September 21, 2013

Perfect simplicity...

This excerpt is from Bouyer's biography of Bl. John Henry Newman. It's about his preaching when he was Vicar of St Mary's, Oxford, while he was still an Anglican. He would preach at Evensong, because St Mary's was the University Church as well as a parish, and Sunday morning sermons were reserved for the grandees of the university...

...Sunday by Sunday, having nothing in view but the spiritual welfare of a few shopkeepers, charwomen, and college servants, Newman was accustomed at the close of day to mount the pulpit and to expound in the simplest language some text from the Bible...

...Every Sunday saw newcomers to St Mary's. In the porch with its twisted pillars surmounted by Laud's statue of the Virgin, one noticed few but youthful faces. First came undergraduates from Oriel, soon followed by men from other colleges. The congregation continued to grow, till at last all the most brilliant people in Oxford began to make a point of attending Evensong at St Mary's, rubbing shoulders there with pious shoeblacks, devout housemaids, and a few High Street shopkeepers, who did not think it right to let Sunday go by without a spot of church-going. Nothing in the preacher's tone or bearing, and little in the subjects treated, indicated that he had become aware of the change that had taken place in the character of his audience.

All the same he had noted it, and acted immediately. At first he had been a little mystified, not less by the comparative absence of his parishioners proper, than by the formidable invasion of eager listeners from elsewhere. Quit simply and plainly he made up his mind about the matter. Without deeming it necessary to make any drastic change in the subject matter of his sermons, he took upon himself, as a duty laid upon him by God the responsibility for these alien souls now coming to him in the place of his regular flock, who cared for little outside their business.

In view of the fact that they were mainly young people who kept coming to him in impressively increasing numbers, he did his best to touch on subjects appropriate to his audience, taking great care however never to go so far in this direction as to risk saying anything over the heads of his parishioners proper. Never did his sermons deviate from that perfect simplicity which had been their outstanding characteristic from the beginning. When great controversies came to be debated, people went to St Mary's curious to hear what the Vicar would have to say. As a rule they were disappointed to find that the preacher seemed to be quite uninformed about them. Never was there the most distant allusion to matters of topical concern. Never did Newman champion from the pulpit the cause of any particular party. He preached the Gospel; that and that alone. But the manner of his preaching, the way he brought the listener to the heart of the sacred word, did more to win disciples to the Movement than any amount of discussion and argument could have done.

More clearly than anything else, these sermons brought out what it was that the Tractarians were aiming to do, and that was, not to found a school, but to revive a religion. Whosoever came to hear him, in friendly or in hostile mood, realised, when the time came to depart, that what the preacher had above all things at heart, as not to label people, but to help them recognize God's will, and then, in due course, to fulfil it...
St Mary s Oxford South Laud Porch
Posted by John Weidner at 9:25 PM

September 9, 2013

A world like ours is coming to be...

An unfortunate result of our disinterest in history is that we are mostly unaware that Jesus lived in a Palestine drenched in blood from religious terrorism. A place with remarkable similarities to today's Islamic world.

Jewish terrorism was a big problem for the Romans for a couple of centuries. One terror group was the Sicarii (dagger-men), a splinter group of the Zealots. Their tactic was to mingle with a crowd, then suddenly draw daggers and start killing people. Then they would drop their knives and pretend to be innocent citizens outraged by this violence, and escape in the confusion. Think of them when you read about car bombs in Baghdad.

there were dozens of false messiahs, who were usually both religious rebels and bandits. A new one would arise every few years, raising an army to force the coming of the messianic kingdom. And the general Jewish population was on a hair-trigger. Mob violence could explode on the slightest provocation.

Rome pursued the same policies western governments are trying now, with the same disappointing results. Bribes and punishments, reprisals and negotiation, direct rule (Pilate) or supporting local strong-men (Herod). Nothing worked, until mass-slaughter was applied in the two Jewish wars. (The book to read is Empires of Trust, by Maddox.)

The terrorism and wars in the time of Jesus happened for the same reason Islamic terrorism happens today. The Jews were threatened by the possibility that their religion was false. Muslims in the Information Age can not avoid the evidence that their religion is false and their cultures are dysfunctional.

In the case of the Jews of the later Second Temple period, their "story" wasn't coming true. The story was exile-and-return, four centuries as slaves in Egypt, followed by return to the Promised Land, leading to the glorious kingdom of David and Solomon. But the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon did not lead to the expected glorious Davidic/messianic kingdom. Palestine remained part of Persia, and after a short and not glorious period of independence, was absorbed into the Roman Empire. The feeling was that Jews were still in exile. So extremists started using force to make the new kingdom happen. Others went overboard with Jewish purity laws, for the same reason.

Violence is everywhere in the Gospels, but we mostly don't see it. For instance, when the people try to make Jesus a king by force, (John 6:15) they were in fact initiating a violent revolution against Rome. A WAR, starting immediately.

This is the background for understanding Jesus. We today don't quite understand sayings like "turn the other cheek" because it sounds sappy and weak--letting yourself get beat up. To understand, imagine a peacemaker in Damascus or Islamabad right now preaching such things. Preaching forgiveness of enemies. That would be a radical shocking new thing! A courageous act. And Jesus defying the Pharisees on purity issues might be like opposing Sharia in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

This is the sea of Galilee, from the trip Charlene and I took in 2008. It looks so peaceful! No true, of course. Nor was it when Jesus fed the 5,000, and almost started a war...

View of Sea of Galilee, from our hotel in Tiberias
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples.

Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?"

Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten.

When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!"

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Caper'na-um... (John 6: 1-16)
Posted by John Weidner at 7:56 AM

July 7, 2013

Pope Frank: "Throw away your iPhones"

This piece by Damien Thompson was from last month, but well, I've been busy. Meet Francis, the Chatterbox Pope:

...But did he actually say those words? The comments were taken from notes compiled afterwards by his visitors, and we can't be sure of their accuracy. Something tells me that confusion over quotes is going to be one of the leitmotifs of this pontificate. "Did the Holy Father really say that Catholics have to throw away their iPhones?" "I think he was joking, but you never know with Pope Frank."

When the former Cardinal Bergoglio was first elected, we were told that he was famous for not giving interviews to the Argentine press. To which one can only reply: who needs interviews, when he shoots from the hip all the time? Francis the Chatterbox Pope. A recipe for disaster, huh?

I don't think so. He won't undo the work of the great Benedict: it would create too much ill-feeling and, at 76, he doesn't have time. Yes, there will be gaffes, possibly so many that we stop worrying about them. But if you listen to the Pope's improvised talks, you quickly realise that his central focus never shifts.

Follow Jesus by helping the poor. Beware of the Devil, who wants you to spend all day distracting yourself with little treats. This is not earth-shattering stuff - until you try to put it into practice. Jorge Bergoglio has a gift that eludes the boring, risk-averse platitude merchants who have captured the machinery of most Catholic and Anglican dioceses. He relaxes you with his smiles and shrugging, and then tweaks your conscience so hard that you wince in pain.

Don't gossip, he tells us. That's the one that really sticks in the mind. I can't say I've followed that instruction to the letter, but every time I backslide, shall we say, I imagine Francis the Chatterbox tapping his watch and reminding me: you haven't got for ever, you know...

This is the first Information Age Pope. People used to Facebook and Twitter can process this kind of rapid-fire information flow. It's for the moment; it gets quoted and commented on in blogs and forums within minutes. Then on to the next thing.

And he's not going to "undo the work of the great Benedict." That's silly. He's just going to "route around" the stale battles between liberals and conservatives, old and new. He goes straight to the oldest idea of all, follow Jesus. Which is always the newest and freshest of ideas, if we can but see it past our ingrained ideas.

Pope Francis

Posted by John Weidner at 9:02 AM

June 16, 2013

Everything is divisible...

Taylor Marshall, Should you say "Individual" or "Person"?:

...What does that word "individual" mean? It means "undivided one." Stop for a moment and consider this, you "undivided one." Isn't "undivided one" a strange way to refer to people?

Referring to people as "individuals" became common in European languages after 1600, especially in English. It's a feature of the so-called Enlightenment. 

Recall that the Enlightenment was that so-called Era of Light after the so-called Dark Ages of Christendom. For historical reference, the Enlightenment began after the state establishment of the Protestant Reformation and ended with the bloody guillotines of the French Revolution...

The Enlightenment posited that the nation is divisible. The Church is divisible. The city is divisible. The town is divisible. The family unit is divisible. Even marriages were divisible. However, the person is not. He or she is triumphantly individual. 

The problem, you see, is that viewpoint becomes a very individualistic way of looking at reality. Now all major intellectual shifts succeed after linguistic shifts have become previously established. The debate over the definition of "marriage" is a contemporary example. The move away from person to individual signified the enshrinement and idolization of the human individual. Man truly became the measure of all things. 

You can see how the Reformation paved the way for this kind of language. To be an Enlightenment Christian all you need is yourself and the Bible. That's it. 

We traded in the old communion of the saints and the universal fellowship of Christendom of previous centuries for that new shiny title of individual. Denominations will divide, but the believer never will. And so the individual believer trumped everything. ...
Word Note logo
Posted by John Weidner at 6:06 PM

May 25, 2013

"The hothouse atmosphere of its own self-absorption"

George Weigel, The Bishop of Rome as Christian Radical:

... Pope Francis believes that the Church in Latin America took a decisive step toward a new future in 2007. Then, at the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, held at Aparecida in Brazil, the leaders of the Church moved far beyond the "kept" Catholicism of the past--the Catholicism that was "kept" by legal establishment or, more recently, cultural habit--and embraced a robustly Evangelical Catholicism in which, as the pope wrote, "the whole of ministry (is) in a missionary key."

The move from "kept" Catholicism to Evangelical Catholicism is for everyone, the pope seems convinced. "Kept" Catholicism has no future anywhere, and not just because of aggressive secularism and other corrosive cultural acids. "Kept" Catholicism has no future because it doesn't merit a future: or, as the pope put it to his former colleagues, "a Church that does not go out, sooner or later gets sick" in the hothouse atmosphere of its own self-absorption, which Francis has also called "self-referentiality."

When the Church is about itself, rather than the gospel and the invitation to friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Church betrays the gospel and the Lord. How? The "self-referential Church" falls victim to "a kind of narcissism that leads to spiritual worldliness and to sophisticated clericalism," which in turn are obstacles to what the bishops at Aparecida called "the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing."...

Awesome Pope we got here. I thought after Benedict I was sure to be disappointed. Who could match him? Turns out, not so!

Pope Francis

Posted by John Weidner at 7:35 PM

March 24, 2013

Wrongly expressed...

Leon Podles writes, Judging or Banning?:

John Allen wrote about the papal election:  "No matter what happens, the church almost certainly won't reverse its bans [my emphasis] on abortion, gay marriage or women priests."

Ralph McInerney, who should have known better, also referred to the Church's "ban" on contraception.

The use of the words "ban" or "prohibition" are profoundly misleading, since these words refer to an act of the will.

However, the magisterium of the Church is not an act of the will, but of the intellect. It is matter of judgment. That is, the Church through its various organs, councils, synods, popes, and theologians, makes a judgment about a matter of the moral law. This judgment is guided by the Holy Spirit into a gradual attaining of the truth. At certain points the judgment becomes infallible - that point is sometimes a matter of debate.

The Church has not "banned" contraception or abortion; it has made a judgment that these actions are intrinsically wrong and contrary to the structure of reality that God has created....
Posted by John Weidner at 6:52 PM

February 17, 2013

"Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves."

From the Catholic Herald, the British Catholic paper that's on the side of the good guys, Ten reasons to give thanks for Pope Benedict XVI :

The pontificate of Benedict XVI was full of surprises and on Monday he sprang the greatest one of all. His abdication - the first for almost 600 years - caught even the Vatican unawares. As we struggle to absorb the news, here are 10 reasons to give thanks for his papacy.

His steadfastness: In his inaugural homily Pope Benedict said: "Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves." In 2010 there was a concerted media effort to force his resignation under the cover of the clerical abuse crisis. He held firm and it is only now, in a rare tranquil moment of his papacy, that he has chosen to resign.

His crystal-clear teaching: Even in his abdication Pope Benedict was teaching us. His lesson - that none of us should cling to power - was conveyed with characteristic force and clarity. He has left us with a rich body of teaching, contained not only within his homilies, encyclical and trilogy of books on Jesus, but also in his actions.

His reform of the liturgy: Pope Benedict's decision to lift restrictions on the older form of the Mass was historic. As well as rescuing the Extraordinary Form from oblivion, he has renewed the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass in our parishes through the new English translation.

His programme of purification: From the Legionaries of Christ to Vatican finances, Benedict XVI has attempted to purify the Church of corruption. This concerted effort has barely registered in the media, but the Church will benefit from it for years to come....

There are a lot of other such things one could say... I've said a lot of them myself. We will never see a man like him again. He's probably the last important figure of European high culture. Europe is dying, but the Church is ever born anew.

Pope Benedict XVI
Posted by John Weidner at 6:14 PM

February 3, 2013

Sunday thought, a day late...

Father Dwight, Materialism, Manicheanism and the Matrix:

(This IS Sunday, to be sure, but I was writing this a day late a few weeks ago. That's my life lately. Running to catch up, never succeeding.)

...The paradox is that as our popular culture has become increasingly sensual, opulent and materialistic, our religion has become more barren, dumbed down and bland. This tendency for everything in church to be big and bland is not just that we’re trying to do religion on the cheap. We’re doing it on the cheap because there is a creeping Manicheanism in the church.

Manicheanism is the belief that the physical world is sinful. Our bodies are dirty and sinful. Sex is always dirty and sinful. Wealth is dirty and sinful. The material world is dirty and sinful. Manichee taught that we must rise above the physical and become spiritual. Underlying much of American Catholicism is this same belief–a kind of strange, below the radar Puritanism. We’re guilty of a subtle and weird form of hypocrisy. We load up our lives with as many rich and lush experiences as possible. Our homes are palaces. Our vacations are luxurious outlays of self indulgence. We spoil our kids, we spoil ourselves. The average suburban American middle class person eats and lives at a level of luxury and opulence a Roman emperor would be impressed with, but  when it comes to religion we do it on the cheap.

I don’t think this is simply because we are ungenerous, but because we really do think that somehow our religion is the  place where we “do austerity” for an hour every week because we have this idea that we should all be poor Franciscans, and that the Catholic religion is otherworldly and poor and that being Catholic means we should be against all that expensive stuff and against pleasure and so the church should be like a bare auditorium–just a place to meet in before we go out into the world.

So, on the one hand, we live like princes, but expect the Prince of Peace to live like a pauper. We distrust the physical aspect of our religion, and this is evidenced not just by the cheap, barren architecture, but also by the sentimental, tacky music, the polyester vestments, the fake electric candles and the felt banners with cliched slogans....

The Church should be sexy. Not in the sense of illicit pleasures, but in the way strong, handsome and lively people spread an aura of warmth and charm and delight. We are exceedingly lucky that our parish has none of those tacky things listed in the last paragraph. Still, there is a sense that life's really exciting and fizzy moments will happen elsewhere.

(Here's a shot of our church, St Dominic's, San Francisco. The Prince of Peace is not treated like a pauper here, but nothing like this could be built today. This is the main entrance, with the choir loft above.) St Dominic's Church, San Francisco

WORD NOTE: I think it should be Manichæism, not Manicheanism...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:43 PM | Comments (3)

January 6, 2013

Running the numbers on Jesus. Dennis the Shrimp was right...

Taylor Marshall, Christ Really Was Born Exactly 2013 Years Ago! The Chronology of Josephus Was Wrong:

...Doubts over the birth year of Christ arose in the 1600s. Scholars became aware of the chronology provided by the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus places the death of King Herod the Great in what Dionysius called 4 B.C. Since Herod tried to kill the infant Christ, then it would necessarily be the case that Christ would be born before the death of Herod. If Herod died in 4 B.C., then Christ would need to be born before 4 B.C. And so, ever since the seventeenth century, people have been claiming that Dionysius got it wrong and that Christ was born four years before Christ.

What do we make of all this? Well, either Josephus is correct or Dionysius is correct. Both cannot be right. Until recently most scholars agreed with Josephus because: A) Josephus lived in the century of Christ, B) Josephus was Jewish, and C) Josephus was a professional historian. Dionysius was just a monk living in Rome over five hundred years later.

However, there is now good reason for believing that Josephus got it wrong. Further studies of Josephus reveal that he was most certainly not consistent or accurate in dating several key events in Jewish and Roman history. In fact, Josephus contradicts verified history, the Bible, and even his own chronology about one hundred times. His dates are not very accurate. The French archaeologist, jurist, and historian Theodore Reinarch was one of the first to document the many factual and chronological errors of Josephus. Reinarch’s translation of Josephus is steadily interrupted by comments such as “this is a mistake” or “in another book his figures are different.”[ii]

The following is an example of the poor chronology of Josephus. Josephus records in his Jewish War that Hyrcanus reigned for thirty-three years. Yet in his Antiquities of the Jews, that Hyrcanus reigned thirty-two years.[iii] Yet in another place in his Antiquities, Josephus says that Hyrcanus reigned only thirty years. That’s three contradictory claims—two in the same book!...

Note: Our system of dates comes from a 6th century monk known as Dionysius Exiguus. In English that would be "Little Dennis." I think of him as Dennis the Shrimp. His real mistake was to not start with a zero" century. That's why the year 1950 is in the 20th century, causing endless confusion.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:21 AM | Comments (6)

December 23, 2012

"Colonel Sanders in the sky"

The late Christopher Hitchens was a fascinating guy. Brilliant. But one of his peculiarities was that he lost about 50 IQ points whenever he attacked Christianity...

Fr. Dwight, Hitting on Hitchens:

...He goes on revealing his total misunderstanding of what religion is all about: "It (religion) comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs)."

His chronological snobbery is incredible. Why does he suppose that modern man is not in need of comfort, reassurance and knowledge and that there were not people in primitive times who got along quite nicely without any extra comfort, reassurance and knowledge? Had he met a tribal warrior in the primeval jungle who was about to spear him and eat him for dinner I doubt whether Mr Hitchens would have recognized someone who was suffering from an infantile need for reassurance and comfort. In fact people then and people now are pretty much the same deep down. Some need knowledge, reassurance and comfort. Some do not.

The point is, these needs (or the lack of them) are not the reason for the development of religion. Instead human beings-both ancient and modern-sense that there is something else "out there." They see the beautiful, ordered world around them and deduce that there is a mind behind the order and beauty. Within the human heart (whether it is in need of reassurance and comfort or not) there is a religious instinct.

Human beings are not so much homo sapiens as homo orans. Finally, Hitchens makes the common sophomoric mistake of thinking that the primitive religious quest was about knowledge, reassurance and comfort. This is because modern Christianity is mostly about knowledge, reassurance and comfort. Has Hitchens actually studied the primitive religions he pontificates about?...

...The idea that religion could provide knowledge, reassurance and comfort was a much, much later development. Even the earliest teachings of the Christian church did not offer much in the way of knowledge, reassurance and comfort. Jesus Christ was not your buddy who walks with you the beach and has golden hair and cuddles little lambkins. He was, instead, the fearsome judge of all-the King of the Universe and the Almighty Son of the Father. Neither was God the Father the warm and cozy, kindly sort of Colonel Sanders in the sky we modern soft Christians have imagined. He too was the Lord God-the Creator-to whom one day you would have to give account....

"Colonel Sanders in the sky." I like that!

Posted by John Weidner at 5:18 PM

October 28, 2012

Motivational Poster

I borrowed this from Fr. Z.

Transubstantiation: Change We Can Believe In

Posted by John Weidner at 6:06 PM

October 7, 2012

A little Sunday something for "social justice" Catholics...

...and all the other fake-liberals who think caring for the poor should be left to big government. For those who think you can be both Christian and Leftist. (The items are from Britain's NHS, National Health Service.)

This is PRECISELY what Obama and Pelosi and Reid and all those other "liberal" animals want for us. This IS "Obamacare" a few decades down the line...

Patients starve and die of thirst on hospital wards - Telegraph:

.Forty-three hospital patients starved to death last year and 111 died of thirst while being treated on wards, new figures disclose today....

* there were 558 cases where doctors recorded that a patient had died in a state of severe dehydration in hospitals;

* 78 hospital and 39 care home patients were killed by bedsores, while a further 650 people who died had their presence noted on their death certificates;

* 21,696 were recorded as suffering from septicemia when they died, a condition which experts say is most often associated with infected wounds.

The records, from the Office for National Statistics, follow a series of scandals of care of the elderly, with doctors forced to prescribe patients with drinking water or put them on drips to make sure they do not become severely dehydrated ...

...In Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, doctors resorted to prescribing patients with drinking water to ensure nurses did not forget, a report from inspectors warned in May last year.

The Care Quality Commission recorded one case where an elderly patient was found to be malnourished when they were admitted to the ward, yet not reassessed until 16 days later.

In many wards nurses were dumping meal trays in front of patients too weak to feed themselves and then taking them away again untouched.

A report by the Health Service Ombudsman last year condemned the NHS for its inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable.

The investigation found patients were left hungry, unwashed or given the wrong drugs because of the "casual indifference of staff"...

...In July, an inquest heard that a young man who died of dehydration at a leading hospital rang 999 for police because he was so thirsty.

Officers arrived at Kane Gorny's bedside, but were told by nurses that he was in a confused state and were sent away.

The footballer and runner, 22, died of dehydration a few hours later, an inquest heard in July...

UPDATE: I think this stuff is really euthanasia. But not done consciously. These are sort of "Freudian slips" out of the collective unconscious of a culture of death. Expect more of this. All European countries are in demographic collapse, and all be having increasing percentages of elderly people in coming decades, and stagnant economies unable to cope.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:35 PM | Comments (5)

September 15, 2012

"Apart from me you can do nothing."

Being Famous Doesn't Make You Moral...

...The popular-figure-as-Christian-leader is an American myth. For years our history books were filled with mythic tales of the righteous founders of our nation. Not even ancient Israel had such righteous leaders. King David was a murdering adulterer. George Washington could not tell a lie. The disconnect between these two figures is the disconnect between the traditional Christian faith and the American Christian faith. Jesus is not an American and He did not found our country. He also did not coach at Notre Dame.

Being moral does not make you famous - and being famous has nothing to do with being moral.

I am not a believer in traditional morality - because I think it's a modern invention. Conventional morality thinks in terms of a moral code well kept. Think Immanuel Kant as business leader. Proper Christian morality thinks of death and resurrection. Jesus did not die in order to make bad men good - He died to make dead men live. Immoral people act the way they do because within they are filled with death and corruption. There is something fundamentally broken about the human being - and we often find our lives to be a mass of contradictions.

The moral man, in this understanding, is the one who acknowledges his utter weakness before God. Christ told His disciples, "Apart from me you can do nothing." Someone who believes this spends his life learning to depend not on himself but on the only Lord and Giver of Life....
Posted by John Weidner at 5:46 PM

August 26, 2012

There's always one thing that gets overlooked...

This is an interesting piece by Elizabeth Scalia, "Old-Fashioned" Sisters, "Newfangled" Nuns, Numbers and Habits :

("Habits" meaning the uniforms worn by religious.)

...The idea was that in order to sustain their ministries, which were arduous, the sisters needed the stability of a place to live and opportunities for both individual and communal spiritual respite. The taking of vows further stabilized the communities -- they knew who would be in their numbers, what their gifts were and where they might best be of use to work -- and female apostolic orders flourished, particularly in the 19th centuries until midway through the 20th century, when the post-war church seemed to be abundantly rich in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

The social and sexual upheaval of the 1960′s, combined with a Second Vatican Council that meant to open the windows of the church for a bit of fresh air and encountered quite a whirlwind, brought changes to the contemplative/active model. As career opportunities widened, and artificial contraception "freed" them, the numbers of women considering the religious life dropped. ** Religious women read the Council documents, specifically Gaudium et spes and Lumen gentium and found within them a call for further evolution and definition of the religious life, one that involved -- among other things -- a broader involvement with the People of God, and a return to the roots of their charisms....

"particularly in the 19th centuries until midway through the 20th century." That's exactly the Industrial Age. You can't think about these things clearly unless you realize that part of those abundant vocations and their decline were phenomena of their times. Having a life-long "vocation" was very typical of the Industrial Age. A common story when I was young was about the person who had worked his whole life for an organization or company, and was now being given a retirement testimonial dinner. That was what people thought of as a normal life.

I've written about this before, so I won't explain again why this was. You can read it here. And here.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:44 AM

August 4, 2012


Leslie Loftis, We Should Have Kept Our Heads Down Rather Than Support Chick-fil-A:

...Over the past day, I've seen more than a few discussions amongst Christians that we should not have done the Chick-fil-A event on Wednesday. After they ignore, reject, or exclude the free speech element of the event -- which I will copy in order to counter their arguments -- they have two lines of reasoning. First, this is Dan Cathy's personal problem and therefore not "a hill to die on." Second, the left feels like we hate them, and we are wrong to do anything that makes them feel that way. Whether we actually hate them is not the salient point. Both seem to think along the lines of one commenter, that this is a time to "keep our heads down" and practice our faith quietly.

Keep our heads down. I don't recall such instructions anywhere in the Bible. I recall that we are to loudly proclaim our faith, that we are to offer succor to fellow Christians persecuted for our faith, and that we are to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. As if my resolve to never keep my head down needed a boost, I received the head down comment in my inbox as I walked out of my second viewing of Dark Knight Rises, which is not exactly a modern morality tale about the "virtue" of keeping one's head down.

A prominent Christian has been ridiculed and his company banned from certain public venues because of his Christian values. He needs our support, and we are called to give it. The left may feel hatred from our actions, but whether we actually hate is the paramount question. We are judged both by God and by criminal courts of law on our actual intent, not by someone's perception of our intent.

Furthermore, is this not all backward?   They ridicule us, threaten us, heckle us. On Wednesday, they sent us many wishes that we would choke and die on our chicken sandwiches. What about the hate that we feel from those actions? Are we supposed to keep our heads down in the face of actual hatred because others feel hatred when we defend ourselves? What actions would society allow of Christians under these circumstances?...

Leftists hate Christians because they are on the other side. The idea that they can ever be "appeased" is beyond stupid. And the idea that they "care" about gays is equally stupid. If queer people voted Republican, leftists would happily toss them off high buildings.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:38 PM

July 29, 2012

So Heaven must be the home of clear thought...

From Fr. Dwight Longenecker, The Prophet and the Preacher:

...Also the prophet says, "Hell is a completely absurd concept."

The Preacher replies: Hell is indeed absurd because in Hell all logic and reason is absent for they are qualities of the light. All  evil is absurd for it is the repudiation of truth, and hell is the consolidation of evil. The horror of hell is that it is absurd. One of the terrors and torments will be that in that place there will be no reasoning and therefore no argument. The darkness will be complete...

"there will be no reasoning and therefore no argument." I guess I'd better be good, or I will spend eternity in San Francisco!

Annigoni Saint Anthony meets the tyrant Ezzelino da Romano
Annigoni, Saint Anthony meets the tyrant Ezzelino da Romano

Posted by John Weidner at 5:07 PM

July 15, 2012

Blinders. We wear them because we are scientific.

Sherry Weddell, Miracles, Healing, and Conversion. Are We Ready for This?:

The Catholic Diocese of Itanger in India has grown 40% over the past 35 years. Their secret? Miraculous healings apparently. Lots of them. Conversions because of an encounter with the healing power of Jesus Christ are occurring by the millions all over the world and is readily spoken of by other kinds of Christians but Catholics are often reluctant to acknowledge that it happens among us as well. And this reluctance is not just found among western Catholics.

Note the Vatican Insider title: India's "Impossible" Miracles. Note that the Indian priest telling this story says the stories “baffle me. I have a theological mindset and it is easy to become skeptical about this kind of thing. But the interested parties are absolutely convinced that what happened to them was real.”

Just when must a theological mindset be at odds with acknowledging the power of God to heal? That's not a "theological" mindset (think St. Augustine gathering stories of healing in his diocese), that's an Enlightenment mindset. And it shows a poverty of both imagination and spiritual expectancy that would be very foreign to most of the great Catholic missionaries and evangelists of the past.

An Indian friend wrote and shared his experience of the Catholic attitudes toward evangelization in India:

There is a strong emphasis on the narrative that "evangelization has not worked," that India is somehow inherently impervious to the Gospel. It is also ironic because Indian cultures are *very* religious, popular devotions are, well, really popular, there isn't this kind of skepticism towards and distance between the "ordinary" world and the supernatural/spiritual/numinous, there is a long and rich tradition of mysticism and so on. Stories like Arunachal Pradesh are a reminder of the sovereignty of God! And so inspiring!

And I responded: “Interesting - the "India is impervious to the Gospel" which I also heard in the 90's at my Jesuit grad school from a Jesuit. He told our class (seriously) that Francis Xavier went to India to get away from the Pope! Fortunately, I happened to have a grad background in Indian - specifically Jesuit - mission history as well as a much more accurate sense of the realities of global missions. He said that only 2% of Asians were Christian while I knew that the number was really about 7% then.” Today, that percentage is nearly 9%....

Maybe the real narrative should be that Jesuits are somehow inherently impervious to the Gospel!

That "Enlightenment mindset" is so bogus. All kinds of people "know" things such as that miracles don't happen. How do they know? Dogma.

Evidence that miracles don't happen? "We don't need no steenkin' evidence, we're scientists!" Actually it was Enlightenment thinking that divided the world into "normal" things and "miracles." But that was just an assertion. Which immediately became a set of mental blinders. It was and is a faith that people convert to. No one at the time said that Moses or Jesus worked "miracles." They spoke of "signs" and "wonders."

Likewise the Enlightenment asserted that if mankind were freed of religion and superstition, we would become wiser and better. But this was never advanced as a hypothesis, as something that could be tested and falsified.

A real scientist should be a truth-seeker, and should be delighted to hear that the universe might possibly be richer and odder than he had thought.

Posted by John Weidner at 2:23 PM | Comments (5)

July 8, 2012

"a secret ideal that has withered all the things of this world."

From Heretics, by GK Chesterton...

...For the truth is that Mr. Shaw has never seen things as they really are. If he had he would have fallen on his knees before them. He has always had a secret ideal that has withered all the things of this world. He has all the time been silently comparing humanity with something that was not human, with a monster from Mars, with the Wise Man of the Stoics, with the Economic Man of the Fabians, with Julius Caesar, with Siegfried, with the Superman.

Now, to have this inner and merciless standard may be a very good thing, or a very bad one, it may be excellent or unfortunate, but it is not seeing things as they are. It is not seeing things as they are to think first of a Briareus with a hundred hands, and then call every man a cripple for only having two. It is not seeing things as they are to start with a vision of Argus with his hundred eyes, and then jeer at every man with two eyes as if he had only one. And it is not seeing things as they are to imagine a demigod of infinite mental clarity, who may or may not appear in the latter days of the earth, and then to see all men as idiots. And this is what Mr. Shaw has always in some degree done.

When we really see men as they are, we do not criticise, but worship; and very rightly. For a monster with mysterious eyes and miraculous thumbs, with strange dreams in his skull, and a queer tenderness for this place or that baby, is truly a wonderful and unnerving matter. It is only the quite arbitrary and priggish habit of comparison with something else which makes it possible to be at our ease in front of him. A sentiment of superiority keeps us cool and practical; the mere facts would make, our knees knock under as with religious fear. It is the fact that every instant of conscious life is an unimaginable prodigy. It is the fact that every face in the street has the incredible unexpectedness of a fairy-tale. The thing which prevents a man from realizing this is not any clear-sightedness or experience, it is simply a habit of pedantic and fastidious comparisons between one thing and another.

Mr. Shaw, on the practical side perhaps the most humane man alive, is in this sense inhumane. He has even been infected to some extent with the primary intellectual weakness of his new master, Nietzsche, the strange notion that the greater and stronger a man was the more he would despise other things. The greater and stronger a man is the more he would be inclined to prostrate himself before a periwinkle...

I'm sort of like both of these men. I can walk down a busy street one day, and think that the rabble swarming by are so ugly and stupid and near-crippled that it would be a kindness to euthanize them forthwith. The next day, walking on the same street, the sun will shine, and with soft buttery light illuminate the astonishing richness and oddity of God's creation, and I will feel delight to be living in such a marvelous world.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:54 AM

July 1, 2012

"Aggressive, rude, and hegemonic"

What Would Father Richard Say? - George Weigel - National Review Online:

...Neuhaus’s third point in The Naked Public Square was closely linked to his second: The secularism of late modernity (and, now, post-modernity) would not be neutral, civil, and tolerant, but aggressive, rude, and hegemonic. It would demand, not a civil public square in which the sources of all moral convictions would be in play in a robust debate, but a naked public square — a public square in which secularism would be de facto established as the national creed (or, perhaps better, national moral grammar). The new secularism would not be content to live and let live; it was determined to push, not only religion, but religiously informed moral argument, out of public life, and to do so on the ground that religious conviction is inherently irrational. And of course it would be but a short step from there to the claim that religious conviction is irrational bigotry, a claim implied by the Obama administration’s refusal, in defiance of its constitutional responsibilities, to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the federal courts....

There will probably be a bit of relief if the Republicans win in November. But this is the trend. It won't go away.

John 15:18-21... If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

Which is one of the reasons that I in some ways welcomed the coming of the Obama regime. Because the worse they make things, the bigger the crash they cause... the greater the chances that people will wake up from their stupor and abandon various bad policies and ideas.

And of course this is yet another vindication of the founders' belief in limited government. Especially Federal government. They believed in Original Sin. They just knew that any institution can become corrupt and tyrannical.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:46 AM | Comments (6)

June 3, 2012

Why I hate astronauts...

(This grew out of my response to a comment by Terry in the previous post. Thanks Terry!!) I hate astronauts. Not, I hasten to add, personally—they seem to all be fine men and women. But the idea of the astronaut is one of the biggest scams ever invented.

The current project of liberalism is about turning people into rabbits. (This is not intrinsic to liberalism; it's just how liberalism has evolved. Regular readers of Random Jottings will understand why.) Passive, conformist rabbits. Dependent on big government, and always agreeing with the current liberal fads. And in this task they are making splendid progress. Humans are shrinking all around us. But there is always the problem that some rabbits are going to dimly remember that men should aspire to higher things than mere comfort and security. So the astronaut was invented, to be a sort of proxy human being, and to look like what all of us should be--strong, brave, visionary.

The astronaut has carefully scripted pseudo-adventures, with every "bold" move planned by bureaucrats. After which we are hit with propaganda about how these are daring human adventures that "enlarge the human spirit." Bullshit. And are leading somewhere, although this is always vague and undefined. My guess is that they are by design never going to go anywhere, because that would raise too many questions about what we humans are, and where WE are going. And as an extra absurdity, NASA and the various bureaucracies have a mania for safety. They are terrified of anything going wrong, and generating bad publicity. So the bold adventures "to infinity and beyond" are almost paralyzed with timidity! Crazycakes.

The current policy of paying entrepreneurial companies like SpaceX to get stuff into space are due to the usual reason. Socialism has run out of other people's money. That and, I suspect, that the reality of the Information Age is seeping in. The big government/NASA/astronaut paradigm is pure Industrial Age thinking, and has got to be just looking silly to a lot of younger people.

I despise everything about this. My heart is with the raggedy-assed guys who used to light out for the territories with a rifle, an ax, a bag of corn meal and a scalping knife. They've been kept out of space so far, but the walls are starting to crumble. Those tourist hotels in space, for instance, are going to need staff. I imagine they will be like the people who staff our Antarctic bases. (the Weidners happen to know one of those. Check this out. To enlarge your spirit.) They won't be rabbits. And they will be living in space.

But the thing is, you can be a brave adventurer just living your own humble life. It's a matter of attitude. And you can live your life with the attitudes that could make you ready for some wild adventure, should one present itself to you. (I think I have a bit of this attitude, though I can often be quite timid. For instance, Charlene and I both dream of being colonizers on Mars. And we both had the same reaction of keen envy when a friend was offered a job with the American occupation in Iraq. "Not fair! I want to go!")

So why, you may be asking, have I put these rambling disjointed space thoughts under "Sunday Thoughts?" Am I crazy? It's because this is really a religious question. To be "strong, brave, visionary" is much the same as the Christian concept of "attaining the full stature of Christ." That's what we are here for. That's what Christian faith is about. It's not about "going to Heaven;" it's about becoming adopted sons and daughters of God. Which is to say, awesomely brave and strong and bold. Sexy!

Today's Epistle reading... Paul's Letter ("epistle" is another word for letter) to the Romans, 8; 14-17

Brothers and sisters:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a Spirit of adoption,
through whom we cry, "Abba, Father!"
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.

So, "A spirit of slavery." A "liberal rabbit." Much the same, I think. N'est pas? So, amigo, are you ready? Or are you a rabbit? Are you ready to move to a tunnel on the Moon? If the need arises? Hmm? Or to die in the defense of Truth? If the need arises?

Are you ready? Or should the bold deeds be left to "astronauts?"

[Note: My space thoughts mostly derive from Rand Simberg, who is the go-to guy on this.] A recent example of his thinking...

Transterrestrial Musings - Fending Off A Space-Alien Invasion:

Does the U.S. have the needed weaponry?
Obviously, it depends on the nature of their technology, but I'd say no.
As long as we avoid becoming a spacefaring civilization (as we have been for decades, de facto, with our insane space policy) we will always be on the defense. We need to be able to take the offensive against a space-borne attack, and we don't even have proper picket lines up in the solar system, which means that there's a good chance that by the time we find out about them, they'll be at our front door, and it will be too late....

So who mans "picket lines" out past Jupiter? Astronauts? Ha. Too expensive. Bureaucrats? Rabbits? No way. Too soft. Probably it will be some wacky Jacksonian Protestant cult monkeys. They'll do it for free.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:17 PM

May 27, 2012

Hmmm. Which Pope does this remind me of?

Newman, writing on the Popes... (Rise & Progress of Universities - Chapter 11)

...Old men usually get fond of old habits; they cannot imagine, understand, relish any thing to which they are not accustomed. The Popes have been old men; but, wonderful to say, they have never been slow to venture out upon a new line, when it was necessary, and had ever been looking about, sounding, exploring, taking observations, reconnoitring, attempting, even when there was no immediate reason why they should not let well alone, as the world would say, or even when they were hampered with difficulties at their door so great, that you would think that they had no time or thought to spare for anything in the distance.

It is but a few years ago that a man of eighty, of humble origin, the most Conservative of Popes, as he was considered, with disaffection and sedition upheaving his throne, was found to be planning missions for the interior of Africa, and, when a moment's opportunity was given him, made the most autocratical of Emperors, the very hope of Conservatives, the very terror of Catholics, quail beneath his glance. And, thus independent of times and places, the Popes have never found any difficulty, when the proper moment came, of following out a new and daring line of policy (as their astonished foes have called it), of leaving the old world to shift for itself and to disappear from the scene in its due season, and of fastening on and establishing themselves in the new...

Pope Benedict is in his eighties, and is still suprising us.

And here, from the same piece, a picture of a really classy Pope in action...

...What were these outer barbarians [the English] to Gregory? How could they relieve him or profit him? What compensation could they make for what the Church was then losing, or might lose in future? Yet he corresponds with their king and queen, urges them to complete what they had so happily begun, reminds Bertha of St. Helena, and what St. Helena did for the Romans, and Ethelbert, of the great Constantine; informs them of the satisfaction which their conversion had given to the Imperial Court at Constantinople, and sends them sacred presents from the Apostle Peter. Nay he cannot keep from talking of these savages, apropos of anything whatever, for they have been running in his head from the day he first saw them in the slave market; and he makes the learned Church of Alexandria the special partner of his joy upon this contemptible victory.

The Patriarch Eulogius had been telling him of his own success in reclaiming the heretics of Alexandria, and he sends him a piece of good news in return:—"As I am well aware," he says, "that in the midst of your own good deeds, you rejoice in those of others, I will repay you for the kindness of your tidings by telling you something of the same sort." And then he goes on to speak of the conversion of the English, "who are situated in a corner of the world," as if their gain was comparable to that of the educated and wealthy persons whom Eulogius had been reconciling to the Church. Nay, lest he should take too much credit for his own success, and grow vain upon it, he attributes it to the prayers of the Alexandrians, or at least of their Bishop, all that way off, as if the Angles and Jutes were anything at all to the city of the Ptolemies! "On Christmas Day," he says, "more than 10,000 of them were baptized. I tell you of it, that you may know, that, while your words avail for your own people, your prayers avail for the ends of the earth. For you are by prayer where you are not, while you manifest yourself by holy labours where you are."
Posted by John Weidner at 4:52 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2012

The "ears of the heart"

Regio Dissimilitudinis....

"...For Benedict, [St Benedict of Nursia] the words of the Psalm: coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine - in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) - are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres.

From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the "zone of dissimilarity" - the regio dissimilitudinis. Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God's likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the "zone of dissimilarity" - into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man's falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter. It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty.

This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private "creativity", in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the "ears of the heart" the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity."

From "The Origins of Western Theology and the Roots of European Culture," address to Representatives from the World of Culture, Sep 12, 2008

Posted by John Weidner at 2:23 PM

April 22, 2012

"Humility... is the simple grace of being in the right place"

Fr. Dwight, writing on the question of why women cannot become priests....

...Finally, the argument, at its heart, also has nothing to do with "equality". I realize that to say so bluntly may make some people howl with rage. This is because at the very heart of the Catholic faith we believe in something greater than "equality". We believe in a principle we might call "equity".

Equity is the quality of being fair, objective, unbiased and even handed. Equity has more to do with giving everyone what they deserve rather than giving everyone the same thing. Equity is the idea that everyone has their rightful place in society, in the family, in the church, and ultimately in the cosmos, and that true justice is a matter of each person eventually finding their own rightful place in the greater order of things.

Dante's picture of heaven is of each person in the cosmos being in exactly the right place in relationship to God, and therefore in relationship to one another. As this is attained each person finds total peace, or as he says, "Our Peace in His Will". The achievement of this "perfect place" is the work of a lifetime. It is the work of a lifetime of prayer, surrender, mystery and service. This "place of peace"; this equity of heaven is also the result of humility.

Humility is understanding our rightful place and being there. Humility is not abject groveling, but the simple grace of being in the right place. Furthermore, this humble fact of being in the right place grants us not only humility, but great dignity. I am where I should be and where no one else should be. I am who I am. I am who God has made me to be. I am in my unique place in the divine economy. This individual dignity is far greater and the freedom that comes with it grants me much greater peace than I would ever find by seeking to be someone else just because I want to be "equal" to them.

Obedience to the divine will and submission to the divine teaching is the only way to attain this equity.  I am not writing this to women telling them to be submissive and shut up and know their place.

I am writing this to myself.
Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 AM

April 1, 2012

It's our work, not the Bishop's...

Father Z:

....Let's keep something clear.  My role as a priest, and the bishops' role as bishops, is to form and support the laity for their proper role in the public square.  It is the role of lay people to shape the world around them according to their vocations. I (or, even more, the bishops) will teach, give you the sacraments, and support you.  The work of the public square is really your work, lay people, not mine. Remember that when you think bishops aren't being strong enough in the public square.  We clerics know that you lay people often face in your daily lives challenges that would make many of us roll up in a ball and hide under the covers. On the other hand, the Enemy of your soul hates priests and bishops with surpassing malice. We live every day knowing that we go to our judgment with Holy Orders upon our souls and to those to whom God has given much, more will be expected. As Augustine said, "I am a bishop for you, but I am a Christian with you." Neither portion of God's poor little servants should fall into the trap of thinking that the other has anything easy in life.

If you are p.o.'d that a bishop isn't jumping around with his hair on fire in front of the White House, waving his arms, and telling you whom to vote for, then maybe you should be doing that according to what Holy Church has taught you and in keeping with your vocation. And if the priests and bishops in your life have not been stellar in their roles of teaching (read = they are human, they are sinners, they are ... x, y, z....), then put on your own big-boy underwear and get to work anyway.  Things will improve.  Priests and bishops will find their way to the spines they need, or in some cases abandoned. And they will do it faster if you are with them rather than against them. Believe me: carping at priests doesn't generally make them do things either faster or better. I know this by experiential knowledge and not merely by theoretical. Help them out by prayers and encouragement and example.

There is only so much the bishops can accomplish in the public square on their own: the rest is your job. Don't shirk your role even if you think bishops and priests are being lazy or craven. Stand up and get to work right now, even if you are disappointed that bishops aren't beaming lasers out of their eyes or issuing decrees of excommunication while they levitate to the strains of Verdi's Dies Irae...

Thus endeth my rant....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:30 AM

March 10, 2012

Good stuff from Fr. Dwight, but obscured with some Industrial Age assumptions...

Lent, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Blessedness:

...But these are only the superficial problems. The real crisis in the American Catholic Church is a crisis of dissent, lack of faith and courage.

To put it simply, for the last fifty years the majority of American Catholics have been more American than Catholic. That is to say, they have bought into the American Dream big time. They have swallowed the lie that life is only about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--especially happiness. In fact they are now so stuck on the pursuit of happiness that they are willing to sacrifice the life and the liberty to get it.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be a noble political ideal it is pretty shallow as a goal for the spiritual life.

The Catholic way is not a life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, for their own sake. But a realization that the abundant life comes through death to self, true liberty comes through slavery to Christ and true happiness is really something called blessedness.

All of this is lost on the majority of Americans, and sadly on the majority of American Catholics. (That's why the voting record of 'Catholics' is the same as the general population) We have substituted Broadway for the Way of the Cross; entertainment for the sacred liturgy, sentimentality for the Truth of the Gospel, the Promises of God for promiscuity, and  "liberty" for license.

This is the crisis of the American Catholic Church. Why are Catholic schools closing? Because they cost too much to run. Why do they cost too much to run? Because the old teaching orders don't have any sisters and brothers to run them, so we have to pay lay people the going rate. Why don't we have any teaching sisters and brothers? Because we've told a whole generation of Catholics that they can be "just as holy" as lay people living in the suburbs with 2.5 children in a trophy house....

"Why do they cost too much to run? Because the old teaching orders don't have any sisters and brothers to run them, so we have to pay lay people the going rate..." The problem with this statement is that the the teaching orders and nursing orders were products of the Industrial Age.
Stop and note the picture on the right. What does it make you think of? Hmm? It is in fact purely secular; a Red Cross nurse of the time of WWI. (Suzanne Larsson, painted by her father the great Swedish artist Carl Larsson.)

Those orders and their tasks were mostly inventions from the time of Queen Victoria! Mass education and universally available hospital treatment are 19th century innovations, created by both the Church and by secular institutions at exactly the same time. And both the church and the secular world staffed these burgeoning new institutions with large numbers of women, women who typically lived lives dedicated to service, usually with some degree of poverty and chastity. There were additional men too, but the big difference from all the past was the large-scale utilization of educated women as staff. The Church existed for 18 centuries with female religious being far fewer than male. That flipped around the beginning of the 20th century. Now we may be reverting to the mean.

And all the "orders" broke down at exactly the same time, in the 1960's. My father was on the board of trustees of a hospital when I was young. And, some time around the early 60’s, they were having trouble with some very unhappy nurses. He told me that the board had realized with a bit of shock that they were paying their nurses less than their janitors! That was the old model, and it wasn’t going to work anymore.

The timing? I don’t remember precisely, but it was roughly the same time as the Vatican Council. And simultaneous with that, the teaching profession was changing drastically. Men were entering in ever larger numbers, and expecting living wages. That was the time of the unwise decisions to have a Department of Education, and to allow teacher’s unions. But even without those, the days of the "spinster schoolmarm" were over.

I constantly see Catholics assuming that Catholic life and practice must include schools and hospitals. (And all sorts of other ponderous encrusted organizations.) No one stops to wonder if this is true. I'm pretty sure it is not true any more. And that we need to discover new ways of being Christians in the Information Age. (I'm actually thinking of writing a book about this, about the Information Age and the need to re-invent all sorts of institutions to fit the new world we are in. It's the one thing I'm thinking about that is not being well-covered by much better minds than mine. But finding the needed time is a daunting obstacle.)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:19 AM | Comments (2)

February 19, 2012

Prayer for Heretics & Schismatics

Prayer for Heretics & Schismatics:

...Oratio S. Francisci Xaverii

Aeterne rerum omnium effector Deus, memento abs te animas infidelium procreatas, easque ad imaginem et similitudinem tuam conditas. Memento Iesum, Filium tuum, pro illorum salute atrocissimam subiisse necem. Noli, quaeso, Domine, ultra permittere, ut Filius tuus ab infidelibus contemnatur, sed precibus sanctorum virorum et Ecclesiae, sanctissimi Filii tui Sponsae, placatus, recordare misericordiae tuae et, oblitus idololatriae et infidelitatis eorum, effice ut ipsi quoque agnoscant aliquando quem misisti Dominum Iesum Christum, qui est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra, per quem salvati et liberati sumus, cui sit gloria per infinita saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Prayer of St. Francis Xavier

O God, everlasting creator of all things, remember that the souls of unbelievers were made by Thee and formed in Thine own image and likeness. Remember that Jesus, Thy Son, endured a most bitter death for their salvation. Permit not, I beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thy Son should be despised any longer by unbelievers, but do Thou graciously accept the prayers of holy men and of the Church, the Spouse of Thy most holy Son, and be mindful of Thy mercy. Forget their idolatry and unbelief and grant that they too may some day know Him Thou hast sent, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Life and Resurrection, by whom we have been saved and delivered, to whom be glory for endless ages. Amen. ...
Posted by John Weidner at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2012

Arianism. Also called "dumbing down"

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Arianism Today:

...Arianism, simply defined, is the belief that Jesus Christ was not equal with God the Father, but was a created being. In the fourth century the Cappadocian fathers, St Basil and St Gregory of Nazianzus (along with Basil's brother Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom), fought against Arianism.

Because we celebrate the memorial of Basil and Gregory Nazianzen today it is worth examining the heresy of Arianism today. Heresies are like weeds. They keep coming back. The thing is, they come back in different guises. In the fourth century Arianism was part of the great debate over the divinity of Christ and therefore the definition of the Holy Trinity.

Today Arianism takes a different form, and comes to us in the guise of humanism. By 'humanism' I mean that belief system that takes man as the measure of all things. This humanism is a conglomeration of different modernistic beliefs, but the summary of it all is materialism-- that this physical world is all there is, human history is all that matters and the advancement of the human race in this physical realm is the only thing fighting for.

Arianism today is an interpretation of Christianity according to this whole materialistic, humanistic philosophy. Clearly, Jesus Christ as the Divine Son of God and the co-eternal second person of the Holy Trinity doesn't really fit. Instead Jesus is a good teacher, a wise rabbi, a beautiful example, a martyr for a noble cause. At most he is a human being who is "so fulfilled and self actualized that he has 'become divine'." To put it another way, "Jesus is so complete a human being that he reveals to us the divine image in which we were all created--and therefore shows us what God is like." There is a sense in which this "divinization" happened to Jesus as a result of the graces he received from God, the life he led and the sufferings he endured....

Christ in Majesty, National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC

Posted by John Weidner at 9:31 AM | Comments (2)

January 28, 2012

Respect starts with truth...

We talk much about "respecting" this or that person's religion; but the way to respect a religion is to treat it as a religion: to ask what are its tenets and what are the consequences. But modern tolerance is deafer than intolerance. The old religious authorities, at least, defined a heresy before they condemned it, and read a book before they burned it. But we are always saying to a Mormon or a Moslem — "Never mind about your religion, come to my arms." To which he naturally replies — "But I do mind about my religion, and I advise you to mind your eye."
      — GK Chesterton, The Illustrated London News, 13 May 1911.

(Thanks to The Hebdomadal Chesterton)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:49 PM

January 15, 2012

The Only pagan thing...

...If any one wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas. Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin, even everything that seems most anti-Christian. The French Revolution is of Christian origin. The newspaper is of Christian origin. The anarchists are of Christian origin. Physical science is of Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin. There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity.
      -- GK Chesterton, Heretics (1905).

(Thanks to The Hebdomadal Chesterton)

This is a problem for the old-fashioned atheist, but not a huge problem. Think of the late Christopher Hitchens. He scorned Christianity, but had no problem (or said he didn't) with appreciating things like the King James Bible. But Hitchins was in fact a very religious man, in the sense that he cared passionately about truth, about right and wrong. Hitchins inherited habits of thought from Cristian culture...

But, as I have argued before, [Link, link, link...] we now have a significant portion of the developed world's population who believe in nothing greater than themselves. And they are the ones who are in a hard spot, though they will never admit it. They are, beneath the conscious level, feeling "phantom pain" all the time. I use the term "nihilists" for these people; it's the best one I can find. But that word doesn't quite capture the essence of what I suspect is happening.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:46 PM | Comments (2)

December 17, 2011

"Response, acknowledgement, and welcome"

CS Lewis

CS Lewis, from The Weight of Glory ...
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness....I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you--the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence;...We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience....The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged; to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory...becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2011

A cautionary tale...

Most of my projects are doomed to failure... I'm not even on the same wavelength as everybody else. Heck I might as well be speaking Martian. But I keep trying.

One project most close to my heart is to try to wake up my parish (and eventually all the other Catholics too) to the need to adjust to the new era we have entered. We have left the Industrial Age, and entered the Information Age. We need to adapt and change. Most likely we will not do so. Instead we will crash and burn, and our grandchildren will cobble together new structures from the tumbled stones of the ruins.

Such a waste.

This is a cautionary tale I'll be circulating; a story of a certain institution that could not SEE that times had changed...

Papal states map 1870Have you heard of the Papal States? Did you know that the Pope was once a sovereign prince, the ruler of a large part of central Italy? With his own army and police and castles and taxes? (Firearms collectors place high value on the rare M1868 Papal States Remington rifle, known as the... Pontificio!) The Papal States made sense in the Agricultural Age, when power and wealth flowed from land, and the idea of great lord without a landed patrimony was almost unthinkable. Land was the only reliable investment. The Pope had lands of his own from the Sixth to the Nineteenth centuries. And no one seems to have minded much 

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution the Papal States were doomed. Their reason for existing evaporated, because the income and strength derived from land and peasants became trivial compared to what the Holy See could raise from donations from the industrially developed world. And the new geo-political organizing principle was the nation state, not the feudal territories of princes. The very concept of a "prince" had become obsolete, though many still held such titles.
The Papal States were violently seized from the Pope by the emerging nation of Italy in 1861 and 1870. (Before the mid-19th century Italy had been a collection of city-states, not a nation.) At the time this seemed like the end of the world to many Catholics.

Thousands of Catholic men from around the globe volunteered for the Papal forces, and fought in small but serious battles against Garibaldi's Redshirts. When the Italian Army finally marched into Rome in 1870, this seemed to most Catholics outrageous and unforgivable. Bitterness and intransigence were the order of the day. No pope spoke in St Peter's Square for 46 years, because it was under the control of the Italian Army. The situation was not fully resolved until 1926.

Few people then imagined that the influence of the Pope in the world would greatly increase with the loss of his territories. And yet it was true. The loss of the states was a blessing in disguise, and no one today would want the Pope to be a territorial magnate.

The lesson: The Church in the 19th century poured large amounts of her treasure and energy into defending things that were, in reality, already dead. More importantly, she was slow to see many of the new opportunities and possibilities of the 19th century and the industrializing world.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:05 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2011

Just a story that charmed me...

Fr Jay Scott Newman:

...Father Kimbrough was heir to the renovation of Anglicanism initiated by the 19th century Oxford Movement, led by the brilliant English scholar and Anglican priest Blessed John Henry Newman, but like Newman, who later left the Church of England and became a Catholic priest, Conrad Kimbrough was increasingly beset by doubts about the reality of the ancient Church, of Catholic faith and order, in a Christian community formed by schism during the 16th century Protestant Reformation.

The resolution of these doubts took many years for Father Kimbrough to work out, and while he was still living in Wisconsin, he was invited by friends in Stevens Point to a large gathering of Catholics who were joining a cardinal visiting from Europe for a Mass in a gym. Father Kimbrough's Catholic friends introduced him to the foreign cardinal, with whom he had a conversation about Anglicanism and his doubts, and Father Kimbrough was delighted that this Catholic bishop from a far country knew so much about Anglicanism and was so sympathetic to his situation. Although he could not receive Holy Communion at the cardinal's Mass, Father Kimbrough stayed until the end, and to avoid being in anyone's way, he sat high up on the last bleacher of the gymnasium.

As the procession passed by far beneath on the gym floor, the visiting cardinal stopped and gestured for Father Kimbrough to come down. He was deeply moved and ever after said that he felt like sinful Zacchaeus being called down from the sycamore tree. He knelt down to receive the cardinal's blessing, and that very night Conrad Kimbrough decided to be received into the Catholic Church. Less than one year later, the entire world was introduced to that same cardinal from a far country as Pope John Paul II....
Posted by John Weidner at 8:15 PM | Comments (0)

November 5, 2011

Me, I'm "an insult to the 19th century"

John Henry Newman was one of the great satirists of the English language. Somehow the academy no longer studies his prose. Gee, I wonder why. I think this snippet is as good as anything by Swift...

...We [Protestants] uphold the pure unmutilated Scripture; the Bible, and the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants; the Bible and our own sense of the Bible. We claim a sort of parliamentary privilege to interpret laws in our own way, and not to suffer an appeal to any court beyond ourselves. We know, and we view it with consternation, that all Antiquity runs counter to our interpretation; and therefore, alas, the Church was corrupt from very early times indeed. But mind, we hold all this in a truly Catholic spirit, not in bigotry. We allow in others the right of private judgment, and confess that we, as others, are fallible men. We confess facts are against us; we do but claim the liberty of theorizing in spite of them. Far be it from us to say that we are certainly right; we only say that the whole early Church was certainly wrong. We do not impose our belief on any one; we only say that those who take the contrary side are Papists, firebrands, persecutors, madmen, zealots, bigots, and an insult to the 19th century...

      — John Henry Cardinal Newman, Historical Sketches. London: 1872.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:47 PM | Comments (0)

October 22, 2011

"The world seems to go on as usual"

From Sermons Parochial and Plain, vol 4, #17, by John Henry Newman

....We come, like Jacob, in the dark, and lie down with a stone for our pillow; but when we rise again, and call to mind what has passed, we recollect we have seen a vision of Angels, and the Lord manifested through them, and we are led to cry out, "How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

To conclude. Let us profit by what every day and hour teaches us, as it flies. What is dark while it is meeting us, reflects the Sun of Righteousness when it is past. Let us profit by this in future, so far as this, to have faith in what we cannot see. The world seems to go on as usual. There is nothing of heaven in the face of society; in the news of the day there is nothing of heaven; in the faces of the many, or of the great, or of the rich, or of the busy, there is nothing of heaven; in the words of the eloquent, or the deeds of the powerful, or the counsels of the wise, or the resolves of the lordly, or the pomps of the wealthy, there is nothing of heaven. And yet the Ever-blessed Spirit of God is here; the Presence of the Eternal Son, ten times more glorious, more powerful than when He trod the earth in our flesh, is with us....


Posted by John Weidner at 7:53 PM

October 8, 2011

Mustard seeds...

A quote found at The Anchoress:

The Church will become small, and will to a great extent have to start over again. But after a time of testing, an internalized and simplified Church will radiate great power and influence; for the population of an entirely planned and controlled world are going to be inexpressibly lonely . . . and they will then discover the little community of believers as something quite new. As a hope that is there for them, as the answer they have secretly always been asking for.
    -- Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World

I read that book a while ago, but didn't catch this item. There are many days when I think this is what's going to happen. It is a grief. Here's a paper I wrote, trying to jolt my parish into action. [Link.] Some people are actually interested in it, which is a breath of fresh air for me.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:14 PM | Comments (20)

October 1, 2011

Some thoughts, probably destined to go nowhere...

The people to whom I want to address thoughts like this don't want to hear them. Well, no one wants to hear that everything they know is wrong! (Except sans-culotte weirdoes like me.)

But I'll post this scribble here, and thus have it stored, like honey in the great Interweb beehive, in case I ever need it. It's just a sketch, it should be heftier, and explain things much more thoroughly...


In the Great Poker Game, the Catholic Church in America currently looks like a loser, destined soon to be busted. I think the truth is that the Church is holding aces, but is simply blind to them. We are clinging to the recent past, and to the World's "wisdom," and can't see the possibilities that are on the horizon.

Our world is entering a new age. We have left the Industrial Age, and are being plunged into the Information Age. Everything is in flux. Many of the "models" society has used to guide our actions and understand the world are failing. For instance, the model of government we have been using is failing catastrophically, with (among many other problems) a large percentage of our governmental units effectively bankrupt—they will simply not be able to pay the pension and health benefits they have promised workers. This includes San Francisco and California, Chicago and New York. [The Adachi Commission pegged SF's unfunded pension liabilities at $6.5 Billion. In a city of 700k people. Utter madness. We will have to change our name to "Micawber-ville.]

This is not an coincidence or random happening. Rather, our model has failed to fit the reality of the new age. The Church is sleepwalking along with this, alas, and will probably share in the coming disgrace and confusion. But in fact she has stores of wisdom from her 2,000 years of pondering and collecting that could be very useful right now.

We could lead.

Another example [the subject of one of my previous papers-- Link.] is the way masculinity is in crisis in the developed world. Men no longer know "how to be men." If you look only at the surface, the Catholic Church has nothing to offer, since she has become all too effeminate, and manly men avoid her.

But we have the needed wisdom, I suggested, hidden in the bosom of the Church. We could lead.
Another example is the current dire condition of higher education. Most of the Catholic institutions seem to be as muddled as secular ones. But education in the West started in the Church, and she has other models that might be usefully applied. For instance, the institution of the university arose and became stunningly successful using a model where students paid the teachers themselves, spot cash, out-of-pocket. If a teacher didn't satisfy the "customer," he didn't get paid! And there was no administration at all.

New models are waiting to be born, and we could lead.

Yet another example. Industrial Age institutions tended (for good reasons) to be ponderous and bureaucratic. Information Age institutions must be nimble, quick to change and adapt. The Church today is very much the former type, and is probably doomed to horrible collapses and ruin because of it. But, she was originally something different. In the early days she invented "guerrilla marketing!" The early Church was agile, dispersed, decentralized and self-activating. The poor Romans were clueless. As fast as they killed bishops, new ones popped up. Today we like to say: "The Internet routes around obstacles." But the Church before Constantine did exactly the same thing. Before it was cool.

Similarly, globalization is an acid now dissolving cultures and tribes and nations and languages. But the Roman Empire was very much like that too. And most of the nations and cultures that the empire absorbed fell into decline. They ceased to grow or contribute as they had before. And, like today, many of those nations suffered demographic collapse. But the Church thrived and grew in that morass, creating a new "tribe" that anyone could join, that was protean, and not confined to any one place or class or culture.

We could lead.

I would suggest that the Church should always be "counter-cultural," in the sense of always being skeptical of the current models of thought, whatever they are. Catholics should be involved in everything, but captive to nothing. I doubt this is ever going to happen, but if it does it will get started in a time like this.

St Anthony, engraving by  Dürer
An engraving of St Anthony, by Albrecht Dürer.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:59 PM | Comments (6)

September 25, 2011


There are times I look around at my fellow American Catholics, and think, "Nah, give it up, guy. We're toast." But the crazy flawed contraption that Jesus fudged-up has been sputtering long for 2k years, and you'd be hard-pressed to find any other institutions that last more than 200 or maybe 300 years. so I'll stick with what works, and let other people go in for "experimental art."

...There Is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilization. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when lions and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheater. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and useful vigor.

The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the old. Her spiritual ascendancy extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigor when some traveler from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Pauls....

