Tuesday, March 31, 2015

To Love God is to Know Him (From Nisi Dominus)

How do we know He’s there?
     In our present skeptical age Christians are often asked how we can know that God is there?  What and how we know is, of course, the matter of epistemology and related branches of philosophy, and the vast majority of us don’t have the academic training to engage in high-powered epistemological debate.    Nonetheless, we all conduct our lives guided by things we know are true, and reject others as false, and we Christians stake everything on certain very definite truth claims.  How can we justify our confidence in Christian Truth in a clear but comprehensible way that does not require formal philosophical training?

How do we know at all?

     We need to start with the understanding that the prevailing world-view today, even among many people who don’t consciously embrace materialism, is materialistic.  It’s just assumed that we can only know about things that can be observed, measured, and be proven using what we might call “scientific” proof.

The Holy Trinity: One God, three Persons in loving relationship

     How does one respond to this fairly common point of view?  I’ve discussed a number or approaches to this problem on previous occasions (see below); here’s a more comprehensive tack . . .

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus) 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Passion Sunday: Pick Up Your Cross . . .

Passion Sunday     

Today’s liturgical observance is officially called “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.”  The name reflects the dual nature of the liturgy, as the Mass is preceded by a procession with palms in commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but the readings include one of the Gospel accounts (this year St. Mark’s) of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

     My “inner Pharisee” is sometimes tempted to think that this pre-figuring of Good Friday before the fact  is much like the practice of moving Ascension Thursday to a Sunday in order to catch people who can’t be bothered to show up in church on a week day, but that is not the case.  Even if there weren't many people who have jobs that won’t allow participation in the Good Friday liturgy, or are kept away for other reasonable causes, there are good reasons to turn to the events of the Passion before the Triduum, and the practice goes back further than one might think.  Prior to Vatican II the second Sunday before Easter was known as Passion Sunday (as is still the case, of course, in the Extraordinary Rite), which introduced the Passiontide, a two week period of more intense focus on the suffering and death of Jesus; in combining it with Palm Sunday, we have actually moved Passion Sunday a week closer to Good Friday. Christ’s self-sacrifice at Calvary is one of the most important events in the Liturgical Year, and really one of the most significant events in all of human history, so it is fitting that we don't just pass over it in a day or two. Placing the Passion at the center of this Sunday’s liturgy gives the direction for the rest of Holy Week, so that we’re already in the proper frame of mind before we reach the culminating events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday
     Combining Passion Sunday with Palm Sunday also gives us an interesting and, I think, fruitful perspective on the events leading up to the Crucifixion.  Very many, at least, of the people singing “hosanna” as Jesus rode into Jerusalem were not cheering for the real Jesus but for a fantasy Messiah who, they thought, would be a very worldly savior.   Many of these same people, most likely, were calling for his crucifixion a few days later.  Moving from the Palms to the Passion in the same liturgy helps drive home that reality for us, and our participation in both ends of the process reminds us (or should, at least) of our own complicity in the Crucifixion of Jesus (for more on this point, see my post “Palm Sunday: Who Are Those Cheering People?”).

     Too often we try to take shortcuts to rewards of various kinds without doing the hard work that those rewards require; today we are reminded that if we want Christ as our King, we need to pick up our cross and follow him.

Week Links

     Shortly after I started blogging, I was invited by RAnn of This That and the Other Thing to participate in Sunday Snippets, a weekly Catholic link-swapping sort of thing.  RAnn has recently hung up her snippetting hat after long and faithful service (thanks again, RAnn), but old habits die hard, and I’ve grown accustomed to compiling a Sunday Summary of the week’s bloggery.  So, please feel free take a scroll through the links below: who knows? You might find something worth reading.

Tuesday – “Sins of the Fathers . . . And of Kings” The Christian burial (530 years late) of England’s Richard III got me thinking: how different would the past half-millenium have been if a couple of his fellow monarchs were less prone to sins of the flesh?  

Wednesday – “Let It Be Done To Me According ToThy Word”  The Annunciation Big things come from small beginnings.

Thursday – “History, Culture, and Narcissism” According to Albert Einstein, “God does not place dice with the World”. Nor does he with History: the Greco-Roman roots of Christendom are no accident. 

Friday – “Abortion Myth #7” It’s easy to throw words around, but whose choice and whose body are questions the pro-abortion people would rather we didn’t ask. 

