Blog Template Theology of the Body: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

Saint Albert the Great

He was the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, and- we believe- is now an intercessor for all students.

The great discerner of souls does not belie himself here. More than once his vast experience of life, his charity in judgment, his just and wise weighing of all the circumstances, manifest themselves. This is especially the case when Albert, as for instance in his teaching on anger, or on the spiritual works of mercy, descends to the particular and gives advice on the proper ordering of life, for then he reveals a unique greatness, a rare combination of high scientific training and a practical wisdom born of his own experience of life.... We can then catch a glimpse of his own soul, as in moving speech his loving heart sings the canticle of God.

Mere here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Abstinence in the Ivy League

Here's an interesting article on abstinence programs in the Ivy League.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A follow up on the case for espousal

So I read the article MM linked to in the previous post to see what I thought about it and thought I'd respond from a male perspective. Now as a male, I was under different pressures than the women the article describes, but I did wait to get married until I was 38, so I can understand a bit about the concerns of settling. The superficial problem is that there seems to be some confusion about whether less-than-perfect means settling. There aren't any perfect partners out there, but marrying someone who is less than perfect is by no means an act of settling -- it is, rather, a recognition of all of our human imperfections and a willingness to love someone not in spite of their drawbacks, but because of them. From a Christian perspective, perfection belongs to no one on this earth and to expect it from another person is to misplace our affection from the One who is perfect and without flaw.

There is, however, a deeper issue, which is their impoverished understanding of love. Duns Scotus makes a distinction between "the love which is an act of the will...[versus] that which is a feeling in the sense appetite." All too often we only think of love as some kind of feeling that resides in us (thus the article's frequent reference to women 'just not feeling it'), but this is a fleeting understanding of love both historically and in actuality. That is, for most of the last two thousand years, love was considered a virtue -- a habitual disposition toward God and others, rather than a feeling. And in actuality, that initial feeling of passion and chemistry often only lasts for short period of time, to be replaced by something deeper and more sustainable. We've become a culture that has fallen in love with falling in love, but the reality is that kind of fiery passion is just not sustainable.

It seems to me that we need to rediscover the idea of love as a virtue, rather than a feeling. As a virtue, love is habit that inclines us to act in loving ways. The more we act lovingly, the more we build up the habit. The big difference, however, is that love as a virtue is really other-centered, while love as a feeling is self-centered. Loving acts, which build the virtue of love in us, must have objects outside of the self, so that our love is given to something other than ourselves. Love as a feeling focuses on how someone else impacts us -- what they can do for us -- and so it is no surprise that Gottlieb's article makes the case for settling based on what the male can do for the single woman. It's never about the other person when love is relegated to a feeling -- it's about one's own needs. And frankly, who the heck would ever want to be known as the guy who someone condescendingly 'settled' to marry. It seems to me that someone who looks at a man that way deserves all the singleness she gets.

Love as a habit, as a virtue, is an act of the will, and is thus a choice that we make and make again and make again until it becomes so ingrained that we don't even think about it any more. We choose what, and whom, we love (and, as I said, we mostly chose to love falling in love). And once we make that first choice, we continue to act in love towards the object of our love. Gottlieb and her friends don't seem to realize that they have a choice about loving the men they date, and since they don't choose to love them, they feel like they must settle. They lack the virtue of love.

I've often thought that one of the most difficult things to do in life is see people for who they really are and love them, instead of seeing them for who we want them to be and love them for what they do for us. I have found, however, that a simple prayer can help this, which is a prayer for God to help us see others as God sees them, rather than as we see them. Attempting to see others through God's eyes, rather than our own, profoundly alters our perspective and may enable us to love them in ways that we might not be able to do on our own.

My hope for Gottlieb is that her experience of parenting leads her to discover the virtue of love.

The Case for Espousal

My girl friends and I are fascinated lately by an article that recently came out in the Atlantic Monthly. The article, by Ms. Lorri Gottleib, is entitled Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Goodenough:

My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run...

What intrigues me about this article is the way the author is putting her finger not only on our modern culture's feminist backlash, but on our more fundamental foolishness about the human body. We simply don't know what to do with it anymore. As John Paul II has reminded us, apart from killing bodies at every turn like blundering idiots, we have forgotten the very basic and fundamental fact that the human person is a nuptial person, made not to be alone, but to be espoused. I grate my teeth every time anyone uses the utterly pagan term "singleton." The Christian revelation calls us fundamentally to espousal. For married persons, the Christian call to espousal is for unitive and procreative self-donation. For celibates, the Christian call to espousal is for the total consecration to Jesus that we will all enjoy in Heaven. Even single persons who have not yet discerned a call to one of two permanently vowed states enact and express in a vivid way the Church's betrothal to her Lord. But in any state, we are not made to be alone. We are made to be... married.

(Case in point: my family recently celebrated a wedding, and I welcome you all to the footage; see also the booming convent of the Dominican Sisters of Mary for an equally vivid picture of nuptial life.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

St. Irenaeus on the Eucharist, AD 200

That wine, which was produced by God in a vineyard, and which was first consumed, was good. None of those who drank of it found fault with it; and the Lord partook of it also. But that wine was better which the Word made from water, on the moment, and simply for the use of those who had been called to the marriage. For although the Lord had the power to supply wine to those feasting, independently of any created substance, and to fill with food those who were hungry, He did not adopt this course; but, taking the loaves which the earth
had produced, and giving thanks, and on the other occasion making water wine, He satisfied those who were reclining at table, and gave drink to those who had been invited to the marriage; showing that the God who made the earth, and commanded it to bring forth fruit, who established the waters, and brought forth the fountains, was He who in these last times bestowed upon mankind, by His Son, the blessing of food and the favour of drink: the Incomprehensible acting thus by means of the comprehensible, and the Invisible by the visible; since there is none beyond Him, and He exists in the bosom of the Father.

