Saturday, December 31, 2005

More Moons
Polydeuces shares an orbit with Dione. It's a small fry as far as known moons go: only about 13 by 8 miles. Here it is with the rings edge-on in the background: Here we have a shot of Hyperion. In closer images, it looks like a sponge. On a massive scale is sort of feels like one, too. It has a density of about 3/5ths that of water. The thinking is that this moon is about 40-50% empty space. .

Coming Soon
I just wanted to remind you that I'll be back to dissecting Vatican II chapter by chapter next week. On deck is Gaudium et Spes, the second of the council's constitutions on the Church. I don't plan to get sidetracked into the various behind-the-scenes stuff. Other people have done it with more resources than I could muster. And done it well. My intent is to put a thoughtful reflection into the reading of a Vatican II document like any other lay person could. I look at the questions: How does this seem with forty years' experience behind us? How is it relevant for an ordinary lay person? Does it resolve any of the differences within the Church or bring good insight to bear on the situation today? I don't think a hierarchical rendering of the sixteen documents is always a helpful idea. Sure, liturgy, the Bible, ecclesiology, and social justice are all vital to our identity as Christians. But if you're a seminarian or working for a seminary, Optatam Totius and Presbyterorum Ordinis are pretty derned important, too. And if social justice is your thing, who am I to suggest that this document is ahead of your fave? If any readers have thoughtful questions in advance of my postings, feel free to e-mail them to me. I'm glad to offer a platform for your thoughts here, especially if you don't have a blog and you have something constructive to offer. The same holds true for any topic you care to have me pontificate on. Let me also mention that my series on Gaudium et Spes will be simulblogged on Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Nathan and I have yet to work out the fine details of this, but he's asked me to be a contributing writer to this blog as well. I'm happy to join the cadre of writers for this exploration and discussion of social justice. I'd like to think I have something of a justice sensibility. If so, my toughts on such matters are always colored by faith as well as the considerations of prayer and worship. I'll be contributing two essays each month to SRS. Please visit them, link them, and read, as you will.
Communal Reconciliation In Rome
Rock has the news: the Pope has authorized the use of form II reconciliation for St Peter's on Tuesday night of Holy Week. Any new sedevacantist popes on the schismometer yet?
Small Change
The US Mint also produced three-cent coins for four decades starting in 1851. Two versions overlapped in production: a very teeny one in silver: If memory serves, this was the first US Mint issue not featuring the goddess of Liberty. Tough to get those personal details on a coin only 14mm in diameter. A slightly bigger one (17.9mm) went into production in 1865 using the same copper-nickel alloy used in today's nickels. I have two dated 1865, and 1870. Here's a better looking specimen than either of mine: This was the first US use of the 75% copper/25% nickel alloy now familiar to American small change. (Did you know that your nickel is three-quarter copper? As are the outer layers of your dimes and quarters.) As with the two-cent piece, public demand for the coin was not high, and mintage figures trail off drasically after the initial runs. For some reason, the idea for a copper three-cent piece was floated in the early 1880's: The idea never progressed beyond the pattern stage, but the Liberty design was adopted for the nickel in 1883.

Vacation Over
Heading to my office for the first time in five days. I have no idea what piles of messages will be there. I have the afternoon to catch up on them, assess the mess ahead this weekend. (I don't schedule lectors or EM's on holidays, so it's hold my breath and hope for the best at our five Masses this weekend.) I told the pastor to call me at home if he needed me, but there's been no peep. I hope he wasn't buried in funerals or something. Had a good choir practice the other night. About half showed up, but many people were out of town or sick. It wasn't the week to work 'em hard--they actually appealed for an extra rehearsal the Sunday before Christmas because the one before that was pretty rough. We're using a gospel-style setting of Psalm 98 again. One of our newest singers ended up with the verses. (Our regular cantor for that piece was one of the sickies.) She did a stupendous job. I'm toying with doing my own arrangement of this piece for next week. It was originally a Georgian lullaby, which makes me feel a bit better about hauling in a secular ballet piece to play as a prelude. My friend Peter, who plays bass, has been working hard on teaching himself the cello this year. We have regular players of flute and violin in the group this year, plus I can always call on my favorite parish clarinetist. The piano part is simple enough, but if the cello is ready, I'll play hammered dulcimer on it. If all five of us are playing it, I'll need to spend a good bit of time arranging this so it sounds decent and not overdone. I'll probably be calling on my clarinet friend anyway; I want all the forces I can muster to make the musical portion of Epiphany shine.
On Liturgical Innovation
I give him credit for trying. Fr Murphy, our diocesan vicar-general, is in residence at the parish. At the two Christmas Masses at which we overlapped, he prefaced reciting the Creed with the instruction to pause and genuflect at the words of the Nativity. If anyone did, years of liturgical brainwashing stampeded right through. I did see one person kneel all the way through the Creed. At the other Mass, I heard two elderly people sitting behind me say the Creed the way they've probably been saying it since 1966. It's a tough time to introduce something like this. I read the internet jibes about "So where was your pastoral sense when you rammed the vernacular, anti-orientam Mass down our throats?" (Forgetting that I was a pagan child when the New Missal was carved out of Italian marble.) When I say the people won't stand for massive changes in the Ordo Missae, I'm not just blowing it out to hear my whistle. I'm saying that we might not even get most of the clergy on board with this. It's been my practice to bow my head at the credal recollection of the Birth. It took me months to get into the habit, and occasionally, my mind wanders off at this point of the Mass and I miss it. It's the liturgical equivalent of trying to tell a kid something when she or he's at recess. You've been sitting tight listening to readings and a homily for the past fifteen to twenty minutes. Now you get to stand up, stretch, and say something. You think something's going to break through? Not with ease, it won't. It speaks to the issue of bringing a sense of mindfulness to the liturgy. New, improved rubrics aren't going to help. On another note, I applaud a bit of productive fallout from the new instructions on Eucharistic Ministers entering the sanctuary. The people are singing a substantial portion of the Communion Song--something they did less of in the past. At one Mass this Christmas, we actually got to the middle of verse 4 of "The First Nowell" before the priest and EM's were in place to begin distributing Communion. Anybody with more success on the Creed?
Some Kind of Sandwich
We're not big bread eaters. But we did get four loaves of various kinds for Christmas, so I feel honor-bound to consume them before the Kingdom Fungi does, so ... It's not a very original recipe, but Brittany liked it. She asked for it again the next day. All I did was pull some wheat bread slices, butter the opposite ends and put them in the frying pan. Then I layered sliced mozzarella with salami and pepperoni and put the halves together. Out of the pan, I cut into four strips, lengthwise. Consume with pizza sauce. One of my favorite grilled sandwiches is tuna and swiss on cinnamon-raisin. Did I ever mention that a bit of chopped apple in tuna salad delays that fishy odor? My mom told me about that one. I think we're down to two loaves now, but no cinnamon-raisin. This variety is the best.
My Two Cents' Worth
Many people don't know that the US actually minted two-cent coins. They were in production for ten years, ending in 1873. I own six of the series, 1864-68 and '71. They've long been one of my favorite coins: they're copper, not gold or silver; nobody knows much about them and mostly, collectors have ignored them. I also like the design: uncluttered and fairly unusual in that it doesn't depict a person (a president or a goddess). Tough to collect, though. The prime wear point on the shield side is the "we" of the motto. I see really worn versions from time to time as I browse in a coin store, but for acquisition's sake, I prefer the "we" to be fairly strong, meaning the technical condition has to be VF-20 or better. These seem very hard to find.