Saturday -  My penultimate music clip for Lent is “So Now My Jesus Is Taken Prisoner” from Bach’s  St. Matthew Passion

and -  My final music clip for Lent is “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion  

Palm Sunday: Who Are Those Cheering People? (From Nisi Dominus)

There’s something a little unsettling about Palm Sunday.  It appears that the same people who welcome Jesus as a victorious king at the beginning of the week are screaming for his death by its end.  I’ve heard a number of possible explanations. I read once (I’m sorry to say I can no longer remember where) that the supporters greeting Him with palm fronds and hosannas on Sunday may not have been the angry mob demanding his crucifixion on Friday.

Hippolyte Flandrin, Christ's Entry Into Jerusalem

     There may be some small element of truth to this theory, but I can’t help but think that there must have been a very significant overlap between the two groups.  How likely is it that the entire mass of people who were so enthusiastic just a few days earlier would simply stay away from their new king’s trial?  I find the more traditional explanation more likely, that a large portion, at least, of the first crowd had soured on the whole Jesus phenomenon over the intervening days . . . 

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"So Now My Jesus Has Been Taken Prisoner" - Bach, St. Matthew Passion

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy week.  Now we start to focus more directly on the suffering and death of Jesus, as in this clip from Bach's St. Matthew Passion: "So now my Jesus has been taken prisoner . . . "

Dirck van Baburen, The Arrest of Christ
(My final music clip for Lent is “O Sacred Head SoreWounded” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, on the Nisi Dominus blog

Thursday, March 26, 2015

History, Culture, And Narcissism (From Nisi Dominus)

Dante and Vergil in Hell
Whose Culture Is It?

 There’s an interesting piece at The Catholic Thing [here] by David Warren called “The Counter-Culture”. I find myself agreeing with his conclusion, but not with everything he says along the way.  Warren takes issue with those Catholics who disparage Western Civilization, and insists that the Church is the author of that civilization, however much it might owe to previous societies (just how much is included in that “however much” is the rub; more on that in a moment), as well as secularists who tout an oddly non-Christian interpretation of it.  He concludes that championing that culture, and particularly its Christian dimension, is the only way to counter the rapidly decaying culture of secularism that has grown up around us in recent decades.

It's Both/And, Not Either/Or

     So far, so good.  Problems arise, however, when Warren attempts to counter secularists who would draw a direct line from Greco-Roman times that, somehow, skips over the heavily Christian period from about A.D. 300 to 1968.  Warren goes overboard, however . . . 

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Let It Be Done To Me According To Thy Word"

     I’ve often admired the stained glass window depicting the Annunciation that looks down on the sanctuary in my local cathedral.  We see the young woman Mary, kneeling on the floor and surrounded by angels, while God the father looks down on her from above, sending forth a beam on which rests the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove.  God the Son is there, too, although we don’t see him, a human embryo in Mary’s womb, the Omnipotent Divine wrapped in mortal human flesh.  That’s how we encounter Jesus in the Gospels: the Eternal Word in human disguise; that’s how we receive him in the Holy Eucharist: the Second Person of the Trinity in the form of simple bread.  It’s a marvelous image to contemplate as we approach the Altar of the Lord to receive Holy Communion.
       Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated nine months before the Nativity of The Lord at Christmas.  I’ve often thought that, the current vogue for atheists and atheism notwithstanding, it’s not really that hard to believe in God.  What is difficult, very difficult in fact, is to believe that the Uncreated Creator of all Time and Space is the least bit interested in beings as small, short-lived, and insignificant as we appear to be in the vast sweep of the Universe.  That he should become a little human baby just so that he could suffer with us and die for us, well, this saying is hard; who could accept it (see John 6:60)?  And that’s not all: the Omnipotent God sought the consent of one little maiden in a small town in an insignificant corner of the world in order to do it.  Not the least of the reasons why we honor Mary is her willingness to put her very self in God’s hands: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
     Mary’s willingness to give up herself to be a part, perhaps the greatest (solely) human actor in God’s Great Drama of Salvation is the big picture; as is often the way, there’s a little picture, too, a way in which the Annunciation is reflected in our own lives.  God has a plan for all of us.  He imposes nothing, to paraphrase John Paul the Great, but always proposes (Redemptoris Missio).  He is constantly asking us to allow him in, to consent to serve him in ways big and small.  “Today if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts” is one of the Lent antiphons in the Liturgy of the Hours.  We all hear the voice of the Lord at some point, if we’re listening; let us all not harden our hearts, but rather let it be done to us according to his word.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sins of the Fathers . . . And of Kings (From Nisi Dominus)

