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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dione
Rather dazzling even in black and white, don't you think? An older surface than Enceladus (of the south pole ice geysers) but still not as peppered with craters as Rhea. Questions: Why are the central peaks of those craters so high--they seem higer than the crater rims? Some of those craters look a bit deformed. If you want the false color view, check the Cassini link on the side bar.
Seeking Glory, Cheer, and Vibrancy
What was it? A universal indult for the 1962 Missal was supposed to be forthcoming a year or two ago. What happened? The brash and loud schismatic leadership continues to stamp its foot and make demands of Rome. Traditionalism in all things, but we want to set terms to Peter. How generous. And classic. Fr Jim Tucker, an otherwise sensible voice, stated this today: Traditional Catholicism is glorious, it's cheerful, it's vibrant, it's magnanimous, it's uncompromising in matters of truth, but at the same time merciful toward weakness and understanding of human frailty. In other words, it expands the heart, rather than shrinking it. Let's ask people who were Catholics in the 1950's and 60's and see if they agree. You were fortunate indeed to have glorious liturgy before the Council. Catholics could be found to be cheerful in social gatherings. And the question I love to ask: if the Church were indeed so vibrant, why did the Holy Spirit convene a Council? Why was the curial agenda deep-sixed by the 2,000 bishops who actually knew what was going on in their dioceses? It was all replaced with a renewed and refurbished vision of Catholicism. Traditional Catholicism does not have the reputation of mercy and understanding. In fact, the Vatican document most attuned to human weakness, Gaudium et Spes, had the most dissenting votes, and that after four sessions of Council. I don't care too much what the result of the talks between the SSPX schismatics and Rome would be. It wouldn't affect liturgy in most parishes. It might serve as the death knell for the 1962 Rite to gain a wider use. A few decades of low Masses, muttering priests, and poor homiletics would bring the same breadth of liturgical expression as the Roman Rite now enjoys. Let's be serious: this isn't about Latin. Nobody needs permission to celebrate a Roman Rite Mass in Latin. They never have. Nobody needs episcopal permission to find a well-decorated church or chapel with traditional architecture to enjoy the backdrop of a Latin Mass. Nobody needs permission to hire an outstanding music director to train singers and a congregation in chant. Celebrate the Mass the way the pope does in Rome. Do it at any time. Wouldn't it seem there's a reason why people don't bother to have a Latin Mass they could have at any time? The vapid criticism of the 1970 Rite as it's celebrated in parishes: that's the key to the heart of the leadership of the traditionalists. That's where the treasure lies: not in a generous heart, but in a bile duct. Rather than join with other Catholics to actually reform the liturgy with their traditional sensibilities, they picked up their toys, left the playground and stomped home. Traditionalism will appeal to the mainstream insofar as that generous vision wins out over bitterness. You can say that about any virtuous person. A generous vision indeed wins out over bitterness. Look to Vatican II for the former. Listen to any of the SSPX leadership, read their web sites, and you can see soon enough where to find the latter. So I take exception to the longer quote above. It should read: Catholicism is glorious, it's cheerful, it's vibrant, it's magnanimous, it's uncompromising in matters of truth, but at the same time merciful toward weakness and understanding of human frailty. In other words, it expands the heart, rather than shrinking it. So let's not let the spin doctors of schism appropriate Catholicism for themselves. If they want to endorse the sixteen documents of Vatican II, let 'em come home from schism. They're already forty years late to the party, but the door's always open.
The Steep Price of Grace The following excerpt comes from an article written by the Lutheran ethicist Larry Rasmussen for the current Sojourners magazine. It is meant to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It might also be worth remembering that January 27th was Holocaust Memorial Day in Great Britain, and, as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor then said, "The warning is clear: wherever dehumanisation takes hold, terrible evil is sure to follow. ... We are one human family: today’s commemoration is especially that of the Jewish people, but it is also that of the victims of genocide everywhere and throughout history. We can never forget." What can we learn for our time from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reaction to the events of his day and from the anti-Nazi “Confessing Church,” to which Bonhoeffer belonged? By his own testimony, one of the few major turning points in Bonhoeffer’s life occurred in 1933, when he became a committed disciple of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, rather than simply a university theologian of Christianity. In 1933, the Nazi Party leapt from the margins to the center of national power, and Bonhoeffer had a premonition that this meant demands for which the church was ill-prepared. He wrote to a friend, as cited in Eberhard Bethge’s biography Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “…the life of a servant of Jesus Christ must belong to the church, and step by step it became clearer to me how far that must go. Then came the crisis of 1933. That strengthened me in it. The revival of the church and the ministry became my supreme concern.” Why this “supreme concern”? Bonhoeffer already sensed the crises in the church that, in this moment of Nazi triumph, would follow from the deep enculturation of German Protestant Christianity and its long-standing ideological and institutional alignment with the state. He gave classic expression to this in The Cost of Discipleship’s contrast of cheap and costly grace: Like ravens we have gathered around the carcass of cheap grace. From it we have imbibed the poison which has killed the following of Jesus among us.... A people became Christian...but at the cost of discipleship, at an all-too-cheap price. We ... absolved an entire people [“nation,” in some translations], unquestioned and unconditionally. We poured out rivers of grace without end, but the call to rigorously follow Christ was seldom heard .... Our church’s predicament is proving more and more clearly to be a question of how we are to live as Christians today. In early 1933, a movement in the Protestant churches, dubbing itself the “German Christians,” rallied in support of the Nazi Party’s call for Aryan Christianity and the consolidation of the provincial churches into a single state-coordinated “Reich Church” headed by a “Reich Bishop.” The aggressive, anti-Semitic nationalism of these German Christians, their deference to Hitler as the rescuer of a humiliated Germany, and their support of the party’s platform alarmed other Protestants. Numerous Christians of Jewish heritage were in the Protestant church, and 37 of them were pastors. The state declared all of them “full Jews” and began stripping them of their civil rights and liberties. This racist push for Aryan Christianity precipitated a counter movement, soon called the “Confessing Church.” What would and could the churches do? Bonhoeffer had written in April 1933 an essay on “the Jewish question” and three stages of response (call the state to fulfill its mandate of justice, care for any victims of state infractions, and wrest the wheel from the state if it fails in its duties as state). Now in light of the state’s action he wrote to his friend Erwin Sutz. Bonhoeffer said that the conflicting confessions of the German Christians and the Confessing Church meant that “a great reorganization of the churches is imminent,” only to add: “The Jewish question requires much action from the church, and here the most understanding people have completely lost their heads and their Bibles.” These “most understanding people” who had “lost their heads and their Bibles” were the major German theologians of the day and many members of the Confessing Church itself. Across both theological disciplines and common piety, the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) had been eclipsed by the New Testament, the passion of Jesus had supplanted the passion of the People Israel, and the church as the New Israel had superseded “old” Israel as the elect People of God. In short, anti-Judaism in the churches and the universities flowed as a steady current within the broad river of anti-Semitism coursing through German society. Apart from Christians with Jewish roots, German Jews in all their diversity had little to do with “true” Germans except as “the other.” And as this “other” became the “despised other,” the tracks were in effect being laid for the Holocaust. Even the founding manifesto of the Confessing Church, the Barmen Declaration, omits mention of the Jews, an omission later much regretted by its chief author, Karl Barth. ... Consider, by way of contrast to German churches, the Huguenot village of Le Chambon. First under the puppet regime of Vichy France and then under direct Nazi rule, roughly 5,000 farmers harbored a like number of Jews because it was simply “natural” to do so. But it was natural only for a people whose independent community’s faith and morality were already attuned to evil’s onset. In Le Chambon those sensibilities were rooted in long-standing practices of hospitality toward the alien “other” and the memory of their own suffering and that of their martyrs. Here were the people Bonhoeffer sought to be part of in his own church.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Pope Benedict on Annulments
Zenit gives you the basic elements of his address. One thought from it: The question of marital annulment arouses much interest, since "for many faithful, the possibility to receive Eucharistic Communion" depends on ecclesiastical decisions, said the Pope. The Eucharist, yes, but let's not forget the non-Catholics who often are presented with a choice of full communion or spouse. And another quote various folks have been hopping all over: Therefore, it "is extremely important" that the declaration of the ecclesiastical tribunals "take place in a reasonable time," he noted. That seems straight-forward enough: get the job done on time.
The Gift of People This is from the Very Rev John Breck's current "Life in Christ" column. I've taken the liberty of placing one of his paragraphs in italics. Don't we recognize ourselves in it? One of the most influential people in my life and the life of my family was a Roman Catholic nun, who founded a contemplative monastic community in France some fifty years ago. She is “dead” now, no longer visibly with us. But we don’t need photographs to remember her face and her words. She had no formal theological training, yet she could speak theology to her sisters and to gathered laypeople with an unmatchable eloquence. She spoke from personal experience of the living Christ and His Holy Mother as friends and companions she cherished and loved. In her presence, they were present, too, more really, more concretely than through iconography or even services of worship. Her name, like that of so many anonymous nuns, was Marie. Just a few minutes with her, and the veil that so often covers spiritual reality in our daily life was lifted. She was a theologian because she prayed. And that prayer somehow enfolded the rest of us and lifted us, for a moment, to the heights we longed for. There are so many others we have been blessed to know, even if their depths of faith and expressions of self-giving love leave me feeling empty and spiritually bankrupt. What has become clear over the years is that people like this exist virtually everywhere. We simply need to look for them and pray God that He will enable us to discover them. It’s easy to see hell in other people, at least it is for me. Maybe first of all it’s easy to see it in myself: in my faithlessness, my doubt, my impatience, my neglect of people I love. That hell is merely the absence of God (merely!), an absence I provoke sometimes, I suspect, on purpose. I create it in myself, and I allow myself to create it, as it were, in others, or rather in my perception of others. The miracle is that those same people really do bear God’s image, and it’s always possible to discover that image, in them and in myself. Yet it is special people of the kind I’ve mentioned who convey to us the real truth, both about God and about ourselves. In their simplicity and depth, their inner silence and eloquent wisdom, they make Christ present to us. Most of them have made their own journey out of darkness and into light. Like Adam and Eve, and other Old Testament saints in the paschal icon of the Descent into Hell, they have reached out and been grasped by the hand of Christ, then lifted by Him from the realm of death into the glory of His resurrected life. These people have known, even in their earthly lifetime, what it is to live in, with and for Christ, in the beauty and splendor of the communion of saints. Their gift to us is to call us back to reality, to what is essential. When they do, their simple words and silent presence lift us out of our ourselves, to set us, gently and firmly, on the threshold of heaven.
What If You Can't or Won't Sing?
John asks some good questions below. Do you really think that Vatican II's call for greater active participation in the Mass was a call to turn every Mass attendent into a performer? I get squeamish about the word "performer." "Participant" is more to my liking and to what I would see as the object of Sacrosanctum Concilium. For those who lean heavily on the Mass as a vehicle for the praise of God, I suppose "performance" applies, in the sense that people strive to add their part to the overall effort. What of the faithful Catholic who can't sing, and/or doesn't care to sing the songs on offer? He has no place at the Mass as you imagine it, it seems. I hope not. Faithful Catholics who are unable to sing because they are mute have the option of praying the text while the people around them sing. As for a faithful Catholic who doesn't care to sing a particular song is nevertheless obligated to pray during the time allotted during liturgy for a communal expression of prayer. Folding one's arms and pouting would be an extreme example of disengaging from liturgy for one's own choice. But I'd have no problem with a parishioner who detested a particular song to turn to another hymn in the book or to a prayer or other text and join in the common prayer of everyone else. I think everyone has a place at Mass, but not every attitude is a welcome one, even the most heartfelt ones.
Stalking Wisdom
Sirach 14:20-21 begins a reflection on "the search for wisdom:" Happy the man who meditates on wisdom, and reflects on knowledge; Who ponders her ways in his heart, and understands her paths; But then it gets a tad creepy (22-24): Who pursues her like a scout, and lies in wait at her entry way; Who peeps through her windows, and listens at her doors; Who encamps near her house, and fastens his tent pegs next to her walls; I guess wisdom doesn't mind, as the "stalker" becomes a welcome neighbor in the end (25-27): Who pitches his tent beside her, and lives as her welcome neighbor; Who builds his nest in her leafage, and lodges in her branches; Who takes shelter with her from the heat, and dwells in her home. I wonder if Lady Wisdom has ever taken out a restraining order on someone ...
Modelling Good Ensembles
One of my favorite concerts of 2005, indeed of my life, was seeing Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers performed last Fall. Two musicians to be emulated by anyone attempting to piece together a church ensemble. Or any kind of band, really: Claudio and Miles. When I hear conservatory-trained organists lament guitars, I have to smile if such complaints are superimposed over listening to early Baroque or late Renaissance music. My wife, in fact, commented on the suitability of the modest organ in the Vespers concert. She often finds classical organists to be harsh and too flamboyant in their playing style. The great Miles Davis provides more food for thought, especially in his cultivated use of silence and ensemble improvisation. Case in point: Kind of Blue. Church musicians could do well to study jazz and consider its implications for sacred music.