This example, by the way, is a Proof-66. Sold at auction for $11K, not bad for a collector's-only issue with only about eleven-hundred in existence. Compared to some US coins of equal or less rarity, it might be a bargain. Each year from 1864, they minted fewer and fewer pieces, trailing off from almost twenty million that first year. The coin is also notable for being the very first with the motto "In God We Trust" stamped on it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Find the Planets
2006 guide to finding the planets in the sky. Mercury: Venus: Mars: Jupiter: Saturn: Uranus: Neptune: Needless to say, if your backyard telescope is seeing with this detail, invite me over; I'll bring the food, the beer, and a fistful of reference books. Seriously, let me also suggest a trip to the local astronomy society for you and/or your family. Most amateur astronomers gather regularly with a fleet of telescopes and would be more than happy to welcome newcomers. The Astronomical League has many useful links to assist your locating like-minded amateurs in your area. Planetary views from the earth will never be as spectacular as these above -- what the probes send us. It is also true that many people find their first use of a telescope disappointing compared to the coffee table books offer. But the connection with people for this hobby (most any hobby, really) is invaluable, especially to the more impressionable among us.
Telling the Story
Tough week for the child: switching beds from loft to floor (She misses getting tucked in.) meant everything in her "den" had to find a new place: closet, bed drawers, whatever. She had three shopping carts of things to donate to the poor, including 162 books. What a kid. The room's still a catastrophe, but we had mercy long before the end of the day. While I was cleaning out my den in the basement, I heard laughing and giggling, so I ascended to find the child's bedroom still catastrophic. My wife wisely Told the Story of how Brit came to live with us. It's an old story, really; our daughter certainly is familiar with the details. But she still cackles with glee over the discussion about who was going to drive home and who was going to sit in the back seat with her on the way. And other things. I fixed a nice dinner of smoked sausage, egg noodles, oven-baked potatoes and carrots with ginger sugar. Ice cream for dessert ... while we watched the third Star Wars movie ... I mean the sixth ... I mean the Ewok one from '83. 10:21 final credits shot the bedtime all to heck, but oh well ... Anita suggested I Tell the Story from my viewpoint next time. Funny thing is, I don't have much direct memory of the day we drove across Iowa to pick up our daughter-to-be at a farm near the Missouri River. My wife's version is esconced in tribal memory now. It was more than four-and-a-half years ago, and though it seems like last week in a way, it still feels blurry to both my heart and mind. She didn't know how to read then. Today over lunch, she picked up Anita's copy of A Christmas Carol that was sitting on the table. I didn't realize it until I got the first question, "Dad, what does borne, b-o-r-n-e mean?" Then it was, "What's a greatcoat?" Then it was, "What? Mom said this was a good story." Even if she wasn't the most avid reader in the family, I would still love my child to a blur.
Wise As Sheep
I seem to have been sucked into some political tide pool today. Have mercy. I was thinking about the PPC lament, "Why do those anti-Catholic bigots say we don't care about anybody?" We have a problem with perception and PR here, naturally. Let's try to decipher it. 1. An active, vocal, and tenacious subset of American Catholics focuses solely on one issue: saving the unborn. When they have energy to spare, those among them in the public eye do not turn to fight the root causes of women making choices to abort their children. They turn to those who support the right to choose. And when that is deemed unsatisfactory, they attack those who support those who support the right to choose. And so on. 2. The result is that the public face of the pro-life movement has been tricked into looking like ... well, sheep. They take sides in a bitter family feud that was initially about money. They take sides in a personnel issue in a Catholic school in a far away diocese. They get caught up in the side issues that make them look like silly sheep in the light of the substantial life issues of the day: domestic hurricane relief, disaster relief abroad, unjust wars, a legal system that favors the rich and sends the poor to the electric chair. My sincere suggestion to my conservative pro-life Catholic friends is to start acting with some cunning like wolves. I can accept a person for whom abortion is the number one issue. But I'm less ready to condone an ideological firmament that doesn't place the number two or three or four issues on a plane nearly as important. I say this because the ESCR issue is quickly slipping away and if you have no cred with the fence-sitters on this gig, you'd dern well better get out of the way before you screw it up. You don't look like you're compassionate people because your secondary issues aren't comprehensible. Why are you getting your msm time hammering away at a principal who was too slow to fire a teacher? Why are you so fussed about where the presidential candidate went to church and if he received communion? Don't you see how this looks? Your number two could be any number of pressing issues that actually affect whether people live or die: Katrina relief, pre-natal care, poverty, capital punishment, the Iraq War, nuclear disarmament. Failing that, you could just go home after a long day picketing the clinic and hug your kids extra tight. Mainstream USA gives you no cred. And think twice, if you think this is a suitable martyrdom. It's not. Martyrdom isn't whining about anti-Catholic bias in the media. Martyrdom actually hurts and causes physical death and suffering. Like what ordinary, everyday, non-rich people in Iraq, New Orleans, Pakistan, Guatemala, or your nearest drug fiefdom experience. Show some compassion for the unborn, by all means. Make yourselves sly enough to show compassion for their moms, their friends, and a few other people as you go. Mother Teresa was just as anti-abortion as anyone else, but only the dimwitted consider her without compassion or concern. PPC, or not to be: that is the question.
More Fallout from Garrison vs the Pope
I'm taking Brigid's good advice and limiting my posts to one* on other people's blog threads, but I'm not above bringing a goodie back here to talk turkey on my own terms.
An open book commenter mused: Todd: If I understand correctly ... you are (a) pro-life liberal Democrats. As such, what have you done to end abortion other than vote for politicians who are devoted wholly to keeping abortion legal? Since 1980 or so without exception every Democratic politician of any consequence has been outspoken in his or her support of abortion and most have been in the pocket of Planned Parenthood. As is well known, pro-lifers were purged from the Democratic party long ago. To me being pro-life and a Democrat is a contradiction in terms. I believe I self-identified as an "anti-abortion liberal." Heaven knows why or how someone would assume that makes me a Democrat. Liam has pointed out (if he had a blog, I could link it) that it was the Republicans who floated the notion of legal abortion in the 60's, probably to pad the coffers of the rich. Even today, the R's are remarkably squishy on the issue, but not squishy enough to lose the Religious All-Right. I do confess I've supported Democrats -- even pro-choice ones -- at the polling booth. I've cast votes for R's, too. After all, you can't have an organization as large as a national political party and not have someone vote-worthy or moral. Even if they mostly are tax-dodging suits with back-pocket scandals waiting to break. Wasn't Abe Lincoln a Republican? I offer this as more evidence of the "Triumph of Personal Experience" mindset that has infected conservatives as liberally as any other ideology. I don't know why someone wouldn't take me at my word when I say I'm an "antiabortion liberal." I'm not alone. I don't protest at abortion clinics mainly because I've given up on the public protest route. I don't protest at military complexes anymore either. That doesn't mean I'm no longer a pacifist.
