Blog Template Theology of the Body: June 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Monastery blogging

I ran into brand new blog by a Benedictine monk in England. He's just getting started, so take a moment to give him some hits and even a comment or two.

Additionally, a group of Dallas students just spent a week at a Benedictine monastery in Oklahoma. here are blogs entries by a male and a female student that may be of interest to you, as well as an old blog by a former student.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

WALL-E as a pro-life film

Warning: Some of what may follows includes what might be thought of as spoilers, though I don't think any of them are things that are not found in other reviews. Just consider yourself warned.

So my wife and I went to see Pixar's brilliant new film, WALL-E. Much has been made of the environmental themes found in the movie and the implicit critique of our consumer culture. Those themes, however, are the canvas upon which the larger love story between WALL-E and EVE is told -- and it is a wonderful love story that deals with themes of loneliness, loyalty, commitment, and healing.

And while I don't think it was necessarily the director's intent, I think there are some very interesting pro-life ideas in the movie as well. Part of the plot revolves around EVE's mission to find plant life on an Earth that has been denuded of life. WALL-E has found a little seedling, which is placed into EVE's 'womb', where it sits until the probe ship returns for EVE. In the meantime, WALL-E loyally watches over her in all kinds of weather and adverse circumstances; here I am reminded of the documentary March of the Penguins, with its themes of commitment and sacrifice in the effort to nurture life.

Once WALL-E and EVE are returned back to the human ship other robots attempt to kill the life that EVE has nurtured in her 'womb', with one robot attempting to send it into space and detonate it. Meanwhile WALL-E and EVE do everything in their power to preserve the little seedling which will bring humans back to Earth. Somehow it is these robots, who through their commitment to each other, realize that life is paramount and to be preserved at all costs. This is a decidedly pro-life message.

The other religious theme I found interesting is that of the human expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In this case, humans have to leave the world they have been blessed with due to their own selfishness. As a result, their very nature is corrupted in a way that makes them uncomfortably less than completely human -- they are incapable of standing on their own two feet. It is only through the hope of new life, a resurrection of life if you will, that the humans are restored to their previous world, though one that will now require multiple lifetimes of restorative work and a new learning of what it means to be truly human.

I haven't seen anyone else pick up these themes yet, but these are some of the messages that I think are there to be found. Great movie and I'd recommend it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

MM's Update: please pray for our friends in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s opposition party warned Thursday of growing political genocide at the hands of government supporters, urging the world to intervene immediately before the situation gets worse.
As sometimes happens with the World Youth Alliance, we have had to set up an impromptu headquarters to deal with an emergency. We have spent the past 24 hours trying to provide protection and assistance to some of the regional coordinators for Catholic Relief Services who are related to our work in the region. These people and their children have received serious death threats on account of their positions in light of the upcoming elections in Harare on Friday.

So, a peaceful Benedictine office on the shores of Newport has lately turned into a buzzing center of international phone calls and emails regarding emergency safe havens and border crossings in deepest Africa. This is how it should be among the Church's people. Please join us in urgent prayer for God's servants on the other side of the globe. We really, really want to help save their lives today.

And pray also for our brave campers, who are carrying on with their activities while praying and enjoying critical international work first hand...

You can learn more about the Zimbabwe crises at the BBC online, or at a related blog network here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin, RIP

Carlin was, of course, very negative toward religion, yet his contribution in Kevin Smith's Dogma was one of the most spot-on send ups of modern conceptions of Jesus Christ that you'll ever see. So here's a tribute to a bit of religious genius:

World Youth Alliance Summer Camp: Training in Progress

...Happy instructors and amazing kids. Today we have covered the intrinsic dignity of unborn children, policies to protect the interests of unwed mothers, and the reversal of HIV/AIDs through behavior change and chastity around the globe. The kids just eat it up. They began their morning with prayer for one of our members who is facing martyrdom today in Zimbabwe, and later enjoyed lunch with Dr. Tom Howard (a great modern convert and the brother of Elisabeth Elliot) and some of the Benedictine priests on staff here. More to come...

Meanwhile, back in Rwanda

I do some work for the World Youth Alliance every summer; it's how I keep my theology studies real. This summer, I am enjoying the stillness and beauty of Portsmouth Abbey and the enthusiasm of a group of amazing high schoolers, but in the past few summers, I have been in eastern Africa to work with our Alliance university students there. At all times and places, there is no joy like being part of the Church's gift of the whole Gospel to the world. Here is a retrospective list of my past blog posts from the other side of the globe- same globe, same Gospel.

With the Thomist scholar Josef Peiper, the World Youth Alliance teaches its young people that the ultimate fulfillment of the human person, the most powerful expression of being alive, happens in an instance of beholding... God.
En rout to Nairobi: From my airplane window, the clouds cluster here in a fantastic Saharan afternoon display- the way they do over tropical oceans- but here it is a sea of sand. These clouds... a breathtaking arrangement of shapes and shadows, from God's hands, cast over the sky for the handful of people who happened to be awake for it on the right-hand side of Swiss Air Flight 292. I saw one of the wakeful ones- he is African, just a little older than me- very young and lithe and intense, strained against his window with absolute focus to see the beauty out there. It was because of him that I took my own look out of my own window. It was because of him- he had the look of someone so very eager and alive- (God only knows why he is returning to Nairobi from Zurich- he hardly looks like a banker. A freedom fighter? A peace worker? A notorious advocate? A spy?)...