      --- Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1840

I put in this picture of the great Pope Leo XIII just for fun, because I just learned today that Pope Benedict wore a stole belonging to Leo when he visited Westminster Abbey. (Check it out here.) This is hilarious (and of course is a serious bit of honesty and clarity) because it was Leo who settled a big question by declaring that Anglican Orders were invalid. And also it was he who made Newman a Cardinal.

So, *ahem*, atheists! We got jokes that play out over the course of centuries. What do you got?

Posted by John Weidner at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2011

"The most childlike thing about a child..."


The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose; and the text of Scripture which he now most commonly quotes is, 'The kingdom of heaven is within you.' That text has been the stay and support of more Pharisees and prigs and self-righteous spiritual bullies than all the dogmas in creation; it has served to identify self-satisfaction with the peace that passes all understanding.

And the text to be quoted in answer to it is that which declares that no man can receive the kingdom except as a little child. What we are to have inside is the childlike spirit; but the childlike spirit is not entirely concerned about what is inside. It is the first mark of possessing it that one is interested in what is outside. The most childlike thing about a child is his curiosity and his appetite and his power of wonder at the world. We might almost say that the whole advantage of having the kingdom within is that we look for it somewhere else.
--- What I Saw in America (1922).

(Borrowed from The Hebdomadal Chesterton)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:27 PM

September 4, 2011

"Life is not an error, even when it is"

The American Scholar: My Bright Abyss - Christian Wiman:

...IF YOU RETURN to the faith of your childhood after long wandering, people whose orientation is entirely secular will tend to dismiss or at least deprecate the action as having psychological motivations—motivations, it goes without saying, of which you are unconscious. As it happens, you have this suspicion yourself. It eats away at the intensity of the experience that made you proclaim, however quietly, your recovered faith, and soon you find yourself getting stalled in arguments between religion and science, theology and history, trying to nail down doctrine like some huge and much-torn tent in the wind.

In fact, there is no way to "return to the faith of your childhood," not really, not unless you've just woken from a decades-long and absolutely literal coma. Faith is not some remote, remembered country into which you come like a long-exiled king, dispensing the old wisdom, casting out the radical, insurrectionist aspects of yourself by which you'd been betrayed. No. Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life—which means, of course, that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at 50 what you believed at 15, then you have not lived—or have denied the reality of your life.

To admit that there may be some psychological need informing your return to religion does not preclude or diminish the spiritual imperative any more than acknowledging the chemical reactions of romantic attraction lessens the mystery of enduring human love. Faith cannot save you from the claims of reason, except insofar as it preserves and protects that wonderful, terrible time when reason, if only for a moment, lost its claim on you....
Posted by John Weidner at 9:16 PM

August 28, 2011

Hot gospel...

This is a snippet from today's homily (sermon), by our pastor, Fr Xavier Lavagetto. This part grabbed me, because that's the way I've often tended to think of the phrase. And since it was my turn to do the podcast, I had the recording right here on my computer, ready to transcribe.

You can also, as they say, listen to the whole thing here. There's also a morsel of our excellent music, and the fine voice of Deacon Chuck reading the Gospel. Plus the intro is spoken by my daughter. (And, since these recordings only happened because I pushed long and persistently to get the podcast project going, if you like what you hear you can say, "Well done Mr Weidner!")

...We've tamed the wild Gospel. Now just consider how we use the phrase from today's Gospel about carrying ones cross. Most people use it as an exhortation to put up with life's difficulties or aches or pains. You know, "offer it up for the poor souls."

But hear that line gain, and you'll see that Jesus had a very different idea. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." The three phrases describe what it means to come after. Putting up with illness, or a grouchy neighbor, or even a job loss is not "carrying ones cross."

The three phrases, to deny oneself, to take up ones cross, and to follow Jesus, do not describe passivity or resignation. But energetic action.

Paul expressed a similar idea in today's second reading. "Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." Both Jesus and Paul wanted a counter-cultural way of thinking, a radical way of acting. The cross was an instrument of most cruel capital punishment. Reserved for the worst of non-Roman criminals. For terrorists...

Jesus demands the unthinkable. "Be a criminal like me."....

(The Gospel reading for today...)

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
"God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
He turned and said to Peter,
"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life"
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct."(Mt 16:21-27)
Posted by John Weidner at 4:21 PM | Comments (22)

August 13, 2011

"...under the mask of a riotous life there would be death at the heart."

John Buchan, A Vista from Before:

...In my nightmare I would picture such a world. I assumed – no doubt an impossible assumption – that mankind was amply provided for as the inmates of a well-managed orphanage. New inventions and a perfecting of transport had caused the whole earth to huddle together. There was no corner of the globe left unexplored and unexploited, no geographical mysteries to fire the imagination. Broad highways crowded with automobiles threaded the remotest lands, and overhead great air-liners carried week-end tourists to the wilds of Africa and Asia. Everywhere there were guest-houses and luxury hotels and wayside camps and filling-stations. What once were the savage tribes of Equatoria and Polynesia were now in reserves as an attraction to trippers, who bought from them curios and holiday momentoes. The globe, too, was full of pleasure-cities where people could escape the rigour of their own climate and enjoy perpetual holiday.

In such a world everyone would have leisure. But everyone would be restless, for there would be no spiritual discipline in life. Some kind of mechanical philosophy of politics would have triumphed, and everybody would have this neat little part in the state machine. Everybody would be comfortable, but since there could be no great demand for intellectual exertion everybody would be also slightly idiotic. Their shallow minds would be easily bored, and therefore unstable. Their life would be largely a quest for amusement. The raffish existence led today by certain groups would have become the normal existence of large sections of society.

Some kind of intellectual life no doubt would remain, though the old political disputes would have cancelled each other out, and the world would not have the stimulus of a contest of ideals, which is, after all, a spiritual thing. Scientists and philosophers would still spin theories about the universe. Art would be in the hands of coteries, and literature dominated by petite chapelles. There would be religion, too, of a kind, in glossy upholstered churches with elaborate music. It would be a feverish, bustling world, self-satisfied and yet malcontent, and under the mask of a riotous life there would be death at the heart.

The soil of human nature, which in the Dark Ages lay fallow, would now be worked out. Men would go everywhere and live nowhere; know everything and understand nothing. In the perpetual hurry of life there would be no chance of quiet for the soul. In the tumult of a jazz existence what hope would there be for the small voices of the prophets and philosophers and poets? A world which claimed to be a triumph of the human personality would in truth have killed that personality. In such a bagman's paradise, where life would be rationalised and padded with every material comfort, there would be little satisfaction for the immortal part of man. It would be a new Vanity Fair with Mr. Talkative as the chief figure on the town council. The essence of civilisation lies in man's defiance of an impersonal universe. It makes no difference that a mechanised universe may be his own creation if he allows his handiwork to enslave him. Not for the first time in history have the idols that humanity has shaped for its own ends become its master."

By John Buchan from "Memory Hold-the-Door" (1940)...

"in glossy upholstered churches with elaborate music. " Gag me with a spoon, as the saints of old would say. That's where we are. I hate it utterly. Well, I hate glossy upholstered anything. It's all the same sickness.

WORD NOTE: In old English slang a bagman was a traveling salesman. That's probably the reference of "bagman's paradise," rather than the American meaning.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:52 PM

August 6, 2011

"Sometimes we need to protect the poor from the programs."

From Timothy Dalrymple, Whom Would Jesus Indebt?:

...One of the great difficulties of this issue, for Christians, is that the morality of spending and debt has been so thoroughly demagogued that it's impossible to advocate cuts in government spending without being accused of hatred for the poor and needy. A group calling itself the "Circle of Protection" recently promoted a statement on "Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor." But we don't need to protect the programs. We need to protect the poor. Indeed, sometimes we need to protect the poor from the programs. Too many anti-poverty programs are beneficial for the politicians that pass them, and veritable boondoggles for the government bureaucracy that administers them, but they actually serve to rob the poor of their dignity and their initiative, they undermine the family structures that help the poor build prosperous lives, and ultimately mire the poor in poverty for generations. Does anyone actually believe that the welfare state has served the poor well?

It is immoral to ignore the needs of the least of these. But it's also immoral to 'serve' the poor in ways that only make more people poor, and trap them in poverty longer. And it's immoral to amass a mountain of debt that we will pass on to later generations. I even believe it's immoral to feed the government's spending addiction. Since our political elites have demonstrated such remarkably poor stewardship over our common resources, it would be foolish and wrong to give them more resources to waste. What we need our political leaders committed to prudence and thrift, to wise and far-sighted stewardship, and to spurring a free and thriving economy that will encourage the poor and all Americans to seize their human dignity as creatures made in the image of God, to be fruitful and take initiative and express their talents and creativity.

This is why I was a part of creating a group called Christians for a Sustainable Economy. We wrote a Letter to the President and Congressional Leaders. Here is a section:...
Posted by John Weidner at 3:17 PM

July 23, 2011

Git me back to Mt Pisgah!

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Truth in Advertising:

I notice as I toot around Greenville how the local Protestant churches are shifting away from honest self description. It used to be that they put out a sign stating just exactly who they were so you knew what you were getting when you went church shopping.

The old way was often friendly and inviting so churches were called: Friendship Baptist Church, Fellowship Baptist Church, Welcome to All Bible Church. Other church names were linked with a locality making it homey and easy: Pebble Creek Baptist or Pumpkintown Presbyterian or Silver Falls Church of God or Reedy Fork Methodist or Hudson Road Bible Church. Even the old names of First Baptist, Second Presbyterian or Hortonville United Methodist had clarity, integrity and honesty in advertising. Furthermore the churches looked like churches. They had a porch with pillars and a steeple on top. Even if they were inexpensive warehouse type buildings they plopped a steeple on top and put a cross on the front and made it look like a church.

You also had the churches named with quaint, but obscure Biblical references. These made you feel a little bit confused or perhaps a bit happy because you recognized the Biblical reference and felt you might be privileged enough to be on the inside. Thus, Beulah Baptist Church or Mount Pisgah Church of God or Bethany Baptist or Church of the Nazarene or Zion United Church or Mount Moriah Church of God Prophecy....

....Not anymore. Now the church buildings are indistinguishable from a retail shopping strip or a warehouse or a movie theater. The names are totally misleading. What if you went looking for a church with one of these 'creative' names? It could be a church. It could be something else. Furthermore, they not only don't call themselves a 'church' (that would be so alienating to the unchurched you know) they also don't tell you what denomination they are. The local community church named 'Heartrock' or some such might be Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist or most anything. This is because most Evangelical Protestant theology is now post-modern eclectic (which is another words for relativistic cafeterianism) But that's the stuff of another post. Instead I'm observing the confusion that arises in their current penchant for creative groovy but goofy Protestant church names. Here's a list of 'community church' names which could lead the consumer to something totally different....

I recently learned that the church of my childhood, Temple Baptist, of La Habra, Californina.... is now "Crossroads Community Church." "Crossroads Community Church is a faith community where the doors are open wide to people from all backgrounds regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey. We have exciting things going on for people at every stage of life. Come enjoy great music with our live band and practical, life-changing messages."

Sorry, not buying it. Sounds like floofy BS to me. "Crossroads." What does that mean? Nothing. Mush.

The cool thing about being Catholic is not that we don't have problems--we have a list of problems as long as my arm. But our problems are not the permanent type. Christ founded his Church upon a rock, and promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it. and so it has worked out, for 2k years, and counting. Nothing else, nothing human, has lasted so long. (That doesn't mean that my particular little corner of the Church can't perish, though I wish it did. But I'm not an island, I'm part of the maine.

...It is the peculiarity of the warfare between the Church and the world, that the world seems ever gaining on the Church, yet the Church is really ever gaining on the world. Its enemies are ever triumphing over it as vanquished, and its members ever despairing; yet it abides. It abides and it sees the ruins of its oppressors and enemies. "O how suddenly do they consume, perish, and come to a fearful end."

Kingdoms rise and fall; nations expand and contract; dynasties begin and end; princes are born and die; confederacies are made and unmade, and parties, and companies, and crafts, and guilds, and establishments, and philosophies, and sects, and heresies. They have their day, but the Church is eternal; yet in their day they seem of much account...

    --John Henry Newman

Word Note logoWORD NOTE: People commonly take the phrase: "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" as a sort of poetic way of saying that the power of Hell will not defeat the Church. (Example.) But Jesus said that in the days of siege warfare against walled cities. There's nothing cutsey or poetic about it; he meant something tough. It's the Church which is attacking Hell, not the other way around. And the Gates of Hell will be battered down, be they never so strong!

Posted by John Weidner at 10:22 PM

July 10, 2011

Catholic Word Note...

From Fr. Z's Blog, Card. Levada opines about the upcoming Assisi meeting. (Cardinal Levada is attempting to defuse some of the worries that the upcoming "inter-faith gathering for peace" will give off the same mushy symbolism as the last two.)

...The meeting, to be held in October, follows upon two similar events hosted by Blessed John Paul II. All three of the meetings have caused a stir among certain ecclesial circles, with some people accusing the Popes of syncretism, or giving the impression that all religions are equal....

The word Syncretism actually means the blending of religions. That was the way things were in the Classical World, where you could offer incense at various temples, and join a mystery cult, and maybe attend a Jewish synagogue now and then. The same blending is also seen in today's "New Age" concoctions, in which Jesus is but one of many religious sages. Syncretism was not what the Assisi meetings were criticized for. What is the word for the idea that all or various religions are equal?

Cardinal Newman wrote:

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you?...

The word Cardinal Levada should probably have used was "liberalism," but I'm sure he would have found that word to be more of a hot potato than the issue he is dealing with.

Word Note logo

Posted by John Weidner at 8:39 AM

June 19, 2011

"bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser"

Carl Olson debunks once again the line that the God of the Old Testment is an ogre... Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: One bad of a hell argument:

...One of the more memorable instances of this is the description by atheist Richard Dawkins in his best-selling book The God Delusion of the God of the Old Testament as "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." As I wrote in one of my "Opening the Word" columns, "That remark indicates far more familiarity with the dictionary than with the Bible." To make this point, here's a quick quiz: which of the following statements is made by or about God in the OT and which were made by or about Jesus in the Gospels?

1. "But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire."

2. "But thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."

3. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell..."

4. "Light rises in the darkness for the upright; the LORD is gracious, merciful, and righteous."

5. "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell..."

6. "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness..."

7. "And you, Caper'na-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."

8. "I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel which he has granted them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love."

9."There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out."

10. "Nevertheless in thy great mercies thou didst not make an end of them or forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God."

Yep, you guessed it: 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 are statements made by Jesus in the Gospels, and 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 are statements by or about God found in the Old Testament. The basic point is that both the Old and New Testaments speak of judgment and mercy, punishment and love, communion with God and separation from God. And the word "hell" is just one way of describing or referring to eternal separation from the presence, life, and love of God, just as "heaven" is one of many ways to refer to everlasting communion with God....

There's lots more one could say on this subject. My post here might be interesting, on how the conquest of Caanan (Palestine) depicted in the OT was in fact far less violent than it is portrayed; that the slaughters were a sort of literary device that was applied to any take-over, even if it was really a peaceful change.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:38 PM

June 11, 2011

"Silent, like the rapids of a river, before the rocks intercept it..."

From Newman's The Prophetical Office of the Church - Lecture 1 (I'm probably the only one here who's interested in this, but here are some important points presented with clarity.)

...If we ask, why it is that these professed Traditions were not reduced to writing, it is answered, that the Christian doctrine, as it has proceeded from the mouth of the Apostles, is too varied and too minute in its details to allow of it. No one you fall in with on the highway, can tell you all his mind at once; much less could the Apostles, possessed as they were of great and supernatural truths, and busied in the propagation of the Church, digest in one Epistle or Treatise a systematic view of the Revelation made to them. And so much at all events we may grant, that they did not do so; there being confessedly little of system or completeness in any portion of the New Testament.

If again it be objected that, upon the notion of an unwritten transmission of doctrine, there is nothing to show that the faith of today was the faith of yesterday, nothing to connect this age and the Apostolic, the theologians of Rome maintain, on the contrary, that over and above the corroborative though indirect testimony of ecclesiastical writers, no error could have arisen in the Church without its being protested against and put down on its first appearance; that from all parts of the Church a cry would have been raised against the novelty, and a declaration put forth, as we know in fact was the practice of the early Church, denouncing it. And thus they would account for the indeterminateness on the one hand, yet on the other the accuracy and availableness of their existing Tradition or unwritten Creed.

It is latent, but it lives. It is silent, like the rapids of a river, before the rocks intercept it. It is the Church's unconscious habit of opinion and sentiment; which she reflects upon, masters, and expresses, according to the emergency. We see then the mistake of asking for a complete collection of the Roman Traditions; as well might we ask for a full catalogue of a man's tastes and thoughts on a given subject. Tradition in its fulness is necessarily unwritten; it is the mode in which a society has felt or acted during a certain period, and it cannot be circumscribed any more than a man's countenance and manner can be conveyed to strangers in any set of propositions.

Such are the Traditions to which the Roman Catholics appeal, whether viewed as latent in the Church's teaching, or as passing into writing and being fixed in the decrees of the Councils or amid the works of the ancient Fathers....
Posted by John Weidner at 5:24 PM

June 5, 2011

Reactionary liberalism

From a good piece by George Weigel, inspired by an attack by some "Catholic" academics on House Majority Leader Boehner... Reactionary liberalism and Catholic social doctrine:

...The 2012 election seems likely to be defined by a major national debate on the welfare state, government spending, and social responsibility. If libertarian minimalism of the sort espoused by Ron Paul sits poorly with the rich and complex tradition of Catholic social doctrine, so does reactionary liberalism of the sort espoused by the anti-Boehner pedagogues.

So perhaps a review of the basics is in order, to put the forthcoming argument on a more secure footing.

(1) The Church's concern for the poor does not imply a "preferential option" for Big Government. The social doctrine teaches that the problem of poverty is best addressed by empowerment: enabling poor people to enter the circle of productivity and exchange in society.

The responsibility for that empowerment falls on everyone: individuals, through charitable giving and service work; voluntary organizations, including the Church; businesses and trade unions.

Government at all levels can play a role in this process of empowerment, but it is a serious distortion of the social doctrine to suggest that government has exclusive responsibility here.

On the contrary: in the 1991 social encyclical, "Centesimus Annus," Blessed John Paul II condemned the "Social Assistance State" because it saps welfare-recipients of their dignity and their creativity while making them wards of the government....

Worth reading, especially if you happen to be embedded within a somewhat liberal Catholic milieu, as I am. M, I keeps my mouth shut, but personally I think the long-standing Catholic teaching of Subsidiarity is substantially embodied in the Tea parties..


Posted by John Weidner at 8:48 PM

May 29, 2011

"Go out to the highways and hedges"

This is not today's reading. But I was reading the gospel of Luke the other day, and it really struck me as an extraordinary story, from an extraordinary person. One gets so accustomed to Bible stories that it's easy to become numb to how strange and thrilling they are...

...But he said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for all is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.' And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.' And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'

So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.' And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.'

And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'" (Luke 14: 16-24)
Posted by John Weidner at 12:12 PM

May 22, 2011

"All men need guilt feelings..."

This is from a very interesting piece, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Conscience and Truth, Presented at the 10th Workshop for Bishops February 1991 Dallas, Texas:

...What I was only dimly aware of in this conversation became glaringly clear a little later in a dispute among colleagues about the justifying power of the erroneous conscience. Objecting to this thesis, someone countered that if this were so then the Nazi SS would be justified and we should seek them in heaven since they carried out all their atrocities with fanatic conviction and complete certainty of conscience. Another responded with utmost assurance that of course this was indeed the case. There is no doubting the fact that Hitler and his accomplices who were deeply convinced of their cause, could not have acted otherwise. Therefore, the objective terribleness of their deeds notwithstanding, they acted morally, subjectively speaking. Since they followed their albeit mistaken consciences, one would have to recognize their conduct as moral and, as a result, should not doubt their eternal salvation.

Since that conversation, I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of justifying power of the subjective conscience, that, in other words, a concept of conscience which leads to such conclusions must be false. For, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom do not justify man. Some thirty years later, in the terse words of the psychologist, Albert Gorres, I found summarized the perceptions I was trying to articulate. The elaboration of these insights forms the heart of this address.

Gorres shows that the feeling of guilt, the capacity to recognize guilt, belongs essentially to the spiritual make-up of man. This feeling of guilt disturbs the false calm of conscience and could be called conscience's complaint against my self- satisfied existence. It is as necessary for man as the physical pain which signifies disturbances of normal bodily functioning. Whoever is no longer capable of perceiving guilt is spiritually ill, a "living corpse, a dramatic character's mask," as Gorres says. "Monsters, among other brutes, are the ones without guilt feelings. Perhaps Hitler did not have any, or Himmler, or Stalin. Maybe Mafia bosses do not have any guilt feelings either, or maybe their remains are just well hidden in the cellar. Even aborted guilt feelings ... All men need guilt feelings."...

(This fits with this piece, on Newman's view of conscience as the ability to see truth.)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:53 AM

April 24, 2011

Why do we begin with the Creation?

From Pope Benedict XVI's Easter Vigil Homily:

...At the Easter Vigil, the journey along the paths of sacred Scripture begins with the account of creation. This is the liturgy's way of telling us that the creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being.

Now, one might ask: is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth? The answer has to be: no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness. The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation.

Our profession of faith begins with the words: "We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth". If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small. The Church is not some kind of association that concerns itself with man's religious needs but is limited to that objective. No, she brings man into contact with God and thus with the source of all things. Therefore we relate to God as Creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation. Our responsibility extends as far as creation because it comes from the Creator.

Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives. Life in the Church's faith involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations. It embraces man in his entirety, from his origins to his eternal destiny. Only because creation belongs to God can we place ourselves completely in his hands. And only because he is the Creator can he give us life for ever. Joy over creation, thanksgiving for creation and responsibility for it all belong together....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:49 AM

April 16, 2011

Sign on and ship out...

For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
      -- Ezekiel 34:11-16

"I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out." If the Christian story is true, then that's a simple statement of what happened. People shrug their shoulders, and give the matter no thought, a deadness of spirit I find bewildering. For me, if I knew for a fact that there was only a one-in-a-thousand chance that this gonzo thing was true, I'd still sign on and ship out, no question. All else is dross.

Medieval carving, God chastises Adam and Eve. At The Palace of the Legion of Honor, SF
A cool medieval wood carving, God Chastises Adam and Eve. I saw this at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, SF.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:11 PM

April 3, 2011

"All things and all deeds have a value in themselves"

Excerpt from a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher, 10 April 1944 (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien , edited by Humphrey Carpenter)

I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: The millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days - quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice. If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens! And the products of it all will be mainly evil - historically considered. But the historic version is, of course, not the only one. All things and all deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their "causes" and "effects." No man can estimate what is really happening sub specie aeternitatis*. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors with vast power and perpetual success - in vain: preparing always the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 AM

March 26, 2011

if we meet again, you will know me

When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I'm feeling most ghost-like, it is your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I'm feeling sad, it's my consolation. When I'm feeling happy, it's part of why I feel that way. If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget, part of who I am will be gone. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well.

      -- Frederick Buechner

Posted by John Weidner at 10:02 PM

March 6, 2011

The work of heaven alone was material... The work of hell is entirely spiritua

This is from Chesterton's Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Dumb Ox" (You can find it on the Web, here.) It is a work of surpassing excllence and charm; indeed, one that is very hard to quote in a blog-post, because one wants the next paragraph too, and the next...

(I've also converted the web text into e-pub format, so I can read it on my iPhone. I can provide a copy if anyone wants one...)

...What is called the Manichean philosophy has had many forms; indeed it has attacked what is immortal and immutable with a very curious kind of immortal mutability. It is like the legend of the magician who turns himself into a snake or a cloud; and the whole has that nameless note of irresponsibility, which belongs to much of the metaphysics and morals of Asia, from which the Manichean mystery came.

But it is always in one way or another a notion that nature is evil; or that evil is at least rooted in nature. The essential point is that as evil has roots in nature, so it has rights in nature. Wrong has as much right to exist as right. As already stated this notion took many forms. Sometimes it was a dualism, which made evil an equal partner with good; so that neither could be called an usurper. More often it was a general idea that demons had made the material world, and if there were any good spirits they were concerned only with the spiritual world. Later, again, it took the form of Calvinism, which held that God had indeed made the world, but in a special sense, made the evil as well as the good: had made an evil will as well as an evil world. On this view, if a man chooses to damn his soul alive, he is not thwarting God's will but rather fulfilling it. In these two forms, of the early Gnosticism and the later Calvinism, we see the superficial variety and fundamental unity of Manicheanism. The old Manicheans taught that Satan originated the whole work of creation commonly attributed to God. The new Calvinists taught that God originates the whole work of damnation commonly attributed to Satan. One looked back to the first day when a devil acted like a god, the other looked forward to a last day when a god acted like a devil. But both had the idea that the creator of the earth was primarily the creator of the evil, whether we call him a devil or a god.

Since there are a good many Manicheans among the Moderns, as we may remark in a moment, some may agree with this view, some may be puzzled about it, some may only be puzzled about why we should object to it. To understand the medieval controversy, a word must be said of the Catholic doctrine, which is as modern as it is medieval. That "God looked on all things and saw that they were good" contains a subtlety which the popular pessimist cannot follow, or is too hasty to notice. It is the thesis that there are no bad things, but only bad uses of things. If you will, there are no bad things but only bad thoughts; and especially bad intentions. Only Calvinists can really believe that hell is paved with good intentions. That is exactly the one thing it cannot be paved with. But it is possible to have bad intentions about good things; and good things, like the world and the flesh have been twisted by a bad intention called the devil. But he cannot make things bad; they remain as on the first day of creation. The work of heaven alone was material; the making of a material world. The work of hell is entirely spiritual...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:18 AM

February 27, 2011

Gotta smile...

What marvelous things these Baptists are discovering! All–ahem– early Christian, y'unnerstand, nothing at all to do with those wicked Catholics.

Well, go for it! There's heaps more of such "Early Christian" stuff just lying around, free for the taking. Why, you could probably fill the whole year with them! Think of it as adding fiber to your diet.

Associated Baptist Press - Spiritual preparation for Easter not just a 'Catholic thing':

Easter Sunday -- the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ -- is for Christians the culmination of their community life, expressing the heart of their faith. But among Baptists and other evangelicals, an intentional period of preparation for their holiest day is often understated or absent -- in contrast to Christmas, the other great Christian observance, typically the focus of elaborate church festivities for weeks prior to Dec. 25.

Many Baptists are seeking to reclaim that pre-Easter focus -- historically called Lent -- which has been an integral part of many Christians' experience since the earliest years of the church.

"It's a biblical thing, not a made-up Catholic thing," says Kyle Henderson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas, acknowledging a robust Baptist suspicion of spiritual practices seen as too closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church or its distant cousins, the Anglicans.

Some Baptists say they sense those suspicions -- in part a legacy of the Protestant Reformation -- have left them with a diminished spiritual vocabulary.

"There is an uneasy sense that something got lost," says Phyllis Tickle, whose 2008 book, The Great Emergence, chronicles the blurring of denominational distinctions in late 20th- and early 21st-century American Christianity.

Every 500 years or so, says Tickle, the church metaphorically holds a great rummage sale, "getting rid of the junk that we believe no longer has value and finding treasures stuck in the attic because we didn't want them or were too naïve to know their true worth."

The Reformation was one of those rummage sales and the current great convergence" is another, she maintains. For evangelicals, the long-forgotten treasures in the attic include a wide array of spiritual disciplines -- including Lent -- with roots in the church's first centuries....

Of course the thing is, the Church is the center-of-gravity of Truth. She pulls us towards her. These folks are letting down their guard, and I'm looking forward to lots of laughs...

G. K. Chesterton once said of his own conversion to the Catholic Church:

I had no more idea of becoming a Catholic than of becoming a cannibal. I imagined that I was merely pointing out that justice should be done even to cannibals . . . [but] it is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair.

Heh heh...

Posted by John Weidner at 10:20 PM

February 19, 2011

Secondary loyalties are secondary...

GK Chesterton...

The same people who call the convert a pervert, and especially a traitor to patriotism, very often use the other catchword to the effect that he is forced to believe this or that. But it is not really a question of what a man is made to believe but of what he must believe; what he cannot help believing. He cannot disbelieve in an elephant when he has seen one; and he cannot treat the Church as a child when he has discovered that she is his mother. She is not only his mother but his country's mother in being much older and more aboriginal than his country. She is such a mother not in sentimental feeling but in historical fact.

He cannot think one thing when he knows the contrary thing. He cannot think that Christianity was invented by Penda of Mercia, who sent missionaries to the heathen Augustine and the rude and barbarous Gregory. He cannot think that the Church first rose in the middle of the British Empire, and not of the Roman Empire. He cannot think that England existed, with cricket and fox-hunting and the Jacobean translation all complete, when Rome was founded or when Christ was born. It is no good talking about his being "free" to believe these things. He is exactly as free to believe them as he is to believe that a horse has feathers or that the sun is pea green. He cannot believe them when once he fully realises them; and among such things is the notion that the national claim upon a good patriot is in its nature more absolute, ancient and authoritative than the claim of the whole religious culture which first mapped out its territories and anointed its kings.

That religious culture does indeed encourage him to fight to the last for his country, as for his family. But that is because the religious culture is generous and imaginative and humane and knows that men must have intimate and individual ties. But those secondary loyalties are secondary in time and logic to the law of universal morality which justifies them. And if the patriot is such a fool as to force the issue against that universal tradition from which his own patriotism descends, if he presses his claim to priority over the primitive law of the whole earth--then he will have brought it on himself if he is answered with the pulverising plainness of the Book of Job. As God said to the man, "Where were you when the foundations of the world were laid?" We might well say to the nation, "Where were you when the foundations of the Church were laid?" And the nation will not know in the least what to answer--if it should wish to answer-- but will be forced to put its hand upon its mouth, if only like one who yawns and falls asleep.

(Thanks to Jeffrey Steel)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:01 PM

February 13, 2011

"Theological Zombie Apocalypse"

Good stuff from Mark Shea, writing to a theology student who is concerned about the un-diluted liberalism of the reading for his Christology class... Some Suggestions on Subverting the Dominant Paradigm:

...As to the indoctrination materials they are having you read, consider it research for your future campaign of Subverting the Dominant Paradigm which you will wage once they've forced you to do the kabuki of offering the pinch of incense to the Spirit of Woodstock. You are not being brainwashed. You are building antibodies. Someday, like the Omega Man, your antibodies will inoculate others against the Theological Zombie Apocalypse that has overtaken so many schools of theology in Catholic higher education. You'll know the mantras and the tired heresies and will be able to explode them from within, freeing future students for the thrill of encountering orthodoxy instead of the wearying drone of the graying radicals who, instead of living 40 years since 1971, have been living 1971 40 times. You are Our Man in Academe, going deep undercover to destroy the regime of heresy from within.

The trick will be not so much to remain orthodox (that's fairly easy, considering how dreadfully dull the theological legacy of the Pepsi Generation is). Rather, the trick will be avoiding becoming a bitter Pharisee who turns Catholic faith into a particularly nasty and uninviting sort of Protestantism.

What do I mean? I mean that you cannot build a life on protest, not even a protest against heresy. If your Catholic faith is primarily a reaction against Those People Over There (whoever They are) then it is not about Jesus Christ, but about anger over some human hurt you have received (like the hurt of getting drivel from teachers who have betrayed their office and used it to subvert the gospel). The Catholic faith is not a mere reaction to this world. It is about God breaking into this world with joy in order to save it. It is hell, not the Faith, that is on the defensive. That's why "the gates of hell" (a defensive image from siege warfare) shall not prevail against the Church. So the trick is to be joyful, not angry and bitter, in your work of subverting the dominant paradigm. Have worldly teachers sold the Faith for a pot of heterodox message? Sure! What did you expect the world to do?

But the good news is, not only is that project failing, but the gospel is emerging stronger than ever because Jesus Christ lives. Brickbats and crosses it shall endure till That Day, but it remains full of joy, not bitterness, till then. So the approach we take is not the mere anger of the Revolutionary against the Old Regime, but the gladness of the saint. As Jesus put it:
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.� (Luke 10:18-20)
This mistaken focus on defeating the spirits rather than rejoicing in Heaven is the central mistake that many of those concerned about retrieving the Tradition from the vandals have made. They have become so focused on their anger over the vandalism that they have forgotten that it's not about defeating Hell, but about rejoicing over the triumph of a Heaven that has already defeated Hell on Easter.

So do your subversive work joyfully ...

"A pot of heterodox message" I haven't heard many puns better than that! I forgive forthwith Mr Shea for certain intellectual sins that have dispirited me in the past.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:38 PM

February 5, 2011

To be Christian and yet not a disciple simply does not compute...

Sherry Weddell, Of Spiritual Babies & Graduate School:

...Increasingly, evangelicals are more than willing to acknowledge Catholic strengths and are more than a little dazzled by them. I attended a gathering of high powered evangelicals committed to spiritual formation in early July. They were talking and quoting Catholic authors almost exclusively: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Green and referred a great deal to monastic practice. Their passion was a profound union with God and so naturally, they turned to the great mystics. I learned from them that many of the foremost evangelical universities in the country now have spiritual formation programs in place that are adopting the same approach.

But so many of their evangelical assumptions were still in place. One impressive missionary leader, who lives in St. Petersburg, was stunned when, in response to his questions, I had to explain to him that being a Christian and being a disciple weren't the same thing in the Catholic tradition. One was sacramentally based and the other a personal response.

The bewildered look on his face said it all. There was no place in his spiritual worldview for such a distinction. After all, he was turning to historic Christianity for guidance in how to help immature disciples become mature disciples. It had not yet dawned upon him that a faith that produces such saints could simultaneously have large numbers of members who are not yet disciples at all. Who don't even know that discipleship is possible. Many of whom don't even have an imaginative category in their heads for discipleship. Because they have never heard anyone talk about it....

I was raised Evangelical, and the odd thing is that I'm only really getting into that now that I'm a Catholic. All sorts of memories rise up from my youth; things I had quite forgotten.

And I too am, increasingly, "stunned" to discover what Sherry describes... "I had to explain to him that being a Christian and being a disciple weren't the same thing in the Catholic tradition.." I felt immediately at home in the Catholic Church, and still do. And yet, I also keep discovering that Catholics—cradle Catholics that is—are kinda weird.

But the interest of Evangelicals in Catholic teachings is an astonishing thing. I've never encountered this, but I've heard many rumors of it. It makes good sense, since the Church is a inexhaustible treasure house. But she is also mysteriously attractive, she draws people, and I'll bet dollars to your donuts that some of those evangelicals Sherry mentions will bye and bye be writing their conversion stories. Heh heh.

Myself, I'd advise evangelicals to infiltrate the Church and take over!


Posted by John Weidner at 10:31 PM

January 29, 2011

The analogical imagination...

From Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth, by Fr. Neuhaus...

...The analogical imagination seeks out resemblances, similarities, correspondences, and the overlapping truths between apparently disparate realities.It aims at synthesis on the far side of experienced antithesis, it aims at likeness on the far side of unlikeness. Thus human sexuality in marriage is like the union between Christ and his bride the Church. Thus, as Vatican II insisted, the Church is not an alternative to the world, but is a sacrament for the world, and even of the world. She is that part of the world aspiring to the world's fulfillment in Christ....

...The analogical imagination is precisely that, a matter of imagination, a matter of sensibility. That is why we speak of the spirit of Catholicism rather than the logic of Catholicism, though Catholicism is also perfectly logical. It is a matter of finding analogies with hope even in a world that denies that hope. The spirit of Catholicism begins with an irrepressible sympathy with the world that is the object of God's love in Christ. It sees in the world ever so much more than the world dares to see in itself. It sees in every human being a potentiality for glory far beyond that person's timorous aspirations. Remember how often John Paul II cited the passage from Gaudium et Spes that says Christ is not only the revelation of God to man, but the revelation of man to himself...


Posted by John Weidner at 5:56 PM

January 22, 2011

Whatever way you wrap the present...

From David Schütz, Tracey Rowland on "Sacro-Pop" :

...The idea of "marketing" the Gospel in a way that makes it "attractive" to the secular culture is always a mistake. Whatever way you wrap the present, inside the box will always be a bloody cross....

Christianity is really weird. Bloodstained and crazy and beautiful. There's no getting around the awkwardness. I dig it, but how do you explain to others? I certainly wish the essence of the thing were witty and charming and sophisticated, but really, why should God give a shit about games like that?

If you don't know, there is a ton of "Sacro-Pop" out there. I hate it.

Victor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, Shroud of Christ, 1901. Victor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, Shroud of Christ, 1901

Posted by John Weidner at 8:16 PM

January 16, 2011

A Prayer of St Bede...

This prayer in YouTube form is NOT finished. Not tweaked. But since I probably won't find time or oomph to re-work it, and I had nothing else in mind for a Sunday Thought, here it is. Think of it as a protest against chronocentrism.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:55 AM

January 9, 2011

"For him, 'conscience' means man's capacity for truth"

...Finally I should like to recall once more the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Why was he beatified? What does he have to say to us? Many responses could be given to these questions, which were explored in the context of the beatification. I would like to highlight just two aspects which belong together and which, in the final analysis, express the same thing. The first is that we must learn from Newman's three conversions, because they were steps along a spiritual path that concerns us all. Here I would like to emphasize just the first conversion: to faith in the living God. Until that moment, Newman thought like the average men of his time and indeed like the average men of today, who do not simply exclude the existence of God, but consider it as something uncertain, something with no essential role to play in their lives. What appeared genuinely real to him, as to the men of his and our day, is the empirical, matter that can be grasped. This is the "reality" according to which one finds one's bearings. The "real" is what can be grasped, it is the things that can be calculated and taken in one's hand.

In his conversion, Newman recognized that it is exactly the other way round: that God and the soul, man's spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. These are much more real than objects that can be grasped. This conversion was a Copernican revolution. What had previously seemed unreal and secondary was now revealed to be the genuinely decisive element. Where such a conversion takes place, it is not just a person's theory that changes: the fundamental shape of life changes. We are all in constant need of such conversion: then we are on the right path.

The driving force that impelled Newman along the path of conversion was conscience. But what does this mean? In modern thinking, the word "conscience" signifies that for moral and religious questions, it is the subjective dimension, the individual, that constitutes the final authority for decision. The world is divided into the realms of the objective and the subjective. To the objective realm belong things that can be calculated and verified by experiment. Religion and morals fall outside the scope of these methods and are therefore considered to lie within the subjective realm. Here, it is said, there are in the final analysis no objective criteria. The ultimate instance that can decide here is therefore the subject alone, and precisely this is what the word "conscience" expresses: in this realm only the individual, with his intuitions and experiences, can decide.

Newman's understanding of conscience is diametrically opposed to this. For him, "conscience" means man's capacity for truth: the capacity to recognize precisely in the decision-making areas of his life – religion and morals – a truth, the truth. At the same time, conscience – man's capacity to recognize truth – thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. Conscience is both capacity for truth and obedience to the truth which manifests itself to anyone who seeks it with an open heart. The path of Newman's conversions is a path of conscience – not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him.

In support of the claim that Newman's concept of conscience matched the modern subjective understanding, people often quote a letter in which he said – should he have to propose a toast – that he would drink first to conscience and then to the Pope. But in this statement, "conscience" does not signify the ultimately binding quality of subjective intuition. It is an expression of the accessibility and the binding force of truth: on this its primacy is based. The second toast can be dedicated to the Pope because it is his task to demand obedience to the truth.

link, Vatican site. Thanks to Jeffrey Steel

Posted by John Weidner at 9:35 AM

January 2, 2011

All battle-stained and grim are they, Who seek the Prince of Peace to-day...

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany...


THE Kings still come to Bethlehem
Though nineteen centuries have fled;
The Kings still come to Bethlehem
To worship at a Baby's bed.
And still a star shines in the East,
For sage and soldier, king and priest.

They come not as they came of old
On lordly camels richly dight;
They come not bearing myrrh and gold
And jewels for a king's delight.
All battle-stained and grim are they
Who seek the Prince of Peace to-day.

They bring not pearls nor frankincense
To offer Him for His content.
Weary and worn with long suspense
With kingdoms ravished, fortunes spent,
They have no gifts to bring but these
Men's blood and women's agonies.

What toys have they to please a child?
Cannon and gun and bayonet.
What gold? Their honour undefiled.
What myrrh? Sad hearts and long regret.
For they have found through bitter loss
That Kings are throned upon the Cross.

The Kings still come to Bethlehem
With broken hearts and souls sore-vexed.
And still the star is guiding them
Through weary nights and days perplexed.
God greet you, Kings, that you may be
New-crowned at His Epiphany.
    -- Winifred Letts
Posted by John Weidner at 6:38 PM

December 24, 2010

Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined...

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

Thou hast multiplied the nation,
thou hast increased its joy;
they rejoice before thee
as with joy at the harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
thou hast broken as on the day of Mid'ian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
"Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Merry Christmas to you all, from the Weidners!

Posted by John Weidner at 5:44 PM

December 12, 2010

"To persecute for a doctrine without even stating it"

Heretics by Gilbert Keith Chesterton: Ch. 1: Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy:

...And having discovered that opportunism does fail, I have been induced to look at it more largely, and in consequence to see that it must fail. I perceive that it is far more practical to begin at the beginning and discuss theories. I see that the men who killed each other about the orthodoxy of the Homoousion were far more sensible than the people who are quarreling about the Education Act.

For the Christian dogmatists were trying to establish a reign of holiness, and trying to get defined, first of all, what was really holy. But our modern educationists are trying to bring about a religious liberty without attempting to settle what is religion or what is liberty. If the old priests forced a statement on mankind, at least they previously took some trouble to make it lucid. It has been left for the modern mobs of Anglicans and Nonconformists to persecute for a doctrine without even stating it....

"To persecute for a doctrine without even stating it" A motto and a goal for liberals!

Posted by John Weidner at 9:26 AM

December 11, 2010

Is the Church just one voluntary organization among many?

The always-worth-listening-to Fr. Robert Barron on the muddled thinking behind Catholics leaving the Church...

It's funny how the usual suspects consider any problem in the Church to be solvable by gay marriage/contraception/married priests/woman priests... always the same list. Probably if giant spiders from Venus were turning the earth to smoking rubble with death rays they would opine that it is time the Bishops reconsidered married priests!

One of our commenters here, Suek, wrote something interesting here...

...Years and years ago, our principal (a nun) told us that the Communists would attempt to destroy us from within, and their tool would be sex, because that was the strongest drive mankind had, and by encouraging sexual freedom, rebellion against the restrictions by family and church would result. I thought she was a bit "teched in the head" as they say....but all these years later, she was right.

Well, that's pretty much what has happened. Is happening.

* Word Note for the pedantic. The principal was not a nun, she was a religious sister. A nun is a cloistered religious. The male equivalent is a monk.

In the Thirteenth Century men began to live the disciplined prayerful lives of monks while working out among the people, instead of staying in monasteries. Especially in the growing cities. The members of the new orders were called friars, which means brothers. The two great leaders of this movement were St Francis and St Dominic. Women quickly joined the movement, and were called... sisters.

Charlene and I belong to a Dominican parish, and our friars still wear much the same white habit they did in the Thirteenth Century. Our sisters modernized, and are now virtually extinct. However, the church always renews herself, and there are new movements of Dominican sisters which are fast-growing and youthful. Here's one. Started in 1997 with 4 women. Now over 100, and still growing. (I saw a few of them once, and they were very impressive gals!)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 PM

December 5, 2010

"Live in sober joy, or joyful sobriety"

Fr. Z, About the Last Sunday of the Church's Year. (The season of Advent begins the Church year. He was writing on the last Sunday of the year, two weeks ago, about the Advent season to come.)

...We simultaneously long for the Second Coming of the Lord – that is what Advent is about, by the way, the Second Coming in glory and judgment – and we dread it. Early Christians prayed with longing "Come! Lord, Come!" In later centuries the sense of longing was replaced with sober realization of what we will endure on the day of His Coming.

Both of these attitudes can help us in our own day to be concerned with joyful sobriety, sober joy, about the meeting we will have with the Lord when He comes. Do not forget that the last day of your life is going to be an anticipation of the Second Coming. As Augustine wrote: Qualis in die isto quisque moritur, talis in die illo iudicabitur (ep. 199.2).

In death your life will be laid bare. In the Second Coming itself, the Lord will lay bare all things. That which we have endured in life with patient perseverance and sometime suffering shall be given explanations.

St. Augustine explained that the Lord's judgments are obscure to us now, but later they will be made clear. Justice in this life is imperfect. In the life to come it will be perfected.

All that which He has permitted to happen now, will be given reasons and explanations and we will finally see the perfect justice even behind what now is hidden and challenging.

The Church's year presents us anew with the unchanging mysteries of our salvation. But year year we are a little different and closer to the moment when the Lord's hidden justice and judgments will be revealed. Do not be content to leave yourself straying on your life's path toward your judgment with the knowledge of your saving Faith as it was when you were fresh from catechism as a child. Some people do. Do not leave yourself cold on the this path without the warming effect of works of mercy.

Live in sober joy, or joyful sobriety about the state of your soul even as you follow your mapway toward the Coming Lord through our Holy Church's mysterious years of waiting....
Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 AM

November 27, 2010

If Martin Luther had been elected pope...

...As an Evangelical I had always thought that the claim of papal infallibility was a power grab on the part of the pope. It would give any pope the power to fashion things just to his liking. What I came to see, however, is that the truth could not be more opposite. Infallibility is an entirely conservative doctrine. It means that no present or future pope can change (contradict) any dogma that has been accepted by the Church throughout her history... In an era where people have come to desire change for its own sake, this teaching assures us that the original dogma of the Church will be protected through the ages...
    -- David B. Currie, in Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic

"Papal Infallibility" sounds preposterous to modern ears, but it simply means that the pope is protected from teaching heresy. That's all. Popes can, and have, been bad or misguided in all sorts of ways. But even the worst of them has never even tried to change the basic doctrines of the faith. That's pretty amazing when you think of it

And this is nothing for a pope to brag about. It has nothing to do with him being wise or virtuous. If Martin Luther had been elected pope, he would have immediately ceased his wicked contumacy and become an orthodox Catholic.

You may think I'm telling a stretcher, but in fact there was one pope, Vigilius, who was a heretic when elected. He had been a leader among the Monophysites. He was strong-armed into the office of pope by the Empress Theodora, and the two of them were probably complicit in the deaths of the two previous popes. Yet upon election Vigilius immediately renounced heresy and preached orthodox Christianity, even though he knew it would cost him his life.

Posted by John Weidner at 2:49 PM

November 21, 2010

Objectively, not subjectively....

By George Weigel, Please pass the ontology:

A philosophically-minded young friend recently sent me a fine rant, after having watched a presidential candidates' cattle call on CNN. The discussion had focused on religion. Several candidates, who identified themselves as Catholics, had indicated that their Christianity was rather easily bracketed when they put on their hats as public servants. "Does ontology mean nothing to these people?" my friend asked. "Do they even know what it is?"

Well, no. They don't.

And that's a problem.

By "ontology," my correspondent was using the technical vocabulary of philosophy to re-capture an image once familiar to generations of Catholics from the Baltimore Catechism, the image of an "indelible mark" imprinted on the soul by certain sacraments. This image of the "indelible mark" was intended to convey a basic truth of Catholic faith: that the reception of certain sacraments changed the recipient forever, by conferring on him or her a new identity — not in the psychological sense of that overused term, but substantively. Or, if you'll pardon the term, ontologically.

Baptism is a sacrament with what we might call ontological heft. To become a Christian through baptism is qualitatively different from becoming a citizen, a member of the Supreme Court bar, a Detroit Tigers fan, a collector of vintage Volvos, a bourbon drinker, a member of the Democratic or Republican parties, a lifelong student of Dante, or a trout fisherman. When one becomes a Christian through baptism and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, one is changed in a fundamental way: as St. Paul taught those rowdy Corinthians), one becomes a "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17).

That ontological change in baptism (and I swear that's the last time I'll use the o-word) incorporates a Catholic into the Church. The Church is not incidental to our identity as new creations in Christ; we don't "join" the Church the way we join the Rotary, the Kiwanis, the American Association of University Women, the A.M.A., the American Legion, or my beloved Society for the Restoration of Lost Positives ("ept," "ert," etc.). Being a Catholic Christian engages who-I-am in a substantively different way than any other aspect of my "identity" — not because I think that's the case, or because I feel that's the case, but because that is the case: objectively, not subjectively. Baptism has real effects; it changes us forever...

Posted by John Weidner at 3:15 PM

November 13, 2010

"I will pour out my spirit on all flesh"

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Joel 2:27-29

Posted by John Weidner at 6:24 PM

November 7, 2010

"The decisive element is not this or that person, but all mankind"

FromThe Spirit of Catholicism, by Karl Adam...

...It is clear therefore, in the light of the redemption, that the Church did not come into being only when Peter and John and Paul became believers. It became objectively existent when the divine Word united His nature with human nature in the unity of His person. The Incarnation is for Christians the foundation and planting of that new communion which we call the Church. The Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God came into being as objective reality at the moment when the Word was made flesh. Apart from the Greek Fathers it was especially St. Augustine, the great and saintly doctor of Hippo, who perceived this connection between the Incarnation and the Church and by its means established anew the supernatural sublimity of the Church's nature.

We must take this connection to heart if we would appreciate the Catholic conception of the Church in all its profundity. Only so shall we understand why the idea of community is its dominant idea, and why the community cannot be the product of the faithful, a creation of these or those persons, but must be a supra-personal unity, a unity which permeates and embraces the whole of redeemed humanity. As such a unity the Church is nothing vague or undefined, but the actual inner unity of redeemed humanity united with Christ. In the Catholic conception of the Church the decisive element is not this or that person, but all mankind.
Two important consequences follow from this. One of these has already been developed, the fact, namely, that the organ of the redeeming spirit of our divine Savior, its incarnation and manifestation, is not the individual personality, but the community as community. The spirit of Christ is realized in the community. Therefore the visibility of the Church does not consist merely in the visibility of its individual members, but in the visibility of its compact unity, of its community. But where there is a community, a comprehensive unity, there is distribution and co-ordination of functions. That is the second consequence that follows from the mystery of the Incarnation. The Christian unity is no mere mechanical unity, but a unity with inner differentiation, an organic unity. The Body of Christ, if it be a true body, must have members and organs with their special tasks and functions, which, each in its measure, serve the development of the essential form of the body and which therefore serve one another.

When St. Paul, the first apostle to formulate the expression "Body of Christ," develops this conception in the twelfth Chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, he already stresses this point and speaks of the organic functioning of this body: "Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all . . . For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body: so also is Christ.... God indeed hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracle-workers, then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches." It is therefore the view of the apostle that the community is of its nature differentiated, that the body works as a unity through a diversity of organic functions, that the unity of the whole attests the unity of the spirit of Jesus. It is true that St. Paul does not distinguish the various functions of the one organism with theological precision. Such precision came with later developments and with the speculation that sprang from them. Time made it clear that some of the gifts, such as those of the apostolate, of teaching, and of government, belong to the nature of the Church and could not be discarded; whereas others, such as the gifts of prophecy, miracles and tongues, were the manifestation of a superabundant Christian life, and to be regarded not as structurally necessary to that life, but rather as signs and expressions of it.

But the fundamental thought, that the Body of Christ is and must be an organic body, that it works by its very nature in a manifold of functions, and that this manifold is bound together by the one Spirit of Christ into an inner unity: this thought is native to St. Paul, and it is the heritage and fundamental principle of the whole Christian Gospel....
Posted by John Weidner at 6:43 PM

October 30, 2010

"Orgulous infidels"

David B. Hart, ...of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves...

...As far as Patrick was concerned, the matter had been settled; [his young son had been "taught," absurdly, that science had proved there were no "spirits of the trees and streams."] but I have to admit that the episode continues to trouble me. It is not that I expect my son never to be exposed to any of the conceptual confusion or magical claptrap of his age; and I trust to his native intelligence to disabuse him of the worst of it. But it is still depressing to think how much conceited gibberish has become simply part of the received wisdom of our time.

It puts me in mind of a particularly annoying witticism that one occasionally encounters in the current popular debates between atheists and theists: the orgulous infidel waves his hand contemptuously and announces that he believes neither that there is a God nor that there are fairies at the bottom of his garden—or (a slight variation on the theme) observes that everyone in the room is an unbeliever when it comes to Thor or Baal, and that the atheist is simply an unbeliever in one god more.

There are two reasons for treating such remarks with indignant disdain: the obvious one and mine. The obvious one, of course, is that only a simpleton could mistake these two orders of conviction for specimens of the same kind of belief.

A person who believes in fairies or in Thor may or may not be mistaken about certain finite objects within the cosmos; a person who believes in God may or may not be mistaken about being, the nature of existence itself, the logical possibility of any world, the moral meaning of the universe, and so on. The former kind of belief concerns facts of experience, the latter truths of reason, and to suggest that they occupy the same conceptual or existential space is either to confess one's own stupidity or willfully to engage in cheap rhetorical thuggery.

That though, as I say, is obvious. My reason for taking exception to such remarks is perhaps somewhat more precious, but still quite sincere. Simply enough, what if there are fairies at the bottom of one's garden? Or, more precisely, what the hell is so irrational in believing there are or might be?

One may be in error on the matter, naturally—one may just have misread the signs—but one cannot justly be accused of having committed any trespass against logic. Nothing gives us warrant to imagine that, on account of our grasp of various organic processes, we have succeeded in lifting the veil of Isis....

I've just started a very witty and interesting book by Mr Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, so it was a treat to enjoy this article, and then belatedly realize that they were by the same person. I think the book is going to be one I'll recommend.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:10 PM

October 24, 2010

"If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you?"

With the Holy Father just now naming new cardinals, it is fitting to quote from the Biglietto speech of John Henry Newman. (A Biglietto is the letter appointing a Cardinal of the Church.)

...This is what he had the kindness to say to me, and what could I want more? In a long course of years I have made many mistakes. I have nothing of that high perfection which belongs to the writings of Saints, viz., that error cannot be found in them; but what I trust that I may claim all through what I have written, is this,—an honest intention, an absence of private ends, a temper of obedience, a willingness to be corrected, a dread of error, a desire to serve Holy Church, and, through Divine mercy, a fair measure of success. And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society...

Word Note logo Word Note. Like most Catholic terms, biglietto sounds mysterious to English speakers, but is actually very informal and slangy. It just means "ticket." And "cardinal" comes from the Latin cardo, "hinge," meaning "principal" or "chief".

Posted by John Weidner at 4:20 PM

October 23, 2010

"He would be better off putting faith in his dog"

More Stuff I See On the Way to Work - Light On Dark Water:

This morning I saw a car that had a big sticker saying "Dog Is Love," and some other dog-fanatic message that I can't remember now. Well, fine, I like dogs, too, but I wondered if this person really meant the implicit putdown of Christianity ("God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him"). Then I noticed that the car also had one of those Darwin-fish emblems. You know what I mean if you drive in this country: it's a parody of the Christian icthus symbol, with Darwin's name in place of the Greek letters (also little feet--fish evolving into amphibian).

The Darwin fish seems to be pretty popular, which means a lot of people consider it a pretty good jibe, but it's always struck me as a massively ineffective one, because it's so asymmetrical. It's like an envious person saying "Well, you may be rich, but I have a coupon for a free order of fries at McDonald's." It suggests that the person displaying it puts in Darwin or Darwinism the same sort of faith that a Christian puts in God, which is just sort of sad. He would be better off putting faith in his dog—at least the dog knows who he is, and loves him. In the case of the owner of this car, the dog might be a better philosopher than the master.
Posted by John Weidner at 6:25 PM

October 16, 2010

"poached eggs only exist as a dream exists..."

The philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs.

The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God. Thus, even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask.

I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else: certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning.

    — GK Chesterton, from St. Thomas Aquinas (1933).

(Thanks to The Hebdomadal Chesterton)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:05 PM

October 9, 2010

But we that sit in a sturdy youth, And still can drink strong ale...

Hillaire Belloc


Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!
    -- Hilaire Belloc
Posted by John Weidner at 8:48 PM

October 2, 2010

"Every virtue except the power of connected thought"

To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think. It is so in exactly the same sense in which to recover from palsy is not to leave off moving but to learn how to move. The Catholic convert has for the first time a starting-point for straight and strenuous thinking. He has for the first time a way of testing the truth in any question that he raises.

As the world goes, especially at present, it is the other people, the heathen and the heretics, who seem to have every virtue except the power of connected thought. There was indeed a brief period when a small minority did some hard thinking on the heathen or heretical side. It barely lasted from the time of Voltaire to the time of Huxley. It has now entirely disappeared. What is now called free thought is valued, not because it is free thought, but because it is freedom from thought; because it is free thoughtlessness.
      — G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion

Posted by John Weidner at 7:25 PM

September 25, 2010

"Everything else turns out somehow boring anyway"

...Anyone who thinks he already has it all, so he can take what he wants and center everything on himself, is depriving himself of giving what he otherwise could. Man is not there to make himself, but to respond to demands made upon him. We all stand in a great arena of history, and are dependent on each other. A man ought not, therefore, just to figure out what he would like, but to ask what he can do and how he can help.

Then he will see that fulfillment does not lie in comfort, ease, and following ones inclinations, but precisely in allowing demands to be made upon you, in taking the harder path. Everything else turns out somehow boring anyway. Only the man who "risks the fire", who recognizes a calling within himself, a vocation, an ideal he must satisfy, who takes on real responsibility, will find fulfillment. As we have said, it is not in taking, not on the path of comfort, that we become rich, but only in giving.
      -- Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World, page 258

Posted by John Weidner at 8:51 PM

September 19, 2010

A political heresy?

I thought this piece, It's not about the Tea: Catholic Christine O'Donnell Rejects Political Heresy — Catholic Online, was very interesting for the way it mingles politics and religion (Which I think is just common sense. Ones core philosophy is reflected in both.):

...As a Catholic I contend Christine's win was not only about the tea party. Do not get me wrong, I truly admire the movement. However, Christine O'Donnell is simply trying to be a faithful Catholic Christian. She may not remember me, but I met her many years ago. I was involved in one of several efforts I have undertaken in my life (none of which have "succeeded".. yet) of attempting to organize Catholics to inform their political participation in fidelity to the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church and a hierarchy of values - NOT based upon Partisan political labels. She espoused then what she espouses today....

...However, there is a "political dualism" emerging in Republican circles which MUST be exposed and rejected. The argument is that there are "social" and "economic" issues and they must be kept "separate". Proponents claim we can "only win if we stay focused on the economic issues". Mitch Daniel and Haley Barbour are the most recent examples. WE MUST SAY NO!

For example, the reason we care about expanding economic opportunity is because we respect the dignity of every human person. The reason we want to ensure the application of the principle of subsidiarity and keep government at the lowest level is because we respect the primacy of the first government, the family. Social and political issue cannot be separated, just as the soul and the body cannot be separated.

Catholics must reject the efforts to divide the "economic" and "social" spheres. Like the earliest heresies in the Church which separated body and soul, the separation of economic and social issues is a political heresy. I encourage Christine O'Donnell to run based upon this important truth. I will be watching her race with great interest....

Actually I'd add that the separation of economic, social, and national defense issues is political sickness. The health of the body politic flows from the health of all our souls. and part of the sickness of our time is the spreading belief that nothing is worth fighting for.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:01 AM

September 11, 2010

And did the Countenance Divine, Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

Scott Hahn, From A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture

...We aren't accustomed to contemplating the symbolic meaning and divine mystery present within the world. Since the Enlightenment, many people have viewed God as a clockmaker, winding up the universe and letting it run its course. (One might almost say that our scientific worldview is closer to ancient Baal worship, which held impersonal forces of nature as supreme powers in this world.)

Rather, the world was created to be a sacrament. In other words, everything on earth was made to point to heavenly realities. Science has stripped reality down to a barren rationalism. In so doing it has blurred reality; faith corrects our vision so that we can see the splendor and mystery—and romance—that is reality

Throughout the world God has placed signs that symbolize invisible realities, signs that point to him. Tragically, his people are not familiar with those signs. So we end up missing the richness of the liturgy, which is meant to reflect the worship of the heavenly Jerusalem...

Albion, from Blake's Jerusalem
        William Blake, The Giant Albion, from Jerusalem, 1804

Posted by John Weidner at 8:23 PM

September 4, 2010

Interchangeable parts...

Joyce A. Little, from The Church and the Culture War: Secular Anarchy or Sacred Order
...One of the most important, and at the time unintended consequences of the civil rights movement was that it inspired two other political movements, the feminist movement and the gay rights movement. Each of these movements bears at least a superficial resemblance to the civil rights movement, in that each speaks for people whose rights to equality before the law are thought by them to have been ignored or violated and each claims that the basis upon which such equality has been denied (gender in the case of feminists, sexual orientation in the case of the gays) is as inconsequential or insignificant as skin color.

Precisely at this point at which gender and sexual orientation were declared to be insignificant as skin color, equality turned into egalitarianism. For this was the point at which the belief that all human beings are equal turned into the belief that all differences between human beings are also equal—and equally trivial. This was the point at which the equality of all human beings started to be defended specifically on grounds that all people are fundamentally identical and interchangeable...


...Egalitarianism is a necessity for people intent on believing they are sufficient unto themselves, capable of actualizing, fulfilling and beatifying themselves. They cannot accept moral differentiations between a superior good and an inferior evil or ontological differentiations between order and disorder, since that would force them to acknowledge the existance of an objective reality larger than themselves which they cannot control

Ontological differentiations, as between male and female, in which both are recognized to be good and equal but different are also unnaceptable, since the obvious implication of such differentiation is that while each is good in itself and equal to the other, each is also incomplete in itself, requiring the other for its own completion. This also the imperial self cannot acknowledge, since the autonomous self holds itself to be already complete or at least capable of becoming complete within itself and by itself...

Posted by John Weidner at 4:11 PM

August 28, 2010


From Tom Wright's essay, Decoding The Da Vinci Code:

...Let me sum up this lecture in the following way. The Da Vinci Code is a symptom of something much bigger, a lightning rod which has throbbed with the electricity of the postmodern western world.

One of the basic fault lines in the contemporary Western world is the line between neo-Gnosticism on the one hand and the challenge of Jesus on the other. Please note that, despite strenuous attempts to make this line coincide with the current sharp left-right polarization of American culture and politics, it simply doesn't. Nor, for that matter, does it coincide with the polarizations of British or European culture either. So what is this real, deep polarization which runs through our world?

Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live. It is the philosophy which declares that the only real moral imperative is that you should then be true to what you find when you engage in that deep inward search. But this is not a religion of redemption. It is not at all a Jewish vision of the covenant God who sets free the helpless slaves. It appeals, on the contrary, to the pride that says "I'm really quite an exciting person, deep down, whatever I may look like outwardly" — the theme of half the cheap movies and novels in today's world. It appeals to the stimulus of that ever-deeper navel-gazing ("finding out who I really am") which is the subject of a million self-help books, and the home-made validation of a thousand ethical confusions. It corresponds, in other words, to what a great many people in our world want to believe and want to do, rather than to the hard and bracing challenge of the very Jewish gospel of Jesus. It appears to legitimate precisely that sort of religion which a large swathe of America and a fair chunk of Europe yearns for: a free-for-all, do-it-yourself spirituality, with a strong though ineffective agenda of social protest against the powers that be, and an I'm-OK-you're-OK attitude on all matters religious and ethical. At least, with one exception: You can have any sort of spirituality you like (Zen, labyrinths, Tai Chi) as long as it isn't orthodox Christianity.