Desert Monks (for the End of the Year) I haven't had much internet access lately. I suppose, though, that I can give you one more post for the end of the year, which raises the frightening possibility of an "end of the year" post. I doubt that anyone should really care about my favorite book of the year or anything like that, but the book that I did find myself glancing at over and over was probably Rowan Williams' short Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another, mainly because it seemed to expose the most flaws in my own behavior. I've already linked to a Beliefnet excerpt from the book, nicely titled "Don't Follow Your Heart." Here is another rather challenging excerpt from the book, which might help form some New Year's resolutions. (Of course, let me first wish anyone who might come across this a very Happy New Year.) The desert monastics are keenly interested in diagnosing what sort of things get in the way and block someone else's relation with Christ. They seem very well aware that one of the great temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude between God and other people. We love to think that we know more of God than others; we find it comfortable and comforting to try to control the access of others to God. Jesus himself speaks bluntly about this when he describes the religious enthusiasts of his day shutting the door of the Kingdom in the face of others: "You do not enter yourselves, and when others try to enter, you stop them" (Matt 23:13). And he goes on to describe how such people exert themselves to gain even one convert, but because they are only trying to make others in their own image, they make them twice as worthy of condemnation as themselves (15). The desert teachers are well aware that by fleeing to the isolation of prayerful communities, they do not automatically leave behind this deep-rooted longing to manage the access of other people to God, and this is why they insist upon an ever-greater honesty about the self; this is why the "manifesting of thoughts" to a senior brother and sister becomes so crucial - because we are all drawn almost irresistibly back toward this urge to manage. One of the most frequent ways in which this becomes visible, they suggest, is inattention, the failure to see what is truly there in front of you - because your own vision is clouded by self-obsession or self-satisfaction. There are several variants of a story in which some young monk goes in despair to one of the great "old men" to say that he has consulted an elder about his temptations and been told to do severe and intolerable penance, and the old man tells the younger one to return to his first counselor and tell him that he has not paid proper attention to the need of the novice. If I don't really know how to attend to the reality that is my own inner turmoil, I shall fail in responding to the needs of someone else. And the desert literature consistently suggests that excessive harshness, a readiness to judge and prescribe, normally has its roots in that kind of inattention to oneself. Abba Joseph responds to the invitation to join in condemning someone by saying, "Who am I?" And the phrase might suggest not just "Who am I to be judging?" but also "How can I pass judgement when I don't know the full truth about myself?" Among the longest collections of sayings attributed to particular desert fathers are those around the names of Macarius the Great and Poemen (granted that Poemen, "the shepherd," may be a name concealing several different figures), and these collections have in common an exceptional number of sayings on the subject of the dangers of harshness and self-satisfaction. Of Macarius, we read, in an unforgettable image, that "he became like a God on earth" because when he saw the sins of the brothers, he would "cover" them, just as God casts his protection over the world. Informed of a self-confident old monk whose counsel has depressed others, Macarius pays a visit: When he was alone with him, the old man [Macarius] asked, "How are things going with you?" Theopemptus replied, "Thanks to your prayers, all is well." The old man asked, "Do you not have to battle with your fantasies?" He answered, "No, up to now all is well." He was afraid to admit anything. But the old man said to him, "I have lived for many years as an ascetic and everyone sings my praises, but, despite my age, I still have trouble with sexual fantasies." Theopemptus said, "Well, it is the same with me, to tell the truth." And the old man went on admitting, one by one, all the other fantasies that caused him to struggle, until he had brought Theopemptus to admit all of them himself. Then he said, "What do you do about fasting?" "Nothing till the ninth hour," he replied. "Fast till evening and take some exercise," said Macarius. "Go over the words of the gospel and the rest of Scripture. And if an alien thought arises within you, don't look down but up: the Lord will come to your help." Self-satisfaction is dealt with not by confrontation or condemnation but by the quiet personal exposure of failure in such a way as to prompt the same truthfulness in someone else: the neighbor is won, converted, by Macarius' death to any hint of superiority in his vision of himself. He has nothing to defend, and he preaches the gospel by simple identification with the condition of another, a condition others cannot themselves face honestly. How easy to go in and say, "I know you suffer these temptations"; Macarius refuses this easy way and goes instead by the way of "dying to the neighbor," refusing to judge and exposing himself to judgment.
"Dad, I'm Upside Down! Get Me Outta Here"
Dale reports an alarmingly familiar adventure. I remember my brother's first visit to Iowa, long years ago, when the Bucs still inhabited the NFC Norris. Anita and I had just moved into our first home and my bro was in town with his fiancee and his son Adym from his first marriage. I had proudly scored five tix for the Vikes-TB game. So Sunday morning, we piled into my '88 Mazda 323 and headed north, despite ice and blizzard-like conditions. Recalling my previous NFL outing in Detroit in '94, I knew my brother liked to get there early and watch warm-ups, taking a few photos of goings-on. (I don't know if that violates the NFL copyright, but ...) Not only had I navigated the backroads from Waterloo, Iowa to I-35 masterfully, but despite my brother's fretting about the weather, we were going to hit the game early. But not quite early enough, I was thinking. Gotta make this trip a perfect one for my bro. Did I get slapped back. I was not content to hum along at 45mph on an icy interstate, but decided to attack the passing lane with a bit of overconfidence. Twelve to fifteen seconds later, after a bit of spinning, my little car ended upside-down in a snow bank. I crawled out of the car and once I realized everyone was safe, I jumped up and down pounding the ground with my feet in anger at myself for spoiling my brother's football adventure. My first car was spinning tires and I was looking at the underside. Anita reminded me that night that we had been very, very fortunate: - nobody was hurt - we all got to the game on time - she had come down with the flu the night before and couldn't go to the game, therefore ... - our nephew was buckled in the front seat instead of sloshing around the back with his dad (who didn't buckle in) - if I had been such a bad driver, the accident would have been far worse ... - and mainly, nobody got hurt Being the prideful sort, it took me some days to get past my anger and realize that I became a better ad more respectful driver because of this episode. I'd never had a serious accident, and hence, I never had a full respect for poor driving conditions. I reflected on any number of settings where that mishap would've been worse: plowing into a sign, plowing into another vehicle or two, plowing off an overpass. I thank God for his providential hand on us that day. As it was, my brother enjoyed his game -- except for the final result. (The Bucs were still on the cusp.) Despite his being dressed in bright orange (two years previously he had opted for leather in the Pontiac Silverdome) we were picked up by some kindly violet-clad Viking fans. We made it to the stadium in plenty of time for kickoff. I will always remember the alarming sound of tires sliding and crunching on ice--still a warning. But I also remember with a smile my nephew's reaction when we came to our flip-flopped stop: "Dad, I'm upside down! Get me outta here!"
Poor Persecuted Catholics
Another great moniker to go along with SCGS ... PPC It should really be titled Keillor versus Irate Catholic Listener, because I don't really think this kind of give-and-take is on Benedict's event horizon as pope. Painting Garrison Keillor as anti-Catholic is a bit extreme. He's a comedian. He makes fun of people and things, and if he's anti-Catholic, I'm afraid the Lutherans have taken the number ahead of RC's if we're talking what comes to pass his lips from Lake Wobegon. I really wish my companion Catholics would give up this whining the first sign somebody disagrees with them or pokes fun. It's the same kind of victimhood the crunchy-cons criticize in just about every other minority group. It makes me want to ask, "Do you want the biggest boat in the pond, or do you want to be like every other oppressed minority?" Sheesh, if you want to be the One, Holy, and Only, for heaven's sake, start acting like it.
Playing It Both Ways
Zenit is off this week, so I comb through CNS for my Catholic news fix. After my favorite blogs, of course. I read of the Tucson solution for bankruptcy, and thought, didn't something like this get the St Louis archbishop and those Polish folks in trouble? The plan calls for each parish to be run by a five-member board of directors composed of the pastor as board head, the bishop, the diocesan moderator of the curia, a lay treasurer and a lay secretary. Doing the math (I couldn't resist) and the clergy have a 3-2 majority on every board. Plus, the bishop and his moderator now have seventy-four more committees on which to sit. I don't recall anything like this when I read the Vatican II documents on clergy and laity this year. Might be legal, but it has a curious whiff of the convenience of modernism. That said, I really don't think parishioners should lose their parish property because of the clumsy or immoral practices of present or historical bishops.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

This Game I Can Do Without
Major college bowl games: haven't seen one yet, nor do I plan to. I'm not terribly interested in this system which attempts to pit the numbers one and two college teams against each other. Then it takes the next six or eight-best teams (more or less) and matches them up. Then it takes the best of the rest, plus big money schools that scraped together six wins to maximize tourist and tv dollars. Here's my suggestion for the system that looks like a 98-lb weakling compared to the NCAA Women's ... Division III Dance. Move all traditional bowl games to August and institute what every other college sport on every other level does: a true playoff system. Institute an eight-team or even 16-team tournament. If it makes the bowl folk feel any better, offer December/January editions of fifteen bowls--the tournament games major college football should have. August Bowls would hype interest in various teams before baseball pennant races get hot. If the big money schools with six wins in the previous year want an extra game, let 'em have one. Some northern cities might get to go bowling too (Seattle's Microsoft Latte Bowl, Chicago's Boeing Windy Bowl, and the like). The traditional bowls stay happy, get a second game each year, and might draw better for a sunny Saturday afternoon or a cool August evening than some wintry setting matching teams with a good handful of losses between them. Heck, everybody in an August bowl would be undefeated. Every bowl game could sell it has the national champion in the making. In the meantime, major college football has never determined a champion, and in my mind, the only Division I football champion of 2005 is Appalachian State. They won more playoff games this year than any I-A team won bowl games in the past three years.