Book of the Chair
The diocesan vicar general has asked me to procure a Sacramentary with opening and post-communion prayers only. The usual suspects are no longer printing them. Or selling them. In lieu of watching eBay daily, anybody out there have a spare they'd like to unload? Our newest Sacramentary is only a year old, but doesn't seem keen on the new bookstand. The adhesive on the inside covers has failed, and the clergy are complaining.
Reading Along: Thumbs Up or Down?
A Dominican priest weighs in on the missalette controversy. This guy proves yet again that it is impossible to peg people as exclusively liberal or conservative. Twenty years ago, I came down solidly in the anti-missalette crowd. But today, I have a hard time getting excited about it. It's like holding hands during the Lord's Prayer or consecration bells. If I were in a parish that did it, I doubt I'd expend the energy to get rid of it. And if the parish didn't have them, I wouldn't introduce them. People do depend on their sense of sight more than their sense of hearing. And it is true that many priests and lectors make poor use of their voice and/or sound systems. Your thoughts?
Catholic Schools
A US/UK/Australia snapshot of Catholic schools at Zenit. While we're on the topic of Catholic Schools, don't forget the thread below asking about your parish experiences of the weekend. Or just use this one. In my experience, the school often takes over the Sunday Mass schedule, and the liturgical experience is, shall we say charitably, a mixed bag. The school-liturgy interface in a large parish can be problematic. I confess I have a pretty decent relationship with the school staff. I go out of my way to include young people, parents, and school folks in the preparation and celebration of both Sunday and school liturgies. They, in turn, don't burden me or the parish with unreasonable or unliturgical things. But turning over the Sunday liturgy to the school is usually not a good idea. It's like if you asked me to fix your car. I'm a good guy. Your car is a nice machine. But it might not be so nice when I'm done with it.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Icing on the Ecclesiastical Cake
Rock has the goods on an auxiliary bishop who doubles as a goalie for his team in a Chicago over-30 league. But it's important to remember a full bishop, namely the revered Ken Untener of Saginaw, played hockey as well. My Michigan sources told me years ago that the clergy of Saginaw regularly battled their brothers from the larger archdiocese just to the south of them ... in golf. And routinely took home the trophy. I suppose it's one thing to be reviled as a pawn of Evil, but taking home those sporting trophies is another thing.
Neuhaus vs Jesuits ... Again
Richard John Neuhaus is not having a good week. First he raises the straw man of Jesuit conspiracy. Then he piles on with a flimsy attack of an America editorial. So the response of the official magazine of the Society of Jesus in the U.S. would seem to be that homosexuality is no more morally problematic than one’s ethnic identity or geographical origins ... If you carefully check Church teaching, a born or early-determined same sex attraction is not a moral problem, in that a person does not consciously choose which sex he or she is attracted to. That's basic moral theology. ... and that there should be room in the priesthood also for men who are not gay. There's been room before. The real problem is that some clergy do not remain celibate who have promised to do so. Rome says gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Did they really? They said those who are active sexually in the gay culture are unsuitable. We all know that each individual diocese will handle this instruction differently from any other. It's not likely some dioceses will turn away qualified celibate candidates who happen to be SSA. The Society of Jesus, insofar as it is represented by America, responds that men who are not gay should not be excluded from the priesthood. There would appear to be a problem here. I wasn't aware a periodical has the same stature as a parliament or other governing body. Leaving that aside, the America editorial seems calm and balanced. Neuhaus, on the other hand, notes: The editorial response in America pointedly does not affirm the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. It doesn't. But it also doesn't reaffirm the Church's teaching on ordaining women, on the Real Presence, or on torture. Is a written affirmation of all Church teaching required in composing an editorial, or does an editor actually have some compositional leeway to get something on the page within a set word limit.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Catholic Schools Week
Our parish-school relations have not always been the best. So some of us are working hard to ensure that Catholic Schools Observance gets off to a good start. I'm grateful for liturgical scheduling on normal weekends, as I left most of the potential slots for kids open to sign-up. I recruited most of the lectors from among students I knew would handle it well. Amazingly, nobody--no one at all--signed up to be a greeter. That's fine; I just didn't schedule any. But it can be something of a headache to flesh out six weekend Masses, especially considering a friend who took it upon herself to recruit lectors and gift people for one Mass. Unbeknownst to her I had already filled those slots. Communication: it works wonders when it works. Any sign of Catholic school students at your parish liturgies this weekend?
The Economic/Moral Interface of Clergy Sex Abuse
Curmudgeon, my fellow KC blogger is on a mission. He targets the legal advocates of sex abuse victims, but he does suggest a Catholic alternative might exist to his position, which is: (W)hatever horrible things the shepherds have done, and whatever justice might be their due, there's no justification for ravishing the flock because of it. That's exactly what's happening as contingent-fee personal injury lawyers line up, claiming to "pursue justice and healing" for their victims by pocketing assets held in trust by the bishops, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole church. On the latest "rant" thread, he states more succinctly from his lengthy post, which I confess, I did not read from beginning to end (pausing in the middle when it seemed like more of his earlier posts on the topic): (Since) you refuse to believe that the Enemy is using these litigious victims and their lawyers, as much as he's using the perverts who violated them, in his attempt to destroy the Church, I'll paraphrase my points: (1) we must approach the problem and its solution with the reason God gave us, so that emotions don't cause us to act rashly and facilitate a greater harm to society by crippling the Church and (2) we should and we DO help those who are suffering, but when the Church herself, and not just the perps, are attac(k)ed, we must run to her defense. As I've quoted and linked before, Catechism 2478 states: To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved. My KC friend names a particular lawyer here, but does not report his effort in attempting favorable interpretation of her employment, then attempting a loving correction of her methods, then attempting other suitable approaches. I'm very cautious about associating demonic motives to people, especially before other avenues of understanding have been exhausted. I agree with his point one, that reason is an important tool to curb emotional responses that get us in trouble. Yet it seems that targeting lawyers is a fruitless tack, one more likely to draw attention away from the problem: victims, their abusers, and the enablers of abuse. We might suspect a victim's ally has ulterior motives for seeking substantial damages which damage the Church in turn. But lacking evidence, the "good Christian" approach is to hold our tongue when tempted to go on the attack. For the record, I'm a bit alarmed at the direction the bankruptcy strategy has turned out. Most dioceses have enough property assets outside of parishes so that it doesn't seem likely lots of parishes will be affected. But still, small and unstable parishes might be asked to close, and the doubts might surface in some minds: is this because of the abuse settlements or is it because of the changing demographics in cities and rural areas? Again, we might think the bishop is doing wrong, but CCC 2478 comes into play again. I remember when the Brown family won the civil suit against OJ and he had to cough up many personal possessions. Would it help to have bishops and priest-abusers turn in their personal liturgical items: chalices, vestments, etc.? After their main or vacation residences were sold off? Or their automobiles, libraries, or other possessions? That might give some a certain visceral satisfaction. And maybe it would be justice. But I might wonder about the "feeling" it would generate. Like Curmudgeon, I'm distrustful of aggressive pleasures. Had bishops come clean with victims and their families these past several decades, I doubt there would be much argument if the Church approached these people with a sincere apology, with action taken to isolate the predator, and a question of what could be done to make amends. I doubt the acts of satisfaction would have mounted to anywhere near the sums being asked for in civil suits. The bishops misjudged the situation, and by civil law, someone must pay. I don't think sex abuse victims will find full solace in cash awards. Our society encourages people to play the victim card, and I think Curmudgeon is right to point it out, but I think he also falls into the trap of adopting the victim mentality on behalf of the Church and its donors. The job of the Church and its pastors is to demonstrate reconciliation: offer it, facilitate it, model it, and mean it sincerely. Seems to me that greater riches are being squandered than mere bricks and mortar and land around a bankrupt diocese.
How To Get A Comment Out of Me
As it is my new practice to severely limit my postings on other blogs' discussion boxes (maximum of one, if at all) I must naturally leave conversations hanging--if I'm going to remain true to my resolution, that is. However, I have no compulsions against making replies here on my web site. My usual practice here is to post something and occasionally jump in. If a response requires a more in-depth response in turn, I'll begin a new post. So if you want to start something, feel free to e-mail me (link in the comment box below) and I'll happily respond: in person, if you wish, or in public unless you tell me not to. You can ask me about liturgy: mine, yours, and/or ours or about any topic you think you might find my opinion interesting. If you have an interesting notion yourself, I would not be above posting it on CS with some commentary.