Richard III
     530 years is a long, long time to wait.  Thursday England’s King Richard III, the last English monarch to die in battle, and one of the last English kings to die a Catholic, will, finally, receive a Christian burial.  Not a Catholic funeral, unfortunately, but his interment in the Anglican Cathedral of Leicester will be a great improvement over the hasty, unmarked burying of his desecrated corpse after the Battle of Bosworth Field 530 years ago.
     Richard remains one of the most controversial of British kings.  He assumed the throne when his twelve-year-old nephew Edward V was declared illegitimate by Parliament. Edward and his younger brother Richard were sent to live in the Tower in London (which was not yet used exclusively as a prison), and their uncle became King Richard III.  The two boys disappeared from public view and just two years after his accession Richard was deposed by Henry Tudor, who then became Henry VII.  Richard has been suspected of having the “little princes” murdered  ever since, although historians today (for instance, Paul Murray Kendall) acknowledge that there is no evidence that he had anything to do with their deaths, and that Henry Tudor had far more motive to kill them than Richard did.*
     As interesting as it would be to speculate on the probable guilt of the various parties involved (and it would be), that’s not the purpose of this blog.  Instead, I’d like to focus on what can happen when we let desires untamed by a properly formed conscience have free rein . . .

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Opening of Bach's St. Matthew Passion

El Greco's Christ Carrying the Cross
As the Season of Lent nears its end, we start focusing more closely on Jerusalem, and the Passion of Jesus Christ. One of the great artistic reflections on the suffering and death of Our Lord is J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion.  Here is the beginning of Bach's musical meditation on Matthew's Gospel account . . .

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Where Have All The Fathers Gone? (from Nisi Dominus)

Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, which seems a good time to republish this post on the importance of Fatherhood (originally posted January 22nd, 2014)

Decline of Fatherhood

It's not easy being the Dad . . . Federico Barrocci's Aeneas' Flight From Troy
      One of the largest elephants in the room today (if I may further abuse an already overworked metaphor) is the decline of fatherhood.  It is just one of the factors in the implosion of the traditional family, but it’s a - make that the - key one. If you google “the importance of the father” you’ll find 98,600,000 results. That’s 98 plus million. These are not mostly religious or conservative sources: most are related to various universities or government agencies, some are mainstream magazines not known for their cultural conservatism, such as Parenting and Psychology Today. Whatever their perspective they all have the same general message: growing up without a father is bad. Real bad.
     In order to get a sense of the immensity of the problem  . . .

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Litany of St. Joseph: A Prayer For Fatherhood

Francesco Conti, St. Joseph With The Child
    St. Joseph, Foster-father of the Son of God, we need you like never before.
     Today is his feast day, and we need St. Joseph like never before, because fatherhood has never been in so dire a situation. I’ve had occasion to write recently about the power of the Evil One in the spiritual  warfare that’s engulfing our society [here], and I’ve commented very often about how the family is a primary target, with particularly heavy fire being directed at fathers and fatherhood [here]. Who better to ask for intercession, and who better to look to as a model than the “chaste guardian of the Virgin”, “watchful defender of Christ”, “pillar of families”?
      A good place to start, both for seeking intercession and for forming ourselves according to this great Saint’s virtues is the “Litany of St. Joseph”[here],  a prayer given formal approval by Pope Pius X at the dawning of the twentieth century. I’d like to comment on just a few aspects of this Litany that resonate with me.
     First of all, we see in St. Joseph, as he is presented here, the model of Human Fatherhood,
which is related to, but distinct from, the Divine Fatherhood we see in God himself. We see that
we fathers have been made head of the household, but not for our own sake. Notice that St.
Joseph’s prayer starts with an invocation to Christ, then to God the Father, then to the Trinity:
Christ is the real head of the household, we are only his stewards (more on this point below).
Then, “Holy Mary, pray for us.” Joseph’s wife also takes precedence! This brings to mind the
following passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ
loved the Church and gave himself up for her”.  The purpose of our fatherhood,
then, is not our own exaltation, but service to our family, as embodied in our wives.
     Next, we call upon Joseph himself, first recalling his lineage (Scion of David), his role in
Salvation History (“Spouse of the Mother of God . . . Foster-father of the Son of God”) and a
long list of his virtues and attributes, all of which are given to him for the purpose of protecting
and serving (Head of the Holy Family . . . Most Chaste . . . Pillar of Families . . . Terror of
Demons . . .”).
     Then, after asking St. Joseph to pray for us, we turn our attention back to Christ under a title that highlights his sacrificial role, “Lamb of God”:

