Saturday, October 31, 2009

Shocking the luekwarm through violence?

One of the largest problems facing Catholicism in particular and Christianity in general is the apathy or spiritual slothfulness of many professing believers. There are many reasons for this apathy, most of which have been discussed in depth by Trads and everybody else concerned with the state of the Church. To a great extent it is true that things like lax discipline, heresy preached from the pulpit, and ambiguous or unreadable statements from the Magisterium can certainly lead to laxity and apathy among the congregation. But this is not really what I am pointing at here: I am talking more about the general kind of apathy or disinterestedness among believers that plagues the Church throughout any time in history. Even in the High Middle Ages there were pious Catholics and then there were worldly Catholics, and the temptation to worldliness is a reality even in the best of times. Perhaps a better term for it would be the Biblical phrase "lukewarmness" from Revelation 3:16, the spiritual state that comes about through a person not taking seriously the things of God, showing general disinterest in the state of their soul and living practically as if God did not exist.

This lukewarm existence describes my own Christian experience for the first five years or so, from the time when I first intellectually believed in Christ to the time several years later when I actually started praying, reading the Scriptures and attending Mass. When I was living a lukewarm Christianity, I did not really go to Church at all, or just went when I felt like it. That of course changed when I got serious about my faith. Some persons, on the other hand, come to Mass every Sunday but do so out of impure motive and maintain a kind of minimalist worldly Catholicism.

The one thing these people need (and that I needed) is true conversion, which is ironically the one thing nobody is able to give to another. I can give books, take them to liturgies, talk with them, but true conversion is due to a movement of grace in the heart that only God can give. I remember when I was in this state that the one thing I did not want to hear about was anything that would make me uncomfortable, guilty about my sin, or think too heavily about my mortality. It is very difficult to shock a lukewarm person out of their apathetic state if they intentionally do not want to be "bothered" with spiritual things, but in my almost ten years as a practicing Catholic I can recall a few things that have been successful.

One is the stories of the martyrs, not just the martyrs of olden days but the martyrs of Communist China, Vietnam and Mexico. I once was giving a talk to a group of young people about the faith of the martyrs, and in the process I told some truly gruesome martyrdom stories. Now, I do not like violence for the sake of violence, nor do I think any of us here. But there is a certain kind of violence that is perhaps fruitful to dwell on: the violence done to our Lord for the sake of our salvation, and also the violence endured by the martyrs for their faith. Well, I recall that one young boy, who we could describe as well-intentioned but worldly, was very disturbed by the stories of the martyrdoms he heard. He took them home with him in his mind, ruminated on them, and even had some dreams about them. He was disturbed that any human could do such things to another, but he was also moved to the core with the idea of someone willingly suffering such things for religion. I would say he was undergoing what may have been the first steps in a true conversion. Marveling at the deeds of the saints and martyrs was the thing that first set St. Ignatius Loyola on his way after his injury at the Battle of Pamplona. Unfortunately, the boy's mother did not recognize this as a moment of grace. She was upset that we had talked about "violence" at a Youth Group meeting and did not like her son thinking about these stories. He was promptly pulled from the Youth Group and sent to another parish where the Youth Group plays foolish games, gossips and hardly talks about God at all. In the meantime, he continues to watch violent movies and play violent video games unchecked.

But following up on this theme of violence, consider also the sad reality of abortion. I know of one kid who was 13 and pretty ignorant of what abortion was. Her parents, of course, had not really bothered to form her on this issue, and when another adult told her what abortion really was and how the babies were dispensed with, she was horrified and deeply troubled. However, like in the first case, the parent intervened. Instead of agreeing with her that abortion was horrid and talking with her child about how it could be stopped, she instead directed her anger against the faithful Catholic who had dared to tell her child about this procedure. I don't know what happened to this girl, but I imagine her enflamed conscience was quickly quenched by a worldly parent who saw the beginning of a moral conscience in her child and decided it was too much. There are certain things that only a parent should discuss with a child, but on the other hand, if you are a Catholic and still ignorant of what abortion is by the time you are 13 and about to reach High School age, then I think something is amiss.