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies III.8

Monday, March 24, 2008

Saint Faustina of the Divine Mercy

"For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on me and on the whole world."

- Plain and simple. In a lot of ways, this humble Polish nun accomplished within the Church's theology what Martin Luther had only dreamed of.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Lord is Risen!

Mighty Victim from on high
Hell's fierce powers beneath thee lie
Thou has conquered in the fight,
Thou has brought us life and light.

Now no more can death appal
Now no more the grave enthrall.
Thou has opened Paradise,
And in Thee Thy Saints shall rise.

- Robert Campbell, 1814

Holy Saturday

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, 0 sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

-Homily of unknown authorship, ca 2nd century.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Week

No more blogging here this week.

It's a time for confession; a time for silence and stillness; a time for waiting for an assured rejoicing. It's the final stretch on the road to the resurrection. It's just a matter of time.

Why I’m a Catholic, Final Bit

I am a Catholic because I need to be Catholic.

Sometimes, when people tell me that they cannot understand why anyone would want to be part of a such an antiquated, structured, hierarchical institution like the Catholic Church, I feel as though I’ve been asked to justify the reasons why a person would need a home or a family. Certainly the silly case can be made (as our culture often insists) that people don’t need homes or families, that individual autonomy and exploration is more valuable and important than anything else, that self-sufficient self-discovery is adequate for human flourishing. But it’s all a lie.

I know that the myth of flourishing in self-sufficiency is a lie first hand, because like a lot of my generation, I am a young woman who has lived alone in the modern American city. But more than that, I grew up on a ranch in Texas, and I know (as a lot more of our developing world knows) of coming home late at night through the country. It’s a simple thing. Under the vast Texas skies, which darken quickly, the drive from the little town on the edge of nowhere takes you through a lonely front gate, away from the main road and then down dark, deep roads that take up the better parts of hours. There are no lights around, no means of communication with anyone, no links to safety and companionship. The shadows hang over the road, and they are sinister, and you are all alone and very fragile in the night. But then you finally round a bend in the road, and you see the glimmer of your own home, the solid island of warmth and safety, where there is a fire burning, and dinner being made, and games being played, and a father praying for the peace and safety of the children that he will tuck into their beds when the time comes. There is no feeling quite like that sight of your home down the road.

I feel that way about the Catholic Church. People often say that to become Catholic after trying something else feels just like “coming home,” (I remember reading about a respected friend who said that "it just feels wonderful") and I really think there is no better way to describe it. While the world is full of other sorts of way stations and mission outposts and even comfortable inns, where one can find a warming fire and a nourishing table, these are only places on the way. That’s the way I felt this time last year, just before I was received into the Church. I had loved the temporary ecclesial lodgings I had enjoyed, but up ahead, I could see the permanent place where I was supposed to live, and it felt a little bit like heading towards home; only this Church, with its papal father and interceding mother, and army of spiritual fathers, brothers, and sisters was also the sort that was not just for me and my interests. It was this home that could be a home for the homeless and fatherless, wherein all people of every shape, size, and culture could grow and be nourished, and which, in its integral unity, could show the rest of the world how to live.

Blessed Duns Scotus once wrote that our habits should be postulated not only so that power might act rightly, but so that we might act promptly, and with delight. This is a good summary of my experience of becoming a Catholic. I know that here I am being formed, however slowly, by an absolutely trustworthy authority that has its subsistence in Jesus. There are no longer any hesitations having to do with the need to carefully pick and choose from a myriad of theological interpretations, or of aligning myself with a trustworthy authority; rather, there is a new ability to live spontaneously and to share well-defined truth readily.

And lastly, there is the delight and joy for which we were made. I am happy in this Church; I love being a Catholic.

I remember asking a Catholic campus ministry worker a few years ago whether I, MM, would make sense as a Catholic. I explained to her in some detail the apparent problems; I loved the aspects of Reformed theologies that trace their origin to Nominalist Catholics, as I still do. I was a bit of a charismatic. I was certainly an evangelical. I wanted a safe and universal church into which I could lead others in good conscience. I wanted to protect the poor as well as the unborn in and through a community that was unified enough to take on the perishing nations of the world and all their illnesses. I wanted to study the Christian faith seriously, and to live fully in the same community that had originally embraced the Scriptures. I wanted to worship beautifully, whether I was in Congo or Dallas, in the world's first missionary community that could still address my personal constant state of culture shock from always traveling too much. Could I remain myself and still be a Catholic, I wondered? I remember the response that I got: the true Church is broad; she encompasses every culture, and she alone can embrace every person.

-And it’s true. The human person is a vast estate, and the Catholic Church is the only situation in the world that’s big enough to hold her in such a way so that she can really grow, without hesitation, without unneeded anxieties and enclosure, and without compromise.

I suppose if I were asked to summarize my description of my conversion, I would use the words of two Protestants who I love. The first is Charles Wesley, who glibly expresses the latent heart of Scholastic theology in this way: "what shall I render to my God, for all His mercy’s store? I’ll gladly take the gifts He gives, and humbly ask for more.”

And then there is the second powerful idea, stated by Karl Barth: "the essential mandate to which the call of God to the Christian can be reduced is this: ‘receive yourself and your world as a new creation.’"