By contrast, the challenge of Jesus, in the 21st century as in the first, is that we should look away from ourselves and get on board with the project the one true God launched at creation and re-launched with Jesus himself. The authentic Christian gospel, which is good news about something that has happened as a result of which the world is a different place — this gospel demands that we submit to Jesus as Lord and allow all other allegiances, loves and self-discoveries to be realigned in that light. God's project, and God's gospel, are rooted in solid history as opposed to Gnostic fantasy and its modern equivalents. Genuine Christianity is to be expressed in self-giving love and radical holiness, not self-cosseting self-discovery. And it lives by, and looks for the completion of, the new world in which God will put all things to rights and wipe away all tears from all eyes; in which all knees will bow at the name of Jesus, not because he had a secret love-child, not because he was a teacher of recondite wisdom, not because he showed us how we could get in touch with the hidden feminine, but because he died as the fulfillment of the Scriptural story of God's people and rose as the fulfillment of the world-redeeming purposes of the same creator God; and because, in that death and resurrection, we discover him to be the one at whose name every knee shall indeed bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father....
Posted by John Weidner at 6:52 PM

August 22, 2010


I've been subjected lately to far more waffling vagueness and equivocation than my heart can easily endure, so this dose of bluntness was refreshing. (This isn't, of course up to the sermonizing standards of the Ordo Praedicatorum, our dear Dominicans, but Franciscans are often worth listening to.)

(Thanks to Patrick Madrid)

St. Augustine: "Concerning those things, then, which are known to God, unknown to us, we judge our neighbors at our peril. Of this the Lord has said, Judge not. But concerning things which are open and public evils, we may and ought to judge and correct, but still with charity and love, hating not the man, but the sin, detesting not the sick man, but the disease.
Posted by John Weidner at 9:21 AM

Random Sunday quote...

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
    --Archbishop Raymond Burke
Posted by John Weidner at 9:18 AM

August 14, 2010

The great koan...

Pascal, Penseé #631:

It is good to be tired and weary from fruitlessly seeking the true good, so that one can stretch out one's arms to the Redeemer.

Awesome line! Peter Kreeft comments (Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's Pensees):

Suprise! "Seek and you shall find" is a koan, an unsolvable puzzle. If we do not seek, we will not find; but finding God does not come as a direct result of our seeking either. We don't find God as we find a planet but more as we find a mate. We do not find God, we are found by God. (See the last two paragraphs of chapter 11 of C. S. Lewis' Miracles.)

So you can't get to God by trying, and you can't get to him by not trying. It's an unsolvable puzzle, solvable only by God.

If it is the true God we are dealing with, and not some figment of our comfortable imagination, we will come sooner or later to a turning point in our search where we discover that"you can't get there from here" (in the words of the famous Vermont farmer joke); that our ignorance, our impotence and above all our sin blocks our access to God; and that unless God has stretched out his hand to save us, we cannot stretch out our hand to him and be saved.

At this point we discover what we can do: just say Yes, accept, believe, receive, open our tight-clenched hands and hearts and let him enter.

If you have never done that, it's not too late—yet.
Posted by John Weidner at 4:50 PM

August 8, 2010

Every true scientist will be saved...

...If he had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightning and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest see him.

This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness, because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them. Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not.

'There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.'
      — Blaise Pascal, Pensées, #149. [ Link to my edition, which I recommend.]

That last line is perfect!

The word "science" means an organized search for truth in a particular subject. We use the term mostly for natural science, but one can speak of "the science of criminology," or "the science of history." Someone who calls himself or herself a scientist should be a seeker of truth.

A true scientist is a seeker of truth. Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Thus the true scientist, who hungers for truth, will be saved, either in this world or the world to come. [More here. And here.]

Alas, in our time the word scientist has come to mean a technician in a white coat who is the willing slave and hireling tool of giant leftist bureaucracies, willing to lie and deceive if it will feed the power of the state. [For instance, a few items plucked from my "science" category: Link, link, link, link, link. The are tons more there.]

Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 AM

July 31, 2010

Right Reason,

From Idea Of A University, by John Henry Newman. (Thanks to Carl Olsen)
Right Reason, that is, Reason rightly exercised, leads the mind to the Catholic Faith, and plants it there, and teaches it in all its religious speculations to act under its guidance. But Reason, considered as a real agent in the world, and as an operative principle in man's nature, with an historical course and with definite results, is far from taking so straight and satisfactory a direction.

It considers itself from first to last independent and supreme; it requires no external authority; it makes a religion for itself. Even though it accepts Catholicism, it does not go to sleep; it has an action and development of its own, as the passions have, or the moral sentiments, or the principle of self-interest. Divine grace, to use the language of Theology, does not by its presence supersede nature; nor is nature at once brought into simple concurrence and coalition with grace. Nature pursues its course, now coincident with that of grace, now parallel to it, now across, now divergent, now counter, in proportion to its own imperfection and to the attraction and influence which grace exerts over it.

And what takes place as regards other principles of our nature and their developments is found also as regards the Reason. There is, we know, a Religion of enthusiasm, of superstitious ignorance, of statecraft; and each has that in it which resembles Catholicism, and that again which contradicts Catholicism. There is the Religion of a warlike people, and of a pastoral people; there is a Religion of rude times, and in like manner there is a Religion of civilized times, of the cultivated intellect, of the philosopher, scholar, and gentleman. This is that Religion of Reason, of which I speak. Viewed in itself, however near it comes to Catholicism, it is of course simply distinct from it; for Catholicism is one whole, and admits of no compromise or modification.

Yet this is to view it in the abstract; in matter of fact, and in reference to individuals, we can have no difficulty in conceiving this philosophical Religion present in a Catholic country, as a spirit influencing men to a certain extent, for good or for bad or for both,–a spirit of the age, which again may be found, as among Catholics, so with still greater sway and success in a country not Catholic, yet specifically the same in such a country as it exists in a Catholic community. The problem then before us today, is to set down some portions of the outline, if we can ascertain them, of the Religion of Civilization, and to determine how they lie relatively to those principles, doctrines, and rules, which Heaven has given us in the Catholic Church.
Posted by John Weidner at 3:19 PM

July 25, 2010

Why does God create?

Fr. Robert Barron, "God does not need us"


Posted by John Weidner at 7:32 AM

July 18, 2010

Weigel on Chesterton... "The sense of sacramentality"

This is by George Weigel, in Letters to a Young Catholic. A book I recommend. It's from a chapter of Chesterton quotes, with his thoughts on them...
On Small and Large Infinities

The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason . . . his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large . . . There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity . . . the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction.
[GK Chesterton]
What's wrong with the way many skeptical moderns "see" the world? They see the world as a narrow infinity because they've lost the sense of sacramentality. As GKC put it, the modern materialist skeptic—the modern gnostic—"understands everything and everything does not seem worth understanding." Catholicism offers a different kind of infinity: a larger infinity, in which reason is enriched by imagination and imagination is disciplined by reason. As I already suggested, in the Catholic sacramental imagination, we "think" with our brains, our senses, and our emotions. Thinking with only or brains gives us a headache; it also gives us an aching soul. The deepest longings within us—for communion with others, wisdom, joy, accomplishment, love—annot be satisfied by reducing the world to syllogisms. Human beings were made for a wider infinity, for a more ample eternity.

(The Chesterton quote is from Orthodoxy. It's available on the Web here.)


Posted by John Weidner at 2:22 PM

July 11, 2010

Bible facts you may not know #2

I wrote a previous post on various historical facts that can help make the Bible intelligible. (Read it here.) Here are some more...

Talent. The thing to keep in mind was that a Talent was a LOT of money. When Jesus told the story of the man giving his servant ten Talents to invest, (Matthew 25:14-30) it was probably like us saying ten million dollars! People would have smiled at the humor of it (and remembered the story because of it). No ordinary person would see such an amount in their whole life.

6,000 Greek Drachmae (or the equivalent Roman Denarius or Jewish Half-Shekel) made a silver Talent. One Drachmon was a very good day's wage. You could hire a mercenary for that. If you figure six work-days a week, then a silver Talent was over 19 man years! Ordinary people would have been thinking in terms of silver—a gold Talent was worth ten times as much.

The coin shown is a Greek Tetradrachmon coin, (four Drachmae) owned by my son the classicist. It's about the size of a nickel.

The name "Jesus." It's a Greek version of Jeshua, or Joshua. It is not some alien imposition. Palestine was embedded in the Greek-speaking world, and many Jews of the time also had Greek names or used alternate Greek versions of their Hebrew names. Something similar happens now. My kids have a friend named Sam, but he is also named Schmuel. There's no ambiguity because everyone knows both his names and what context they are used in.

Did Jesus speak Greek? Of course he did. My take is that the situation was similar to immigrant Jewish communities in America in, say, 1900. You spoke Yiddish in the neighborhood, but if you were a person of any smarts or ambition you needed to speak English too.

Joseph the carpenter. The word translated as carpenter is the Greek word "tekton." But this could also mean a builder or mason or even a tentmaker. Joseph might have been a very humble village carpenter making yokes and plows. But he could equally have been the master of a workshop. Or what we would call a contractor, employing workers. Nazareth was about four miles from Sepphoris, the largest city in Galilee. Sepphoris was destroyed by the Romans in 4BC, and was perhaps being busily re-built in Jesus' youth.

It is very possible that Nazareth was the equivalent of an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood today, with men going out to work among the gentiles, but returning to a small pure stand-offish community afterwards.

Bethlehem is about six miles south of Jerusalem. It was the birthplace of King David, and the place the Messiah was expected to come from. Archeologists say it was a very small place. Maybe a hundred houses. (And caves!) There would have been no inn, a visitor would have lodged in someone's house. Despite what "scholars" aver, it is historically likely that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem. Why? Because people in a small pre-modern village would remember every happening or visitor. And certainly every kinsman, which Joseph was said to be. The Gospel of Luke came out a generation after Jesus, and the many enemies of the new Christians could easily have verified the story. Plus the Roman census records would still exist.

Dead Sea nearby. One of the interesting things I discovered when we went to Israel was how small the region is. And especially, how close the Dead Sea, the mouth of the Jordan, and the fortress of Masada are to Jerusalem. You could walk there in a day. My mental picture had been of places far far out in the desert, and I wondered why people would bother to go so far. No so. Also, these were places one typically went down to in the winter to escape the cold and wet of the Judean highlands. If you had money, it was sort of like Florida.

Slavery in classical world. It was very different from what we had in America. It was not chattel slavery. Think of it as a really obnoxious labor contract. There was no racial element, and the typical slave could expect to be freed if he worked out his time obediently. There was no permanent stigma; it could happen to anyone who was captured in war, or who fell into debt.

Jesus as peasant. "Scholars" love to take Jesus down a few pegs below their exalted level by referring to him as a peasant. But the word is fairly ambiguous. For instance a medieval English peasant might be a substantial village landholder with peasants working for him! (Good book: Life in a Medieval Village.) Likewise, being poor meant something different in a society where almost everyone was poor by our standards. Most of the priests for instance needed regular jobs to support them when they were not taking their turn serving in the Temple. The same with many a famous rabbi, and many of the prophets. Most of them could be called "peasants" by sneering academics.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:09 PM

July 10, 2010

"key element of this new consciousness"

...This new age will have the merit of discarding that hypocrisy by which the modern world evoked the forms, without the substance, of Christianity. In so doing, the post-Christian man will have to come to terms with the fact that to live without Christ is a hard choice with serious, even brutal, consequences.

The believer too will be faced with the increasingly inescapable realization the faith itself is a hard choice. On the one hand, this brave, new, post-Christian world will have little place in it for him. On the other hand, he will discover in all their fullness the demands his faith makes upon him, when he has to live it without the external affirmations afforded him within a Christian culture. He may indeed discover for the first time, as Guardini suggests, what it really means to be a Christian....

.....At the same time, it may well be that "the massive failure of Christendom itself", as Percy puts it, is already creating the only conditions, in the West at least, within which a genuine renewal of faith can take place. During a conversation I had with Walker Percy a few months before his death, he commented that, in his judgement, the Church is in a better position today than she has been in centuries. He thought the identification of culture and faith was disastrous for the Church in many ways.

He cited Kierkegaard's observation that it is almost impossible to become a Christian in Christendom. That is, people within a Christian culture are inclined to believe they automatically become Christians simply by virtue of having been born into that culture. Today people can see that no such identification exists and that a choice must therefore be made. He believed a new consciousness is emerging; and thus, the realization that the Church and the culture are at odds is a key, perhaps even the key, element of this new consciousness. As a result, the Church is on the firing line and that, as Percy saw it, is exactly where she properly belongs....
    -- From The Church and the Culture War, by Joyce A. Little, 1995


Posted by John Weidner at 6:20 PM

July 3, 2010

Atheists in church? Too cool...

From an exceedingly interesting piece (to me at least), Elaine Howard Ecklund, Ph.D.: What Scientists Think About Religion:

...Almost a quarter of Americans think scientists are hostile to religion. But what do we really know about how scientists think about morality, spirituality and faith?

From 2005 to 2008, I surveyed nearly 1,700 natural and social scientists on their views about religion, spirituality and ethics and spoke with 275 of them in depth in their offices and laboratories. It turns out that nearly 50 percent of scientists identify with a religious label, and nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month. While many scientists are completely secular, my survey results show that elite scientists are also sitting in the pews of our nation's churches, temples and mosques.

Of the atheist and agnostic scientists I had in-depth conversations with, more than 30 percent considered themselves atheists; however, less than six percent of these were actively working against religion. Many atheist and agnostic scientists even think key mysteries about the world can be best understood spiritually, and some attend houses of worship, completely comfortable with religion as moral training for their children and an alternative form of community. If religious people better understood the full range of atheistic practice -- and the way that it interfaces with religion for some -- they might be less likely to hold negative attitudes toward nonreligious scientists. The truth is that many atheist scientists have no desire to denigrate religion or religious people....

Fascinatin'. Among many reasons, because I've often thought about my Catholic faith, that scientists should dig this stuff. Christianity is actually very scientific, in the broader sense of the word. (and I'm myself very much scientific, in all senses of the word, and my reaction to discovering the Church Catholic was, like, wow. So cool!

The immense prestige of the natural sciences caused people in the 19th Century to start applying the word "science" only to the study of the natural realm. But actually science means, by my dictionary, "a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject : the science of criminology." Myself, I'd define the word science as "disciplined truth-seeking within a particular field of knowledge." One could be a scientific pasty cook.

I noticed especially the line about atheist scientists being "comfortable with religion as moral training for their children," because commenter AOG mentioned that he was doing much the same thing. And he's a respect-worthy thinker. I'd say that AOG's on the right track, but not yet thinking things through clearly. A great scientist named Blaise Pascal pinned all this question down about 350 years ago. (Link, link.)

One of his points was that God can not be discerned by the senses. There's never going to be "scientific evidence" for the existence of God. A fact he regretted as much as we do. But, there is another instrument we can use, and that is the heart. (Not the pump in your chest, of course, but an inbuilt faculty we have for perceiving things in the realm of God.) And you calibrate the instrument... how? By not being hard-hearted. As the operator's manual says, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart."

If there is a Creator God, then the realm of God is the larger context which contains the natural realm which is the study of the natural scientist. So the scientist, if he is an intellectually bold chap, ought to be delighted to expand his horizons into a larger sphere. Especially since the Judeo-Christian God (at least in the Catholic view; I can't vouch for Protestant deviants) is the source of that lawfulness of creation upon which natural science is based.

Alas, there's that problem of hardness of heart.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:45 PM

June 27, 2010

Hard choices...

From The Church and the Culture War: Secular Anarchy or Sacred Order, by Joyce A. Little...
...To act as though inclusivity were an end in itself is to deny the fact that, until we are able to make some judgement about the nature of reality itself, we have no basis at all for knowing what ought to be welcomed and what ought to be rejected. We do not after all welcome cancer cells or the AIDS virus on the grounds that to reject them would be an insensitive and uncaring act of intolerance. Before we are in a position to make judgements as to what to include and what to exclude, we must first answer some very hard "either/or" questions. Either there is an objective reality, or there is not. Either there is an intrinsic order to this universe, or there is not. Either there is absolute good, or there is not.

[Walker] Percy stated quite flatly, with regard to his novels, that they are "an attack on the 20th century, on the whole culture. It is a rotten century, we are in terrible trouble." Few would want to have to defend this century. But if there is any silver lining to be found in its closing years, it is the realization that an either/or choice has become virtually unavoidable. With every day that passes, it becomes more and more apparent that one cannot have both the Christian faith and secular liberation.

As Chesterton, himself a convert to the Catholic faith, wrote more than seven decades ago: "The present writer . . . is personally quite convinced that if every human being lived a thousand years, every human being would end up either in utter pessimistic skepticism or in the Catholic creed." Were he still alive, I think he would grant that today the choice between the two is so much clearer that an ordinary lifetime would more than suffice to arrive at that conclusion. Walker Percy, in a self-interview for Esquire, explained that he had become a Catholic because , as he put it, "what else is there?" He then posed to himself the question, "What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy." His answer: "That's what I mean."


Posted by John Weidner at 8:39 AM

June 19, 2010

"And she grows young as the world grows old..."

    By GK Chesterton (An excerpt)

Under what withering leprous light
The very grass as hair is grey,
Grass in the cracks of the paven courts
Of gods we graved but yesterday.
Senate, republic, empire, all
We leaned our backs on like a wall
And blessed as strong as strong and blamed as stolid—
Can it be these that waver and fall?
And what is this like a ghost returning,
A dream grown strong in the strong daylight?
The all-forsaken, the unforgotten,
The ever-behind and out of sight.
We turned our backs and our blind flesh felt it
Growing and growing, a tower in height.

Ah, not alone the evil splendour
And not the insolent arms alone
Break with the ramrod, stiff and brittle,
The sceptre of the nordic throne;
But things of manlier renown
Reel in the wreck of throne and crown,
With tyrannous tyranny, tyrannous loyalty
Tyrannous liberty, all gone down.

(There is never a crack in the ivory tower
Or a hinge to groan in the house of gold
Or a leaf of the rose in the wind to wither
And she grows young as the world grows old.
A Woman clothed with the sun returning
to clothe the sun when the sun is cold.)

Ah, who had guessed that in a moment
Great Liberty that loosed the tribes,
the Republic of the young men's battles
Grew stale and stank of old men's bribes;
And where we watched her smile in power
A statue like a starry tower
the stone face sneers as in a nightmare
Down on a world that worms devour.
(Archaic incredible dead dawns breaking
Deep in the deserts and waste and wealds,
Where the dead cry aloud on Our Lady of Victories,
Queen of the Eagles, aloft on the shields,
And the sun is gone up on the Thundering Legion
On the roads of Rome to the Battlefields.)....
Posted by John Weidner at 9:04 PM

June 13, 2010


From Pope Benedict's Encyclical Deus Caritas Est:

...Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern.

We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live "by bread alone" (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human....

I could write a long screed about how subsidiarity should be our organizing principle in public life, but what's the use. The people who would "get it" will tend towards that sort of thing anyway. And anyone else who reads... their minds will just glaze over.

Word Note: Many Catholic terms that seem portentous and alien are just nicknames retained when other groups have moved with the times. "Encyclical" just means circular letter. In olden times there were no bulk-mailings. A letter from a leader to the people would be passed from one person to the next. In this case from one bishop to the next.

More Important Word Note: (Wikipedia)
Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. The concept is applicable in the fields of government, political science, cybernetics, management, military (Mission Command) and, metaphorically, in the distribution of software module responsibilities in object-oriented programming (according to the Information expert design guideline). Subsidiarity is, ideally or in principle, one of the features of federalism, where it asserts the rights of the parts over the whole.

The word subsidiarity is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and was first described formally in Catholic social teaching (see Subsidiarity (Catholicism)).[1] The concept or principle is found in several constitutions around the world (for example, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which asserts States rights)...
Posted by John Weidner at 7:47 AM

May 30, 2010

"The roots are the deep down things"

Father Dwight:

...One of my main points is that the ritual of liturgy with its signs, symbols, gestures, actions and language help us connect with the deep down root level of our existence. I liken it to a tree. Branches and leaves are the everyday life. Trunk is the level of our beliefs and values. The roots are the deep down things. This level of life is sub linguistic. This is where the language of myth and symbol and sign and gesture operate. These are the language of the depths.

How sad and stupid then, just when our shallow culture needs some real depth therapy more than ever, and the Catholic Church is the only religion that has the wealth of imagery, symbol, sign and gesture, action and sacrament, that so many Catholic priests and people have turned the liturgy into some sort of para-Protestant self help group.

The very thing we need the most i.e. sign, symbol, sacrament--in order to touch the depths is exactly what the relevant revolutionaries have abandoned. Out go the vestments and statues and icons and holy hours. Out goes the incense and processions and Eucharistic adoration. Out goes the rosary and candles and flowers and all those 'absurd' and 'irrelevant' Catholic devotions and in come the social workers, the lay ministers and the enthusiastic cantors....

An underlying Catholic assumption seems to be to be that the "deep down root level of our existence" is not that far from the Kingdom of God. We can touch it—or rather, it can touch us—in mysterious ways at any time. But God is hardly ever pushy or demonstrative. He might slam you with a vision, but that is rare. Usually it's more like a moment's eye-contact across a crowded noisy room. You can easily ignore it, and most of us do most of the time.

Another Catholic assumption is that God loves the physical world. (He created it, after all. And then said "It's very good." True. You can look it up.) We humans are hybrid creatures; both physical and spiritual. And we tend to think of the physical part of ourselves as tacky and inferior, and dream of existing mostly in the "spiritual" realm. This is called Gnosticism.

But God is delighted to interact with us in our physical selves, and the Catholic Church is chock-a-block with all sorts of physical oddments that seem to help us to do this. And they all drive gnostics crazy! Most Protestants are somewhat gnostic, and they go plumb nuts thinking that God could stoop so low as to give mucky sinners access to Grace through signs and symbols and material matter. From simple things like dipping a finger in Holy Water upon entering the church building, to the splendiferous one of allowing His own Blessed Mother to help with the work of Salvation.

* Update: Today's Old Testament reading seems apposite:

Thus says the wisdom of God:
"The LORD possessed me, the beginning of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
while as yet the earth and fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.

"When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
when he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race."
    -- Proverbs 8:22-31 NAB

Rocky Mountains in the distance

Posted by John Weidner at 9:38 AM

May 22, 2010

"The salvation of souls is the supreme law in the Church."

Interesting post, Signaturae Apostolicae Referendarius from Canonist Ed Peters.

...This morning it was announced that His Holiness Benedict XVI has appointed me a Referendarius (Referendary) of the Apostolic Signatura. As one of some dozen international consultants to the Church's highest administrative tribunal, it will be my privilege and responsibility to advise*, on an as-needed basis, the officials of that dicastery regarding matters impacting the administration of law and justice within the Church.

A number of persons have graciously conveyed their congratulations to me on this honor, and I am truly grateful for their kind words. But I want to underscore that I see this appointment not so much as an honor, but rather, as an invitation to serve more effectively the mission of the Church as the Speculum Iustitiae.

Even as I prepare, however, to place my training in canon and common law more readily at the service of the Church, I recall what Canon 1752 stresses, namely, that "the salvation of souls [is] the supreme law in the Church." Salvation is not, in the end, a work of law, but one of love. As such, it is a work toward which we all can, and must, contribute.

Ergo, oremus pro invicem! + + +...

"The salvation of souls [is] the supreme law in the Church."

Silly people sometimes opine that dogma and law are hindrances to faith and creativity. They we can accomplish more if we are free of such encumbrances, and just let "the spirit" work. Actually the opposite is the case. Dogma and law are supremely necessary; they can't be dispensed with without risking catastrophe.

Free verse, free love, free religion. Whenever you find them you find people who are slaves. Slaves to the intellectual fads of the moment. People who claim to be free from the chains of dogma and tradition and rules, and then act like a "herd of independent minds."

Now the Church can get carried away by fads too. Happens all the time. But she can never go too far, because her dogma cannot change. Chesterton pointed out how Medieval ascetics tended towards a hatred of the flesh and the material world that might have led them to be like Hindu fakirs and swamis. But they couldn't carry that line to disastrous extremes, because the Church teaches that the material realm is good. (Though tragically alienated from its creator.)

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

And that can't change. The Church, though she makes all sorts of human mistakes, is protected from error on these main points. The Pope and the councils are, in the core doctrines, infallible. People find that word distressing, but they don't understand it. Infallibility is not an arrogant claim, it is a humble one. It basically means that a pope can't teach heresy. A pope can be wicked, a pope can be stupid, he can be bigoted and vengeful and greedy, BUT, he cannot get up and say that the created realm is evil. Or contradict any other dogma. He is protected against that; it has never happened and it will never happen. Likewise for an Ecumenical Council.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:03 PM

May 15, 2010

"Heaven and earth shall pass away"

..It is extraordinary how very little there is in the recorded words of Christ that ties him at all to his own time. I do not mean the details of a period, which even a man of the period knows to be passing. I mean the fundamentals which even the wisest man often vaguely assumes to be eternal. For instance, Aristotle was perhaps the wisest and most wide-minded man who ever lived. He founded himself entirely upon fundamentals, which have been generally found to remain rational and solid through all social and historical changes. Still, he lived in a world in which it was thought as natural to have slaves as to have children. And therefore he did permit himself a serious recognition of a difference between slaves and free men.

Christ as much as Aristotle lived in a world that took slavery for granted. He did not particularly denounce slavery. He started a movement that could exist in a world with slavery. But he started a movement that could exist in a world without slavery. He never used a phrase that made his philosophy depend even upon the very existence of the social order in which he lived. He spoke as one conscious that everything was ephemeral, including the things that Aristotle thought eternal. By that time the Roman Empire had come to be merely the orbis terrarum, another name for the world. But he never made his morality dependent on the existence of the Roman Empire or even on the existence of the world. 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.'

—GK Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (1925)..

(Thanks to The Hebdomadal Chesterton.)

Posted by John Weidner at 10:29 PM

May 8, 2010

We were supposed to "outgrow" religion...

This always interests me. I picked up that "conventional story line of modernity" from reading science fiction as a boy. The imaginary futures were invariably religion-free. Frank Herbert's Dune was quite original and odd in imagining a future where religion was a dominant force. And even there the ruling elites of the galaxy were areligious. But I can see now that all the SF writers of my youth assumed a future where the virtues and morality of Christianity and Judaism would persist.

They just took them for granted. None of them imagined, for instance, a future where people would stop getting married, where 41% of children would be born out of wedlock. Nor did they imagine a situation where whole civilizations would be dying because people just stopped having children at all. The authors were incapable of seeing that they themselves retained a great deal of Judeo-Christian thought and behavior as habits. And that habits wear off over time...

...According to the conventional story line of modernity, "modernization" means secularization—the withering away of traditional religious belief and practice. On this reading of things, "religion" and "modernity" are a zero-sum game: the more modern you are the less religious you become; and the more religious you are, the less susceptible yo are to modernization. At the beginning of the twentieth century, advanced thinkers widely predicted that the new century then unfolding would witness a maturing humanity, tutored by science, lose it's "need" for religion. Religious belief and practice were for children, perhaps adolescents.. A mature adult humanity had no "need" of God.

We've already talked about what happened when those predictions held true—great swaths of the world were turned into an abattoir in the name of humanism. In the 1940's, the French theologian Henri de Lubac, who would later become an influential figure at the Second Vatican Council, tried to parse this strange lethal phenomenon , which he called "atheistic humanism." Atheism, of course, was nothing new; the village atheist and the radically skeptical intellectual had long been stock figures in the human drama. Atheistic humanism was something altogether different, Father de Lubac suggested. This wasn't a matter of skeptical intellectuals scratching their particular itches to discomfort the neighbors or impress the faculty tenure committee.This was atheism with a developed ideology and a program for remaking the world. And its prophets—prominent among them Comte, Feuerbach, Marx and Nietszche—all taught that the God of the Bible was an enemy of human dignity...

      -- George Weigel, Letters to a Young Catholic


Posted by John Weidner at 5:19 PM

May 1, 2010

Dies Irae

It's been nicknamed "Scary Jesus." It's a colossal mosaic, 3,600 square feet, titled "Christ in Majesty" that dominates the space above the altar of the great upper church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The Jesus in the National Shrine mosaic is a huge enthroned figure with muscular bare arms and fierce, frightening blue eyes. It's the Last Judgment, the "Day of Wrath," in mosaic form. [Link ]

Christ in Majesty, National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC

GK Chesterton on the Jesus of the New Testament...

...We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well.

The figure in the Gospels does indeed utter in words of almost heart-breaking beauty his pity for our broken hearts. But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters. Nevertheless they are almost the only kind of words that the Church in its popular imagery ever represents him as uttering. That popular imagery is inspired by a perfectly sound popular instinct. The mass of the poor are broken, and the mass of the people are poor, and for the mass of mankind the main thing is to carry the conviction of the incredible compassion of God. But nobody with his eyes open can doubt that it is chiefly this idea of compassion that the popular machinery of the Church does seek to carry. The popular imagery carries a great deal to excess the sentiment of 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.' It is the first thing that the outsider feels and criticizes in a Pieta or a shrine of the Sacred Heart. As I say, while the art may be insufficient, I am not sure that the instinct is unsound. In any case there is something appalling, something that makes the blood run cold, in the idea of having a statue of Christ in wrath. There is something insupportable even to the imagination in the idea of turning the corner of a street or coming out into the spaces of a marketplace, to meet the petrifying petrifaction of that figure as it turned upon a generation of vipers, or that face as it looked at the face of a hypocrite...
The Church can reasonably be justified therefore if she turns the most merciful face or aspect towards men; but it is certainly the most merciful aspect that she does turn. And the point is here that it is very much more specially and exclusively merciful than any impression that could be formed by a man merely reading the New Testament for the first time. A man simply taking the words of the story as they stand would form quite another impression; an impression full of mystery and possibly of inconsistency; but certainly not merely an impression of mildness. It would be intensely interesting; but part of the interest would consist in its leaving a good deal to be guessed at or explained. It is full of sudden gestures evidently significant except that we hardly know what they signify, of enigmatic silences; of ironical replies. The outbreaks of wrath, like storms above our atmosphere, do not seem to break out exactly where we should expect them, but to follow some higher weather-chart of their own.

The Peter whom popular Church teaching presents is very rightly the Peter to whom Christ said in forgiveness, 'Feed my lambs.' He is not the Peter upon whom Christ turned as if he were the devil, crying in that obscure wrath, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.' Christ lamented with nothing but love and pity over Jerusalem which was to murder him. We do not know what strange spiritual atmosphere or spiritual insight led him to sink Bethsaida lower in the pit than Sodom. I am putting aside for the moment all questions of doctrinal inferences or expositions, orthodox or otherwise; I am simply imagining the effect on a man's mind if he did really do what these critics are always talking about doing; if he did really read the New Testament without reference to orthodoxy and even without reference to doctrine. He would find a number of things which fit in far less with the current unorthodoxy than they do with the current orthodoxy...
    – – The Everlasting Man (1925). [Link]
Posted by John Weidner at 4:36 PM

April 24, 2010

"post-modern de-humanizers."

David Warren, Word of mouth:

...Which takes us down another layer, into an argument that seems crazy to people I characterize as "post-modern de-humanizers." (De-humanizers at least in the sense that they can read something addressed with burning sincerity to their heart and mind and soul, as if it were merely printed on an advertising flyer.)

What if the events described actually happened? What if the testimony of a dozen apostles, and many others -- who ran and hid at Christ's impending Crucifixion, but became faithful quite literally unto death after the "Resurrection" -- was given for some better reason than to "formalize" an abstract, modern, bloodless "perception" of a "quasi-event"?

As even some contemporary Biblical scholars are prepared to argue, the most likely explanation of an event, as counter-intuitive to the ancient world as to the modern -- yet insisted upon repeatedly by numerous witnesses through mockery, torture, and execution -- is that it actually happened the way they said it did. And that they thought this truth important. I mentioned last Easter, for instance, the extraordinary forensic synthesis of sources both Christian and non-Christian, by the Anglican scholar, N.T. Wright -- utterly vindicating the "received" account of the first Easter.

Finally, and most subtly, let us suppose Wright right, and the balance of the evidence -- as might be upheld in any solid court of law -- holds for the defendant. In other words, let us suppose Christ actually Resurrected, and -- "behold I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and of death."

Well, that would overturn a number of our modern assumptions....

(Here's an interesting explication of Wright's book)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:36 PM

April 17, 2010

"The halo of hatred around the Church of God."

...The life of the great civilization went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end. A convenient compromise had been made between all the multitudinous myths and religions of the Empire; that each group should worship freely and merely live a sort of official flourish of thanks to the tolerant Emperor, by tossing a little incense to him under his official title of Divus. Naturally there was no difficulty about that; or rather it was a long time before the world realized that there ever had been even a trivial difficulty anywhere. The members of some Eastern sect or secret society or other seemed to have made a scene somewhere; nobody could imagine why. The incident occurred once or twice again and began to arouse irritation out of proportion to its insignificance. It was not exactly what these provincials said; though of course it sounded queer enough.

They seemed to be saying that God was dead and that they themselves had seen him die. This might be one of the many manias produced by the despair of the age; only they did not seem particularly despairing. They seem quite unnaturally joyful about it, and gave the reason that the death of God had allowed them to eat him and drink his blood. According to other accounts God was not exactly dead after all; there trailed through the bewildered imagination some sort of fantastic procession of the funeral of God, at which the sun turned black, but which ended with the dead omnipotence breaking out of the tomb and rising again like the sun.

But it was not the strange story to which anybody paid any particular attention; people in that world had seen queer religions enough to fill a madhouse. It was something in the tone of the madmen and their type of formation. They were a scratch company of barbarians and slaves and poor and unimportant people; but their formation was military; they moved together and were very absolute about who and what was really a part of their little system; and about what they said. However mildly, there was a ring like iron. Men used to many mythologies and moralities could make no analysis of the mystery, except the curious conjecture that they meant what they said. All attempts to make them see reason in the perfectly simple matter of the Emperor's statue seemed to be spoken to deaf men. It was as if a new meteoric metal had fallen on the earth; it was a difference of substance to the touch. Those who touched their foundation fancied they had struck a rock.

With a strange rapidity, like the changes of a dream, the proportions of things seemed to change in their presence. Before most men knew what had happened, these few men were palpably present. They were important enough to be ignored. People became suddenly silent about them and walked stiffly past them. We see a new scene, in which the world has drawn its skirts away from these men and women and they stand in the centre of a great space like lepers. The scene changes again and the great space where they stand is overhung on every side with a cloud of witnesses, interminable terraces full of faces looking down towards them intently; for strange things are happening to them. New tortures have been invented for the madmen who have brought good news. That sad and weary society seems almost to find a new energy in establishing its first religious persecution.

Nobody yet knows very clearly why that level world has thus lost its balance about the people in its midst; but they stand unnaturally still while the arena and the world seem to revolve round them. And there shone on them in that dark hour a light that has never been darkened; a white fire clinging to that group like an unearthly phosphorescence, blazing its track through the twilights of history and confounding every effort to confound it with the mists of mythology and theory; that shaft of light or lightning by which the world itself has struck and isolated and crowned it; by which its own enemies have made it more illustrious and its own critics have made it more inexplicable; the halo of hatred around the Church of God.

      – GK Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (1925).[link]

Posted by John Weidner at 9:05 PM

April 10, 2010

"Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer."

...Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us.

The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

    -- GK Chesterton, Heretics (1905).

Posted by John Weidner at 6:59 PM

March 27, 2010

I hope for it...

...Catholics speak of heaven as our hope. Evangelicals prefer to speak of knowing that one is saved. Although scripture uses both terminologies, actually Catholics are using the more common biblical language. Faith hope and charity are the three virtues of I Corinthians 13:13. Our hope is in Christ and his promise of heaven: "We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23—25). Catholic literature describes out hope as a "certain confidence."

When asked if he was going to heaven, one pope replied, "I hope so." He has been roundly criticized by Evangelicals. Yet it is a perfectly biblical response...

From Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, by David Currie.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:29 PM

March 21, 2010

"The glory of God

"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God?"
    --St Irenaeus

Sometimes you see a part of this quote taken out of context: "The glory of God is man fully alive." With the definition of "alive" just assumed from the secular or fake-Christian context to be whatever of ones little personal fantasies one might insert into the blank. Nuh uh. Read the whole thing.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:05 AM

March 13, 2010

"When you get rid of the fear of the Lord, you don't get fearlessness..."

Mark Shea, The Gift of Fear:

...On the other hand, in confirmation, God does give gifts, first among them a gift our culture despises. Sirach 1:12 sums it up: "To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; she is created with the faithful in the womb."

We don't much care for the fear of God these days. We prefer to hear about self-empowerment, self-esteem, self-affirmation and just plain self. We have whole magazines devoted to the notion that the first shall be first, that you must find your life in order to find it, and that the way to happiness is to seek first the things of this world. Fear of God doesn't fit into programs like that. It's "disempowering," don't cha know, an affront to our dignity and a relic of that nasty Old Testament God who wants everybody to cower before him like the Great and Terrible Oz. We've outgrown all that.

But, of course, there's fear and there's fear. And the funny thing is, as our civilization is discovering, when you get rid of the fear of the Lord, you don't get fearlessness. You get servile fear: fear of What People Will Think, fear of environmental disaster, plague, terrorism, political incorrectness, death, STDs, war, divorce, economic meltdown, the future, headlines and things that go bump in the night.

It is often only belatedly that we realize that the Gospel comes, in part, to cast out such cringing, crawling servile fear. When we do finally take a hard look at the fear of the Lord, we discover that Jesus feared God, but he never cowered before his Father. On the contrary, his courage has been the model of the courage of all the saints.

There is a confidence, a free and easy step, in the stride of the saints that is in sharp contrast to the craven cowardice of the bureaucrats of atheistic totalitarian regimes who began with bold promises to liberate us from the fear of God and ended in lickspittle prostration before the terrors of Mao, Hitler and Stalin. For the fear of God is the awe and reverence due what is truly good, not a mere cowering in the face of Power. If you want to get a glimmer of it, look not to the Cowardly Lion, trembling before the terrors of Oz, but to the sense of awe any sane person should feel under the immensity of a summer night — and before its Maker....

It seems paradoxical to say that fear of the Lord casts out fear. But really it's like the old legal maxim, that "The man who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client."

Posted by John Weidner at 10:11 PM

February 27, 2010

The mission of the laity...

From a talk by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, at Holy Family Cathedral, Anchorage, Reading the Signs of the Times: Dominican Education and the Challenge of Contemporary Culture:

...All of this was deliberately discarded, and it is now the case that most Catholic universities are indistinguishable from any other. As a consequence, the positions of Catholic alumni on social questions, even on issues that directly reflect the Church's moral teaching, do not differ significantly from the rest of the population....

....Why was Catholic education so thoroughly abandoned? In my judgment, the reason is to be found in a profound sense of inferiority that pertained on the part of Catholic educators in the 1950's and 1960's. This is seen in the participants of the Land-O-Lakes Conference held in Wisconsin in 1967 around the topic "What is the nature and role of the contemporary Catholic university?"

Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame, chaired the conference that included the presidents or academic deans of Boston College, Georgetown, Fordham, the Catholic University and other Catholic institutions. At the center of their deliberations was an assertion: "The Catholic university participates in the total university life of our time, has the same functions as all other true universities and, in general, offers the same services to society."[iii] Behind this assertion was an assumption: that the Catholic university had not been acknowledged to participate fully in the university life of our time, to perform the same functions as other true universities or to offer the same services to society. We should notice this, crucial fact: that the definition of a true university was assumed to be other than the Catholic institution and that to become truly a university, a Catholic university must look to the non-Catholic institution as its standard or model....

...No thought was given to what had been the purpose of a Catholic university, which was not merely to put Catholics as an immigrant population on an equal footing with Protestant and secular populations, but to give Catholic students access to their own intellectual tradition and the European and Western culture that it had shaped...

...So little was left of anything distinctively Catholic in the curriculum of Catholic universities that some have begun to initiate programs in something called "Catholic Studies" in an attempt, one presumes, to imitate the non-Catholic institutions that have instituted similar programs.

There have, I think, been two principal consequences of the general collapse of Catholic higher education. First, it has compromised our ability to entrust the whole of the Catholic tradition to the generations that have followed my own. Second, it has had the ironic effect of clericalizing the Church, of marginalizing the contribution to the Church that most properly belongs to the laity

...This task of evangelizing the culture and its institutions is pre-eminently a lay responsibility. While the pastoral care of souls may not require creativity in the secular spheres of human life, the application of the Gospel to the initiatives and institutions that make up our contemporary world requires that fundamental questions concerning man and woman and the world must be explored and answered. Ironically, in their concern to accommodate Catholic education to the world, the Catholic institutions have rendered a real engagement with secular concerns far less likely. As a consequence, since Vatican Council II the Church has turned inward almost exclusively focused upon the care of the Catholic community, and a good part of the reason for this is that we have not formed our young people for the sake of the mission to secular society. The concern of the pastoral care of the community is that of Bishops, priests and deacons –of clerics– and in my lifetime the Church has become more clerical, not less...[my emphasis]
Posted by John Weidner at 5:23 PM

February 21, 2010

"That awful, never-dying duel"

[Word Notes: "Awful" here has its old meaning of "awe-inspiring." And "apologia" does not mean: "apology," It comes from the Greek apologeisthei, "to speak in one's own defense." The title of Newman's famous book, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, means "a defense of my life."] will at first sight be said that the restless intellect of our common humanity is utterly weighed down [by the authority of the Church], to the repression of all independent effort and action whatever, so that, if this is to be the mode of bringing it into order, it is brought into order only to be destroyed. But this is far from the result, far from what I conceive to be the intention of that high Providence who has provided a great remedy for a great evil,—far from borne out by the history of the conflict between Infallibility and Reason in the past, and the prospect of it in the future. The energy of the human intellect "does from opposition grow;" it thrives and is joyous, with a tough elastic strength, under the terrible blows of the divinely-fashioned weapon, and is never so much itself as when it has lately been overthrown.

It is the custom with Protestant writers to consider that, whereas there are two great principles in action in the history of religion, Authority and Private Judgment, they have all the Private Judgment to themselves, and we have the full inheritance and the superincumbent oppression of Authority. But this is not so; it is the vast Catholic body itself, and it only, which affords an arena for both combatants in that awful, never-dying duel. It is necessary for the very life of religion, viewed in its large operations and its history, that the warfare should be incessantly carried on.

Every exercise of Infallibility is brought out into act by an intense and varied operation of the Reason, both as its ally and as its opponent, and provokes again, when it has done its work, a re-action of Reason against it; and, as in a civil polity the State exists and endures by means of the rivalry and collision, the encroachments and defeats of its constituent parts, so in like manner Catholic Christendom is no simple exhibition of religious absolutism, but presents a continuous picture of Authority and Private Judgment alternately advancing and retreating as the ebb and flow of the tide;—it is a vast assemblage of human beings with willful intellects and wild passions, brought together into one by the beauty and the Majesty of a Superhuman Power,—into what may be called a large reformatory or training-school, not as if into a hospital or into a prison, not in order to be sent to bed, not to be buried alive, but (if I may change my metaphor) brought together as if into some moral factory, for the melting, refining, and moulding, by an incessant, noisy process, of the raw material of human nature, so excellent, so dangerous, so capable of divine purposes.

St. Paul says in one place [2 Cor. 10:8] that his Apostolical power is given him to edification, and not to destruction. There can be no better account of the Infallibility of the Church. It is a supply for a need, and it does not go beyond that need. Its object is, and its effect also, not to enfeeble the freedom or vigour of human thought in religious speculation, but to resist and control its extravagance. What have been its great works? All of them in the distinct province of theology:—to put down Arianism, Eutychianism, Pelagianism, Manichæism, Lutheranism, Jansenism. Such is the broad result of its action in the past;—and now as to the securities which are given us that so it ever will act in time to come...
    -- John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Chap 5. [Link]

Posted by John Weidner at 7:54 AM

February 14, 2010

Jerusalem AND Athens...

John Henry Newman, on what universities ought to be...

...but, ever since the fall of man, religion is here, and philosophy is there; each has its own centres of influence, separate from the other; intellectual men desiderate something in the homes of religion, and religious men desiderate something in the schools of science.

Here, then, I conceive, is the object of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in setting up Universities; it is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man. Some persons will say that I am thinking of confining, distorting, and stunting the growth of the intellect by ecclesiastical supervision. I have no such thought. Nor have I any thought of a compromise, as if religion must give up something, and science something.

I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom, and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons. I want to destroy that diversity of centres, which puts everything into confusion by creating a contrariety of influences. I wish the same spots and the same individuals to be at once oracles of philosophy and shrines of devotion. It will not satisfy me, what satisfies so many, to have two independent systems, intellectual and religious, going at once side by side, by a sort of division of labour, and only accidentally brought together. It will not satisfy me, if religion is here, and science there, and young men converse with science all day, and lodge with religion in the evening. It is not touching the evil, to which these remarks have been directed, if young men eat and drink and sleep in one place, and think in another: I want the same roof to contain both the intellectual and moral discipline. Devotion is not a sort of finish given to the sciences; nor is science a sort of feather in the cap, if I may so express myself, an ornament and set-off to devotion. I want the intellectual layman to be religious, and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual...

This is supremely Catholic. (And my idea of heaven, but I guess I'll have to wait 'till I get to Heaven to get it.) As George Weigel wrote,

...You can call it the "Catholic both/and": nature and grace, faith and works, Jerusalem and Athens, faith and reason, charismatic and institutional, visible and invisible...

And Pope Benedict:

"Catholicism, perhaps a bit simplistically, has always been considered the religion of the great 'both/and;' not of great exclusions, but of synthesis. In fact, 'Catholic' means precisely 'synthesis.'" [Link]

Posted by John Weidner at 8:41 PM

February 6, 2010

Flying saucer churches....

Fr Dwight Longenecker, Beautiful Church Beautiful Bride:

A comment on the post on beauty makes a good point. Churches should be beautiful because the Church is the bride of Christ and should be 'without spot and wrinkle, as a bride adorned for her husband.' The liturgy refers to Psalm 45 where the splendor of the king and his queen are praised and refer this to the church which is the bride of Christ and therefore the Queen of the King in the Kingdom of heaven.

If a church building is a symbol and sacramental of the Body of Christ, then each element in the building points to the organic Body of Christ. The imagery of the people of God being a temple or a building built up and dwelt in by the Holy Spirit pervades the New Testament, and we can build up a complex analogy with each believer being a living stone, the Lord being the corner stone, the apostles and prophets being the pillars and foundations...

If this is so, then a beautiful and glorious church building not only points us to the glory of the celestial city, but also to the supernatural beauty of the church, which is the result of grace perfecting the nature of each of the redeemed. I am just dipping my toe into this rich theology of sacred architecture, and musing while I wait for my plane, but the question then arises, what were they thinking when they built Catholic Churches that are carpeted arenas, flat flying saucer churches with amplification systems rather than acoustics and a meeting hall rather than a temple?

I think I know what they were thinking and it doesn't smell Catholic to me.

Too right. On a symbolic or unconscious level I have little doubt it was anti-Catholic.

I would add that the same things happen analogously in the secular realm. For instance the founding fathers of our country had a deep affinity for Republican Rome. The fact that many of our public buildings and symbols are Roman in style, or use Latin, is no accident. The authority that our system and its founding documents have over us is bound up in this symbolism, along with a collage of our history and culture.

To build American government buildings like this....

...Is to symbolically destroy a country you hate.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:11 PM

January 30, 2010

Refashioning God

From The Problem of a Designer God by Msgr. Charles Pope:

Some years ago on a certain Sunday the Gospel of the Narrow Road came up wherein Jesus warns that many are on a wide and easy road that leads to damnation and only a few are on the narrow road that leads to salvation. I went on to preach of this warning of Jesus and of the real possibility of hell taught by him in this and other passages. After Mass a woman came to me and said, "I didn't hear the Jesus I know in your words today." I said to her, "But ma'am I was quoting him!" Unfazed she simply waved her hands dismissively and said, "We know he never said that. The Jesus I know would never have spoken like that."

It is one of the more arrogant trends of our modern culture to refashion revealed religious truth and God himself according to our modern preferences. Many moderns want all the consolations of faith but none of its demands. God himself must be rendered harmless so many simply refashion him and what he has said. At times I'll run into someone at the store who has not been attending Mass faithfully and I will call it to their attention. It is not uncommon that they will respond, "God doesn't care if I go to Church or not." "Oh really?" says I, "Then why do you suppose he put it in the Ten Commandments that we should keep holy the Sabbath?'" No answer usually, sometimes a shrug. I usually add: "And why did Jesus warn that if we do not eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us?" (Jn 6:53).

Many people have a designer God. A "God who doesn't care if _____ (fill in the blank)." A God who consoles but never commands. The real God who reveals himself in the Scriptures and doctrine of the Church has been set aside by many. In his place is an idol. A god that many people construct to suit themselves. There is an old saying, "God made man in his own image. Ever since we seem intent on returning the favor."...
Posted by John Weidner at 7:45 PM

January 23, 2010

Walk against death...

Here's a few short clips from the San Francisco Walk for Life today. I'm sure the "press" will pretty much ignore it, but it was even more impressive than last year. The last section of the video is above Fort Mason, heading towards the Marina Green. Charlene and I sat on a bench and ate our picnic for more than 45 minutes while those crowds passed non-stop. They were still going when we finally moved on. I'd say there were no less that 20,000 people in the march, and we had lots of rain....

The first clip is along the Embarcadero, and the second is going up the hill into Fort Mason. In the last bit you can see some red-roofed buildings in the background. Those are the buildings and piers of Ft. Mason from which 1.36 million Americans embarked for the Pacific campaigns of WWII.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:45 PM

January 16, 2010

A passion for justice...

The Just-War Tradition by George Weigel on National Review Online:

...The classic just-war tradition did not begin with a "presumption against war." Augustine didn't begin there; Aquinas didn't begin there. And indeed, no one in the tradition began there until the late 1960s (surprise!), when a Congregationalist moral theologian (James Gustafson) sold a Quaker moral theologian (James Childress) the idea that the just-war way of thinking began with a prima facie moral duty to do no harm. Childress then successfully sold the notion to J. Bryan Hehir, the Catholic theologian and political theorist who was the chief architect of "The Challenge of Peace."

In fact, however, the classic just-war tradition began, not with a presumption against war, but with a passion for justice: The just prince is obliged to secure the "tranquility of order," or peace, for those for whom he accepts political responsibility, and that peace, to repeat, is composed of justice, security, and freedom. There are many ways for the just prince (or prime minister, or president) to do this; one of them is armed force. Its justified use can sometimes come after other means of securing justice, security, and freedom have been tried and failed; but it can also sometimes mean shooting first. Two obvious examples of the latter come from modern history.
The first (to which the president alluded in Oslo) was in the case of humanitarian intervention to forestall or end a genocide. (Thus all those liberal synagogues and churches with "Darfur: A Call to Your Conscience" on their lawns might consider whether there is any solution to that humanitarian disaster other than the use of armed force.) The second comes from a more classic instance of an "aggression under way" (as some just-war thinking construes "just cause"), but without a shot having yet been fired. As students of World War II in the Pacific know, a U.S. carrier battle group under Adm. William Halsey was steaming off Hawaii in early December 1941. Suppose Halsey and the Enterprise had run across Admiral Nagumo's carriers in their stealthy approach to the Hawaiian archipelago. Would Halsey have been justified in assuming that Nagumo wasn't there to check out vacation real estate on Oahu — and shooting first? Of course he would have been, and from every rationally defensible moral point of view. (The analogy here between my Halsey hypothetical and hard intelligence of Iran loading a nuclear warhead onto a medium-range ballistic missile will strike some as suggestive.)

So the notion that just-war analysis begins with a "presumption against war" (or, as some put it, with a "pacifist premise") is simply wrong. The just-war way of thinking begins somewhere else: with legitimate public authority's moral obligation to defend the common good by defending the peace composed of justice, security, and freedom. The just-war tradition is not a set of hurdles that moral philosophers, theologians, and clergy set before statesmen. It is a framework for collaborative deliberation about the basic aims of legitimate government as it engages hostile regimes and networks in the world. The president's lifting up of this venerable moral tradition, which has deep roots in the civilizational soil of the West, was entirely welcome, if not to the Norwegian Nobel Committee and other bears of little brain. The next step is the retrieval of the classic intellectual architecture of just-war thinking and its development to meet the exigencies of a world of new dangers and new international actors.


Posted by John Weidner at 11:12 PM

January 9, 2010

The man who saw through time...

....In brief, original sin is that supreme negative with countless positively verifiable effects. It is the most experimentally true of all dogmas, because each of us experiences its effects a hundred times every day. It is also easy to experience that the same dogma is resisted by the world at large. Worse, the resistance translates itself into a haughty attitude that no counter-arguments are to be take seriously, as if man's fallen nature had been disproved once and for all...

...Newman knew full well that haughty attitude, especially strong in the worlds of academia, of publishing, and of public affairs. He could talk quietly about the progress of unbelief, but only up to a point. As he once elaborated on that progress in the Oratory's common room, he noted that there would be a time when the world at large would take it for granted that Christianity had been disproved. He foresaw—a most accurate prediction indeed—that those who believed in supernatural revelation would neither be listened to nor reasoned with. Arguments of believers would be brushed aside, so Newman remarked, with the claim that since revelation "has been disproved, we cannot disprove it again." These last words of Newman's were remembered precisely because in uttering them he put "a tone of anger and impatience into his voice."...

    -- Quoted from Newman's Challenge, by Stanley L. Jaki

"Arguments of believers would be brushed aside." That's for sure. There is no debate. It is maddening. "a tone of anger and impatience into his voice." Newman was every inch the English gentleman, and speaking with anger would be very surprsing in him—no wonder people remembered this.

Me, I have no such reticence. People who smugly hold views, and won't debate or seek truth...I want to kick them into the gutter and laugh at them. It's exactly the same in politics. "neither be listened to nor reasoned with." There's never any principled debate with Leftists. I've yet to see it happen. Cowardly dogs.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:54 PM

January 2, 2010


Alan Sullivan, Dead Souls, Arise!:

Peggy Noonan misses the point again. Our problem isn't failure of institutions. It is excess of institutions, and an excessive disposition to rely on them. How does it avail anyone that "journalism" has come to regard itself as an "institution?" This is the same nonsense as "consensus science." A stale collectivism has pervaded almost every aspect of American life. And not just American. We are the trailing indicator of what Europe has already achieved — a continent of dead souls. Why? Because the entire culture has turned away from the faith that defined it and gave it meaning. That faith came to seem untenable in the face of a new one whose miracles were physical rather than metaphysical. Too few were the thinkers who recognized that the two realms were a continuum, not a dichotomy.

It may seem a long leap from this deep thought to a secret Catholic boy-cult among Boston clergy, but it is just a little sideslip, a dance of ennui. Poor Ms. Noonan, still trembling in dismay. She wants to salvage institutions. Let them fail! Let the grace of individual redemption explode through them. It is not a question of taking responsibility; it is a challenge to walk away with Christ, for those of us who seek him. Or simply to heed God, immanent and unrecognized.

Addendum: And yet I love the Church — its antiquity, its dignity, its vast storehouse of wisdom and art. Let it fail, but let it also be reborn.

"Let it fail, but let it also be reborn." Amen, brother. Truth to tell the Church has failed and been reborn a hundred times, or ten thousand times if you look at local instances. There is no point in her history where you cannot find holy men and women deploring her fallen state, and setting to work reforming and renewing. But what other institution can you name that can renew itself repeatedly for 2,000 years!

...Shall the past be rolled back? Shall the grave open? Shall the Saxons live again to God? Shall the shepherds, watching their poor flocks by night, be visited by a multitude of the heavenly army, and hear how their Lord has been new-born in their own city? Yes; for grace can, where nature cannot. The world grows old, but the Church is ever young. She can, in any time, at her Lord's will, "inherit the Gentiles, and inhabit the desolate cities."...
      -- John Henry Newman, The Second Spring

As an example of renovatio, it's very interesting to consider the Holy Father's new Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, [Link] which allows groups of Anglicans to join the Church by forming personal prelatures, which are something like bishoprics, but not attached to any territory such as a diocese. And to join while keeping much of Anglican liturgical and spiritual tradition.

You could call this an institution-busting innovation. For one thing, the prelatures do not have to obey any bishops within whose diocese they happen to be operating! Wow. They are supposed to consult, but no more is required; they can consult, and then (with utmost respect of course) thumb their noses at bishops. This is surely no accident—Benedict is a deep old file, and has been dealing with entrenched Catholic bureaucracies since I was a little boy.

Also, this is a model that could easily be extended to all sorts of other Christian groups. And if so, if they start to become successful and attractive, the result would be competition within the Church! Prelatures are not supposed to be open to other Catholics, but if they are flourishing it will be hard to keep the others down on the farm. Benedict is a Tocquevillian, and can't be unaware of the greater vigor of Christianity in places where Christian groups compete for souls, compared with the state-church model of most European countries. We could live to see the day when Catholic Bishops have to hustle, and run lean 'n mean sees to keep Lutheran or Syriac prelatures from grabbing market-share!

And this is a possible step towards an Information Age structure for the church. The Anglican Prelatures do not have to have any "locality," except that they are to be formed within a particular conference of bishops, ie: The United States, or Australia. Presumably there will be headquarters, parishes, church buildings, etc. But none of these is required. The whole Chancellery could reside on a laptop.

Of course the whole thing may flop, and the assorted Anglicans may chicken-out and decide to do nothing. But that obvious worry is itself a blow against entrenched institutions, which are always averse to risk. Not B-16; he's just pushed a pile of chips to the center of the table with a smile. Be not afraid!

Posted by John Weidner at 6:08 PM

December 27, 2009

"Goodness becomes a value of no delight..."

A snippet from an intriguing book I've just started to read, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty by John Saward...

...Hans Urs von Balthasar regarded the separation of theology from sanctity as the most tragic divorce in the history of the Church. In an essay written over forty years ago, he pointed out that, since the golden age of Scholasticism, the Curch has found few theologians in whom she recognizes heroic virtue. by contrast, in the Patristic centuries and during the Middle Ages (up to and including the greatb Schoolmen) the great theologians were saints: they practised what they preached and preached what the practised. Sacred leaning coincided with saintly living. The sanctity of the theologians gave the People of God a great confidence in their teaching. Their faith was vibrantly alive with charity, and their understanding of faith perfected by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. They spoke with authority of the God whom they loved above all else.

Whenever the Patristic and medieval unity is lost, theology turns into ideology, and spirituality becomes psychology. In the heresy of Modernism, we find a vivid example of this disintegration: a vague 'mysticism', a cult of subjective experience, displaces the objective truth of Divine Revelation, leaving theology the degrading task of applauding worldly wisdom. something similar happens when theology is cut off from iconography. Without the holy images, we are in danger of forgetting the face, and thus the flesh of the Son of God. The mysteries of the life of Jesus fade from our minds. In the eighth and ninth and sixteenth centuries, and again in our own time, Iconoclasm always tends towards Docetism. Robbed of the beauty of sacred art, the Christian can become blind to the beauty of Divine Revelation. And that is disastrous, for, when sundered from beauty, truth becomes a correctness without splendor, and goodness a value of no delight. As Balthasar says:

Our situation shows that beauty demands for herself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at ehr name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past—whether he admits it or not—can no longer pray, and soon will no longer be able to love...

Posted by John Weidner at 10:51 PM

December 19, 2009

What you learn from being a Dad... (or Mom)

From a piece titled The Gift of Authority, by Matt Teel, a former Episcopal priest, now a Catholic...

...Now, up until that point, I was not very happy with the lack of authority in the Episcopal Church. It seemed to me that anyone could do anything and call it legitimate. No one was really 'in charge.' The buck didn't stop anywhere.

With the Catholics, the buck stopped with the pope.

With the Baptists, the buck stopped with the Bible.

But we just muddled through and came to our own conclusions.

I remember one of my professors in seminary telling us, with some pride in his voice, that Anglicanism is 'Christianity for adults'—the implication being, of course, that we weren't like those 'children' in the other churches who needed to believe that they could get all the answers from someone. Only very weak people need to believe that the pope is infallible. Only very childish people need to believe that the Bible is infallible. We Anglicans don't need anything to be infallible: we are responsible for ourselves. Don't take your answers from some guy in Rome, we'd say, or some book (no matter how holy): forge your own path. Find your own way. Figure things out for yourself. This is Christianity for adults!

And as I said, I wasn't too enthusiastic about that, but I bought into it and I thought I could live with it. For a while.

And then I had my first child.
And it was the experience of having a child that forced me to the conclusion that that is a very sad way of exercising one's authority. Parents have a RIGHT to tell their child how to act, they have a DUTY to raise them right and tell them the truth, and they have a RESPONSIBILITY to give them direction.

Have you ever known a man or a woman who refused to take responsibility for raising their children? They don't want to tell the child to stop jumping on the couch because they don't want to be perceived as mean or grumpy. They don't want to tell the child to do his chores because they don't want to be perceived as a buzz-kill. They want to be the cool dad, the friend dad, the buddy dad. And what happens to those children? They generally act like brats and run roughshod all over everybody else and bring the whole family down around them. Which is basically what we see going on in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

It was the experience of having children and being a father that told me that NOT exercising the authority you've been given is actually very CRUEL.

Here's what I have learned in being a dad for twelve years: When you are speaking to your child, especially about something very important, you give them very clear and simple directions, so that they can understand what you're saying. And you tell them what the results will be if they decide not to follow through. And sometimes, that doesn't even require coming up with some elaborate punishment for them; sometimes, the results of their actions will be enough.

"Abby, don't stand on the coffee table or you'll fall and hurt yourself."

"Abby don't stand on the coffee table or you'll fall and hurt yourself."

"Abby don't—okay, see? What did I tell you? I told you you'd fall and hurt yourself and you did. Yes, I know it hurts. Yes, I still love you. But now you know, don't you?"

A good parent says, "This is what you need to do, and this is what will happen if you don't do it." Or he says, "Don't do that. And if you do, here are the consequences."

And it seemed to me that, no matter how much I loved Anglicanism—and she was a good mother to me in many ways—she had to do more than let me parent myself.

Here's another:

A good parent does not say something that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, unless it doesn't MATTER if it's interpreted a variety of ways.

My oldest daughter is a little Jesuit. We tell her all the time: she needs to go into the law as a profession: she will find the loophole in whatever direction you give her.

"I told you not to eat cookies before dinner."

"Yes, but you didn't say I couldn't eat a SANDWICH before dinner."

A good parent will frame his directions in such a way that he will catch the loopholes. Do you do that because you're the tyrant your children always say you are? No, you do it for their own good, even if they don't understand that.

Let me ask you: would you leave a morally ambiguous babysitter in charge of your children? Of course not. Would you leave NO babysitter in charge of your children? Of course not. But that's what I, as an Anglican, was asked to believe about Jesus: he left no one in charge. And if he did, the directions are so ambiguous they can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. Only a cruel or neglectful parent would do that...

Given the corrosiveness of human imagination and creativity and restlessness, it is simply not possible that Jesus could have left us without some rock-like infallible guide to conserve his message. Without that, the whole enterprise would be pointless.

People change things, sometimes out of sheer fidgetiness. And then they change the changes. And change the changes to the changes. And the people immersed in the changes become self-referential. The endlessly-mutated realm becomes the only reality they know, and they forget totally the original ideas. Reality drifts, and those inside the system don't even know it, unless they have some reference point outside.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:06 PM

December 12, 2009

Each year we have an opportunity... But most of the time we miss it...

A sweet Advent video...

Posted by John Weidner at 2:46 PM

December 6, 2009

Light to walk by

...What the Apostle says of Abraham is a description of all true faith; it goes out not knowing whither it goes. It does not crave or bargain to see the end of the journey; it does not argue with St. Thomas, in the days of his ignorance, "we know not whither, and how can we know the way?" it is persuaded that it has quite enough light to walk by, far more than sinful man has a right to expect, if it sees one step in advance; and it leaves all knowledge of the country over which it is journeying, to Him who calls it on...