I had given up. We had already flown for two hours from Zurich over the awesome beauty of the Alps, over their cold little lakes, St. Moritz, the Badrutz Palace Hotel, over Lakes Como and Maggiore with their alfresco cafes, over the sparkling Mediterranean and a dozen Italian pleasure islands, (Capri? La Corse? It was the wrong side for Portofino) where countless yachts made white streaks in the water before the place where the water shone like clear turquoise near the shores- and then we were over Tunis and the Kufra basin and the touted desolation of Northern Africa, and then we knew that we were over war-torn Sudan, and you could see smoke in the air. I curled up tight for a nap then- my peculiar talent- because at least this present genocide, in the country thousands of miles beneath the plane, is not the fault of colonial blunders. There is nothing to be done- everyone says so. I certainly cannot jump off this plane and parachute through the atmospheres to rescue the children in Darfur (death and rape every minute)- can I? Oh, I can pray. I breathe something about "peace" and draw my cashmere wrap thing around me and I sleep deliciously for a while, and I dream something about having lunch with Larry King.

I am so glad that I woke up in time to see that young man (political asylum seeker?) straining against his window, loving the beauty of the ground and the sky so much. On this ground (it is soaked with blood) and on this sky (the sun can be merciless here and can kill young things) God writes His majesty. It will always be this way. Though the earth's crust here may be very thin, such that Hell breaks through so frequently (whether in the anguished violence of Darfur or in the trudging drudgery of daily poverty's burdens) it is uniquely here, on this continent, that God's children call to each other with shouts and stamping feet and glinting eyes and drum-beats that sound exactly like the human heart in the night. It is here too that the Lord goes forth with a shout. You should see the very clouds He casts.

This is why I come to Africa. I come to know the power of the Incarnation and the Resurrection in that thing- that resilience- of poor, powerful people. I wish to be taught by the posture of the young African man who studies this sky outside as though he need never look away- here is grace. It is as though he said to me, "this is beauty for ashes. This is the sound of a song in the night."

We are over Northern Uganda now. There is the slender Nile that Livingstone found, snaking its way through all the trees. There are the lovely green hills were Joseph Konye tortures kidnapped children, at this moment, one by one, ideally four years old, so that they too can torture others and kill in his armies. It takes this plane just a few minutes to pass another place where Hell has broken through. Another place where God goes forth with a shout. I think that whatever sort of "parachute" God may choose to give to me for jumping off, for intervening, for joining His gracious onslaught on this country against its evil, I will take it.

Dear people, come to Africa. Get on a plane or send your dollars or write to someone in Washington who can make things happen. Do something. Respond somehow to these very real screams and tears. But do it for your own soul- there is absolutely nothing so exhilerating as extending yourself to see and to be where the gates of Hell cannot finally prevail.

Day II.

So this year Kigali is not so exotic as to prevent an internet connection. I hope to be posting almost every day on something discovered in Rwanda...

An NGO= "non government organization"- is one of those marvelous post-colonial inventions that provides an amiable outlet for those whose heart lies in Helping Others, while charmingly maintaining every bit of the otherwise gone and forgottten colonial life and aesthetic: range rovers, big gates with native porters, khaki, and the weekend getaway to Victoria Falls...all to be had on a missionary's salary. Evangelical kids really should just get over the terror that tends to accompany the thought that One Might Be Called To Africa...

All skepticism aside, today was spent consulting with WYA leaders and recruiting a handsome bunch of new members at the Kigali Technical Institute. In the meantime, the day was spent on a veritable tour of local NGO's for prospective partnership. The great ones that I really liked (for anyone who Might Be Called To Africa) are as follows-

1. Trocaire: the official overseas development agency of the RC in Ireland, "expresses the concern of the Irish Church for the suffering of the world’spoorest and most oppressed people." Trócaire's dual mandate is to support long-term development projects overseas and to provide relief during emergencies, and to inform the public about the root causes of poverty and injustice and mobilise the public to bring about global change.

2. Open Arms International: Met this enthusiastic non-dom American bunch at breakfast; they are a recently new outreach, and are doing great things in medical missions in Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. This seems to be the place for nurses, doctors, dentists, therapists, etc. I was very impressed: they "combine medical care and Christian ministry into a powerful combination that can deliver the healing touch of God." I plan to join them for their morning devotions at our hotel from now on.

3. Hillsong strikes again! A glance at this website will give you a clue as to the nature of the banners strung up all over town, because this mega church worship team is coming next month to set Rwanda on fire! Hmmm. I have mixed feelings. Rwandans KNOW how to worship, such that we westerners really have nothing to do but learn from them. That includes the 96% Roman Catholic population who are whooping and waving at Mass with the best of them. I've seen it!

Day III.

"And the people, when they saw Jesus, followed Him; and He received them, and He spoke unto them of the Kingdom of God, and He healed all who had need of healing." (Luke 9:11)

... just another bit of evidence for the intrinsic dignity of the human person, who is created in the image and likeness of God, and for whom Christ gave His life. As we tell our Rwandese:

"Every human being has an intrinsic and inalienable dignity that begins at conception and extends through our natural lives until natural death. This dignity, the most precious endowment of the human person, is involiable. The dignity of the human person must be cherished in custom and protected by law. We recognize that the intrinsic dignity of the person is the foundation of every human right, and is independent of any individual condition. No human community can grant or rescind that dignity... we invite all those who share these convictions to join us in affirming them and to give them effect in public life at all levels."

-The World Youth Alliance Charter.2 and Declaration on the Human Person.1.

(We have spent productive hours today newtorking our Rwandan World Youth Alliance chapter with local NGO's and consulting firms, and then an afternoon around the table on the hotel "terrace" hashing out the nuances of our WYA principles, as applied to prospective initiatives against the spread of HIV/AIDs. Our young people are amazing! They inspire me more than I could ever say.)

Day IV.

The directors of WYA- Africa and I spoke to an audience of over five hundred university students today in the NW province of Rwanda called Gisenyi, and after a productive presentation which resulted in our doubling our Rwandand membership (!) we celebrated with a lot of chicken stew eaten with our hands for lunch, and a motorbike ride along the beautiful shores of Lake Kivu, over the Congo border into Goma. What a wonderful day!