...It's with ideas such as these that I might best try to describe my conversion. There is much more to be said, because I have much more growing and learning to do. I am unbelievably imperfect, and my breath is taken away almost daily by the patience and gentleness that is extended to this little, impetuous convert by her family and friends. And in the end, I hope that in the mercy of our Christ, my confession will end up in the place where I began- just with the scandalously simple understanding that the God who prepares a Church for His Son has seen fit to call to me.

Maybe the best way to put my still-forming conversion is with these words, which I want on my tombstone:

We shall keep our vision still;
One moment was enough,
We know we are not made of mortal stuff.
And we can bear all trials that come after,
The hate of men and the fool's loud bestial laughter
And nature's rule and cruelties unclean-

For we have seen the Glory...we have seen.

Thank you all for bearing with me in these bits of my conversion story.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why I'm a Catholic, Bit IV

I am a Catholic because I, with all Christians, am called to love Christ and His Church.

While living in Anglicanism for a few years, I suffered from chronic Catholic envy. And I learned, from friends and pastors, how to live with it: one nestled close in a tightly guarded parish. Ideally, this would be a parish safely enclosed from the rest of the ECUSA community, with an exotic, evangelical bishop who stayed far enough away to allow charismatic, high church rectors to lead their flocks as they thought best. If one were able, one made plans to move to Ft. Worth. But if one were stranded in the high places of western culture, say Boston or Manhattan or New Haven or London, one had to get quickly enclosed in a clique of like-minded young people, with whom one might foster the virtues of modern 'Anglican' life. I'd actually begun to believe that these virtues included a seemingly generous arborial ecclesiology, and a flexible linguistic that allowed one to wave an airy, ringed hand at “the Romans,” “the East,” and “the Anglican Communion” as on par and up for grabs according to the mood de jour. All the while, one somehow still presumed to speak of the visibly one, holy, and catholic church. One adopted an aesthetic that linked the antiquated manual acts of the altar and flouncy birettas with high tea, stiff martinis and suits from J. Press, and rejoiced that this aesthetic, thank God, had a place to thrive... so long as no-one jumped ship and joined the tacky "Romans." One glibly appropriated whatever one liked of the gifts of the Church, perhaps in manicured retreat centers, or in Dominican scholarship, or in a paperbacked catechism, or from a kindly “Roman” spiritual director, or with a pope-blessed rosary, but one freely indulged in all these gifts without any real commitment to the unifying Spirit and the loving father who had extended them. And all along, one rejoiced in one’s zeal for holiness and the zeal that surrounded, and got very, very angry at the sin that always seemed so far away from one's own self, and perhaps one got slightly addicted to the adrenalin associated with an enormous and doomed cause.

As an Anglican, I thought I was Don Quixote, but I was living like a Donatist.

The Donatists have always fascinated me. They were the most pious of people, enamored with holiness, purity, and perseverance, which is a wonderful thing to be. But St. Augustine fought them to the end, as schismatics. The Donatists left the Catholic Church because the Catholics believed that grace extended to sinners, and the Donatists thought they could do better. These former Catholics would take their Catholic priests, and their Catholic sacraments, and their Catholic doctrine, and they would form their own "catholic" communion. Sound familiar?

Cardinal Newman, the nearly beatified modern convert from Anglicanism, speaks right to the heart of the matter in a way that will sorely provoke whatever remains Donatist in our own minds:

"We must either give up the belief in the Church as a divine institution altogether, or we must recognize it at this day in that communion of which the Pope is the head. With him alone and round about him are found the claims, the prerogatives, and duties which we identify with the kingdom set up by Christ. We must take things as they are; to believe in a Church, is to believe in the Pope. And thus this belief in the Pope and his attributes, which seems so monstrous to Protestants, is bound up with our being Catholics at all; as our Catholicism is bound up with our Christianity. I say, we cannot help ourselves…we should not believe in the Church at all, unless we believe in its visible head." (John Henry Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk)

Believe me, I was provoked by such ideas before I was a Catholic. How dare the Catholic Church insist on union with a visible head, I would ask. The Head of the Church is Jesus, period. But I've learned that the Church does something to the human mind’s capacity to embrace Scripture- the Church invites and provides for a deeper and quieter listening to the Holy Spirit’s instruction in the narrative of God’s people. And when we pause to think about it, we see that God has always given a human mediator. In, by, and for Christ His Son, the Father made Adam to be the head of his garden and his wife and all the creatures. God positioned Noah to lead the new creation, Abraham to capitulate a chosen nation, Joshua and the prophets to guide them, Mary to reverse the rebellion of Eve forever, Peter to lead his brothers by standing in for the One who will return. The headship of someone elected, prepared, and chosen seems to be the order of things.

The Church has one Head, Jesus Christ her Lord, and accordingly, she should have one earthly leader. For those of us who love getting the aesthetics of the glorious Gospel right, it’s a matter of symmetry.

(In that regard, I’ve just got to get this image out of my mind every time that I hear Christians insisting on the rightness of their episcopacy apart from the Pope)

When it finally came time for me to enter the Catholic Church, there were a few select passages that provided the clincher, from St. Augustine’s writings On Baptism against the Donatists. As an Anglican, I had firmly relied on the possibility that the Anglican sacraments were whole, valid and powerful. What came as a surprise to me, about this time last year, was that the Church Fathers had understood that the Church’s valid sacraments, when confected in schism outside of the Church, constituted grave acts of sin against the body of Christ. As such, these valid sacraments would both be dangerously harmful to the recipient, and would bring judgment with their reception. You see, for the Donatists, there was no question about the validity of their sacraments; but it was precisely for that reason that Augustine was grievously worried about his zealous Donatist brothers, their children, and even the infants whom they baptized in schism. In his Tractates and Homilies on John, Augustine accuses the validly ordained, schismatic Donatist priests of acting as seducers and false friends of Christ every time they confect their valid sacraments, because they are leading the Bride of Christ into flirtations with the means of grace offered apart from the Body of the Bridegroom. And, in another sense, Augustine warns:

"Those violaters of charity are they that have made the schism: and (thus) they hate charity itself…Away, you robbers; away, you invaders of the possession of Christ! On your own possessions, where ye will needs be lords, you have dared to fix the titles of the great Owner. He recognizes His own titles; He will vindicate to Himself His own possession. He does not cancel the titles, but enters in and takes possession." Homilies on the Gospel of John VII.11

In fact, Augustine’s rhetoric seems to me to summarize a good deal of what might be said in conversations among many contemporary Christians:

"But I have the sacrament, you will say. You say the truth; the sacrament is divine; you have baptism, and that I confess. But what says the apostle? "If I should know all mysteries, and have prophecy and all faith, so that I could remove mountains;" in case you should say this, "I believe; enough for me." But what says James? "The devils believe and tremble." Faith is mighty, but without charity it profits nothing. The devils confessed Christ. Accordingly it was from believing, but not from loving, they said, "What have we to do with You?" They had faith, but not charity; hence they were devils. Boast not of faith; so far you are on a level with the devils. Say not to Christ, What have I to do with You? For Christ's unity speaks to you. Come, learn peace, return... You have been baptized without; have fruit, and return to the ark." Homilies on John VI.21.

...Augustine sounds a bit like an angry prophet railing against sin in these texts, but bear in mind to whom he is speaking in these sermons. He is speaking to the Donatists- to the educated elite, the holiest of the holy, the enclave of those who had survived persecution with fortitude. They are the ones who think that their cultivated spirituality is too good for the Church, and that they are bound to preserve a remnant of spotless doctrine and practice for Christ apart from the poor, faltering, stumbling Catholics. And certainly these are virtuous impulses. But, it’s here that Augustine speaks gently, quietly reminding us that in God’s grace it is the weak who will inherit, it is the children who will enter, and it is the humble who God will find pure in spirit; and that the Church Catholic is the place where God will make humble hearts for Himself if they wish to be united with Him in His Body, in love:

"But why need I make many references, and enumerate the many vanities of heretics? Keep hold of this, that Christ's sheepfold is the Catholic Church. Whoever would enter the sheepfold, let him enter by the door, let him preach the true Christ. Not only let him preach the true Christ, but seek Christ's glory, not his own; for many, by seeking their own glory, have scattered Christ's sheep, instead of gathering them. For Christ the Lord is a low gateway: he who enters by this gateway must humble himself, that he may be able to enter with head unharmed. But he that humbles not, but exalts himself, wishes to climb over the wall; and he that climbs over the wall, is exalted only to fall." Tractate on John 45.5.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why I'm A Catholic, Bit III

I am a Catholic because the Church understands that God elects particular people and places. And Jesus elected Peter, who went to Rome.

The story goes like this. If we take Scripture seriously, we ought not overlook those critical moments which the Gospel writers emphasize, with the gravity that the Holy Spirit required. There is something deliberate in Luke's hushed reminder to the reader considering Pentecost: "and the mother of Jesus was there." And in much the same, understated way, there is great significance in the spotlight which the Biblical authors turn on Jesus' exclusive statements to Peter: I have prayed for you... care for your brethren... I will give to you the keys of my kingdom...feed my sheep.

When Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, turned to Rome never to turn away again, his final missionary journey made great sense. He was a Roman, a proclaimer of the Gospel to the uncircumcised, and to those who had never worshiped in that Temple and Land in which God had chosen to meet His people. As Galatians reminds us, Paul had already followed apostolic protocol when he submitted the content of His proclamation to Peter and James, the heads of the Church in Jerusalem. And it made sense that Christ's politically transformative Church, as the international institution of the King of Kings, should be established in Rome, the capital of worldly commerce and military power.

...But then something strange happens, as Scripture and tradition tell us; Peter also leaves Jersualem and turns his face to Rome for one final journey. He left Jerusalem, the holy place of the Jews, for the cosmopolitan center of paganism. Tradition holds that in Rome Peter led a church of martyrs, and died with them in Nero's circus, near the Vatican Hill where he was buried. Word spread. The grandchildren of the apostles and the friends whom they evangelized would make their pilgrimages of prayer not to the old sites in Jerusalem, but to the grave site of Jesus' elected leader of His disciples, in commemoration of the personal relationships that are a hallmark of Christianity. Thus, in God's providence, one of the holiest places in the new creation would emerge with the prayers of new Christians, who were led by the chosen successors of Jesus' chosen successor, in the very center of the crumbling Roman empire, from which roads ran to the far corners of the earth for the discipling of the nations, as Jesus had commanded. The following generations found the profoundest providence in this unfolding of events, as one of the earliest Church Fathers put it less than a hundred years after Jesus' resurrection:

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the (true) Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; we do this, I say, by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also by pointing out the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of her pre- eminent authority; that is, by the faithful every- where, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those faithful men who exist everywhere...Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the one Church; since the apostles, like a rich man depositing his money in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers... Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Church with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from her what is certain and clear in regard to the present questions?" (Adversus Heresies III, Irenaeus of Lyons, AD 115-190)

It is in these ways that Rome seems to me to be the place to be. In one way or another, Christians have always looked to Rome for normative guidance, if only to define what they have chosen to reject.