    -- John Henry Newman (more here.)

(The words of St Thomas are in John 14)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:48 AM

November 28, 2009

God's silent, searching flight....

From NIGHT, by Henry Vaughan

          ...Dear night! this world's defeat;
The stop to busy fools; care's check and curb;
The day of Spirits; my soul's calm retreat
               Which none disturb!
     Christ's progress, and his prayer time;
     The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.

          God's silent, searching flight:
When my Lord's head is filled with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;
               His still, soft call;
     His knocking time; the soul's dumb watch,
     When Spirits their fair kindred catch.

          Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent,
Whose peace but by some Angel's wing or voice
               Is seldom rent;
     Then I in Heaven all the long year
     Would keep, and never wander here.

          But living where the sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire
Themselves and others, I consent and run
               To every mire,
     And by this world's ill-guiding light,
     Err more than I can do by night.

          There is in God (some say)
A deep, but dazzling darkness; as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
               See not all clear;
     O for that night! where I in him
     Might live invisible and dim.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:42 PM

November 21, 2009

Thoughts from an old-time revolutionary...

Ought history to hide the faults of men and Orders? It was not after this fashion that the Saints laid open the scandals of their times... God indeed has conferred upon His Church the prerogative of infallibility, but to none of her members has He granted immunity from sin. Peter was a sinner and a renegade, and God has been at pains to have that fact recorded in the Gospels.
    -- Jean-Baptise Henri Lacordaire, O.P.

Thanks to Pat McNamara

Posted by John Weidner at 6:32 PM

November 14, 2009

Not all trends are down... Even in Europe

Spanish cloistered nuns see surge in vocations:

Madrid, Spain, Nov 5, 2009 / 01:51 pm (CNA).- A 43 year-old prioresses has revolutionized an old Poor Clares convent in Spain, turning it onto a magnet for dozens of young professional women.

Sister Veronica joined the Poor Clares Convent of the Ascension founded in 1604 in Lerma (Spain) at at time when it was going through a vocations crisis. It was January 22, 1984, and Marijose Berzosa - Sr. Veronica's name prior to entering the convent - decided, at age 18, to leave behind a career in medicine, friends, nightlife and basketball.

"Nobody understood me. There were bets that it would not last, but they did not feel the force of the hurricane that drew me in," says Sr. Veronica. "I was a classic teenager looking for a way out ... and I made a decision in just 15 days."

Sr. Veronica joined the convent which had not seen a new vocation in nearly 23 years....
Posted by John Weidner at 4:13 PM

November 8, 2009

Even a schlep like me can see the flaw in this reasoning...

Marvin Olasky:

...Confirmation of biblical wisdom came earlier this fall from an unlikely source: an Ivy League savant who says it's wrong to depend on the Bible.

The prestigious Oxford University Press sent me the new book Morality Without God? by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a Dartmouth professor. (I'm going to quote him a lot, so I'll use his initials.) WSA begins by complaining that his students quote to him Dostoevsky's favorite line, "If God is dead, everything is permitted." WSA then argues that we don't need God: We all should simply agree not to harm others—cause death, pain, or disability—unless there is "adequate reason."...

The obvious flaw is that who defines "harm?" Who defines "others?" Who defines "adequate reason"? If I can define my own terms, then I can harm anybody..... I'll just define them as not being a person, or define my harm as not really harmful.

The whole concept of people deciding what their own morality will be is just stupid. It's like the lab mice deciding on how the science experiment should be analyzed. Nothing can be judged from the inside. There always has to be some standard, or some judge or critic, that comes from outside the system, something which has authority because it is at a higher level than what is being critiqued.

Now you may be thinking, "What right has a nobody like Mr Weidner to call a Dartmouth professor stupid?" Fortunately Marvin Olasky gave me the necessary data by posing a moral question to Mr WSA. In fact, the obvious moral question, one that WSA must surely have heard and had time to think out an answer to. But he can't give a cogent answer!

Here, judge for yourself...

Wondering if WSA is one of those exceedingly rare secular professors with the courage to be pro-life, I emailed him to ask. He responded that there is no "simple solution to this complex problem . . . the moral problem of abortion cannot be solved by citing religious texts or religious leaders."

Hmm . . . How can it be solved? WSA wrote, "What matters is the present and future harm to the fetus and others. This does not solve the problem, but it tells us where to focus our discussions. I hope this helps."

Hmm . . . It helps only if WSA can tell us how to compare "harm to the fetus" (death) to other harms, so I emailed him again. He responded, "The bottom line is that I think some moral problems are insoluble. . . . They are just too difficult for us to figure out. . . . The answer, 'I do not know,' should become common."

Hmm . . . I asked WSA whether people could really make "I don't know" the default statement. He responded, "Why not? People get used to having a belief about everything, but they do not have to. Life can be lived like an experiment where you guess but do not believe until you see how it turns out."

Why can't this guy give a good answer? I bet I could fudge-up some plausible-sounding cackle. The question I think we should ask is: "Why has this man made himself stupid?" He presumably has a higher IQ than me, but he seems to have given himself a lobotomy! Why?

My theory (feel free to skip this if you've read it on this blog before) is that people have been coasting on Christian and Jewish morality and values, even though fewer and fewer people practice the religions faithfully. That morality has lingered as habits. (Imagine parents who have lived through the Great Depression and later become prosperous, trying to transmit their habits of thrift to their children. Some of it will rub off, some will be lost. And more will be lost when the kids try to pass this wisdom on to the grandkids. Good habits drain away if one is separated from their source.)

Mr WSA thinks he's devising morality de novo, but really he assumes a lot of Judeo-Christian morality. Probably most of the people who have ever lived have believed that it's FINE to harm people if they are not in your tribe. But WSA assumes that this is not where his ice-your-own-cupcake morality is heading. Why? Because the habit of not thinking that way is part of Western Judeo-Christian culture. He just assumes that faith-based moral habits will be there. Sort of like children assuming that the grownups will always take care of them!

But the problem is that the habits are wearing off, a little each generation. And now reality is starting to bite people. He won't admit it consciously, but I think that deep down Mr WSA is becoming very afraid. And that is why he, and millions of other people, have made themselves stupid. They don't want to think about their situation. They don't want to realize that next year it may be just "decided" that they are not "anybody," and can be "aborted retroactively" without violating morality. A good current example of this fear-based stupidity is the many important pundits who have been gravely saying that we may never know what motivated Major Hasan, and whether religion had anything to do with it! That is literally insane.

Romano Guardini wrote, back in the 1950's:

...As unbelievers deny Revelation more decisively, as they put their denial into more consistent practice, it will become the more evident what it really means to be a Christian. At the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies. He must learn to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through Him; he will have to learn to experience what this honestly means. Nietzsche had already warned us that the non-Christian of the modern world had no realization of what it truly meant to be without Christ. The last decades [the two world wars] have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades were only the beginning...
    -- Romano Guardini, from The End of the Modern World

* Update: Just want to amplify a little my comment that WSA "assumes a lot of Judeo-Christian morality." His phrase "We all should simply agree not to harm others" is a debased version of a Christian moral concept. The Pharisee who agreed that we should love our neighbor asked Jesus, "Who IS my neighbor?" His culture would have assumed that "his neighbor" meant "fellow Jews." Jesus answered with the story of the good Samaritan. The story implies something really radical and shocking: that everyone should be treated as our neighbor. (Jews and Samaritans hated each other like poison.) The idea that we should not hurt anybody is a corollary of this new idea.

WSA claims that we can just invent morality. He's fooling himself. If people with no preconceptions invented a morality, they would not come up with anything like what he expects.

I also strongly suspect that he thinks his formula is a TRUTH, though he would never dare admit it in the academy, or to himself. If somebody invented a morality that said: "We all should simply agree to harm anybody who annoys us," I'd guess he would exclaim "That's Wrong!" Wrong with a capital "W." I'd bet money that deep down he believes that there are moral laws that objectively exist, that are not invented by people. Therefore his atheism is a fake. Deep down he knows there is a Higher Power, but he's a coward and shrinks away from the implications.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:34 AM

November 7, 2009

"The Issue beneath all the other issues"

From a 2006 article by George Weigel:

...But perhaps the most intriguing intervention of the conference came from my friend Rémi Brague, who divides his time between the Sorbonne in Paris, where he teaches philosophy, and Munich, where he holds the chair of the late, great Romano Guardini. Professor Brague's name would rightly appear on any list of Ten Most Intelligent Catholics in the World, and in Vienna, he didn't disappoint.

Picking up on a phrase I had used in The Cube And the Cathedral , that Europe is "dying from a false story," Brague suggested a fascinating way of looking at the last two centuries of western history. The 19th century, he proposed, was focused on the question of good-and-evil: the "social question," posed by the industrial revolution, the emergence of an urban working class, and the demise of traditional society, dominated the landscape. The 20th century, he argued, had been the century of the question of true-and-false: totalitarian ideologies, built on perverse misunderstandings of the human person, defined the contest for the human future that drove history from the aftermath of World War I until the Soviet crack-up in 1991.

And the 21st century? Ours, Professor Brague said, is the century of the question of being-and-nothingness — the century of the metaphysical question.

Which may sound extremely abstract, but is, in fact, very concrete. For if nothing is "given" in the human condition, then everything is up-for-grabs. If, to take a salient example on both sides of the Atlantic, maleness and femaleness are mere "social constructs," then "marriage" can mean anything someone wants it to mean, including not only "gay marriage" but polygamy and polyandry — and to deny that is an act of irrational bigotry.
Brague, who knows a great deal about Islamic philosophy, knows all about the threat to the West from jihadist Islam. In Vienna, however, he insisted that nihilism — a soured cynicism about the mystery and wonder of being — is the prior enemy-within-the-gates. For nihilism leads to deep skepticism about the human capacity to know the truth of anything; skepticism leads to what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described on April 18, 2005, as the "dictatorship of relativism;" and relativism is a solvent eating away the foundations of western self-understanding, western civilizational morale — and the western capacity for intelligent self-defense.

An Enlightenment intellectual, cited by Professor Brague, once said that he didn't have children because begetting children was a criminal act — a matter of condemning another human being to death, to oblivion. That is the kind of nihilism that lies beneath Europe's demographic suicide of recent decades. That is the kind of nihilism that occupies some of the commanding heights of American culture. That is the kind of nihilism that makes the defense of western civilization difficult today — and would make it impossible tomorrow, were it to triumph culturally.

The very goodness of life, the goodness of being — that is The Issue beneath all the other issues of the 21st century. So suggested Rémi Brague. I'm afraid he's right....


Posted by John Weidner at 7:47 PM

October 31, 2009

"Yet it is Catholic bread that they eat..."

From The Spirit of Catholicism, by Karl Adam. 1924.
..."It must be regarded as true," declared Pope Pius IX in an allocution of the 9th December, 1854, "that he who does not know the true religion is guiltless in the sight of God so far as his ignorance is invincible. Who would presume to fix the limits of such ignorance, amid the infinite variety and difference of peoples, countries and mentalities, and amid so many other circumstances. When we are free of the limitations of the body and see God as He is, then we shall see how closely and beautifully God's mercy and justice are conjoined."

Wherefore the Church's claim to be the Church of salvation by no means excludes a loving and sympathetic appreciation of the subjective conditions and circumstances under which heresy has arisen. Nor is her condemnation of a heresy always at the same time a condemnation of the individual heretic. As an instance of the generosity of the Catholic attitude, take the words of the celebrated Redemptorist, St. Clement Maria Hofbauer, regarding the origins of the Reformation: "The revolt from the Church began," he wrote, "because the Because the German people could not and cannot but be devout." Hofbauer was a convinced Catholic, who condemned all heresy as a moral and religious crime, as a violation of the unity of the Body of Christ. He was fully aware also that the causes of the Reformation were by no means exclusively religious.

But that knowledge did not prevent him from appreciating those religious forces which contributed in no small degree to its success. The fact that Hofbauer has been canonized suggests that the Church did not disapprove of his utterance, but regarded it as confirmation of her constant belief in the possibility of invincible error and perfect good faith of the heretic. Unless we understand that we shell not grasp the meaning of her proposition, that there is no salvation outside the Church. True there is only one Church of Christ. She alone is the Body of Christ and without her there is no salvation. Objectively and practically considered she is the ordinary way of salvation, the single and exclusive channel by which the truth and grace of Christ enter our world of space and time. But those also who know her not receive these gifts through her; yes even those who misjudge and fight against her, provided they are in good faith, and are simply and loyally seeking the truth without self-righteous obstinacy. Though it be not the Catholic Church which hands them the bread of truth and grace, yet it is Catholic bread that they eat...

One of the interesting parts for me about becoming Catholic is reading parts of history that the Protestant world tends to disregard. One of them is the many anti-Catholic persecutions and pogroms in 18th and 19th Century Europe. Hofbauer, an Austrian, had tremendous difficulties to overcome because the emperor had closed the seminaries and over 1,000 monasteries and convents! I hadn't even heard of that. He became a priest in Italy, and went to Poland as a missionary.

I also read recently about the first Archbishop of San Francisco, and one of the great Dominicans, Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany. (We live near Alemany Ave, in SF, and belong to a Dominican parish.) He was born at Vich in Spain, in 1814, but had to flee to become a priest in Italy because of religious persecutions and proscriptions in Spain.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:24 PM

October 24, 2009

Reagan could act because he KNEW. Because he could SEE...

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, and the announcement of Personal Ordinariates* for Anglicans seeking union with Rome...

...Benedict will be seen as a kind of Ronald Reagan of the Vatican. When Reagan got to the White House he discovered that the established way of dealing with the Soviets was detente, talk, talk, talk and more talk. He decided that victory was in his grasp and proposed a firm confrontation. "Mr Gorbachev, pull down that wall!" His professional statesmen and diplomats were shocked at his 'foolishness.' But it worked. Communism was already fragile all it needed was a puff of air to knock it down completely. [Well, that's just about what happened. There were also some trifling matters like overstraining the Soviet economy by challenging them with a massive military build-up, Pershing missiles and SDI. And he had help from Mrs Thatcher, and J-P II.]

Pope Benedict's move this week will have similar impact in the world of Christian dialogue. With Personal Ordinariates not only have the professional ecumenists been shown the way forward, but the duplicitous liberal Catholic bishops who would have stalled, moved it into 'discussion groups' and presented 'further obstacles' have also been very effectively gone around. No longer will a gifted, willing and able convert priest have to wait years to be ordained and in the meantime be pushed from pillar to post by Catholic bishops who are driven by a liberal agenda that is actually illiberal....

Most of my readers—bless you all—will not have too much interest in this, or even know what's going on. But I assure you the comparison with Reagan is in no way an exaggeration. I'm just dazzled. And both cases are ones where true leaders cut through the malarky while "experts" simply could not SEE what was right in front of them.

I read somewhere a fascinating piece about how one of Reagan's men put out a request to the researchers in our intelligence agencies for any information they had on unrest or things-falling-apart in the Soviet Union. It turned out that there was a huge amount of information on things like wildcat labor strikes, and riots and protests. But it had never been collected or analyzed because no one had asked the question before. The experts had all decided that Communism worked, so they never looked for signs that it didn't.

But Reagan KNEW! He knew that communism (and socialism and big-government liberalism) Don't work. He could see, like the boy who could see that there was no emperor inside the fancy clothes.

And Pope Benedict could see that "dialoging" (ugh—spit on ugly word) with a zombie like the Church of England so-called was never going to yield fruit. (Actually Newman saw it in the late 19th Century.)

*A bishop is the "ordinary" of a diocese. (From Latin ordinarius, �orderly�). A diocese is a district. A personal ordinariate is a bishopric over certain persons, without regard for territory. B-16 has just cut his liberal English bishops out of the loop. And all the talk-talk-talkers. Anglicans now have the possibility of joining Rome while keeping things such as their ancient and beautiful liturgy and music.

Pope John-Paul II
A couple of famous characters
from long long ago...

Posted by John Weidner at 4:14 PM

October 10, 2009


GK Chesterton, "A Mother, a Protectress, a Goddess." Borrowed from The Hebdomadal Chesterton:

I opened a paper only ten minutes ago in which it was solemnly said, in the fine old style of such arguments, that there was a time when men regarded women as chattels. This is outside the serious possibilities of the human race. Men never could have regarded women as chattels. If a man tried to regard a woman as a chattel his life would not be worth living for twenty-four hours. You might as well say that there was a bad custom of using live tigers as arm-chairs; or that men had outgrown the habit of wearing dangerous snakes instead of watch-chains.

It may or may not be the fact that men have sometimes found it necessary to define the non-political position of women by some legal form which called them chattels; just as they have thought it necessary in England to define the necessary authority of the State by the legal form of saying that the King could do no wrong. Whether this is so or not I do not know, and I do not care. But that any living man ever felt like that, that any living man ever felt as if a woman was a piece of furniture, with which he could do what he liked, is starkly incredible. And the whole tradition and the whole literature of mankind is solid against it. There is any amount of literature from the earliest time in praise of woman: calling her a mother, a protectress, a goddess. There is any amount of literature from the earliest time devoted to the abuse of woman, calling her a serpent, a snare, a devil, a consuming fire.

But there is no ancient literature whatever, from the Ionians to the Ashantees, which denies her vitality and her power. The woman is always either the cause of a wicked war, like Helen, or she is the end of a great journey, like Penelope. In all the enormous love poetry of the world, it is practically impossible to find more than two or three poems written by a man to a woman which adopt that tone of de haut en bas, that tone as towards a pet animal, which we are now constantly assured has been the historic tone of men towards women. The poems are all on the other note; it is always "Why is the queen so cruel?" "Why is the goddess so cold?"...     — The Illustrated London News, 6 April 1907.
Posted by John Weidner at 10:17 PM

October 4, 2009

"An entirely new kind of barbarism"

Thaddeus J. Kozinski:

...One of the most astute "sign readers" of today is the reigning Pope. Here is one of Benedict XVI's most startling yet accurate readings: "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goals one's own ego and one's own desires." If I might put it into less philosophical terms, what the Holy Father is telling us is that Western culture is descending into barbarism.

We tend to associate barbarism with images of primitive savages looting and pillaging villages, razing the walls of cities, and enslaving women and children. However, the Holy Father is suggesting here an entirely new kind of barbarism, one with a distinctly spiritual character. Civility is the quality of soul and society by which we recognize not only that other people exist, but also that they have the right to our courtesy, dignity, and respect. Civilization, then, as the opposite of barbarism, is founded upon the recognition of the dignity and rights of the other. Thus, a culture in which "the highest goals [are] one's ego and one's own desires" is the very definition of barbaric.

G.K. Chesterton notes, "The simple sense of wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions, is the basis of spirituality." Today's barbarism is of a distinctly spiritual nature. It is not so much a physical as a philosophical barbarism that has overtaken Western culture, a barbarism of the soul that is camouflaged by a quite "civilized" bodily façade. Fr John Courtney Murray observed:
The barbarian need not appear in bearskins with a club in hand. He may wear a Brooks Brothers suit and carry a ball-point pen with which to write his advertising copy. In fact, even beneath the academic gown there may lurk a child of the wilderness, untutored in the high tradition of civility, who goes busily and happily about his work, a domesticated and law-abiding man, engaged in the construction of a philosophy to put an end to all philosophy, and thus put an end to the possibility of a vital consensus and to civility itself.
The most dangerous philosophical barbarians today are not the relatively few fanatical atheists and dogmatic relativists in academe, the courts, the government, and the media, but the much more prevalent "practically minded" sort. These do not deny the existence of other people, but live as if they didn't exist or had no worth compared to their own; they are not certain that God does not exist, or that the true, the good and the beautiful are illusions; yet if He did happen to exist, and if transcendentals were real, it wouldn't really matter much to their lives....

There's nothing quite so horrid and absurd as those of the "practically minded" type. They can't find answers, because it never occurs to their bland complacency that there might be a question! Lordy, lordy, what's be done? Give me an up-front atheist any day. At least there's something to get your teeth into, or to fight against, instead of punching the Pillsbury doughboy. Same goes for politics. I'd value an old-fashioned Communist infinitely over today's Peace n' Mush fake liberals and fake pacifists.

Posted by John Weidner at 3:24 AM

September 27, 2009

Catholic Mass in 155AD

(Just in case you have heard Protestant codswallop about the Mass being invented in the Middle Ages.)

Justin Martyr:

Posted by John Weidner at 5:50 PM

September 19, 2009


Carl E. Olson has a funny piece, an "interview" with GK Chesterton on the subject of Dan Brown's fiction. GKC's answers are actual quotes from his writings. I liked this bit especially, having been tormented too often by slippery Lefty types who won't declare themselves in a frank and manly way...

G. K. Chesterton on Dan Brown: The Interview:

Chesterton: There has arisen in our time an extraordinary notion that there is something humane, open-hearted or generous about refusing to define one's creed. Obviously the very opposite is the truth. Refusing to define a creed is not only not generous, it is distinctly mean. It fails in frankness and fraternity towards the enemy. It is fighting without a flag or a declaration of war. It denies to the enemy the decent concessions of battle; the right to know the policy and to treat with the headquarters. Modern "broad-mindedness" has a quality that can only be called sneakish; it endeavours to win without giving itself away, even after it has won. It desires to be victorious without betraying even the name of the victor. For all sane men have intellectual doctrines and fighting theories; and if they will not put them on the table, it can only be because they wish to have the advantage of a fighting theory which cannot be fought...

(Quote from "Rabelasian Regrets," in The Common Man.)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:05 PM

September 12, 2009

Solvitur ambulando...

Wilfrid Ward, in Witnesses to the Unseen, 1894...

...and while the intellect, when moving in mere speculation, and as a spectator of the riddle of life, tends to lose itself, to become morbid and paralyzed, and reach no conclusion, we are reminded with equal power of the light shed by a living practical faith, which brings us into the action of life, and gives knowledge and experience which cannot be translated into language intelligible to purely passive speculation, any more than the glow of the hunting field or the wild excitement of the field of battle can be known by those who have always lived an inactive life.

To this extent faith is its own evidence, and establishes itself by a solvitur ambulando. The doubt is seen by him who has shaken it off to have been in great part the result of hesitation and inaction, due to the absence of perceptions which action alone can supply; and faith justifies itself to the mind which is aroused from undue passivity.

Faith sees further and more truly, just as the confident rider sees clearly, and acts promptly, and clears the fence successfully, while the man who hesitates fails to see with precision, and fails in gaining the additional experience and perception which prompt action on that first rapid vision would have brought. The whole being moves together, and sight, action, experience, and knowledge are inseparably linked. Hopefulness, promptness, decision, affect mental perception as well as moral action...
Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 PM

September 6, 2009

If a man desert the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church was built....

Thanks to Jeffrey Steele...

If a man desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?
      -- St. Cyprian of Carthage
Posted by John Weidner at 9:39 AM

August 30, 2009


Newman Reader - Essays Critical & Historical I - Rationalism 1:

RATIONALISM is a certain abuse of Reason; that is, a use of it for purposes for which it never was intended, and is unfitted. To rationalize in matters of Revelation is to make our reason the standard and measure of the doctrines revealed; to stipulate that those doctrines should be such as to carry with them their own justification; to reject them, if they come in collision with our existing opinions or habits of thought, or are with difficulty harmonized with our existing stock of knowledge. And thus a rationalistic spirit is the antagonist of Faith; for Faith is, in its very nature, the acceptance of what our reason cannot reach, simply and absolutely upon testimony....


...Conduct such as this, on so momentous a matter, is, generally speaking, traceable to one obvious cause. The Rationalist makes himself his own centre, not his Maker; he does not go to God, but he implies that God must come to him. And this, it is to be feared, is the spirit in which multitudes of us act at the present day. Instead of looking out of ourselves, and trying to catch glimpses of God's workings, from any quarter,—throwing ourselves forward upon Him and waiting on Him, we sit at home bringing everything to ourselves, enthroning ourselves in our own views, and refusing to believe anything that does not force itself upon us as true. Our private judgment is made everything to us,—is contemplated, recognized, and consulted as the arbiter of all questions, and as independent of everything external to us. Nothing is considered to have an existence except so far forth as our minds discern it. The notion of half views and partial knowledge, of guesses, surmises, hopes and fears, of truths faintly apprehended and not understood, of isolated facts in the great scheme of Providence, in a word, the idea of Mystery, is discarded...

Like most of the Christian thoughts I post, this would still be true even if we knew that God did not exist. Rationalism would still be an abuse of reason. Because there would still be large realms of existence that our private judgement would not be adequate to understand.

And also because rationalism would still be psychologically wrong. Or perhaps one should say, anthropologically wrong. If our own selves are "contemplated, recognized, and consulted as the arbiter of all questions," as Newman puts it, we are in big trouble. One will be guiding oneself by imagining a compass, and then following where it leads.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:05 PM

August 23, 2009

"Self-contradiction in the sceptical attack"

From Orthodoxy, by GK Chesterton. (1908)
...As I read and re-read all the non-Christian or anti-Christian accounts of the faith, from Huxley to Bradlaugh, a slow and awful impression grew gradually but graphically upon my mind—the impression that Christianity must be a most extraordinary thing. For not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, but it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west. No sooner had my indignation died down at its angular and aggressive squareness than I was called up again to notice and condemn its enervating and sensual roundness. In case any reader has not come across the thing I mean, I will give such instances as I remember at random of this self-contradiction in the sceptical attack. I give four or five of them; there are fifty more.

Thus, for instance, I was much moved by the eloquent attack on Christianity as a thing of inhuman gloom; for I thought (and still think) sincere pessimism the unpardonable sin. Insincere pessimism is a social accomplishment, rather agreeable than otherwise; and fortunately nearly all pessimism is insincere. But if Christianity was, as these people said, a thing purely pessimistic and opposed to life, then I was quite prepared to blow up St. Paul's Cathedral. But the extraordinary thing is this. They did prove to me in Chapter I (to my complete satisfaction) that Christianity was too pessimistic; and then, in Chapter II, they began to prove to me that it was a great deal too optimistic. One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery.

One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, "the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands," hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool's paradise. This puzzled me; the charges seemed inconsistent. Christianity could not at once be the black mask on a white world, and also the white mask on a black world. The state of the Christian could not be at once so comfortable that he was a coward to cling to it, and so uncomfortable that he was a fool to stand it. If it falsified human vision it must falsify it one way or another; it could not wear both green and rose-coloured spectacles. I rolled on my tongue with a terrible joy, as did all young men of that time, the taunts which Swinburne hurled at the dreariness of the creed—
"Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilaean, the world has grown gray with Thy breath."
But when I read the same poet's accounts of paganism (as in "Atalanta"), I gathered that the world was, if possible, more gray before the Galilean breathed on it than afterwards. The poet maintained, indeed, in the abstract, that life itself was pitch dark. And yet, somehow, Christianity had darkened it. The very man who denounced Christianity for pessimism was himself a pessimist. I thought there must be something wrong. And it did for one wild moment cross my mind that, perhaps, those might not be the very best judges of the relation of religion to happiness who, by their own account, had neither one nor the other.....

Posted by John Weidner at 9:24 AM

August 15, 2009

The distinction is between unhappy atheists and happy atheists...

I'm reading an excellent book containing the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, with interspersed commentary by Peter Kreeft. Here's a morsel from it...

(Pensées means "thoughts." They were a collection of notes written on odd scraps of vellum that Pascal wrote over many years, hoping to turn them into a book which would appeal to the young people of his time, who were almost as heedless about the important things of life as people are now. It is generally conceded that Pascal's early death was in one sense a good thing, since his book could probably never have had the intensity and vividness of his dashed-off thoughts. There are very few books written in the time of Louis XIV that can still excite people the way Pascal's "non-random jottings" do.)

...And that is why, amongst those who are not convinced, I make an absolute distinction between those who strive with all their might to learn and those who live without troubling themselves or thinking about it.

I can feel nothing but compassion for those for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business.

But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end of life and who, solely because they do not find within themselves the light of conviction, neglect to look elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people accept out of credulous simplicity, or one of those which, though obscure in themselves, none the less have a most solid and unshakable foundation: I view them very differently.

This negligence in a matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity; it astounds and appals me; it seems quite monstrous to me. I do not say this prompted by the pious zeal of spiritual devotion. I mean on the contrary that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-esteem....

Peter Kreeft comments on this section:

The absolute distinction, which will become the distinction between the Heavenly and the Hellish, is not between believers and unbelievers but between seekers and non-seekers; for all unbelievers who seek will eventually become believers who find , according to the very highest authority (Mt 7:7-8). The distinction between believers and seeking unbelievers is only temporary; but the distinction between seeking unbelievers and un-seeking unbelievers is eternal.

The absolute distinction is between unhappy atheists and happy atheists. Unbelievers who are content and happy now will be unhappy eternally, but those who are unhappy and seeking now will be happy eternally (Lk 6:21-26).

Pascal's judgement simply follows God's. God does not judge unbelievers by the supernatural standard of faith but by the natural standard of reason. As St Paul says in Romans 1, the truth they know by natural reason is what they hold down or suppress because of their unrighteousness (1:18), and this--natural reason, natural law, natural sanity is enough to condemn them.

The battle for eternal souls is largely decided here in the beginning, in the plain plains of natural reason, rather than later, in the mysterious mountains of faith. If we are honest with truth, reason will lead us to faith...

Here's a link to another post I wrote on Pascal, which is worth reading—because of the good stuff I quote, not because of my own thoughts.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:07 PM

August 8, 2009

Lost in the "house of looking-glasses"

From Heretics by Gilbert Keith Chesterton: Ch. 9: The Moods of Mr. George Moore:

...His [the writer and art historian George Moore] account of his reason for leaving the Roman Catholic Church is possibly the most admirable tribute to that communion which has been written of late years. For the fact of the matter is, that the weakness which has rendered barren the many brilliancies of Mr. Moore is actually that weakness which the Roman Catholic Church is at its best in combating. Mr. Moore hates Catholicism because it breaks up the house of looking-glasses in which he lives. Mr. Moore does not dislike so much being asked to believe in the spiritual existence of miracles or sacraments, but he does fundamentally dislike being asked to believe in the actual existence of other people. Like his master Pater and all the aesthetes, his real quarrel with life is that it is not a dream that can be moulded by the dreamer. It is not the dogma of the reality of the other world that troubles him, but the dogma of the reality of this world...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:35 PM

August 1, 2009

"But who does the Church think she is?"

...But the Church down through the centuries has understood herself to be the appointed vessel for God's working, in the ordinary run of things. Her authority is not her own. She arrogates nothing to herself. Her bishops are the merest custodians, the merest passers-on, we might say, of the Deposit of Faith. As a Roman Catholic now, I am acutely aware of this.

When someone objects to me, "But who does the Church think she is, taking this high and mighty line?" (about abortion say, or about sexual morality, or about who may or may not come to the Lord's Table), the answer is, "She doesn't think she is anyone in particular, if you mean that she has set herself up among the wares in the flea market as somehow the best. She has been given her task to do do— pass on the teaching given by the apostles—and she has no warrant to change that. She is not taking her cues from the Nielsen ratings, nor from a poll, nor even from a sociological survey as to what people feel comfortable with nowadays. She didn't start the Church, and it's not her Church...
    -- Thomas Howard, from Lead Kindly Light

There is really no way to explain the difference—you have to experience it—in belonging to an organization that is not created by or dependent human beings. The Church existed before time, and even if the human race became extinct she would still exist. Every other family or tribe or group or nation or empire is created by people, and if they ever slack off...that's the end of it. Poof, it's gone. But the Church will never let you down. The human part, the people who are members...can sometimes be just as horrid as any other humans. But if you fall asleep like Rip van Winckle, and wake up in a thousand years, She will still be here. Kinda takes the pressure off a person...


Posted by John Weidner at 9:46 PM

July 26, 2009

Magnanimity. Humility. Fortitude.

Sherry Weddell:
....Magnanimity is the aspiration of the spirit to great things. St. Thomas Aquinas called it the "jewel of all the virtues" because the magnanimous person has the courage to seek out what is great and become worthy of it. Magnanimity is rooted in assurance of the highest possibilities of our God-given human nature.

When I first encountered the idea that "aspiring to greatness" was a Christian virtue, I had difficulty taking it in. Aren't Christians supposed to be humble and to avoid trying to be something special, to minimize and even belittle our abilities and achievements, to avoid ambition, and to prefer anonymity? Even the idea of having charisms distresses some Catholics. Believing that God might do something really important and supernatural through them somehow seems to lack humility. One 84-year-old Scot told me in his lilting brogue, "I couldn't have charisms; it wouldn't be humble!"

To allay such fears, we can recognize that humility is magnanimity's necessary partner, the attitude before God that recognizes and fully accepts our creaturehood and the immeasurable distance between the Creator and his creation. But neither does humility stand alone: without magnanimity, we don't see the whole of our dignity as human beings. Magnanimity and humility together enable us to keep our balance, to arrive at our proper worth before God, to persist in living our secular mission, and to persevere in seeking our eternal destiny despite apparent frustration and failure.

Magnanimity empowers us to aspire to whatever remarkable vocation God calls us to but the virtue of fortitude ensures that we finish the journey well. As Fr. John Hardon, SJ put it:

Fortitude is "the important commodity of enabling us to carry to successful conclusion the most difficult tasks that are undertaken in the service of God. There are two forms of courage implied in this gift of fortitude: the gift to undertake arduous tasks and the gift to endure long and trying difficulties for the divine glory....

Harbaville Triptych Deesis
The picture is a detail of the Harbaville Triptych, a 10th Century Byzantine ivory carving in the Louvre. It is the scene called a "Deesis," a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty carrying a book, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.
Posted by John Weidner at 3:50 AM

July 19, 2009

"The very lawfulness of nature points to a divine Lawgiver..."

From an excellent piece, How God and Science Mix, by Stephen M. Barr...

...My fellow particle physicist Lawrence Krauss has argued that "God and science don't mix." He began with an interesting statement of J.B.S. Haldane, an eminent biologist of the last century:
"My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course."
Scientists are atheists in the lab, said Krauss, and so it is only logical that they should be atheists everywhere. This is a logical argument, yes, and also quite popular, but it is based on a conception of God that is alien to Jewish and Christian tradition. For Haldane and Krauss, religion is about miracles, and miracles are about magic and the irrational, and therefore belief in God stands in opposition to the world revealed by science, a world intelligible by reason and governed by law.

For Jews and Christians, however, pitting God and the laws of nature against each other in this way is an absurd mistake; for it is the very lawfulness of nature that points to a divine Lawgiver. In the Bible, God gives laws not only to the people of Israel, but to the cosmos itself, as in Jeremiah 33:25, where he declares his fidelity to Israel in these terms: "When I have no covenant with day and night, and have given no laws to heaven and earth, then too will I reject the descendants of Jacob and of my servant David."

In arguing against pagans for the existence of a creator God, ancient Christian writers pointed to the order and lawfulness of nature, not to the miraculous. The following passage from the second-century writer Minucius Felix is typical:
If upon entering some home you saw that everything there was well-tended, neat, and decorative, you would believe that some master was in charge of it, and that he was himself much superior to those good things. So too in the home of this world, when you see providence, order, and law in the heavens and on earth, believe that there is a Lord and Author of the universe, more beautiful than the stars themselves and the various parts of the whole world.
...What then of miracles? Doesn't belief in them make nonsense of everything I have just said? On the contrary; there is no logical contradiction in believing in both natural laws and miracles; for if the laws of nature are God's ordinances to begin with, then what he has ordained he may also suspend. Indeed, to speak of a miracle in the absence of law would be meaningless...

...In the Christian view, miracles are not mere outbreaks of lawlessness in nature that happen in an utterly capricious way. Since only God can suspend his own laws, miracles are always divine acts, and serve a divine purpose. In the Bible and Christian tradition, that purpose is always to manifest God's love and mercy, and to attest to the authority of singular figures who teach or act in his name. Miracles are thus exceedingly rare events, fraught with deeply symbolic religious significance. The idea that God would interfere in the scientific experiments of Haldane or anyone else, as if he were a mischievous imp or poltergeist, is utterly silly from a Christian point of view. And to consider the fact that he doesn't do so an argument for atheism is on a par with Khrushchev's triumphant announcement that the cosmonauts had not seen God in outer space...
Posted by John Weidner at 5:52 AM

July 12, 2009

"With the lifted head of a lion-tamer..."

From The Catholic Church and Conversion by GK Chesterton, 1926

...To us, therefore, it is henceforth impossible to think of the Quaker as a figure at the beginning of a new Quaker history or the Calvinist as the founder of a new Calvinistic world. It is quite obvious to us that they are simply characters in our own Catholic history, only characters who caused a great deal of trouble by trying to do something that we could do better and that they did not really do at all. Now some may suppose that this can be maintained of the older sects like Calvinists and Quakers, but cannot be maintained of modern movements like those of Socialists or Spiritualists. But they will be quite wrong. The covering or continental character of the Church applies just as much to modern manias as to the old religious manias; it applies quite as much to Materialists or Spiritualists as to Puritans.

In all of them you find that some Catholic dogma is, first, taken for granted; then exaggerated into an error; and then generally reacted against and rejected as an error, bringing the individual in question a few steps back again on the homeward road. And this is almost always the mark of such a heretic; that while he will wildly question any other Catholic dogma, he never dreams of questioning his own favourite Catholic dogma and does not even seem to know that it could be questioned. It never occurred to the Calvinist that anybody might use his liberty to deny or limit the divine omnipotence, or to the Quaker that anyone could question the supremacy of simplicity. That is exactly the situation of the Socialist...
Bolshevism and every shade of any such theory of brotherhood is based upon one unfathomably mystical Catholic dogma; the equality of men. The Communists stake everything on the equality of man as the Calvinists staked everything on the omnipotence of God. They ride it to death as the others rode their dogma to death, turning their horse into a nightmare. But it never seems to occur to them that some people do not believe in the Catholic dogma of the mystical equality of men. Yet there are many, even among Christians, who are so heretical as to question it. The Socialists get into a great tangle when they try to apply it; they compromise with their own ideals; they modify their own doctrine; and so find themselves, like the Quakers and the Calvinists, after all their extreme extravagances, a day's march nearer Rome.

In short, the story of these sects is not one of straight lines striking outwards and onwards, though if it were they would all be striking in different directions. It is a pattern of curves continually returning into the continent and common life of their and our civilisation; and the summary of that civilisation and central sanity is the philosophy of the Catholic Church. To us, Spiritualists are men studying the existence of spirits, in a brief and blinding oblivion of the existence of evil spirits. They are, as it were, people just educated enough to have heard of ghosts but not educated enough to have heard of witches. If the evil spirits succeed in stopping their education and stunting their minds, they may of course go on for ever repeating silly messages from Plato and doggerel verses from Milton. But if they do go a step or two further, instead of marking time on the borderland, their next step will be to learn what the Church could have taught.

To us, Christian Scientists are simply people with one idea, which they have never learnt to balance and combine with all the other ideas. That is why the wealthy business man so often becomes a Christian Scientist. He is not used to ideas and one idea goes to his head, like one glass of wine to a starving man. But the Catholic Church is used to living with ideas and walks among all those very dangerous wild beasts with the poise and the lifted head of a lion-tamer. The Christian Scientist can go on monotonously repeating his one idea and remain a Christian Scientist. But if ever he really goes on to any other ideas, he will be so much the nearer to being a Catholic.....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:29 AM

July 5, 2009

"Yet in their day they seem of much account"

...It is the peculiarity of the warfare between the Church and the world, that the world seems ever gaining on the Church, yet the Church is really ever gaining on the world. Its enemies are ever triumphing over it as vanquished, and its members ever despairing; yet it abides. It abides and it sees the ruins of its oppressors and enemies. "O how suddenly do they consume, perish, and come to a fearful end."

Kingdoms rise and fall; nations expand and contract; dynasties begin and end; princes are born and die; confederacies are made and unmade, and parties, and companies, and crafts, and guilds, and establishments, and philosophies, and sects, and heresies. They have their day, but the Church is eternal; yet in their day they seem of much account...
--- John Henry Cardinal Newman

Posted by John Weidner at 7:43 PM

Romanus civis sum...

From The Catholic Church and Conversion, by GK Chesterton...

...There is a postscript or smaller point to be added here to this paradox; which I know that many will misunderstand. Becoming a Catholic broadens the mind. It especially broadens the mind about the reasons for becoming a Catholic. Standing in the centre where all roads meet, a man can look down each of the roads in turn and realise that they come from all points of the heavens. As long as he is still marching along his own road, that is the only road that can be seen, or sometimes even imagined. For instance, many a man who is not yet a Catholic calls himself a Mediaevalist. But a man who is only a Mediaevalist is very much broadened by becoming a Catholic.

I am myself a Mediaevalist, in the sense that I think modern life has a great deal to learn from mediaeval life; that Guilds are a better social system than Capitalism; that friars are far less offensive than philanthropists. But I am a much more reasonable and moderate Mediaevalist than I was when I was only a Mediaevalist. For instance, I felt it necessary to be perpetually pitting Gothic architecture against Greek architecture, because it was necessary to back up Christians against pagans. But now I am in no such fuss and I know what Coventry Patmore meant when he said calmly that it would have been quite as Catholic to decorate his mantelpiece with the Venus of Milo as with the Virgin.

As a Mediaevalist I am still proudest of the Gothic; but as a Catholic I am proud of the Baroque. That intensity which seems almost narrow because it comes to the point, like a mediaeval window, is very representative of that last concentration that comes just before conversion. At the last moment of all, the convert often feels as if he were looking through a leper's window. He is looking through a little crack or crooked hole that seems to grow smaller as he stares at it; but it is an opening that looks towards the Altar. Only, when he has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is much larger inside than it is outside. He has left behind him the lop-sidedness of lepers' windows and even in a sense the narrowness of Gothic doors; and he is under vast domes as open as the Renaissance and as universal as the Republic of the world. He can say in a sense unknown to all modern men certain ancient and serene words: Romanus civis sum; I am not a slave....

Posted by John Weidner at 8:23 AM

"If you tell them, they cannot believe you"

Dorothy Sayers, from Creed Or Chaos, published in 1947
...It would not perhaps be altogether surprising if, in this nominally Christian country, where the creeds are daily recited, there were a number of people who knew all about Christian doctrine, and disliked it. It is more startling to discover how many people there are who heartily dislike and despise Christianity without having the faintest notion what it is. If you tell them, they cannot believe you. I do not mean that the cannot believe the doctrine: that would be understandable enough, since it takes some believing. I mean that they simply cannot believe that anything so interesting, so exciting, and so dramatic can be the orthodox Creed of the Church.

That this is really the case was made plain to me by the questions asked me, mostly by young men, about my Canterbury play, The Zeal of Thy House. The action of the play involves a dramatic presentation of a few fundamental Christian dogmas—in particular, the application to human affairs of the doctrine of the Incarnation. That the Church believed Christ to be in any real sense God, or that the Eternal Word was supposed to be associated in any way with the work of creation; that Christ was held to be at the same time Man in any real sense of the word; that the doctrine of the Trinity could be considered to have any relation to fact or any bearing on psychological truth; the the Church considered Pride to be sinful, or indeed took notice of any sin beyond the more disreputable sins of the flesh:—all these things were looked upon as astonishing and revolutionary novelties, imported into the faith by the feverish imagination of a playwright.

I protested in vain against this flattering tribute to my powers of invention, referring my inquirers to the Creeds, to the Gospels and to the offices of the Church; I insisted that if my play was dramatic it was so, not in spite of the dogma but because of it—that, in short, the dogma was the drama. The explanations, however, not well received; it was felt that if there was anything attractive in Christian philosophy I must have put it there myself...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:00 AM

June 27, 2009

"The young heart rejoices when it hears the news"

This is from a good book on Christian apologetics I'm reading, Fundamentals of the Faith, by Peter Kreeft.

...Many have never heard the good news that there is such a thing as objective truth and an absolute right and wrong. If only they catch something of the joy and love in us when we tell them this good news, they will see that it is good news indeed. They usually see it as neither good nor as news.

The saints attracted young people. Jesus attracted young people. The pope attracts young people. Mother Teresa attracts young people. The growing movements in the Church today are attracting young people. Biblical orthodoxy is attracting young people. Orthodox Judaism is attracting young people. Even Islamic fundamentalism is attracting young people. the reason is plain: the young heart rejoices when it hears the news that, beyond modern hope, Truth exists. The thing a thousand bland and joyless voices from every corner of our dying culture have abandoned as mere myth, the beloved of the human spirit, Truth with a capital T, really exists!

This brings me to my fourth point: you must be passionately in love with Truth yourself and therefore totally honest. You can't give what you don't have; therefore the love of Truth can never be taught except by a lover of Truth...

WORD NOTE: The word apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing. It means a defense. It comes from the Greek apologeisthei, "to speak in one's own defense." The title of Newman's famous book, Apologia pro Vita Sua, means "a defense of my life."


Posted by John Weidner at 5:04 PM

June 21, 2009


From a column by George Weigel that seems to fit today's events:

...What can we learn from the Nine Days, [The visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland, June 2-10, 1979] three decades later? Several important things, I'd suggest.

The first thing the Nine Days and the subsequent Solidarity revolution teach us is that history doesn't work through politics and economics alone. The power of the human spirit can ignite world-historical change.

The second lesson from the Nine Days is that tradition can be as powerful a force for dramatic social and political change as a revolutionary rupture with the past. "Revolution," in the Solidarity experience, meant the recovery of lost values and cultural truths and their creative re-application to new situations. Tradition, according to an old theological maxim, is the living faith of the dead—a lively faith that can move history forward rather than dragging it backwards.

The third thing we ought to learn from the Nine Days and what followed in Poland is that moral conviction can be the lever once sought by Archimedes—the lever with which to move the world. There is nothing more potent in history, for good or ill, than ideas. The history of the 20th century prior to 1979 had been unspeakably bloody because of the power of false ideas and lies. The Solidarity revolution proved that the opposite could also be true, with its insistence on truth-telling amidst the communist culture of prevarication (or, as one famous slogan of the day had it, "For Poland to be Poland, 2+2 must always = 4").

The fourth thing we learn from the Nine Days and the moral revolution they ignited is that "public life" and "politics," "civil society" and "politics" are not the same. Rather, the health of politics depends on the moral health of civil society.

And the fifth thing we learn about from the Nine Days of John Paul II is what the Pope later came to call "the subjectivity of society." Free associations of men and women who are citizens, not subjects, are where democrats are made, for it's in those free associations that we learn the habits of heart and mind that make it possible for us to be self-governing....
Posted by John Weidner at 4:44 AM

June 14, 2009

Kreeft on creeds...

I like this excerpt, What's the Point of Creeds? from Fundamentals of the Faith, by Peter Kreeft. (Found at the excellent Ignatius Press blog.)

...God providentially arranged for the great creeds of the Church to be formulated in ages that cared passionately about objective truth. By modern standards, they ignored the subjective, psychological dimension of faith.

But we moderns fall into the opposite and far worse extreme: we are so interested in the subject that we often forget or even scorn the object. Psychology has become our new religion, as Paul Vitz and Kirk Kilpatrick have both so brilliantly shown.

Yet it's the object, not the subjective act, of faith that makes the creeds sacred. They are sacred because Truth is sacred, not because believing is sacred. Creeds do not say merely what we believe, but what is. Creeds wake us from our dreams and prejudices into objective reality. Creeds do not confine us in little cages, as the modern world thinks; creeds free us into the outdoors, into the real world where the winds of heaven whip around our heads. ...
...Two extremes must be avoided: intellectualism and anti-intellectualism, worshipping the words and scorning the words. If the ancient mind tended to the former extreme, the modern mind certainly tends to the latter. Both errors are deadly.

Intellectualism misses the core of faith, both objectively and subjectively. Objectively, the core of faith is God, who is a Person, not a concept. Subjectively, the core of faith is the will, not the intellect. Though informed by the intellect, it is the will that freely chooses to believe.

Faith is not the relation between an intellect and an idea, but the relation between an I and a Thou. That is why faith makes the difference between heaven and hell. God does not send you to hell for flunking his theology exam but for willingly divorcing from him.

Anti-intellectualism also misses the core of faith, both objectively and subjectively. Objectively, because its faith has no object. It calls faith an experience ("the faith experience") — a term never used by our Lord, Scripture, the creeds, or the popes. Modern people are constantly saying, "Have faith!" But faith in what or whom? They often mean "have faith in faith. " But faith in faith in what?

Anti-intellectualism is a modern reaction against the modern narrowing of reason to scientific reason. When the ancients and medievals called man a "rational animal", they did not mean a computerized camera mounted in an ape. They meant by "reason" understanding, wisdom, insight, and conscience as well as logical calculation.

Modern thinkers often forget this dimension of man and think only of reasoning (as in calculating) and feeling. And because they see that faith is not a matter of reasoning, they conclude that it must be a matter of feeling. Thus "I believe" comes to mean "I feel" and creeds simply have no place. Faith becomes a "leap" in the dark instead of a leap in the light.

Many of the Church's greatest saints have been doctors of the Church, theologians, philosophers, intellectuals: Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure. Anti-intellectuals like Tatian and Tertullian and Luther (who called reason "the devil's whore") often die excommunicated, as heretics....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:18 PM

June 6, 2009

"To distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth"

Alcuin Reid, We are lucky this Pope is 'ecclesiastically incorrect':

...On April 18 2005 a 78-year-old cardinal, at the end of his working life, preached the sermon for the cardinal-electors before they entered the conclave to elect a new pope. Joseph Ratzinger spoke that evening of the Church "moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires", and reminded the cardinals that the Church's true role is "to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth".

His remarks were direct and incisive. They were the words of a man utterly without ambition who was ready to retire under the new pope. So "ecclesiastically incorrect" were they that one cardinal-elector, a strong supporter of his candidacy, later remarked that he wondered whether, by speaking thus, Ratzinger was deliberately trying not to be elected pope.

But the following day he was elected. Journalists, most famously Margaret Hebblethwaite on BBC television, bewailed that "Rottweiler Ratzinger" now held the Keys of St Peter. Even those of us who had read him for decades and who had known him as cardinal in brief but profoundly convincing encounters could barely believe that the cardinal who had so resolutely held and reaffirmed the Church's teaching on faith and morals — with the clear support of Pope John Paul II — and who had pioneered critical debate about the state of the Church following the Second Vatican Council, in fact emerged on the balcony of St Peter's as the Successor of St Peter.

But the cardinals knew Ratzinger personally, better than anyone, which is why, under the influence of God the Holy Spirit, they elected him. The media and most Catholics only knew his public reputation, which is why we had such hysteria.....

Cardinal Ratzinger provoked (still does) hysteria among the relativists because he symbolizes the uncompromising reality of what they are really afraid of...God. Symbolically the Cardinal, as Prefect of the Faith, was saying, "Sorry, Truth is real. The wizard is not going to emerge from behind the curtain and give us a little wink, and some wiggle-room."

Well, it's so. You don't keep going strong for 2,000 years by trickery. (3,500 years really, since the Church is the New Israel.) Nothing else has lasted a quarter as long.

"In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth
So far as I know, but a tree and truth..."
Posted by John Weidner at 10:32 PM

May 31, 2009

For Pentecost...

From the Book of Joel, Chapter 2.

...Thus says the LORD:
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions;
even upon the servants and the handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
And I will work wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
blood, fire, and columns of smoke;
the sun will be turned to darkness,
and the moon to blood,
at the coming of the day of the LORD,
the great and terrible day.
Then everyone shall be rescued
who calls on the name of the LORD;
for on Mount Zion there shall be a remnant,
as the LORD has said,
and in Jerusalem survivors
whom the LORD shall call...

Just as a point of information (sort of like one of my word notes), the old timers didn't really expect the moon to turn to blood, or the sun to go out. When you read things like that, they are not about *gasp* the End of the Earth. Rather apocalyptic, which is what that kind of writing is called, is and was a literary genre. God acts in history, acts in the world we live in. And saying that the "stars were going to fall" and similar things was understood by everyone to mean that God was going to be making big changes. Not that he was striking the circus tent, and ending the show.

The great irony is that when certain Protestant sects have calculated, from apocalyptic Bible passages, that the world is going to end on a certain day, their thinking is very much a product of the Enlightenment. They are taking, in fact, a rationalistic or "scientific" approach to scripture. They have lost the ability to "see" what Joel was saying. Even if they are Six-Day Creationists, and think dinosaur bones were planted by the Devil, they are as much chained to the narrow room of natural science as Richard Dawkins or poor Christopher Hitchins.

That's why we have the Church. The Church does not forget.

The Catholic Church is the only thing
which saves a man from the degrading
slavery of being a child of his age.
    -- GK Chesterton

Posted by John Weidner at 10:06 AM

May 30, 2009

"Real love is tough love"

From Peter Holmes, The Jihad of Tolerance...

...Hands up who is sick and tired of being told to be 'tolerant'.

The word 'tolerance' seems to mean, "allowing anyone else to do whatever they like to me, to other people, and to themselves so long as I am allowed to do the same."

Christians in particular have sold out to the error that Christianity is a religion of tolerance. It seems that Christ was all about us sitting amiably by as people engage in harmful, stupid, and even evil things?

I have studied the Scriptures daily as part of my full time occupation for the last 14 years. Try as I might, even reading in original languages and using all kinds of groovy modern critical methods, I still haven't found this 'tolerant' Jesus everyone keeps talking about...

....You may have guessed by now that I don't buy into the lie that something can be 'true for me' but not 'true for you'. Truth is truth, my believing it does not make it any more or less true.

Tolerance has at its root a kind of arrogant condescension which says "even though I consider myself, my beliefs, my actions to be better than yours, I will refrain from imposing my superior beliefs on you in exchange for you not attempting to foist your ignorant views on me."

Jesus never taught us to engage in anything so uncaring and unloving as merely tolerate our neighbour. He teaches us to love! Love recognises what is objectively good for someone and wishes that goodness for them. Real love is tough love. Tough love is a love that seeks good for our neighbour no matter what the consequences.

Real love is a love that will not stand idly by as people are encouraged to walk the road to destruction. If Christ feared being misunderstood, or 'putting people off the Church by being too confronting' he would never have lived, taught and died the way he did....

The tolerance thing is especially poisonous because it is frequently infected with leftish politics, at least around here in Pelosi-ville. No one would even consider being tolerant of Dick Cheney! And as for pointing out that some favored minority group is in fact harming itself with pathological behavior...Oh my word, no. That can't be.... tolerated.

Harbaville Triptych Deesis
The picture is a detail of the Harbaville Triptych, a 10th Century Byzantine ivory carving in the Louvre. It is the scene called a "Deesis," a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty carrying a book, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:06 PM

May 24, 2009

This is pretty good...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:50 AM

May 17, 2009

"When you dream of happiness"

It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choice that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society.

      -- Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day 2000 Prayer Vigil

Well, we see this all around us, but we don't want to notice.

(Thanks to Sherry W)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:24 AM

May 9, 2009

Base camp. High above the tree line...

From If Only Atheists Were the Skeptics They Think They Are, by Edward Tingley:

..."Believing is not something you can decide to do as a matter of policy," as Dawkins says—though it is odd that he does so in a discussion of Pascal, who, like him, is a skeptic. A complete misunderstanding of Pascal, however, is crucial to the way that Dawkins and every one of his fellows (past and future) always think.

Evidence is just not available to demonstrate the existence of God, said Pascal, who called himself one of those creatures who lack the humility that makes a natural believer. In that, he was of our time: We are pretty much all like that now. Three hundred and fifty years ago he laid out our situation for us: Modern man confronts the question of God from the starting point of skepticism, the conviction that there is no conclusive physical or logical evidence that the God of the Bible exists.

"I have wished a hundred times over that, if there is a God supporting nature, [nature] should unequivocally proclaim him, and that, if the signs in nature are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether"—but nature prefers to tease, so she "presents to me nothing which is not a matter of doubt" (429). "We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty" (401). "We are . . . incapable of knowing . . . whether he is" (418). This is where the modern person usually starts in his assault on the question, Is God real or imaginary?

This is base camp, above the tree-line of convincing reasons and knock-down arguments, at the far edge of things we can kick and see, and it is all uphill from here. Thus, it is astounding how many Dawkinses and Dennetts, undecideds and skeptical nay-sayers—that sea of "progressive" folk who claim to "think critically" about religion and either "take theism on" or claim they are "still looking"—who have not reached the year 1660 in their thinking. They almost never pay attention to what the skeptic Pascal said about this enquiry.

Instead, the dogmatic reflex, ever caring for human comfort, has flexed and decided the question already, has told them what to believe in advance of investigation and rushed them back to the safety of life as usual....

...Pascal the skeptic has ruled out a fruitless path, the path to God via logic or concrete evidence: the easy route to the summit, sought for centuries but never found. The only way forward is up from where we are, onto the icy slopes out past the limit of concrete evidence. If that is possible.

At this point, of course, the venture is not looking especially promising. The mind is made for hard evidence. It gets traction on rough ground, but what stretches before us is sheer ice (minds are not issued with crampons). Is there a way forward?

That is now the question. If we care about the truth more than we care about some favored means of data-collection, we need to discover whether there is any other way, up here where the air is thin and the ice treacherous, that a rational person could settle the question of God.

A Question, Not an Answer

"Is there anything more?" is the scientific question, but as Pascal asks it, the "scientists" vanish.

The agnostics ski down the mountain into the woods, searching for hard evidence on the basis of which to decide whether God exists—which is very odd, given that a moment ago they were standing here with us, ready to climb as declared skeptics. Agnostics, plainly, are wafflers in their skepticism: As the team gets going, they U-turn back to the foothills, where every true skeptic says there is nothing to find. They do not care about the truth.

But even more astonishing than that, the atheists have just gone home. They are not down in the valley looking for evidence; they are not looking at all. They have packed in the science without lifting a boot, as if the summit were already taken, the question answered.

The atheist is the team-member who was always talking up the loftiness of the mission, but after all his fervid urgings to "search for what is true, even if it makes you uncomfortable," to go on no matter how hard and painful the going gets, he is the chap who grandly announces, without bending a knee, that victory is ours: "God should be readily detectable by scientific means." "Absence of evidence is evidence of absence." We now "rule out the God worshiped by most Jews, Christians, and Muslims." The climb is done, and the atheist scampers back to town to meet the press....
Posted by John Weidner at 8:55 PM

May 2, 2009

Research is in progress...

From the delightful Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis. The letters are written by an experienced devil, Screwtape, to a younger one, Wormwood, whom he instructs in the art of temptation and the destruction of human souls. Screwtape has referred to a description of heaven as 'the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence'...

My dear Wormwood . . .

Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could guess—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.

    -- C. S. Lewis

Posted by John Weidner at 7:17 PM

April 12, 2009

Have you ever been to a clambake?...

...."Wait without hope," wrote TS Eliot, "for hope would be hope for the wrong thing." If you frame Easter in the terms of the perceived problem, you belittle it. Whether you think in terms of pie in the sky (at best a thoroughly subChristian concept) or a better society, all you get is a happy ending after a sad or sinful story.

And whatever Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were doing in writing the final sections of their books, they were not telling the story of Jesus's resurrection as a happy ending. They were telling it as a startling new beginning. Easter morning isn't a slow, gentle waking up after the difficult operation. It's the electric shock that brings someone back to life in a whole new way.

That's why the Easter stories tumble out in bits and pieces, with breathless chasings to and fro and garbled reports - and then, stories like nothing else before or since. As the great New Testament scholar EP Sanders put it, the writers were trying to describe an experience that does not fit a known category. They knew all about ghosts and visions, and they knew it wasn't anything like that.

Equally, they knew the risen Jesus wasn't just a resuscitated corpse, still less someone who had almost died but managed to stagger on after all. They had the puzzled air of people saying, "I know this sounds wacky, but this is truly how it was." They were stumblingly describing the birth of new creation, starting with Jesus but intended for the whole world.

It sometimes seems that the church can hardly cope with this any more than the world can. Perhaps that's why, after 40 days of Lent, many churches celebrate Easter for a few hours and then return to normality. But nothing can be "normal" after Easter. New creation has begun, and we are summoned to get on board. We should at least have an eight-day party, or even a 40-day one.

And if Easter is all about the surprise of new creation, there is every reason to suppose that it will ripple out into the world in ways we would never imagine. Gangsters and drug-dealers get radically converted and set on fire with God's love, while pale churchmen drone their disbelief and warn against extremism.

Extremism? What can be more extreme than God raising Jesus from the dead after the world has done its worst to him? Supposing the power of that event were to be released into the world, into local communities, into ordinary lives, here and now? What might that look like?...

      -- NT Wright (Link)

"That's why the Easter stories tumble out in bits and pieces, with breathless chasings to and fro and garbled reports..."  Exactly. And what does that mean? Well, for one thing it means that nobody just made the story up while sitting at a desk wondering how to get a new "religion" started. It's just too messy and even slightly comical a story. Various scholars have opined that the disciples had some sort of "spiritual" experience, and then later interpreted it as something concrete like a resurrection. Pahhh! That's just stupid. (And I know what they are up to because I used to feel the same embarrassment about Easter, and used to wish that Jesus had been more like, say, Lao Tze.)

And the thing that has always tormented gnostics—and we have more of them now than ever—is that there's nothing "spiritual" about the Passion and Resurrection. It's all so grittily real and physical, it's kind of a pie-in-the-face to all the lofty "spiritual" types. Have you ever been to a clambake?...

...When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead...

Well, Charlene and I have been there, by that very sea. Who knows, maybe on the very same spot--this picture is taken near Caperneum. It's an awesome place, but it also resembles San Diego County to a disappointing degree. And it's nothing like a Zen monastery. If you want "spiritual," go trekking in the Himalayas.

Francis and Shelley by Sea of Galilee
Our friends Fr. Francis Goode and Shelley Goodale by the Sea of Galilee...


Posted by John Weidner at 5:29 AM

April 5, 2009

On the frontier...

....To come at the answer to this we may hark back to Catholic theology itself, which is sacramental. That is, the Church, in keeping with the whole scriptural rendering of things, teaches that in the realm of salvation the physical world has not been huddled offstage, so to speak, but has been swept in, along with the whole creation, to the precincts of the holy, so that physical things (bread, wine, water) may become the very points at which the unseen and eternal touches the seen and temporal.

It is a natural religious tendency to huddle the physical offstage: hence the great appeal of all forms of gnosticism. We mortals like to think of ourselves as "spiritual", which of course we are; but in our eagerness to think thus, we often blithely jump out of our flesh-and-blood selves and talk as though we were pure spirits, disembodied. The poor flesh is left on one side, both in our imaginings and in our religious exercises. For nonsacramentalist Christians, it is permitted to sit or stand perhaps, since how else shall we dispose ourselves for religious gatherings. We may speak and sing and listen, since these activities indicate what is in our thoughts and our hearts, but let us not kneel or bow or make physical gestures like the sign of the Cross, or sprinkle things with holy water and hail our olfactory nerve-endings with incense: all of that is too heavily physical, and we know that the physical has been set aside by the New Testament.

No says the Church. No says the Bible. No says our humanity. The New Testament was inaugurated not by the Word of God arriving through the ether, but by that very "Word" arriving and lodging in the womb of a woman.nd then this coming of the Word to us proceeds on its way with a Visitation, when its cousin, also in the womb, leaps in recognition, and with a Circumcision, and hunger and fatigue and tears, and finally thorns and flogging and Crucifixion.

Very physical, this New Covenant. But of course then things rise to a pure spirituality surely? Yes, if we mean by this that a New Creation is now inaugurated. But if we mean that all is now restricted to thoughts and spirits, and the human intellect and will, then no. A body comes back from the dead; whatever this body is, it is not a phantom. It has wounds, not illusionary wounds; and it can eat..... The very words real and physical and literal are "born again", so to speak, when they appear in this New Creation: but they are not empty metaphors. They summon us to the mystery that presides over this frontier between the seen, as we are accustomed to it, and the unseen, which reaches beyond our mortal imaginings.