During my talk on the solidarity of persons as the foundation for social progress, a Rwandan man raised his hand for a question. I have anticipated this for years, but I still wanted to cry when he raised the quiet, ever-present issue: "who are you to presume to propose these notions to us?Who are you to show up from the West to deliver these ideas, when the West destroyed our culture through colonialism and the slave trade in the first place? Who are you to speak to us about "solidarity" when solidarity was made impossible in Rwanda by the colonists of your culture? Indeed, how can you speak about solidarity without first offering an apology for these historical offenses?"

It was a just and dreaded onslaught of issues. I have written and studied so much about this sort of thing from the comfort of a library, but when the issue was addressed to me, in front of hundreds of my peers, when I stood for the bad guy who had oppressed and abandoned the innocent in the eyes of hundreds of genocide survivors, I felt incredibly defensive as the tears welled up. I waited while two gracious members of our Rwandan panel took the microphone and explained the apparent fallacies in the young man's questions. But I knew what had to be done.

There can be no "solidarity" without reconciliation. As Christians, we are they who agree quickly with their adversarys while we are on the way because we long most of all persons for the unity of Christ's re-creation. I had to swallow up the fact that I personally had little in particular for which to apologize; I asked that young man to consider me a representative of the West, and I asked him to give to us the gift of his forgiveness.

There was a thunder of applause. I suppose the Rwandans had been waiting for that.

Day V.

Our young men of The World Youth Alliance in Rwanda amaze me. They are articulate, committed, and full of joy. They are strong, slightly wild, and they care for we women of WYA International like queens. It is therein that they demonstrate the purest and noblest kind of manhood... in the promotion of their sisters. They have deliberately placed capable young women in prominent places in our five-hundred member national chapter, and they beam with pride at the results of their initiative: young Rwandan women who can reason thoroughly and speak clearly on the most serious political/social issues facing the future of their families, and who will thus form and restore their culture for those they love. In a country where the average university classroom contains a student population that is 99% male, our young men have tackled this disparity because they realize that the future of Rwandan culture is in the hands of those who rock the cradle and teach toddlers. Just today, in a classroom full of men, a new male recruit urgently asked us "what are your goals for increasing women's participation in society?"... and then he asked one of our young women trainees to respond. Our young men take seriously their responsibility to invite their women to flourish, and it is working.

Even above and beyond this call of duty, our young men have taken on the call of James 1: true religion lies in the practical care of widows and orphans. Last summer, our young men insisted that a good part of our training seminars be devoted to the issue of genocide widows and their practical needs. This year, their hearts have turned towards the child orphans of Rwanda, and after a networking visit today with a fabulous NGO called simply "Orphans of Rwanda," our young men are making plans to send our WYA young people out as formal mentors for these precious children. Along the way, we plan to teach them to dance, to sing, to sew and chop wood, to laugh with the best of them, and to plan to do anything.

Day VI.

We teach our young people of the World Youth Alliance that the monumental changes that lead to authentic improvements in the developing world happen slowly, beginning with the the heart of the individual person and extending from his conversation and committments to the rest of the culture, such that little by little, political changes must follow. In the words of Vaclav Havel, author of "The Power of the Powerless," transformation begins in the small places, in the hidden gestures, in the tiniest assent to living according to the truth. It seems so often that this is the way that God works too. Certainly His work is steady, progressive, and "small" in the tiny nation of Rwanda. His gestures are wonderful. Yesterday, I was struck by two instances of God's restoration here.

First, our Nairobi staff were invited yesterday to broadcast an address to young people over the national radio. Bear in mind that the KLM radio station of Rwanda was the major networking tool of the Hutu Power/Interhamwe genocide, in which a million people were killed in three months- just twelve years ago. Yesterday, that same radio station became the voice of young people eager to serve one another by building a culture of life.

Secondly, some friends and I traipsed over to the national stadium last night for the Hillsong worship concert. During the 1994 genocide, thousands of people had clustered there under the frantic watch of ill-equipped UN peacekeepers, and there hundreds of men, women and children died from starvation, disease, or Interhamwe assaults. Last night, thousands of former enemies were gathered to worship God together. My friends and I realized the enormity of the fact that yesterday (a very tense national "holiday," since all Rwandans had to appear for jury duty under pain of arrest) was the final national trial of persons accused of genocide. So, many of the people who had to deal with justice in the morning were gathered to praise God for His awesome forgiveness in the evening. What a very clever God we have.

And finally, there is that weekly moment of celebration every Sunday in the enormous cathedral of St. Famille; although almost every Rwandan living in the capital city has tragic memories of failed asylum in that building, on its altars the greatest gift of love ever made still recurs again and again... and the faithful are there to taste and to see. It is the most beautiful thing- during the Eucharist, the Rwandese do not stand in hushed silence nor do they kneel in prayer- rather, the Rwandese shout for joy and applaud.

To be continued...

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Incredible Hulk and the Philokalia

Over at First Things there is a somewhat intriguing, somewhat funny, and somewhat pointed article describing what Bruce Banner might have learned about anger management from the Philokalia. An enjoyable read, so check it out.

About Imago Dei

... A World Youth Alliance retrospective. Check it out, with love from MM and some of the most promising members of my generation at Portsmouth Abbey.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The World Youth Alliance Summer Camp

I'll be teaching a course on the basics of Catholic civics at Portsmouth Abbey with friends from Yale for the next part of the summer, as part of the The World Youth Alliance Summer Camp for high schoolers. Pray for us, as we respond to these and other assaults on God's good creation in our culture. The outline below summarizes the curriculum-

(Note: Frankly, few things make me angrier than so-called Christian curriculum that has nothing intrinsically Christian about it. Christian kiddos need to be educated from the Gospel account of the person of Jesus and the Church's confessions about Him, not in spite of. This is particulary true when educating Christian young people about their delicately balanced role as dual citizens of the Kingdom of Christ who live in the modern world)

Seven Principles for the Formation of Christian Citizens:

a. The Dignity of the Human Person

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father, by whom all things were made. For us and for our salvation Christ came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.