There is more to be said on this point in our broken world, since much of the faith and practices of Rome remain available, with great grace, even in schism from Rome. Rome understands that these features of grace persist to lead the Father's children home. These graces, which always tend towards unity, may lead beyond Protestantism because Protestantism can ring hollow. These graces may lead beyond Anglicanism and Episcopalianism because one wishes to avoid guilt by assocation. And, as in my case, they led well beyond Eastern Orthodoxy.

It seems like it could go without saying, but then a lot of my friends are enamored with the Orthodox way, and certainly it is a way which led me home to the Catholic Church; it was during a gap year in Romania, between high school and college that I first discovered the beauties of the Romanian Orthodoxy. I was part of a group of young people working for a long winter in Romanian orphanages in the early nineties. It was rigorous, in the way that the Orthodox are rigorous- we were up at four in the morning to pray each day, and during Lent we were alotted just a few cartons of orange juice to sustain each person for twenty one days of work and intercessory prayer. During those months, I- like thousands of my generation who have fallen in love with the old ways in various emergent movements- discovered icons, and incense, and little chapels lit like caves with slender, smoking candles. I prayed there, doubled up on the floor like the mystical old peasant women around me, with chickens squacking around us during the Mass. I would sometimes stay in those places all day, often with a few homeless gypsy kids snuggled next to me, looking at the images and waiting in the silence.

I am most grateful for those times in the Orthodox basilicas, but I've never missed them; and when friends of mine wax nostalgic for the Orthodox experience, I always wonder whether they know what they are talking about. Perhaps this wonder has something to do with the fact that I just do not know many Orthodox people in my current context, while on the other hand, my life has been filled with Catholics of every kind. I have great respect for the very few Orthodox people who I do know; they are Patristics scholars, educated at... the Catholic University of America. This fact refers in a way to the reservation recently expressed by Msgr. Peter Elliot, who cautions disaffected Anglicans about the unecessarily burdensome and difficult process of cultural making-over that will face Westerners and Wasps who flirt with Orthodoxy.

One might answer back that a cultural makeover is a burden that will face any serious convert, and that the benefits of Eastern Orthodoxy as an alternative to Rome persist nontheless. As I say, I was there; and truly, the Orthodox have wonderfully stinky incense and a lot of candle wax, and chickens wandering around before the iconostasis. Gothic cathedrals just cannot match that sort of embodiment of the universe. The Orthodox have married priests. And, they have never tried to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

It's this last point that seems to resonate with a lot of the people who like to dogmatically proclaim that they will refuse to dogmatize mystery, that the Church is presumptuous to define her teaching, and that the sorrowful brokenness of the Reformation hatched from the Scholastic egg that Rome laid. I always wonder about these assertions. The good people who make them might be merely upholding the value of their personal preferences for describing the mysteries of the faith- at which point any pretense to be catholically minded or even potentially obedient must fall by the wayside. Or, these good people may be making a very different sort of claim- namely, that the refusal to "dogmatize" the Christian mysteries in certain traditions is somehow evidence of the endorsement of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

When adjuducating such claims, I think that the Biblical criteria is clear: by their fruits you shall know them. Certainly the Anglican refusal to dogmatize has produced untold fruits of theological "creativity," from Richard Hooker's proposals of Eucharistic "receptionism" (at best) to Mrs. Schori's hopeful forays (at worst). About the Orthodox refusal to dogmatize I know less, apart from the very apparent absence of an Orthodox Catechism on my bookshelf.

Rome, on the other hand, dogmatizes. She always has. As I've come to appreciate, Rome has an older and gentler pastoral tradition of responding to the human heart, which always seeks understanding when it has fallen in love. As Anselm explained it at the dawn of the Scholastic era, fides quaerens intellectum, the faith of God's children seeks understanding, with the kind of hunger and thirst which a true spiritual father provides for. It has always seemed to me that Rome's dogmatizing is her response to her child martyrs; people should know what they are willing to die for.

But there's more. The height of the Scholastic impulse and method emerged from the missionary movement of the Dominican order. The method and clear doctrinal conclusions that were produced were in turn tucked under the arms of the Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries who set the world on fire during the first missionary movement of the 16th century, and who have been imitated by Wesleyan, Baptist, etc. missionaries ever since. The Gospel got into the farthest reaches of the Amazon and the Kavango Delta and the Northern Territory because itinerant Franciscans took the summaries of Thomas Aquinas as warrant for something to teach and a reason to teach it. You cannot go far into the developing world without reaching one of their old outposts. But I've never seen an Orthodox mission. I travel all over the world, and I've never seen one. I've been told they exist, but frankly, I'll believe it when I see it.

It could be argued that the missionary impulse is merely different for the Orthodox, in that perhaps it is lodged in the ministry of monastic prayer; and certainly the monastic tradition in Orthodoxy is venerable. But the forms of the monastic communities in which the great Eastern saints have flourished are themselves the offspring of Rome, authorized by the See of Peter long before the Great Schism of 1054. It was the Roman Church that sent the desert Fathers to live the radicality of the Christian life when their civic context became too soft. There is good reason why the first monastic communities at Norcia and Assissi sprang up based on the Roman ideals of the pater familias, within short distances from the eternal city. And again, try as I might, I cannot name a single Orthodox missionary order which has sent the consecrated into all the world to make disciples.

And as for comparing mystics, please. I give you St. John of the Cross and Theresa.

Lastly, a word about political theology. History has shown that in the absence of a Pope, you get an emperor. Every Christian community that persists apart from Rome has been or is inevitably tied to some perishable, fallible, and sometimes violent national agenda. In fact, most Orthodox branches are designated by the nation in which you find them; and most have been implicated by the sins of that nation. Although the monarchial pope of the Catholic Church and the alternative civitas of the Catholic monestary and family can and should resist the secular state whenever the state sins against God's people, the same mechanism for the resistance that God requires is absent within Orthodoxy and Anglicanism.