And it is on this very frontier that Christian gathering for worship occurs. It matters that the people—embodied men and women and children—show up...
From, On Being Catholic, by Thomas Howard
Posted by John Weidner at 5:18 AM

March 29, 2009

"Last chance"

[This is a re-posting of a piece from 2006]
I was writing in the last post about the book God's Choice : Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, by George Weigel. Charlene and I are both enjoying it, learning a lot of stuff that you won't get from the press. There's a lot they don't want you to know. It rather looks to me like the situation we have here in domestic politics and culture, with press and leftists frantically demonizing conservatives to try to hide their own reactionary emptiness and bankruptcy.

It's much the same with Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger. The same sort of people hate him not because he really is a reactionary, but because he was a leader in the other group of reformers of Vatican II and after. (He is, interestingly, the last major figure of Vatican II still active in the Church.) Here's a little snippet, to give you a slight flavor of what I'm reading...

...Ratzinger agreed with those who thought that the church of the past few centuries had shrunk itself, theologically and spiritually, and that Vatican II's task was to "usher Catholics into a larger room." The reform Ratzinger imagined would have two dimensions, usually described in Council argot by a French term and an Italian term. The reform required ressourcement—a "return to the sources" of Catholic theology in the Bible and in the early Fathers of the Church, where, as Nichols writes, "the Christian religion took on its classic form" from men such as Ignatius of Antioch, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom. Ressourcement, it was believed, would free Catholic theology from the cold logic and bloodless propositions of the neo-scholastic system; and having been liberated in that way, theology would revitalize Catholic life. That revitalization was the second dimension of the kind of reform Ratzinger imagined: the famous aggiornamento, or "bringing up to date" of the Church's practices, structures and methods of encounter with modern culture and society...

...the biblical and patristic ressourcement would allow the aggiornamento of the Church in the modern world to be a genuine, two-way dialog, with the Church offering fresh insight to modernity, its aspirations and its discontents....

...The problems came, in Ratzinger's view, when aggiornamento lost its tether to ressourcement—when the "updating" of the Church did not begin with a return to the sources of Catholic intellectual and spiritual vitality...Instead of building Nichols's larger room in the Church, an aggiornamento unmoored from ressourcement stripped the room of a lot of its furniture...unleashing what a later generation would have called Catholic "deconstruction": the new question became, "How little can I believe, and how little must I do, to remain a Catholic?"...

"Two-way dialog, with the Church offering fresh insight to modernity." Think about that one a moment. In liberal culture, such a statement is unimaginable. It's the stuffy old Church's job to listen to modern culture, and get up to date. A position which was reduced to banality by certain clueless TV commentators at John Paul II's funeral, who said things like, "This may be the last chance for the Church to become relevant." (I kid you not, they really said that.)

Uh huh. Gotta become relevant to the secular rationalist world, or....or what? Thing is, the secular welfarist world is dying. Literally dying in Europe and Japan, which are facing demographic collapse. Someone recently pointed out that by 2050, 60% of Italians will not know the experience of having brothers or sisters or aunts or uncles or nephews or nieces. And spiritually dying---dead--producing no exciting new ideas or movements, no compelling art, taking no risks, believing in nothing enough to fight for it (which fits a lot of Blue State America too). While the Catholic Church, and the non-liberal Protestant Churches are growing vigorously, and still produce people willing to die for their faith. (And, just as meaningful, to put aside a lot of personal pleasures, and follow God's command to be fruitful and multiply.)

I suspect there's "a last chance to become relevant" happening for somebody, but it's not who the Hollywood script says it is...

* Update: Ressourcement, by the way, started with John Henry Newman. As did most of the themes of the Council. When I go on and on about Newman, I'm not pursuing antiquarianism, or wasting your time with things that have no "relevance" to today.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:38 AM

March 8, 2009

"Like the tides of an invisible sea"

The Anchoress quoted this...

From Flannery O'Connor's letter to Alfred Corn on May 30, 1962:

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It's there, even when he can't see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian sceptism. It will keep you free -- not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your intellect or the intellects of those around you...

Faith, by the way, is transparent. You can't see it, or touch it, but you know that it is there because you see other things more clearly--faith is sort of like the glass in a diving mask. You don't see the glass itself, but you see the underwater world much more clearly, so you know it is there.

Actually, the statement that "faith lets you see things more clearly" is true of pretty much everything. You can not, for instance, be a good scientist or engineer if you do not have faith in those disciplines. (I suppose it would be possible to do science merely as an intellectual game that you do not believe in, but it never happens.) The engineer has at some point in his life had a "conversion experience," which turns many small pieces of knowledge gained in life into a meaningful whole. (Or it could be, Catholic-wise, a series of small conversions throughout life.)

I love history, and I well remember my "conversion experience" the first time an entire period of history snapped into focus as a coherent whole, rather than a collection of interesting facts. It was dazzling. (The book was The Fatal Inheritance; Philip II and the Spanish Netherlands, by Edward Grierson.) Once that happened, then I could presume that any period of history would be found to be a comprehensible whole, if I cared to delve into it. Politics, art, clothing, military tactics, religion....all would be inter-related and meaningful. I could "see" the idea, because I had faith.


Posted by John Weidner at 2:11 PM

A happy interlude in our hectic life...

I was recently given a tip about a cool blog, Dominican History. It has a post on P�re Marie-Joseph Lagrange, O.P. , who founded the �cole Biblique, the famous Dominican research center in Jerusalem.

Which has kept me thinking lately of a couple of the happiest hours Charlene and I have spent in recent years. It was during our trip to the Holy Land last May. Our group visited the �cole, and Charlene and I loved it. It was like taking a step back in time to a happier, more civilized era. Especially, the gardens were a dream of peace for me. Not fancy or pretentious at all; rather dry and dusty and shabby, but the sort of place I could have just sat in or walked in all day.

I wish I had taken more pictures there, but this one gives at least a hint of the flavor of the gardens. That's our dear friend Fr. Francis Goode, looking a bit tired, but we all were on that fast-moving pilgrimage.

Fr. Francis in the gardens at the Ecole Biblique

Here's our motley crew being shown about by two of the faculty. That's Fr Olivier an the left, and Fr. Gregory on the right. The cool thing is, we know these men. They've stayed at our priory in San Francisco. It gave me a charming feeling of being part of the Dominican universe...

Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem

Here's the Church of St Stephen (the first martyr), which is part of the school. It was built in 1900 on the site of the 5th Century Byzantine church, which was destroyed in the 12th Century. You can still see mosaic floors from the old church. It is also the largest Christian church in Jerusalem, so the other flavors of Christians borrow it if they need to hold really big ceremonies.

St Stephen Church, Jerusalem

Here's a bit from the post on Pere Lagrange...

...He taught Church History and Holy Scripture for a while, then was sent to the Vienna University (Austria) to hone his oriental languages skills. There, on February the 5th, 1889, he was ordered to leave for Jerusalem. Right away, he sketched a working programme, and on November the 15th, 1890, in a former Turkish slaughterhouse, in which the rings the animals were to be hung from were still to be seen, he opened what he insisted on calling l'�cole Pratique d'�tudes Bibliques (Practical School for Biblical Studies).

Father Lagrange was a partisan of the encyclical Providentissimus Deus of Pope Leo XIII, inviting scholars to solve the difficulties created by a rationalist analysis of the Bible through an exegesis that would be at the same time rooted in tradition, but progressive. But some disliked his scientific approach and, as he was working doggedly to refute those who were questioning the essential data of Christian faith, he got censored and had to leave Jerusalem for a year, in 1912. Neither formally condemned nor rehabilitated, the Dominican remained heroically faithful to the Church. Through work and prayer, enlighted by his faith, and wih great scientific rigour, he put his intelligence to the service of the Gospel and the truth...
Posted by John Weidner at 5:40 AM

February 22, 2009

"The worlds of the sacred and profane are bound together"

Jean Richafort - Requiem in memoriam Josquin Desprez

I found an interesting thought here...

...The title of this post is derived from a recurring line in Richafort's Requiem, written in honor of Josquin des Pres. The melody and text come from a chanson by Josquin entitled Faulte d'argent: "Faulte d'argent, c'est douleur non pareille." (Lack of money, there is no greater sorrow.)

To give an idea of the mind of the late middle ages and early Renaissance, the chanson is about a man who lamentably discovers he lacks the money to pay a prostitute. Richafort baptizes the bawdy lyric by inserting it into his Mass for the Dead; the death of the loved one is the sorrowful event. The worlds of the sacred and profane are bound together, perhaps in the same life, just as the worlds of the living and dead are joined.

I enjoy telling people the story behind the Richafort Requiem, because it perplexes our modern sensibilities: we assume that the sacred and profane are irreparably sundered. One is either a saint or a sinner, either alive or dead; once a sinner, always a sinner, once dead, dead forever. Our forbears withstood paradox better than we do.

Just as the absent brother, be he absent through geographical separation or death, is not infinitely distant, he is not, like the missing coin of St. Luke's Gospel, irretrievably lost. He will be found again, and when he is, the widow will share her joy with her friends and neighbors; so, too, will we rejoice when we are reunited...
Posted by John Weidner at 5:20 AM

February 15, 2009

Since W left, there is only one world leader...

...Only one giant among the pygmies...

From a good article about B-16, Pope provocateur:

...No doubt Pope Benedict XVI has had some harsh words for his advisers, who let him down badly in the handling of this episode. Yet three weeks out, the Holy Father can take satisfaction in how this will be resolved. Today in Rome he will grant a special audience to American Jewish leaders, and address them about the Shoah. Meetings hastily cancelled by the chief rabbinate of Israel are back on, plans are proceeding for a papal visit to Israel in May, the German Chancellor who publicly rebuked Benedict has now acknowledged what everyone knows, that the Pope is a friend of the Jewish people and does not endorse Holocaust denial.

Even more extraordinary, the breakaway group to which Bishop Williamson belongs, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), has moved publicly and decisively to distance itself from anti-Semitism (a long-standing problem in far-right French culture). More remarkable still, the SSPX first silenced Williamson, and then relieved him of his duties as rector of their Argentine seminary.

The breach in Catholic-Jewish relations is quickly mending and more change has been wrought in the SSPX on matters related to Jews in the last three weeks than in the last three decades. The cunning plan of a master strategist? Not likely this time; mistakes are mistakes. But the Williamson imbroglio does point to a distinctive feature in the style of Benedict XVI.

Since he arrived in Rome more than 25 years ago, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has repeatedly and deliberately been provocative, kicking up enormous media storms on sensitive subjects. His calculated risk is that his interventions will not move the debate one way or the other within the given parameters, but change the parameters of debate altogether.

He is willing to play with fire in order to bring both heat and light; the obvious danger is that on occasion the fire scorches the Vatican itself.

We first saw this clearly in his 1985 interview book The Ratzinger Report. Commenting 20 years after Vatican II, Cardinal Ratzinger deliberately used the word "restoration" to speak about what was necessary to correct post-conciliar abuses. It sparked a fevered debate in the Church and earned criticism from other bishops, but his remarks framed the debate for the synod of bishops that year -- the synod which called forth Ratzinger's single most important work, the Catechism of the Catholic Church... [Thanks to Orrin Judd]

Real leaders shake things up. Push through big changes without worrying too much about breaking things. Then the pygmies wring their hands and deplore the messiness and violence that change requires. And the bean-counters scurry to clean up the loose ends and tidy away the smoking rubble. And soon the the revisionist historians claim it was all just the inevitable trend of history, and there's no such thing as a great man.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:56 AM

February 7, 2009

"They are taken away perchance to other duties in God's service"

Death is much on our minds here. An exceptionally talented and vibrant young woman of our parish was killed in an automobile accident last week. Rachel wasn't a personal friend of ours, but our paths kept crossing. She was in my R.C.I.A. class. She sang in the choir at the mass we attend. She was a grad student in music at SF State, and helped our son Will get through the convolutions of counterpoint class. We saw her baby, Violet, baptized last year.

She was only 22. She had some mind-boggling tattoos. We went to her funeral today--the music was awesome, as you might expect when a splendid choir has lost one of their own. I was glad Will and I could help out a little, as ushers...

Newman wrote...

...Further still, consider our Saviour's words: "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you." He does not tell us, why it was that His absence was the condition of the Holy Spirit's presence...

...Moreover, this departure of Christ, and coming of the Holy Ghost, leads our minds with great comfort to the thought of many lower dispensations of Providence towards us. He, who, according to His inscrutable will, sent first His Co-equal Son, and then His Eternal Spirit, acts with deep counsel, which we may surely trust, when He sends from place to place those earthly instruments which carry on His purposes. This is a thought which is particularly soothing as regards the loss of friends; or of especially gifted men, who seem in their day the earthly support of the Church. For what we know, their removal hence is as necessary for the furtherance of the very objects we have at heart, as was the departure of our Saviour.

Doubtless, "it is expedient" they should be taken away; otherwise some great mercy will not come to us. They are taken away perchance to other duties in God's service, equally ministrative to the salvation of the elect, as earthly service. Christ went to intercede with the Father: we do not know, we may not boldly speculate,—yet, it may be, that Saints departed intercede, unknown to us, for the victory of the Truth upon earth; and their prayers above may be as really indispensable conditions of that victory, as the labours of those who remain among us. They are taken away for some purpose surely: their gifts are not lost to us; their soaring minds, the fire of their contemplations, the sanctity of their desires, the vigour of their faith, the sweetness and gentleness of their affections, were not given without an object...

[Parochial & Plain Sermons, vol. 2, Sermon 18. Link.]

Rachel and Violet
SF Chronicle photo, by Mike Kepka (Link)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:57 PM

February 1, 2009

"agnosticism slips out of one's hands like a soap bubble"

Benedict XVI, from Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures: ...The true way to call agnosticism into question is to ask whether its program can be realized. Is it possible for us, as human beings, purely and simply to lay aside the question of God, that is, the question of our origin, of our final destiny, and of the measure of our existence?...

...Even if I throw in my theoretical lot with agnosticism, I am nevertheless compelled in practice to choose between two alternatives: either to live as if God did not exist or else to live as if God did exist. If I act according to the first alternative, I have in practice adopted an atheistic position and have made a hypothesis (which may also be false) the basis of my entire life...

...Let us leave this question here: it is clear that the prestige enjoyed by the agnostic solution today does not stand up to closer examination. As a pure theory, it may seem exceedingly illuminating. But in its essence, agnosticism is much more than a theory: what is at stake here is the praxis of one's life. When one attempts to "put it into practice" in one's real field of action, agnosticism slips out of one's hands like a soap bubble; it dissolves into thin air, because it is not possible to escape the very option it seeks to avoid. When faced with the question of God, man cannot permit himself to remain neutral. All he can say is Yes or No--without ever avoiding all the consequences that derive from this choice even in the smallest details of life. Accordingly, we see that the question of God is ineluctable; one is not permitted to abstain from casting one's vote...

Thanks to Macklin Horton, who adds, "...I've never heard anyone say 'I don't know whether there is a God or not, so I'm going to become a Catholic.' No, a commitment to agnosticism--as opposed to agnosticism still open to the alternative-- is a form of atheism."

Posted by John Weidner at 10:13 AM

January 24, 2009

All or nothing...

Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.
-- Pope Benedict XV

Pope Benedict the Fifteenth

Well really, who would want a faith that says, "You can take all this stuff cum grano?" Or that you should decide on your own what is true? What's the point?

Posted by John Weidner at 5:13 PM

January 18, 2009

"The central thing in the business of Europe..."

This looks like it may be a good book. Ignatius Press is re-publishing Hilaire Belloc's The Battleground: Syria and Palestine the Seed-plot of Religion. I've ordered a copy.

They have an except here, and I've posted an excerpt of the excerpt. (Why? Just because I can. No one can stop me!):

....It is a great misfortune to history that just at the moment when detailed historical study began, some two and a half centuries ago, there also began that gradual but increasingly rapid decay in religion which made it more and more difficult for those who would write history to understand the vital importance of doctrine.

Almost every force has been called in to explain this and that in the past--except the force of doctrine: dogma. Race has been appealed to; economic circumstance; military circumstance (certainly more important than the other two) has been appealed to, and the chief r�le has been given (by those who understand and value a decisive victory) to the fact that men were what they were because of this and that battle.

All these forces have their place in the story of change, but until quite lately the supreme factor of religious conflict has not been understood. It has puzzled and it has irritated, so that commonly it has been dismissed. Yet supreme it is.

The central thing in the business of Europe is the Doctrine of the Incarnation: the affirmation that God had appeared among men, and the denial thereof. From the first public announcement of that affirmation about A.D. 29-33, it has been the main issue dividing all men of the Graeco-Roman world, moulding and unmoulding our society.

Constantine had established his peace, he had founded his new city, he was prepared (from A.D. 325) to administer vigorously and with justice a united, orderly, permanently established society, when he found himself at the outset confronted by a storm within that world which took him by surprise, puzzled, and exasperated him. The magnitude of it he at last perceived, though he could not understand why it should be so great--and by the time he died it was the main issue in the world over which his successors were called to rule.

This storm had arisen on the fundamental question of Our Lord's Divinity.

Let there be no error; the question is fundamental not only to that time but to our own. It remains the root question for those who ridicule the doctrine, for those who are indifferent to it, and for those who would defend it. With Jesus Christ as God incarnate there is one view of the world. With Jesus Christ as a Prophet, a model, or a myth, there is another: and the one view is mortal enemy to the other. The meat of the one is poison to the other....

* Update: Writing about things forces one to think them through. My experience, as a blogger from early days (since November 2001) has been like peeling an onion. I keep asking why things are the way they are, why various assumptions about things have turned out to be wrong. I peel back layers, and end up a Catholic who's reading stuff like the above. I think Belloc is on the trail of the real story of our world, and I'm avid to find out. (Which is why this will never be a popular blog--most people's reaction is, "Why do you care about this stuff?")

If anyone's curious, the assumption I had when I started Random Jottings was that most Americans of the Left, even though they were tiresomely anti-American in many ways, would rally to our country with warm hearts if she were attacked, much like all Americans did after Pearl Harbor. Wow, was that ever wrong! Which gradually led to the question of what's going on in their heads--an onion layer. Leading eventually to the question of what's going on in people's souls--a deeper layer. And under that the deep currents of history--what's driving them?

Posted by John Weidner at 5:48 AM

January 10, 2009

"Thinking about law and the right ordering of the world..."

In honor of Fr Neuhaus, who died recently, I'm quoting a bit from has delightful book, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth...

...In an encyclical on evangelization, Redemptoris Missio, John Paul the Great offered a marvelous formulation. The Church imposes nothing, she only proposes. What she proposes, however, is the truth, and the truth does impose itself. That is because, at least according to Catholic anthropology, human beings are, so to speak, hard-wired for the truth. we live in an intelligible world that is accessible to reason. Our mind participates in the mind of God. With respect to the right ordering of the world, we can know God's law. Here too, St Thomas Aquinas is the helpful teacher. He writes of four distinct meanings of law: There is the eternal law, the natural law, the positive law, and the divine law. The eternal law is one with the eternal Being of God Himself. The natural law�and here Thomas follows St Paul in Romans 1 and 2�is the understanding of right and wrong that is written on every human heart. These are the truths that we "cannot not know," although we can deny that we know them. The positive law is human law: the man-made laws and regulations that societies adopt. These may or may not be in agreement with eternal and natural law. Fourth and finally, there is divine law, the law and laws revealed by God in the scriptures and Spirit-guided teaching of the Church.

There is no denying that this way of thinking about law and the right ordering of the world�and especially the right ordering of our own lives!�goes against the grain of our culture. The very idea of "moral truth" is a puzzlement and offense to many of our contemporaries. Twenty-five years ago the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre published his extraordinary little book, After Virtue. His argument, put much too simply, is that not only intellectuals but our popular culture has largely abandoned an understanding of moral truth and virtue, with the result that we are all dog-paddling in the murky sea of "modern emotivism."

Morality has become almost totally a matter of feelings and preferences. You have yours and I have mine. If I say that something is "wrong," I am expressing no more than my personal preference. "I am not comfortable with that." "I feel that is not right." "I would prefer you not do that." In short the making of arguments is replaced by the expression of emotions. In such a cultural context, the appeal to "conscience" is only an appeal to my personal preference. Conscience, in this view, does not discern moral truth, but subjectively establishes the truth...


Posted by John Weidner at 6:21 PM

January 4, 2009


One of the awesome things Charlene and I did on our pilgrimage to Israel last Spring [link, link] was to visit the remains of the synagogue in Capernaum, by the shore of the Sea of Gallilee. The synagogue was re-built in the 4th Century after an earthquake, but it is quite likely that the new one was much like the older one where Jesus preached. We were probably standing on the very floor He walked on!

This aerial view gives a good idea of what it's like. The local stone is an ugly black basalt, and many small houses have been excavated--you can see a little of that on the edges of the building. (I imagine and hope the houses would have been plastered and painted--the excavations look like worker-housing in Mordor.) The synagogue itself is limestone, brought from another place.

Synagogue in Capernaum, aerial view

In my picture below you can see the rows of benches running along the sides of the main room. This was traditional for synagogues. Of course all the pillars would have been the height of those in the back. A historically important thing you can see here is how the Jews were embedded within a Greek world. The architecture is Greek, although I don't think there was any analogous pagan religious building.

One of the things that tell us that Judaism and Christianity were not just "the ones the got lucky" out of the vast crowd of ancient religions is that neither of them "fit" into any existing religious architecture in the world. Neither pagan temples nor the grottos of the mystery cults were designed for the multitude, nor for reading and preaching to a community. (The "business" of a pagan temple mostly happened at the altar which was outside.)

Christianity in particular was so weirdly unlike anything existing that Romans often thought of it as atheism! We can't really grasp that point, since we now assume that Christianity is what religion "normally" is like. One clue is that the Christian church--the building that is--is adapted from the basilica, a Roman public building used especially for law courts.

Synagogue in Capernaum

...The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life...-- John 6, 52-68

Well, if nothing else, Jesus was not the kind of guy who told people what the polls said they wanted to hear...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:23 AM

December 28, 2008

We don't "find" God, He finds us...

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

From an excellent essay by R. R. Reno, in First Things...

....After many rereadings of the Confessions, I have been mortified to discover that St. Augustine does not commend the great preoccupation of modern Christianity, the quest for faith. For him, the journey of his young adulthood was a futile circular movement. Imagining himself to be a seeker after God, he was in fact ever returning to himself. What began as a projected heroic journey ended in exhausted despair. Ten years after Cicero had ignited in him a love of wisdom, St. Augustine reports, “I had lost all hope of discovering the truth.” What seemed like a journey was nothing more than the huffing and puffing of a presumptuous soul that thought it could storm the citadel of God with earnest longing and good intentions. The upshot was paralysis...

....When one reads what Augustine actually wrote rather than what one imagines he must have written, the warning is clear. What had seemed a great and noble journey—to find God!—was, says Augustine, a series of delays and postponements. He had not struggled across spiritual deserts, nor had he climbed snowy mountain passes. By his own accounting, Augustine had spun endlessly, "turning over and over again," exhausting himself on "the treadmill of habit."

....Still, our inability is not a condemnation to stasis. There is a journey of faith for Augustine, but the guidance comes from God, not us. Far from finding God, Augustine confesses, “You pierced my heart with the arrow of your love.” Indeed, the arrows had already been loosed many times, but in his agitated desire to control his own destiny, Augustine had dodged and deflected them. Only after Augustine has recognized the vanity of his own efforts does the arrow of divine love strike its mark. In the silence of the garden, God’s Word finally reaches his heart. “The examples given by your servants,” Augustine reports, “burnt away and destroyed my heavy sluggishness.” Then and only then does his journey begin: to baptism, back to Africa, and to Hippo.

The general principle of Augustine’s own self-analysis is clear, and its relevance to the temptation to embark on our own searches for God is direct—even, and perhaps especially, when that search takes us across the strange terrain of denominationalism. “The soul needs to be enlightened,” he writes, “by light from outside itself.”.....
Posted by John Weidner at 6:48 AM

December 21, 2008

"Yearning for that far home that might have been."


The unfathomable sea, and time, and tears,
The deeds of heroes and the crimes of kings
Dispart us; and the river of events
Has, for an age of years, to east and west
More widely borne our cradles. Thou to me
Art foreign, as when seamen at the dawn
Descry a land far off and know not which.
So I approach uncertain; so I cruise
Round thy mysterious islet, and behold
Surf and great mountains and loud river-bars,
And from the shore hear inland voices call.
Strange is the seaman's heart; he hopes, he fears;
Drawn closer and sweeps wider from that coast;
Last, his rent sail refits, and to the deep
His shattered prow uncomforted puts back.
Yet as he goes he ponders at the helm
Of that bright island; where he feared to touch,
His spirit re-adventures; and for years,
Where by his wife he slumbers safe at home,
Thoughts of that land revisit him; he sees
The eternal mountains beckon, and awakes
Yearning for that far home that might have been.
Posted by John Weidner at 5:20 AM

December 14, 2008

"The liturgy has no purpose"

From The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Romano Guardini...
...The Church, however, has another side. It embraces a sphere which is in a special sense free from purpose. And that is the liturgy. The latter certainly comprehends a whole system of aims and purposes, as well as the instruments to accomplish them. It is the business of the Sacraments to act as the channels of certain graces. This mediation, however, is easily and quickly accomplished when the necessary conditions are present. The administration of the Sacraments is an example of a liturgical action which is strictly confined to the one object. Of course, it can be said of the liturgy, as of every action and every prayer which it contains, that it is directed towards the providing of spiritual instruction. This is perfectly true. But the liturgy has no thought-out, deliberate, detailed plan of instruction. In order to sense the difference it is sufficient to compare a week of the ecclesiastical year with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

In the latter every element is determined by deliberate choice, everything is directed towards the production of a certain spiritual and didactic result; each exercise, each prayer, even the way in which the hours of repose are passed, all aim at the one thing, the conversion of the will. It is not so with the liturgy. The fact that the latter has no place in the Spiritual Exercises is a proof of this. The liturgy wishes to teach, but not by means of an artificial system of aim- conscious educational influences; it simply creates an entire spiritual world in which the soul can live according to the requirements of its nature.

The difference resembles that which exists between a gymnasium, in which every detail of the apparatus and every exercise aims at a calculated effect, and the open woods and fields. In the first everything is consciously directed towards discipline and development, in the second life is lived with Nature, and internal growth takes place in her. The liturgy creates a universe brimming with fruitful spiritual life, and allows the soul to wander about in it at will and to develop itself there. The abundance of prayers, ideas, and actions, and the whole arrangement of the calendar are incomprehensible when they are measured by the objective standard of strict suitability for a purpose. The liturgy has no purpose, or, at least, it cannot be considered from the standpoint of purpose. It is not a means which is adapted to attain a certain end--it is an end in itself. This fact is important, because if we overlook it, we labor to find all kinds of didactic purposes in the liturgy which may certainly be stowed away somewhere, but are not actually evident.

When the liturgy is rightly regarded, it cannot be said to have a purpose, because it does not exist for the sake of humanity, but for the sake of God. In the liturgy man is no longer concerned with himself; his gaze is directed towards God. In it man is not so much intended to edify himself as to contemplate God's majesty. The liturgy means that the soul exists in God's presence, originates in Him, lives in a world of divine realities, truths, mysteries and symbols, and really lives its true, characteristic and fruitful life.... [link to online version]

Posted by John Weidner at 9:54 AM

December 7, 2008

Insanity dissected...

From The Church and the Culture War: Secular Anarchy or Sacred Order, by Joyce A. Little...
...Today in America the imperial or autonomous self reigns. What more and more Americans seek, above all else, is the feeling that they themselves are in total control of their lives, that in some ultimate sense they are sufficient unto themselves, requiring nothing and no one else. Thirty years ago there was talk of the "me generation." We have now seen two "me generations", with a third already well on the way. These are the people who value above all things self-empowerment and seek as their highest goals self-actuaization, self-realization and self-fulfillment...

...These are the people who, if they are spiritually oriented, find a home in the New Age movement, which assures them they are gods unto themselves. "The self that God created needs nothing. It is forever complete, safe, loved and loving", we are told in the preface to A Course in Miracles , the basic text of the New Age. "Spirit is in a state of grace forever. Your reality is only spirit. Therefore you are in a state of grace forever."...

....This trivialization of all choices rests on a trivialization of all differences among people. This has resulted in the invidious habit of calling the way a person lives his "lifestyle." Those who speak the language of lifestyles betray by that language the meaninglessness they attach to all choices. As [Christopher] Lasch correctly notes, "They reduce choice to a matter of style and taste, as their preoccupation with 'lifestyles' indicates. Their bland innocuous conception of pluralism assumes that all preferences, all 'lifestyles,' all 'taste cultures.'...are equally valid."

In the final analysis, the imperial self, intent on exercising absolute freedom of choice, cannot accept any realm of objective truth or morality which would inhibit that freedom by requiring the self to conform itself to that objective truth. As the Pope [John Paul II] points out in Veritatis Splendor, "Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extant that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values." This notion that every person is the source of his own values is quite popular today. As the Pope observes, "Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others." (VS 32) The result of this subjectivism is not lost on John Paul II. "This ultimately means making freedom self-defining and a phenomenon creative of itself and its values. Indeed, when all is said and done, man would not even have a nature; he would be his own personal life-project."...

Excerpts don't do this great book justice. Read, as they say in Blogistan, the whole thing.

My thoughts below the fold...

To try to "fulfill" yourself is slavery. Your "self", a brutal taskmaster, will whip you ever onwards trying to make yourself into something wide and fat and tall, something that "matters." But that's crazy; the things that matter must, obviously, be very important things, and you are always going to be small in comparison to them. Sorry, that's just the way it is. Your quest is impossible.

Real freedom consists in being able to choose the good. And when you do, you will, necessarily, be a servant. That's the only thing that makes sense, once you chose the good. To serve it. And you are then more free because you have chosen not to be a slave to yourself. And happier too.

The craziest slavery of all is to try to escape slavery to your demanding self by.... your own efforts! Duh. Where does that get you? Think of the kind of people who go off on "spiritual quests." They spend twenty years freeing themselves from the Wheel of Existence, and then discover that Global Warming is the most important issue, and Mr Obama is "The One." And that they need to buy a Prius pronto, to break the entanglements of the material world... (The obligations and responsibilities that come with the good things of our world however--those they get "detached from" easily. The lil' swamis suck non-stop on the peace and prosperity of this great and good country, and Western Civilization, while attaining lofty spiritual detachment from giving anything back--even a word of thanks.)

Spiritually speaking, you would probably be better off joining the US Army, and striving cheerfully to do whatever shambolic tasks you are assigned.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:37 AM

November 30, 2008

If you can see one step in advance...

....For in any matter so momentous and practical as the welfare of the soul, a wise man will not wait for the fullest evidence before he acts; and will show his caution, not in remaining uninfluenced by the existing report of a divine message, but by obeying it though it might be more clearly attested. If it is but fairly probable that rejection of the Gospel will involve his eternal ruin, it is safest and wisest to act as if it were certain.

On the other hand, when a man does not make the truth of Christianity a practical concern, but a mere matter of philosophical or historical research, he will feel himself at leisure (and reasonably on his own grounds) to find fault with the evidence. When we inquire into a point of history, or investigate an opinion of science, we do demand decisive evidence; we consider it allowable to wait till we obtain it, to remain undecided; in a word, to be sceptical.

John Henry Newman, ca. 1840If religion be not a practical matter, it is right and philosophical in us to be sceptics. Assuredly higher and fuller evidence of its truth might be given us; and, after all, there are a number of deep questions concerning the laws of nature, the constitution of the human mind, and the like, which must be solved before we can feel perfectly satisfied.

And those whose hearts are not "tender," [2 Kings xxii. 19.] as Scripture expresses it,�that is, who have not a vivid perception of the Divine Voice within them, and of the necessity of His existence from whom it issues,�do not feel Christianity as a practical matter, and let it pass accordingly. They are accustomed to say that death will soon come upon them, and solve the great secret for them without their trouble,�that is, they wait for sight: not understanding, or being able to be made to comprehend, that their solving this great problem without sight is the very end and business of their mortal life: according to St. Paul's decision, that faith is "the substance," or the realizing, "of things hoped for," "the evidence," or the making trial of, the acting on, the belief of "things not seen." [Heb. xi. 1.]

What the Apostle says of Abraham is a description of all true faith; it goes out not knowing whither it goes. It does not crave or bargain to see the end of the journey; it does not argue with St. Thomas, in the days of his ignorance, "we know not whither, and how can we know the way?" it is persuaded that it has quite enough light to walk by, far more than sinful man has a right to expect, if it sees one step in advance; and it leaves all knowledge of the country over which it is journeying, to Him who calls it on...

      --John Henry Newman       [Link. Paragraphing added by me.]
Posted by John Weidner at 5:22 AM

November 23, 2008

Try to believe that 2 + 2 = 5...

From chapter five of Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua...

...People say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is difficult to believe; I did not believe the doctrine till I was a Catholic. I had no difficulty in believing it as soon as I believed that the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation. It is difficult, impossible to imagine, I grant--but how is it difficult to believe?......

Newman is getting at an important point. (Just in case anybody out there in "the audient void" is repelled from faith because various things are "hard to believe.")

In general, Christian doctrines are not hard to believe, they are hard to imagine.

If someone told you that 2 + 2 = 5, now that's hard to believe!

On the other hand, that a god created the universe is unimaginable (ie: You cannot imagine what the event might have been like), but at least as believable as any scientific explanation I've encountered.

(Scientific explanations such as this: "The creation of the universe itself involved information processing: random fluctuations in the quantum foam, like a random number generator in a computer program, produced higher-density areas, then matter, stars, galaxies and life...").

Likewise, once you believe in a creator god, it's not unbelievable that he might be interested in us, if only on the analogy that we can be very interested in microbes and insects.

Likewise, if there is a god who created the universe, he presumably is outside the realm of this physical universe which we apprehend by our senses. Therefore it's believable that there are realms where god and other beings can exist that our five senses cannot perceive. Ie: the Supernatural.

You can apply this down the line, and find that it works...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:55 AM

November 16, 2008

False step....

John Henry Newman, on "religious liberalism." (He was not writing about political liberalism, but it is easy to descry the analogous false step that underlies leftist politics)...[link]

....Whenever men are able to act at all, there is the chance of extreme and intemperate action; and therefore, when there is exercise of mind, there is the chance of wayward or mistaken exercise. Liberty of thought is in itself a good; but it gives an opening to false liberty. Now by Liberalism I mean false liberty of thought, or the exercise of thought upon matters, in which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to any successful issue, and therefore is out of place. Among such matters are first principles of whatever kind; and of these the most sacred and momentous are especially to be reckoned the truths of Revelation.

Liberalism then is the mistake of subjecting to human judgment those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it, and of claiming to determine on intrinsic grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest for their reception simply on the external authority of the Divine Word....
This is from the notes to his Apologia pro Vita Sua. Newman's Apologia is a classic. The Latin title means "defense of one's life." It is the sort of book that you would guess would be a very dull dry book indeed, since it is purely a history of Newman's religious thought during the first half of his life, and rigorously excludes all the action and personalities of his very active life. But the book is oddly compelling and readable. Recommended for all serious people, if there are any left.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:14 PM

"Everything is of consequence..."

From Letters to a Young Catholic, by George Weigel

....And here's the second proposition to ponder: for all the sentimentality that occasionally clings to Catholic piety, there is nothing sentimental about Catholicism. "There is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism," Flannery O'Connor wrote, because Christianity stands or falls with the Incarnation � God's entry into history through Jesus of Nazareth, who is both the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the son of Mary, a young Jewish girl living on the outer fringes of the Roman Empire.

History and humanity are the vehicles by which God reveals himself to the world he created. History is the arena and humanity is the vessel, through which God redeems the world. History and humanity count, and count ultimately: not because of our pride but because of God's merciful love, the unsentimental but cleansing love of the father who welcomes the prodigal son hame, knowing full well that the prodigal has made a thoroughgoing mess of his life by his selfishness, his "autonomy," his conviction that nothing, including himself, really counts.

"If you live today you breathe in's the gas you breathe," wrote Flannery O'Connor; "If I hadn't had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now." So, I expect, would I. So, perhaps, would you. So here's one more way to think about Catholicism and its distinctive optic on the world and on us: Catholicism is an antidote to nihilism. And by "nihilism," I mean, not the sour, dark, often violent nihilism of Nietzsche and Sartre, but what my friend, the late Father Ernest Fortin (who borrowed the term from his friend Alan Bloom) used to call "debonair nihilism": the nihilism that enjoys itself on the way to oblivion, convinced that all of this�the world, us, relationships, sex, beauty, history�is really just a cosmic joke. Against the nihilist claim that nothing is of consequence, Catholicism insists that everything is of consequence, because everything has been redeemed by Christ....

Posted by John Weidner at 5:09 AM

November 9, 2008

The Apples of the Hesperides...

From On Being Catholic, by Thomas Howard...
...get in touch

With what? Oneself? Many go to the desert or to the therapist with just such a quarry in mind. But "myself" turns out either to be eluding me, like the egg in Alice in Wonderland, or to be a less satisfactory prize than I had supposed, our own epoch having drilled into me the notion that the question "who am I" is the Golden Key.

Not so , says history. Not so say the sages. Not so, say all the myths. The quest for yourself leads to solitude. It is a vortex from which escape is almost impossible. On and on you will go, from the therapist to the medicine man, rifling into your viscera, swallowing the pills, identifying the syndromes and neuroses, discovering how you have been victimized and abused, and embarking on ever fresh techniques. But, like Palomides chasing his chimera, never apprehending your quarry...

Alas! you mortal soul, the voice of the bard cries out to us. It is not yourself but rather the Apples of the Hesperides that you seek. It is Arcadia, say the poets. It is the Garden of Adonis. It is the Well at the World's End. It is the Grail.

No no, whisper the therapists: those are illusions wrought from the fever of your own estrangement from yourself.

Wrong, say the bards and the prophets, the sages and the seers: you lost yourself because you had, long before, lost the god.

Who is he?

The answer, from far beyond the myths and oracles and pantheons, comes to us from the burning bush: I Am That I Am....

Posted by John Weidner at 7:17 AM


"A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death -- the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged."

    -- Czeslaw Milosz (pronounced CHESS-wahf MEE-wosh)

(I saved this from a long-ago post by long-ago blogger Arthur Chrenkoff)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:56 AM

November 2, 2008

"The Truth is Always Pastoral"

A excerpt from a post by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

...7). Anyone who comes in the Catholic Church thinking that they will find clouds of angels at Mass dressed as parishioners; hordes of perfect saints kneeling for communion; seminaries packed with angelic young men burning to be priests; a parish hall stacked to the ceiling with morally pure people eager to serve; and a priest without flaw or blemish, well, you're cracked and you probably need to go back and try again. Telling Catholics that they aren't perfect makes as much sense as telling fish they're wet. We know already. Move on.

8). Of the hundreds of priests and religious I know, I know two who could count as saints right now. The rest of us are deeply flawed, impure, struggling creatures who know all too well that we fail utterly to meet the basic standards of holiness. For that matter: so do you. Get in line.

9). The Catholic Church owes no one a revision of her doctrine or dogma. She didn't change to save most of Europe from becoming Protestant, why would you imagine that she would change just to get you in one of her parishes?

10). If you want to become Catholic, do it. But do it because you think the Church teaches the true faith. If a cranky priest on a blogsite is enough to keep you from embracing the truth of the faith, then two things are painfully clear: 1) you do not believe the Church teaches the faith; 2) and you care more about expresssing your hurt consumer feelings than you do for your immortal soul.

Fr. Philip, OP

UPDATE: Yes, I am a priest, and a huge part of my ministry is to console, to be present, to advise, and to try my best to shine out the light of Christ. As a Dominican friar, I do all of that first and best by telling the truth! The best pastoral approach is always to tell the truth, so please, forget the notion that "to be pastoral" is somehow opposed to "telling the truth" or "teaching the faith."

The Truth is Always Pastoral.
Posted by John Weidner at 6:59 AM

October 26, 2008

"Almost the opposite of abstraction"

From Saint Thomas Aquinas, by GK Chesterton....

...First, it must be remembered that the Greek influence continued to flow from the Greek Empire; or at least from the centre of the Roman Empire which was in the Greek city of Byzantium, and no longer in Rome. That influence was Byzantine in every good and bad sense; like Byzantine art, it was severe and mathematical and a little terrible; like Byzantine etiquette, it was Oriental and faintly decadent. We owe to the learning of Mr. Christopher Dawson much enlightenment upon the way in which Byzantium slowly stiffened into a sort of Asiatic theocracy, more like that which served the Sacred Emperor in China. But even the unlearned can see the difference, in the way in which Eastern Christianity flattened everything, as it flattened the faces of the images into icons. It became a thing of patterns rather than pictures; and it made definite and destructive war upon statues.

Thus we see, strangely enough, that the East was the land of the Cross and the West was the land of the Crucifix. The Greeks were being dehumanised by a radiant symbol, while the Goths were being humanised by an instrument of torture. Only the West made realistic pictures of the greatest of all the tales out of the East. Hence the Greek element in Christian theology tended more and more to be a sort of dried up Platonism; a thing of diagrams and abstractions; to the last indeed noble abstractions, but not sufficiently touched by that great thing that is by definition almost the opposite of abstraction: Incarnation. Their Logos was the Word; but not the Word made Flesh. In a thousand very subtle ways, often escaping doctrinal definition, this spirit spread over the world of Christendom from the place where the Sacred Emperor sat under his golden mosaics; and the flat pavement of the Roman Empire was at last a sort of smooth pathway for Mahomet. For Islam was the ultimate fulfilment of the Iconoclasts....
Chesterton's book is very worth reading, by the way. If you want an introduction to Aquinas, you simply cannot do better, as many Aquinas scholars have agreed. It is highly readable and thought-provoking...

Posted by John Weidner at 4:32 PM

October 19, 2008

"The Church is on the firing line..."

...This new age will have the merit of discarding that hypocrisy by which the modern world evoked the forms, without the substance, of Christianity. In so doing, the post-Christian man will have to come to terms with the fact that to live without Christ is a hard choice with serious, even brutal, consequences.

The believer too will be faced with the increasingly inescapable realization the faith itself is a hard choice. On the one hand, this brave, new, post-Christian world will have little place in it for him. On the other hand, he will discover in all their fullness the demands his faith makes upon him, when he has to live it without the external affirmations afforded him within a Christian culture. He may indeed discover for the first time, as Guardini suggests, what it really means to be a Christian....

.....At the same time, it may well be that "the massive failure of Christendom itself", as Percy puts it, is already creating the only conditions, in the West at least, within which a genuine renewal of faith can take place. During a conversation I had with Walker Percy a few months before his death, he commented that, in his judgement, the Church is in a better position today than she has been in centuries. He thought the identification of culture and faith was disastrous for the Church in many ways.

He cited Kierkegaard's observation that it is almost impossible to become a Christian in Christendom. That is, people within a Christian culture are inclined to believe they automatically become Christians simply by virtue of having been born into that culture. Today people can see that no such identification exists and that a choice must therefore be made. He believed a new consciousness is emerging; and thus, the realization that the Church and the culture are at odds is a key, perhaps even the key, element of this new consciousness. As a result, the Church is on the firing line and that, as Percy saw it, is exactly where she properly belongs....
    -- From The Church and the Culture War, by Joyce A. Little, 1995
Posted by John Weidner at 5:49 AM

October 12, 2008

"In the waste of waters...."

Charlene and I were at a social event yesterday, with a crowd of what might be described as greying long-hairs and hippie-types of our "Baby-Boomer" generation. (And, I hasten to add, as nice a group of folks as you might hope to meet. Pleasant to be around.) But it made me think about various things that are happening around us.

One is that there were no young people among the invitees. I thought of Mark Steyn: "The future belongs to those who show up for it." I also had to contrast this with our situation in our parish (Perhaps atypical, being Dominican.) Charlene and I are dealing with young people all the time. The place is crawling with them. Good-looking, thoughtful, challenging kids. Just talking with them makes us stretch, and they are not shy about teaching us things.

This is especially interesting in our R.C.I.A, which I help out with. (R.C.I.A is Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, which is how one becomes a Catholic. See note below.) The help I provide is very minor, but just hanging around is, to me, like hanging around the lab where some world-shaking series of experiments is being run. Utterly fascinating. We have young people and old, all races and backgrounds. And most of them seem, in one way or another, to be groping for a way out of the self-worshipping traps that my generation so conspicuously flooded the world with. [Charlene adds, "They are groping for Truth." Of course, we are the original firm.]

(I hasten to add that I think that the 60's were a sort of "perfect storm" of trends that have been developing for centuries, and that things would have worked out much the same even without the grotesqueries of my youth. I'm not the sort of conservative who blames it all on the 60's!)

Newman, 1877: apprehensions are not new but above 50 years standing. I have all that time thought that a time of widespread infidelity was coming, and through all those years the waters have in fact been rising as a deluge. I look for the time, after my life, when only the tops of the mountains will be seen like islands in the waste of waters...."

Anyway, back to groping for Truth. My first intellectual "mentor" was Peter Drucker. And one of the things he always emphasized was the supreme importance of asking the right questions. Of figuring out what question it is that you are actually asking. Part of what intrigues me about our R.C.I.A. groups are the many people who, though they are by my standards muddled and shockingly ignorant, are groping towards exactly the right question. It fills me with awe. And fear. I think of the old saying, "God watches over drunken sailors and lost children."

Another thing that struck me about the crowd we were in yesterday was that it was pretty much all white. C and I are so used to a multi-racial multi-ethnic milieu that we feel odd and a bit out of place in that sort of monoculture. Yet it's a likely bet that they were all Obama supporters, and if he loses they will be calling Republicans like us racists!

It made me think of yesterday's post...

Shannon Love: ...I think that politics on the Left has become a social process, i.e., a means of group identification and self-validation. Leftists care less about the triumph of ideas and far more about the triumph of a group of people with which they ego-identify. They need their ego-identity candidate to win so that they can feel good about themselves. The character and policies of the actual candidate does not matter...

I suspect that yesterday we were among the original type about whom that was written. I can just imagine the bland assumption that "everyone" is voting for Obama, coupled with bland ignorance of and indifference to the queasy-making things in his actual record. Perhaps I'm wrong---hope so.

To me "searching for Truth" is not something like hiking up in the Himalayas to pose questions to a bearded swami. It's more like the California Gold Rush, which was (in reality, not the cartoon version) a matter of men doing gritty back-breaking endless work, in sun and rain, in pursuit of the tiny elusive flecks of pure gold. And this is particularly a Catholic approach. The Church is always busy writing documents in painstakingly parsed Latin, defining the truths of the faith more completely than before. (Latin is used partly because it is a dead language and so the meaning of words does not change.) The core truths of faith are mysteries---we can't possibly really understand God---that's silly. But we have been given by God some things anyone can understand, and those we Catholics like to bite on, like people used to bite gold coins.

And this gold-panning for truth is something I think we should be doing all the time, because you never know where in daily life gold may appear. That's what really infuriates me about the Obama supporters I know; their utter indifference to the gnarly tactile details of truth-seeking. (I almost wish they were the dedicated socialists some people claim they are---at least they would have a "truth" to be dedicated to.)


EXPLANATORY NOTE: R.C.I.A., Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, appears externally as a series of once-a-week classes over six months. (Alas, in many parishes insipidly taught. There are only a limited number of Dominicans.) It starts about September, and ends at the Easter Vigil, when you may, if you chose, be Baptized (if you are not already) and Confirmed in the Catholic Church.) But it is really less about gaining knowledge (important as that is) than about conversion. Conversion means, literally, "turning around." Catholics believe in "continuous conversion," not the one-swoop "I'm saved" moment of the Evangelicals.

So R.C.I.A. is the start of the conversion process, which goes on life-long. We Christians are always noticing that we have somehow got going in the wrong direction yet again, oops, and turning ourselves around for the thousandth time. And conversion comes from hearing. Cor ad cor loquitor---"heart speaks to heart." As St Thomas put it: Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, Sed audito solo tuto creditur... Which, poetically translated, is "Taste and touch and feeling, to discern Thee fail, Faith that comes from hearing, pierces through the veil." (Yes, it is not "scientific." We are in a different realm, with different rules. Be adventurous, try something peculiar.)

Posted by John Weidner at 4:25 PM

"But I will out amid the sleet, and view..."


NOW is the Autumn of the Tree of Life;
Its leaves are shed upon the unthankful earth,
Which lets them whirl, a prey to the winds' strife,
Heartless to store them for the months of dearth.
Men close the door, and dress the cheerful hearth,
Self-trusting still; and in his comely gear
Of precept and of rite, a household Baal rear.

But I will out amid the sleet, and view
Each shrivelling stalk and silent-falling leaf.
Truth after truth, of choicest scent and hue,
Fades, and in fading stirs the Angels' grief,
Unanswer'd here; for she, once pattern chief
Of faith, my Country, now gross-hearted grown,
Waits but to burn the stem before her idol's throne.

At Sea. June 23, 1833. John Henry Newman. From Lyra Apostolica

JH Newman portrait, engraving by R Woodman, after portrait by Sir WC Ross
John Henry Newman,
Engraving by R Woodman, after portrait by Sir WC Ross

Posted by John Weidner at 5:18 AM

October 5, 2008

"We are servants of the Word."

...For syncretism, those who are saved are the inward-looking souls, whatever the religion they profess. For Christianity, they are the believers, whatever level of inwardness they may have achieved. A little child, an overworked workman, if they believe, stand at a higher level than the greatest ascetics.

"We are not great religious personalities", Guardini once said; "we are servants of the Word." Christ himself had said that St. John the Baptist might well be "the greatest among the children of men", but that "the least among the sons of the kingdom is greater than he." It is possible for there to be great religious personalities in the world even outside of Christianity; it is indeed very possible for the greatest religious personalities to be found outside Christianity; but that means nothing; what counts is obedience to the Word of Christ...

      -- Fr. Jean Dani�lou
Posted by John Weidner at 5:03 AM

September 28, 2008

"The Christian is the person who does not calculate..."

This is from a great book I'm reading, Ratzinger's Faith, by Tracey Rowland, p. 75...

....In particular he [Ratzinger] speaks of the twin pathologies of bourgeois pelagianism and the pelagianism of the pious. He describes the mentalité of the Bourgeois pelagian as follows: 'If God really does exist and if He does in fact bother about people He cannot be so fearfully demanding as He is described by the faith of the Church. Moreover, I am no worse than others: I do my duty, and the minor human weaknesses cannot really be as dangerous as all that.'

This attitude is a modern version of 'acedia,' —a kind of anxious vertigo that overcomes people when they consider the heights to which their divine pedigree has called them. In Nietzschean terms it is the mentality of the herd, the attitude of someone who just cannot be bothered to be great. It is bourgeois because it is calculating and pragmatic and comfortable with what is common and ordinary, rather than aristocratic and erotic....

...Contrary to the bourgeois spirit Ratzinger argues that the Christian is the person who does not calculate. A Christian with an authentic spirituality does not ask 'How much farther can I go and still remain within the realm of venial sin, stopping short of mortal sin?' Rather, the Christian is the one who simply seeks what is good, without any calculation... In contrast one can find an example of an erotic and aristocratic disposition in the prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola:
To give, and not to count the cost,
To fight, and not to heed the wounds,
To toil, and not to seek for rest,
To labor, and not to ask for any reward
Save that of knowing that we do thy will.

Posted by John Weidner at 2:57 PM

September 21, 2008

Simple stuff...

I found this piece by Thomas Tallis and sung by the Cambridge Singers, posted by DREADNAUGHT. It's utterly beautiful.

(My son the singer heard it and immediately lost his usual indifference to the teejus blog doings of his father. He instantly said, "That's a canon." And proceeded to explain to me how a canon works, and why it pleases the ear. With examples played on the piano. Of course it was all Greek to me, but cool nonetheless...)

....How do we love each other? Like the Christ loved us. That one is a mystery. I won't venture there.

How do we love God? Here there is another mystery, but we have some guidance.

In John, Jesus tells us to love Him by keeping His commandments. It is one of those times when He clearly marks Himself out as more than another prophet, beyond just a man of God. The Christ has come in Jesus, and He is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. The commandments He references are the same ones Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

Notice the sequence:

If you love Me. Keep My commandments. Then, I will ask the Father. The Father will listen to Me. On the strength of My prayer, the Father will give you another Comforter. The Comforter will abide with you. Truth will come down, and abide with you forever.

It is a mighty thing that Jesus makes for us....

And the simplicity under the simplicity is that it's what you DO that matters. In the realm of faith, or just in slogging through daily life. (The two are really the same.) What you feel or think or intend, or your profound elite mystical insights, are secondary at best.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:17 AM

September 7, 2008

Bible facts you may not know...

OK children, it's time for Sunday School. And today I'm going to give you a historical "background briefing" so certain things will make more sense to you than they did to me in my long-ago youth...

1. Centurions. The Roman Army had an interesting way of doing things. Almost every officer in a Legion was a Centurion. That is, the commander of a "century" of 80 men. (Originally 100, hence the name.) And he would always lead his century in battle. But he might also be a staff officer, or a supply officer, or even the commander of a whole cohort. Or fill some important civilian office. It was as if every officer in one of our brigades was also a platoon commander, and went into combat with his platoon. (No REMF's!) That's why the centurions we meet in the New Testament can be important men, with houses and servants, even though the name implies that they are very junior officers.

2. The two kingdoms. After the reign of Solomon, the Israelites split into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah. The northern kingdom comprised 10 of the 12 tribes. Yet the two kingdoms were about equal in size. This used to bewilder me. The answer is that the Tribe of Judah was about as big as the other 11 tribes put together!

3. The "Lost Tribes of Israel." The Kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) was conquered by the Assyrians in 720 BC. Many of the people were removed and dispersed around the Middle East, especially to Media, in present-day Iran. They weren't really lost, everybody knew where they were. Many probably rejoined the general Jewish population later, but the tribal identities were mostly severed. They became just Jews.

4. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and much of its population was also dispersed. This was the Babylonian Exile. When the Persians conquered the Babylonian Empire in 537 they let various displaced populations return to their homelands. The people of the Kingdom of Judah then returned to Judea and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. From "Judea" we get the word Jew.

5. Samaria. The center region of the old Kingdom of Israel, Samaria, after it lost much of its population and had strangers settled on it, diverged in its religious practices. The Samaritans were, to Jews in the time of Jesus, heretics. The Jews hated the Samaritans almost more than they did the Romans. So Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan was a shocking story.

6. Galilee. In the Second Temple Period, after the Babylonian exile ended, there were Jews in Judea, (roughly the old Kingdom of Judah) and also up north on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. This region was called Galilee (roughly the north part of the old Kingdom of Israel) and this is where Jesus was raised. Jews in Galilee went, if they could, to the great festivals in Jerusalem, especially Passover. However, there was a big problem, because Samaria was in between Judea and Galilee.

In summer Galileans would hike to Judea through Samaria, which took about 3 days, and was dangerous. In the cool of winter they would follow the valley of the Jordan River, which took about 5 days.

7. Pharisees pestering Jesus. One gets the impression from the Gospels that Pharisees were lurking in every field, waiting to catch people breaking some tiny regulation, and then shrieking "Gotcha." Sort of like a Monty Python Spanish Inquisition. Actually, it was Jesus they wanted to catch out, not the average Joe. He seems to have driven them crazy. In exactly the same way that Sarah Palin is driving lefties crackers right now. He was so real they could not ignore him.

Who were the Pharisees? Too complicated to go into today; here's the Wikipedia link.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:05 AM

August 31, 2008

"True conservatism"

...The Church has from the beginning lived amid the world, and has had to face the characteristic social and intellectual movements of each successive age. The first thing that strikes one from the days of the very first heretics—the Gnostics—to the days of the Church's last assailants—the Agnostics—is her attitude of uncompromising resistance to rival theories of life, which strove to dictate to her nd bend her to their will...

The second phenomenon is that all the systems she opposed contained elements which were good and true. And from not one did she fail ultimately to assimilate something, in most cases a great deal, once their aggressive character had been broken by their resistance. 'She broke them in pieces,' writes Cardinal Newman, and then he significantly adds, 'she divided the spoils.'

When I ascribe this double phenomenon in Church history, of resistance and subsequent assimilation, to the conservative principle of the Church, I may at first appear to maintain a paradox. It may be urged that the first attitude—of opposition to aggressive novelty—is an exhibition of the conservative principle; but that the second—the subsequent assimilation of portions of what was rejected—is not. To this I would reply that to identify Conservatism simply with the rejection of what is extraneous and new in form is to identify it with a principle of decay. To preserve a building we must indeed resist those who would pull it down; but we must also repair it, replace what is worn out by what is new, and fit it to last in the varying conditions of life. True conservatism involves constructive activity as well as resistance to destructive activity. Periodical reform and reconstruction belong to its very essence...

--Wilfrid Ward, from his essay The Conservative Genius of the Church
Posted by John Weidner at 5:56 AM

August 17, 2008

"so that we act ...The rest will follow in time"

JH Newman portrait, engraving by R Woodman, after portrait by Sir WC Ross...Now what do we gain from thoughts such as these? Our Saviour gives us the conclusion, in the words which follow a passage I have just read. "Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given him of My Father." Or, again, "No man can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him." Therefore, if we feel the necessity of coming to Christ, yet the difficulty, let us recollect that the gift of coming is in God's hands, and that we must pray Him to give it to us. Christ does not merely tell us, that we cannot come of ourselves (though this He does tell us), but He tells us also with whom the power of coming is lodged, with His Father,—that we may seek it of Him.

It is true, religion has an austere appearance to those who never have tried it; its doctrines full of mystery, its precepts of harshness; so that it is uninviting, offending different men in different ways, but in some way offending all. When then we feel within us the risings of this opposition to Christ, proud aversion to His Gospel, or a low-minded longing after this world, let us pray God to draw us; and though we cannot move a step without Him, at least let us try to move. He looks into our hearts and sees our strivings even before we strive, and He blesses and strengthens even our feebleness. Let us get rid of curious and presumptuous thoughts by going about our business, whatever it is; and let us mock and baffle the doubts which Satan whispers to us by acting against them. No matter whether we believe doubtingly or not, or know clearly or not, so that we act upon our belief. The rest will follow in time; part in this world, part in the next. Doubts may pain, but they cannot harm, unless we give way to them; and that we ought not to give way, our conscience tells us, so that our course is plain. And the more we are in earnest to "work out our salvation," the less shall we care to know how those things really are, which perplex us. At length, when our hearts are in our work, we shall be indisposed to take the trouble of listening to curious truths (if they are but curious), though we might have them explained to us. For what says the Holy Scripture? that of speculations "there is no end," and they are "a weariness to the flesh;" but that we must "fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man." [Eccles. xii. 12, 13.]...

    -- John Henry Newman, Sermons Plain and Parochial, Vol 1, #16
Posted by John Weidner at 5:13 AM

August 9, 2008

"It was...dogma that saved the sanity of the world."

This is a bit from GK Chesterton's Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox which is very worth reading...

.....Many medieval men, who would indignantly deny the Albigensian doctrine of sterility, were yet in an emotional mood to abandon the body in despair; and some of them to abandon everything in despair.

In truth, this vividly illuminates the provincial stupidity of those who object to what they call "creeds and dogmas." It was precisely the creed and dogma that saved the sanity of the world. These people generally propose an alternative religion of intuition and feeling. If, in the really Dark Ages, there had been a religion of feeling, it would have been a religion of black and suicidal feeling. It was the rigid creed that resisted the rush of suicidal feeling. The critics of asceticism are probably right in supposing that many a Western hermit did feel rather like an Eastern fakir. But he could not really think like an Eastern fakir; because he was an orthodox Catholic. And what kept his thought in touch with healthier and more humanistic thought was simply and solely the Dogma. He could not deny that a good God had created the normal and natural world; he could not say that the devil had made the world; because he was not a Manichee. A thousand enthusiasts for celibacy, in the day of the great rush to the desert or the cloister, might have called marriage a sin, if they had only considered their individual ideals, in the modern manner, and their own immediate feelings about marriage. Fortunately, they had to accept the Authority of the Church, which had definitely said that marriage was not a sin. A modern emotional religion might at any moment have turned Catholicism into Manicheanism. But when Religion would have maddened men, Theology kept them sane...

....In this sense St. Thomas stands up simply as the great orthodox theologian, who reminded men of the creed of Creation, when many of them were still in the mood of mere destruction. It is futile for the critics of medievalism to quote a hundred medieval phrases that may be supposed to sound like mere pessimism, if they will not understand the central fact; that medieval men did not care about being medieval and did not accept the authority of a mood, because it was melancholy, but did care very much about orthodoxy, which is not a mood. It was because St. Thomas could prove that his glorification of the Creator and His creative joy was more orthodox than any atmospheric pessimism, that he dominated the Church and the world, which accepted that truth as a test.....
Posted by John Weidner at 9:25 PM

August 2, 2008

Stuff counts....

George Weigel, from his excellent book Letters to a Young Catholic

...We've spoken before about the bedrock Catholic conviction that stuff counts. Chesterton fervently believed that, although it took him until age fifty-two to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Thus, even in his pre-Catholic years, GKC was an ardent defender of the sacramental imagination—the core Catholic conviction that God saves and sanctifies the world through the materials of the world. You've probably heard it said the Catholicism is uneasy in the world, that Catholicism demeans the world and the flesh. Don't believe it for a second.

Catholicism takes the world, and the things of the world, far more seriously than those who like to think of themselves as worldly. Water salt and oil are the tangibles by which sanctifying grace is conferred in the sacrament of baptism; bread and wine are the materials through which Christ gives his body and blood to his people in the sacrament of the Eucharist; in the sacrament of matrimony, the consummation of marital love completes the vows exchanged at a Catholic couple's wedding; oil brings healing in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, as it conveys the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation. None of this happens by Harry Potter-like wizardry, but because the world was sacramentally configured by God "in the beginning.".....The ordinary stuff of the world is the material God uses to bring us into communion with the truly extraordinary—with God himself.

The ancient enemy of this sacramental imagination is what we might call the gnostic imagination. Gnosticism, one of the first Christian heresies, is remarkably resilient, even protean. It crops up time and again, generation after generation, in slightly different guises and disguises: from the Manichees who once seduced Augustine, through the medieval Albigensians and Cathari, and down to the present. Whenever and however it appears, thought, gnosticism teaches the same seductive and devastating message: stuff doesn't count; the material world is a distraction (even a wicked distraction); what counts is the gnosis, the arcane knowledge, that lifts the elect, the elite, out of the grubbiness of the quotidian. Gnosticism can't handle the Incarnation—the truth that God enters the world in the person of his Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, to redeem and sanctify us in our humanity, not to fetch us out of it. And God does that because, as in the beginning, God understands that his creation is good, even very good (Genesis 1:31)....

Posted by John Weidner at 10:05 PM

July 27, 2008

A couple of quotes I liked...

Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.
    -- Evelyn Waugh

...But if a convert is to write of conversion he must try to retrace his steps out of that shrine back into that ultimate wilderness where he once really believed that this eternal youth [the Catholic Church] was only the “Old Religion.” It is a thing exceedingly difficult to do and not often done well, and I for one have little hope of doing it even tolerably well.

The difficulty was expressed to me by another convert who said, “I cannot explain why I am a Catholic; because now that I am a Catholic I cannot imagine myself as anything else.”...

    -- GK Chesterton

Posted by John Weidner at 5:49 AM

July 20, 2008


JH Newman portrait, engraving by R Woodman, after portrait by Sir WC Ross...For is not this the error, the common and fatal error, of the world, to think itself a judge of Religious Truth without preparation of heart? "I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine." "He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice." "The pure in heart shall see God:" "to the meek mysteries are revealed; " "he that is spiritual judgeth all things." "The darkness comprehendeth it not." Gross eyes see not; heavy ears hear not.