From God’s creation and redemption of humanity we recognize that every human being has intrinsic and inalienable dignity that begins at conception and extends to natural death. This dignity, the basis for every human right, is God’s precious and inviolable endowment of the human person. The dignity of the human person must be cherished in custom and protected by law.

b. Our submission to God’s Principle of Servant Headship

We believe that Christ shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom shall have no end.

From Christ’s redemption of humanity by grace, we understand that Christ is our King. In obedience to Christ and for the sake of His Kingdom we honor those to whom honor is due, particularly in our Church, our family, and our nation. In imitation of Christ our Lord, we use our strengths, our rights, and our privileges to serve the least of God’s creation.

c. Our allegiance to our Christian Heritage

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We believe in the Communion of Saints.

As Christians, we believe that true solidarity is the unified commitment of persons to live and work together in the truth of God’s revelation. We seek to understand and emulate the lives of past heroes of our faith, particularly those who have served our society.

d. The Christian Understanding of Freedom

We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.

We know that the human person is free. Yet freedom, exercised solely for selfish or self-assertive ends, is radically incomplete. In celebration of the freedom that is ours in Christ alone, we continually seek true freedom in obedience to God’s law. We believe that the freedom of the human person is most fully and rightly lived in the gift of ourselves to God and to others.

e. The Christian Responsibility for Just Government

We believe that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father.

We affirm that under Christ’s governance, each person has the responsibility to participate in the building of a free and just society rooted in the intrinsic and inviolable dignity of the human person. We call upon all persons to give of themselves in order that society may be justly governed. We call upon all persons to contribute to the common good. The common good consists of the well-being of the persons in a community, solidarity among those persons, and an environment in which each person’s deepest human aspirations and capacities can flourish. Participating in the common good belongs to each person by right of his or her dignity under the rule of law, in conditions of political transparency and accountability, free expression and participation.

Recalling that the intrinsic dignity of each person is the foundation of all just human interactions, and recalling that this dignity is inalienable and cannot be mitigated in any degree, we affirm that solidarity is built on the use of this freedom to recognize fundamental human needs, desires, and rights, and to authentically pursue their fulfillment for all persons, particularly those in danger of poverty, exploitation, or death. Visible signs of need, suffering and injustice expose the universal human condition of vulnerability and reveal a common identity amongst the self and other persons. This in turn lays the foundation for the understanding and forgiveness necessary for lasting solidarity. Christian young people particularly commit themselves in solidarity to all those who live in need, and who experience the vulnerability and hardships of war, famine, disease or social unrest, and who suffer the poverty of hopelessness.

f. The Christian Commitment to the Human Family

We believe that the Holy Spirit has spoken through the Prophets.

From God’s affirmation of the family as revealed in Scripture, we joyfully affirm that the family is a school of deeper humanity within which each member learns best what it means to be a human person. There, each member of the human family can experience the gift of unconditional, enduring love and is carefully taught to be responsible, to commit, to share, and to love. The family sustains society as it gives life to the next generation. It also has the privilege of forming free and responsible citizens, thus securing democracy. As the fundamental unit of society the family ensures the sustainability of civilization and culture. The family takes on essential tasks in the care of all and especially the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.

g. The Christian’s Rightful Allegiance

We look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come.

We acknowledge that our only absolute loyalty is to Christ. As members of Christ’s chosen people, we admit that our Kingdom is not of this world. As we wait in joyful hope for Christ’s coming in glory, we submit gladly to the authority of the Church, Christ’s “holy nation.” We serve our temporal nation and we transform our culture, witnessing in our families and in our work by serving Christ in all people.

Friday, June 13, 2008

President Bush getting ready to become Catholic?

According to a British newspaper, rumors are flying that President Bush is considering converting to Catholicism. I'm a bit skeptical, but after Tony Blair's conversion, who knows. I like the line that President Bush is the most Catholic president since JFK.

Want to be a good father?

Since Father's Day is this weekend, you might be interested in this article from the Wall Street Journal. The author provides evidence that men who go to church regularly are by all measures more likely to be good fathers, as measured by the amount of time they spend with their kids, their marital fidelity, etc.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Insidious! Chilling!

A British Labour MP wants his government to enforce mandatory population control à la China's infamous "one child" policy in order to combat global warming, as reported by the Catholic Herald. The MP, Brent Gardiner, praised China's contribution to "reducing it's carbon footprint" by its birth-control policy, despite the fact that (1) China is one of the world's leading polluters and (2) the policy predates serious concern about global warming. Isn't this the same evil "utopianism" that allowed the Nazi's to perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes against human dignity ever witnessed?

To transition lightly from reportage to rant: This is the same thing that concerns me about the Democratic ticket in this year's election. Obama with his 100% NARAL rating and promise of universal healthcare may usher in similar policies. What will happen when there is no money in the bank to pay for your child's pre-natal care, birth, upbringing, and especially if the child is handicapped in some way?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Nicholas Clayton's masterpiece

Nicholas Clayton's religious masterpiece was the Ursuline Academy in Galveston, which unfortunately was torn down in the 1960's due to damage by Hurricane Carla. In the 1900 storm there are estimates that as many at 1,000 persons had their lives saved by retreating to the convent. While it's gone, you can at least get a sense of it from this picture.

If you are interested in some of his non-religious works, this site has some nice pictures.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Worshipping with Saint Nicholas

This morning my wife and I found ourselves worshipping at St. Mary's Cathedral in Austin. I was blown away by how beautiful and old the cathedral was. The lovely brown wood and arches were magnificent and the blue paint in the back of the church was just spectacular. The picture, unfortunately, doesn't do it justice.