I will never forget walking through the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral Square in Timisoara, admiring the beauty of the place but wondering why the doors were riddled with holes from machine gun bullets. It seems that there had been a political uprising in the town square a few years before I passed through, and the frantic townspeople had gathered their children into the basilica for sanctuary when fighting broke out. But the bishop was no mere bishop of Christ's one Church; he was a Romanian bishop, and he was bound to take orders from someone in the Romanian government. His orders came that day from high up in the Romanian army. So the bishop took fifty children outside of the basilica and locked the door behind him while they were gunned down. Of course this horrible incident is in no way typical of any sort of Orthodox behavior. But it does indicate the extent to which Christ's Kingdom cannot be of this world.

Next: Though I give my body to be burned... but have not charity, I am nothing. I Corinthians 13.

Why I'm A Catholic, Bit II

... you get to be part of amazing movements like this great gift of the Church to our generation. Check it out, with love from MM at Headquarters in New York.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Why I'm A Catholic, Bit I

I thank you Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the mighty and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11

G. K. Chesterton said that all children are born Catholics; their natural tactile and imaginative impulses, which ought to be molded into the fruition of integrated worship in the Mass, have to be trained out of them by means of deliberate restraint in Protestant households. I think it’s true; thuribles and light streaming through stained glass, and kindly images like family photographs, and the solemn genuflection before the Presence are just the sorts of things that children think are terribly important. And, as is often the case with children, natural impulses for liturgical worship and the material means of grace reflect the kind of profound truth that grown-ups struggle to put into words.

As Aquinas carefully explains it in his Summa III.60, the human person’s faith is united to his body; thus, Christ’s provision of the material Sacraments is the greatest sort of gift for our faith. Humanity acquires intellectual knowledge through the senses; therefore, sensible signs are aptly used to signify spiritual things. A sacrament is a sign that the senses can grasp; and only then can the human the mind adequately apprehend what the sensible sign conveys. The child’s grasping little fingers, eager for something real to hold onto, also bears profoundest witness to the opening words of I John 1: “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” As the Gospel writer puts is, the Word became flesh, to dwell among us; and the Incarnate God was not thereafter reduced to a mere text or confession.

I’ve often told my friends that my conversion began when I was about seven years old. I was raised in an old Presbyterian establishment. I was blessed in this upbringing, and I learned many things that have stood me in good stead.

However, I remember suffering from two real needs throughout the whole thing. First, I had no way of making sense of a very real, childlike yearning to be near to Jesus- materially and really. I had a vivid imagination as a child, and I thought of Jesus; of His Passion and suffering, of His promised return in glory, of His tenderness for little children. If someone had only explained to me when I was about four that Jesus really entered the presence of His people at their invocation, as He always promised, such that you could touch Him, I’d have bought it in a second. It’s what I was always waiting for.

Secondly, combined with this yearning, was something perhaps a bit more universal- the need for steady and authoritative answers and explanations, for moral guidance grounded in this very Jesus who I was learning to love, and who I wanted to love fully. It seemed to me very early on that there was something deprived and undignified about the scramble to rustle through the pages of the Bible that we honored to construe a self-solved solution to a perplexity at a moment’s notice. The world was an enormous, quick, variegated place to me as a child, a world always struggling too much with its own wounds to offer guidance, and I and my parents- like all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve- needed a steady place in which we could be taught and healed.

And then there is another thing; the child’s capacity to imagine life in the new creation. Paul imagines this new creation in a rather wild way in Romans- a royal community grounded not in secular modes of community-making, but in something indissoluble, which leads the rest of the world to glory. I recall that as children this kind of proposal made a great deal of undomesticated sense to us, largely from our story books; we wanted to take dominion in a real way, and to live in a grand community of allegiance and waiting together for the Emperor Beyond the Sea, in sworn allegiance to King Peter. While we were given texts to honor, and liturgical dances, and a pantheon of early modern secular heroes, what we really wanted was to be kings and queens of Narnia.

My chief regret now is that no one really told us how.

In my teens and early twenties, as most of you know, I discovered with a lot of joy that something like the desired ways was lodged in the lovely tradition of Anglicanism, in which I lived for a few years while I hoped for something more.

You see, all along there was another childhood itch at the back of my mind. It came from a set of books that I read when I was a little girl, about a sappy young lady named Elsie Dinsmore. She is a character who lacks any sort of backbone, except for the fact that she is rabidly anti Catholic. When I was eight, I recall throwing one offensive volume across the room, because the whole thing snarled of a deep, deep hatred. I knew even then, when I still did not quite know what the Catholic Church was, that while the impulse to reform her members is always right, the sad impulse to resist her and abandon her defied the very clear cry of Jesus that His Church must be one, for Him to love, and for all the world to see. I knew even then, as I have confirmed now, that to refuse to love the glorious body entrusted by Jesus to Peter is to refuse to love the will of Jesus. It is, in some way, to refuse the Father’s invitation to the wedding banquet of the Lamb because of more pressing concerns.

As a teenager, I once broke into tears when I crossed St. Peter’s Square in Rome with a group of well-meaning Protestants who were full of derision, because I somehow knew (regardless of whether or not I agreed with some of their derision at the time) that the occasion of their accusation was the work of the evil one, who hates the church and wishes to break her into a thousand pieces, as he has done. But the Church is supposed to be one. Chesterton explains it this way in his book The Catholic Church and Conversion: whatever happiness you find in your own piece of the Church, there is still no denying the reality of the thing that you have broken.