But in the schools of the world the ways towards Truth are considered high roads open to all men, however disposed, at all times. Truth is to be approached without homage. Every one is considered on a level with his neighbour; or rather the powers of the intellect, acuteness, sagacity, subtlety, and depth, are thought the guides into Truth. Men consider that they have as full a right to discuss religious subjects, as if they were themselves religious. They will enter upon the most sacred points of Faith at the moment, at their pleasure,—if it so happen, in a careless frame of mind, in their hours of recreation, over the wine cup. Is it wonderful that they so frequently end in becoming indifferentists, and conclude that Religious Truth is but a name, that all men are right and all wrong, from witnessing externally the multitude of sects and parties, and from the clear consciousness they possess within, that their own inquiries end in darkness?...
      -- John Henry Newman, Oxford University Sermons #10


Posted by John Weidner at 5:19 AM

July 13, 2008

Confusing Aslan with the White Witch...

From an interesting interview with Tracey Rowland, author of Ratzinger's Faith:

Pope Benedict XVI ...MercatorNet: I noticed that Benedict's first encyclical contained a joke – not a great joke, to my mind, but it must have been a Papal first. You get the sense that Benedict wants to present Christianity as a joyful way of life. How is he doing that?

Rowland: Yes, this is true. When he was a young priest he was astonished to run across so many people who thought of Christianity as a set of rules and regulations which had to be followed in order to avoid eternal damnation. The word he uses for this is ‘moralism’. He often reminds people that Christianity is not primarily an ethical system, it is participation in the life of the Trinity, and in particular, an encounter with the Person of Christ. It is meant to be enriching and joyful. He doesn’t deny the possibility that some people might end up in hell, but he thinks it is rather neurotic to think of Christianity as an insurance policy against eternal damnation. He regards the various prohibitions in Jewish and Christian teaching as merely the flipside of the actualisation of a great 'yes’.

He therefore tries to focus on the positives, on what an authentic Christian spirituality can be. He often appeals to beautiful works of art and music as epiphanies of God’s glory and illustrations of what can be created by those who have faith. He wants people to fall in love with the beauty and truth and goodness of Christian Revelation, rather than living in fear of it. It’s as though proponents of moralism have confused Aslan with the White Witch. His focus on the works of Christian art and the beauty of the lives of Christian saints is his antidote to the moralist mentality....

Posted by John Weidner at 3:36 PM

"The day-spring from on high"

From The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes.


  1. Meditation and Adoration

Through the tender mercies of our God
the day-spring from on high hath visited us.

Glory be to the, O Lord, glory to Thee
  Creator of the visible light,
      The sun's ray, the flame of fire;
  Creator also of the light invisible and intellectual:
      that which is known of God,
      writings of the law,
      oracles of prophets,
      melody of psalms,
      instruction of proverbs,
      experience of histories:
    a light which never sets.
God is the Lord,Who hath shewed us light:
      bind the sacrifice with cords,
      even unto the horns of the altar.

By Thy resurrection raise us up
  unto newness of life,
    supplying to us frames of repentence.
The God of peace,
  that brought us again from the dead
    our Lord Jesus
  that great Shepherd of the sheep,
    through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
make us perfect in every good work
    to do His will,
working in us that which is pleasing in His sight,
    through Jesus Christ;
    to whom be glory for ever and ever....

Lancelot Andrewes was among the most important of the translators who produced the King James Bible. He was an Anglican bishop, a friend of Casaubon, and one of the greatest scholars of his time. His book of Private Devotions is one of the more astonishing productions of the age of Shakespeare and Donne, and can still be used with great profit. He spent a lifetime collecting passages from scripture and the prayer book, and from the saints and fathers, and modified them and wove them together marvelously into his book of devotions. He has the odd distinction of being an undistinguished writer who produced a great work of literature...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:25 AM

July 6, 2008

Jerusalem 2

Last Sunday we stood on the Mount of Olives, looking over the Old City of Jerusalem. I pointed out the narrow road on the right side of the picture. Walk down the road—it's quite steep—and you come to the Garden of Gethsemane. It may not have looked much different in the time of Jesus. Olive groves can be pleasant places, and rather garden-like even without any improvements.

Path in the Garden of Gethsemane
It would be a good place to slip away to at night to pray, as Jesus did. To pray in his agony, knowing he would soon die a terrible death. And it was here he was arrested. The place which tradition says was the actual spot is now covered by a church, The Church Of All Nations, or Basilica of the Agony, about a hundred feet from here. (We are just north of the road, the basilica is on the other side.)

And here is our dear friend Father Francis Goode, about to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass right in the garden. Let me tell you that was an amazing moment! We are there early, and all is quiet and peaceful.
Fr Francis, Mass, Garden of Gethsemane
Behind him you see one of the gates of Jerusalem, the Golden Gate. But observe, it is walled up. You can't go in! Legend says it will open only on the Judgement Day. Jesus and his followers might have stood at this very spot and seen the morning sun strike the golden ornaments of the Temple. Just a few days before his death Jesus did a shocking thing, turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. I follow N.T. Wright's explanation that this was a brief symbolic act such as Hebrew prophets were wont to do. But also a kingly act, because it was kings who built the Temples (this was the second Temple, and you could also call it the third since it had been greatly rebuilt and expanded by King Herod the Great) and kings who cleansed the Temple. It was an announcement, which he had avoided before, that he was the Messiah, the coming king who would restore all things, liberate the Children of Israel, and usher in the Kingdom of God. He would have been well aware that the powers would have to destroy him after that. And in submitting to death, he made the Perfect Sacrifice as our Great High Priest.

We believe that Christ has three aspects, Priest, Prophet and King. These are seen, among other ways, in the Mass, when our priest, acting in persona Christi, sits in a chair as King, stands in the pulpit as Prophet, and stands at the altar as Priest. Those whose minds are dimmed by Protestantism and Nominalism will no doubt refer to these as "figures of speech," or metaphors. No, sorry, they are real, as real this chair I'm sitting in. You can say they are metaphors that have come to life. They do that, wherever the Kingdom breaks in upon our world. And if you see it, if you are bowled over one day, as I was, to see metaphors become real things (sort of like waking up in a fairy tale and hearing trees and animals talk) well then you cease at that moment to be a Protestant....

If you are the rare sort who wants to understand these things by delving into history, I give my highest recommendation to N.T. Wright's three books that comprise his Christian Origins and the Question of God.


Posted by John Weidner at 5:04 AM

June 29, 2008


I haven't blogged yet about our trip to the Holy Land. Really, I'm not a good enough writer to express what feel. And what I feel will tend to be regarded as crazy by most people, since I believe that there is, all around us, much that is real without being in any way observable by natural or scientific means. I am very much not a Nominalist, and Nominalism is the factory-default setting for people in our culture. (In fact I'm coming to suspect that the common thread in all the things that creep me out, and that I blog against, such as Communism, Postmodernism, Nihilism, Deconstructionism, "Progressivism" and the like is....Nominalism. Here's a summary on that subject)

And the unseen realities are not off in some woo woo "spiritual realm;" they interpenetrate our world at every point. The eyes of Faith can, to some extent perceive them. And yes of course I'm aware that such subtleties can be just self-deception, just products of the imagination. BUT, but, going up to Jerusalem...It's like having pondered hints of the unseen that are sort of like faded postcards of Yosemite...and then actually going to Yosemite. Words are useless. The reality is awesome....

Anyway, I just blog for the fun of it, so it doesn't matter what I write. Pass by, or pay attention. SO, attendez! (And thank you Mary Anderberg for prodding me.) In the picture below you are standing on the Mount of Olives. You are looking west. In the foreground is the Jewish cemetery. (The world's most expensive, by the way. You could easily pay a million bucks to rest your bones there.) It's hard to realize it in the picture, but the hillside is steep, especially past those spiky junipers. You can walk down that walled road on your right and you will go down to the Garden of Gethsemane hidden below the brow of the hill.

Mount of Olives, looking west over Kidron

The Valley is the Kidron Valley. Above the spiky trees you can see its other slope. There are the remains of old terraces of olive trees, then a road, then the Moslem Cemetery, and then, the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Which on this side are where they have been for more than 2,000 years. (They've been rebuilt a few times, but in the same place.) Behind the wall you see a lot of greenery. That is the Temple Mount. It is a broad plateau built up over what was once a hill by the construction of vast retaining walls, the largest of them built by Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C. Before AD 70 the plateau was covered by the Temple Complex, and, where that gold dome is, The Temple of Jerusalem. The gold dome is on the Dome of the Rock, a Moslem shrine (Not a mosque.)

When you look at that dome you are looking at the center of the world. Not the scientific center, but the real center. That's the very hill where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. The very place where King David planned, and Solomon built the first Temple...

Or, more accurately, you are looking at what used to be the center. 2,000 years ago the center was moved. Look to the left and a little above the dome. You will see a small grey shape, below the tallest building on the horizon. That's the grey dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (It's not really small—just distant.) That's the place where Jesus of Nazareth was killed, buried, and rose again to life.

In Roman days it was a knob of rock just outside the city walls, with quarries, and also with the rock-cut tombs used by those who could afford them. A good conspicuous place for making an example of those who don't appreciate the benefits of big government....

Now I had none of this geography clear in my head when I went to Jerusalem. Perhaps I dozed off in Sunday school, but I had never got the hang of how things fit together. Saliba, our splendid guide, would always get us going early in the mornings to miss the crowds. So we wandered onto the Temple Mount when almost no one else was there. That in itself was a moment of a lifetime. But then we walked to the Dome of the Rock, and Saliba pointed out that you could draw a straight line between the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden of Gethsemane, and it would pass exactly though the Temple. You can see it. That just made my hair want to stand on end.

If I maintain my energy perhaps next Sunday I'll walk you downhill, down the walled road that's on the right side of the photo...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:52 AM

June 22, 2008

"Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential"

    Matthew VIII, 28 ff.

Rabbi, we Gadarenes
Are not ascetics; we are fond of wealth and possessions.
Love, as You call it, we obviate by means
Of the planned release of aggressions.

We have deep faith in prosperity.
Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential.
In the light of our gross product, the practice of charity
Is palpably non-essential.

It is true that we go insane;
That for no good reason we are possessed by devils;
That we suffer, despite the amenities which obtain
At all but the lowest levels.

We shall not, however, resign
Our trust in the high-heaped table and the full trough.
If You cannot cure us without destroying our swine,
We had rather You shoved off.
    -- Richard Wilbur

Posted by John Weidner at 8:43 AM

June 15, 2008

The Church has members as a human body has arms and legs...

...There is little that is given or secure in a denomination; the denomination is constantly being remade by its members. Christianity as denomination has no distinctive, fixed form, given to it by Christ; it adapts its form, its institutional structures, to the patterns of the age…. In much of American denominational Christianity today, institutional process is more important than binding doctrinal reference points; anything can change. The denominational community’s boundaries are ill defined, even porous, because being nonjudgmental is essential to group maintenance. Religious leadership is equated with bureaucratic managership; bishops and other formally constituted religious leaders are discussion moderators whose job is to keep all opinions in play, rather than authoritative teachers.

A denomination is something we help create by joining it; according to Vatican II, however, the Church is a divinely instituted community into which we are incorporated by the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist). Denominations have members like voluntary associations or clubs; the Church has members as a human body has arms and legs, fingers and toes. A denomination has moving boundaries, doctrinally and morally; the Church, according to Vatican II, is nourished by creeds and moral convictions that clearly establish its boundaries. The structures of a denomination are something we can alter at will; the Church, according to Vatican II, has a form, or structure, given to it by Christ. Catholicism has bishops and a ministerial priesthood, and Peter’s successor, the Bishop of Rome, not because Catholics today think these are good ways to do things but because Christ wills these for his Church...

    -- George Weigel


Posted by John Weidner at 5:58 AM

June 1, 2008

"A thought followed by a resolve, a resolve followed by an act"

Virtue is not, like riches, power or glory, a privileged or exceptional thing; it is the reign of order in every soul that wills it, the spontaneous fruit of love, which is the common fund of our nature, and the most lowly hut is an asylum as open to it as the palace of kings. A thought followed by a resolve, a resolve followed by an act: such is virtue. It is produced when we desire it, it increases as quickly as our desires, and if it costs much to him who has lost it, he has always in himself the ransom which will bring it back again...

I put another piece on virtue below the fold...

By Will Duquette...

....St. Paul tells us, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good.” Intellectually, and practically, Catholicism seemed to do this. As an example, consider virtue. Or, rather, a virtue. Bravery, say. What is it? According to the Catholic tradition, which goes back to antiquity (to Aristotle, as a matter of fact), a virtue is, simply enough, a good habit. If you have the virtue of bravery, that means that you are in the habit of standing firm in times of danger, even though you are afraid. If you have the virtue of honesty, that means that you are in the habit of telling the truth, even though it might benefit you to lie.

This is important. This description of virtue not only tells me what virtue is; it tells me how to get it. How can I become brave? By getting in the habit of behaving bravely. And how can I do that? By choosing to stand firm when the going gets tough. I can start with small things, indeed I’ll have to start with small things. Major battles don’t come every day. But if I can get in the habit of standing firm, then when the crisis comes and there is no time to think, I can trust that my established habits will take over and I will do the right thing. The same applies to honesty, chastity, or any other virtue.

Now, this is basic moral philosophy. But despite my having been a Christian my entire life, and having been actively involved in a church for all of my adult life, I’d never heard virtue described in that way–to the extent it was talked about at all.

But the Roman Catholic writers I was reading all seemed to take it as a matter of course. They referred to it, and they all seemed to be on the same page. And when I thought about it, so was C.S. Lewis. In his writings, though, he tends to avoid using the standard well-known terms so as to present the material freshly, as he does in The Abolition of Man where he spends an entire book writing about the Natural Law and never once uses the term. For this is basic moral philosophy, and it used to be that everyone knew it. And yet I hadn’t, despite having every opportunity. But the Catholic bloggers and writers did.

This is a humble example, but it illustrates my point. The Catholic tradition tests everything and holds on to what is good. I don’t mean to imply, by the way, that every Roman Catholic knows these things, or that the definition of virtue is preached in every parish. But this wealth of knowledge is readily available if you look for it, and it’s all of a piece. It hangs together....

Posted by John Weidner at 5:38 AM

May 25, 2008

"penetrates our thinking like a toxic vapor"

Maclin Horton:

The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast…. Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.
      —C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Lewis, describing here his own condition prior to his embrace of Christianity, gives us the essential truth about the agony of the modern Western world. If you have absorbed the materialist assumptions which dominate our culture (whether you realized you did so or not, and it’s probably worse if you didn’t), you believe, or are always fighting not to believe, that everything human is ultimately meaningless, a sort of vapor that emanates from matter and clings to it, then vanishes with the death of the body.

Love? Just a sentimental name we give to the reproductive instinct, not intrinsically different from the division of an amoeba. Beauty? Another sentimental word with which we justify a meaningless preference for one thing over another, not intrinsically different from a cat’s preference for fish over broccoli. Truth? Truth is death—we are dead stuff, briefly animated by chemical processes, and soon to revert to dead stuff. Nothing we ever did or can do has ultimate meaning.

Not to believe these ideas requires a constant effort. Their authority comes from the sciences, or rather from the misuse of the sciences: because the method of science requires limiting the scope of inquiry to physical data, and because technology has been so successful in using science to tame the physical world, the assumption that only what science can see is real penetrates our thinking like a toxic vapor.

To believe that what really matters does not really exist is a prescription for misery followed by despair. The souls that thrive best in this mental environment are those which are most defective. The more one believes that love, truth, and beauty are the essence of life, not just accidental and illusory by-products, the more miserable one is likely to be, unless supported by a solid faith, a set of beliefs that are strong and coherent enough to challenge materialism....

Posted by John Weidner at 5:17 AM

May 18, 2008

"But yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier"

...But in truth the whole course of Christianity from the first, when we come to examine it, is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing, and lingers on in weakness, "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in her body." Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of Truth dim, its adherents scattered. The cause of Christ is ever in its last agony, as though it were but a question of time whether it fails finally this day or another. The Saints are ever all but failing from the earth, and Christ all but coming; and thus the Day of Judgment is literally ever at hand; and it is our duty ever to be looking out for it, not disappointed that we have so often said, "now is the moment," and that at the last, contrary to our expectation, Truth has somewhat rallied.

Such is God's will, gathering in His elect, first one and then another, by little and little, in the intervals of sunshine between storm and storm, or snatching them from the surge of evil, even when the waters rage most furiously. Well may prophets cry out, "How long will it be, O Lord, to the end of these wonders?" how long will this mystery proceed? how long will this perishing world be sustained by the feeble lights which struggle for existence in its unhealthy atmosphere? God alone knows the day and the hour when that will at length be, which He is ever threatening; meanwhile, thus much of comfort do we gain from what has been hitherto,—not to despond, not to be dismayed, not to be anxious, at the troubles which encompass us. They have ever been; they ever shall be; they are our portion. "The floods are risen, the floods have lift up their voice, the floods lift up their waves. The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly; but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier."

--John Henry Newman, from
The Prophetical Office of the Church - Lecture 14

JH Newman portrait, engraving by R Woodman, after portrait by Sir WC Ross
John Henry Newman,
Engraving by R. Woodman, after portrait by Sir W.C. Ross

Posted by John Weidner at 5:22 AM

April 20, 2008


Thrice bless'd are they, who feel their loneliness;
To whom nor voice of friends nor pleasant scene
Brings aught on which the sadden'd heart can lean;
Yea, the rich earth, garb'd in her daintiest dress
Of light and joy, doth but the more oppress,
Claiming responsive smiles and rapture high;
Till, sick at heart, beyond the veil they fly,
Seeking His Presence, who alone can bless.
Such, in strange days, the weapons of Heaven's grace;
When, passing o'er the high-born Hebrew line,
He moulds the vessel of His vast design;
Fatherless, homeless, reft of age and place,
Sever'd from earth, and careless of its wreck,
Born through long woe His rare Melchizedek.
      -- John Henry Newman

Posted by John Weidner at 5:22 AM

April 13, 2008

"Not one moment's wavering of trust"

My hero, John Henry Newman, rarely answered the many attacks made on him in his lifetime. But when he did, it was "shock and awe!" (One of the greatest books of both English literature and religious biography, is his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which was written in response to a scurrilous attack on his conversion to Roman Catholicism—his first response after about twenty years of harsh criticism.)

This letter was written to The Globe, in response to the printing of a rumor that he was planning to return to the Anglican church...

I have not had one moment's wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I hold, and ever have held, that her Sovereign Pontiff is the centre of unity and the Vicar of Christ; and I have ever had, and have still, an unclouded faith in her creed in all its articles; a supreme satisfaction in her worship, discipline and teaching; and an eager longing, and a hope against hope, that the many dear friends whom I have left in Protestantism may be partakers in my happiness.

This being my state of mind, to add, as I hereby go on to do, that I have no intention, and never had any intention, of leaving the Catholic Church, and becoming a Protestant again, would be superfluous, except that Protestants are always on the look-out for some loophole or evasion in a Catholic's statement of fact. Therefore, in order to give them full satisfaction, if I can, I do hereby profess ex animo, with an absolute internal assent and consent, that Protestantism is the dreariest of possible religions; that the thought of the Anglican service makes me shiver, and the thought of the Thirty-nine Articles makes me shudder. Return to the Church of England! No; 'the net is broken and we are delivered'. I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if in my old age I left "the land flowing with milk and honey" for the city of confusion and the house of bondage.

    I am, Sir,
        Your obedient servant,
            John H. Newman

I'll second all that. "The city of confusion and the house of bondage." Geez, that sounds like San Francisco...

I found the letter quoted in Louis Bouyer's Newman an Intellectual and Spiritual Biography, which i give my highest recommendation

Posted by John Weidner at 5:04 AM

April 6, 2008

The old Manichean error

A bit of Michael Heller, quoted at First Things:

....And what about chancy or random events? Do they destroy mathematical harmony of the universe, and introduce into it elements of chaos and disorder? Is chance a rival force of God’s creative Mind, a sort of Manichean principle fighting against goals of creation? But what is chance? It is an event of low probability which happens in spite of the fact that it is of low probability. If one wants to determine whether an event is of low or high probability, one must use the calculus of probability, and the calculus of probability is a mathematical theory as good as any other mathematical theory. Chance and random processes are elements of the mathematical blueprint of the universe in the same way as other aspects of the world architecture.

Mathematical structures that are parts of the composition determining the functioning of the universe are called laws of physics. It is a very subtle composition indeed. Like in any masterly symphony, elements of chance and necessity are interwoven with each other and together span the structure of the whole. Elements of necessity determine the pattern of possibilities and dynamical paths of becoming, but they leave enough room for chancy events to make this becoming rich and individual.

Adherents of the so-called intelligent design ideology commit a grave theological error. They claim that scientific theories that ascribe a great role to chance and random events in the evolutionary processes should be replaced, or supplemented, by theories acknowledging the thread of intelligent design in the universe. Such views are theologically erroneous. They implicitly revive the old Manichean error postulating the existence of two forces acting against each other: God and an inert matter; in this case, chance and intelligent design. There is no opposition here. Within the all-comprising Mind of God, what we call chance and random events is well composed into the symphony of creation....

-- Michael (Michał) Heller is a Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest. These remarks were made at the news conference announcing his reception of the 2008 Templeton Prize.

PS: I just saw this, posted by JB Watson:

Any deity worthy of a graven image can cobble up a working universe complete with fake fossils in under a week… But to start with a big ball of elementary particles and end up with the duckbill platypus without constant twiddling requires a degree of subtlety and the ability to Think Things Through: exactly the qualities I’m looking for when I’m shopping for a Supreme Being.
-- a Usenet poster
Posted by John Weidner at 5:10 AM

March 30, 2008

Old wisdom...

I've started a great book, Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion, by Peter Kreeft. The subject is the Virtues. "Classical virtue theory." A badly neglected topic. As the author puts it, "We have reduced all virtues to one: being nice. And, we measure Jesus by our standard instead of measuring our standard by him." (Well that at least defines what I don't like.)

The study of the Virtues is something I'm grossly ignorant of, as is most of the modern world. It used to be central. We've lost a lot. For instance I recently was given the advice that the way to combat a persistent sin is to practice the corresponding virtue. I don't even have a clue how to put that notion into practice! Luckily I'm among the Dominicans, who used to make the Virtues something of a specialty, so I'm at least on the right track.

A little excerpt:

...Meanwhile, while ethics languish, discussion of ethics flourishes. One of the most popular courses in high schools and colleges is ethics. But the kind of ethics that is usually taught is ethics without bite, without substance, without power, for ethics without a vision of what a good man of woman is, without virtues or vices, concentrates on doing instead of being, just as our whole modern society does. Such ethics never asks the two most important questions: What is man? and What is the purpose of his life on this earth?

C. S. Lewis uses the image of a fleet of ships to show that ethics deals with three great questions, not just one. First the ships need to know how to avoid collisions. That is social ethics, and it is taught . In the second place, they need to know how to stay shipshape, how to avoid sinking. That is the question of virtues and vices, and that is not taught. Finally, they need to know their mission, why they are at sea in the first place. That is the question of the ultimate purpose of human life. It is a religious question, and of course it is not asked, much less answered....

HOW can people not ask such questions? It just floors me to think that most of the people around me think of such things as "cans of worms" they don't want to open. I don't blame people for getting the wrong answers. But asking the wrong questions, or no questions, I find contemptible.)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:16 AM

March 23, 2008

"Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved."

cross, St Marys, Krakow

Cross, St Mary's Basilica, Krak�w, Poland

-- By Pope St. Gregory

...When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognised when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognise me as I recognise you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognises who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.... (Thanks to Argent)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:00 AM

March 16, 2008

"It never leaves changing...till we are quite sick at heart:"

...To understand that we have souls, is to feel our separation from things visible, our independence of them, our distinct existence in ourselves, our individuality, our power of acting for ourselves this way or that way, our accountableness for what we do. These are the great truths which lie wrapped up indeed even in a child's mind, and which God's grace can unfold there in spite of the influence of the external world; but at first this outward world prevails. We look off from self to the things around us, and forget ourselves in them. Such is our state,—a depending for support on the reeds which are no stay, and overlooking our real strength,—at the time when God begins His process of reclaiming us to a truer view of our place in His great system of providence.

And when He visits us, then in a little while there is a stirring within us. The unprofitableness and feebleness of the things of this world are forced upon our minds; they promise but cannot perform, they disappoint us. Or, if they do perform what they promise, still (so it is) they do not satisfy us. We still crave for something, we do not well know what; but we are sure it is something which the world has not given us. And then its changes are so many, so sudden, so silent, so continual. It never leaves changing; it goes on to change, till we are quite sick at heart:—then it is that our reliance on it is broken. It is plain we cannot continue to depend upon it, unless we keep pace with it, and go on changing too; but this we cannot do. We feel that, while it changes, we are one and the same; and thus, under God's blessing, we come to have some glimpse of the meaning of our independence of things temporal, and our immortality....
      -- John Henry Newman,   from
Sermons Parochial and Plain, vol.1, #2

Posted by John Weidner at 7:22 AM

March 11, 2008

Information post—R.C.I.A.

[Note: This post is NOT aimed at my usual readers. I'm just dropping it into the Interweb as information for people around here who might be Googling the subject. Blogs are useful that way; they get high Google rankings because they change frequently. Or so I've heard.]

[Some search-terms: R.C.I.A. San Francisco, RCIA San Francisco, RCIA Program San Francisco, RCIA Program Bay Area, RCIA Program St Dominic's.]

R.C.I.A. stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. This is how you become a Roman Catholic, whether you are coming from another Christian tradition, or are not a Christian at all. It's also for Catholics who have never been confirmed, or who just wish to learn more. The program includes a weekly class, from September to the following Easter, when candidates join the Church. Attending the program doesn't commit you to anything--you can come and explore and see how you like it. You won't be put on the spot.

And our program at St Dominic's is simply the best. I kind of follow these things on the Web, and I've never heard of any RCIA half as good. Father Xavier, our pastor, and Scott Moyer, our Director of Adult Faith Formation, will give you more information and ideas than you can possibly absorb. You will learn what the Church is, and WHY. You will learn about Sacraments, moral reasoning, history, saints, prayers, and rites. You will find out what God is up to. You won't be bored!

I'm currently on my second time around. I entered the Church on Easter of 2007, and now I'm back in the program as a humble helper. And I don't feel like I've learned the half of it!

(We also have a very fine Landings Program. That's for Catholics who have drifted away from the Church, and wish to return. My wife Charlene helps out with that program.)

Contact Scott Moyer for info ( 415 674-0422) or feel free to e-mail me, John Weidner:

Posted by John Weidner at 4:20 PM

March 9, 2008

Pull of gravity...

This article from the WaPo about evangelical churches adopting traditional Catholic practices such as Lent, confession, ashes on Ash Wednesday... well, it made me smile. We Catholics know what's happening (don't tell anybody).

Chesterton put it rightly long ago:

...It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair..
-- GK Chesterton

[Thanks to Gerald]

Posted by John Weidner at 7:44 PM

We come, like Jacob, in the dark...

From Sermons Parochial and Plain, vol 4, #17, by John Henry Newman

....We come, like Jacob, in the dark, and lie down with a stone for our pillow; but when we rise again, and call to mind what has passed, we recollect we have seen a vision of Angels, and the Lord manifested through them, and we are led to cry out, "How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

To conclude. Let us profit by what every day and hour teaches us, as it flies. What is dark while it is meeting us, reflects the Sun of Righteousness when it is past. Let us profit by this in future, so far as this, to have faith in what we cannot see. The world seems to go on as usual. There is nothing of heaven in the face of society; in the news of the day there is nothing of heaven; in the faces of the many, or of the great, or of the rich, or of the busy, there is nothing of heaven; in the words of the eloquent, or the deeds of the powerful, or the counsels of the wise, or the resolves of the lordly, or the pomps of the wealthy, there is nothing of heaven. And yet the Ever-blessed Spirit of God is here; the Presence of the Eternal Son, ten times more glorious, more powerful than when He trod the earth in our flesh, is with us....


Posted by John Weidner at 6:57 AM

March 2, 2008

"Embarked on a serious adventure"

...The day comes when one sees, all at once, that all those "abstract" problems which were perhaps difficult to understand are not mere schoolwork, boring for some, interesting or even exciting for others; one sees they are urgent problems, problems that pose the reality of life, that concern it wholly, and whose solution matters extremely. From that day on, philosophic reflection takes on a different character. It ceases to be a kind of work like any other. One no longer feels one has the right to get away from it systematically outside of the hours prescribed by the schedule; no longer the right moreover -- nor the inclination -- to close the door of one's inner life to it.

But on the other hand, one no longer has the right to treat it with the old flippancy, no longer the right -- nor the wish -- to build up and tear down for the fun of it; no longer the right to trust too readily one's own insights; no longer the right to start with no matter whom and no matter what basic discussions, at the risk of sowing the seeds of trouble in oneself or in others. Sincerity then appears as a virtue not only necessary but difficult. Embarked on a serious adventure, one has the duty of thinking about it prayerfully and of treating Truth with sovereign respect.

      --- Henri de Lubac, Paradoxes of Faith

(Quote found here)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:26 AM

February 17, 2008

Highly recommended...

A book I just read with great excitement, and am starting to read over again, is The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, by Louis Bouyer. Bouyer was a French Lutheran who converted to Catholicism in the 1930's, and was able to look at both sides with great clarity. It's the sort of book I read and keep slapping my forehead and saying, "Oh. NOW it makes sense, this stuff I've been involved with all my life!"

He shows in the first part of the book that the original insights of the Protestant reformers were completely Catholic, and were positive and renewing ideas that the Church needed. And then in the second half he shows what went wrong, how the philosophy that was pervasive at the time, Nominalism, led the reformer's positive views immediately into negatives, and into opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church. For instance, Luther's appreciation of the overwhelming importance of scripture as the living Word of God, (Sola Scriptura) soon led his movement to attack tradition, and the teaching authority of bishops and councils. They could not hold the different aspects of authority in tension—to embrace one led to denying the others. (And their Catholic opponents were in the same philosophical trap, and their defense of tradition led to denigrating scripture.)

I'll just give you a little quote I liked, to pique your interest. (Also, this post, by David Schütz, is very good, and caused me to buy the book. Thanks!)

....If this assertion sounds like a paradox to a number of Catholics, as well as to Protestants, this is due entirely to a series of prejudices and misunderstandings. And if Catholics and Calvinists seem to agree in regarding Calvin as essentially anti-mystical, it is because, as a rule, Calvinists are incredibly ill informed about Catholic mysticism, viewing it wholly on the surface, while Catholics know only the externals of Calvinism.

Rather than embark on a long discussion, we propose simply to relate a most revealing conversation we once had with the minister Auguste Lecerf, certainly the person of our generation the most learned in Calvinism, as well as embodying in himself the highest type of strictly Calvinist spirituality. As he had said, quite baldly, that a mystic, in his view, was just someone who held paradise to be a place of debauchery, we read to him, without cormment, some of the salient passages of The Ascent of Mount Carmel, by St. John of the Cross. After listening with the closest attention, he answered in perfect sincerity and without hesitation: "If that is the real Catholic mysticism it is precisely the religion for which Calvin fought all his life.".....


Posted by John Weidner at 7:53 AM

February 10, 2008

"Rejoice and receive good news"

"The loss of joy does not make the world better — and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the courage and impetus to do good. . . . We have a new need for that primordial trust which ultimately faith can give. That the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and be a human being. This results, then, in the courage to rejoice, which in turn becomes commitment to making sure that other people, too, can rejoice and receive good news."

-- Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth (pp. 36-37). [Quote found by Christopher Blosser, here]

Posted by John Weidner at 6:32 AM

February 3, 2008

The pitiless crowbar of events....

From Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous 1978 commencement address at Harvard:

....Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life.

There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development. I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of petrified armor around people's minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events....

Another excerpt

...A Decline in Courage ...may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?...
Posted by John Weidner at 7:20 AM

January 27, 2008

"It takes a long time to produce a man"

....Finally, there is the courage to endure: perseverance. Perseverance binds together our past and present in their incessant ebb and flow, so as to build a solid future. Regardless of what some false prophets say, there is no future worth our pains without perseverance and faithfulness. No solid building, no work of value can be constructed, speaking from either a human or a spiritual vantage point, without our unflagging effort in time and our vigorous resistance to the forces of wear and tear and disintegration that bear down on us.

It takes a long time to produce a man, and only the one who perseveres to the end will reach the Kingdom. Without the courage to endure, no enterprise that is worth the name will last; the fairest promises will dissolve into idle boasts. The test of time is, for us, the touchstone of reality. "My truth," wrote Saint-Exupery, "must be firm, and who will love you if you veer and change your loves every day, and what will become of your great schemes? Continuity alone will bring your efforts to ripeness."

      -- Father Servais Pinckaers, O.P.

(From the January 2008 Magnificat)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:52 AM

January 20, 2008

Walk for Life, 08

On Saturday Charlene and I went on this year's Walk for Life. It was awesome. My estimate is that at least 25,000 people were there.

As we approached the end Charlene and I sat down to enjoy our picnic and watch the march go by. And I timed it. (We like to walk briskly, and had migrated ourselves to the front of the march.) I snapped this picture. People walked past us, pretty much solidly filling the roadway, for 40 minutes!


There were some lefty-weirdo counter-protesters screaming obscenities, etc, but really, they were so minor and trivial compared to the marchers it was just a joke. Which is an amazing thing in San Francisco!

* Update: Gerald Augustinus (he's a professional photographer) has great pictures here. And here--the hotties. (Well, that's just the way it is. You can always tell the movement that's the future that way.)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:53 PM

January 13, 2008

Noon can only sear the Moon...


If knowledge like the mid-day heat
Uncooled with cloud, unstirred with breath
Of undulant air, begins to beat
On minds one moment after death,

From your rich soil what lives will spring,
What flower-entangled paradise,
Through what green walks the birds will sing,
What med'cinable gums, what spice,

Apples of what smooth gold! But fear
Gnaws at me for myself; the noon
That nourishes Earth can only sear
And scald the unresponding moon.

Her gaping valleys have no soil,
Her needle-pointed hills are bare;
Water, poured on those rocks, would boil,
And day lasts long, and long despair.

      -- CS Lewis

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 6:52 AM

January 6, 2008

New prince...

If anyone's interested in Catholic stuff, you might like Rocco Palmo's long piece on (newly-minted) Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston. An awesome guy.....

Posted by John Weidner at 2:54 PM

Advice on Offering Your Work to God

Turn to Our Lord with confidence and say to him: "I don't feel like doing this at all, but I will offer it up for You." And then put our heart into the job you are doing, even though you think you are just play-acting. Blessed play-acting! I assure you it isn't.
——From Friends of God, by St Josemaria

(If you don't believe in God, this is still good advice. Just imagine Ben Franklin is watching...)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:30 AM

December 30, 2007

From the Letter to the Magnesians..

~by St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians

Since I have met the persons I have just mentioned and seeing and embracing them I have seen and embraced your whole congregation, I exhort you — be zealous to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and the presbyters in the place of the Council of the Apostles, and the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ, who was from eternity with the Father and was made manifest at the end of time.

Be all in conformity with God, and respect one another, and let no man judge his neighbour according to the flesh, but in everything love one another in Jesus Christ. Let there be nothing in you which can divide you, but be united with the bishop and with those who preside over you as an example and lesson of immortality...

Ignatius was born about AD 50, and probably died in AD 107. He was sent to Rome to be killed as an example that would discourage Christians. But the result was exactly the opposite. On the way he met with many Christians, and sent out a series of letters that can still be read with profit today.

As a historical note, Antioch in Syria was then the third largest city of the Empire, and Ignatius, who was its Christian bishop for about 40 years, would have been a high-value target. High value if one assumes, like the Roman authorities, that a cult would melt away if its leaders were killed.

One should also realize that the bureaucratic efficiency with which we deal with prisoners did not exist before the Industrial Age. Prisoners in the past were almost always accessible; a small payment to the guards would get your friends in to bring you comforts and have a nice visit. It is not at all surprising that John the Baptist, while in Herod's dungeon, could send his disciples to question Jesus.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:31 AM

December 23, 2007

"And never before or again"


There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

      -- Gilbert Keith Chesterton

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 7:25 AM

December 16, 2007

"Why then was the inn crowded?"

By Thomas Merton...

...Why then was the inn crowded? Because of the census, the eschatological massing of the "whole world" in centers of registration, to be numbered, to be identified with the structure of imperial power. The purpose of the census: to discover those who were to be taxed. To find out those who were eligible for service in the armies of the empire.

The Bible had not been friendly to a census in the days when God was ruler of Israel (2 Samuel 24). The numbering of the people of God by an alien emperor and their full consent to it was itself an eschatological sign, preparing those who could understand it to meet judgment with repentance. After all, in the Apocalyptic literature of the Bible, this "summoning together" or convocation of the powers of the earth to do battle is the great sign of "the end."

It was therefore impossible that the Word should lose himself by being born into shapeless and passive mass. He had indeed emptied himself, taken the form of God's servant, man. But he did not empty himself to the point of becoming mass man, faceless man. It was therefore right that there should be no room for him in a crowd that had been called together as an eschatological sign. His being born outside that crowd is even more of a sign. That there is no room for him is a sign of the end.

Nor are the tidings of great joy announced in the crowded inn. In the massed crowd there are always new tidings of joy and disaster. Where each new announcement is the greatest of announcements, where every day's disaster is beyond compare, every day's danger demands the ultimate sacrifice, all news and all judgment is reduced to zero. News becomes merely a new noise in the mind, briefly replacing the noise that went before it and yielding to the noise that comes after it, so that eventually everything blends into the same monotonous and meaningless rumor. News? There is so much news that there is no room left for the true tidings, the "Good News," the Great Joy.

Hence the Great Joy is announced, after all, in silence, loneliness and darkness, to shepherds "living in the fields" or "living in the countryside" and apparently unmoved by the rumors or massed crowds. These are the remnant of the desert-dwellers, the nomads, the true Israel.

Even though "the whole world" is ordered to be inscribed, they do not seem to be affected. Doubtless they have registered, as Joseph and Mary will register, but they remain outside the agitation, and untouched by the vast movement, the massing of hundreds and thousands of people everywhere in the towns and cities.

They are therefore quite otherwise signed. They are designated, surrounded by a great light, they receive the message of the Great Joy, and they believe it with joy. They see the Shekinah over them, recognize themselves for what they are. They are the remnant, the people of no account, who are therefore chosen - the anawim. And they obey the light. Nor was anything else asked of them. (Thanks to Orrin)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:30 AM

December 9, 2007

Evangelizing the world...

Charlene and I just read a great book, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power, by David Aikman. There are amazing things going on in China, with Christianity growing and spreading ceaselessly, despite cruel persecution and harassment. But what really made my hair stand on end was that these people are not just content to survive, they are seriously dreaming of missionary work in other lands. Their central driving idea is that, over history, the main movement of Christianity has been westward, from the Near East across Europe, and to the New World, and across the Pacific to Asia.

And so, what's the next step for Christianity and its missionaries? To go from China westwards, along the Silk Road, through the Moslem Jerusalem! Here are a few snippets, to give you a bit of the flavor ...

...A few of the Americans present were familiar with this notion: 100,000 Chinese missionaries on a global evangelization expedition. [Dr Luis] Bush was dumbfounded. For a comparison, the total estimate for American Protestant and Catholic missionaries working overseas in any given year is 40,000 to 50,000. The U.S. annually sends more missionaries overseas than any other single country by far; the current effort is built on two centuries of experience, and the considerable wealth of ordinary Americans. Could 100,000 Chinese be prepared for missionary work and sent out by the year 2007? Almost certainly not. But the process could begin. In fact, even before the Beijing Forum of February 2002, it had already begun...

..."Back to Jerusalem." It was impossible not to hear this term from Chinese house church Christians of all ages in all parts of the country. The origins of the movement are as complex as they are dramatic.

The first time the notion that China's Christians had a role to play in evangelizing the world, and in connection to Jerusalem, seems to have been in the 1920's in Shandong Province. 1n 1921, Jing Dianying founded a small independent Christian group. It was called the Jesus Family, and was not dissimilar in format to the Little Flock, founded by China's most famous twentieth-century Christian, Watchman Nee... The five word slogan of the Jesus Family was "sacrifice, abandonment, poverty, suffering, death." This turned out to be the fate of the group's members who set off on foot spreading the Gospel in nearby towns and villages...

...It isn't clear what rekindled the Back to Jerusalem fervor among China's house church Christians from the mid-1990's onward. It could have been the influence of Zhao's story or simply the spontaneous reemergence of the same vision that animated the Northwest Bible Institute students and others back in the 1940's.Certainly the enormous confidence that the house church networks had acquired during the phenomenal expansion of the 1980's was part of the explanation...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:13 AM

December 2, 2007

All human things can be Catholic things...

From A Christian Approach to Purity By Mark Shea

....It is the realization that we do indeed live under the New Covenant and that our primary mission as Catholics is to make the world holy, not to keep the world from defiling us. We have to learn that the Church ultimately has the upper hand against sin because we have the power of Christ.

Some Catholics really don�t get this. To illustrate, let me quote a Catholic who was participating in a recent online discussion concerning whether Harry Potter books were proper for a Catholic to read: �One drop of anything not authentically Catholic poisons the whole glass.�

Now, this is not a column about Harry Potter. So let�s restrain the urge to go there. This is a column about purity. And the fact is, it is false to say that �One drop of anything not authentically Catholic poisons the whole glass.�

Neither Christmas trees nor Maypoles nor Easter eggs nor iconography nor statuary nor prayer beads nor wedding rings were Catholic in the beginning. They were pagan (meaning �human�) things. The Church looked at them and said, �All authentically human things can be Catholic things too!�

And this has ever been the Church�s approach. Everything from Stagecoach to 2001: A Space Odyssey is championed by the Vatican as good films without the slightest sense that, because they are the products of decidedly non-saintly Catholics or unbelievers, they are therefore necessarily �poison.�

The basic principle we have from the New Testament is that the power of the Spirit can overcome the powers of sin, hell and death. It is what has ordered the Church�s missionary work since the beginning. That is the meaning of the strange Dominical saying preserved at the end of the Gospel of Mark:

�And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover� (Mark 16:17-18).

This language is particularly apt, particularly given the language we just saw above. The funny thing about the Gospel is how often, in the history of the Church, the Church has fulfilled Jesus� promise, �If they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them� (Mark 16:18).

The Church has drunk from all sorts of pagan wells, ranging from Plato and Aristotle to the various ways in which Norse, German, Druidic, Roman, Indian and other forms of pagan culture have been baptized and turned to the service of Christ.

The Pharisaic approach is to reject � as the Pharisees rejected Christ � the possibility that he really holds power over the devil.

It is a mentality that never considers the opposite possibility: namely, that Christ has power to conquer what defiled us under the old law and turn it to his glory....

Posted by John Weidner at 6:09 AM

November 25, 2007

God dropping by for a visit...

From Why I am not a Deist, by John C Wright...

...You might wonder why, if God can convince atheists to worship Him merely by dropping by for a visit, [as happened to the author] He does not do it more often. The reason is that it does not help, not at all, not a bit. When I suffer doubts, when my faith gets weak, my faith in my memory gets weak too. Faith and faithlessness have NOTHING TO DO with evidence presented to reason or senses. It has to do with a humble will and an upright heart. If God presented evidence to skeptics, all that would happen is that skeptics would doubt their evidence. If God gave a logical argument to prove His own existence, all that would happen is that skeptics would doubt the power of logic to prove anything.

Skepticism pretends it is all about open-mindedness and evidence. Not so. Skepticism is about suspicion and pride and self-will. It is about pretending you are smarter than people who, if you only knew, are actually wiser than you and your sneering questions and foolish word-tricks. The only place we ever see a humble skeptic is in the physical sciences, because scientists are willing to let their conclusions be ruled on by nature....

"Skepticism is about suspicion and pride and self-will" Amen, Brother. You hit the nail on the head. Been there, done it.

Also from the same piece...

...( It is popular these days to remark on the scientific and philosophical achievements of Islam during the darkest days of the Dark Ages. This is an historical error. The peoples conquered by the savages from Arabia were Romans, members of the Roman Empire, Byzantines who had been Christian for four or five centuries. They were a highly civilized and advanced people. The Turks did not destroy their culture and learning. But to give them credit for their invention is like crediting the Soviets with the industry and wealth of East Germany. It is something they found and took, not something they made. The difference in learning was between the Latin and the Greek speaking parts of the Roman Empire: the West collapsed long, long before the East was overrun. )
Posted by John Weidner at 6:58 AM

November 18, 2007

Indispensable man...

(I'm not, by the way, signing on to the views on the War on Terror of the columnist who dubs himself Spengler. But for 'thought-provoking," he's hard to beat. And this book sounds great; I'm surely going to read it.)

Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians by Fergus Kerr. Reviewed by Spengler

It may seem eccentric to hail a theological text by a Scots Dominican, ranked 133,692nd in recent Amazon sales, as the year's most important work on global strategy. Now that I have your attention, humor me for a paragraph or two.
To win a gunfight, first you have to bring a gun, and to win a religious war, you had better know something about religion. America's "war on terror" proceeds from a political philosophy that treats radical Islam as if it were a political movement - "Islamo-fascism" - rather than a truly religious response to the West. If we are in a fourth world war, as Norman Podhoretz proclaims, it is a religious war. The West is not fighting individual criminals, as the left insists; it is not fighting a Soviet-style state, as the Iraqi disaster makes clear; nor is it fighting a political movement. It is fighting a religion, specifically a religion that arose in enraged reaction to the West.
None of the political leaders of the West, and few of the West's opinion leaders, comprehend this. We are left with the anomaly that the only effective leader of the West is a man wholly averse to war, a pope who took his name from the Benedict who interceded for peace during World War I. Benedict XVI, alone among the leaders of the Christian world, challenges Islam as a religion, as he did in his September 2006 Regensburg address. Who is Joseph Ratzinger, this decisive figure of our times, and what led the Catholic Church to elect him? Fr Kerr has opened the coulisses of Catholic debate such that outsiders can understand the changes in Church thinking that made possible Benedict's papacy. Because Benedict is the leader not only of the Catholics but - by default - of the West, all concerned with the West's future should read his book...
....Kerr's subtitle is, From Neo-Scholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism. By this he means something quite accessible to laymen and non-Catholics. Between the early years of the 20th century, and the papacies of Wojtila and Ratzinger, emphasis in Catholic theology shifted from attempting to prove the tenets of the faith by philosophical argument, to portraying God's self-revelation through love by reference to such Biblical texts as the "Song of Songs". The present pope's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"), summarizes what Kerr calls "nuptial mysticism".[3] ....
...In Kerr's engaging account, the rationalistic mainstream was challenged by theologians at the margin of the Church, such as the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac and the Swiss Jesuit Hans Urs von Balthasar, now widely regarded as the greatest Catholic theologian of the century. They were encouraged by the research of medievalists such as Etienne Gilson and Marie-Dominique Chenu, who challenged the Enlightenment distortion of Thomas Aquinas. These dissenters spent long and lonely years in the wilderness, sometimes forbidden to write or preach. Their day came with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and the reigns of John Paul II and Benedict XVI....

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 6:41 AM

November 11, 2007

Faith involves the whole man...

From A Newman Treasury, edited by Charles Frederick Harrold...

...In other words we actually know more than we can express in conscious logical statements. We are constantly entertaining convictions with absolute certainty on grounds which we could never reduce to explicit argument. This is because a great deal of our reasoning is what Newman calls "implicit" or what we should call subconscious. If the mind is "unequal to its own powers of apprehension," then conscious logic cannot always adequately test the accuracy of its apprehensions.

Thus Newman must disagree with Locke, whom he quotes in the Grammar of Assent, that no one should "entertain any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built on will warrant." Life is too short for a philosophy or religion of inferences; it is also too concrete, too rich, too unbounded. We cannot always wait for proofs. In fact, says Newman, we do not wait, but proceed in our daily lives upon a vast number of implicit reasonings on probabilities, and only now and then follow the dictates of a syllogism. We are therefore living by faith far more than we realize. And when we face the problem of religious faith, the same facts of human nature spring into view, except that the virtue of a "right state of heart," and the moral imperatives of the conscience have a far greater rational import than than is commonly supposed.

In religious faith , the simple and the unlettered have the advantage over the mere intellectual, if the latter does not qualify his explicit reasonings with the right moral disposition and with the realization that faith involves the whole man and is never a matter of logic alone. Clearness of statement or even of thought is often not essential at all for the recognition of a great truth. Thus the ignorant but inspired man may arrive at truths which only a logician could analyze or debate; similarly, says Newman, "consider the preternatural sagacity with which a great general knows what his friends and enemies are about, and what will be the final result, and where, of their combined movements."...


Posted by John Weidner at 6:42 AM

November 3, 2007

Like an image on the waters....

WE have familiar experience of the order, the constancy, the perpetual renovation of the material world which surrounds us. Frail and transitory as is every part of it, restless and migratory as are its elements, never-ceasing as are its changes, still it abides. It is bound together by a law of permanence, it is set up in unity; and, though it is ever dying, it is ever coming to life again. Dissolution does but give birth to fresh modes of organization, and one death is the parent of a thousand lives.

Each hour, as it comes, is but a testimony, how fleeting, yet how secure, how certain, is the great whole. It is like an image on the waters, which is ever the same, though the waters ever flow. Change upon change�yet one change cries out to another, like the alternate Seraphim, in praise and in glory of their Maker. The sun sinks to rise again; the day is swallowed up in the gloom of the night, to be born out of it, as fresh as if it had never been quenched. Spring passes into summer, and through summer and autumn into winter, only the more surely, by its own ultimate return, to triumph over that grave, towards which it resolutely hastened from its first hour. We mourn over the blossoms of May, because they are to wither; but we know, withal, that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of that solemn circle which never stops�which teaches us in our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair...
      �John Henry Cardinal Newman

[link. Read, as they say, the whole thing.]

Posted by John Weidner at 5:42 PM

Reason does battle with obscurantism...

A good friend invited us along to see the current production of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the SF Opera last Wednesday. It was a total treat, visually gorgeous and bizarre and fun. (And the music was nothing to scoff at, either!)

But I found it interesting as a historical artifact, because I'd just posted this piece on the Enlightenment a few days before. And the Magic Flute is a fairy tale based on the ideas of the Enlightenment, as filtered down to the fairly commonplace minds of Mozart and Schikaneder. (Not commonplace musically, of course, but you might call them cracker-barrel philosophes, picking up ideas third-hand at the local Masonic lodge.)

In the opera's story, the Queen of the Night is the villainess, and she represents the Church. (Officially, I believe, she personifies obscurantism and superstition, but everybody knew who fit that description!) And her antagonist Sarastro is a sort of enlightened despot ruling a realm of reason and brotherhood. And the interesting thing to me is that, looking at our own time, the story didn't turn out as expected.

The realm of Sarastro is now looking rather old and shabby, and can no longer muster the will to defend itself against even the most obviously non-rational and murderous opponents. And the Queen by contrast is looking pretty cool. "....for grace can, where nature cannot. The world grows old, but the Church is ever young ..." --John Henry Newman

Magic Flute, Zarastro and his minions
Above, Sarastro, with his entourage. Pamina and Tamino stand on the pyramid. (pictures from the SF Opera web site)

I've posted two more pictures below...

The magical beasts were marvelous.

Magic Flute, mysterious animals

I just loved these guys...

Magic Flute, Zarastro's acolytes

Posted by John Weidner at 4:36 PM

October 28, 2007

The Enlightenment, a Christian heresy?

A few snippets from an interesting essay by Philip Trower: (Thanks to Argent)

... To begin with then, there are two facts about the Enlightenment which I believe it is essential to grasp if we are to understand its true historical significance. The first is that, regardless of how it began, the Enlightenment became far more than just another movement in the history of ideas like the Romantic movement. What happened in the drawing-rooms, libraries, and coffeehouses of 18th-century Europe resembled in at least one crucial respect what happened in the deserts of Arabia in the seventh century A.D. A new world religion was born...


Stepping back a minute then and surveying our new world religion as a whole, we can see it as made up of two components: what I will call the humanist or humanistic project, which within limits we can all bless, onto which has been grafted a missionary atheism bent on sidelining or completely eliminating religion.

By the humanist project I mean the idea of bettering human life in this world in every possible way and developing as many of natures' potentialities as possible. Rightly understood this is not incompatible with Christian and Catholic belief. Indeed it is part of it. What is in conflict with Christian belief, as well, I believe, as with reason and common sense, is the idea that all this can be achieved without God's help and that a state of perfection — which would involve the disappearance of sin — can be overcome this side of the last day.

The second of the two facts which I said it is necessary to grasp if we are to understand the full historical significance of the Enlightenment is, namely, that in its deepest roots and many of its practical objectives, this new "world religion" is — and I hope this won't startle you too much — a Christian heresy.

Taken individually its teachings either have their origins in Christianity, like the idea of raising up of the poor and lowly, or have always had a prominent place in the Christian scheme of things, like the notion of human brotherhood. Collectively, they are the product of 2,000 years of a Christian way of looking at the world. It is impossible to imagine them occurring in the form they do in any civilization or culture so far known to history other than a Judeo-Christian one. Nor have they in fact done so. They can be accurately described as "secularized Christianity."....


....This is what makes the whole Enlightenment "package" so singularly difficult for most of us to handle. It is not something totally alien as paganism was. As a result, we tend to assume that, except about God and Christ and the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, our liberal or secularist neighbors are on the same wavelength in regard to more or less everything else.

What we often fail to notice is that, when wrenched from their Christian context and raised to the status of absolutes, notions like liberty and equality no matter how good in themselves, can receive a quite different significance and even become appallingly destructive...

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

...Then with the First World War, and the Russian Revolution, classical 19th-century liberalism meets its Götterdämmerung. Its cultural influence and intellectual prestige pass to collectivist theories of government and social life and collectivist political parties, which for the best part of a century have been living a largely underground life, erupting from time to time in revolutionary outbursts that are quickly suppressed. After the Russian Revolution, however, they can live openly in the daylight with Marxism rapidly occupying first place.

From the late 1920s on, the reaction of many Western liberals to this new situation and this newly empowered rival is not unlike that of moths to a flame or rabbits to a cobra. Some are attracted, others repelled. But the common roots and underlying unity of purpose linking all the offshoots of the original Enlightenment corpus of ideas produces that curious notion "No enemy to the left" — the left is always right and the right is always wrong — and that even more curious phenomenon, people who call themselves "liberals" admiring or making excuses for perhaps the longest lasting and socially and psychologically most devastating tyranny known to history....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:24 AM

October 21, 2007

"What was I to myself, but a guide to my own destruction?..."

From an excellent essay by R. R. Reno, in First Things...

....We tend to see what we want to see in the books we read. Our culture is one of leave-taking and it champions the seeker as the hero of the spiritual life. We think that we must brave arid deserts and snowy mountain passes on our quest for God. Recall Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, William James’ will to believe, and Paul Tillich’s courage to be. Having read Sartre’s hot rhetoric of existential choice and Heidegger’s cooler image of the heroic modern man patiently walking the meadows of our disenchanted culture as a shepherd of Being, I came to believe that truth and holiness, like elves and unicorns, had been veiled and hidden in distant realms and secret forests. It was our vocation to energize our souls and get on with the search. Or so I imagined.

After many rereadings of the Confessions, I have been mortified to discover that St. Augustine does not commend the great preoccupation of modern Christianity, the quest for faith. For him, the journey of his young adulthood was a futile circular movement. Imagining himself to be a seeker after God, he was in fact ever returning to himself. What began as a projected heroic journey ended in exhausted despair. Ten years after Cicero had ignited in him a love of wisdom, St. Augustine reports, “I had lost all hope of discovering the truth.” What seemed like a journey was nothing more than the huffing and puffing of a presumptuous soul that thought it could storm the citadel of God with earnest longing and good intentions. The upshot was paralysis,...

....Still, our inability is not a condemnation to stasis. There is a journey of faith for Augustine, but the guidance comes from God, not us. Far from finding God, Augustine confesses, “You pierced my heart with the arrow of your love.” Indeed, the arrows had already been loosed many times, but in his agitated desire to control his own destiny, Augustine had dodged and deflected them. Only after Augustine has recognized the vanity of his own efforts does the arrow of divine love strike its mark. In the silence of the garden, God’s Word finally reaches his heart. “The examples given by your servants,” Augustine reports, “burnt away and destroyed my heavy sluggishness.” Then and only then does his journey begin: to baptism, back to Africa, and to Hippo.

The general principle of Augustine’s own self-analysis is clear, and its relevance to the temptation to embark on our own searches for God is direct—even, and perhaps especially, when that search takes us across the strange terrain of denominationalism. “The soul needs to be enlightened,” he writes, “by light from outside itself.”.....

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 6:10 AM

October 14, 2007

"The experiment of life"

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, published two books in which he was interviewed by German journalist Peter Seewald. This bit is from God and the World: A Conversation With Peter Seewald

[Question] Jesus made us a great promise. He said, "What I teach I do not have from myself, but from the One who sent me. Whoever does the will of God will come to know whether this teaching is from God or whether I teach from what I know myself." And even the Pharisees cried out then, "Never has any man taught like this."

[Ratzinger] That corresponds exactly to what we have been reflecting on. The truth of Jesus' word cannot be tested in terms of theory. It is like a technical proposition: it is shown to be correct only by testing it. The truth of what God says here involves the whole person, the experiment of life. It can only become clear to me if I truly give myself up to the will of God, so far as He has made it known to me. This will of the Creator is not something foreign to me, something external, but is the basis of my own being. And in this experiment of life it does in fact become clear how life can be put right. It will not be comfortable, but it will be right. It will not be superficial or pleasant, but it will in a profound sense be filled with joy.

This is indeed the real meaning of the saints for us, that they are people who have ventured upon this experiment of the will of God. To a certain extant they are lights for mankind, signposts who show us what happens, how life can be put right. I believe that is fundamental for the whole question about the truth of Christianity....

You can test it, and find out if it is true. But you are the test tube...

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 5:19 AM

October 7, 2007

"the average Catholic is so average"

by Mark Shea...

....What we need to remember is that the Catholic Church is and always has been the vessel of salvation for the world. That means that most of the people you meet are going to be ordinary — like you and me.

They are going to have the ordinary tastes, prejudices, mediocrities, failures and virtues of their time and place. There are, to be sure, great heroes and extraordinary people in the Catholic communion. But to expect that as the norm and then be outraged and disappointed when it is not is, I think, great folly and, in the end, great pride. Remember the hellish “wisdom” of C.S. Lewis’ Uncle Screwtape, who would keep far from our minds the thought, “If I, being what I am, can consider myself in some sense a Christian, then why can’t these people next to me in the pew”?

So, though I have been appalled by some of the sins that have been revealed in the ranks of the Church in the past few years, I’ve never been shocked. What did I expect? They’re just sinners like I am, and I know what I’m capable of.

“Well then,” it may be asked, “if the average Catholic is so average, why bother joining the Church?” To quote Walker Percy, “What else is there?” After all, it is not the Church that is mediocre, but only we, her members.

The Church is, curiously, something that exists before she has any members, because she is founded not by us, but by Christ. The Church is the spotless bride of Christ, made so by the Holy Spirit in the washing with water and the Word. We, her members, are generally nebbishes and schleps.

But she is glorious and beautiful, terrible as an army with banners. And in her all the fullness of the faith subsists. In that faith, by the grace of God, I hope one day to be made perfect in love of God and neighbor.....

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 5:43 AM

September 30, 2007

Anno Domini 155...

Justin Martyr was one of the early Christian writers. He was a Greek philosopher, and argued his Christian beliefs quite openly with the other philosophers, relying on their common code of being willing to consider all points of view to protect him from official persecution. (Eventually a jealous philosopher did betray him.) He is famous for having sent a letter, The Apology, to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, who was a Stoic philosopher and the father of Marcus Aurelius. Fr. Jay Toborowsky tells how he used Justin in the classroom... [Link.]

....The second was years later, after ordination (starting in 1998). My first parish assignment had a school, and occasionally the teachers would ask me to come and speak to their classes on particular topics. The times I'm thinking about now were when I was asked to speak to the students about the Mass. When I did that, I always told the students I was going to read them what someone had written about Mass. I then read them Paragraph 1345 of the Catechism (along with my comments), which is from St. Justin's Apologia.
"On the day we call the day of the sun (Sunday), all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place (say, a church). The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things (in an instruction called a 'homily'). Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves . . .and for all others (intercessions), wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss (a sign of peace). Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren (an offeratory). He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.' When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the 'eucharisted' bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent."
When I finished, I asked them to guess when that was written. Because they recognized the order of the Mass they'd begin by saying it was written last month or a year ago. Then they'd get brave and say it was written 100 years ago or 500 years ago. Then I'd tell them that it was written in 155ad and we'd work some math into the lesson when I'd ask them to subtract 155 from the current year, and they'd find out it that we do the same things at Mass now that were done over 1800 years ago. Their faces would light up as it sank in, and that's what I remember...

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 5:40 AM

September 23, 2007

"The opportunity to lead a hidden religious life"

Charlene and I have been reading an entrancing book, German writer and novelist Martin Mosebach's Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and its Enemy.

I have no plans to blog here my opinions on various controversies within the Church. Or get involved in them at all—there are plenty of others who can handle that job better than I. But I did want to give you a little of the flavor of Mosebach's book, just in case there are any others reading this who find these sorts of things intriguing...

In 1812, in Carlsbad, Goethe encountered the young empress Maria Ludovica; when the empress heard what a profound impression she had made on Goethe, she communicated to him the "noble and definite sentiment" that she "did not want to be identified or surmised" in any of his works "under any pretext whatsoever". "For," she said, "women are like religion: the less they are spoken of, the more they gain." It is a fine maxim, and one that deserves to be taken to heart. However, I am about to ignore it by speaking to you about religion in its practical aspect, lived religion, that is, liturgy. Perhaps the greatest damage done by Pope Paul VI's reform of the Mass (and by the ongoing process that has outstripped it), the greatest spiritual deficit, is this: we are now positively obliged to talk about the liturgy....

...We have had to delve into questions of worship and liturgy—something that is utterly foreign to the religious man. We have let ourselves be led into a kind of scholastic and juridical way of considering the liturgy....And finally, we have started to evaluate liturgy—a monstrous act....

...what have we lost? The opportunity to lead a hidden religious life, days begun with a quiet Mass in a modest little neighborhood church; a life in which we learn, over decades, discretely guided by priests, to mingle our own sacrifice with Christ's sacrifice; a Holy Mass in which we ponder our own sins and the graces given to us—and nothing else: rarely is this possible any more for a Catholic aware of liturgical tradition, once the liturgy's unquestioned status has been destroyed...

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 7:47 AM

Posted without comment...

Interesting small piece in the NYT on the trend back towards traditional church architecture...

...“Architects began to design churches that were meant to promote a sense of community gathered for celebration,” he added. “While older churches tried to set themselves apart from the world, these were buildings that were meant to blend into neighborhoods.”

These buildings were focused around casual, multipurpose spaces. Pastors asked architects for assembly halls that would allow members and clergy members to be able to see one another’s faces, so sanctuaries were often arranged in circles or semicircles. Pulpits were moved from the head of the church to the middle or done away with altogether. Statues were removed. Pitched roofs became flat. Steeples vanished.