After mass my wife pointed out the historic marker outside of the church to me and said, "you won't believe this..." It turns out that the cathedral had been designed by my favorite architect, Nicholas Clayton, probably the most famous architect in Texas from about 1873 to 1910. In fact, St. Mary's was his first individually commissioned work. I should have picked it up just from sitting in the church, as his churches all have a certain feel to them -- there is something about his design which makes it easy to slip into a worshipful state of mind, mostly like the result of his own pious devotion.

He's not a saint, of course, regardless of what my headline says, but I hope he has a special place in heaven for the beauty he brings to worship even now.

I'm thinking about taking a "Nicholas Clayton pilgrimage" to visit all of his existing churches and worship in each one of them. Below is the list of extant churches, though I'd estimate that at least that many are no longer in existence. This does not include a whole host of buildings he built for Ursuline nuns, schools and other religiously used buildings which are also gone (as a Dallasite, I was interested to see that he designed the first building, unfortunately no longer extant, for Ursuline Academy, a very tony girls school near my house)

If you live near any of these churches, take some time to visit one. Each link will take you to a picture of the building - I was able to find pictures for all of his churches still in existence except for two. (If you are interested, the best book on Clayton is Clayton's Galveston: The Architecture of Nicholas J. Clayton and his contemporaries)

Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe - Dallas (unfortunately they've completely ruined the interior by painting over the wood. The original plans called for a bell tower, but originally they couldn't afford it. The church completed the bell tower a century later)

St. Mary's Cathedral - Austin

Galveston First Presbyterian Church

St. Patrick's Catholic Church - Galveston

St. Edward's University main building - Austin (and here)

St. Joseph's Catholic Church - Macon, GA

Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Palestine, TX

Grace Episcopal Church - Galveston, TX

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral - Alexandria, LA (and here)

St. Patrick's parish - Denison, TX

Holy Trinity Church - Shreveport, LA (some alterations to Clayton's original plan)

St. Matthew's Church - Monroe, LA

St. Mary's Church - Victoria, TX

St. Mary's Church - Sherman, TX (click on link to see the grounds. They are building a new church, so I'm worried that they'll be tearing down the old one)

Sacred Heart Church - Augusta, GA (no longer a church. Also building design was plagiarized from Clayton by the Jesuit priest who is designated as the architect. The plans were originally from Clayton's ideas for Sacred Heart, Galveston, which were never used there)

Sacred Heart Church - Tampa, FL
(not finished according to original plan, as it is missing some domes and towers)

Friday, June 06, 2008

The world's most effective diet

Now you are already probably wondering what a religious blog is putting up a post on dieting, but this particular article is about the many health benefits associated with fasting. Fasting, of course, has been a spiritual discipline embraced by Christians from the very beginning and from that perspective should be entered into as a spiritual practice with ancillary health benefits, rather than only as a means of losing weight. Nevertheless, there is little surprise that something that is good for your soul is also good for your body as well. The article is fairly informative, so I'd recommend it.

In her book on spiritual practices, Marjorie Thompson describes fasting as "praying with your whole body," which I've always found to be an apt definition. I think it is one of the most powerful spiritual disciplines around and have always found it to be helpful in my own spiritual life. If you haven't tried it, or haven't tried it recently, it may be time to take another good look at fasting.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of others on fasting, as far as their experiences, concerns, theories, etc. What do you think about fasting?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

When liberation theology becomes a caricature of itself

One of the reasons that I think the ecumenical movement is absolutely doomed to failure is the absolute silliness that comes out of the World Council of Communists...I mean the World Council of Churches. Here is the latest missive, (actually, they call it a communique, which so totally 60s) brought to you from the lovely island of Cuba, where everything wrong with the country is the fault of the U.S. I think that Fidel Castro might have been the author, as it mostly seems to be a propaganda piece for his sadistic government. (If you've never read Armando Valladares account of his time in the Cuban gulags, pick up Against All Hope now. It is truly horrific.)

Anyway, here's my favorite piece of tripe from their communique (I feel like I should wear a beret when I write that word)

"In order to sustain justice movements, spiritualities should affirm the outcries of rage and grief from those wounded by injustice, for these are positive values that can energize and focus revolutionary change."

Now I'm just not quite sure what to make of this particular sentence. Is it the outcries of grief and rage that are positive values? Or is it spiritualities that affirm the outcries? Since when are grief and rage positive values? At least, when are they positive values for anyone who has outgrown adolescence? (Am I the only one who is embarrassed by what a morose and sulking teenager that I was? And that I kind of liked it?)

At this point the only people who really take this stuff seriously are the professors who have written themselves into a intellectual corner by advocating Marxist Christianity and are unable to extricate themselves from their past work. (I'd love to see one of them say, "You know, all of my past work was crap and you shouldn't read it"). Most students don't really care for this sort of stupidity, except for the ones who have lost their faith and need to fill their minds with something else. Liberation theology is the opiate of the theologians who have lost their faith. It's a Christianity without Christ, which is to say it's not Christianity at all.

Merrill Lynch freezes Episcopal diocese's assets

According to the Episcopal News Service, Merrill Lynch has frozen the assets of a diocese in California. This is part of the ongoing dispute between the former bishop and the local diocese over his attempt to align himself with some bishops in the Southern Cone. The most surprising thing in the article?
"After a Title IV Review Committee determined he had "abandoned the communion" of TEC and the House of Bishops gave its consent to his deposition, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori deposed him and removed him from the episcopate on March 12."