I have learned a great deal since I was eight. Yesterday, while navigating a lady’s tea, I turned from trying to persuade one well meaning Episcopalian that Peter Gomes is crazy (does anyone actually read him anymore?) to a different sort of Episcopalian lady, one who finds great comfort in identifying herself as “an Anglican.” I’ve recently become confused as to what reality such designations actually refer, but I went along with it, until it became time to explain to her that I had become a Catholic, last year. The Anglican blinked at me, as though trying hard to situate my statement in her own fantastic construals: “wait… you mean you have joined the Roman Communion?” -Um, yes, as I said, I am now a Catholic. And there I left it, with this lovely lady and all of her friends who have become enamored with complicated, hyphenated self-identifications.

(Come to think of it, the lady is just the sort who, if she marries, will proudly attach her maiden name to her husband's by hyphenation, and will insist the same for her children: Mrs. Archibald Fuller-Brown, with all the little Fuller-Browns, etc. I cannot help but wonder if it's the same sort of impulse for the Anglo-Catholics, who seem to have adopted a similar way of being part of the Bride of Christ.)

In response to such conversation, my childish impulses, I believe with gratitude, have been formed. I have learned that never, ever, in the whole history of the Christian faith, has it been Catholic to be separated from Rome. Whatever the reasons for an apparently legitimate separation from Rome, and whatever consolations are available apart from Rome, to leave Rome is to cease to be Catholic; it is to attempt to maintain a very, very antiquated confession and aesthetic in a communion splintered from the first one, and it requires refusing Christ’s call to be kata holos, to be part of the whole, to be one. It is to be a part of a well-meaning piece instead.

Next: Where we found brethren, we desired to tarry with them... but then we went toward Rome. Acts 28.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

So these are the issues:

It's always interesting to see what the state of contemporary theology is by glancing at the roster for the American Academy of Religion. These are some of the panels that will be holding forth this coming fall in Chicago. Needless to say, we need more good Catholics there. In descending order of hilarity, I give you:

Roman Catholic Studies Group

The group welcomes proposals for papers or sessions on any topic concerning theological, historical, and cultural studies of Catholicism. Session proposals may be edited. Particular interests include: urban and suburban Catholicism; parish life and parish boundaries, particularly in the Midwest and Chicago; the legacy of the following watershed events of 1968: the Medellín conference and the advent of Latin American liberation theology, the appearance of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, and the death of Thomas Merton; historical and generational periodization of Catholicism; violence and the Catholic tradition (possibly offered with North American Religions Section); Catholicism, immigration, and Mexican-American experience; Catholicism in the public sphere, particularly in reference to U.S. electoral politics; and possible sessions on sociologist Melissa Wilde’s Vatican II.

Reformed Theology and History Group

The Reformed Theology and History Group, in co-sponsorship with the Christian Spirituality Group, welcomes papers on Christian spiritual practices in the Reformed traditions, such as Scripture reading, expository preaching, pastoral prayer, public confession, Holy Communion and baptism, as well as mass social movements such as abolition and suffrage, and (in the nineteenth century) missionary societies for clergy and laity. Confessions and the Reformed Tradition: The Reformed churches have been societies born of confession. John Leith lists 17 confessions prior to 1650 alone (Creeds of the Churches), from Zwingli’s confessions, to Westminster, Belgic and Dort, to Barmen, and now, the Belhar confession. Reformed churches have sought to set forth their doctrine in public, corporate, and varying witnesses to the Word. Why has confession been so central to the Reformed tradition? What social, material, and theological forces are at work in the Reformed practice of confession? The Reformed Theology and History Group invites papers that explore this rich historical and theological phenomenon.

Queer Theory and LGBT Studies in Religion Consultation

The Queer Theory and LGBT Studies in Religion Consultation welcomes proposals for individual papers or panels on all topics related to queer theory and LGBT studies in religion, in particular those focused on bisexual and/or transgender studies and on religions other than Christianity. We are especially interested this year in proposals in the following areas: intersections of religion, sexuality, class, and capitalism; transgender/ed performance and performativity (for a possible co-sponsored session with the Ritual Studies Group); sexuality and gender in film and television, U.S. or international; "What difference does queer make?": applying queer theory to research, teaching, and conference presentation style (innovative presentation formats encouraged); and queer issues and religion in sport.

Tantric Studies Group

The Tantric Studies Group invites papers and preformed panels dealing with recent research in Tantric studies, including but not limited to the following topics: 1) Reading Tantric imagery; 2) The categories of "Yoga" and "Tantra"; 3) Tantra and magical powers: Siddhis as metaphors and actualities; (2 and 3 possibly co-sponsored with the Yoga in Theory and Practice Consultation); 4) Tantra and law: legal proscription and transgression; 5) Tantric ethics; 6) Initiation and authorization in Tantra; 7) Public fFaces of Tantra; 8) Tantra in (and as) virtual worlds; 9) Reading Tantric texts in contemporary contexts; 10) Tantra and popular science; and 11) "Real" Tantrikas: ethnography, history. The Tantric Studies Group supports the collaboration of scholars in Tantric studies across the traditional boundaries of research based on geographic regions, specific traditions, and academic disciplines.

Religion, Food, and Eating Seminar

The seminar brings together a diverse group of scholars to collaborate in our analyses of how, what, and why religious individuals and groups in the United States and Canada eat. In addition to stimulating our shared research agenda, we aim to create an anthology appropriate for a wide academic audience of scholars interested in the study of religion in America, religion and food, and the embeddedness of religion within society. The seminar focuses on creating an internally cohesive project that incorporates our diverse research topics but shares a set of common themes and questions. Scholars interested in joining the seminar are encouraged to contact the chair, Benjamin Zeller, Auditors are welcome to attend the seminar at the Annual Meeting.