Challenger Remembered
... in lots of places online and elsewhere, but this analysis by James Oberg was one of the more important I read today.
California Dreamin' This Was Not
I just had to pass along this liturgical horror story. I was passing by the cathedral and looked in on some big liturgy. While viewing from the side, I was motioned to come into the sanctuary by the bishop's master of ceremonies. Somehow, I had on a server alb, and before I knew it I was handling incense. Decorations around the altar were stacked so high I couldn't see to the other side. I retrieved the thurible from the MC and waited (it was the silence after Communion) for the signal from the bishop. I couldn't understand how or why I'd managed to get involved in this liturgy. I wasn't even sure what it was for. Instead of incense, the MC gave me a container of a fluffy, hairy dark gray substance. It looked like it was already burned. "What kind of incense is this?" I asked. "Peyote," came the reply. "The bishop's suggestion." While my mind was swimming, trying to determine why, the bishop caught my eye and was motioning me -- I thought -- back to the MC. This is better. I hadn't rehearsed any of this, and while at first I was confident I could perform the role, the interjection of peyote into the mix was a little unsettling. Soon, the bishop is nearly in a sprint across the other side of the sanctuary and he's calling out loud for incense. I have to run to catch up. Swishing the thurible a little too enthusiastically, some dirt pours out of a poinsettia pot at the top of a stack of decoration. Additionally, some of the fluffy stuff pours out of the smoke holes at the top, mixes with the dirt, and burns his chasuble. In my mind, I get the idea of napalm rather than peyote because the stuff seems so sticky. The Mass comes to an abrupt end with the bishop leading the procession out, and I'm finding my way out the side door to find where I had left my change of clothing. That's how I remember it upon waking up this morning. That's what I get for reading Marc Eliot's biography of the Eagles, To The Limit. Bedtime snacks don't seem to influence this kind of night cinema, but for the record I had a bowl of granola and milk before sleep. Dreams are for the dreamers, I've believed. This episode has less to do with the characters than about me. But if there are any amateur interpreters out there who'd like to take a stab at it, be my guest.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Booking It
Blogging live from the Johnson County Library today. Not much to report. Tons--literally tons of good books. The first thing I do when I move to a new town is get a library card. Here in KC, I have three: one for the burbs on the Kansas side, one for KC, MO proper, and one for the Mid-Continent system (sort of the suburbs on the Missouri side). Everybody should use their friendly neighborhood public libraries. Often. When I lived in the NW suburbs of Chicago I'd often get to Rockford for a diocesan meeting. Instead of taking the Northwest Tollway, I'd drive the back roads, mostly US 20. Marengo was a nice little town (I hope it's not a suburb of Chicago yet) in those days and had a charming old building devoted to housing the town library. I recall periodicals stuffed onto shelves, a musty sort of smell, and not much in the way of technology (it was only 1991, after all) but it was a very enjoyable place to read a book. I was reading about that Laker season ticket holder who had a birthday party to attend and missed Kid Kobe's 81 points last week. Turns out that 44 years ago the same guy had scored tickets for the Knicks-Warriors clash at Hersheypark Arena. But one of his profs scheduled a test the next day, so he gave the tickets away. That was the night Wilt netted 100 for the home team borrowed from Philly. Two players. 181 points. One no-show common to both. Well, friends, the ladies of the house are quietly reading books in that other corner over there. I'm heading to the fiction section to hunt down a few reads for the weekend. So go stick your nose in a book.
Two Poems on Iraq There are subjects on which I would blog more, if I only knew how. One is Iraq. I can direct you to the Evangelical theologian David Gushee's "Against Torture," a fuller version of an article in Christianity Today. Gushee argues against torture because it violates the intrinsic dignity of the human being, mistreats the vulnerable, places too much power in the hands of the government, dehumanizes the torturer, and erodes the character of the nation that tortures. (I posted on torture here; you will have to scroll down to "The Problem with Torture.") But on Iraq more generally, I would just like to share two poems by Brian Turner, from his recent collection Here, Bullet. Turner served in the US Army for seven years, and was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq. These poems, written in Iraq, are more eloquent than anything that I could ever say. The Baghdad Zoo Is the world safer? No. It's not safer in Iraq. -Hans Blix An Iraqi northern brown bear mauled a man on a street corner, dragging him down an alley as shocked onlookers shouted and threw stones. Tanks rolled their heavy tracks past the museum and up to the Ministry of Oil. A gunner watched a lion chase down a horse. Eaten down to their skeletons, the giraffes looked prehistoric, unreal, their necks too fragile, too graceful for the 21st Century. Dalmatian pelicans and marbled teals flew over, frightened by the rotorwash of Blackhawk helicopters touching down. One baboon escaped the city limits. It was found wandering in the desert, confused by the wind, the blowing sands of the barchan dunes. _____ 16 Iraqi Policemen The explosion left a hole in the roadbed large enough to fit a mid-sized car. It shattered concrete, twisted metal, busted storefront windows in sheets and lifted a BMW chassis up onto a rooftop. The shocking blood of the men forms an obscene art: a moustache, alone on a sidewalk, a blistered hand's gold ring still shining, while a medic, Doc Lopez, pauses to catch his breath, to blow it out hard, so he might cup the left side of a girl's face in one hand, gently, before bandaging the half gone missing. Allah must wander in the crowd as I do, dazed by the pure concussion of the blast, among sirens, voices of the injured, the boots of running soldiers, not knowing whom to touch first, for the dead policemen cannot be found, here a moment before, then vanished.
A White Wedding Day Tale
My sweetie is still sleeping, so I may have time to sneak another post or two on the site before it's time to rustle up some breakfast. School faculty inservice today, so Brit is happily playing in her room. Later I think we have a trip to the public library and maybe a used bookstore on the north side. As you can see from the tag, this was not our wedding day, but it looked a lot like it. (Brittany and I did get in some great sledding on this one!) We pondered a 20 January wedding, but our new pastor Msgr Bleich would be in the middle of his annual post-Christmas vacation. He was take aback that we would schedule our wedding around his schedule. We did know priests from afar, but as Anita and I had hoped to get married at Sunday Mass, we knew that would be problematic for many of our old friends. (My second choice was a Friday night wedding, but a parish Mass was an easy choice for both of us.) The day before the wedding, the whiteout conditions were fun, I'll tell you. It was like driving on a well-floured countertop. My wife's friend Nancy had arrived the day before to assist with the packing of Anita's apartment and merging it into my bachelor pad. (Ha! Anita's cats had already decided they preferred my place to hers. And I think I had already accumulated the VCR, tv set, and various appliances.) It was good for us we had planned simply and economically. Our photographer lived a bit north of town, but she assured us by phone she would get there. The DJ was another story. We had engaged one lady to play music after dinner. She got sick. She called us though, and told us she'd lined up a good friend to replace her. When I got to the KC hall after Mass, I introduced myself, calling him by the wrong name. It turned out that DJ #1 had slipped on the ice in front of his house and injured his back. We realized we weren't the only ones to experience adventures. Someone's car stalled out in the entrance to the apartment building parking lot and by Saturday morning, the snow had drifted up to the top of the car, stranding everybody who lived in our building. Actually everybody on the street was pretty much stranded. Two snow plows got stuck that day. Nancy took a shot of Anita heading into the whiteout with a shovel trying to dig out the stalled car. Fortunately, our sponsor couple had a solution to get us to the church on time. Bob was a pharmacist and had a serious vehicle he used to make rural deliveries. He expertly steered around the two parked snow plows and whisked us off to the parish a few hours before our 5:15 wedding. My best man was not as timely. He and his wife had driven from Michigan and they stalled out near the Quad Cities. They and our other Michigan friend Dan had their own adventure getting to the wedding. My buddies finally showed up around 4:30. But you can imagine Anita was in something of a panic by then. As a liturgist, I knew that we could get anybody in the congregation to sign up as our official witness. But still ... you like to have your ducks in a row on things like your wedding day. The snow stopped falling by mid-Saturday. But it was bone-chilling cold. We had the usual full church for Saturday night Mass--much happier than if we had scheduled a separate Mass, for most of our out-of-town guests from back east had been stranded in airports or had flights cancelled. To this day, I feel a bit sad when people get married in small liturgies. I'm sure the joys of the day overwhelm them and these weddings are specially memorable for them. But there's nothing like a full church to back you up on your wedding day. Even if the weather outside is frightful.
No Tin or Aluminum, Please
This British site tallies the various wedding anniversary traditions.