I didn't know it was actually possible for an Episcopal bishop to be disciplined, much less deposed. I guess anything goes, unless it involves property.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Father Pfleger removed from post

The Catholic priest who gave the rant against Hillary Clinton at Barack Obama's (ex)church has been removed from his duties by the local cardinal. The cardinal's message says that it is for a couple of weeks, but you've got to think that this might be the beginning of the end for Pfleger.

Pfleger has been at odds with the cardinal over a number of things, including his adoption of sons, a peculiar outreach program to prostitutes, inviting Al Sharpton (a pro-abortion person) to speak at his church, etc. But my guess is that the national publicity brought an unbearable amount of heat down and that the cardinal has had enough.

The Loser Letters

Everyone is probably familiar with C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, where he writes as if he was a demon attempting to turn Christians away from there faith. Well, there is a hilarious and interesting sendup of the Letters, where a fictional atheist writes to the New Atheists (Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, etc.) giving them suggestions about how to make their case stronger and what to avoid, and of course in the process she totally attacks their arguments. The letters are written by Mary Eberstadt, and she is producing one a week, with three completed so far. Here are links to letter one (dealing with why atheist teachings about sex are wrong), two (dealing with why atheism is rife with illogic), and three (dealing with how faith leads to good works).

My favorite passage from all the letters:

"Take what some Brights have been making of the fact that there are lots of different religions in the world saying plenty of different things. Many of You have been right out front, going on and on about how all this religious diversity somehow “proves” that not one of those religions can be correct. But of course this is what’s called a fallacious inference. The presence of other religions doesn’t affect the truth value of any one of them — any more than having twelve answers to a math problem tells you which one is right, say, or having ten pairs of Manolo Blahniks tells you which ones to wear with a cheetah leather skirt."
Anyway, the letters are very entertaining and I'd highly recommend reading them all.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Gospel of Judas - we were betrayed

Do you remember the hullabaloo last year when National Geographic released the translation of the Gospel of Judas? According to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the translators made some big gaffes that ended up making Judas look better than the actual words indicated. It's a fascinating look at what happens when scholarship is done tendentiously or for profit and definitely worth reading the whole thing.

As for myself, I remember reading the translation and thinking that there was no way that the Christian community could have accepted this work, as it says too many bad things about God and creation. It would only work if you were a complete Marcionite.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Body of Christ


In the next few weeks, I will be traveling in a part of the world where it is very dangerous for a Christian to be. It's a place where people are starving, and so I am going with a small contingency of humanitarians to do something about it. I am a little nervous, but grateful for the opportunity to show and experience solidarity with people in need and with real Christians who are suffering bodily for our faith (I'm also grateful for the chance to travel with my saintly dad, who is going along to make sure that I come back safely). I would appreciate your prayers for safety and for healing in the place where I will be.

Since I'll be depending on our other contributors to keep the blog humming while I'm away, I've selected a longer post below to ponder. It's a beautiful sermon for the Feast of Corpus Christi. I'll be thinking about it as I travel. It's appropriate, because I am going to a place where there is no public Christian worship, and there is no bread. The two go together in the Church's worship. In their absence, there is no visible Church. Yes, the Holy Spirit is there nonetheless, bearing witness to Jesus, and the confession of His lifesaving Gospel is there, and the worship of the saints goes up from hidden places, but there the needy world cannot encounter the Church's open love for her Savior. There are saints, but they are waiting for the day when they can live the way saints live, singing and feasting and abandoning all to their Savior in the visible convocation which invites others to join them.

This sort of situation reminds me, of course, to be grateful beyond words for the riches that we enjoy in the places where this blog can be read. I trot off to Mass or at least Adoration every day of the week, and the absence of these great gifts for a few weeks will be very sad. More so, the absence of these gifts is a taste of what Hell might be like: in their absence, there is a land where there is no nourishment, no assembly of friends, no glad worship. But the reality is that such absence does not really typify Hell; it simply typifies our world, which waits and groans in exile for the coming of the real world and the real Kingdom. Those of us who can wait together for its arrival without fear of hunger or prison or torture are blessed with an easy way. So pray with me for those who must do their waiting in pain and in fear. And, in the interim, I give you a sermon of Corpus Christi.

Corpus et Sanguis Christi

A sermon

Down in yon forest there stands a hall; It's covered all over with purple and pall. All bells of paradise I heard them a-ring; And I love sweet Jesus above all thing. In that hall there stands a bed; It's covered all over with scarlet so red. All bells ... And I love ... And in that bed there lieth a knight, His wounds bleeding day and night. All bells ... And I love ... By that bed's side there kneeleth a maid; And she weepeth both night and day. All bells ... And I love ... And by that bed's side there standeth a stone, 'Corpus Christi' written thereon. All bells ... And I love ... Under the bed there runs a flood: The one half runs water, the other runs blood, All bells And I love ... And at the bed's foot there grows a thorn: Which ever blows blossom since he was born. All bells... And I love ..

These vivid and deeply moving words come – in various versions which I have conflated here – from 15th century England. The mystic meaning is clearly Eucharistic, not least of course because of the reference to the stone engraved with the word ‘Corpus Christi’. The ‘hall’ in the forest is the Church; the bed is the altar – and the reference here is to the traditional ‘English’ altar with its surrounding riddle posts and dorsal curtain. The bleeding knight is Christ, and the maid is Mary. There are allusions to the Holy Grail; and the ‘thorn’ is the Glastonbury Thorn, said to be the staff of St Joseph of Arimathea which, to this day, and very mysteriously blossoms only at Christmas – a spray of its flowers being taken to adorn the Queen’s dinner table every Christmas Day.