Animals and Religion Consultation

Papers and panels considering: 1) Pedagogy, bringing animal studies into the religion classroom, course design, observation pedagogy; 2) Animals in Asian religious traditions; 3) Food, vegetarianism, animals as sacrifice, farming; 4) Presence and absence, relevance of experience with other animals, who has the authority to speak on behalf of or about animals; 5) Animals as divinities/divine; 6) Animals and Native traditions in the Americas (for a joint session with that program unit), particularly focused on animals as divinities; 7) Animals and eco-sustainability practices; 8) Methodological and disciplinary diversity of animals and religion studies; 9) Working with ethologists and evolutionary biologists; and 10) Animals in spirituality and theology, addressing any religious tradition.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

St. Albert the Great

He was the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, and- we believe- is now an intercessor for all students.

The great discerner of souls does not belie himself here. More than once his vast experience of life, his charity in judgment, his just and wise weighing of all the circumstances, manifest themselves. This is especially the case when Albert, as for instance in his teaching on anger, or on the spiritual works of mercy, descends to the particular and gives advice on the proper ordering of life, for then he reveals a unique greatness, a rare combination of high scientific training and a practical wisdom born of his own experience of life.... We can then catch a glimpse of his own soul, as in moving speech his loving heart sings the canticle of God.

Mere here.

Obama: Endorsed by the Sermon on the Mount

On the campaign trail yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama defended his support of abortion and same-sex unions. In response to a question at a stop at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, Obama explained that he thinks same-sex couples should be given the recognition and benefits granted to married couples:

"If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans."

And there he left it.

...From such Christian commitments, Obama went on to justify his support of abortion. Obama has voted to maintain infanticide by partial-birth abortion in the United States, and against notifying the parents of minor women prior to their killing their unborn children. Last week, he also obsequiously expressed regret for his his vote against the forced starvation of Terry Schiavo.

He may be cute, but the man thinks a bit like a butcher.

(Politics like these make me rejoice all the more in the recent work of the Magisterium on point; the Catholic Church faithfully speaks for those whom Jesus defends against our frequently insane culture.)

Our Lady of Soufanieh, Damascus

This recently approved apparition in Syria pleads for the corporate reunion of the Church to those who perpetuate its schism:

"The Church that Jesus adopted is One Church, because Jesus is One.
The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on earth.
He who has divided it has sinned.
And he who has rejoices from its division has also sinned.
Jesus built it.
It was small.
And when it grew, it became divided.
He who divides it has no love in him.

HT: Fr WB. Apparently there are also some amazing clips available on UTube.

South African English

... I've got an article coming out soon on ecumenism in Africa, which will be copy edited in something called "South African English." Sounds pretty exciting- but does anyone know what this means??? Maybe they will incorporate traces of Xosa or Zulu...

Monday, March 03, 2008

Tony Blair at SMU

This recent convert will be speaking on the SMU campus on Wednesday, March 5 and Thursday, March 6. I fully expect to see him at Mass in our Catholic student center on one of those days...

It's election week in Texas

And while this is a non-political blog, I thought I'd offer up this quote from St. Augustine, which you can apply to your candidate of choice:

"Fine style does not make something true, nor has a man a wise soul because he has a handsome face and well-chosen eloquence. They who had promised that he would be so good were not good judges. He seemed to them prudent and wise because he charmed them by the way he talked….Already I had learnt from you [God] that nothing is true merely because it is eloquently said, nor false because the signs coming from the lips make sounds deficient in a sense of style. Again, a statement is not true because it is enunciated in an unpolished idiom, nor false because the words are splendid. Wisdom and foolishness are like food that is nourishing or useless. Whether the words are ornate or not does not decide the issue. Food of either kind can be served in either town or country ware.”

Confessions, Book V,vi.10. (trans. Henry Chadwick)

Of course, it can also be applied to a host of preachers and priests...

St. Katharine Drexel, 1858-1955

Saint Katharine Drexel, Religious (Feast Day-March 3) was born in 1858 to a prominent Philadelphia family. Her apellation "St. Katherine, Virgin," stands as a sturdy reminder to modern times that in the economy of the Church, there are no such things as "singletons;" her army of religious daughters lived in espousal to Christ, for the motherhood of the needy, with supreme joy, and, as St. Augustine puts it, eternal priority in Heaven.

Katharine became imbued with love for God and neighbor. She took an avid interest in the material and spiritual well-being of black and native Americans. She began by donating money but soon concluded that more was needed - the lacking ingredient in the service of the poor was people. So Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, whose members would work for the betterment of those they were called to serve. From the age of 33 until her death in 1955, she dedicated her life and a fortune of 20 million dollars to this work.

In 1894, Mother Drexel took part in opening the first mission school for Indians, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Other schools quickly followed - for Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, and another for African Americans in the southern part of the United States. In 1915 she also founded Xavier University in New Orleans.

At her death there were more than 500 Sisters teaching in 63 schools throughout the country. Katharine was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988.

Kindness has converted more people than zeal, science, or eloquence. Holiness grows so fast where there is kindness. The world is lost for want of it. Let us conquer the world by our love.

-Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Etc.

Vatican: Baptismal liturgies that omit the masculine names of the persons of the Trinity are invalid.

"Variations to the baptismal formula, using non-biblical designations of the Divine Persons that have arisen from so-called feminist theology that seek “to avoid using the words Father and Son which are held to be chauvinistic will undermine faith in the Trinity." Here.

HT: TexAnglican

Hopefully current feminist craziness will take note and stop patronizing the girls.