Traditional 10th wedding anniversary presents have a theme of Aluminium and Tin.

That's what I remembered from my Dad's list. What's the thought here, people: wrap something tin in aluminum foil, or something aluminum in tin foil?

A contemporary or modern 10th anniversary present has a theme of Diamond Jewellery.

I'd expect a jeweller to say that. Anita actually prefers emeralds. The flowers associated with the 10th anniversary are Daffodils

My wife also prefers she not be given flowers, as the cats tend to munch on such snacks and unless the dog gets to it first, she usually cleans up the resulting regurgitated mess.

The Gemstone list shows Black Onyx associated with this Wedding Anniversary

I didn't know they had a gemstone list, but that makes sense. Where else to put the neglected onyx, peridot, and the other semi-precious crystals? Have you heard the old folk poem? If not, here it is:

January - Marry when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind and true. February - When February birds do mate, you wed nor dread your fate. March - If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you'll know. April- Marry in April if you can, joy for maiden and for man. May - Marry in the month of May, you will romance the day. June - Marry when June roses grow and over land and sea you'll go. July - Those who in July do wed must labour for their daily bread. August - Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see. September - Marry in September's shine so that your life is rich and fine. October - If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry. November - If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember! December - When December's snows fall fast, marry and your love will last.


Rhea on Display
You can get a little more Rhea info here if you care to do so. This image was enhanced with filters gathering light from the infrared and ultraviolet, so is a little more colorful than it would be through normal human eyesight. Here's a close-in view from earlier in 2005:
It looks like the moon, but don't be fooled (those of you with IR or UV vision probably weren't). This is mostly all ice with just a dash of dust and dirt. By observing how much a moon will bend the path of a passing spacecraft, scientists can determine its mass. Figuring in a known diameter, it's easy to arrive at a density. Once you know the density, you can classify the body quickly. Earth, with a heavy core of iron and nickel comes out with a value of 5.5 grams per cc. The moon is about 3.3, so we deduce it has a significantly reduced iron core content. (In fact, the difference in densities was something of a clue as to the moon's origin.) Rhea is 1.33, putting it a bit above water (1.0). The deduction is that this celestial body ("sidus" in Latin) is ice laced with some impurities. It looks like the moon--mostly featureless gray--but from a distance dry dust and dirty ice look somewhat the same. Some of Saturn's moons have densities so low that ice cannot account for their lightweight quality. The moon Hyperion, for example, has a substantial portion of empty space. G. David Nordley's excellent short story "Into the Miranda Rift" (available on 1994's The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eleventh Annual Collection) explores the notion of probing the interior of such bodies by future spelunkers. Unlike Han and Princess Leia, they probably won't find monsters waiting to gorge themselves on the Millennium Falcon, but I imagine the delights of geological discovery might surpass what earthbound cave explorers enjoy today.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Jacques Maritain, Thomas Merton, and Bob Dylan The most recent New Republic has a review article on the great French Catholic intellectual Jacques Maritain by the literary critic Joseph Frank, prompted by the English translation of Jean-Luc Barré's biography of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain and the publication of the Jesuit Stephen Schloesser's book on Jazz Age Catholicism in France. Here are a couple short excerpts from the review: The memoirs amply cited by Barré contain many descriptions of the peculiar sympathetic radiance that emanated from Maritain's personality, often described as "saintly," and as seeming "to have stepped down from the porch of a cathedral." It is this aura that allowed him to exercise so powerful an influence on so many diverse and fiercely independent figures. Maritain himself was soft-spoken, reticent, and even hesitantly awkward; there was nothing at all commanding, impressive, or even self-assured about him. I know this from my own experience, having met him several times during the later years of my life. But there was an all-embracing quality irresistibly conveyed by his personality that I had never encountered before and have not encountered since. I remember casual conversations during which, it seemed to me, nothing in the world had become more important for him than listening to my trivial words with rapt attention. It was then that I began to understand his remarkable success in making conversions, not only in France but also in the United States (Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon, for example). It also helped to explain his ability to establish firm friendships with an incredible variety of Americans, including not only Walter Lippmann but also John Howard Griffin, the crusading white journalist who traveled through the American South as a black after darkening his skin, and Dorothy Day, the ex-communist founder of the Catholic Workers Movement, and Saul Alinsky, the hard-nosed Jewish labor leader. ... Maritain returned for a last visit to the United States in 1966 to say farewell to old friends and to visit the grave of his sister-in-law Vera buried in Princeton. At the same time he went to see others, one of whom was the poet and monk Thomas Merton. The latter regaled him with recordings of Bob Dylan, "whom he [Merton] considers a great poet, a modern Villon. What a strange scene it is," writes the friend accompanying Maritain, "listening in the monastery of Gethsemani to the hard and expressive voice of a young rebel poet. Jacques likes 'The Gates of Heaven' especially." (This is probably a mistaken reference to 'Gates of Eden.') It is with such an appealing image, which seems to unite so many of the seemingly clashing facets of Maritain's remarkable personality, that we can best grasp the secret of his astonishing career.
Outmaneuvered
But don't let it get to you. The usual St Blog's suspects have posted on Michael Schiavo's marriage to the woman with whom he's lived for the past several years. It's an outrage, and all, most are saying. But is it? Is it really? I can't help but see a streak of misplaced and unhealthy vengeance in those who have renewed their criticism of Schiavo, his new wife, the priest who married them, the bishop, and just about anybody else who gets in the way of self-righteous anger. May I make a suggestion? Give this one a rest. Here's why: 1. Schiavo said he intended to marry the woman who has borne their children once he was free to do so. If there was a canonical problem with the validity of this marriage, why weren't the armchair canon lawyers in operation before this? Why wait until after the vows? 2. Are we not glad that a cohabiting couple has made their relationship a regular and moral one? The outrage seems misplaced when it criticizes an attempt to resolve what would appear to be an immoral situation. 3. By bringing the pro-Terri crowd to life again and get involved in canon law, this has ceased to be a pro-life issue. And as an issue of Church law (which may or may not apply to this case) it draws attention and energy away from authentic issues for which human beings are dying this very minute: abortion, human trafficking, unjust wars, etc.. I'm not saying the only good outrage to muster is on life issues, mind you. But I don't think you can call it a pro-life issue, no matter how little we might thinnk of Michael Schiavo. 4. Schiavo did all he could to minimize the publicity on this one. While some might say he's pulled a fast one on the Church ... again ... I'm thinking that modesty and decorum on the issue has been torpedoed by his detractors. 5. The exaggerated claims made in attacking him have resurfaced. That should tell you this is a dogfight to stay out of. I've already read someone who questioned how his once-divorced new wife could get an annulment so quickly. Easy answer: if she and Schiavo had planned to wed, she had years to procure the procedure. Why make suggestions that the bishop, the tribunal, and the parish priest are involved in a conspiracy to pour salt in a pro-life wound? It's not always about you. This uproar boils down to simple gossip. Not much more. Canon lawyers think they have the law on their side, but guess what: you're too late. Pro-lifers may see the connection, but though it may hurt to admit it, Schiavo is more or less a private citizen now and there is no longer a pro-life issue connected with him. And if Schiavo is truly and deeply evil, he's pretty much out of reach of those outraged by him. He can continue to be the target of attempts that only serve to make his detractors look bad. Eventually, one must come to grips with losing, and attempt to do so with grace.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 12

Gaudium et Spes Part I, Chapter I is titled, "The Dignity Of The Human Person" and runs for eleven sections. I'll transcribe the full footnote into the text, for your convenience.