Each year in Holy Week on Holy Thursday, we give thanks for the Institution of the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, the sacrifice of the altar. On that day naturally and appropriately the shadow of Good Friday looms over our worship. On Maundy Thursday, the night before He suffered, the eve of His Passion, a sombre note sounds in the Mass of the Lord's Supper, which gives our devotions, even our devotions of the altar of the Host, a certain austerity, a certain sadness. It is not a time that lends itself to full thanksgiving for and celebration of this great gift. The Blessed Sacrament is forever rooted in the Lord's Passion. Where the Mass is, there is the Cross. We have a wonderful, visible reminder here in this church, with the crucfix in the stained glass over the tabernacle, but perhaps for this very reason, the Church's devotion needed another outlet, another more exuberant mode of expression. And in addition to Maundy Thursday, the "sensus fidelium", the sense of the pious and faithful, instinctively sought another day, in which to glory in the Eucharist; a day without the immediate shadow of the Cross, a day without the darkness of Gethsemane, a Summer's day, far removed from the agony in the garden.

The sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ has always been the object of a great veneration expressed especially at the moment of Communion. "No one eats this flesh without first adoring it," St Augustine says. This means that prostration was already part of the Communion rite in his time. Besides, as soon as Christians were able to build places of worship, they made provisions for a place where, after the celebration, the Eucharistic species were taken with respect and even with a certain solemnity regarding Communion for the sick. However, there was not yet what could be called a true worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass. This sort of worship developed from the ninth, but especially from the eleventh century on, as a consequence of controversies about what is called "the Real Presence" of Christ in the sacrament. These controversies helped to develop the doctrine and understanding of the mystery: the Eucharist is really the Body and Blood of Christ, but under the sign—the sacrament—of bread and wine. The Council of Trent clearly defined this doctrine at its thirteenth session on October 11, 1551. Those controversies themselves stimulated Eucharistic devotion.

Male and female recluses were the first to become more aware of what the Eucharistic presence in the churches really meant. The walls of their cells, built against the church walls, had holes, called "hagioscopes," bored through them, to allow them to see the altar on which Mass was celebrated and to receive Communion. They became accustomed to spending their daytime hours kneeling before this little window in order to adore the Blessed Sacrament. There was just such a thing in All Hallows, Wellingborough, the church in England where I began my Anglican ministry in 1960. It is a lovely medieval church, full of great art, ancient and modern; and it had a place where a hermit or recluse could live, and a hole in the wall through which he or she could see the altar.

Lanfranc, who became archbishop of Canterbury in 1070, instituted the custom of carrying the consecrated Host during a procession with palms in order to express the presence of the Lord among his people. However, it was in the thirteenth century that Eucharistic devotion really blossomed.

This feast began, we believe, as a local devotion in the Diocese of Liège, in the French-speaking part of Belgium, where an Augustinian nun, Juliana of Liège, had a vision in which a glistening full moon appeared to her. The moon was perfect but for some hollow dark spots which she was told represented the absence of a feast of the Eucharist. This led to the celebration of Corpus Christi, which started in 1261 with a procession, and that is why it is fitting that we have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament at the end of this Solemn Mass today. In the year 1264 Pope Urban IV extended the feast to the universal Church and in the same year, at the Pope's request, the angelic doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, himself, composed the liturgical texts, which are still used today on this feast of Corpus Christi, 750 years later.

Aquinas, the great Dominican who taught in Paris, saluted the Eucharist as "tantum sacramentum," which translates into "so awesome a sacrament." And he addresses Jesus with these words, "In this sacrament, you are both shepherd and pasture." Another man, who also knew Paris well, was the 20th century Nobel prize laureate, the great writer François Mauriac. He wrote, "The Eucharist is what is most real in the world."

In his novel, The Stuff of Youth (La Robe Prètexte), François Mauriac put these thoughts into the heart of one his characters who had just helped to carry the canopy in the village Corpus Christi procession:

How deep a silence filled the dusk when, after the wayside altars had been dismantled, the birds once more took possession of the garden! All that evening, I, the little boy who had taken part in the triumph of God, was conscious of an inner glow. It seemed to me, as I leaned upon the balcony, that the stars were forming yet another procession in that Kingdom into which our own had been unable to penetrate, treading the highway of the Milky Way which looked to me like a magnificent thoroughfare of flowers.

Today’s Gospel passage is situated in the context of what is sometimes called Jesus' Eucharistic discourse. These verses constitute the ending of the "Bread of Life Discourse" (John 6: 22-58), given at the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus identified himself as "the living bread that came down from heaven," thus linking himself with the manna in the wilderness. The Eucharistic discourse is a teaching about the Lord's providential care for his faithful followers, describing Jesus’ promises to the Jewish crowd that He will give them his body and blood as their spiritual food and drink. The reference in today’s passage to the manna in the desert alludes to the care of God for his people during the years of their desert wandering. The manna God provided and and the water He gave sustained their natural life at the time. Eventually, however, they died. But Jesus claimed that he was the true bread come down from heaven to give everlasting life. "One who eats this bread will live forever."

It was that Anglican of all Anglicans, Queen Elizabeth I, who is reputed to have said, concerning the question of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, "Christ Jesus took the Bread and brake it. His was the Word that spake it. And what that Word doth make it, that I believe, and take it."

The Eucharist is the mystery of our faith, mystery of our hope, mystery of our charity. Why do we celebrate the Eucharist some 2,000 years later? We do this because Jesus told us to do so: "Do this in memory of me." St. Augustine in the 5th century said it best when he said: "It is your mystery, the mystery of your life that has been placed on the altar."

Now I would like to read, at some length, from The Shape of the Liturgy, the great work by an English Anglican Benedictine monk, Dom Gregory Dix. It is a very important book, which remains in print – and very influential, more than half a century after it was first published:

(Jesus) had told His friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning 'for the anamnesis' of Him, and they have done it always since. Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc — one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make iheplebs sancta Dei — the holy common people of God.