Critics of the movement saw this trend toward plain, functional buildings as an insult to the divine. A flurry of books by influential architects and critics led the attack, including Michael S. Rose’s salvo, “Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches From Sacred Spaces to Meeting Places and How We Can Change Them Back” (Sophia Institute Press, 2001), and Moyra Doorly’s “No Place for God: The Denial of Transcendence in Modern Church Architecture” (Ignatius Press, 2007).

Ms. Doorly, an architect and writer in Britain, has also started a campaign called Outcry Against Ugly Churches, or OUCH.

While many churches have taken up the call to return to traditional building styles, especially those that still worship with a formal liturgy and sacraments, Dr. Kieckhefer points out that modern “big box”-style churches are often simply more cost effective for congregations to build, and for that reason, he doesn’t see them disappearing from the landscape...

I myself will just just keep my mouth shut here. If I ever let fly with my feelings about modern church architecture and those who promote it, I might lose control altogether and damage Charlene's oriental carpets which she loves what with chewing on them.

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 5:36 AM

September 17, 2007

"The fertility crisis in the West is a moral problem"

This to this piece me is fascinating, because: 1.It's an example of how "things of the spirit" are more real than the tangibles produced by technology and economics.
2.Looks like the old-timers knew something—in this case, that it's us men who need to be corralled into marriage.
3.Plenty of conservatives speak similarly, but who has un-compromised moral authority here? Only B-16 and the Church. Not Protestants, that's for sure (try bringing a family with 6 kids to various churches and you will find out, as this guy did!). And how can a "secular conservative" speak with moral authority about the contraceptive culture? Not possible.
4.I think the "Culture of Death" is much more than just a matter of abortion and euthanasia. It's everywhere, it's nihilism.
5.I started to put this in my "Sunday Thoughts" category, then took it out, then put it back in. There's no dividing line...

Angela Shanahan: Sex Revolution Robbed us of Fertility:
OVER 13 years as a columnist for The Australian and other publications I have received many letters. But I have never received one like this. It was written in response to a column I wrote a few weeks ago on sexual imagery in advertising.

But coincidentally it arrived just after the Pope's remarks this month about the seemingly obvious link between selfishness and our inability to produce children.

The thirty something writer cut through the demographic babble about the fertility crisis and heartbreakingly encapsulated something that is staring us in the face. Despite the media's discomfort, the fertility crisis in the West is a moral problem and, of course, only moral leaders such as Pope Benedict XVI have the guts and authority to enunciate it.

The truth about declining fertility is not all that complicated. It is the inevitable result of a so-called sexual revolution that broke the nexus between sex and having children, and has skewed our relationships, particularly marriage, forever. What the media coyly refer to as private morality -- also known as sexual morality -- is having all too public social consequences. On average, women in Europe will now only bear 1.5 children each, and in some places it is down to 1.2. The enlightened West can't produce enough children to fuel its economy or maintain its culture.

In western Europe nothing will change this short of some great and terrible upheaval, such as another war. No amount of economic fiddling with family tax rates, no amount of child care or incentives for women to work, not even the threat of cultural extinction as a result of mass migration from Africa and the Middle East, will change it....

...And in sociologist-speak, culture is code for things such as religion and our sexual mores, including our marriage patterns, or what the aridly secular West will timidly go as far as calling our values. So what are these values that are a prerequisite for stable societies that can at least reproduce themselves? The most important factor in fertility is marriage. Late marriage and failure to marry is the biggest single factor affecting fertility in the West....

....It is a terrible catch22. But as my correspondent also rightly bemoans, so far almost all the discussion about fertility and marriage has been about women, as if their desires and motivations were the only factor.

However, studies done in the late 1990s in Scandinavia, where almost 60per cent of births are ex-nuptial, discovered a much stronger connection between the attitude of the man in a cohabiting relationship, as to whether a formal marriage eventuated, than the attitude of the woman....

....Cohabiting men were found to be far more hesitant than women to formalise the relationship. Furthermore, this pattern holds true even in relationships that have already produced children.

Among the childless, men seem to fear that marriage will push them into more of a provider role. They harbour strong doubts about the ultimate value of a relationship -- whether it will be lifelong -- and are less likely than women to yield to normative pressure from parents. What exactly was the word the Pope used: selfish?....
[Thanks to Orrin]

* Update: I'm not a moralist by nature, but I would emphasize that morality has brutally practical consequences that should be of concern even to secularists who scoff or libertarians who imagine that the market will sort all. If you doubt it just think of the astonishing courage and selflessness of our soldiers serving in bleak corners of the globe, and then try to imagine those co-habiting secular Swedes mentioned above producing men and women like ours! Of course they are not willing to fight for their freedom and their land.

9/11 was a wake up call for me, but not in the way I first thought. The need to fight Islamo-fascist terror groups, and the strategy to employ is in fact so blindingly obvious that I feel embarassed to keep harping on it. A thousand times more significant is the question of how the West came to be so paralyzed that a ridiculous rabble of bomb-throwers were not slapped down decades ago. and it's not a separate issue from "private morality."

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 7:08 AM

September 9, 2007

"out of touch with the body of Christ"

[Thanks to David Schütz, and Louise...]

Peter Holmes writes:

Several friends have, of late, admitted they send their children to Protestant bible classes because "there is nothing Catholic" or "the Protestants are much better at this" and the old "at least they are getting something."

I surprised them by advising they remove their children immediately and take steps to remedy the damage done so far. "But isn't it better that they know Scripture? Isn't that what you've been saying all along?" they protest. My point wasn't about knowing Scripture. It was about knowing the truth, and where it all fits.

As an evangelical I learned 200-300 verses a year in Sunday School and had to recite them all at the end to get my 'prize', and yet never understood sin or grace. I understood a wickedly twisted version invented (in human terms) by a reformer hundreds of years ago, and seemingly supported by the selective choice of verses interpreted by my teachers.

As a Lutheran seminarian I read the Bible backwards, forwards in the original Hebrew and Hebrew, in later translations of Latin, German and various historic English translations. I learned critical method and medieval exegesis, read the fathers take on Scripture and STILL didn't understand grace and sin (I persist with these examples though there are many others) in the Catholic sense.

It's hard for a Catholic with a positive outlook to suspect a Protestant is undermining their belief when they use all the same words, even some of the same formulae, but only discover later that they mean different things. (The joint statements b/w Catholics and Protestants tend to be full of such language.)

If a Protestant encourages me to read the Scriptures, that is a great and noble thing. If they offer to TEACH me the Scriptures, I have to decline. They are lacking the context they were written from, and into. They are out of touch with the body of Christ that preserved them and interprets them authoritatively.

Specifically they justify their non-catholicity on the basis of Scripture. We should expect their interpretation to contradict the Church not only in some aspects, but in method, content, context and in spirit.

I am astounded when good Catholics, who would not let a religious sister or priest within a mile of their children's faith education, will entrust their education in the central aspect of the Catholic Tradition to people who reject Catholicism...

I'm just starting to understand the slight-of-hand involved in supporting Protestant theology sola scriptura. Fascinatin' subject. A book to begin with is Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, by David Currie. Charlene and I both give it our highest marks...

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Posted by John Weidner at 7:08 AM

"to waste time for the sake of God..."

From The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Romano Guardini. (Also online here)


GRAVE and earnest people, who make the knowledge of truth their whole aim, see moral problems in everything, and seek for a definite purpose everywhere, tend to experience a peculiar difficulty where the liturgy is concerned. They incline to regard it as being to a certain extent aimless, as superfluous pageantry of a needlessly complicated and artificial character. They are affronted by the scrupulously exact instructions which the liturgy gives on correct procedure, on the right direction in which to turn, on the pitch of the voice, and so on. What is the use of it all? The essential part of Holy Mass--the action of Sacrifice and the divine Banquet--could be so easily consummated. Why, then, the need for the solemn institution of the priestly office? The necessary consecration could be so simply accomplished in so few words, and the sacraments so straight-forwardly administered--what is the reason of all the prayers and ceremonies? The liturgy tends to strike people of this turn of mind as—to use the words which are really most appropriate—trifling and theatrical....

....But this has one thing in common with the play of the child and the life of art—it has no purpose, but it is full of profound meaning. It is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God's sight—not to create, but to exist—such is the essence of the liturgy. From this is derived its sublime mingling of profound earnestness and divine joyfulness. The fact that the liturgy gives a thousand strict and careful directions on the quality of the language, gestures, colors, garments and instruments which it employs, can only be understood by those who are able to take art and play seriously. Have you ever noticed how gravely children draw up the rules of their games, on the form of the melody, the position of the hands, the meaning of this stick and that tree? It is for the sake of the silly people who may not grasp their meaning and who will persist in seeing the justification of an action or object only in its obvious purpose. Have you ever read of or even experienced the deadly earnestness with which the artist-vassal labors for art, his lord? Of his sufferings on the score of language? Or of what an overweening mistress form is? And all this for something that has no aim or purpose! No, art does not bother about aims. Does anyone honestly believe that the artist would take upon himself the thousand anxieties and feverish perplexities incident to creation if he intended to do nothing with his work but to teach the spectator a lesson, which he could just as well express in a couple of facile phrases, or one or two historical examples, or a few well-taken photographs? The only answer to this can be an emphatic negative. Being an artist means wrestling with the expression of the hidden life of man, avowedly in order that it may be given existence; nothing more. It is the image of the Divine creation, of which it is said that it has made things "ut sint."....

[I posted a little more below the fold]

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...The liturgy does the same thing. It too, with endless care, with all the seriousness of the child and the strict conscientiousness of the great artist, has toiled to express in a thousand forms the sacred, God-given life of the soul to no other purpose than that the soul may therein have its existence and live its life. The liturgy has laid down the serious rules of the sacred game which the soul plays before God. And, if we are desirous of touching bottom in this mystery, it is the Spirit of fire and of holy discipline "Who has knowledge of the world"—the Holy Ghost—Who has ordained the game which the Eternal Wisdom plays before the Heavenly Father in the Church, Its kingdom on earth. And "Its delight" is in this way "to be with the children of men."

Only those who are not scandalized by this understand what the liturgy means. From the very first every type of rationalism has turned against it. The practice of the liturgy means that by the help of grace, under the guidance of the Church, we grow into living works of art before God, with no other aim or purpose than that of living and existing in His sight; it means fulfilling God's Word and "becoming as little children"; it means foregoing maturity with all its purposefulness, and confining oneself to play, as David did when he danced before the Ark. It may, of course, happen that those extremely clever people, who merely from being grown-up have lost all spiritual youth and spontaneity, will misunderstand this and jibe at it. David probably had to face the derision of Michal. It is in this very aspect of the liturgy that its didactic aim is to be found, that of teaching the soul not to see purposes everywhere, not to be too conscious of the end it wishes to attain, not to be desirous of being over-clever and grown-up, but to understand simplicity in life. The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with sayings and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking "why?" and "wherefore?" It must learn not to be continually yearning to do something, to attack something, to accomplish something useful, but to play the divinely ordained game of the liturgy in liberty and beauty and holy joy before God. In the end, eternal life will be its fulfillment. Will the people who do not understand the liturgy be pleased to find that the heavenly consummation is an eternal song of praise? Will they not rather associate themselves with those other industrious people who consider that such an eternity will be both boring and unprofitable?....
Posted by John Weidner at 6:51 AM

September 2, 2007

"We act in the courage of our uncertainties"

From a piece by Fr. Neuhaus, in First Things...

We are all uncertain about what God wants us to do. That is to say, we do not know for sure. Of course it seems silly, when you’re well past middle age and have spent your life doing what you believe you’ve been given to do, to get up in the morning or suddenly stop in the middle of the day’s work and ask, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?”

I mentioned this to a young man who is discerning whether he has a call to the priesthood, and he was shocked, perhaps scandalized. He said, in effect: “You mean after all these years of being a priest, of writing books, of editing and lecturing, of organizing so many projects, you still aren’t sure you’re doing what God called you to do? How am I ever to know that God is calling me to the priesthood?”

The answer is that we act in the courage of our uncertainties. I am fond of pointing out that the word decide comes from the Latin decidere, to cut off. You face choices—whether to be a priest, whether to go to this school or that, whether to marry a certain person, whether to pursue this line of work or another—and then you decide. And, in deciding, you have cut off the alternatives and pray you have decided rightly. But you do not know for sure. Alternatively, you are trapped in the tangled web of indecision.

In this connection, I have had frequent recourse, both homiletically and personally, to one of the most liberating passages from Saint Paul, 1 Corinthians 4. He has been trying to explain himself and his apostolate to the Christians in Corinth. He doesn’t know whether he has succeeded, and then he says this: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. . . . Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”.....

"I do not even judge myself." That's a good thought to keep in mind.

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Posted by John Weidner at 5:18 AM

August 19, 2007

"The open obvious democratic thing..."

...Some how or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them.The open obvious democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder...
-- GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Everyone has a faith. Everyone has a religion, in the sense that they have beliefs about the universe and human existence that they cannot "prove" using any thought-system such as natural science, or formal logic, or "common sense." And it really nettles me that most people won't acknowledge this.

The person who says, "I believe only things that can be scientifically proven" is expressing faith in a proposition that science cannot validate. But try to tell him that, and you will often find a person more dogmatic and blinkered than any superstitious peasant. And usually more fearful than the peasant of ideas that might threaten his security.

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Posted by John Weidner at 6:03 AM

August 12, 2007

"And I shall hymn you in a harbour story told..."

Ballade to Our Lady of Częstochowa

Lady and Queen and Mystery manifold
And very Regent of the untroubled sky,
Whom in a dream St. Hilda did behold
And heard a woodland music passing by:
You shall receive me when the clouds are high
With evening and the sheep attain the fold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Steep are the seas and savaging and cold
In broken waters terrible to try;
And vast against the winter night the wold,
And harbourless for any sail to lie.
But you shall lead me to the lights, and I
Shall hymn you in a harbour story told.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Help of the half-defeated, House of gold,
Shrine of the Sword, and Tower of Ivory;
Splendour apart, supreme and aureoled,
The Battler's vision and the World's reply.
You shall restore me, O my last Ally,
To vengence and the glories of the bold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Prince of the degradations, bought and sold,
These verses, written in your crumbling sty,
Proclaim the faith that I have held and hold
And publish that in which I mean to die.

    -- Hilaire Belloc

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The 15th of August, as I'm sure you know, is the Feast of Our Lady of Częstochowa (pronounced Chens-toe-HOE-vah), whose icon at the monastery of Jasna Góra is the great goal of pilgrimage in Poland.

"Steep are the seas and savaging and cold, In broken waters terrible to try, And vast against the winter night the wold, And harbourless for any sail to lie..." Sorry to break it to you, but that's where you (and I) are at. We won't find harbor on our own. No way, no hope, no leastest shred of hope.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:51 PM

August 5, 2007

"The old man is bound up in a thousand folds"

From The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes, written in the early 1600's...

In war there is the note of charge, fitted for the onset; of recall, whereby stragglers are recalled.

And the mind of man, as it must be stirred up in the morning, so in the evening, as by a note of recall, is it to be called back to itself and to its Leader by a scrutiny and inquisition of self, by prayers and thanksgivings.

A good man would rather know his infirmity, than the foundations of the earth, or the heights of the heavens.

But that knowledge of our own infirmity is not attained save by diligent inquisition, without which the mind is for the most part blind, and sees nothing of that which pertains to it.

there are many hiding places and recesses in the mind.

You must come to the knowledge of, before you can amend, yourself.

An ulcer unknown grows worse and worse, and is deprived of cure.

    The heart is deceitful above all things.
    The old man is bound up in a thousand folds
    therefore take heed to thyself....

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Andrewes was among the most important of the translators who produced the King James Bible, an Anglican bishop, a friend of Casaubon, and one of the greatest scholars of his time. His book of Private Devotions is one of the more astonishing productions of the age of Shakespeare and Donne, and can still be used with great profit. He spent a lifetime collecting passages from scripture and the prayer book, and from the saints and fathers, and modified them and wove them together marvelously into his book of devotions. He has the odd distinction of being an undistinguished writer who produced a great work of literature and devotion...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:25 AM

"Watchmen on the walls of world freedom"

From the story of a Catholic chaplain in Iraq...

We rolled into Forward Operating Base, Rivera, the center of operations for 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in the town of Saqlawiyah. The Civil Affairs Group and the 2/7 chaplain were transporting me so that I could make Catholic Sacramental and Pastoral visits to all their Battle Positions.

There is no separate space to set apart for Mass or a religious service, so I set up in the area where they eat and recreate which is also used as the triage area for the wounded. Foot patrols were returning after an eight hour shift through the night and others were departing on their shift. Marines and Corpsmen were rushing about trying to get a bite to eat and get ready to sleep for a few hours. Despite the intense operational tempo and grueling schedule, a group of Marines led by their Company Commanding Officer gathered in the corner for the Mass. Mass in these settings emerges from a kit smaller than a shoe box that I carry on my back. I am set up in minutes — drab olive colored Altar Linen are set down and a crucifix, chalice and paten made of brushed steel are assembled from their small compact parts and easily set in place. A copy of The Word Among Us is passed between them and me for the prayers and readings. The Altar is a wooden bench — the best piece of furniture in the room.

There is no singing, no stained glass, no pews or kneelers — just intense fervor reflected in their eyes and the bare floor beneath their knees. No one ever leaves anyone else out of the Sign of Peace. From the senior officer to the lowest enlisted Marine, embraces are exchanged and sincere wishes of peace are authentic and heart-felt! Holy Communion! I have never experienced communion like that among men who know that this could be their last! The Mass is brief but its effects are enduring...

—  —  —  —  —  —  —  —

....The next part of their story however, was quite tragic and very painful for them to relate. They had grown close to the Iraqi family that had lived in the house. The family would often cook them a hot meal and share their table with them. Their five year old son had grown very fond of the Marines and they of him. He would stop by every day to see them. That day he was arriving outside just as the bomb detonated. With tears in their eyes they described how they tried to save him, using all their combat medical skills but there was nothing that they could do. Their grief is palpable and their sadness deep. We gathered for Mass in the small yard where they once listened to the laughter of a little boy. We celebrated Holy Communion with God, with each other and, in our hearts, with a young Muslim boy — may he rest in peace!... (Thanks to Argent)

I suspect there's a special deep circle of Hell for the scoundrel dogs who are heaping lies and abuse on our troops, and those of our allies. And a extra sub-basement for those who pretend that their scurrility has anything to do with Christian hopes for peace.

Stories of the decency and great-heartedness of our soldiers and Marines, and the ways they risk their own lives to save and protect people in distant lands are extremely common, if one bothers to look. These are the true Christians of our time. They are not passing on the other side of the road. They are not eager to abandon the wretched of the earth to the savagery of terrorists and tyrants. I just wish I could be with them.

“We in this country, in this generation, are, by destiny rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, goodwill toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago, ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”
John F. Kennedy
Undelivered luncheon speech
Dallas, Texas
Nov. 22, 1963

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Posted by John Weidner at 6:43 AM

July 29, 2007

The Real Lion...

Some interesting thoughts about Harry P...

....It has been widely observed that J.K. Rowling owes a creative debt to Christian fantasists J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (apart from their fondness for initials). It's odd now to remember that, at the same time, some parents have objected to the magic depicted in the Harry Potter books as a glorification of satanic practices. For "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" confirms something else apart from the well-thought-out-ness of Ms. Rowling's moral universe: It is subtly but unmistakably Christian.

The principal Hogwarts holidays have always been Christmas and Easter, but it took five books before Ms. Rowling really began tipping her hand. In Book Six, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," she addressed concepts of free will, the power of love, and the sanctity of the soul. But in the final volume she gently lays it all out. The preciousness of each human life; bodily resurrection after death; mercy, forgiveness and redemption; sacrificial love overcoming the powers of evil--strip away the elves, goblins, broomsticks and magic wands and these are the concepts that underpin the marvelously intricate world of Harry Potter.

There are clues throughout. At one point, Harry is led to a weapon that will enable him to destroy the Horcruxes when he finds them: "The ice reflected his distorted shadow and the beam of wandlight, but deep below the thick, misty gray carapace, something else glinted. A great silver cross . . ."

Two unattributed New Testament quotations recur in the story after Harry sees each on a tombstone in the village where he was born and his mother and father died. He discovers on the Dumbledore family tomb "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," from Matthew. And on the grave of his own parents, he finds this, from I Corinthians: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." On seeing it, Harry feels momentary horror: Does it imply a link between his parents and Voldemort's followers? Hermione gently sets him straight: "It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry. It means . . . you know . . . living beyond death. Living after death."....

I'm not sure what I think about this, but it is plausible. However, my guess is that Rowling is just dabbling in a Christian direction because if one is playing with deep questions of life and death and meaning, there aren't many other places to go. It will be interesting to see what she does next. I've never heard rumor of her having any faith, but if she follows the logical path she's on....well, these things sneak up on you. I'd opine that Rowling is showing a sentimental attachment to some leftover shreds of Christian tradition, rather than the real Lion. Read this for contrast. (More thoughts below)

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One thing I find fascinating about the Harry Potter books is that they not about magic. At least not in the way it is usually portrayed. The "magic" in the book is more like some esoteric technology, and Rowling could have fit the very same plots into pure science fiction. The stories could have been about an unusual boy selected to go to a secret "Star Fleet Academy," and learn to use light sabers and matter transporters. And become pals with Ron Solo and Leia Granger.

The magic in the books does not seem to have any effect on people's souls, beyond the ways that anything we do affects our inner selves. Being a Slytherin and dabbling in black magic is bad for you, but no more so than, say, getting hanging out with a bad crowd and starting to commit non-magical crimes. The Death Eaters have gone bad, but it's not their magic that corrupts them. Rather, they are like people who join some socialist group and have to commit atrocities, which make them become more and more evil. Nor does anyone have to bend their souls in either a good or bad direction in order to be able to practice magic.

Nor is there any "Fairyland" in the books, no transcendent or otherworldly aspect to the magic. There's no mysticism involved. And HP is not like those fantasies where the magic itself has a deep or world-changing meaning. The Earthsea Trilogy, or The Serpent Mage are examples. But Rowling closed off that option from the beginning.

A Catholic aspect of HP is that Hogwarts has always included the good and the bad. There's never any suggestion that the Slytherins might be excluded from the "church,", or that the Gryffindors might split off to form a smaller and purer "denomination." And in the last book Dumbledore is revealed to have been rather flawed as a youth, and his good qualities seem to have grown from his sins. This is like many a saint, and not like a "Gandalf."

Posted by John Weidner at 6:49 AM

July 22, 2007

"slapped him clean out of his seat..."

From The Church and the Culture War, by Joyce Little, 1995...

... I have said so much about what is not a Catholic sentence that I think it only fair, in conclusion, to give an example of a sentence that is truly Catholic. And I am going to turn to a real expert on the subject, Walker Percy. He was a Catholic who knew what the Catholic faith is. He was a novelist who knew what words are all about. He was a medical doctor by education and thus knew all about diseases and how to recognize them in their symptoms. And he was an astute physician of our age, having diagnosed the "modern sickness" as "the disease of abstraction".

Happily, he also contributed to the "Writing Catholic" article and has supplied us therein with not just one but two truly Catholic sentences. The major point of his contribution is that the Catholic faith better serves the novelist than does any other religion or philosophy, because of its recognition that man is a pilgrim journeying through a world that is both sacrament and mystery rather than an ego absorbed with itself in a world of abstractions and illusions. What, concretely, does this mean? Percy tells us what it means: ''Show me a lapsed Catholic who writes a good novel about being a young Communist at Columbia and I'll show you a novelist who owes more to Sister Gertrude at Sacred Heart in Brooklyn, who slapped him clean out of his seat for disrespect to the Eucharist, than he owes to all of Marxist dialect."

Now there is a Catholic sentence—direct, concrete, specific, vigorous, and colorful. And every one of us, even those of us who have never been to Brooklyn or indeed have never been in Catholic schools, know all about Sacred Heart and Sister Gertrude and just what she is capable of meting out when her high standards of respect for the Eucharist are violated. And we all know just as well how deeply indebted we are to her today for whatever reverence we have been able to retain for the Eucharist through the many intervening and difficult years in which we have had to endure that abstractive process known as "liturgical renewal".

As for the second sentence. Walker Percy tells us: "In the end, 10 boring Hail Marys are worth more to the novelist than 10 hours of Joseph Campbell on TV." For those of you who know anything about the phenomenon of Joseph Campbell, you will recognize that to be truly a Catholic sentence....

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Posted by John Weidner at 7:50 AM

A moment of concern...

We recently had an ecumenical service at the parish, and a very splendid thing it was...

CATHOLIC SAN FRANCISCO: Peace, reconciliation, unity are themes of June 28 event at St. Dominic Church
An evening of sacred music and sacred readings featuring themes of peace and reconciliation June 28 St. Dominic Parish was capped by exhortations from leaders of San Francisco's Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox communities for their traditions to continue pursuit of mutual understanding and unity.

Following their remarks to a nearly full church, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Gerasimos and Archbishop George H. Niederauer lit in unison the final candle of a candelabra which had served as symbol of growing unity during the evening. Between choral offerings, pairs of youngsters — one Greek Orthodox, one Catholic — would walk to the altar area and each light a candle on either side of the candelabra.
Titled "Litany for Peace: An Ecumenical Evening of Sacred Readings and Music," the program featured three choral ensembles — the Solemn Choir of St. Dominic Church and the choirs of San Francisco's Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church...

Archbishop and Metropolitan Light Candle
Photo by Arne Folkedal
�2007, used by permission. [Thanks!]

The little awkwardness for me was that I built that platform they are standing on. And all I had been told was that it was for the children, to help them reach the candles! Of course I had made it very sturdy, I know how to do this stuff. But still I felt a bit queasy when I realized that these two important guys were about to stand on it together... "The early 21st Century seemed to be experiencing a new dawn of ecumenism, until the catastrophic incident in San Francisco..."

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Posted by John Weidner at 6:32 AM

July 15, 2007

"Satan is never more successful than under the guise of an angel of light"

...The humanitarians are more dangerous in principle than the egoists, for they have the appearance of building on a broader and deeper foundation, of being more Christian, more philosophic, more generous and philanthropic; but Satan is never more successful than under the guise of an angel of light. His favorite guise in modern times is that of philanthropy. He is a genuine humanitarian, and aims to persuade the world that humanitarianism is Christianity, and that man is God; that the soft and charming sentiment of philanthropy is real Christian charity; and he dupes both individuals and nations, and makes them do his work, when they believe they are earnestly and most successfully doing the work of God.

Your leading abolitionists are as much affected by satanophany as your leading confederates, nor are they one whit more philosophical or less sophistical. The one loses the race, the other the individual, and neither has learned to apply practically that fundamental truth that there is never the general without the particular, nor the particular without the general, the race without individuals, nor individuals without the race. The whole race was in Adam, and fell in him, as we are taught by the doctrine of original sin, or the sin of the race, and Adam was an individual, as we are taught in the fact that original sin was in him actual or personal sin...

      -- Orestes Brownson, The American Republic, 1866

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Posted by John Weidner at 5:59 AM

July 8, 2007

On Freedom

....Luke the Evangelist tells of how Jesus, "when the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem" (Lk 9:51). In the expression "resolutely" we can glimpse the freedom of Christ. He knows, in fact, that in Jerusalem, death by the cross awaits him, but in obedience to the will of the Father he offers himself for love. It is in this, his obedience to the Father, that Jesus fulfills his own conscious choice motivated by love. Who is more free than the One who is Omnipotent?

But it was a freedom he didn't see as arbitrary or as one of dominion. It was one he viewed as service. In the process, he "restored" what freedom means, otherwise it would remain "empty" opportunities of doing or not doing something. And so in the life of man, freedom brings with it a sense of love. Who is actually more free? The one who withholds all possibilities for fear of losing, or the one who gives himself "resolutely" in service and so finds himself full of life thanks to the love he has given and received?...
-- Benedict XVI


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Posted by John Weidner at 7:32 AM

July 1, 2007

Some things you just don't forget...

...In a letter in the Pilot in 1900 he [Wilfrid Ward] compares infallibility to the Church's living memory. Just as human memory may be uncertain on a number of minor points yet absolutely convinced and indisputable on the great facts of one's past life, so with the Church's "memory." There are many minor matters in Catholic tradition on which no infallibility is claimed, on which research and evidence can do the same work in supplementing memory which they do for all of us in human matters. But by the Church's infallibility we mean that it is only on those great matters where she knows, that God will allow her to pronounce with certainty.

-- Maisie Ward, in
The Wilfrid Wards and the Transition, vol 1, p.407

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Posted by John Weidner at 6:20 AM

June 30, 2007

Not reported...

I highly recommend a piece by Rod Dreher, The Godless Party: Media Bias & Blindness—And the Big Story They Missed

....Indeed, religion has become such a galvanizing issue for both parties that, say the authors, "the religious gap among white voters in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 presidential elections was more important than other demographic and social cleavages in the electorate; it was much larger than the gender gap and more significant than any combination of differences in education, income, occupation, age, marital status and regional groupings." The media have thoroughly reported the key role religious conservatives play in Republican Party politics; what they’ve ignored is the equally important role militant secularists play in setting the agenda of the Democratic Party—as the late pro-life Governor Bob Casey, denied a decent podium at the 1992 Democratic convention, could have attested.

The divide has become so stark that the authors have discerned a new kind of voter: the "anti-fundamentalist." According to the 2000 ANES data, the hatred of religious conservatives long apparent among Democratic convention delegates has found a home among a disproportionate number of Democratic voters. Twenty-five percent of white respondents in the ANES survey expressed serious hostility towards religious conservatives, as opposed to only one percent who felt this strongly against Jews, and 2.5 percent who disliked blacks and Catholics to a strong degree. (Ironically, these are people who say they "‘strongly agree’ that one should be tolerant of persons whose moral standards are different from one’s own.") Eighty percent of these voters picked Bill Clinton in 1996, with 70 percent choosing Al Gore in 2000. Conclude the authors, "One has to reach back to pre-New Deal America, when political divisions between Catholics and Protestants encapsulated local ethno-cultural cleavages over Prohibition, immigration, public education, and blue laws, to find a period when voting behavior was influenced by this degree of antipathy toward a religious group." If Al Smith were to return and run for president today, his enemies wouldn’t be yesterday’s rustic anti-Catholic bigots of the Bible Belt, but today’s urbane anti-Christian bigots of liberal coastal cities dubbed (by the Wall Street Journal ) the Porn Belt...

....But their most striking finding was the near total lack of editorial and news coverage devoted to the increased importance of secularists to the Democratic Party versus the role of traditionalists in the GOP. The numbers are mind-boggling: 43 stories on secularist Democrats, 682 stories on traditionalist Republicans. In 1992, the Times alone published nearly twice the number of stories about Evangelicals in the GOP than both papers did about secularists among the Democrats for the entire decade. The bias is even worse among television journalists, who filled the airwaves with stories about the "Religious Right" and the Republican Party, but who didn’t file a single story—not one—about the Secular Left’s relationship to the Democrats. But their most striking finding was the near total lack of editorial and news coverage devoted to the increased importance of secularists to the Democratic Party versus the role of traditionalists in the GOP. The numbers are mind-boggling: 43 stories on secularist Democrats, 682 stories on traditionalist Republicans. In 1992, the Times alone published nearly twice the number of stories about Evangelicals in the GOP than both papers did about secularists among the Democrats for the entire decade. The bias is even worse among television journalists, who filled the airwaves with stories about the "Religious Right" and the Republican Party, but who didn’t file a single story—not one—about the Secular Left’s relationship to the Democrats....

The numbers would seem to indicate a cover-up, but my guess is that it's mostly a matter of people in the news media considering secularism so normal, that they don't even see it. Sort of like the way you don't hear your own accent, and think you are just speaking "normally."

But I think there is a huge psychological cover-up going on, as liberals try to pretend that they are still the modern mainstream, and anyone who disagrees is kooky or primitive. And that psychology is a subject that utterly fascinates me...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:56 AM

June 24, 2007

" The land of spices, something understood."


PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
      Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
      The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ;

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner's towre,
      Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
      The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
      Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
      Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

      Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
      The land of spices, something understood.

          George Herbert-- 1593-1633

(When I Googled up a copy of this, I found some interesting thoughts on the meanings of the poem here.)

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 5:47 AM

June 17, 2007

What are saints?

(Thoughts for Sunday)

I lifted this quote from Patem Peperium. Thanks.

...Shortly after publishing his novel Helena, in which he retold the story of the emperor Constantine's mother and her quest for the true cross, Evelyn Waugh received a congratulary note from a friend, the poet John Betjeman. Betjeman complimented Waugh on the book but wrote that "Helena doesn't seem like a saint." Waugh, who had tried for years to entice the devoutly Anglican Betjeman into the Catholic Church, replied with a brief catechesis on the Catholic understanding of saints:

Saints are simply souls in heaven. Some people have been so sensationally holy in life that we know they went straight to heaven and so put them in the [liturgical] calendar. We all have to become saints before we get to heaven....And each individual has his own peculiar form of sanctity which he must achieve or perish. It is no good saying, "I wish I were like Joan of Arc or St. John of the Cross." I can only be St. Evelyn Waugh - after God knows what experiences in purgatory.

I liked Helena's sanctity because it is in contrast to all that moderns think of as sanctity. She wasn't thrown to the lions, she wasn't a contemplative, she wasn't poor and hungry, she didn't look like an El Greco. She just discovered what it was God had chosen for her to do and did it...

      -- George Weigel, The Truth of Catholicism

Posted by John Weidner at 6:20 AM

June 10, 2007

Two messiahs...

(Thoughts for Sunday)

From Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI...

...The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus' Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.

The alternative that is at stake here appears in a dramatic form in the narrative of the Lord's Passion. At the culmination of Jesus' trial, Pilate presents the people with a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. One of the two will be released. But who was Barabbas? It is usually the words of John's Gospel that come to mind here: ''Barabbas was a robber" (Jn 18:40). But the Greek word for "robber" had acquired a specific meaning in the political situation that obtained at the time in Palestine. It had become a synonym for "resistance fighter." Barabbas had taken part in an uprising (cf. Mk 15:7), and furthermore—in that context—had been accused of murder (cf. Lk 25:19, 25). When Matthew remarks that Barabbas was "a notorious prisoner" (Mt 27:16)1, this is evidence that he was one of the prominent resistance fighters, in fact probably the actual leader of that particular uprising.

In other words, Barabbas was a messianic figure. The choice of Jesus versus Barabbas is not accidental; two messiah figures, two forms of messianic belief stand in opposition. This becomes even clearer when we consider that the name Bar-Abbas means "son of the father." This is a typically messianic appellation, the cultic name of a prominent leader of the messianic movement. The last great Jewish messianic war was fought in the year 132 by Bar-Kokhba, "son of the star." The form of the name is the same, and it stands for the same intention.

Origen, a Father of the Church, provides us with another interesting detail. Up until the third century, many manuscripts of the Gospels referred to the man in question here as "Jesus Barabbas"—"Jesus son of the father." Barabbas figures here as a sort of alter ego of Jesus, who makes the same claim but understands it in a completely different way. So the choice is between a Messiah who leads an armed struggle, promises freedom and a kingdom of one's own, and this mysterious Jesus who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?....

Posted by John Weidner at 6:44 AM

June 3, 2007

"Common sense Christians..."

(Thoughts for Sunday)

There are too many common sense Christians, afraid to spend themselves on anyone from whom they do not get visible results. They are ready with hard work for reform, they pour out good advice, they are proud to be realists who repudiate everything that seems to them to he impractical, including the poetry of Christ, but they have no use for those baffling human creatures who won't—or can't—play the game by their rules. These "realists" refuse to see that there are problems that can't be solved, griefs which cannot be healed, conditions which cannot be cured...
-- Caryll Houselander
Posted by John Weidner at 6:54 AM

May 27, 2007

"So limping, my soul, we will together go..."

(Thoughts for Sunday)

What are you, my soul, you lean and bloodless thing
Like a withered fig that has survived the winter?
In youth it was so different: then the blood
Sang along the veins and it was easy both to love and welcome love.
But when you are old grace conquers only by hard victories;
You are stiffened, crusted by the salt spray
After the long sea voyage.

The lanes of memory may be as green
As in the year's paradise of spring.
It is the immediate present that slips unremembered,
Yet in love's presence there is only this one moment—
A question not of time but of understanding,
As when beauty seeps through the crevices of the soul
Burning the dead wood and illuming the self's verities.—
This, only after a long journey.

So limping, my soul, we will together go
Into the city of the shining ones,
Of those whose crutches have been cast into the sea,
Whose love is garlanded across the festal stars;
And we with them will bow before the sceptred wisdom of a child.
The trembling broken years shall be restored
And these shall be our offering; for by them we shall know
Love has travailed with us all the way.
        ML., A nun of Burnham Abbey
Posted by John Weidner at 6:15 AM

May 20, 2007

"A different way to be indispensable"

(Thoughts for Sunday)

From Why you pretend to like modern art By Spengler

After I wrote Admit it - you really hate modern art (January 30), many readers assured me that I was quite mistaken about them. Especially among the educated elites there are many who will go to their graves proclaiming their love for modern art, and I owe them an explanation of sorts. At the cost of most of few remaining friends, I will provide it.

You pretend to like modern art because you want to be creative. In fact, you are not creative, not in the least. In all of human history we know of only a few hundred truly creative men and women. It saddens me to break the news, but you aren't one of them. By insisting that you are not creative, you think I am saying that you are not important. I do not mean that, but will have to return to the topic later.

You have your heart set on being creative because you want to worship yourself, your children, or some pretentious impostor, rather than the god of the Bible. Absence of faith has not made you more rational. On the contrary, it has made you ridiculous in your adoration of clownish little deities, of whom the silliest is yourself. G K Chesterton said that if you stop believing in God, you will believe in anything....
...To be an important person in this perverse scheme means to shake one's fist at God and define one's own little world, however dull, tawdry and pathetic it might be. To lack creativity is to despair. Hence the attraction of the myriad ideological movements in art that gives the despairing artists the illusion of creativity. If God is the Creator, then imitation of God is emulation of creation. But that is not quite true, for the Judeo-Christian god is more than a creator; God is a creator who loves his creatures.

In the world of faith there is quite a different way to be indispensable, and that is through acts of kindness and service. A mother is indispensable to her child, as are husbands, wives and friends to each other. If one dispenses with the ambition to remake the world according one's whim, and accepts rather that the world is God's creation, then imitatio Dei consists of acts of love.

In their urge toward self-worship, the artists of the 20th century descended to extreme levels of artlessness to persuade themselves that they were in fact creative. In their compulsion to worship themselves in the absence of God, they produced ideas far more ridiculous, and certainly a great deal uglier, than revealed religion in all its weaknesses ever contrived. The modern cult of individual self-expression is a poor substitute for the religion it strove to replace, and the delusion of personal creativity an even worse substitute for redemption....
Posted by John Weidner at 5:42 AM

May 6, 2007

Sunday reading....

Charlene and I have been greatly enjoying a new book by one of my heroes, N.T. Wright. (That's his authorial moniker; in conversation he's referred to as Tom Wright, or Bishop Wright—he's the Anglican Bishop of Durham.)

It's called Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. It's an attempt to do something like what CS Lewis did in Mere Christianity. I recommend it. Actually, it has a sort of intellectual clarity that might appeal to the curiosity of someone with no great interest in religion. If an author wanted to explain Christianity adequately, it would be much easier to write a long complicated book than a short and simple one, as Wright has done. It's an impressive performance.

(Also, if you are interested in this stuff, Wright has posted his personal appreciation and criticism of Mere Christianity: Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years.)

I posted an excerpt from the new book below...

...Discovering Help in Prayer

Help is at hand not least in those who have trodden the path ahead at us. Part of our difficulty here is that we moderns are so anxious to do things our own way, so concerned that if we get help from anyone else our prayer won't be "authentic" and come from our own heart, that we are instantly suspicious about using anyone else's prayers. We are like someone who doesn't feel she's properly dressed unless she has personally designed and made all her own clothes; or like someone who feels it's artificial to drive a car he hasn't built all by himself. We are hamstrung by the long legacy of the Romantic movement on the one hand, and Existentialism on the other, producing the idea that things are authentic only if they come spontaneously, unbidden, from the depths of our hearts.

Frankly, as Jesus pointed out, there's a lot that comes from the depths of our hearts which may be authentic but isn't very pretty. One good breath of fresh air from the down-to-earth world of first-century Judaism is enough to blow away the smog of the self-absorbed (and ultimately proud) quest for "authenticity" of that kind. When Jesus's followers asked him to teach them to pray, he didn't tell them to divide into focus groups and look deep within their own hearts. He didn't begin by getting them to think slowly through their life experiences to discover what types of personality each of them had, to spend time getting in touch with their buried feelings. He and they both understood the question they had asked: they wanted, and needed, a form of words which they could learn and use. That's what John the Baptist had given to his followers. Other Jewish teachers had done the same. That's what Jesus did, too, giving his disciples the prayer we began with at the start of this chapter, which remains at the heart of all Christian prayer.

But notice the point.There's nothing wrong with having a form of words composed by somebody else. Indeed, there's probably something wrong with not using such a form. Some Christians, some of the time, can sustain a life of prayer entirely out of their own internal resources, just as there are hardy mountaineers (I've met one) who can walk the Scottish highlands in their bare feet. But most of us need boots; not because we don't want to do the walking ourselves, but because we do.

This plea, it will be obvious, is aimed in one particular direction: at the growing number of Christians in many countries who, without realizing it. are absorbing an element of late modern culture (the Romantic-plus-Existentialist mixture I mentioned a moment ago) as though it were Christianity itself. To them I want to say: there is nothing wrong, nothing sub-Chrisrian, nothing to do with "works-righteousness," about using words, set forms, prayers, and sequences of prayers written by other people in other centuries. Indeed, the idea that I must always find my own words, that I must generate my own devotion from scratch every morning, that unless I think of new words I must be spiritually lazy or deficient—that has the all-too-familiar sign of human pride, of "doing it my way": of, yes, works-righteousness. Good liturgy—other people's prayers, whether for corporate or individual use—can be, should be, a sign and means of grace, an occasion of humility (accepting that someone else has said, better than I can, what I deeply want to express) and gratitude. How many times have I been grateful, faced with nightfalls both metaphorical and literal, for the old Anglican prayer which runs,
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, 0 Lord;
and by thy great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of thy only Son,
our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I didn't write it, but whoever did has my undying gratitude. It's just what I wanted...
Posted by John Weidner at 4:24 PM

A shadow of hope...

From a review by Msgr. Eric Barr of the Anamchara Blog on the new book by Tolkein, The Children of Hurin.

If you have read the Silmarillion you have already read this tale in more fragmentary form. I read it long ago, and remember the story of Turin being one of the most harrowing things I ever encountered. But I didn't understand what Tolkien was getting at...

...In our world, we like to think of ourselves as the masters of creation, flawed but not really sinful. Ask a friend if he or she sins and they will tell you they make mistakes but "sin?"--not so much. The Western world values "niceness" above all other virtues and raises tolerance to an almost oppressive level. We must accept anything and everything because each of us is the ultimate decider of what is right and wrong. Ambiguity rules our hearts and assuages our consciences. What is good for you may be wrong for me and vice versa. Too much reflection and we may think badly of ourselves. The problem is: not enough reflection and when our sins come home to roost and we must face them, then we may just give in to despair.

Critics will say our world is nothing like the one Tolkien created in his mythology, but they would be wrong. It is exactly like it--peopled with characters who are much like us, convinced that they can look evil in the eye and conquer it; convinced that if we just all tolerate everyone's take on the truth, we can do anything we want; convinced that salvation rests in our own virtue and courage. Just like the heroes in Tolkien's story, we do not reflect on our weakness for fear that such reflection will drag us down and tear us apart. The irony is that a little reflection on personal sin, balanced with humility usually leads to a chastened and wiser person who goes forward better for the examination of conscience. If we keep running away from the evil within us, then it becomes most dangerous when we are forced to face it. That fact destroyed Turin and Hurin, his father, and may very well destroy us...
...Turin is a kid who grows up with an absent father, who happens to be a hero, and deals with the fear of terror every day. His father, Hurin, captured by the Satanic figure of the story--Morgoth--is held in thrall in Middle-Earth's version of hell. As Turin's world breaks apart (Morgoth stretches out his hand to conquer his family), he flees to the Elves where he is fostered by the Elven King. Yet, as he grows into adulthood, he remains a man apart, a loner, given to flashes of anger and compassion, in the grip of emotions he doesn't understand. In his hatred of Morgoth, he dances with the Dark. His loathing is very close to a perverted form of love, for his very self finds its only meaning in relationship to this terrible evil force. Elves and men who try to befriend him, women who try to love him are pushed away in favor of his lust for revenge...

— — — — — — —

...Never has Tolkien shown so powerfully, the existence of Original Sin. This is an unredeemed world, long before the advent of Judeo-Christianity, and in this graceless time no human, despite his or her inherent goodness, has the power to successfully confront evil. Neither elves nor men can destroy Morgoth; sin has weakened them too much. Indeed, though not told in this tale, it takes the angels of Middle Earth, the Valar, to thrust Morgoth outside the world's bounds. Humility is the lesson of this story. If humanity is to succeed in conquering evil, it must look elsewhere for salvation. It will not come from man, or elf, or anything in this creation. Critics see only tragedy in this story, but there is a shadow of hope, an unseen answer that Tolkien is pointing to. It will not be found in the later Lord of the Rings tales, but will only be found, as Tolkien has written elsewhere, in the Gospel with the Incarnate God who came to earth to save a fallen humanity and cosmos. Tolkien the Catholic is alive and well in this newly published story. A parable for our times, this cautionary tale warns us of thinking ourselves as gods, as masters of the universe...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:29 AM

April 29, 2007

"The present is vitally important, as the instant that will never come again..."

Archbishop Chaput of Denver has a great essay in First Things, Religion and the Common Good...

....Two themes dominate these last essays by Bernanos. The first is man’s eagerness to abolish, forget, or rewrite his own history in favor of determinisms like liberal capitalism, which makes society nothing more than a market system, and Marxism. For Bernanos, the attack on human memory and history is a primary mark of the Antichrist.

As Bernanos explains it, big ideological systems “mechanize” history with high-sounding language like progress and dialectics. But in doing so, they wipe out the importance of both the past—which they describe as primitive, unenlightened, or counterrevolutionary—and the present, which is not yet the paradise of tomorrow. The future is where salvation is to be found for every ideology that tries to eliminate God, whether it’s explicitly atheistic or pays lip service to religious values. Of course, this future never arrives, because progress never stops and the dialectic never ends.

Christianity and Judaism see life very differently. For both of them, history is a place of human decision. At every moment of our lives, we’re asked to choose for good or for evil. Therefore, time has weight. It has meaning. The present is vitally important as the instant that will never come again; the moment where we are not determined by outside forces but self-determined by our free will. Our past actions make us who we are today. But each “today” also offers us another chance to change our developing history. The future is the fruit of our past and present choices, but it’s always unknown, because each successive moment presents us with a new possibility.

Time and freedom are the raw material of life because time is the realm of human choice. Bernanos reminds us that the Antichrist wants us to think that freedom really doesn’t exist, because when we fail to choose, when we slide through life, we in effect choose for him...

I may look like a know-it-all, but really I have more questions than answers. But that's OK, my first intellectual mentor was Peter Drucker, and he always taught that what is most important is discovering what question it is that you are actually asking. Or should be asking. (I rarely mention Drucker, but his way of looking at things I long ago absorbed. If you ever read him, by the way, don't read for facts. He sometimes just made them up, to illustrate his parables! He was really teaching how to look at problems.)

"...At every moment of our lives, we’re asked to choose for good or for evil. Therefore, time has weight. It has meaning. The present is vitally important..."

That's what it's like to be a Christian. (Which I really wasn't until recently—just nominally Christian, like so many people.) One nagging question (which underlies a lot of my other questions) is, why would anyone wish to live where time lacks "weight and meaning?" I've been there, I can understand how it happens. But I can't understand being content with it, as so many seem to be. Don't other people have the restlessness I had? Don't they want to be part of the Story? Part of the Great Game? Part of The Tale? It's kind of mysterious to me.

In fact it's hugely mysterious. I can understand not believing; our whole zeitgeist preaches unbelief. (Newman, clearest of all thinkers, might say, "It's not hard to believe such-and-such, it is hard to imagine it." That's often true.) It's the supine sleepiness that many people seem to have that bewilders me. I can just imagine certain people I know looking at me with puzzlement and saying "Why do you care about this?"

I've been guilty myself, by the way,of thinking that progress gives meaning to things, and that the past and present can be dis-valued in favor of the better future that's coming sooner or later. That has nothing to do with whether the progress is itself good or bad. But it's a kind of first cousin to totalitarian thinking, and it is definitely a way of trying to have meaning and purpose without God.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:27 AM

April 22, 2007

Sunday pot-luck...

What gives your life focus and direction? Death.

Without faith, everything the natural man thinks, says and does is conditioned by the fact of death. In the face of our ultimate death we are, by default, either Epicureans or Stoics. The first face death and determine to gather from this life what little morsels of comfort and pleasure that can be had. In the face of death the second type of person creates whatever meaning for his little life he can muster, and does whatever noble acts he can manage before the lights go out.

Of course your ordinary Joe and Jane don't consciously decide that they are either an Epicurean or a Stoic, but whether they wear the badge or not, these are the only two choices. You see it played out in their lives. Are they living for pleasure and comfort (even if they do so in a tasteful and 'nice' way)? Then they are Epicureans. Are they quietly pessimistic, cynical or complacent and seemingly 'content with their lot'? They are Stoics.

Christians, on the other hand, have been captivated by the resurrection. This historical fact changes everything. It means their lodestar is not death, but life. Life everlasting becomes a possibility, so life here on earth takes on a totally new dimension of meaning. The truly Christian soul lives every moment with a different perspective. The new life charges everything with a new inner dynamism. For the Epicurean and Stoic nothing in this world really matters because it will all pass away when they breathe their last.

For the Christian everything matters because through the resurrection 'the world is charged with the glory of God.' Because everything lives, everything matters. Most of all, because every soul is eternal every person matters.

If I believe this is true, the only question that remains is, "What am I going to do about it?"

      --Fr. Dwight Longenecker


I don't think Fr. Longenecker is quite right about everybody except Christians being either Epicureans or Stoics. There are still lots of non-religious people around who seem to live their lives as if there were things greater than themselves, and causes worthy of great sacrifice. For whom things "really matter." Some of them read this blog. My constant worry—obsession even—is the question of whether this virtue may be a "wasting asset." Is it a human constant, or is it a "habit" inherited from previous generations who had more faith and lived with greater dangers? And thus something that will diminish in this soft self-indulgent age?

Posted by John Weidner at 6:06 AM

April 14, 2007

Wright on Easter

....And whatever Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were doing in writing the final sections of their books, they were not telling the story of Jesus's resurrection as a happy ending. They were telling it as a startling new beginning. Easter morning isn't a slow, gentle waking up after the difficult operation. It's the electric shock that brings someone back to life in a whole new way.

That's why the Easter stories tumble out in bits and pieces, with breathless chasings to and fro and garbled reports - and then, stories like nothing else before or since. As the great New Testament scholar EP Sanders put it, the writers were trying to describe an experience that does not fit a known category. They knew all about ghosts and visions, and they knew it wasn't anything like that.

Equally, they knew the risen Jesus wasn't just a resuscitated corpse, still less someone who had almost died but managed to stagger on after all. They had the puzzled air of people saying, "I know this sounds wacky, but this is truly how it was." They were stumblingly describing the birth of new creation, starting with Jesus but intended for the whole world.

It sometimes seems that the church can hardly cope with this any more than the world can. Perhaps that's why, after 40 days of Lent, many churches celebrate Easter for a few hours and then return to normality. But nothing can be "normal" after Easter. New creation has begun, and we are summoned to get on board. We should at least have an eight-day party, or even a 40-day one.

And if Easter is all about the surprise of new creation, there is every reason to suppose that it will ripple out into the world in ways we would never imagine. Gangsters and drug-dealers get radically converted and set on fire with God's love, while pale churchmen drone their disbelief and warn against extremism.

Extremism? What can be more extreme than God raising Jesus from the dead after the world has done its worst to him? Supposing the power of that event were to be released into the world, into local communities, into ordinary lives, here and now? What might that look like?

      --NT Wright
[Link. Thanks to Amy]

Tom Wright, by the way, is one of my heroes. I spent decades assuming that delving into the history of Jesus and the early Church would surely debunk Christianity. (It was one of those things that was just "in the air" when I was younger—I never scrutinized the idea.) And that's tough, if you are into history the way I am! But a year or so ago, just at the time when I was thinking of joining the Church, a number of surprising things happened to me, and one of them was discovering Wright. I was bowled over! Here's as good a historian as any I've ever read, and with massive authority he shows that Jesus and the Apostles were pretty much just what they claimed to be. I'm still bowled over.....

Posted by John Weidner at 8:46 PM

April 8, 2007

In like Flynn...

Well, it's done. Tonight was the Easter Vigil, and I'm now a Catholic. What is it like? Awesome, quite indescribable, at least by me. Sort of like if you've been traveling for years, living in hotels....and then you get to go home.

Certainty, in its highest sense, is the reward of those who, by an act of will, and at the dictate of reason and prudence, embrace the truth, when nature, like a coward, shrinks [from it]. You must make a venture; faith is a venture before a man is a catholic; it is a gift after it. You approach the church in the way of reason, you enter it in the light of the spirit.
      -- John Henry Newman
Posted by John Weidner at 12:04 AM

April 1, 2007

"he did not have much company on the road now so well known..."

For Sunday, here's yet another quote from Meriol Trevor's Newman (vol. II, Light in Winter):

...True son of Philip Neri, he had no desire to repudiate the new techniques of knowledge or to oppose theories which seemed at first sight to contradict Christian tradition: patience would reveal the truth in time. But he wanted Christians so to exercise their minds as to assimilate and contribute to what was good in natural science and social improvement, without losing their grip on the supernatural reality which was the source of true happiness and real power. He wanted to help the young generations so to orientate themselves as to be able to explore the new worlds of knowledge and yet be firmly rooted — not in the old, but in the eternal.

It was here that Newman's vision went beyond the view of many who misunderstood him, of whatever Christian allegiance. It was the partial identification, in the nineteenth century, of the eternal with the old that led to the loss of so many from Christian belief. The nostalgia for an imaginary medievalism, imitation Gothic churches, effete naturalism or unreal sentimentality of religious statues and pictures — all this was the secondary effect of deep fears, an inability to shed the habitual in order that the eternal might work freely in a world that was changing. Of course there is danger in mere novelty, but it is rarely a pressing one in the Cathulic Church, which on the human side is ruled by a multitude of old men and the customs of hundreds of years.

Newman always puzzled his contemporaries by being at the same time so ancient and so modern. He was at home with the Martyrs and the Fathers — and with scientists and factory girls. He practised fasting and penance — and was an immediate and inveterate train traveller. He read St. Athanasius and Anthony Trollope. He was a venerable man, but he talked the slang of the moment. Puseyites were disconcerted by his modernity. Catholics by his antiquity — for most of them had forgotten what their spiritual ancestors were like. Protestants are apt to imagine that it is only they who renew themselves by a return to the beginnings, but there are Catholic renascences too. Since Newman was a pioneer in the return to the Fathers, and to a new understandins of the Scriptures, he did not have much company on the road now so well known. He was regarded with suspicion by those for whom the last hundred years was the standard measure, and who could not conceive that the next hundred would be very different. Psychologically the great difference between Newman and the Ultramontanes and Anglican conservatives was that they were ridden bv fears and he was not...

Vatican Council II is associated in our minds with "dangerous mere novelty," and certainly there has been a catastrophic lot of that! A great many Catholics used the council as an excuse to say, "Wheee, I'm freee.....time to party!" But that was never the intent, and not what is in the actual documents produced by the council. The true spirit of which is now reasserting itself in the Church in a myriad of ways. (Historically, councils have usually produced 50 years or so of turmoil in the Church. So I'm signing up at the right time.) The actual results of the council will probably have their effect over centuries. The world needs them.

And it is a commonplace to say that the Venerable John Henry Newman is the "father of the Council." More than anyone else, Vatican II was about his ideas. (Such as ecumenism, return to the teachings of the Fathers, Development of Doctrine, and the correct approach to the modern world.) He saw and understood our world more than anyone else.

That's certainly been my conclusion (in my own humble realm). 9/11 was a revelatory event, and my 5½ years of blogging has been a process of peeling the onion to try to see what it was that was revealed. And then I recently discovered Newman, and found that he had explained it all 150 years ago! So he's my hero, no doubt about it.

"...An inability to shed the habitual in order that the eternal might work freely in a world that was changing." "...without losing their grip on the supernatural reality which was the source of true happiness and real power."

If you are going to "shed the habitual," you have to have a firm grip on some things that are solid and unchanging. Not just religious truths, but authoritative traditions of other kinds, such as you might find reading the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. Which are themselves based on the authoritative and immemorial tradition called "the Rights of Englishmen." And, brothers and sisters, I have to tell you that you are going to have to discard the habitual whether you like it or not! Because we are all trapped in a science fiction story. We are being shoved into a time-machine and sent into the future at fearsome speed. Our world is changing drastically. Mere habits or prejudices won't be weighty enough to keep us in ballast.

That's what I'm talking about when I complain that left-leaning people are nihilists. In my generation and after, being "Left" is just a habit of thought, not the philosophical system (false though it was) that used to ballast many people's lives. (If you don't believe me, try to get a leftist in a real philosophical argument, one that goes down to first principles.) But mere habits won't cut it anymore; change is happening too fast and too scary. Which is why leftists are so brittle and angry of late. (And some rightists too—think of Paleocons like Pat Buchanan.)

Here's a link to the splendid St Phillip Neri.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:31 AM

March 25, 2007

A failure to engage in a just war is a failure of Charity

From the essay Good Wars, by Darrell Cole...

...The moral approach to war in Aquinas and Calvin is refreshing for those familiar with modern Christian approaches to warfare—approaches which, more often than not, do little to help Christians understand why they should be prepared to participate in or support war of any kind. Aquinas and Calvin, in contrast, teach Christian soldiers why they need to participate in and support just wars. From the divine point of view, God desires to restrain evil among His creatures. And in using human beings to do so, God actually elevates the restrainers...

...The most noteworthy aspect of the moral approach to warfare in Aquinas and Calvin is that it teaches—contrary to today’s prevailing views—that a failure to engage in a just war is a failure of virtue, a failure to act well. An odd corollary of this conclusion is that it is a greater evil for Christians to fail to wage a just war than it is for unbelievers. When an unbeliever fails to go to war, the cause may be a lack of courage, prudence, or justice. He may be a coward or simply indifferent to evil. These are failures of natural moral virtue. When Christians (at least in the tradition of Aquinas and Calvin) fail to engage in just war, it may involve all of these natural failures as well, but it will also, and more significantly, involve a failure of charity. The Christian who fails to use force to aid his neighbor when prudence dictates that force is the best way to render that aid is an uncharitable Christian. Hence, Christians who willingly and knowingly refuse to engage in a just war do a vicious thing: they fail to show love toward their neighbor as well as toward God...

I blogged this quote once before, years ago. It bears repeating. Those "modern Christian approaches to warfare" he mentions are usually just mushy warmed-over lefty nihilism and anti-Americanism. Especially in senior churchmen, who tend to be of my generation, and are steeped in the rubbishing thought of the 60's.

Also, when I hunted-up this quote, I happened upon a comment left in a similar post by blogger John Byrnes, that is still very applicable...

This idea is not only consistent with Catholic doctrine, and Christian philosophy, it is, despite the blustering of the Kofi Annans and Jaque Chiracs, a perfectly just cause for war under International Law as well. International law today calls on its constitutent nations to enforce its tenets. While this law directly supports national sovereignty, it also outlaws crimes against humanity such as genocide. Outlaws them to the point that such crimes are undermining of legitimate sovereignty itself, and are grounds for intervention. The US action in Iraq was technically legal on that basis alone. Nevermind UN Resolutions 1330 et al. Your neighbors house is sacrosanct, even from police without a warrant, unless you can hear him mudering his children, then no warrant is required...

Most of today's "pacifism" is really "hearing the neighbor murdering his children," and saying, "Sorry kids, Jesus told us to turn the other cheek."

I should learn more about international law, but really, what would be the point. I've been blogging since just after 9/11, and have never yet succeeded in having any rational debate with anti-war lefties. For them "international law" means whatever will hinder the US and her allies at that particular moment, and no amount of counter-argument will make the slightest difference.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:53 AM

March 18, 2007

For Sunday..." the clever and charming sons of men"

From the book I am currently reading, Newman: vol. II, Light in Winter.

Intellect, the Instrument of Religious Training<. It was Saint Monica's feast, and he took her, the mother of that convert intellectual, St Augustine, as a type of the Church, weeping and praying for the clever and charming sons of men, spiritually dead in spite of all their gifts, until they yielded their rebel wills to God. He gave a vivid account of how a young man may drift out of his faith if he never thinks about it; for him Newman made the excuse that he was an intellectual as well as a moral being, and must have teachers in whom intellectual training was equal with moral. 'I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons. I want to destroy that diversity of centres, which puts everything into confusion by creating a contrariety of influences. ...I want the same roof to contain both the intellectual and the moral discipline.

Devotion is not a sort of finish given to the sciences; nor is science a sort of feather in the ornament and set-off to devotion. I want the intellectual layman to be religious, and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual.'...

Of course you could just click on this link and read the actual sermon; it is worth ones time...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:55 AM

March 11, 2007

Charming place...

Charlene was in New York City last weekend, and visited a beautiful Dominican parish, the Church of St Vincent Ferrer. (Interesting saint too.)Unfortunately most of her pictures didn't come out. It's hard to take pictures of church interiors. But here are a couple of them...

St Vincent Ferrer church, NYC

St Vincent Ferrer Church, NYC

Posted by John Weidner at 6:58 AM

"critics by conviction and Christians by habit"

From Meriol Trevor's excellent biography of John Henry Newman, vol 1, Newman: The Pillar of the Cloud.

...Liberal Churchmen had no monopoly of the social conscience, though they were more concerned with politics than other parties in the Church. What really distinguished them was their approach to the doctrines and history of Christianity. In effect, if not always in theory, they gave the highest authority to Reason.

But Newman had just come to believe that Reason, improperly exercised to judge the data of a divine revelation, was the chief instrument of the World in the modern age — the World of which Satan was the ruler: nature, human and non-human, so far as it is in rebellion against God and in opposition to the kingdom of Christ. During 1829 and 1830 his sermons in St. Mary's expressed these ideas of the World and the Church, which were basic to his thought for the whole of his life. He published his last words on the subject when he was eighty-four and quoted some of these early sermons.

With his clear mind — Whately himself had said it was the clearest he knew — Newman foresaw the general development of the liberal idea in religion, as in fact it has come to pass. Wherever reason is made sole judge of religious truth, faith weakens and in logical minds is destroyed ; not because the Christian faith is irrational or false, but because it is something given to the human mind, not discovered by it. Reason is within the scheme, not superior to it. Perhaps Newman saw this so clearly because of his own early scepticism ; Christianity could never be to him merely an habitual frame of reference, within which the individual critical reason could be let loose without danger. But to most of the liberal Churchmen, this was just what it was ; they were critics by conviction and Christians by habit. Later generations shocked them by losing the habit. Newman was not shocked, though he was grieved, because he expected it. In fact, he began by expecting general scepticism to arrive sooner than it did.

Whately never understood the nature of Newman's opposition to Liberalism. He thought Newman abandoned the liberal cause for orthodoxy because orthodoxy was in power, that his motive was worldly ambition ; yet the truth was that Newman parted company with the liberals because he saw that their principles, though they did not realize it, would betray the Church to the World...