According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to (humanity) as their center and crown.

I was struck by this. Environmentalist-leaning people might dispute it. Radical traditional Catholics, too, probably. But the notion is Scriptural. Let's leave it aside for the moment, unless somebody feels urged to make a strong case for the Green side.

But what is (humanity)? About (themselves they have) expressed, and (continue) to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these (they) often (exalt themselves) as the absolute measure of all things or (debase themselves) to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety. The Church certainly understands these problems. Endowed with light from God, she can offer solutions to them, so that (humankind's) true situation can be portrayed and (their) defects explained, while at the same time (their) dignity and destiny are justly acknowledged.

More of the same theme from the introduction: an acknowledgement of the created goodness of humanity, yet the helping hand of understanding and clarity is offered. The rest of GS 12 turns to Scripture to provide the theological basis for this contention:

For Sacred Scripture teaches that (people were) created "to the image of God," (are) capable of knowing and loving (their) Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures (Cf. Gen. 1:26, Wis. 2;23) that (they) might subdue them and use them to God's glory. (Cf. Sir. 17:3-10) "What (are we) that you should care for (us)? You have made (us) little less than the angels, and crowned (us) with glory and honor. You have given (us) rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under (our) feet" (Ps. 8:5-7).

But God did not create (human beings) as a solitary, for from the beginning "male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by his innermost nature (humans are social beings), and unless (they relate themselves) to others (they) can neither live nor develop (their) potential.

Therefore, as we read elsewhere in Holy Scripture God saw "all that he had made, and it was very good" (Gen. 1:31).

In sum, we have a statement of which Matthew Fox would approve. Overall, the document takes this original aspect of creation as a launching point for what follows. Our longing for God and for right relationships with God and one another will color how the Church sees its relatinship with the modern world. Thoughts?