Keeping Festival and Hoping to Avoid a Major Homicide To Boot
Actually, it's quite boring to an outside observer. Each day, I've slept later, showered later, brushed my teeth later, and fixed the child's breakfast later. But does it feel good to roam around the house in pajamas! I imagine it must have been like this for medieval aristocracy, hunkered down in their drafty castles, wrapped up with blankets and hunting dogs, and feasting off leftovers while the children got into mischief. Minus the tv, computer, and blowtorch, of course. Here's a little moral dilemma for any of you Monday morning moral theologians in the audience: (Beware: soft sciences advisory) Our next-door neighbor confided to my wife a few weeks ago in passing her live-in fiance "had a temper." (No wonder we've not been seen on the premises in weeks.) Said ex-fiance came to our door today asking for a ride to CVS to get a card and pick up a purchase. Before I fully collected my wits, I agreed. On the drive, he mentioned he has a big feast prepared for "his wife's" return. After my return, I consulted with my wife. While I was getting into decent clothing, he had lied to my wife, saying ___ was "his wife." This was their snippet as related to me post-chauffer: "___ got married?!" my wife asked. "Well, we're actually engaged, but I get tired of referring to her as my fiancee," he said. My wife did concede our neighbor mentioned her friend ___ was going to be spending the week. Was that the dude's name? I asked. (I'm not really on much of a familiarity with my neighbors, I must confess.) My wife than mentioned that after he temper-challenged fiance's departure, she changed the locks and installed a security system. Clearly, if I had her work number, we'd call to confirm all this. I could call the police and land everybody in one embarassing mess, if we were wrong and she did take Mr Temper back. The kicker was that he does know we gave her some curtains--a fact he could only have learned from his (ex?) fiance directly. We're keeping a close eye on the house next door, and if there's even a rumble to suggest a problem, well, as they say in Rome, IX, I, I. I think you have to be on more than a chat-over-the-fence, I-don't-know-your-last-name-or-your-work-number to tell someone that temper-challenged boyfriends are not the prime fish of the sea. What would you have done?
Hard vs Soft Science
Titled at the risk of getting some porn links, but what the hey ... I lived in this mindset all the time in my college days. Most of my friends were "hard" science majors, like me: physics, engineering, biology, geology, and the like. We all ridiculed psych majors and their kind. We wanted our world well-defined, known, and explained by a mathematical model, or the closest thing to it. Regarding the "soft" sciences, Tony suggests, "Because the results are not verifiable, and are basically people's opinions without hard data, they are susceptable to be spun any way that people want them to." Let me clue you in: "hard" scientists do the same. Lots of people cannot verify results to an absolute degree of satisfaction: theoretical physicists, evolutionary biologists, among others. Two scientists can have the same package of data, hard facts, if you will, and arrive at two different conclusions. Additionally, we must concede theology is a "soft" science as well. There is no data to tell us homosexuals are depraved, immoral, and flawed. None at all. Are you aware that there are some psychologists who not only claim that pedophilia is normal and natural, but that it's beneficial to the children too? I am. But did you not get my baseball or alcohol analogies? The whole point is that some people have already arrived at their conclusion without sufficient data, then go off in search of observed phenomena to reinforce their own beliefs. That's not hard science. The ease of promoting the latest psychological theory without any requirement of hard data makes the entire "discipline" suspect. The link between latest theories and the positive stature of an entire discipline has not been proved. We don't know why small Saturnian moons have geological activity. Does that make the science of astrogeology suspect? We don't know why the universe behaves differently than the gravitational pull of observed matter would suggest. Does that put the kabosh on physics?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Triumph of Personal Experience
If the glorification of personal experience is a failing of modern culture, then the conservatives have been coopted at least as badly as the mainstream. In some of the last few threads, guests tout their own personal stories (if you will) as part of their main argument for their particular ideologies. I know of several conservatives who have slammed such similar thinking elsewhere, decrying the so-called triumph of the subjective over the truth. First, let's confess this is a human failing, not endemic (or even particularly epidemic) to any specific ideology. An example of a white athlete: Let's say that this person has an experience of getting his butt kicked by other athletes who happen to be black. It's a tough experience, and the white athlete grudgingly concedes these opponents are better. That's an example of personal experience teaching someone a valuable lesson: I can't always win, and some people are better than I. Let's suppose our athlete takes this lesson a bit further: blacks are better athletes than whites, and begins making life suppositions around that extended principle: Blacks are good in athletics, but Whites are good in other things, maybe most other things. "I'm better," the athlete thinks, "in everything else but athletics ... and the rest of us are, too." You see the problem in the progression, right? The person has failed to make logical connections from the initial experience and the first conclusion. One might suspect that emotions such as bitterness, regretfulness, envy, and such have colored the subsequent judgments. This is one reason why racism and sexism are so prevalent in many modern societies. An initial limited experience is stretched to encompass things that do not logically follow. The comment about dismissing sociology and psychology because they treat homosexuality favorably. Vatican II teaches that the social sciences have much to offer the Church. Does it suggest we embrace the totality of the social sciences? It does not. These disciplines are tools to achieve greater ends: a healthier priesthood, being one. The American Medical Association does not accept homosexuality as a disorder. Do we reject surgery, pharmacology, gynecology, pediatrics, and other medical disciplines? Naturally not. In baseball, we occasionally have bench-clearing brawls. Terrible. Bad example for kids and adults alike. Do we reject baseball because of it? Baseball teaches teamwork, develops physical skill, and is a darned entertaining pasttime. When a brawl breaks out, we sit down, read our novel, go to the restroom, or head for the parking lot. We don't boycott baseball. Alcoholics abuse drink and cause untold suffering to their families. There are tens of millions of active alcoholics in the world, reaping unbelievably widespread damage in the wake of their addiction. Is our solution to shut down breweries, wineries, bars, and liquor stores? You tell me. People will continue to abuse logic to further their arguments. It happens; we make mistakes. We are prejudiced and permit our biases to color our judgment. What other conclusions can I add? 1. Being blinded by bias is not usually a stunning shortcoming. It is universal, in fact. Conservatives could recognize that. 2. Sometimes our biases help us to react more quickly and appropriately in situations which might demand less thought and more reaction. The internet is not usually one of those arenas. Writing and dialogue on blogs gives us more of an opportunity to ponder, reflect, and pray about what words come out of our brains. 3. Sometimes our modus operandi is to get an ideology, then go out and search for only the facts that fit our mindset. I'd prefer to be a more open observer of the universe and try to draw conclusions from what I learn, rather than learn only the things that fit my conclusions. Merry Christmas, all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Bit of Sociology
Vatican II called for training seminarians in psychology and sociology, but somehow neglected to mention updating the already-ordained in these disciplines. I had a nice chat with our dicoese's most recently ordained deacon (on his way to the presbyterate) last night before Mass. Someone told him the Serra Club event was 5PM. I could sympathize; someone told me 6:30, which I put in my appointment calendar, but the parish schedule had it listed for 6. Anyway, Steve and I were talking about one blinding weakness from the chancery group-mind: What changes have we seen in the past three generations in Catholics attending secular colleges over Catholic institutions, and how does this affect the twenty-something vocation landscape, especially considering the cutbacks in campus ministry the past twenty years? I don't know if all of today's seminarians are conservatives, but if they do trend in that direction, is it because they're the only group the old guard targets? And if it's true, is the so-called JPII Priesthood only a weak half-sister compared to the pre-WWII boon? That's hardly a movement of the Spirit, I'd say.