To those who know a little of Christian history probably the most moving of all the reflections it brings is not the thought of the great events and the well-remembered saints, but of those innumerable millions of entirely obscure faithful men and women, every one with his or her own individual hopes and fears and joys and sorrows and loves — and sins and temptations and prayers — once every whit as vivid and alive as mine are now. They have left no slightest trace in this world, not even a name, but have passed to God utterly forgotten by men. Yet each of them once believed and prayed as I believe and pray, and found it hard and grew slack and sinned and repeated and fell again. Each of them worshipped at the eucharist, and found their thoughts wandering and tried again, and felt heavy and unresponsive and yet knew—just as really and pathetically as I do these things. There is a little ill-spelled ill-carved rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor:—'Here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much'. Not another word is known of Chione, some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of Christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbours who saw all one's life were sure one must have found Jerusalem! What did the Sunday eucharist in her village church every week for a life-time mean to the blessed Chione—and to the millions like her then, and every year since? The sheer stupendous quantity of the love of God which this ever repeated action has drawn from the obscure Christian multitudes through the centuries is in itself an overwhelming thought. (All that going with one to the altar every morning!)

It is because it became embedded deep down in the life of the Christian peoples, colouring all the via vitae of the ordinary man and woman, marking its personal turning-points, marriage, sickness, death and the rest, running through it year by year with the feasts and fasts and the rhythm of the Sundays, that the eucharistic action became inextricably woven into the public history of the Western world. The thought of it is inseparable from its great turning-points also. Pope Leo doing this in the morning before he went out to daunt Attila, on the day that saw the continuity of Europe saved; and another Leo doing this three and a half centuries later when he crowned Charlemagne Roman Emperor, on the day that saw that continuity fulfilled. Or again, Alfred wandering defeated by the Danes staying his soul on this, while mediaeval England struggled to be bom; and Charles I also, on that morning of his execution when mediaeval England came to its final end. Such things strike the mind with their suggestions of a certain timelessness about the eucharistic action and an independence of its setting, in keeping with the stability in an ever-changing world of the forms of the liturgy themselves. At Constantinople they ‘do this’ yet with the identical words and gestures that they used while the silver trumpets of the Basileus still called across the Bosphorus, in what seems to us now the strange fairy-tale land of the Byzantine empire. In the twentieth century Charles de Foucauld in his hermitage in the Sahara 'did this' with the same rite as Cuthbert twelve centuries before in his hermitage on Lindisfame in the Northern seas. This very morning I did this with a set of texts which has not changed by more than a few syllables since St Augustine (sent to England by Pope Leo the Great) used those very words at Canterbury on the third Sunday of Easter in the summer after he landed in 598. Yet 'this' can still take hold of a man's life and work with it.

Jesus chose to give us this sacramental sign of his union with us. Starvation -- even for a limited time -- convinces us of how dependent we are on food. Physical hunger, with its debilitating effects when prolonged, is a vivid sign of what it is like not to have God in our lives and thus to be separated, "excommunicated" from the community of believers. Just as a meal is the perfect relief from hunger, union with Jesus and the community of believers is the perfect relief for our spiritual ills. The multiplication of the loaves described in the gospels reminds us to ask Jesus for our daily bread. In doing so, we express solidarity with the poor and a desire to receive Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharistic meal is the perfect sign of the satisfaction for which we hunger. This is the reason why the fast before communion is retained as a part of the ritual action. And we need to observe it more seriously than we do: it is not just a matter of not eating as we go into church. The fast is broken by the soda or coffee in the parish hall just before Mass, that cigarette in the parking lot, that engaging in unnecessary chatter even as we come in to the narthex. The Catholic tradition is that we approach the Holy Mysteries with the most profound reverence and in a spirit of recollection – that is, an intense focus on what we are doing, into Whose presence we are coming.

We have the absolute duty to prepare properly for each and every reception of Holy Communion. Many of us have neglected this duty in our lives. We have tarnished God’s image within us through acts of impurity, injustice and disobedience. Hence, there is always need for repentance, and a need for the sacramental confession of grave sins before we receive Holy Communion. We should remember the warning given by St. Paul: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." [1 Cor. 11:27-9]. Hence, let us receive Holy Communion with fervent love and respect -- not merely as a matter of routine. If we are struggling with sin, especially habitual sin, let us remember always to ask Jesus to strengthen us through this sacrament.

Today, then, we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Last Sunday, we had Trinity Sunday, and the week before we celebrated Pentecost. Both Pentecost and Trinity honor an invisible and untouchable God. But today’s feast is different. Jesus is here, to see and to embrace. To celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi is to celebrate Christ among us. In response, we say, "Thank you, Jesus....Oh Sacrament most holy, oh Sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine."

Let me end with a poem by one of the great mystical writers of the 20th century, the Anglican Evelyn Underhill, who lived from 1875 to 1941.

Come, dear Heart ! The fields are white to harvest : come and see As in a glass the timeless mystery Of love, whereby we feed On God, our bread indeed. Torn by the sickles, see him share the smart Of travailing Creation : maimed, despised, Yet by his lovers the more dearly prized Because for us he lays his beauty down— Last toll paid by Perfection for our loss ! Trace on these fields his everlasting Cross, And o'er the stricken sheaves the Immortal Victim's crown. From far horizons came a Voice that said, "Lo! from the hand of Death take thou thy daily bread." Then I, awakening, saw A splendour burning in the heart of things: The flame of living love which lights the law Of mystic death that works the mystic birth. I knew the patient passion of the earth, Maternal, everlasting, whence there springs The Bread of Angels and the life of man. Now in each blade I, blind no longer, see The glory of God's growth: know it to be An earnest of the Immemorial Plan. Yea, I have understood How all things are one great oblation made: He on our altars, we on the world's rood. Even as this corn, Earth-born, We are snatched from the sod; Reaped, ground to grist, Crushed and tormented in the Mills of God, And offered at Life's hands, a living Eucharist.