Eros and Agape Like many of you, I'm reading Pope Benedict's encyclical, a process that will take quite a while. After the conclusion of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I'll reduce my posting here to a level more appropriate to both my time and intelligence. But I wanted to post an initial reflection on the first part of the encyclical that might strike an ecumenical chord. Pope Benedict writes, "An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in 'ecstasy' towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns." The Pope is writing against the "divine madness" of the Greek eros and the attempts of moderns to recover an eros that they saw as "poisoned" or turned to "bitterness" by Christianity's prohibitions. The encyclical, then, is consistent with the work of the then-Cardinal Ratzinger who, as Antonio Socci claimed, “more than once developed the idea that Christianity entered the world as the true ‘Enlightenment,’ which disperses the fog of superstition and the claim to divinity on the part of power and violence.” The then-Cardinal wrote about religion in our times, "Its disappearance is no longer anticipated; on the contrary, various new forms of it are growing luxuriantly" - and promising their own ascents, some undoubtedly intoxicated and undisciplined. And, today, "the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence." Christianity's demythologizing task is not finished. In an 1977 article, the Protestant minister and theologian W.A. Visser 't Hooft, the first General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, wrote that "the historic mission of Israel and, following Israel, of the Christian Church is to challenge the gods, to de-sacralize life and so to make the way free for the meeting with the one God who demands exclusive faithfulness." About eros, Visser 't Hooft had this to say: Neo-paganism demands the rehabilitation and emancipation of Eros which has been suppressed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. But we must ask whether Eros by itself is a reliable guide for the creation of deep and permanent human relations. The modern protest against the disqualification of Eros in the tradition of the church and in various forms of moralism is not without justification. In Christian theology and teaching, Eros has seldom been treated as a normal and basic constituent element of human existence, but as a dangerous and evil force. This was, of course, due to the fact that in the ancient pagan world Eros had been the object of worship, and the nature of eros-love was essentially different from the nature of agape-love, the love characteristic of the Christian life. Now in our day, Eros takes its revenge. Eros refuses to be ignored any longer. Some declare that the time has come to combine religion and eroticism, since "both have the same aim: They want to change man and seek his re-birth" (Walter Schubart). Others are convinced that in order to serve Eros we must reject the God of the Bible. In this situation the message of the Christian Church is lacking in clarity. We know that Eros must not be allowed to be in sole charge of human relations. For Eros is finally self-seeking and so its victories are often Pyrrhic; the victor does not reap any fruit of his victory. Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence's friend and himself an apostle of Eros, spoke a true word when he said of Lady Chatterley's Lover that it was "a beautiful, but inexpressibly sad book." The qualification applies even more to the literature by lesser writers of the pan-erotic school. It is, then, clear that Eros needs Agape. The very best we have in our tradition concerning the relations between men and women is inspired by Agape, very especially the definite commitment of two human beings to each other as faithful partners for life. But we have not yet done our homework on the question of what can and must be the place of Eros in the lives of men and women who want to be instruments of the God-given Agape. The debate between Anders Nygren, Karl Barth, Denis de Rougemont and others on Eros and Agape has not led to any conclusion that we can use in our evangelistic approach. Until we have a clear word on this deeper issue, we cannot deal helpfully with the acute moral issues of our time. One wonders why this crucial issue has not been taken more seriously at the ecumenical level.
Jesuit Conspiracy Debunked; Conservatives Pout
I confess. In the past, I would have multiple-posted on Mark Mossa's thread taking Richard John Neuhaus to the whippin' shed for a surprisingly dim attempt at conspiracy theory. Neuhaus responds today on his blog: Reacting to the same item in the current issue of First Things, a young man who I am told is a Jesuit scholastic goes on at some length in a widely circulated statement and concludes with: “Father Neuhaus and others need to wake up to the fact that the Society of Jesus is not engaged in some vast conspiracy to undermine the Church.” But of course not. I'm amazed that someone of Neuhaus' intellect can't be more forthright. If Neuhaus is really a scholar, he would've gone to the site, learned his adversary's name, and used it, avoiding affectations such as "who I am told is a Jesuit scholastic." All you have to do is read the site and you don't need anyone to tell you anything else. It's usually a good idea to come up with a better counterargument than: But of course not. So head on over to Mark's and watch him patiently treat the rabid anti-Jesuits that can come up with nothing better than suggestions to suppress the whole order.
Day 8 - The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity The passage chosen this year is taken from chapter 18 of Matthew's Gospel, which refers to some of the teachings of Jesus that affect the community of disciples. Among other things, it affirms: "If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:19-20). These words of the Lord Jesus infuse much confidence and hope! In particular, they invite Christians to ask God together for that full unity among them, for which Christ himself, with heartfelt insistence, prayed to the Father during the Last Supper (cf. John 17:11,21,23). We understand, therefore, the reason why it is so important that we, Christians, invoke the gift of unity with persevering constancy. If we do so with faith, we can be sure that our request will be heard. We do not know when or how, as it is not for us to know, but we must not doubt that one day we will be "one," as Jesus and the Father are united in the Holy Spirit. The prayer for unity is the soul of the ecumenical movement, which, thanks be to God, advances throughout the world. Of course difficulties and trials are not lacking, but these also have their spiritual usefulness, as they drive us to have patience and perseverance and to grow in fraternal charity. God is love and only if we are converted to him and accept his Word will we all be united in the one Mystical Body of Christ. --Pope Benedict XVI, "We Must Not Doubt That One Day We Will Be 'One,'" Angelus 22 January 2006 One in hope (John 14:20). Scripture Exodus 40:34-38, Throughout all their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle. Psalm 42, Hope in God, for I shall again praise him. Revelation 21:1-6, God himself will be with them. John 14:15-31, I will not leave you orphaned. Meditation The people of Israel were led by Moses through the desert. As they journeyed in the wilderness, God was present in a column of cloud by day and of fire by night. The theme of the psalm is a vital longing and hoping for the community of God which will take away all doubts and sorrows. The new people born out of the gospel is a pilgrim people, journeying towards the fullness of life in the new creation when God will dwell among us wiping away every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more. Pain and divisions are overcome. There will be one renewed and unified humanity in God. Now, however, we are together on the way. We have the same hope and belong to the one God. On our pilgrim way we are not desolate. Jesus has not left us orphans because the Spirit has been given to us. It is the Spirit of hope and the Spirit of love. The peace of Christ has been given to us, encouraging and leading us to remain in love. If we love Christ, we will keep his word. The theme of this week reminds us of Jesus’ promise: “where two or three are gathered in my name ...,” With Jesus, the eternal Word of God living among us, we travel together on a journey of hope. We can help one another to be faithful to this way. In the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ will introduce us more and more into the Father’s will of renewal. The reconciled and reconciling community to which we are committed in our ecumenical movement is a sign and an anticipation of the coming new creation. With God’s grace, we are on a journey to live now already as much as possible “on earth as it is in heaven.” Prayer Eternal Father, united in the name of Jesus, give us the certainty that despite everything, death will not win out, that our divisions will cease, that we will not give way to discouragement and that we will attain in hope to that fullness of life, love and light that you promise to those who love you and keep your word. Amen.
AFC Superiority?
When the big game comes along, I like to ponder the pedigree of the teams involved. Were they part of the original league? Expansion teams? Formerly in another city? This weekend I was thinking about the four NFL finalists, the two AFC teams and the two NFC teams. Where'd they come from? The NFC teams weren't part of that show twelve years ago. Carolina was added in the mid-90's, and Seattle was switched from the AFC West three years ago. So by mid-90's standards, the NFL final four were three AFC teams and an expansion squad. AFC superiority, right? But go back a little further. Most people don't remember that the Seahawks were originally an NFC team. That's right. In 1976, Seattle built a modest 2-12 record behind the Rams, 49ers, Falcons (whom they beat) and the Saints (whom they didn't) out in the NFC West. In '77 Seattle and Tampa Bay switched conferences and settled in new divisions for many years. The Steelers were part of the original three-team NFL cadre that went to flesh out the AFL when the two leagues merged in 1970. The Browns, Colts, and Steelers weren't too happy about getting reassigned with the upstarts. A good move, as it turned out, for the Colts remained competitive in those early 70's, with a Super Bowl appearance two years after the Jets beat them. The Steelers, of course, won those four trophies in the 70's. (An aside: the Colts and Browns were refugees themselves from the post-WWII AAFC. Those two teams, along with San Francisco were absorbed into the NFL in 1950. Without the AFL presence in Oakland, I wonder if the 49ers would've ended up as the third team to switch instead of Pittsburgh. The Browns and Steelers went as a unit to the AFC in 1970, which now makes sense. But I still wonder if the Colts weren't a better geographical choice than the Ravens to add to the AFC North. Peyton Manning would be on a higher learning curve playing the Steelers twice a year) Denver was the only original AFL team in the final four this year. But to a football fan of fifty years ago, only the Steelers would have been recognizable.
Crescent
Saturn as seen from Cassini yesterday. Distance about 1.8 million miles. If you want to get a sense of what the planet would look like with the unaided eye (but hopefully protected behind a porthole of some kind) lean back from your computer and put three fingers together at arms' length. Once Saturn's disk is as wide as your fingers (excluding rings) that will be about how the planet would look to an observer there. By comparison, Saturn would look about forty times as wide as the moon if it were the same distance away. 1.8 million miles is a bit more than seven times farther than that; giving us a nice yellow crescent about five-and-a-half times as wide as the moon is seen from earth. Keep in mind also that if you lived on a base on a moon closer than Titan, you would always see the rings like this: thin and edge on. All of Saturn's moons from Titan on in orbit in the same plane as the rings. What you would see is the shadow of the rings interrupt that lopsided crescent on a cycle of 29.5 earth years. Would you deduce it was the ring shadow, or would you think it to be something else going on on the planet?