Some of last week's work from Cassini: First, tiny Atlas caught with Saturn's rings nearly edge-on: Here's a crescent Tethys. The sun is low on some cratered terrain, but also a valley. I think it's part of Ithaca Chasma. Surface features on this moon are named for characters from Homer. This little beauty is Telesto, which shares an orbit with its larger sister Tethys. Enceladus, the moon with ice geysers is caught from about 150,000 miles away. A few craters, but lots of grooves and smooth areas. The presumption is that ice melts in the interior of this small moon, and escapes through fountains at the south pole. Enceladus has a far weaker gravity than our own moon, so ice particles escape the body to form a faint ring around Saturn in Enceladus's neighborhood. We have the facts on this, but no solid theories why this happens on such a small moon. Jupiter's moon Europa, also fairly smooth and crater-free, is flexed internally by tides raised by its larger companions Io and Ganymede. The Earth has a warm liquid interior because of heat generated by radioactive elements. By conventional wisdom, 300-mile wide Enceladus should be a solid ice cube: nowhere near big enough to have radioactive heat, no moons nearby to raise slushy interior tides. I like this shot of Mimas near the rings. They almost flew Pioneer 11 through that gray section of ring back in 1979. From Earth it appears dark and was named the Cassini division, for its seventeenth century discoverer. A trip through the ring would be most hazardous to one's structural integrity.
Five Weird Habits
From Lee: Rules: “The first player of this game starts with the topic 'five weird habits of yourself,' and people who get tagged need to write an entry about their five weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. 1. When I floss, I always do my thirty spaces in counterclockwise order from upper right, except that I skip the second-last space which has a sharp edge that always tears the floss, saving it for the end. If the floss breaks, I just proceed to the shower. 2. I always lace my shoes in a consistent pattern; the left and right are always done in mirror image. 3. I hardly ever use dollar bills. When I get them in change, I usually give them to my wife. I spend $2 bills and dollar coins instead. The tellers at our local bank know me well for this habit. 4. When I pick up a bridge hand from a duplicate box at the club, instead of counting to make sure I have thirteen (like most every player), I slip the top and bottom cards off simultaneously. Repeating six times, I should have one card left. This does two things. Not only have I ensured I have the correct number of cards, but also I've shuffled the stack and won't be tempted to notice the order of cards as they've been placed by the previous player--which might give me a clue as to how the hand was played by that competitor. 5. Here's the weirdest. Every so often, I calculate my age in days. In my head. I check the number with division by seven to make sure I didn't miss a day somewhere. (I was born on a Friday, so I know that my age as of today will be a number divisible by seven with a remainder of four.) There's more. Then I factor the big number to see if any interesting smaller numbers come up. Today I'm 17, 182 days old. I check it by building up multiples of seven. (14000, 16800, 17150, etc., and I find that 17, 178 is divisible by 7. Add four days to get Tuesday.) An even number, but I also notice something more useful: the sum of the odd digits (1+1+2=4) differs from the sum of the even digits (7+8) by exactly eleven, giving me 1562*11. Look at this: the digits 1+6 = 5+2, another multiple of 11. Now I get 142*11*11, and that first number has two prime factors. My age can be expressed by the product of prime numbers: 71*11*11*2. I think I began this habit in earnest on the day I graduated from college. The Moody Blues had a song entitled "22,000 Days," and just for fun I was thinking about how old a person would be, and I noticed my mom was close to that age. So I calculated it out in days, and that very day, she was exactly 22,000 days old. Very weird. "In the end, you need to choose the next five people to be tagged and link to their web journals. Don’t forget to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says “You are tagged” (assuming they take comments) and tell them to read yours.” I hate this part. Feels like a chain letter. Okay, just to be different, I tag commenters Tony, Susan, Brigid, Liam, and Jimmy Mac instead of bloggers. If your lists are too long for the comment boxes, just e-mail me and I'll post them here by Thursday.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Bishop Finn on Martyrdom
One of my stumbling blocks is envy. I cannot deny I'm jealous of and respectful of Rock's juicy exclusives and firsts. For one night, let me pass on some fresh bishop news, small and humble though it may be. We hosted our diocese's annual Serra Club gathering tonight: Mass and dinner with the bishop. Bishop Finn gave a good homily, though I missed the first half hunting down a tabernacle key and getting it to a seminarian. Anyway, what I caught was the best of the four or five homiles I've heard him deliver. He told a disarming story about his experience of reflecting on martyrdom, wondering if he would be able to accept such a "blessing," and all. After his prayer time, he returned to the sacristy, and cut his finger on a slice of paper in the drawer. After a short time of fussing and getting angry, he realized God had given him his answer rather immediately. "A pathetic martyr" he referred to the situation. Two gems from his homily: Christ at Christmas is small. The martyrdoms we are asked to undertake are likewise small: students keeping to their studies, parents caring for spouses and children. The small, but daily things we are asked to do: setting aside our own desires, caring for others. The true measure of holiness is the willingness to submit to the slow path to sanctification. Perhaps it seems as if Stephen and the others had it easy, and I'm often reminded of the quote on Amy's web site, "She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." The point seems to be that for almost all of us Christians, we are not being killed "quick," but we have that arduous and long path with the pitfalls of our own envy, impatience, anger, and other qualities that tear us away from holiness. I don't pray or reflect much on being a martyr; it enough for me to struggle with being weighed down by daily junk. Merry Christmas, all!
Isn't That What A Priest Is For?