     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

     In the Closing prayer we call on God to grant us St. Joseph as a protector in this world, but first there is this very interesting verse and response:

     V. He made him lord over his house,
     R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

     This is an exact quote from Psalm 105, verse 21, which itself refers back to Genesis 39.5: “So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.” This, of course, is not a reference to St. Joseph himself, but to Joseph the Patriarch many centuries before. As it happens, there are many compelling connections between the two (for a fuller treatment of those, see here). The one that most concerns us here is this, that Joseph the Patriarch, a servant, is granted authority by the King of Egypt over his royal household, just as centuries later Joseph of Bethlehem is granted authority by the King of All Creation over his Holy Family. Our role as fathers today (and this includes all men, because we are all called to exercise Fatherhood in some way, even if we don’t preside over a household with children) follows the same pattern. Our family here on Earth is not really our own, it has been put temporarily under our care by the King of Kings (needless to say, we will be answerable to him for how we carry out the charge). As Catholic men we are also responsible for the protection of his larger family, the Church.
     It has become increasingly difficult to be just, chaste, prudent, etc., in a world where fatherhood has become more and more debased, and men are encouraged to behave like overgrown adolescents, or randy satyrs. Our society simply does not support fathers. That ‘s why we need help from someone up above; who better fight along with us than the Foster-Father of the Son of God?

Litany of St. Joseph

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us. Christ,
graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost,
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph,
Illustrious Scion of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Watchful defender of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most valiant,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of workmen,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the afflicted,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of Holy Church, pray for us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

V. He made him lord over his house,
R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

Let us pray.
O God, who in Thine ineffable providence didst vouchsafe to choose blessed Joseph to be the spouse
of Thy most holy Mother: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may have him for an intercessor in heaven,
whom we venerate as our protector on earth. Who livest and reignest world without end, Amen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick and Slavery to Sin

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Deuteronomy 15:14-15)
     St. Patrick is, of course, the Patron Saint of Ireland, but he wasn’t originally Irish.   He was Romano-British, probably born in what is now southern Scotland.  His first introduction to the Emerald Isle was as a slave, after he had been kidnapped as a youth by Irish raiders.  In his difficulties he came increasingly to rely on God, and he believed that God was calling him out of captivity.  He escaped and found his way home.  His faith life deepened, and after a time he concluded that he was being called back to save those who had enslaved him.  After ordination as a priest he returned to Ireland, where he successfully evangelized his former captors, and eventually became known as the Apostle of Ireland.

St Patrick baptizing former captors

     There is something profoundly Christian about St. Patrick’s story.  I am reminded, by way of contrast, of a story about the young Julius Caesar as told by the historian Suetonius.  When he was a young man, Caesar was kidnapped by pirates, who held him for ransom.  The buccaneers were charmed by the Roman aristocrat’s magnetic personality, and soon he was a participant, even a leader, in all their feasting and horseplay.  Suetonius relates that Caesar often smilingly told the pirates that, when he was ransomed, he would come back and crucify all of them, which apparently amused them quite a bit. As it turned out, Caesar wasn’t joking, and brutally avenged himself on his abductors.
     St. Patrick came back as well, but in a spirit of love, not of vengeance, heeding the words of Jesus Christ: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  He shows us in a very concrete way how the Wisdom of God is indeed different from the “wisdom” of the world (see 1 Corinthians 3:19).

     We don’t need to be kidnapped or enslaved in a literal sense to see how the lesson of St. Patrick applies to ourselves.  Jesus Christ came to save us from slavery to sin.  Most serious Catholics that I know have spent a part of their life separated from Christ, living in that state of servitude.  Like St. Patrick, we are called to respond to that experience in love, and to try to bring others, even those who have wronged us, into the freedom of Christ.   That, rather than funny hats and green beer, is the true Spirit of St. Patrick’s Day.

(See also "The Breastplate of St. Patrick: Still Relevant After 1500 Years")

The Breastplate of St. Patrick: Still Relevant After 1500 Years

Christ with me,
     Christ before me,
     Christ behind me,
     Christ in me,
     Christ beneath me,
     Christ above me,
     Christ on my right,
     Christ on my left,
     Christ when I lie down,
     Christ when I sit down,
     Christ when I arise,
     Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
     Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
     Christ in every eye that sees me,
     Christ in every ear that hears me.

