Courage and public witness

Went to confession for the first time since the lockdown. Wow!!

Later the same day, was walking into a store as a priest was walking out. “Hi, Father!” You don’t often see priests wearing their collars in public nowadays. Like policemen, I like to give them a little moral support when I do.

Afterwards the image of the Roman collar stuck in my mind. This is the symbol of the priesthood of my faith. Regardless of the man wearing it, it stands for the power of the Faith, power to forgive sins and offer the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary.

It takes courage to wear the collar in public in this time and place. Speaking of which:

Catholic youths heroically stop California mob from tearing down saint’s statue

Maybe “heroically” is a bit much. But courageously, sure. I’m going to guess that some of these young people were students of Thomas Aquinas College in Ventura County. These kids don’t take the Faith lightly. Also, one was a priest in a Roman collar.

The current trend being to punish people posthumously for historic misdeeds and violations of political correctness, how long before we’re called to stand in front of our churches the way these people stood in front of the Serra statue?

 

Days of anguish and tribulation

In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.

The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out this duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ’s ship – or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labours and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.

I am terrified when I think of all this. Fear and trembling came upon me and the darkness of my sins almost covered me. I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by holy Scripture.

Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified, with our tired mind let us turn to the words of Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps. In another place he says: The name of the Lord is an impregnable tower. The just man seeks refuge in it and he will be saved.

Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God’s strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations.

Let us trust in him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful and he tells us: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.

Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season . . . .

A Letter by St. Boniface, Office of Readings, Friday of 9th Week in Ordinary Time.

The banquet is ready

Christ speaks to Adam in Hades:
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, Office of Readings, universalis.com, April 11, 2020.
christ harrowing of hell

Truth and practicality

With the abolition of the vita contemplativa and its transcendent order of nature, being, and truth, thought inevitably becomes a mere instrument of action. The distinction between a theoria that seeks to understand reality and a practical reason aimed at the achievement of some practical good all but disappears, leaving a void that is inevitably filled by politics, the science of power, which is as dominant in the Church as it is in the rest of modern life. Truth, being, and nature in their traditional, metaphysical sense are replaced by the functional truths of the sciences and what Machiavelli called the effectual truth (verità effettuale) of politics: what is needful for securing and maintaining power or even for achieving some legitimate good, such as the unity of the Church. What really matters within this paradigm, then, is control over institutions and personnel, influence over public policy, and, above all, message control and skillful management of the media. Images become more important than reality, seeming more important than being. The stage is set for a culture of falsehood long before there is ever a secret to conceal and before the time of trial arrives to test the virtue of men.

Michael Hanby, “A False Paradigm,” First Things magazine, November 2018.

I work for a large corporation and I see this all the time. Influence over public policy, message control, media management, images more important than reality. It’s a great company in some ways, led by people who I really think are decent and well-meaning. But you just can’t do business in a big way without this sort of functional and effectual, i.e. non-transcendent, truth. And the Church has fallen into the same trap. You get in the habit of “managing the message” and thinking in those terms, and what happens to truth for its own sake?

A whole new life

My mom had a stroke. She was in the hospital for a short time, then in a skilled nursing facility, then in acute rehab. Now she’s living with me.

Mentally she’s all there, though impaired in her speech and attention span. Physically she’s bedridden and wheelchair-bound. One leg and arm work normally, the others do not.

Some of her friends and loved ones lament what she’s lost, or rather what they’ve lost in her, and now miss. I for one like the new Mom. She’s softer and gentler and, frankly, cute as a button. She no longer cares about making herself up to look young and pretty, and as a result she’s even prettier, with fluffy grey hair and glowing white skin.

My life is now filled with her life. It used to be important to me to carve out some “Me time” each day, an hour or two for sitting on the couch and watching mindless TV if I wanted to. I thought I needed this unwinding in order to function. Now there’s no Me time. Any extra time I have between work and bedtime and running necessary errands, is spent sitting with Mom, talking with her, adjusting her in bed to be more comfortable; or else making appointments or arrangements of one kind or another on her behalf. I may get 15 or 20 minutes of Me time after work, which seems to suffice nowadays.

Sometimes if she has a visitor I get more free time, since they’re there to tend to her needs; a couple of hours, sometimes three or four, though occasionally interrupted with requests that only I can fulfill, since I know just how she likes to be positioned in bed, or have the blanket wrapped around her legs in the wheelchair. Sometimes I have the burden of entertaining the visitors, who may spend an hour with her and then an hour with me — an hour during which I’m distracted, worried about Mom being neglected, lonely and bored, vegetating in front of the TV by herself in her room, while her “visitor” is out in the living room with me, talking and robbing me of my free time.

But I can still function. It’s a whole new life, one which I never would have thought I could live. But I’m living it, and it’s fine.

Objective truth the basis of liberty

Recently I had a discussion with someone close to me regarding the U.S. founding. Her position was that the Founding Fathers introduced political ideas that were new and had never been tried before, for example that all men are created equal and that our rights come from our Creator. I’m suspicious of the idea of rights being given by God, yet remaining undiscovered by Christ’s Church for over 1,700 years.

Therefore I disputed whether these were really new ideas. Depending on what you mean by “equal”, I think it can be argued that “all men are created equal” is an old idea. But what do we mean by “equal”? Obviously we’re not all equal in terms of height, weight, strength and various talents. We’re not equal in terms of our individual traits. What we’re equal in is our nature: we’re all human beings. As such, we’re equally obliged to obey God’s commands. We’re obliged not to steal from each other, lie to each other, kill each other, be unfaithful to each other, etc.