Frequent guest Tony asked about yesterday's post, "When I first read this entry, I asked myself 'what the heck is a "liturgist?" Isn't that what a priest is for?'" I suppose a priest in a very small to small parish would be doing more or less of what falls under my job description. As we were fortunate to have our parish clergy augmented by our retired former pastor and the diocesan vicar general this past weekend, there is a certain amount of coordination needed to keep clergy happy. Servers, for example. One priest wanted to have his occasional assistant (and nephew) work with servers, so that meant making a number of phone calls last Monday night and unearthing various incense blends for consideration. Certainly the kinds of things priests can do if they have one or two Christmas Masses. But not likely for an eight-Mass Christmas. The retired priest offered to rehearse the servers for his own Mass. Our new associate pastor, as I commented yesterday, saw the various smells and bells trotted out for the earlier Masses and decided that would be good to have for the 8PM Eve Mass, too. I didn't mind at all putting servers through paces and making assignments before Mass. It freed Fr Walt to greet people as they came in for liturgy--the kind of up-front thing our pastor himself models and approves of for any staff person. When I stand out there on Christmas Day and open car doors and escort elderly people in, the C&E Catholics in the crowd have no real clue as to who I might be. The priest is pretty noticeable and probably makes a good impression there. Well, you get my drift on that. "I was thinking that most 'liturgists' in modern parishes are a lot like ringleaders in a circus, making sure that the 'acts' in the 'rings' are meshing properly so all are appropriately entertained." I'm not sure about the entertainment thing. We don't always keep the heavy contributors happy and the gravy train running from the ritzy end of town, like they might have done in the old days. In almost twenty years, I've only ever had one priest who took a regular turn at the organ bench, and he was one of three in a parish. No, most modern liturgists do the music thing that their lay predecessors did in previous generations. They might be somewhat better trained on average, musically and theologically. In my case, I benefit from having an organist on staff, which frees me up to do my three musical Masses, train servers for a fourth, and cover all kinds of bases for the fifth and last for which we had no volunteers other than two servers and a cantor. (Trust me, our vicar general wasn't pleased at the prospect of distributing Communion single-handed to three-hundred-plus people at noon yesterday.) I remain amazed at the bitterness Catholics have toward certain sisters and brothers in faith. It might be one thing if it were a noble deal to harbor hurts and grievances from a liturgist of the past, but the Gospel would suggest not. It might be another thing if people lacked the freedom to find a parish suited to their temperament, but curiously, the people who have said freedom and make that choice are often the most embittered of all, at least in e-print. Even assuming that some Catholics were truly our adversaries in faith, one might suggest that it is to one's benefit to actually learn about one's enemies and gain factual information. Such an approach has benefitted battlefield commanders through the millennia. If this is indeed a fight of some sort, knowing one's adversary, rather than laboring in ignorance and misinformation, would actually help carry the fight, as it were. As it is, I'm afraid the questions and curious challanges remain more of an amusement to me than something to take too seriously. If you don't believe me, follow my parish link on the sidebar and ask my pastor. I tell him about y'all from time to time, so be advised, he's been advised. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas: Report from the Trenches
Merry Christmas, all! As my weekend winds down, I had to laugh at the thought of a large parish doing without a liturgist, a development a few of my guests on CS would relish. I confess sleeping late yesterday, but as soon as Anita cleared the premises, Brit and I wrapped up some presents for her, unearthed the tree from the basement and had it set up by the time my wife returned home. I was on the premises by 12:30 at the parish, running programs, collection baskets, and a Lectionary off to the school auditorium for 3:30 Mass. The Chiefs had their game wrapped up by halftime, so we had our usual huge crowd coming for double Masses: 600 in the Church; 300 in the school. Our Sunday Ensemble played at the 6pm Mass, then it was a quick drive home to drop off the women and get me back to brief servers for 8:00 Mass. Fr Walt decided he liked the incense and gospel processions the priest did at the other two church Masses, so what the heck, let's do it again at 8. (That's what they pay me for: letting clergy or other folks make decisions and get me to make sure it happens.) Afterward, I grabbed a quick dinner in the parish office and polished off my music outlines for Midnight Mass, which has traditionally been a pick-up choir. I had a few teens from the Sunday 5pm Mass, two singers from the big choir which does two of our eight liturgies, and various musicians mostly less involved in regular parish music. What a group! Five men and six women; they did such a marvelous job. I got home about 1:15 after locking up the church, waking my wife. Then it was off to the basement to wrap Santa stuff. I was still pretty wired when my head hit the pillow at 3am; it took me some minutes to get to sleep. Brittany came roaring in at 6:50, "Presents! Presents! Let's get up!" (You parents know the routine.) I confess to skipping the 8am Mass; my wife rightly puts her foot down when the option is delaying unwrapping to early afternoon. I'm pleased at some great kitchen gear from Santa this year; including a very cool blow torch (actually a Creme Brulee set) and a new blender to replace a ten-year-old wedding present. I have sacristan duty at our last Mass at noon. After lockdown, I hope to get in some serious zz's while Brittany watches Mulan or Shark Tale or Narnia. I don't think we'll be making Creme Brulee today. Come to think of it, I forgot to pick up chicken at the store yesterday, so it looks like a trip to IHOP or maybe some "Chinese Turkey." Anyway, sorry to be the scrooge for my crunchy-con friends out there. Priests are wise enough never to fire their liturgists before or on Christmas. For one more day, we're having great fun with the Church's liturgy, filling the pews by the vanload, singing fairly sappy and sentimental songs. The Barque is boarded to the brim today, and SCGS* folks are bound to be muttering in their Christmas brandy. Peace on Earth, good will to all, and a hope that a few of them will come back next Sunday. * small church, getting smaller

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Blessings to You
No one need spend Christmas alone. You could be with your family and friends. Failing that, you could be with the poor and needy. Either way, you could be singing, making merry, keeping festival, and thanking God for the gift of grace, incarnate in the Son, Jesus. Leaving off the with the words of Christina Rosetti ... In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen, snow on snow. Snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago. Our God, heaven cannot hold him nor earth sustain; Heaven and earth shall flee away, when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter, a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty Jesus Christ. Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day, a breastful of milk and a manger full of hay. Enough for him, whom angels fall down before, the ox and ass and camel which adore. Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air: But only his mother in her maiden bliss worshipped the Beloved with a kiss What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him, give my heart.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Titan With Haze
I thought it'd be nice to leave the site with another pretty face at the top of the posts. This image combines visible light filters with the UV portion of the spectrum to bring out the upper atmospheric haze, that purple halo around the moon. I didn't mention that other nice image below, of Saturn, shows the gradual shading of the planet's atmosphere from pale yellow-brown to blue. Scientists don't know why the clouds are blue in ring shadow. Astute observers will recall that Neptune is blue, but it is also much colder than Saturn. The blue of Neptune is due to small amounts of methane in the atmosphere. I imagine the rings block enough sunlight to cool the winter hemisphere of Saturn. That would alter weather dynamics just enough for the color to change. A Saturnian winter lasts more than seven years, by the way. Summer isn't much better, as the planet enjoys balmy highs of -270 degrees. Wind speed is about 1100 mph at the equator, a bit calmer in temperate latitudes.

Go, Go, Go, Joe
I notice on Amy's liturgy thread a commenter named Joe has been giving as good as he gets. Indeed, he's already been painted as a heretic for daring to disagree with the Liturgical Echo Chamber that often passes itself off as mainstream St Blog's Catholic. None of my favorite foils has yet suggested Joe and I are the same person. (In their world, Catholicism--or should we say "o"rthodoxy-- is one happy, tight-knit small boat, and "dissenters" are but few. Or one.) Brigid, didn't I say someone new would come along to tweak some liturgical noses?
Concluding Our Look at the Formation of Clergy
Optatam Totius includes an unnumbered conclusion: The Fathers of this holy synod have pursued the work begun by the Council of Trent. While they confidently entrust to seminary administrators and teachers the task of forming the future priests of Christ in the spirit of the renewal promoted by this sacred synod, they earnestly exhort those who are preparing for the priestly ministry to realize that the hope of the Church and the salvation of souls is being committed to them. They urge them also to receive the norms of this decree willingly and thus to bring forth most abundant fruit which will always remain. This minor document does contain details that would have great impact on the Church and its life. The experience of the seminarian is mostly beyond the view of the ordinary Catholic. We see the initial stirrings of discernment in our parishes and other outlets. A student is sent away for three to five years, and comes back a newly minted priest. The studies and the life experiences both render a change in a person. Maybe the changes are more or less obvious. My reading of Optatam Totius leaves me with some general observations about seminarians, young priests, and how I see their ministry in the Church. I've known several priests at the beginning of their ministry and a few seminarians. I'd assess that their training is substantial, but by no means complete. Most of them admit the real learning happens when they take charge of a parish as pastor. While some might say, "Then the education really begins," I'd suggest instead it is in the parish where the pastoral outlook meets the book knowledge and a priest makes his own mark, as best he can. The Vatican II optimism about the application of psychology and other social sciences to ministry is evident. Striking is the emphasis on a "catholic" approach to ministry. Some St Bloggers, even clergy, are too readily given to shirking this in favor of an "orthodox" approach. The Council naturally assumes loyalty to Church doctrine isn't even an issue. Maybe that's an overconfidence we can't afford. Still, the notion that a priest is trained to have a broad effectiveness in ministry can't be denied. The collapse of the seminary system for minors is part of the landscape of the past decades. More often than not, a seminarian has been educated as an undergraduate outside of seminary. It would seem that colleges would provide a significant opportunity for searching for candidates and discerning their vocations. Yet most dioceses ignore or slash funding for student parishes, a trend I found alarming when I served in campus ministry in the mid-90's. If this document were rewritten today, I suspect a more intense look at recruiting priest-candidates in non-Catholic colleges, and in the young adult world would be merited. The Church's failure might be tagged at that most basic level of discernment: the choice to move forward seriously at the first signs of a vocation. From what I've seen of American seminaries, this decree has been more or less well implemented. If the challenge is to steer more good candidates into seminaries, I don't think the Church has taken that charge too seriously. More often, there's a sense of entitlement in operation: "We're Catholics, we're the one true Church; we deserve more priests ... where the heck are they?!" It takes work.