Window in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh
     Pious tradition attributes authorship of the prayer above, known as “The Breastplate of St. Patrick”, to the Apostle of Ireland himself.  As is the case with the beloved "Prayer of St. Francis", experts tell us the eponymous Saint is most likely not the real author.  I myself would much rather hang out with Pious Tradition than with The Experts any day, but for our purposes here we'll just say that it could have been written by St. Patrick.  In any case, while the prayer as you see it above is the most well-known version, it is really only a part of a much longer composition (full text here).  At one time this magnificent prayer, in its complete form, was a part of my morning devotions every day.
     "The Breastplate of St. Patrick" is, in fact, written as a morning prayer, and more: it is a statement of faith, a brief but comprehensive catechesis, and a call for Divine help against the dangers that beset us from both earthly and spiritual sources.  Those things are as necssary today as they were in 5th century Ireland, and St. Patrick's prayer is a powerful and inspiring way to start our daily journey.
     The "Breastplate" opens with "I arise today/Through a mighty strength, the invocation of
Trinity . . ." St. Patrick is famous for his emphasis on the Trinity, reportedly using the tree-leafed
shamrock to illustrate the doctrine (as memorialized in the present-day stained glass window
from the cathedral in Armagh, his primatial see).  Here, he also emphasizes "the Oneness of the
Creator of creation."  In converting a pagan people, Patrick needed to impress upon them that
there was indeed only one God, as distinct from their pagan pantheon, although expressed in
three Persons.  The Triune God is also unlike their familiar gods in that He alone is the universal
Creator, as opposed to pagan deities who were hardly less subject to greater forces than were
mortal men. In our own day we also need to be reminded that God is Love (1 John 4:8), and
Love reaches its perfection in a union of persons, but also that God the Creator is master of all
the blind forces of nature with which we wrestle.
     The next “I arise today . . .” is followed by a brief Christology: incarnation, crucifixion,
resurrection and descent to the Dead. We no less than our newly-christened forefathers need to
understand who it is we follow.
     A third “I arise today . . . .” is followed by a litany of various Angels, Patriarchs, Prophets,
and Saints, which re-establishes for us that our devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ also connects us to all the lesser persons, living and dead, in the Communion of Saints.
     Next, “I arise today/Through strength of heaven,/the light of the sun . . .” and so on, through a
list of natural forces which, St. Patrick here reminds us, come below us in the order of creation,
and are so much the more under God’s power (how often we moderns forget both of these
     After a fifth “I arise today . . .” we see a litany of the various manifestations of God’s Providential care:

     God’s strength to pilot me,
     God’s might to uphold me,
     God’s wisdom to guide me . . .

And so on. At the end of this section we shift our focus to the various evils that beset us:

     God's host to save me
     From snares of devils,
     From temptation of vices,
     From everyone who shall wish me ill,
     Afar and near.

     In the next section we call for God’s help against these evils, which are laid out in more detail:

     I summon today
     All these powers between me and those evils,
     Against every cruel and merciless power
     That may oppose my body and soul,
     Against incantations of false prophets,
     Against black laws of pagandom,
     Against false laws of heretics,
     Against craft of idolatry,
     Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
     Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
     Christ shield me today
     Against poison, against burning,
     Against drowning, against wounding,
     So that there may come to me
     an abundance of reward.

Notice the priority given to spiritual evils, which Christians have traditionally understood to be
far more serious dangers than the physical hazards at the end of the passage, but which are
ignored or even derided today (as I discuss here).
     At this point we come to the famous passage quoted at the top of this post, from which the prayer takes its name, in which we call upon Christ to surround us, to “armor” us, with his protection.
     Finally, the prayer ends by repeated the invocation with which it starts:

     I arise today,
     Through a mighty strength,
     The invocation of the Trinity,
     Through belief in the Threeness,
     Through confession of the Oneness
     Of the Creator of creation.

     As I read through this prayer, which was composed for ancient pagans who knew nothing of Christianity, I am struck by how well it is suited to our current post-Christian, neo-pagan culture.  I think I’ll start praying it more often.

(See also "St. Patrick and Slavery to Sin")

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cicero At The Gym (from Nisi Dominus)

 "Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, latrinis femineis nostris?"

O Tempora, O Mores!

