit of Tolkien's character Gollum, who exchanges real community and the light and warmth of sun and wind for the peaceful solace of his cave, where he can abide in endless "peace" with his seductive ring. Of course, we all know that Gollum's habituation is the worst parody of peace; it is decay. True peace comes to Middle Earth when the the lesser kings overthrow their self-deception and ride to war, and when the stewards of Gondor hand the one throne over to the one king. But throughout the restoration of Middle Earth, fragile Gollum prefers his own kind of irenic, and indeed, he talks a lot- in the sort of seeming "peace" wherein he mutters only to himself and tells riddles in the dark.

It is true that irenicism righly construed and practiced bears witness to the wisdom that is from above, which is both gentle, and compassionate, and full of love. That is, however not a theologically exhaustive depiction of peace, since Christ warned us that the peace that He gives is not necessarily the sort that is recognizable on the world's terms.

You see, I cut my theological teeth on Dietrich Bonhoffer. As most of you know, he was a pacifist of the first water. But Bonhoffer railed angrily against the Christians of his day who were tossing around something that he called "cheap grace." Some might associate this "cheap grace" with the vice of presumption, but I think it's more like what Karl Barth describes as the sin of spiritual boredom. Or, perhaps it is something like what is described in Revelation: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." On the other hand, some might equate this with a Gollum- like insistence that so long as one can grasp that which one would hold as his own, in irenic stasis, all's right with the world; "and they shall say in that time 'peace, peace,'- but there is no peace." (Ezekiel 13)

(The great pacificists of our day engage in some of the angriest rhetoric you'll ever hear; it's because they believe that authentic comunication is the only real antidote to damaging violence and manipulation. For instance, I love Stanley Hauerwas, and he is offensive; but I've never heard anyone refer to him as duplicitous. They say that John H. Yoder was one of the most disagreeable people you would ever meet.)

Bonhoffer taught that true grace and peace was only available for those who took up the cross of Christ. Grace and peace are costly. Accordingly, Bonhoffer went to a Nazi prison and was executed for his understanding of peace. When I read Bonhoffer's The Cost of Discipleship, I was not irenically soothed by his proposals; I was terrified. I told my professor one day: "this is terrifying. I hate this book." That was the day I got it.

This is the terror that brings us to the foot of the Cross, where Christ made real peace once and for all by having nails driven into His hands, and His ankle bones broken by stakes driven into planks of dry wood. On that day there was deep anguish, and probably, the gnashing of demons' teeth, while in the midst, there hung the torn body of the Savior, mediating grace, making peace- "in the body of His flesh through death He has reconciled us to Himself." In a world where there was no peace, it took the breaking and dying of the Begotten of the Creator to recreate the peacable kingdom of the Father. Our world is at war with the peace of God; and in such a world where true peace is anathema, our Lord died to re-create it.

When we say "blessed are the peacemakers," I think that Calvary should be our paradigm. Making real peace seems to require not a lot of words, but a dying. On this paradigm, perhaps the world's attempts at "irencisim" might be proven to be the whiny wordiness of people who are too afraid to die, and who think that they will just bargain for their time instead. In fact, we will all die. It's how we have prepared for it that matters: blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be found to be the sons of the God who went like a wordless lamb to the slaughter.

Lent is a time for dying, for ceasing our whiny wordiness and offering ourselves as a whole sacrifice to the Father, who, in His mercy, will accept it. This time last year, I was preparing for a death of my own: my conversion to the Catholic Church, and I was terrified. It's an understatement to say that I was a reluctant convert. I feared the loss of relationships with family and beloved friends. I could not at all comprehend how entrance into Catholicism could jive with my sense of calling to evangelize and to participate in making disciples in all nations, since the Catholic Church is so often despised among those nations. I was sure that I was bidding farewell to the distinctive beauty and cultural perks of Anglicanism forever. There were aspects of Catholic doctrine that I still did not fully understand, much less fully like, as is the case even today. And certainly, entering the Catholic Church did not promise perfection; but it did offer integrity. As the Anglican Use priest who received me often reminds me, to attempt catholic life outside of the Church is an ultimate impossibility.

I knew that for me (and, I believe for others) the love of Christ for His one Church required nothing less than my own self-offering for her obedient, visible, undivided unity, in full and unbroken communion with the apostles who had walked with our Savior. The least I could do was to show up with my own little life and invest it in this one Church, which was was manifestly living as Christ has called His people to live.

So, throughout the next few weeks, as my Lenten offering, I will be posting on my conversion story. I know that it may cause some discomfort, for me and for our readers... but I know that it won't be boring.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What I'm Doing for Lent

(Apart from forgiving all of you contributors for not responding to my meme...)

A few years ago, I received an 11th century bronze Byzantine cross much like the one pictured above; and ever since, I have taken it from its box at Lent to wear every day until Easter.

This little cross is a thousand years old. Over highways and byways and seaways, it made its way from its provenance in Cyprus to a British jewelry shop- and when I wear it, with it glaring explicitly from my neck to make any instance of sin quite embarrassing, I remember that this is Lent, that Lent is the journey of a pilgrim over highways and byways, to the promised Resurrection of the Crucified Lord, in whose rising I hope for my own.

Lent is the time when Christians prepare to celebrate Christ's Resurrection for all the world to see. Lent is the time when we vividly recall that in His resurrection, our world cannot remain our home; rather, we are set at our baptism on a journey to His home. Lent is the time of pilgrims, who eat pilgrim food, endure a pilgrim's discomforts, think pilgrim thoughts of a soft and familiar home left far behind, of hard climbs ahead for the sake of arriving at the promised Kingdom where the Lord reigns who has conquered our death.

I am a Lenten pilgrim too, with my far-traveled cross around my neck. In the journey ahead, I will do what such pilgrims do- I won't be eating the sweet things that sojourners find on their tables. I won't be drinking the wines and spirits which become deadly at high altitudes. I will be far, far away from my daily dose of NPR and CNN, and so I will only have beautiful music to fill my ears and songs to sing to my Savior. Needing to streamline my burden for the journey, I will show up for an honest and thorough confession very soon, I will pay my parking tickets and take up the disciplines that have been lacking in my life, awaiting re-awakening. I will ask frequent forgiveness of my friends and family. Having only the sky to search as I tread my hiking trail, I will meditate on the healing virtues which can be mine through the grace of God. And because I travel this route with a pack of fellow pilgrims, both present and gone before, I will be following their time-honored example; on Fridays I will fast, I will remembering the Passion of our Lord on my rosary, I will stay put for extra hours of intercessory prayer for the people I love. ...And that will be my journey. Pray with me.

What are you doing for Lent?