OT 21: Continuing Education
Optatam Totius 21 shows the council bishops had their thinking caps on. They concede the degreed young priest is still a work in progress: Since priestly training, because of the circumstances particularly of contemporary society, must be pursued and perfected even after the completion of the course of studies in seminaries, it will be the responsibility of episcopal conferences in individual nations to employ suitable means to this end. Such would be pastoral institutes working together with suitably chosen parishes, meetings held at stated times, and appropriate projects whereby the younger clergy would be gradually introduced into the priestly life and apostolic activity, under its spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral aspects, and would be able, day by day, to renew and foster them more effectively. Thoughts?
OT 20: More on the Pastoral Aims of Seminary Training
Optatam Totius 20 says it: They should also be taught to use the aids which the disciplines of pedagogy, psychology, and sociology can provide, according to correct methodology and the norms of ecclesiastical authority. The social sciences get a bad rap from bishops and neo-cons looking out for scapegoats, but the value of using aids from psychology and sociology was a repeated theme in the council documents. Simple really: make good use of a tool that will achieve a good end. Likewise, let them be properly instructed in inspiring and fostering the apostolic activity of the laity and in promoting the various and more effective forms of the apostolate. At least until we reach tyhe point at which the laity can form new generations of apostles. Let them also be imbued with that truly Catholic spirit which will accustom them to transcend the limits of their own diocese, nation, or rite, and to help the needs of the whole Church, prepared in spirit to preach the Gospel everywhere. Catholicity a virtue over orthodoxy, as it were: a spirit that would also transcend ideology, politics, and that curious movement for a smaller Church. That would pretty much seem to be out the window with this, wouldn't it? But since it is necessary for the students to learn the art of exercising the apostolate not only theoretically but also practically, and to be able to act both on their own responsibility and in harmonious conjunction with others, they should be initiated into pastoral work, both during their course of studies and also during the time of vacations, by opportune practical projects. Aha! See this? Students of seminary should learn responsibility and collaboration with others. Pastoral work should be part of the formation/education process. These should be carried out in accordance with the age of the students and local conditions, and with the prudent judgment of the bishops, methodically and under the leadership of men skilled in pastoral work, the surpassing power of supernatural means being always remembered. We're heading into the stretch run of Optatam Totius; one of your last opportunities for comment. Care to?
Figuring Things Out: It's Why We Go Places
And if we happen to stumble across a little beauty, that's a bonus. Check the Cassini link on the sidebar for more pics (usually B&W) and for the scientific details.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Teaching Methods and Specialized Training
A two for one post tonight. Optatam Totius 17 & 18. Starting with the first of these sections: But since doctrinal training ought to tend not to a mere communication of ideas but to a true and intimate formation of the students, teaching methods are to be revised both as regards lectures, discussions, and seminars and also the development of study on the part of the students, whether done privately or in small groups. Unity and soundness of the entire training is carefully to be provided for by avoiding an excessive multiplication of courses and lectures and by the omission of those questions which scarcely retain any importance or which ought to be referred to higher academic studies. And section 18: It will be the bishops' concern that young men suited by temperament, virtue, and ability be sent to special institutes faculties, or universities so that priests may be trained at a higher scientific level in the sacred sciences and in other fields which may be judged opportune. Thus they will be able to meet the various needs of the apostolate. The spiritual and pastoral training of these men, however, especially if they are not yet ordained as priests, is in no way to be neglected. Not much to say of these logical statements. Anything from the commentariat?
OT 16: Teaching Theology
Optatam Totius 16 starts off: The theological disciplines, in the light of faith and under the guidance of the magisterium of the Church, should be so taught that the students will correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine revelation, profoundly penetrate it, make it the food of their own spiritual lives, and be enabled to proclaim, explain, and protect it in their priestly ministry. Note the emphasis that theology is not solely an intellectual exercise; it is intended as food for the soul as well as of the mind. Speaking of soul ... The students are to be formed with particular care in the study of the Bible, which ought to be, as it were, the soul of all theology. After a suitable introduction they are to be initiated carefully into the method of exegesis; and they are to see the great themes of divine revelation and to receive from their daily reading of and meditating on the sacred books inspiration and nourishment. Exegetical methods carefully taught: good. Then a list: Scriptures, Fathers East and West, History, etc.: Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that these biblical themes are proposed first of all. Next there should be opened up to the students what the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have contributed to the faithful transmission and development of the individual truths of revelation. The further history of dogma should also be presented, account being taken of its relation to the general history of the Church. Next, in order that they may illumine the mysteries of salvation as completely as possible, the students should learn to penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculation, under the guidance of St. Thomas, and to perceive their interconnections. Then the connection with liturgy: They should be taught to recognize these same mysteries as present and working in liturgical actions and in the entire life of the Church. Then pastoral application: They should learn to seek the solutions to human problems under the light of revelation, to apply the eternal truths of revelation to the changeable conditions of human affairs and to communicate them in a way suited to men of our day. Misunderstood on both left and right is the notion of change. Change was undertaken at and after Vatican II to ensure the pastoral connection with people is, in fact, there. Old approaches and old ways were clearly not getting the point across. And despite some good things to bring to the Church, documents such as Humanae Vitae served to drive people away from the message rather than invite them into it. Likewise let the other theological disciplines be renewed through a more living contact with the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation. Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its scientific exposition, nourished more on the teaching of the Bible, should shed light on the loftiness of the calling of the faithful in Christ and the obligation that is theirs of bearing fruit in charity for the life of the world. Moral theology based on Scripture, rather than "We said so." It can be done, but it seems that it is done so ineffectively. Similarly the teaching of canon law and of Church history should take into account the mystery of the Church, according to the dogmatic constitution "De Ecclesia" promulgated by this sacred synod. Sacred liturgy, which is to be considered as the primary and indispensable source of the truly Christian spirit, should be taught according to the mind of articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilium are essential. The circumstances of various regions being duly considered, students are to be brought to a fuller understanding of the churches and ecclesial communities separated from the Apostolic Roman See, so that they may be able to contribute to the work of re- establishing unity among all Christians according to the prescriptions of this holy synod. Let them also be introduced to a knowledge of other religions which are more widespread in individual regions, so that they may acknowledge more correctly what truth and goodness these religions, in God's providence, possess, and so that they may learn to refute their errors and be able to communicate the full light of truth to those who do not have it. Another example of what I would call the "Spirit of Vatican II," a sense that students and priests have a contribution to make in the realm of Christian unity and interfaith understanding. Comments?