Are we living in a neo-pagan culture?  One could argue that we are doing just that, or heading in that direction, given that our culture has largely abandoned God and Christianity.  If we are, then we Neo-pagans are in much sorrier shape than the Old Pagans ever were, because they had no access to the Revelation of Jesus Christ, but we do, and we are consciously rejecting it.  Along with Supernatural Truth, we are also increasingly abandoning even natural truths in a way that would have horrified the heathens of old.  Consider, for instance, what the Roman orator, philosopher, and writer Cicero has to say about what we would call Natural Law . . .

(read what Cicero has to say, and what it has to do with the latest battles in the Gender Wars, here at Nisi Dominus)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Catholic Teaching On Marriage Is Rooted in Love (from Nisi Dominus)

    Katherine Jean Lopez has a good piece in National Review Online (read article here) about the March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., with a focus on San Francisco Archbishop Cordileone.  The good Archbishop was scolded by various left-leaning types, including “Catholic” politician Nancy Pelosi, for encouraging “hate” by attending the pro-traditional marriage event.  Lopez quotes extensively from Cordileone’s speech at the March to show that the Church is motivated not by hate but by love when it upholds traditional marriage.
     The false charge that any opposition to the deconstruction of the institution of marriage is motivated solely by hatred has been repeated so often by those on the left that not only have they convinced themselves, they have persuaded half the country as well.  Even Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy  . . . (read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Abortion Myth # 8

MYTH: “A compassionate response to abortion that respects the diverse opinions on this issue is to be ‘personally opposed but pro-choice;”; after all, it’s wrong to try to impose my morality on others. (The "personally opposed but . . ." formulation was most famously expressed by Catholic governor of New York Mario Cuomo in a speech at the Catholic University of Notre Dame in 1984; since then numerous self-described Catholics in public life such as Secretary of State John Kerry and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi have adopted the same posture)

TRUTH Like many of the other Abortion Myths, the statement above is logically and morally incoherent; consider the following:  

Mario Cuomo: "personally opposed" BUT . . . not really

-There is nothing “compassionate” about allowing some people to hurt the innocent and defenseless.  Is it compassionate to be “pro-choice” on child abuse, or murder, or terrorism?

-If you are personally opposed, what is the reason? If it is because you know that abortion extinguishes an innocent life, how can you defend the “right” of others to perpetuate the killing?  If it’s not the taking of human life, why be opposed at all?

-As we have seen in other posts, all laws involve moral judgments.  Do we also refrain from imposing on others our judgments about rape, drunk driving, or even non-violent crimes like embezzlement and fraud?

-Those who opposed the constitutionally permitted practice of slavery in the pre-civil war United States were ridiculed at the time as religious zealots trying to impose their morality on everyone else.  Those people, such as Stephen A. Douglas, who were “personally opposed but pro-choice” about slavery applauded themselves for their tolerance and open-mindedness.  What do you think of these two groups today?

The bottom line is this: if abortion is wrong, it is because it involves the intentional taking of an innocent human life.  If it’s not, there’s no reason to be opposed; if it is, it is a terrible crime that we cannot in good conscience allow to go unchallenged.   “All that is necessary for the triumph of Evil is for good men to do nothing” (usually attributed to Edmund Burke).


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)

To See The Entire Abortion Myths Series Click HERE 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mozart's Requiem Mass in D Minor I - Introitus and Kyrie

Last week, in keeping with the penitential orientation of Lent, we heard a little bit of Mozart's Requiem Mass.  This week we're going back to the opening of the Mass, to the Introitus and the Kyrie.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Geometry of Faith (from Nisi Dominus)

“The Catholic Church,” according to G.K. Chesterton, “is much larger on the inside than it is on the outside.”  Those of us who have been out and now are in (back in, for some of us) know how true it is.  And it stands to reason: as both a worldly and a spiritual entity, the Church cannot be contained within purely physical bounds.

What is both seen and unseen?     

This sounds like sheer nonsense, of course, to those who are formed in a materialist worldview, because they reject a priori the existence of a non-physical reality.  It may be a decided minority who consciously embrace such a worldview, but many, many more unthinkingly see the world in the same way.  Explaining Catholicism and the Catholic Church under these circumstances (except, maybe, in the most zealously orthodox Catholic schools) sometimes feels like trying to converse with someone who speaks a completely different language . . . (Read the entire post HERE on Nisi Dominus)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dressing for The Wedding Feast of the Lamb (from Nisi Dominus)

It’s hard to deny that the standard of dress for Mass attendance is significantly lower than it was a few decades ago.  I’m not talking about people who, due to work schedule or other external circumstances, need to attend Mass in other than their “Sunday Best”, but abou the very large number of Catholics who could dress better but, for whatever reason, don’t.  And it’s not simply a matter of people being poorly dressed, but also many dressing immodestly, some to the point where they create a near occasion of sin for their fellow congregants.  I propose that we all undertake to bring back the concept of our “Sunday Best” for Mass, and encourage our fellow believers to do the same.