The Encyclical
Go here, if you care to read it. See you in the library.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Deus Caritas Est: Maximus the Confessor and John Wesley We await tomorrow's release of Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. I assume that the initial reactions to Benedict’s meditation on love will be predictable – those predisposed to respond to papal documents with reverence and awe will discover those feelings once again, while their mirror opposites will point out the usual exclusions and grievances. But I suspect that, as time passes, many of us will find ourselves unexpectedly dissatisfied with the encyclical. Nearly all of our plans to heal the Body of Christ seem to involve a grisly sort of amputation. But when we are moved by love, we will see the weakest members of the body as indispensable, for we then know that we were loved by God and healed while we were ourselves unworthy. “Worthiness” ceases to be a term of division, because we are all conscious of being debtors. And, as Abba Isaiah says, “Every one of the body’s stronger limbs takes care of the weaker members in order to attend and care for them. But the cruel person who busies himself, asking: ‘What have I to do with the weak?’ does not belong to the body of Christ, because the strong sympathize with the weak until the latter are healed; and they say: ‘I am the weak one.’” Love is subversive, not in the least when it comes to ecclesiastical politics. One of the late Dominican friar Herbert McCabe’s sayings is therefore especially wise, “If you don’t love, you’re already dead; if you do love, you will be killed.” I would like to continue to meditate on love in preparation for Pope Benedict’s encyclical (which I won’t comment on immediately after it is released). Once more, I would like to do so in an ecumenical manner. The following excerpt comes from another interesting essay from Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality, this one written by the Methodist minister and theologian Kenneth Carveley: It is this pure universal love of God toward humankind, which for Wesley is the ground, and truth of the gospel. The human response to such love in both [Wesley and Maximus] is love for all humankind. The test of true religion for Wesley, the acid test for purity for Maximus, is whether within the believer there develops not only love for God but also an all-embracing love for others. Maximus says: … there is nothing that can make the human being who loves God ascend any higher, for all other ways of true religion are subordinate to it. This we know as love and so we call it, not divisively assigning one form of love to God and another to human beings, for it is one and the same and universal: owed to God and attaching human beings to one another. For the activity and proof of perfect love towards God is genuine disposition of goodwill towards one’s neighbor (1 Jn 4:20). [Letter 2. To John the Cubicularius] The one who loves God cannot help but love also everyone as himself even though he is displeased by the passions of those who are not yet purified. Thus when he sees their conversion and amendment he rejoices with unbounded and unspeakable joy. The one who loves God surely loves his neighbor as well. Such a person cannot hold onto money but rather gives it out in God’s fashion to each one who has need. [Here Methodists may well recall Wesley’s sermon on the “Use of Money.”] The work of love is the deliberate doing of good to one’s neighbor as well as long-suffering and patience and the use of all things in the proper way. [Century I] Wesley says: Dost thou now believe? Then the love of God is now shed abroad in thy heart. Thou lovest him because he first loved us. And because thou lovest God thou lovest thy brother also. And being filled with “love, peace, joy,” thou art also filled with “long-suffering, gentleness, fidelity, goodness, meekness, temperance” and other fruits of the Spirit, in a word, whatever dispositions are holy, are heavenly or divine. For while thou “beholdest with open uncovered face (the veil now being taken away), the glory of the Lord,” his glorious love, and the glorious image wherein thou wast created, thou art changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord. So for Wesley the love of God shed abroad in the heart leads to the mount of Transfiguration and the renewal of the image of God in us. As enjoined by the Lord, such love extends to enemies and is made perfect in the witness of loving those who may not return it. This is so both for Maximus and Wesley. Maximus: But I say to you, says the Lord, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who mistreat you. Why did he command this? To free you from hatred, grief, anger and resentment, and to make you worthy of the supreme gift of perfect love. And you cannot attain such love, if you do not imitate God and love all men equally. Wesley: “Love your enemies” see that you bear a tender good will to those who are most bitter of spirit against you: who wish you all manner of evil … “Bless them that curse you” … “Do good to them that hate you”: let your actions show that you are as real in love, as they in hatred … In patience, in longsuffering, in mercy, in beneficence of every kind, to all, even to our bitterest persecutors: “be ye” Christians “perfect,” in kind, though not in degree, “even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48). For him and for Maximus, training in love means to learn to love as God loves. As Charles Wesley puts it: Pure, universal Love thou art; To me, to all, Thy mercies move: Thy nature and Thy name is Love.
Day 7 - The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Ecumenism rests on the conviction that there is one church whose members are deeply related to one another thanks to what God has done in Jesus Christ-no matter how strange we may seem to one another. The ecumenical task, to put it another way, is not to create unity but to make God's gift visible. ... I love the way that William Temple, great leader of the Anglican communion and the ecumenical movement, once put it: "Those who have nothing in common do not deplore their estrangement." It is because we are one in Christ that we lament the scandal of competing denominations. It is because we have been commonly welcomed that we welcome one another, not just tolerate one another but welcome one another, ecumenically. Of course, there are important theological differences (as well as cultural differences) that make Christians feel like strangers to one another. But the hard work of reaching a common mind is a consequence of our fundamental communion in Christ, not a prerequisite for it. Ecumenical dialogues often suggest that unity (communion) is dependent on our agreement-but this is simply a form of works righteousness. The logic of the gospel is not "if we love our neighbor, then God will love us." Rather, "because God loves us, we are freed and empowered to love our neighbor." In the same way, the logic of the ecumenical movement is not "if we agree, then we will have communion." Rather, "because we are one in Christ, we are freed and empowered to seek common mind on those matters that have kept us apart." Welcome one another because Christ has welcomed us. Then, work together on building up the body. It is this theological insight that gives the movement its prophetic edge. U.S. Christians are bound in one fellowship with Cuban Christians and Iraqi Christians, whether we like it or not. Welcoming them is not an option on which we get to vote. Protestant Christians are related by blood to Catholic Christians, whether we recognize it or not. Welcoming the other is not our accomplishment, but our thankful response to the good news of God's reconciliation. Rich Christians cannot say, "I have no need of you" to those who are poor. We are one body in Christ, and we are called to express that relationship through tangible acts of welcome--not charity but welcome. -- Michael Kinnamon, Welcoming the Stranger: Defining the Heart of the Ecumenical Movement April 10, 2000 Recognizing and welcoming God's presence in the other in Jesus' name (Matthew 18: 5). Scripture Exodus 3: 1-17, The burning bush. Psalm 34, The Lord saves the crushed in spirit. Acts 9: 1-6, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus is present in our neighbor. Meditation When God announced that he would liberate the people of Israel from slavery, leading them out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey, he made known his presence to Moses from within the burning bush which was never consumed by fire. Thus the people are assured of the presence of the God of their fathers: “I am who I am.” This is no distant, uncaring God but a presence and a person concerned with the fate of his chosen people. God would later confirm the nature of his being in the person of his son, Jesus Christ, who reminds us that we must become like little children if we wish to enter the kingdom! It is not in the great of this world that we should first seek Christ but in the innocence of little children (and those who have become like them in innocence and humility). In welcoming them into our midst, we welcome the Christ. Jesus gives us further assurance of his presence with us when we keep his word; when two or three come together in his name; and with those who are persecuted for his sake. Above all, as Christians who obey Jesus’ command at the last supper to “do this in remembrance of me,” – and although we might not agree on the exact nature of Jesus' presence – we believe (at the very least) that he is present in our hearts and minds. As we feed the hungry, tend the sick, visit the prisoners, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger we also care for and welcome Jesus. The World Council of Churches was set up (in part) in 1948 in response to the urgent need for Christians to collaborate in the task of reconciliation and caring for those whose lives had been devastated by World War II. The diaconal and ecumenical task continues with as much urgency today. At the same time, theologians struggle to find the way towards greater unity within the church. Here too “stranger” is a key word. Jesus told us that we should love our neighbor in all his otherness. This clear instruction to recognize that the stranger, the other, belongs to Christ however different he or she may be is a fundamental clue as to how we can embrace and pursue the ecumenical task. If we recognize the presence of Christ in the stranger from another church tradition we need not fear him or his intentions. Instead we might learn from him and he from us. In this way, we advance along the road to unity. It is in our awareness of Jesus' continuing presence in so many different ways that we recognize that he is indeed part of our lives. Not just a figure in history who taught us how we should live, but through the Holy Spirit he is present and active in the world today. Prayer Eternal Father, grant us to recognize your presence among us in different ways that our desire for true community in our own churches and society may be increased, and our prayer for unity within the body of Christ, your church, may be ever more fervent. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
New Monasteries
A brief Zenit piece on monastery foundation in the Third World. The tropics hold little geographical interest for me, as you might guess, but my wife and I are on the mailing and donor list for Tautra, nearing completion of their new building project on an island off the coast of central Norway. Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch. It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, To eat bread earned by hard toil-- all this God gives to his beloved in sleep. Psalm 127:1-2