Peace on Earth; Go Elsewhere for Liturgy Wars
Well, maybe just a spot of them here. Amy and Rock have both reported that you can read the transcript of what you missed on EWTN at USCCB over on Adoremus. The St Blog's Commentariat always amuses me when the liturgical bee gets in its bonnet (or biretta). But for the sake of my own visitors, let me offer three gifts: 1. The current liturgy translation we use was approved up and down the line by everyone: a dozen-odd English-speaking bishop's conferences, ICEL, and the Vatican. If the Vatican noticed that some literal liberties were taken with the Latin original, it wasn't of apparent concern to them. For good or ill, this is what's stuck in 99.8% of the English language churchgoers in the Catholic world, including almost all of the clergy. Whiuch leads me to ... 2. In the shortest term, the clergy will be stuck with the dirty work of implementation, not the bishops. Parishes will fork over some bucks to get the new red books. Then every priest will have his nose in the new book for a few weeks to a few months until he gets used to the new language. People in the pews will take a bit longer, if they even bother to care. I can see a mongrel response of "and also with your you spirit." What happens if the people in some parishes continue to use the old responses out of habit or stubbornness? Who's going to stop them? Will the priest throw a hissy fit and refuse to continue the Mass if the response is "wrong?" And if he doesn't, and the 1970 responses remain, what has been accomplished? 3. Musical publishers are probably thinking this is a bonus for their ledger lines. Old Mass settings redone (church musicians won't have the option to protest) will be a financial boon lasting for months, if not years. And it looks as if the bishops are choosing to ignore the Liturgiam Inauthenticam provision for submitting hymn texts for approval. That May 2006 deadline is approaching fast, and it's crystal clear where the hierarchs stand on things: they might be split down the middle on the new English Ordo Missae, but they're 100% behind ignoring provisions that make work for their own. So in a spirit of holiday cheer, have at it, folks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

OT 15: The Study of Philosophy
Optatam Totius 15: The philosophical disciplines are to be taught in such a way that the students are first of all led to acquire a solid and coherent knowledge of man, the world, and of God, relying on a philosophical patrimony which is perennially valid and taking into account the philosophical investigations of later ages. Okay. Like many other Vatican II teachings, the notion of continuity with the past, yet an openness to the present. This is especially true of those investigations which exercise a greater influence in their own nations. Account should also be taken of the more recent progress of the sciences. The net result should be that the students, correctly understanding the characteristics of the contemporary mind, will be duly prepared for dialogue with men of their time. Another neo-con cuss word: dialogue. What does it mean? The context in this document is that the priest needs to be prepared for flexibility in dealing with people. Rather than see non-Catholics as adversaries, dialogue implies a quiet confidence about the Gospel and the way of life it demands. The Christian message is (or could be) so strong, so self-evident, that dialogue is initiated by non-believers. When that happens, apply honey, not vinegar, I suppose. The history of philosophy should be so taught that the students, while reaching the ultimate principles of the various systems, will hold on to what is proven to be true therein and will be able to detect the roots of errors and to refute them. In the very manner of teaching there should be stirred up in the students a love of rigorously searching for the truth and of maintaining and demonstrating it, together with an honest recognition of the limits of human knowledge. Attention must be carefully drawn to the necessary connection between philosophy and the true problems of life, as well as the questions which preoccupy the minds of the students. Likewise students should be helped to perceive the links between the subject-matter of philosophy and the mysteries of salvation which are considered in theology under the higher light of faith. Only mentioning the integration of the affective and the intellectual in that phrase, "a love of rigorously searching for the truth." Do we see ourselves as messengers for the truth? Or does our own need for performance get in the way? Thoughts?
OT 14: More on Seminary Renewal
Optatam Totius 14 begins with a pragmatic thought: In revising ecclesiastical studies the aim should first of all be that the philosophical and theological disciplines be more suitably aligned and that they harmoniously work toward opening more and more the minds of the students to the mystery of Christ. What a concept: education is about opening the mindrather than filling it. For it is this mystery which affects the whole history of the human race, continually influences the Church, and is especially at work in the priestly ministry. That this vision be communicated to the students from the outset of their training, ecclesiastical studies are to be begun with an introductory course which should last for an appropriate length of time. In this initiation to ecclesiastical studies the mystery of salvation should be so proposed that the students perceive the meaning, order, and pastoral end of their studies. At the same time they should be helped to establish and penetrate their own entire lives with faith and be strengthened in embracing their vocation with a personal dedication and a joyful heart. Integration of the mind and soul, another fine concept.
Decision in Dover (PA not DE)
Amy alerts us to a victory, not just for science, but for the Truth. Go tell it, your honor: Repeatedly ... scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator. But, but, but ... Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. A smackdown is delivered upon IDologists: The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has not been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources. Means and ends, people: (S)everal (members of the board), who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy. They can't make a dent in the scientific community, so they try an end run around in the political arena. This would be like a team losing about ten yards on a trick play, then being flagged for holding to boot.
OT 13: Revision of Ecclesiastical Studies
Section 13 begins a fifth chapter of Optatam Totius calling for the revision of the priestly training syllabus. Before beginning specifically ecclesiastical subjects, seminarians should be equipped with that humanistic and scientific training which young men in their own countries are wont to have as a foundation for higher studies. Seems clear: business administration, psychology, sociology, political science, philosophy, plus a good smattering of the arts. Moreover they are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents of the Church. Good suggestion, but one not taken too often. The study of the liturgical language proper to each rite should be considered necessary; a suitable knowledge of the languages of the Bible and of Tradition should be greatly encouraged. Personally, I regret not having more of a background in Greek and Hebrew. When I investigated liturgy studies in Rome, the expectation would be that I'd be prepared in no less than six or seven languages: Greek and Hebrew for Scripture, Latin for liturgy and documents, Italian for lectures, and at least one (preferably two) languages outside of my native English. I had the last five to a point, but my Italian was by far the weakest point--troubling considering that the expectation would be that I'd go to class and learn something from the speakers. The school suggested I arrive early in Italy and take a summer immersion course. Ah well; finances curtailed that option. I wonder how much language study is mandated for seminarians still in undergrad. Comments?
OT 12: "An Intense Introduction"
Optatam Totius 12 gives the "bishops" the choice of determining additional training beyond seminaries. Since they are identified in the plural, it may be that national conferences or regional or provincial groups would make these determinations. Here's the text: In order that the spiritual training rest upon a more solid basis and that the students embrace their vocation with a fully deliberate choice, it will be the prerogative of the bishops to establish a fitting period of time for a more intense introduction to the spiritual life. Note the first listed priority is the priestly spiritual life. It will also be their charge to determine the opportuneness of providing for a certain interruption in the studies or of establishing a suitable introduction to pastoral work, in order that they may more satisfactorily test the fitness of candidates for the priesthood. Note that this period would "interrupt" studies to give a candidate a taste of the life of a priest. Note that this is also seen partially as a testing period. A test is valid if people who are unsuited are given the option of withdrawing to pursue the lay apostolate or religious life. I'd question how appropriate it is for transitional deacons to be assigned to parishes to the exclusion of giving seminarians a year or two of pastoral experience. In my current parish, we've been assigned "summer seminarians." Most often they're enrolled in CPE, and rarely have been involved in parish ministry. I'd call the practice into question. It seems that after a year or two of major seminary, a candidate might be well-prepared for a full-time parish position for a year while taking a few credit hours of graduate-level theology. Maybe spread out a semester and a half to two semesters across two summers and the intervening year. In accordance with the conditions of individual regions it will also be the bishops' responsibility to make a decision about extending the age beyond that demanded at present by common law for the reception of sacred orders, and of deliberating whether it be opportune to rule that students, at the end of their course in theology, exercise the order of deacon for a fitting period of time before being promoted to the priesthood. Transitional deacons, yes. What period of time would seem to be fitting? If the ministry of deacon has any meaning, I'd say a year, minimum. What would the whole course of graduate study look like? Two years in seminary, followed by one year in a parish. Then one full year of seminary, followed by diaconate ordination. Conclude with one to two years of diaconate ministry, then ordination. Any better ideas out there?

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