Dressed for the Wedding Feast: not a t-shirt or pair of shower clogs in sight

Maybe God does care what you're wearing . . .

Some will say, “God doesn’t care what I’m wearing, as long as I’m there.”  I respectfully disagree; consider the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew, (a similar one appears in Luke) . . .

Click HERE to read the entire post on Nisi Dominus

Biblical Films: What Would St. Paul Do?

When is a movie not “just a movie”?

I’ve mentioned before that I listen to a popular Catholic call-in radio show on my drive to work in the morning.  The host and his guests normally do such a great job that it really stands out when they misfire.  When they do, it often leads to a blog post [such as here].  I want to be clear that my purpose in such posts is not so much to criticize the show or the host: you would be hard-pressed to find anything better anywhere on the radio.  I simply want to discuss a particular point of importance that needs further exploration, and where I believe they were off the mark.

Russell Crowe as the protagonist in Noah

     Having said that, on this morning’s show (which was originally broadcast the night before) the guest, himself a very well-known Catholic radio personality, made the following remark (as close as I can remember):  “There’s nothing much your kids can see that will really damage them, as long as you’re watching with them.”  He quickly qualified (contradicted, really) his statement, saying “I’m not saying you should watch steamy sex scenes with them” (why not, if nothing much will damage them?).  These remarks came up in a discussion of the recently released movie Noah The host, who had seen the movie and had a mostly positive view, added, “after all, it’s only a movie”!

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

     Where to begin?  I was amazed, first of all, that two intelligent, well-read, orthodox Catholics would be so dismissive of the power of images, and the emotional experience wrought by drama, to permeate our consciousness.  This is something the Church has always understood:  why else the great art, stained-glass windows, cathedrals and Gregorian chant, the whole “smells and bells” routine?  Why else the traditional condemnation of “impure” images, and the stern warnings to steer clear of their dangers?
     The findings of modern neuroscience tend to confirm this ancient understanding.  Research shows that pornography, for example, has profound and possibly permanent effects on brain development and chemistry [see here], and the same is true (although perhaps not as dramatically) of other powerful experiences. Children and adolescents are particularly susceptible (see here and here), but even as adults our brain is still developing to a certain degree. According to the Brain Institute [my italics]: “New findings on the adult brain establish two principles. First, the adult brain continues to grow and develop throughout our entire life.  Second, brain development in adulthood is shaped mostly by outside stimuli” [here].  Simply explaining something to our children after the fact can’t take away the effect of the images and emotions they have experienced, and by exposing ourselves to such experiences we expose our own psyche to influences we are better off avoiding (hence the old Catholic maxim: “Avoid the near occasion of sin”).  And, given all that, a movie is never “just a movie”: it is a visual and emotional experience that can have far-reaching consequences.

Even the Devil can quote Scripture

     Biblical films, such as last year’s Noah and Exodus, present complications beyond ugly, frightening, or impure images.  We all understand that a movie maker will need add things to a story, or change some things, or leave certain details out in order to transform a written work into a viable film. Of course that’s the case.  In the case of the story of Noah, for instance, the Book of Genesis provides only the barest outlines of a story: a filmmaker must necessarily supply quite a bit of his own imagination to make it work on the big screen.  If in the process you significantly change the underlying meaning, however, and still sell it as the same story, that’s an injustice to the original work, and a false promise to your audience that they’re getting “Story A” when in fact it’s “Story X” in disguise (I discuss my ideas about this topic in greater details in a series of posts on Peter Jackson’s misbegotten adaptation of The Hobbit, here).

Christian Bale gives a unique interpretation of Moses in Exodus

     In the case of a purportedly Christian film, and particularly a Biblical film, we Catholics have a serious responsibility that goes far beyond the concern we might have for the integrity of a particular story.  The Bible, after all, is the Inspired Word of God.  While it is understood that certain liberties must be taken in order to turn a written text into a viable film, we need to be on the lookout for an adaptation that trivializes God’s word; both a proper sense of reverence, and a need to prevent giving the impression that Holy Scripture need not be taken seriously, compel us.  
     Not only that, a poorly conceived or executed film that distorts the underlying message of the Biblical proclamation can cause serious harm, much more substantial than the harm done to the work and reputation of a secular author.  We live in an age in which Biblical literacy is at lower ebb than it has been for centuries.  Films like Noah and Exodus may be the only sustained exposure a very large number of people will have to the Biblical account, and given the powerful emotional impact of such images, it can be a profound and lasting exposure.  People will assume that a movie billed as the Scriptural story will, in fact, be the Scriptural story.  A seriously flawed film can give a false understanding of Christianity, and even drive people away.  It’s not alarmist to suggest that, for some people, such an experience may jeopardize their salvation (don’t laugh: some years back a person I know, a well-educated person, cited The Da Vinci Code as a major factor in her decision to leave the Church).