Monday, January 23, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 11: To the Heart of the Document

Part I of Gaudium et Spes is entitled "The Church and Man's Calling" And yes, we're just getting to Part I. (Don't be alarmed; the document contains only 93 sections.)

The People of God believes that it is led by the Lord's Spirit, Who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other(s) of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design over (the total human vocation), and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.

Okay. So faith is a motivating factor for looking out, not exclusively within. Note also that non-believers are part of God's plan. And thirdly, the Church is to seek "fully human" solutions to modern challenges. What does this last point mean? Humanistic in a Christian sense, certainly. "Solutions" that treat not only the spiritual calling to which all people are invited, but also the physical and psychological aspects of the human condition.

This council, first of all, wishes to assess in this light those values which are most highly prized today and to relate them to their divine source. Insofar as they stem from endowments conferred by God on (people), these values are exceedingly good. Yet they are often wrenched from their rightful function by the taint in (the human) heart, and hence stand in need of purification.

This is constructive: looking at the values (labelled "exceedingly good") in harmony with God, yet realizing that the taint is a problem also with believers. In this sense, Christians and non-Christians alike stand before God with certain positive values which reflect the divine, but we also stand in God's presence as sinful beings, sharing the tendency to pervert grace and sully what God would affirm in us.

What does the Church think of (people)? What needs to be recommended for the upbuilding of contemporary society? What is the ultimate significance of human activity throughout the world? People are waiting for an answer to these questions. From the answers it will be increasingly clear that the People of God and the human race in whose midst it lives render service to each other. Thus the mission of the Church will show its religious, and by that very fact, its supremely human character.

Catch that? Mutual service to one another. A human relationship between believers and non-believers.

Comments?


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