“When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the ‘poorest of the poor’ on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal.”

Pope St. John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, 96.

The flip side of these obligations is that we have a right not to be stolen from, lied to, killed, etc., on the basis of our human nature. Thus, we have always had rights that were given by God. “By protecting the inviolable personal dignity of every human being [universal moral norms] help to preserve the human social fabric and its proper and fruitful development.” VS 97.

The Declaration of Independence speaks of the rights with which we are endowed by our Creator as including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Obviously life is a right deriving from the commandment to not kill. What about liberty and the pursuit of happiness? The problem with “liberty” is that it has now been interpreted to mean that each of us can define for himself what is right and wrong; what is true or false; and indeed what each of us is in his essence. But if truth isn’t objective, liberty can’t survive: 

“Totalitarianism arises out of a denial of truth in the objective sense. If there is no transcendent truth, in obedience to which man achieves his full identity, then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people. . . . If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth, then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of others. People are then respected only to the extent that they can be exploited for selfish ends. Thus, the root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate, no individual, group, class, nation or State.”

Pope St. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 44.

The mistake of the Founders, then, is not codifying objective truth or any way in which objective truth might be determined and imposed. This is thought to be their great breakthrough, but it’s actually their major flaw. The universal moral norms which make us all equal collapse without objective truth. If there’s no established religion, if there’s a “wall” between church and state, then there’s equally a wall between objective truth and civil law, which means rights and equality have nothing on which to stand:

“The Church’s firmness in defending the universal and unchanging moral norms is not demeaning at all. Its only purpose is to serve man’s true freedom. Because there can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth, the categorical–unyielding and uncompromising–defense of the absolutely essential demands of man’s personal dignity must be considered the way and the condition for the very existence of freedom. . . . These norms in fact represent the unshakable foundation and solid guarantee of a just and peaceful human coexistence, and hence of genuine democracy, which can come into being and develop only on the basis of the equality of all its members, who possess common rights and duties.” VS 96.

The spiritual is higher than the physical, part 4

St. Thomas says the desire for wealth in a sense is infinite, because “it is the servant of disordered concupiscence, which is not curbed …”.

He is responding to the argument that man’s happiness consists in wealth. The argument starts with the premise that happiness consists in the sovereign good. The desire for the sovereign good is infinite. Since the desire for wealth is infinite, perhaps wealth is the sovereign good, and therefore that in which happiness consists.

St. Thomas replies:

‘[T]he desire for artificial wealth is infinite, for it is the servant of disordered concupiscence, which is not curbed, …. Yet this desire for wealth is infinite otherwise than the desire for the sovereign good. For the more perfectly the sovereign good is possessed, the more it is loved, and other things despised: because the more we possess it, the more we know it. Hence it is written (Sirach 24:29): “They that eat me shall yet hunger.” Whereas in the desire for wealth and for whatsoever temporal goods, the contrary is the case: for when we already possess them, we despise them, and seek others: which is the sense of Our Lord’s words (John 4:13): “Whosoever drinketh of this water,” by which temporal goods are signified, “shall thirst again.” The reason of this is that we realize more their insufficiency when we possess them: and this very fact shows that they are imperfect, and the sovereign good does not consist therein.’

S.T. I-II, Q. 2, A. 1.

The desire for wealth and the desire for the sovereign good are both infinite, in that we can never get enough of either — but for different reasons. We can’t get enough of temporal goods because they never satisfy. We want some physical thing, but when we get it the novelty quickly wears off and we want something else. “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again.” Whereas the reason we can’t get enough of the sovereign good is the more we have it, the more we love it, and the more we despise other things in its favor. It’s both satisfying and inexhaustible.

There’s no physical thing that’s both satisfying, causing us to despise all other things, and inexhaustible. Therefore the sovereign good is spiritual.

Thus, the spiritual is higher than the physical.

[See also this, this and this.]

More prayers you don’t hear anymore

Glory be to the Lord, for ever;
  let the Lord rejoice in his works.
He turns his gaze to the earth, and it trembles;
  he touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
  as long as I exist, I will sing songs to God.
May my praises be pleasing to him;
  truly I will delight in the Lord.
Let sinners perish from the earth,
  let the wicked vanish from existence.
Bless the Lord, my soul!
From the Office of Readings.

Prayers you don’t hear any more

As in the days when you came out of Egypt
grant us to see wonders.
The pagans, seeing it, will be confounded
for all their power;
they will lay their hands to their mouths,
their ears will be deafened by it.
They will lick the dust like serpents,
like things that crawl on the earth.
They will come trembling from their lairs,
in terror and fear before you.

Micah 7:15-17.

Can a modern Christian say “amen” to that?

Intellectual and moral capital

Modernity, it now becomes evident, has been all along eroding its own foundations; its projects and comforts have depended on an inheritance to which it has itself been inimical. Walter Lippmann spoke of “the acids of modernity”; as it turns out, the stones attacked by this acid have been those on which the modern world was itself erected. Analysts from all relevant disciplines converge on one insight: Modernity has lived on a moral and intellectual capital that it has not renewed, and indeed could not have renewed without denying itself. They moreover agree that this intellectual and moral capital was that built up by the Christian church’s long establishment in the West, [even] if they themselves do not share the church’s faith or even admire it.

Robert W. Jenson, “How the World Lost Its Story,” First Things, March 2010.