Hold fast to what is good . . .

     So here we are. There is a great temptation on the part of us Believers, disheartened by the unrelenting secularity that has engulfed our culture, to jump on the band wagon whenever a remotely Christian-looking film emerges from the fetid swamps of Hollywood (as we saw with Noah).  We need to remember that movies are a money-making venture.  After the unexpected (by the movie industry, at least, and elite "opinion-makers") success of The Passion of the Christ ten years ago, Hollywood realized that there was a badly underserved market for religious films, and nature abhors a vacuum.  They’ve been trying to replicate the success of Mel Gibson’s film ever since.  While some filmmakers may share Gibson’s zeal, others surely do not, and many will understand neither the material with which they’re working nor the audience they’re targeting.  Still others will have a consciously subversive intent.  
     We do have some guidance in Holy Scripture for this sort of situation: St. Paul tells us, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).  This should be our standard in evaluating purportedly Biblical or Christian films: we should ask ourselves, What Would St. Paul Do?

(This throwback contains parts of two earlier posts from 31 March and 1 April of last year)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Novena of Grace

The Novena of Grace begins today: this nine-day devotion is offered through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier. I have included the prayers of the novena below; the photograph of the Xavier Family Castle in Spain was taken by William Campbell, S.J., the president of the school in which I work.

"O most kind and loving saint, in union with you I adore the most divine majesty. The memory of the favors with which God blessed you during life, and of your glory after death, fills me with joy . . . (see entire post at Nisi Dominus)

Abortion Myth # 7

MYTH:  “Women have a ‘right to choose’.  We have no right to tell a woman what she can do with her own body.”  

TRUTH: While this common pro-abortion pronouncement may sound good on the surface, it does not stand up to  examination on several grounds:

1)      Abortion is directed at, and kills, the body of the child, not the mother.  From the moment of conception the zygote, embryo, fetus, child, and so on is a separate body having its own process of growth, growing its own organs, and with its own DNA; no part of our bodies has its own organs, or different DNA.  Pro-life people are not trying to tell the mother what to do with her body: we are seeking to prevent others from doing deadly harm to the unborn baby’s body.

Mother and Child: two bodies

2)       A generic “right to choose”  is a non-sensical  proposition that even abortion rights supporters don’t really believe in. Any action at all can be expressed as a “choice”.   How many people, pro-life or pro-choice, support the choice to rape, murder, or steal?  Many people who call themselves  “pro-choice” don’t even want to permit the “choice” to hold a sign in front of an abortion clinic.  Choices can only be evaluated on the basis of what is being chosen, and people who go by the label “pro-choice” almost always mean no more than the choice of a mother to abort her unborn child.

3)      Likewise, even pro-choice advocates are in favor of laws restricting what people, including women, can do with their bodies.  There is no public clamor in favor of the right of women to use their bodies to drive drunk; nobody that I know of supports the right of women to use their bodies to beat their already-born children; I have never heard a pro-choice advocate support the right of women to strap explosives to their bodies and set them off in crowded marketplaces.

4)      Pro-choice supporters are inconsistently silent on the issue of women who feel they have been given no choice but abortion:

-          The Alan Guttmacher Institute (historically associated with Planned Parenthood, the world’s largest abortion provider) has found that the two most common reasons women  abort are lack of finances and emotional support.   And yet pro-choicers try to shut down the pregnancy help centers that offer emotional support and material help that’s not available anywhere else (see Pro-life Answers to Pro-choice Arguments) .

-          Mary Cunningham Agee surveyed post-abortive women about what they had really wanted.  91 0ut of 100 women said that they would have preferred to give birth, but felt that abortion was their only choice.  This survey was part of her inspiration for the founding of The Nurturing Network, an organization with thousands of volunteers providing the practical assistance that women told her they needed.


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)

To See The Entire Abortion Myths Series Click HERE