The Anglican (in America Episcopalian) Church has three main factions or flavors. Evangelical, Liberal, and Anglo-Catholic. A bit of history that I find quite stupefying is that two of these groups originated, in the 1830's, in the common room of Oriel College, Oxford! (The Evangelicals arose in the 18th Century. The most famous of them were John and Charles Wesley, who left to form the Methodists.)

Richard Whately, mentioned above, "...was a strong liberal, and bid fair to be the leader of the new party of progressive men in the Church...He did not look on the Church as a sacred society preserving divine doctrine, but as a kind of moral order within society..." He and other Oriel men, Hampton, Hawkins, and Arnold of Rugby, started the liberal movement in the Anglican Church that spread rapidly through Oxford and beyond. And Newman raised up an opposition, known to history as the Oxford Movement, or the Tractarian Movement. Whose most important members, Newman, Keble, Pusey, and Froud were also Oriel men. (Though some had taken "livings," that is, positions as rectors or vicars of parishes. But they remained members of their college. All Oxford and Cambridge Fellows were, in those days clergymen, usually young, who expected to take up livings as soon as possible. If for no other reason than that they could not marry as long as they remained in the university. There were no old fossil college teachers then.)

The Evangelicals are still a large part of the Anglicans. The liberals are still the liberals, culminating in a certain peculiar lady bishop now head of the Episcopalians. The Tractarian flavor became what is now known as "Anglo-Catholic," that is, those Anglicans who feel that their church is part of the "Church Catholic," though not Roman Catholic. Newman, and many since, came to the conclusion that that just wasn't true, and left to join.......The Church.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:12 AM

March 4, 2007

All clothing, no emperor....

For Zondag...

...Nihilism is the one constant confronting us in the works of postmodern, post-Christian, deconstructionist and liberationist philosophers and theologians. This nihilism comes dressed up in a variety of styles and colors, but everywhere the message is the same. There are no absolute truths, no absolute values, no absolute judgments, because there is no objective reality in which such absolutes could be rooted. There are no texts, only conflicting interpretations: there are no compass points, only differing perspectives; there is no human nature, only changing human beings.

We are all familiar with that innocent little boy of yesteryear who recognized the emperor to be wearing no clothes. It would take a particularly astute little boy to recognize that there is no emperor beneath the layers upon layers of nihilistic clothing paraded before us today. All clothing, no emperor—it could not be otherwise. For nihilism robs us of the substance of things, leaving only an ever-changing pageant of empty forms...

    ---Joyce A Little, from The Church and the Culture War

Posted by John Weidner at 6:09 AM

February 25, 2007

Sunday punch...

From a piece by Father Raymond J. de Souza, on demographics, the growing churches of the Global South, and the Anglicans...(Thanks to Wretchard.)

....Or more to the point of the Anglican travails: Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola is more central to the future of Anglicanism than Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In less than 20 years, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, the world’s 2.6 billion Christians will be comprised of 623 million Latin Americans, 595 million Africans, 513 million Europeans and 498 million Asians. The growth of Africa has been astonishing, from 10 million Christians in 1900 representing about 10% of the population, to some 360 million in 2000, representing about 50% of the population. In such a world, the concerns and cultural mores of the Upper West Side of Manhattan are marginal at best.

The impact of this shift will shape Christianity in the 21st century, and it will be a muscular Christianity in which the biblical drama of sin, chastisement, repentance, mercy, healing, salvation and liberation will reassert itself. The this-worldly social projects of deracinated northern Christians will be cast aside. The old-time religion will emerge from the newest churches.

An oft-quoted Christian poet from Ghana, Afua Kuma, has a contemporary hymn that would no doubt drain the remaining colour from the pallid faces in a typical northern Anglican choir:
If Satan troubles us/ Jesus Christ/ You who are the lion of the grasslands/ You whose claws are sharp/ Will tear out his entrails/ And leave them on the ground/ For the flies to eat.
Most Anglicans in the north likely tend toward polyphony at evensong rather than torn entrails, and so the cultural expression of southern Christianity may seem alien at first. Yet if the contest is between torn-entrails spiritual-warfare Christianity and pat-on-the-back, spiritually-compromising Christianity, where the greatest offence is giving offense, it seems clear that the lion of the grasslands is going to be the one with the growing band of disciples. And the roar you hear disturbing the tranquility of the Anglican Communion might just be the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in
African cadences.

Change. Plenty of it happening. Well, that's what RJ is about.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:25 AM

February 18, 2007

"girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms..."

Something for Sunday....
...The wood was so still that it was not difficult to decide where the sound was coming from. It grew clearer every moment and, sooner than she expected, she came to an open glade and saw the stream, bright as glass, running across the turf a stone's throw away from her. But although the sight of the water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn't rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: just on this side of the stream lay the Lion.
It lay with its head raised and its two fore-paws out in front of it, like the lions in Trafalgar Square. She knew at once that it had seen her, for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away—as if it knew her quite well and didn't think much of her.
"If I run away, it'll be after me in a moment," thought Jill. "And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth." Anyway, she couldn't have moved if she had tried, and she couldn't take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the Lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
"If you're thirsty, you may drink."
They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, "If you are thirsty, come and drink," and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realised that it was the Lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man's. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger, a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. "Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if do come?" said Jill.
"I make no promise," said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
"Do you eat girls?" she said.
"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion...

From The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis

Just for the record, I've never been able to get into CS Lewis' Narnia books. But this passage knocks my socks off...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:58 AM

February 11, 2007

For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children...

Conservative thinker Ralph de Toledano died recently, and NRO republished a great piece by him, Ralph de Toledano remembers Whittaker Chambers. Why should one care about Whittaker Chambers today? His Witness is a favorite book, but I for a long time thought of it as a sort of period piece. A mere bit of history. But I think that less and less. "The conflict had to be fought in grime and terror, leaving their taint on those who fought it." The bad old days? How familiar it sounds. (Actually, the Hiss trial, the "Great Case," revealed a world so much like today it's downright scary. Elitist leftists, "liberals," journalists, academics, pacifists...all lined up with the Reds, and heaped scorn on the decent but unfashionable Americans who were fighting the menace of Stalinism.)

....I had known several men who had come out of the dark world of the Communist underground, but what I learned from them was little more than names, dates, and places. What Whittaker Chambers imparted was a sense of meaning and dimension — a sense not of Good-and-Evil, but of Good-in-Evil. He gave the names, dates, and places, but he invested his account with their tragic reality. I understood, as he talked, what was at stake in the Hiss case — not only for him but for me as well. It is impossible to express why I was so moved and so involved. I was hearing of conspiracies and activities about which I knew, but they were set in the context of history and personal travail.

For Whittaker Chambers, history was a living tapestry in which past and present were interwoven with a lurking future. He would speak of the French Revolution, of the marching Kronstadt sailors, of Lenin and Stalin and the cellars of the Lubyanka, of the Cromwellian mobs and the shattering blow to Western civilization in the First World War, of Soviet spymasters and the Nazi-Soviet pact all in one voice — as if it were all happening now, an unwinding newsreel. He measured the conflict as one between men like himself and like the Communist who declared with equal determination, “Embrace the Butcher but change the world” — Bertolt Brecht’s searing line. And he separated both from those who dawdled with reason and escaped from commitment. He also accepted the terrible and humbling fact that the conflict had to be fought in grime and terror, leaving their taint on those who fought it.

“Is dirt nice? Is death nice? Above all is dying nice?” he wrote me much later. “And, in the end, we must ask, is God nice? I doubt it.” And again, “A man’s special truth is in the end all there is in him. And with that he must be content though life give him no more, though man give him nothing.” For he was convinced in his last years that his witness was “all for nothing, that nothing has been gained except the misery of others, that it was the tale of the end and not of the beginning. . . . You cannot save what cannot save itself.” He stood, in those days, like Jeremiah in the solitary city, his feet treading the scrolls. And yet to the very end, when he wrote and burned and burned and wrote again the pages of a book that was not to be finished, he never dismissed the imperatives of history that demanded the defeat of the pundits and the paleographers. It is an imperative of the heart, and his great heart knew it.
(Thanks to Orrin)

And why would I post something about Chambers as one of my Sunday Thoughts? Why? Because there is only one struggle. Only one story. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be... The story, the battle, just takes different forms from one century to the next. And we are in the same battle, but with the difference that the Communists back then were a couple of generations closer to their Christian past, and still considered it natural to believe there is some great Truth, and a prophet and a holy book--and to sign on to a secular crusade that was very much like a religion. Today's leftists take their nihilism straight, without the Marxist cackle. But they are just as evil and destructive.

Now and then I think of Chambers' introduction to his book, which he called a "letter to his children." Especially that haunting moment when he contemplates suicide. Few writings better catch the opposition of simple goodness and decency set against nihilism and terror...

....If all this sounds unduly solemn, you know that our lives were not; that all of us suffer from an incurable itch to puncture false solemnity. In our daily lives, we were fun-loving and gay. For those who have solemnity in their souls generally have enough of it there, and do not need to force it into their faces. Then, on August 3, 1948, you learned for the first time that your father had once been a Communist, that he had worked in something called "the underground," that it was shameful, and that for some reason he was in Washington telling the world about it. While he was in the underground, he testified, he had worked with a number of other Communists. One of them was a man with the odd name of Alger Hiss. Later, Alger Hiss denied the allegation. Thus the Great Case began, and with it our lives were changed forever.

Dear children, one autumn twilight, when you were much smaller, I slipped away from you in play and stood for a moment alone in the apple orchard near the barn. Then I heard your two voices, piping together anxiously, calling to me: "Papa! Papa!" from the harvested cornfield. In the years when I was away five days a week in New York, working to pay for the farm, I used to think of you both before I fell asleep at night. And that is how you almost always came to me—voices of beloved children, calling to me from the gathered fields at dusk.

You called to me once again at night in the same orchard. That was a good many years later. A shadow deeper and more chilling than the autumn evening had closed upon us—I mean the Hiss Case. It was the first year of the Case. We had been doing the evening milking together. For us, one of the few happy results of the Case was that at last I could be home with you most of the time (in life these good things usually come too little or too late). I was washing and disinfecting the cows, and putting on and taking off the milkers. You were stripping after me. In the quiet, there suddenly swept over my mind a clear realization of our true position—obscure, all but friendless people (some of my great friends had already taken refuge in aloofness; the others I had withdrawn from so as not to involve them in my affairs).

Against me was an almost solid line-up of the most powerful groups and men in the country, the bitterly hostile reaction of much of the press, the smiling skepticism of much of the public, the venomous calumnies of the Hiss forces, the all but universal failure to understand the real meaning of the Case or my real purpose. A sense of the enormous futility of my effort, and my own inadequacy, drowned me. I felt a physical cold creep through me, settle around my heart and freeze any pulse of hope. The sight of you children, guiltless and defenseless, was more than I could bear. I was alone against the world; my longing was to be left completely alone, or not to be at all. It was that death of the will which Communism, with great cunning, always tries to induce in its victims.

I waited until the last cow was stripped and the last can lifted into the cooler. Then I stole into the upper barn and out into the apple orchard. It was a very dark night. The stars were large and cold. This cold was one with the coldness in myself. The lights of the barn, the house and the neighbors' houses were warm in the windows and on the ground; they were not for me. Then I heard Ellen call me in the barn and John called: "Papal" Still calling, Ellen went down to the house to see if I were there. I heard John opening gates as he went to the calf barn, and he called me there. With all the longing of my love for you, I wanted to answer. But if I answered, I must come back to the living world. I could not do that.

John began to call me in the cow stable, in the milk house. He went into the dark side of the barn (I heard him slide the door back), into the upper barn, where at night he used to be afraid. He stepped outside in the dark, calling: "Papa! Papa!"-then, frantically, on the verge of tears: "Papa!" I walked over to him. I felt that I was making the most terrible surrender I should have to make on earth. "Papa," he cried and threw his arms around me, "don't ever go away." "No," I said, "no, I won't ever go away." Both of us knew that the words "go away" stood for something else, and that I had given him my promise not to kill myself. Later on, as you will see, I was tempted, in my wretchedness, to break that promise.

My children, when you were little, we used sometimes to go for walks in our pine woods. In the open fields, you would run along by yourselves. But you used instinctively to give me your hands as we entered those woods, where it was darker, lonelier, and in the stillness our voices sounded loud and frightening. In this book I am again giving you my hands. I am leading you, not through cool pine woods, but up and up a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from which in shadow things uncoil and slither away. It will be dark. But, in the end, if I have led you aright, you will make out three crosses, from two of which hang thieves. I will have brought you to Golgotha-the place of skulls. This is the meaning of the journey. Before you understand, I may not be there, my hands may have slipped from yours. It will not matter. For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wise.

Your Father

Posted by John Weidner at 5:02 AM

February 3, 2007

Mt Darien Scenic Viewpoint, Exit One Mile...

Here's this Sunday's oddment, Houselander on the Sacrifice of the Mass...

...It's all you've got, and he gave it to you. We are like children whose father has given them a sixpence to buy a birthday present for him. The father knows the child can't bring him a present costing a pound: he can only give back what he has been given and whatever little scruffy object he produces; the father loves it, for it is his child's offering of all he can offer—and that is only his own gift back again, but back again made more lovable to him by an exchange of their love.
Caryll Houselander

One of the unexpected and totally cool things about becoming a Catholic has been the discovery, like stout Cortez (was he really so fat? And should we keep teasing him, poor fellow?) of a whole new ocean, of thought and books. And especially there is all this history I hardly knew about (and which may be the actually important stuff) which is just jam to an aficionado like me. I'm going back now and learning much old history all over again from a new slant. Especially English history. It's sort of like reading those alternate-history SF things, where the South won the Civil War, or some such. More and Laud and Ken and Newman and Wiseman move forward into the lighted front of the stage, and the Tudors and Cromwell and Huxley and Gladstone step back a bit...

Houselander, quoted above, was one of the oddest and most impressive Englishwomen of the 20th Century...and I'd never heard of her before last year! I found the quoted bit in Masie Ward's biography, Carryll Houselander: That Divine Eccentric. The Houselander book to read is Rocking Horse Catholic)

And, speaking of history, the name Ward is a sea in itself. WG Ward was perhaps the most brilliant of the followers of Newman in the Oxford Movement, (and perhaps the biggest pain-in-the-ass to that great man after they both entered The Church). WG's son was Wilfrid Ward, a very important English Catholic writer and thinker, who was especially important in recognizing the transition; the realization that Protestantism was exhausted, and it was time for the Church to end its siege mentality, come out of the bunker and be bold and confident once more.

And Wilfrid Ward's daughter was Maisie Ward, who, teamed with her husband Frank Sheed, founded the publishing firm Sheed and Ward, and wrote many a good Catholic book. Plus did a lot of other fascinating stuff. And their son was Wilfrid Sheed, the literary critic I used to read in the NYT Book Review. So far now I've read biographies by Wilfrid Sheed about his parents, by Masie about her parents, and by Wilfrid Ward about his father. (Who did not, as far as I know, write about his father, who was a famous cricketer, and founded Lord's.) Four generations covered. There's just something about the English; I can't think of any comparable American family...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:06 PM

January 28, 2007

For Sunnandæg...

From a letter by CS Lewis...

...The contradiction 'we must have faith to believe and must believe to have faith' belongs to the same class as those by which the Eleatic philosophers proved that all motion was impossible. And there are many others. You can't swim unless you can support yourself in water & you can't support yourself in water unless you can swim....

....I do not think there is a
demonstrative proof (like Euclid) of Christianity, nor of the existence of matter, nor of the good will & honesty of my best & oldest friends. I think all three are (except perhaps the second) far more probable than the alternatives. The case for Xtianity in general is well given by Chesterton; and I tried to do something in my Broadcast Talks.

As to
why God doesn't make it demonstratively clear: are we sure that He is even interested in the kind of Theism which wd. be a compelled logical assent to a conclusive argument? Are we interested in it in personal matters? I demand from my friend a trust in my good faith which is certain without demonstrative proof. It wouldn't be confidence at all if he waited for rigorous proof. Hang it all, the very fairy-tales embody the truth. Othello believed in Desdemona's innocence when it was proved: but that was too late. Lear believed in Cordelia's love when it was proved: but that was too late. 'His praise is lost who stays till all commend.' The magnanimity, the generosity wh. will trust on a reasonable probability, is required of us.

But supposing one believed and was wrong after all ? Why, then you wd. have paid the universe a compliment it doesn't deserve. Your error wd. even so be more interesting & important than the reality. And yet how cd. that be? How cd. an idiotic universe have produced creatures whose mere dreams are so much stronger, better, subtler than itself?....
[paragraphing added]

found in A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken (good read, that)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:38 AM

January 21, 2007

Sunday Thought--don't add cornstarch

John Henry Newman, ca. 1840.
True faith is what may be called colourless, like air or water; it is but the medium through which the soul sees Christ; and the soul as little really rests upon it and contemplates it, as the eye can see the air.

When, then, men are bent on holding it (as it were) in their hands, curiously inspecting, analyzing, and so aiming at it, they are obliged to colour and thicken it, that it may be seen and touched. That is, they substitute for it something or other, a feeling, notion, sentiment, conviction, or act of reason, which they may hang over, and doat upon. They rather aim at experiences (as they are called) within them, than at Him that is without them.

John Henry Newman

Posted by John Weidner at 6:30 AM

January 14, 2007

"He will cease to reap benefits..."

Sunday thoughts...

As unbelievers deny Revelation more decisively, as they put their denial into more consistent practice, it will become the more evident what it really means to be a Christian. At the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies. He must learn to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through Him; he will have to leam to experience what this honestly means. Nietzsche had already warned us that the non-Christian of the modern world had no realization of what it truly meant to be without Christ. The last decades [the two world wars] have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades were only the beginning...
-- Romano Guardini, from
The End of the Modern World

Part of what Guardini is saying (I'm ignoring a lot here) is that people have been coasting. Running on the spiritual and moral capital stored up by our ancestors, and not refilling that tank. Stored up by our Christian and Jewish ancestors. There's gonna be wailing and gnashing aplenty when the time comes to get out and push. Which it already has, I think.

I tend to be out of sync with the rest of the world. One of the ways I'm odd is that I am fascinated (and horrified) by the speed at which we are being flung into a unknown future. And especially by the way we are not thinking and worrying about this. When I was younger there was a best-selling book called Future Shock, about how fast things were changing, and how our overloaded brains were just going to explode. But what shocks me is that we are NOT shocked by this, at least not most of us. (Or possibly we have already been shocked into a state of denial.) Each new technology that comes along changes our societies, often drastically. Yet people seem to assume that we will all remain the same, and merely get to have more fun using cool new toys.

To me this is just insane. The new toys are changing us before our eyes, yet people yawn when I bring this up.

And we don't know what effects the changes will have until it's too late to do much. European demographic collapse is, of course, my favorite example. Europe and the developed world sailed into uncharted territory after WWII. They achieved prosperity for most of their people. Plus unprecedented levels of welfare, and easy availability of contraception. Plus steep decline in Christian worship. Now we see that the result is the probable destruction of an ancient civilization. It's happening before our eyes, and yet one still can't get most people interested in the subject.

And even more important and scary, you can't get them interested in what's coming next!

For example, Libertarian and futurismo bloggers look forward eagerly to life extension. And they somehow seem to think that it won't change them. That they will merely have more time for doing the same old stuff. And they think that coming generations will be just like them. That they will think like them! Sorry, that's crazy. We don't know how we will think and believe when such changes have happened, but for sure we will be different. We will hardly recognize our descendants. To me our world is like living in a science fiction story in which we are all being shoved into time machines and sent what? We don't know. It seems to me that filling our pockets with useful tools ought to be our top priority! And I mean philosophical tools of course. Things that will provide mental solidity and balance when we pop out into a strange world without familiar mental landmarks. but I seem to be alone here.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:06 AM

January 7, 2007

"brought from the springs of the Nile..."


This was a city once, that’s now a copse
Of lusty privet: she had twice five years
Of war and killing and the destroyer, fire.
She bore great chieftains once: hazelnuts now.
It bewilders her, crouching there with her doomed head low,
To see a wood has grown out of her: how the corn
Grows yellow about Priam’s judgement seat,
And cattle dung where Hecuba suckled kings.
Men lived in her houses once, that were sweet with Syrian nard,
They house the tiger now and the deadly snake...

Alas, what war can do! The delicate column
Lies broken, and in Jove’s shrine
Is bedded here a sheep, and yonder a kid.
The ground is shaggy with rushes and thistles and briars,
And stumps of trees and thorns and wild growing thyme.
And the heart turns sick to look on her squalor
That once rayed out like the sun with jewels and bronze,
Topaz, emerald, onyx, sard,
That Trojan victories brought from the springs of the Nile,
Now shabby in the dust...

O Troy, enough! When I remember thee,
Remember thy beginning and thy end,
I cannot hold my weeping,
Until in mercy comes the night for sleeping.

    -- Hugh Priams of Orleans (c1094 - 1160)
    translated by Helen Waddell
Posted by John Weidner at 6:40 AM

December 31, 2006

For Sunday, a little pome from about the year 800...

This life is naught but a struggle for good men.
The holy book hath sung it in your ears.
The son the father loves most tenderly
He chastens most: and so God proves his saints
By hard blows here, and recompense of joy hereafter.

So take it not to heart, my brothers,
This inconsistency of earthly things,
      The swirling eddies.
So was and so shall be this changing world,
And let none think that he is sure of joy.
He lies bedridden now, who coursed with stags
Over the ploughed lands: age was far away.
And this man tugging at his ancient tatters
To hide his shivering legs
Slept under purple once.
The eyes are dim and fogged with length of days,
That counted dancing atoms: the right hand
That swung the sword and brandished
      the stout spear
Is shaky now, and finds it hard enough
To carry to the mouth a piece of bread.
Beloved, let us love the lasting things
Of heaven, than the dying things of earth.
Here time brings change, and nothing
      canst thou see
But suffers alteration: there abides
One sole unchanging everlasting day...

For He that cast down raiseth up again,
He maketh sore and bindeth up,
He woundeth and his hands make whole.
Breaketh in shards and buildeth up again.
By day and night entreat in holy prayer
The kind Christ, that He keep you everywhere;
And if ye learn the things that please Him best,
Then let your hand do what the heart hath willed.
So Heaven itself shall be your shield and buckler,
And God's own hand protect and be your guide.
    -- Alcuin

Alcuin (died 804) was a noted churchman, scholar, and confidant of Charlemagne.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:30 AM

December 24, 2006

Not an end in itself...

Nowadays it is sometimes held, though wrongly, that freedom is an end in itself, that each human being is free when he makes use of freedom as he wishes, and that this must be the aim in the lives of individuals and societies. In reality, freedom is a great gift only when we know how to use it consciously for everything that is our true good.
    — John Paul II
Posted by John Weidner at 6:15 PM

December 20, 2006

There are those people who believe that little things matter....

I liked this bit, which was written by a commenter at Amy Welborn's blog. You don't have to be interested in the religious aspect of this to appreciate the philosophical divide among people. I myself am among those who think the little things are crucial, and if I could live life as I wished...well, I'd have to live at least 10,000 years to have enough time to get all the details properly savored and squared away...

Amy writes:
"The recognition - the profound recognition - that the little things exist at the service of the greater—the life-changing presence of Jesus Christ in the world..."
This is a good insight; one of the central divides that I'm finding as I grow older is between those people who believe that little things matter and those who believe that they are...well, just little things....

...There is a wisdom in the small things that is hidden from the big minds, almost an inability to see the importance of the little stuff unless we can directly see the big changes linked to it...and even then only admitting to it with grumbling. The joy of the world as God created it is that not only do the little things point to and affect the big things, but even the littlest thing has a value that the Lord does not miss in his count of all things. Only a God-made-infant could arrange a world in which the most common of all people is offered, each day, the chance to participate in the salvation of the world by the careful love of so many little things.

The small things are important because, at the very least, we seem to have a God who is deeply amused at making the little things matter...
Posted by John Weidner at 6:36 PM

December 17, 2006


Too busy to blog...we're having a little Christmas party today. I'll post this Sunday item a bit early...


Adeste Fideles
Laeti triumphantes
Venite, venite in Bethlehem
Natum videte
Regem angelorum
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum

Cantet nunc io
Chorus angelorum
Cantet nunc aula caelestium
Gloria, gloria
In excelsis Deo
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum

Ergo qui natus
Die hodierna
Jesu, tibi sit gloria
Patris aeterni
Verbum caro factus
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God's holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
Posted by John Weidner at 6:15 AM

December 9, 2006

"Don't mince matters...Give it to them good and strong"

For Sunday, a bit of one of the all-time great conservative essays, Isaiah's Job (here's the whole thing) by Albert J. Nock...

...I referred him to the story of the prophet Isaiah....I shall paraphrase the story in our common speech since it has to be pieced out from various sources. . .

The prophet's career began at the end of King Uzziah's reign, say about 740 B.C. This reign was uncommonly long, almost half a century, and apparently prosperous. It was one of those prosperous reigns, however like the reign of Marcus Aurelius at Rome, or the administration of Eubulus at Athens, or of Mr. Coolidge at Washington where at the end the prosperity suddenly peters out and things go by the board with a resounding crash.

In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. "Tell them what a worthless lot they are,'' He said. "Tell them what is wrong, and why, and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,'' He added, "that it won't do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you, and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.''

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job in fact, he had asked for it but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so, if the enterprise was to be a failure from the start, was there any sense in starting it?

"Ah,'' the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it''....
Posted by John Weidner at 10:19 AM

December 3, 2006

"Beyond, we dare not look..."


Our fathers all were poor,
Poorer our fathers' fathers;
Beyond, we dare not look.
We, the sons, keep store
Of tarnished gold that gathers
Around us from the night,
Record it in this book
That, when the line is drawn,
Credit and creditor gone,
Column and figure flown,
Will open into light.

Archaic fevers shake
Our healthy flesh and blood
Plumped in the passing day
And fed with pleasant food.
The fathers' anger and ache
Will not, will not away
And leave the living alone,
But on our careless brows
Faintly their furrows engrave
Like veinings in a stone,
Breathe in the sunny house
Nightmare of blackened bone,
Cellar and choking cave.

Panics and furies fly
Through our unhurried veins,
Heavenly lights and rains
Purify heart and eye,
Past agonies purify
And lay the sullen dust.
The angers will not away.
We hold our fathers' trust,
Wrong, riches, sorrow and all
Until they topple and fall,
And fallen let in the day.
Edwin Muir
Posted by John Weidner at 6:04 AM

November 26, 2006

From heroes to bums in not much more than a generation...

[Rambling Sunday thoughts] I've been thinking about how in the comments at this post of mine, Andrea Harris and I got onto a discussion of the decline of Europe (and perhaps the USA), and it's possible cause in the enormously high levels of welfare common in European countries.

I for various reasons have Germany much in mind these days, and I wrote:

....West Germany in say 1960, was to outward appearances, hard-working, economically vibrant, Christian, confident, with a rapidly growing population and lots of young people. Experts were saying that we Americans had better pull up our socks or be totally out-classedI

And that's all gone! All of it. The corpse is still walking but nobody's fooled except those who want to be fooled. We're not talking slow decline-of-the-Roman-Empire here, these guys went from heroes to bums in not much more than a generation. If that's happened before in history I really missed something....

I'd say the proximate cause is welfare, which I know increased hugely in Germany in the 1970's. (By the way, the post-war German economic miracle was made possible by low taxes and reduced regulation. It's not like Germany is unacquainted with what makes for success.) Welfare meaning not just checks for the poor or unemployed, but all sorts of cozy security blankets for the whole population.

And I'd say the ante-proximate cause, the cause right behind the cause, is socialism. Socialism promotes the welfare state because it wants to destroy souls, and to make men dependent on the state. It has given up on the Revolution, and the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," but the goal is still the same.

But frankly, these things are so obvious they've become boring. There is no intellectual battle to be waged against socialism or the welfare state. There is ceaseless war to be waged against the things themselves, of course. But no open intellectual fight. Any leftist reading this will curl his lip in disdain, but not one of them will have the guts to make a case for what he believes. "Fell-lurking curs," as Shakespeare put it.

So, what interests me is, what is the root cause? Welfare is destructive, but why wasn't there resistance, in Europe, to its terrible threat? In the US every increase in welfare and other socialistic innovations has generated vigorous criticism and political opposition. One result of which was the federal Welfare Reform law in the 1990's, which cut our welfare rolls in half!

Why was there—is there—little or nothing like this in Europe? I can think of several possibilities. One clue that smells right to me—can't prove anything here—comes from one of the smarter chaps living...

...Bonn in those years was the almost accidental capital of Adenauer’s Germany. In the divided land, whose eastern states were behind the Iron Curtain, economic and civilian rebirth was proceeding at a dizzying pace. In the 1957 elections, the Christian Democratic Party had won an absolute majority in Parliament. After the Nazi nightmare, the German Church, with deserved pride, offered an essential contribution to Germany’s new beginning.

In an atmosphere that could have encouraged triumphalism, the young professor-priest Ratzinger had just written an article in 1958 for the magazine Hochland some reflections arising from his brief but intense pastoral experience as a chaplain in the parish of the Most Precious Blood in Bogenhausen, an haute-bourgeois section of Munich.

In that article, he uses the term “statistical deception” for the cliché that described Europe as “a Continent that is almost totally Christian.” The Church in the postwar modern world appeared to him instead as “a Church of pagans – no longer, as in the past, a church of pagans who have become Christian, but a Church of pagans that still call themselves Christian but who have really become pagans.”

He tells of a new paganism “which is growing ceaselessly in the heart of the Church and threatens to demolish it from the inside.”....[link]

I'd sure love to know what tipped him off! He knew, all-right. He saw. But nobody else seemed to see it. What did he see?

<armchair theorizin'> One of the things you have to do, if you are going to grow in faith, is to fight against ones natural desire to avoid suffering. (Or just grow psychologically. It's not a specifically Christian insight. One of the Noble Truths the Buddha taught was "Life is suffering.") It seems wrong-headed; avoiding pain is just good sense, right? (Seems like that to me too, most of the time.) But it's a mistake. And if your goal is to avoid pain, your faith will shrink. (And you'll get the suffering anyway.)

And a priest is going to observe people's pain and suffering up close. This will tell him a lot, if he has eyes to see. I wouldn't be surprised if there was something like that that was clear to young Fr. Josef Ratzinger. It would not be surprising in a nation that had endured millions of deaths in two world wars...</armchair theorizin'>

Young Fr. Josef Ratzinger

Josef Ratzinger, priest and professor of dogmatic theology, Freising, 1959

Posted by John Weidner at 4:10 PM

"some truth that he has never seen before"

...Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before.

There is one only other parallel to this position; and that is the parallel of the life in which we all began. When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say “My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell.” No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day.

And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother; at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated. Now, when society is in a rather futile fuss about the subjection of women, will no one say how much every man owes to the tyranny and privilege of women, to the fact that they alone rule education until education becomes futile: for a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late to teach him anything. The real thing has been done already, and thank God it is nearly always done by women. Every man is womanised, merely by being born. They talk of the masculine woman; but every man is a feminised man. And if ever men walk to Westminster to protest against this female privilege, I shall not join their procession...[Link]
Chesterton portrait by Zach Brissett
(Sketch by Zach Brissett)
Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 AM

November 25, 2006

"Christmas is everybody!"

Christmas is back at Wal-Mart - not that it really ever left.

After testing out a generic, yet all-inclusive, "happy holidays" theme last year, the nation's largest retailer announced this month that Christmas will dominate its seasonal marketing in the U.S. "We've learned our lesson," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone. "This year, we're not afraid to say, 'Merry Christmas.'"

Neither are Walgreens, Target, Macy's, Kmart and Kohl's, among others. In interviews this week, spokesmen from those major retailers said that their stores acknowledge the Christmas holiday, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year's backlash led by conservative Christian groups.

Such groups often criticize the commercialization of Christmas. But in 2005, they instead railed about its dearth, taking Wal-Mart, Best Buy and others to task for not mentioning the day in their holiday advertising - dubbing it "anti-Christian and anti-Christmas bias."

Petitions were passed around, boycotts were threatened and the existence of a "secular progressive agenda" was suggested by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who complained that the political correctness police had religion on the run...[link]

'cause I'm a nice guy, I'll give you "progressives" a tip. Of course you want to destroy Christianity, it's in your philosophical genes. But getting rid of "Merry Christmas" isn't the way to do it. That just emphasizes that something's been removed. Subversion works better. The best tactic is to appeal to our egos, our desire to be the center of the universe. I suggest your new theme should be, "Christmas is you and me!" Or perhaps, "Christmas is people being special!" (And Andrew Sullivan can chime in about how "Christianists" are hijacking a holiday whose theme has always been that "doubt is the noblest of virtues.")

And tolerance is always a good wedge to help destroy morality and religion. You might emphasize the idea that Christmas is also for Moslems, Jews, Buddhists and Hindoos. "Christmas is everybody!"

Posted by John Weidner at 9:27 AM

November 19, 2006

I could probably stare at this for hours...

St Anthony, engraving by  Dürer
An engraving of St Anthony, by Albrecht Dürer.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:16 AM

November 12, 2006

"But light are the feet on the hills of the morning..."

....Ah, who had known who had not seen
How soft and sudden on the fame
Of my most noble English ships
The sunset light of Carthage came
And the thing I never had dreamed could be
In the house of my fathers came to me
Through the sea-wall cloven, the cloud and dark,
A voice divided, a doubtful sea.
      (The light is bright on the Tower of David,
      The evening glows with the morning star
      In the skies turned back and the days returning
      She walks so near who had wandered far
      And in the heart of the swords, the seven times wounded,
      Was never wearied as our hearts are.)

How swift as with a fall of snow
New things grow hoary with the light.
We watch the wrinkles crawl like snakes
On the new image in our sight.
The lines that sprang up taut and bold
Sag like primordial monsters old,
Sink in the bas-reliefs of fossil
And the slow earth swallows them, fold on fold,
But light are the feet on the hills of the morning
Of the lambs that leap up to the Bride of the Sun,
And swift are the birds as the butterflies flashing
And sudden as laughter the rivulets run
And sudden for ever as summer lightning
The light is bright on the world begun.

Thou wilt not break as we have broken
The towers we reared to rival Thee.
More true to England than the English
More just to freedom than the free.
O trumpet of the intolerant truth
Thou art more full of grace and ruth
For the hopes of the world than the world that made them,
The world that murdered the loves of our youth....

    --GK Chesterton

(A selection from the poem The Towers of Time. You can read the whole poem here.)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:27 AM

October 29, 2006

In thought the seasons run concurrently...

But, without winter, blood would run too thin;
Or, without summer, fires would burn too long.
In thought the seasons run concurrently.
Thought has a sea to gaze, not voyage, on;
And hills, to rough the edge of the bland sky,
Not to be climbed in search of blander prospect:.
Few birds, sufficient for such caterpillars
As are not fated to turn butterflies;
Few butterflies, sufficient for such flowers
As are the luxury of a full orchard;
Wind, sometimes, in the evening chimneys; rain
On the early morning roof, on sleepy sight;
Snow streaked upon the hilltop, feeding
The fond brook at the valley-head
That greens the valley and that parts the lips;
The sun, simple, like a country neighbour;
The moon, grand, not fanciful with clouds.
In thought the seasons run concurrently
    -- Robert Graves
Posted by John Weidner at 5:26 AM

October 22, 2006

Something for Sunday...

...It is the peculiarity of the warfare between the Church and the world, that the world seems ever gaining on the Church, yet the Church is really ever gaining on the world. Its enemies are ever triumphing over it as vanquished, and its members ever despairing; yet it abides. It abides and it sees the ruins of its oppressors and enemies. "O how suddenly do they consume, perish, and come to a fearful end."

Kingdoms rise and fall; nations expand and contract; dynasties begin and end; princes are born and die; confederacies are made and unmade, and parties, and companies, and crafts, and guilds, and establishments, and philosophies, and sects, and heresies. They have their day, but the Church is eternal; yet in their day they seem of much account...
--- John Henry Cardinal Newman
Posted by John Weidner at 6:43 AM

October 15, 2006

"Sorrow walks after love..."


The guardians said: 'Wait for him if you like.
Often he comes when called, this time he may.
You will know it when the hawk, ruffling to strike,
Glimpses his white coat, and forbears to slay.
If it be in his mind, he will
Come at twilight to the dark pool.'

I said, 'Since childhood I have watched for him,
Burying this head so heavy with so much
Confusion, in my hands, while the world, dim
With many twilights, spun toward his touch.
Through a child's fingers then the time of love
Flowered in his eyes, and became alive.

'Sorrow walks after love: our childhood dies.
My twenty years of fighting came to this:
The brown eyes of my love looked in my eyes,
Beautiful in farewell, at our last kiss.
Her eyes like his eyes dealt so deep a wound,
Until he touch it, it will itch in wind.'

The guardians with stone flesh and faces of
Crumpled and heavy lines, stared at me.
With neither pity nor the fear of love,
Each stony hand clenched on a stony knee.
Grinding like a crushed stone, each voice said, 'Let
Time pass. Pray you are not too late.

-- Dom Moraes
Posted by John Weidner at 4:19 AM

October 1, 2006

I wander still....


Naked apples, woolly-coated peaches
Swelled on the garden's wall. Unbounded
Odour of windless, spice-bearing trees
Surrounded my lying in sacred turf,
Made dense the guarded air—the forest of trees
Buoyed up therein like weeds in ocean
Lived without motion. I was the pearl,
Mother-of-pearl my bower. Milk-white the cirrhus
Streaked the blue egg-shell of the distant sky,
Early and distant, over the spicy forest;
Wise was the fangless serpent, drowsy.
All this, indeed, I do not remember,
I remember the remembering, when first walking
I heard the golden gates behind me
Fall to, shut fast. On the flinty road,
Black-frosty, blown on with an eastern wind,
I found my feet. Forth on journey,
Gathering this garment over aching bones,
I went. I wander still. But the world is round.

    --C. S. Lewis
Posted by John Weidner at 6:29 AM

September 24, 2006

the mirrors, still dizzy with you...


lost to begin with, never greeted,
I do not know what tones most please you.
No more when the future's wave hangs poised is it you
I try to discern there. All the greatest
images in me, far-off experienced landscape,
towers and towns and bridges and unsuspected
turns of the way,
and the power of those lands once intertwined
with the life of the gods:
mount up within me to mean
you, who forever elude.

Oh, you are the gardens!
Oh, with such yearning
hope I watched them! An open window
in a country house, and you almost stepped out
thoughtfully to meet me. Streets I discovered,—
you had just walked down them,
and sometimes in dealers' shops the mirrors,
still dizzy with you, returned with a stare
my too-sudden image.— Who knows whether the
self-same bird didn't ring through each of us,
separately, yesterday evening?

    -- Rainer Maria Rilke
Posted by John Weidner at 6:11 AM

September 2, 2006

In tarrying do not tarry, nor hastening hasten...

Yet in this journey back
If I should reach the end, if end there was
Before the ever-running roads began
And race and track and runner all were there
Suddenly, always, the great revolving way
Deep in its trance;—if there was ever a place
Where one might say, 'Here is the starting-point,'
And yet not say it, or say it as in a dream,
In idle speculation, imagination,
Reclined at ease, dreaming a life, a way,
And then awaken in the hurtling track,
The great race in full swing far from the start,
No memory of beginning, sign of the end,
And I the dreamer there, a frenzied runner;—
If I should reach that place, how could I come
To where I am but by that deafening road,
Life-wide, world-wide, by which all come to all,
The strong with the weak, the swift with the stationary,
For mountain and man, hunter and quarry there
In tarrying do not tarry, nor hastening hasten,
But all with no division strongly come
For ever to their steady mark, the moment,
And the tumultuous world slips softly home
To its perpetual end and flawless bourne.
How could we be if all were not in all?
Borne hither on all and carried hence with all,
We and the world and that unending thought
Which has elsewhere its end and is for us
Begotten in a dream deep in this dream
Beyond the place of getting and spending.
There's no prize in this race; the prize is elsewhere,
Here only to be run for. There's no harvest,
Though all around the fields are white with harvest.
There is our journey's ground; we pass unseeing.
But we have watched against the evening sky,
Tranquil and bright, the golden harvester.

-- Edwin Muir
Posted by John Weidner at 8:12 PM

August 27, 2006

How once these heavy stones swam in the sea....


God, you've so much to do,
To think of, watch, and listen to,
That I will let all else go by
And lending ear and eye
Help you to watch how in the combe
Winds sweep dead leaves without a broom;
And rooks in the spring-reddened trees
Restore their villages,
Nest by dark nest
Swaying at rest on the trees' frail unrest;
Or on this limestone wall,
Leaning at ease, with you recall
How once these heavy stones
Swam in the sea as shells and bones;
And hear that owl snore in a tree
Till it grows dark enough for him to see;
In fact, will learn to shirk
No idleness that I may share your work.

    --Andrew Young
Posted by John Weidner at 7:13 AM

August 20, 2006

No man knows the way to it...

There are mines for silver
and places where men refine gold;
where iron is won from the earth
and copper smelted from the ore;
the end of the seam lies in darkness,
and it is followed to its farthest limit.
Strangers cut the galleries;
they are forgotten as they drive forward far from men.

While corn is springing from the earth above,
what lies beneath is raked over like a fire,
and out of its rocks comes lapis lazuli,
dusted with flecks of gold.
No bird of prey knows the way there,
and the falcon's keen eye cannot descry it;
proud beasts do not set foot on it,
and no serpent comes that way.

Man sets his hand to the granite rock
and lays bare the roots of the mountains;
he cuts galleries in the rocks;
and gems of every kind meet his eye;
he dams up the sources of the streams
and brings the hidden riches of the earth to light.
But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the source of understanding?
No man knows the way to it,
it is not found in the land of living men.
The depths of ocean say, 'It is not in us,'
and the sea says, 'It is not with me'
Red gold cannot buy it,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver;
it cannot be set in the scales against gold of Ophir,
against precious cornelian or lapis lazuli;
gold and crystal are not to be matched with it,
no work in fine gold can be bartered for it;
black coral and alabaster are not worth mention,
and a parcel of wisdom fetches more than red coral;
topaz from Ethiopia is not to be matched with it,
it cannot be set in the scales against pure gold.

Where then does wisdom come from,
and where is the source of understanding?
No creature on earth can see it,
and it is hidden from the birds of the air.
Destruction and death say,
'We know of it only by report.'

But God understands the way to it,
he alone knows its source;
for he can see to the ends of the earth
and he surveys everything under heaven.
When he made a counterpoise for the wind
and measured out the waters in proportion,
when he laid down a limit for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
even then he saw wisdom and took stock of it,
he considered it and fathomed its very depths.
And he said to man:
    The fear of the Lord is wisdom.
    and to turn from evil is understanding.

--- The Book of Job

(New English Bible. Quoted in A Book of Faith, by Elizabeth Goudge)
Posted by John Weidner at 5:17 AM

August 13, 2006

Help of the half-defeated, House of gold...

Ballade to Our Lady of Częstochowa

Lady and Queen and Mystery manifold
And very Regent of the untroubled sky,
Whom in a dream St. Hilda did behold
And heard a woodland music passing by:
You shall receive me when the clouds are high
With evening and the sheep attain the fold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Steep are the seas and savaging and cold
In broken waters terrible to try;
And vast against the winter night the wold,
And harbourless for any sail to lie.
But you shall lead me to the lights, and I
Shall hymn you in a harbour story told.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Help of the half-defeated, House of gold,
Shrine of the Sword, and Tower of Ivory;
Splendour apart, supreme and aureoled,
The Battler's vision and the World's reply.
You shall restore me, O my last Ally,
To vengence and the glories of the bold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.


Prince of the degradations, bought and sold,
These verses, written in your crumbling sty,
Proclaim the faith that I have held and hold
And publish that in which I mean to die.

    -- Hilaire Belloc

Belloc portrait by Zach Brissett
(Sketch by Zach Brissett)

Just for your information, Częstochowa is pronounced Chens-toe-HOE-vah... It is the premier pilgrimage site in Poland, the home of the monastery of Jasna Góra, and the shrine with the painting of the Black Madonna.

As poetry, this is just what I like, and just the sort that is, of course, is not written any more. And also, I encountered it by chance just after talking to a girl whose sister was on a pilgrimage to Częstochowa...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:17 AM

July 9, 2006

Sunday thought

Jul. 07 ( - The most prominent leader of the "underground" Catholic Church in China's Hebei province has been arrested for the 9th time in the past 3 years.

Bishop Jia Zhiguo of the Zheng Ding diocese was taken into custody on June 25, the Cardinal Kung Foundation reports. The bishop-- who was still recovering from a recent medical operation-- was taken from a hospital to an undisclosed location. Authorities said that the prelate was being sent for "education."

Bishop Jia had last been arrested late in 2005, and held for 5 months before his release in April. (He was allowed to return to his home-- although he remained under surveillance there-- just as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in the US for a diplomatic visit.) The bishop has now spent more than 20 years in prison.

Chinese authorities have put heavy pressure on the clergy of the "underground" Church to accept the authority of the government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association. That pressure has been most pronounced in Hebei, a province outside Beijing, where the underground Church is particularly strong. Bishop Jia-- a beloved figure who cares for 100 handicapped children in his own home-- has frequently been the focus of government "re-education" efforts.

This is leftism in a fairly pure form. The diluted form we see all around us, with the "re-education" efforts always in the form of enforced tolerance. The current campaign is for gay rights (which no one should be so foolish as to imagine has anything at all with helping gays). A campaign that keeps ratcheting up, with new demands every year. Don't be surprised when some of our bishops get sent to the pokey for some re-education time for "bad thoughts."

The technique is to hijack some cause that's good in itself. Commies used to "help" workers, by organizing unions and strikes. But once they gained power, the freedom to organize unions was gone for good. Same thing with other "good causes." Rights for minorities, women, the handicapped...anyone who disagrees is labeled a bigot. Same with the environment. If you are not for every new regulation, then you are against "saving the Earth." And always the goal is to have criminal and social penalties, to punish those who disagree.

There's only one war. The front-lines are everywhere.

* Update: Charlene adds, that if you need a reason to look favorably on the Church, just notice who its enemies are...

Posted by John Weidner at 10:44 AM

June 18, 2006

Quote for Sunday...

A theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous. Blindness and deafness towards the beautiful are not incidental: they necessarily are reflected in his theology.

-- Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. 1985
Posted by John Weidner at 4:33 PM

June 17, 2006

Through corridors of light where the hours are suns...


I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossums.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

    -- Stephen Spender
Posted by John Weidner at 5:14 PM

May 29, 2006

Do not be discouraged...

I liked this. Pope Benedict, speaking to young people in Kraków-Błonie...

...My friends, in the heart of every man there is the desire for a house. Even more so in the young person’s heart there is a great longing for a proper house, a stable house, one to which he can not only return with joy, but where every guest who arrives can be joyfully welcomed. There is a yearning for a house where the daily bread is love, pardon and understanding. It is a place where the truth is the source out of which flows peace of heart. There is a longing for a house you can be proud of, where you need not be ashamed and where you never fear its loss.

These longings are simply the desire for a full, happy and successful life. Do not be afraid of this desire! Do not run away from this desire! Do not be discouraged at the sight of crumbling houses, frustrated desires and faded longings. God the Creator, who inspires in young hearts an immense yearning for happiness, will not abandon you in the difficult construction of the house called life....

Pope Benedict XVI

AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

And I like this picture. The Pope is not, to my mind, a very photogenic guy. In fact he often looks like some strange uncle drawn by Charles Addams. Here he looks like the sweet person that those have met him always describe, but also like the intellectual heavyweight he is. Dangerous (in the good sense, like Gandalf). What a time this is to be alive...

Posted by John Weidner at 2:45 PM

May 21, 2006

"just fiction"

Mark Shea puts DVC nicely in perspective:

[Interviewers kept] asking the tired question, "Isn't it just fiction?" I proposed a fictional film in which all the homosexuals in the world were engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy Western Civilization.

"That would be offensive."

No duh.

The *only* time people fall for this notion that a fictional story which goes out of its way to malign and defame a billion people is "just fiction" is when it bashes Christians. The only time such people believe it will have absolutely no effect on what people think is with the Da Vinci Code. Try making a modern fictional film in which blacks are all watermelon-eating Stepin Fetchit dunces, or Jews are all conniving lechers and you will (rightly) get a storm of protest because these lies are pernicious and do real damage. But declare Christians the suckers of a 2000 year old Vatican conspiracy of murder and lies in the service of "the greatest coverup of all time", blaspheme Jesus and call all Christians fools for believing in him: that's just fiction....

Actually, it is also permissible to portray evil greedy white male American businessmen conspiring to destroy Western Civilization. (Easy too, writers and directors could just extrapolate from their own industry.) Or Republicans; it's OK to expose their horrid conspiracies and call it fiction. But neither of those frighten lefties as much as the Church.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:32 AM

April 25, 2006

“statistical deception”

Here's a translation of a fascinating article on Joseph Ratzinger as young professor of theology in the 1950's and 60's. (If anyone still needs a corrective to the hateful caricatures of him, read this.) It's a portrait of a teacher, a man of rare wisdom and charm.

But this bit of prescience made my hair stand up...

...Bonn in those years was the almost accidental capital of Adenauer’s Germany. In the divided land, whose eastern states were behind the Iron Curtain, economic and civilian rebirth was proceeding at a dizzying pace. In the 1957 elections, the Christian Democratic Party had won an absolute majority in Parliament. After the Nazi nightmare, the German Church, with deserved pride, offered an essential contribution to Germany’s new beginning.

In an atmosphere that could have encouraged triumphalism, the young professor-priest Ratzinger had just written an article in 1958 for the magazine Hochland some reflections arising from his brief but intense pastoral experience as a chaplain in the parish of the Most Prescious Blood in Bogenhausen, an haut-bourgeois section of Munich.

In that article, he uses the term “statistical deception” for the cliché that described Europe as “a Continent that is almost totally Christian.” The Church in the postwar modern world appeared to him instead as “
a Church of pagans – no longer, as in the past, a church of pagans who have become Christian, but a Church of pagans that still call themselves Christian but who have really become pagans.”

He tells of a new paganism “which is growing ceaselessly in the heart of the Church and threatens to demolish it from the inside.”...
(thanks to Amy Welborn)

1958! Who else saw it? No one I've read of.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:04 AM

April 16, 2006

Happy Easter...

I'm pretty tired, we went beforetimes to the Easter Vigil last night so Charlene could help set up, and didn't get home until late. But it was worth it. Very moving.

I hadn't been to one before, and so had never heard the traditional hymn, The Exsultet. Here's a little part of it, which hopefully will display side-by-side...

...This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave...

...Haec sunt enim festa paschalia,
in quibus verus ille Agnus occiditur,
cuius sanguine postes fidelium consecrantur.

Haec nox est,
in qua primum patres nostros, filios Israel
eductos de Aegypto,
Mare Rubrum sicco vestigio transire fecisti.

Haec igitur nox est,
quae peccatorum tenebras columnae illuminatione purgavit.

Haec nox est,
quae hodie per universum mundum in Christo credentes,
a vitiis saeculi et caligine peccatorum segregatos,
reddit gratiae, sociat sanctitati.

Haec nox est,
in qua, destructis vinculis mortis,
Christus ab inferis victor ascendit...
Posted by John Weidner at 10:36 AM

April 2, 2006

Not like the cartoons...

John Allen has a very good piece on the Pope's first year...

....Thus the L'Unità cartoon showed Benedict XVI at the same window, saying, "Tonight, when you go home, I want you to give your children a spanking, and tell them that this spanking comes from the pope."

It perfectly crystallized the expectations many had of this allegedly draconian, Darth Vader figure. Many people expected that if Ratzinger were elected on a Tuesday, by Wednesday priests would be saying Mass in Latin with their backs to the people, and one would hear a great flushing sound across the Catholic world as all the dissidents and liberals were washed out of the system.

The most striking thing about Benedict's first year, therefore, is how relatively little of this sort of thing we've seen....
Posted by John Weidner at 2:04 PM

March 13, 2006

Three Squares a Day for the brain...

Charlene and I have been working our way through N.T. Wright's Christian Origins and the Question of God. He's written three volumes (so far) of densely-reasoned and annotated history—splendid meaty satisfying stuff that's giving us a lot to think about. (And an utter OASIS of good sense if you have ever wandered through the strange deserts of modern "Jesus scholarship.") It's too soon to blog about it, and I may likely never be so presumptuous as to even try. But highly recommended.

You can get a bit of the flavor of Wright and his thoughts in this lecture, Decoding The Da Vinci Code...

....In fact, the contemporary myth gets things exactly the wrong way round. It isn’t the case that the canonical New Testament is politically and socially quiescent, colluding with empire, while the Jesus whom we meet in the Nag Hammadi texts and similar documents is politically and socially subversive, so dangerous that he had to be suppressed. It’s the other way round, and this may be among the most telling points we have to recognize for today. You may salve your own conscience by embracing Gnosticism, by telling yourself how very wicked the world is and how you are going to escape it once and for all by following the path of spiritual self-discovery and enlightenment. But if Caesar takes any notice at all, all he will do is sneer at you and go on his way to yet more triumphs of sheer power. And if that happened in the second century, we can be sure it’s precisely what’s happening today. Heidegger and Bultmann couldn’t prevent Hitler; Derrida and Foucault and their numerous disciples can’t do anything to stop the new empires of today. Certainly those who are advocating a new kind of do-it-yourself spirituality, and claiming that Jesus is somehow in or behind it all, cut no ice on the political front.

The challenge comes, therefore, at the level of worldview. Yes, of course the church has often got it wrong, including in its views of women (where it has, basically, failed to see what was there in the New Testament itself). Yes, the Constantinian settlement was deeply ambiguous; but they knew it at the time, and it was only with the high Middle Ages that things went so badly wrong. Yes, Christianity has — especially in the 20th century — pretended that it’s a “faith,” unrelated to history. But its historical roots are rock solid, and the faith that is based on them is not a loose, “whatever-works-for-you” postmodern construct. This faith, and the worldview which it generates, are the heart of the challenge with which I want now to conclude.

3. Conclusion
Let me sum up this lecture in the following way. The Da Vinci Code is a symptom of something much bigger, a lightning rod which has throbbed with the electricity of the postmodern western world.

One of the basic fault lines in the contemporary Western world is the line between neo-Gnosticism on the one hand and the challenge of Jesus on the other. Please note that, despite strenuous attempts to make this line coincide with the current sharp left-right polarization of American culture and politics, it simply doesn’t. Nor, for that matter, does it coincide with the polarizations of British or European culture either. So what is this real, deep polarization which runs through our world?..... (Thanks to
Posted by John Weidner at 12:47 PM

December 24, 2005

To house the King of Kings....


By brake unleaved and hedgerow
Alight with barren thorn,
Along our English byways
The Son of God is born.

Where northern mountains muster
In steely grip their chain,
Or nursed by Gentler hillocks
that hold a Suffolk lane:

On Cotswold ridge of splendour
By fretted music crowned,
Or where the streams meander
Through marshy Kentish ground;

In rain that clogs the earthways
Or snow on timid wings
A Manger stands erected
To house the King of Kings.
    --Alan C. Tarbat
Posted by John Weidner at 8:55 PM

December 15, 2005

Warrior creed...

I just read a very interesting book, The Faith of the American Soldier, by Stephen Mansfield. Most of us are aware that active Christian faith is common in our military. Mansfield probes the subject, and also the history of faith in the US military. Very interesting stuff.

One odd thing is that, for many of our troops, their faith is improvised, self-taught, and exists in small groups, rather than being part of any denomination or organization. Partly this mirrors developments at home, where new stand-alone churches are drawing people away from older denominations. And also the old main-line denominations, their Christian faith having been mostly replaced by mushy leftism, have no interest (of a positive sort) in our military and no longer contribute many chaplains. (Which is probably good, because many of those frauds are on the other side, and would be as eager to betray the Iraqis and Afghans into tyranny and torture and murder as they were to betray the South Vietnamese into tyranny and torture and murder.)

Partly it is because, as I was shocked to learn, the chaplain corps is severely limited in what they are allowed to do or say. They are not allowed to accompany troops into combat (!) which makes them seem irrelevant to those who come under fire. And, in fact, they are not supposed to do much of anything except personal counseling and conducting ceremonies. Most crucially, they are not allowed to provide a warrior creed for our troops. They can't say that we are fighting a just (or unjust) war! Christianity and American tradition both support just wars, but the secularists have pretty much stopped any official support for these great traditions.

A warrior's creed is what is needed, and it is fascinating to see how our soldiers are cobbling together their own.

Remember how General Boykin was castigated and reproved for saying that the War on Terror was a Christian and moral war, that America is a Christian nation with a Christian President? What you didn't hear is that his words resonated with the troops...

...As one Lieutenant Colonel serving at USCENTCOM at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida said, "I won't say it publicly, and you can't use my name, but I will tell you that I agree with everything Boykin said. Most of us would give anything if the chaplains or our commanders would speak to us in the same terms Boykin did. What he gave us was the spiritual map we needed."

Posted by John Weidner at 9:17 AM

December 14, 2005

Memento mori...


Memento Mori           Written at the Fall of France

The kingdoms fall in sequence, like the waves on the shore.
All save divine and desperate hopes go down, they are no more.
Solitary is our place, the castle in the sea,
And I muse on those I have loved, and on those who have loved me.

I gather up my loves, and keep them all warm,
While above our heads blows the bitter storm:
The blessed natural loves, of life-supporting flame,
And those whose name is Wonder, which have no other name.

The skull is in my hand, the minute cup of bone,
And I remember her, the tame, the loving one,
Who came in at the window, and seemed to have a mind
More towards sorrowful man than to those of her own kind.

She came for a long time, but at length she grew old;
And on her death-day she came, so feeble and so bold;
And all day, as if knowing what the day would bring,
She waited by the window, with her head beneath her wing.

And I will keep the skull, for in the hollow here
Lodged the minute brain that had outgrown a fear;
Transcended an old terror, and found a new love,
and entered a strange life, a world it was not of.

Even so, dread God! even so my Lord!
The fire is at my feet, and at my breast the sword:
and I must gather up my soul, and clap my wings, and flee
Into the heart of terror, to find myself in thee.

      --Ruth Pitter

Posted by John Weidner at 1:55 PM

June 28, 2005

"There aren't many examples of successful post-religious societies..."

I said in the comments in a recent post, that THE QUESTION, what may be THE big question that our world faces, is, 'Why is Europe dying?" It's much on my mind....

Mark Steyn, as always funny and serious at the same time, writes:

....It seemed faintly unbecoming for a Daily Telegraph columnist to protest about how much action he's getting, but, had I run into Mr Roberts in the Cheltenham singles bar, I would have endeavoured to explain that what's at issue is not which of us is getting more and better casual sex but whether it's an appropriate organising principle for society. Or at any rate whether a cult of non-procreative self-gratification is, as the eco-crazies like to say, "sustainable".

I was reminded of our Gloucestershire lad by some remarks Frank Field made at a Centre for Policy Studies seminar last week. The subject under debate was poverty and social disintegration, and pondering the collapse of civility in modern Britain Mr Field gave seven reasons. Number One, he said, was the decline of religion.

At that point, many Britons will simply have tuned out for the remaining six, and the more disapproving ones will be speculating darkly on whether, like yours truly and other uptight squares, he has "casual sex" issues. Religion is all but irrelevant to public discussion in the United Kingdom, and you'd have to search hard for an Anglican churchman prepared to argue in public, as Mr Field does, that material poverty derives from moral poverty.

But the point is: he's not wrong. There aren't many examples of successful post-religious societies. And, if one casts around the world today, one notices the two powers with the worst prospects are the ones most advanced in their post-religiosity. Russia will never recover from seven decades of Communism: its sickly menfolk have a lower life expectancy than Bangladeshis; its population shrinks by 100 every hour, and by 0.4 per cent every year, a rate certain to escalate as the smarter folks figure it's better to emigrate than get sucked down in the demographic death spiral.....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:54 AM

April 25, 2005

All the evidence suggests the opposite...

Ross Douthat has an article of great clarity in TNR disputing the idea that the Catholic Church should become more liberal...

...and all the while insisting--often from major op-ed pages and tenured positions at Catholic universities--that all of the Church's difficulties, from declining vocations to dwindling mass attendance to the sex-abuse scandals, would be solved if only Catholicism were to become more in step with the modern world.

It's an appealing notion, particularly to people whose lives and beliefs already conform more closely to modern mores than to traditional Catholic teaching. But it has almost no empirical support. All the evidence suggests the opposite--that a more liberal Catholic Church would be far weaker, smaller, and less influential even than the wounded and divided Body of Christ that Benedict XVI will govern.

The problem for liberals is that their preferred path to the Catholic future has already been tried, and with less-than-encouraging results. In America, the Church's decades-long slide in mass attendance and ordinations to the priesthood is at its worst not in Catholicism's more conservative precincts but in the liberal-minded dioceses and religious orders--the places where implementing the spirit of Vatican II has meant ignoring the actual Vatican on matters of liturgy, theology, and morality. The once-rigorous, now-latitudinarian Jesuits, for instance, have seen ordinations slow to a trickle, whereas self-consciously traditional orders like the Legionaries of Christ (and, of course, the notorious albino monks of Opus Dei) are growing rapidly. When a
recent survey compared 15 "progressive" dioceses to 15 "orthodox" dioceses, it found that the proportion of priests to practicing Catholics in conservative dioceses actually grew slightly between 1956 and 1996, while the proportion in the more liberal dioceses steadily dropped....

When one reads Andrew Sullivan moaning about the Church and gay marriage, one always wonders why he doesn't just become an Episcopalian. They'd probably make him a Bishop! Probably it's like Groucho's old joke, that "any club that would let me in isn't worth joining." He wants a church that stands for something, that demands adherence to the ancient moral standards and doctrine...except for one teensy little exception.

(Thanks to Juddblog)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:41 PM

March 26, 2005

"I am dust and wind and shadow..."

O God that art the sole hope of the world,
The only refuge for unhappy men,
Abiding in the faithfulness of Heaven,
Give me a strong succour in this testing-place,
O King, protect Thy man from utter ruin,
Lest the weak flesh surrender to the tyrant,
Facing innumerable blows alone.
Remember I am dust and wind and shadow,
And life as fleeting as the flower of the grass.
But may the eternal mercy which hath shone from time of old
Rescue Thy servant from the jaws of the lie.
Thou who didst come from on high in the cloak of the flesh,
Strike down the dragon with the two-edged sword
Whereby our mortal flesh can war with the winds
And break down strongholds, with our Captain, God. Amen

      --The Venerable Bede
Posted by John Weidner at 8:44 PM

February 8, 2005

This year. This year.


I heard in Addison's Walk a bird sing clear
'This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.

'Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
this year, nor want of rain destroy the peas.

'This year time's nature will no more defeat you,
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

'This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn, one year older, by the well-worn track.

'This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle, and undo the spell.

'Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Quick, quick, quick, quick!—the gates are drawn apart.

      -- C. S. Lewis
Posted by John Weidner at 6:29 PM

December 10, 2004

the leaf-mould of the brain...

The winter night is round me like a skull, Hollow and black, and time has rotted off; The sky is void, the starry creeds are null, And death is at the throat in a soft cough.

And rooted in the leaf-mould of the brain, I see the crocus burn, sudden as spring,

Yet not of seasons, not of sun or rain, Bright as a ghost in the skull's scaffolding.

It is not hope, this flower, nor love its light. It makes the darkness glow, the silence chime; Its life gives sense to death, names black with white— The timeless flame that is the wick of time.
-- Norman Nicholson

Here's a very interesting church window commemorating Norman Nicholson..

Posted by John Weidner at 9:56 PM

December 18, 2003

To an older place than Eden, and a taller town than Rome...


To an open house in the evening,
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden,
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be, and that are,
To the place where God was homeless,
And all men are at home.

-- G.K.Chesterton

Posted by John Weidner at 5:15 PM