In both scenarios, we see that a gruesome story happened to be the vehicle by which the conscience was awakened. This, of course, is the mentality behind the strategy of showing people pictures of aborted babies to get them to see the evil of abortion. I am not sure how successful this is, and I am shocked by the number of adults who simply see these pictures and say, "That's gross. Don't show me that," as if the gross thing is not the dead baby, but the fact that you are showing them a picture of it. When people see pictures of the Holocaust, the disturbing images usually lead one to take moral action: you see the horrid, shrunken shapes of the victims and the mass graves, and you are moved in your emotions, which lead you to think about the tragedy mentally and form some kind of judgment about the Holocaust and the men who perpetrated it. But when it comes to abortion, or the case of the martyr stories I told above, this natural progression from seeing to forming a judgment was snuffed out in its formative stage, at the time the kids were being moved by the images but before they could make definitive judgments on what they had seen.

Is shocking the lukewarm a good way to wake them up from their apathy? I guess it depends on the person and the propriety of how and what you are shocking them with. I certainly think pulling out pictures of aborted babies is not the most prudent thing to do in every situation, but it does have a time and a place. Of course, meditating on the wounds of our Lord is a time tested technique of growing in devotion, but it is usually done by persons who are already devout - not thrown on people who aren't. It's the reason why my Catholic mother is moved to piety by watching the Passion of the Christ but my fallen away father is disgusted out by it. The stories of violence suffered for righteousness sake is powerfully moving to the pious but seems foolish to the worldly.

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Personal Nature of Charitable Giving

My in-laws were up from Florida visiting for the week and I got to spend quite a bit of time with my father-in-law. I have often referenced my father-in-law on this blog; he is an fundamentalist Protestant and often provides me with a lot of fodder to delve into on here. This weekend, however, as we went out to breakfast at a local diner, we had a really great conversation in which we were both in general agreement. This conversation was about the state of charitable giving in America, both Protestant and Catholic.

My father-in-law was pointing out that, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son is enabled to live a licentious lifestyle so long as he has money to blow:

The younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously (Luke 15:13).

However, it is only when his money is gone, and furthermore, when nobody was found that would give to him, that the son repented and returned home:

And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him. And returning to himself, he said: How many hired servants in my father's house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger? I will arise, and will go to my father (Luke 15:16-18).

Notice how it is immediately following the statement that "no man gave unto him" that the son returned to his senses? My father-in-law took this and made the case that perhaps when we give to the poor we are actually enabling their poverty by creating dependency. Perhaps, he said, it would be better to not give to them, or to only do so conditionally, and to allow them to get to the point where "no man gave unto them" and hopefully bring about a conversion.

Well, I could not fully agree with this line of thinking, which to me sounded too much like changing the Gospel to suit the palate of American conservatism.

I pointed out that the command to feed the poor is universal and without restraint, even if you are taken advantage of ("If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak as well"); furthermore, I reminded him that the parable of the Prodigal Son is meant to be a story about the Father's forgiveness and mercy, not a blueprint for how we are to treat homeless people. The command to reach out and help the poor trumps any concerns we might have about the social impact of charitable giving. Certainly there are prudent and imprudent ways to give, but everybody agrees that we must give. Also, who are we to decide when someone "needs" to hit rock bottom? I leave that to God.

He agreed with these qualifiers, I think, but it got me to thinking about the nature of charitable giving, dependency, cycles of poverty (especially in light of our current President and the looming welfare state he endeavors to establish). Even though I don't adopt my father-in-law's thinking here, I agree with him in that I think the manner in which charitable giving is carried out can breed dependency and a welfare mentality.

Almost all of our major charitable giving today, in the Church or the world, is carried out by institutions; St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels, Charity Motors, Purple Heart, etc. These institutions exist because they can gather resources and distribute them to the poor with much greater efficiency than could any one individual.

Though this is in itself a good, it leads to two negatives: (1) Christians end up not giving to the poor directly but giving to an organization which then gives to the poor (2) The process of charitable giving becomes institutionalized; i.e., it becomes subject to the same shortcomings as any bureaucracy, because it is no longer people giving but a "system" which is "distributing" aid.

Consider this: all of the corporal works of mercy in the Scriptures are very personal acts. Feeding the poor; clothing the naked; giving drink to the thirsty; visiting the imprisoned, etc. These are all very human acts that require person-to-person contact and an element of compassion. Perhaps we are giving in a bit too much to our American pragmatism and focusing too extensively on the end alone: "Who cares how they get the aid? The important thing is that they get it!"

But is the end really all the matters in charitable giving? When Christ commands us to succor the poor, is He saying this simply because it is the most expedient means of getting aid to poverty stricken persons, or is there perhaps another reason for this, one that has to do with the compassion and person-to-person interaction involved in any work of mercy?

When we perform a corporal work of mercy, we see the humanity of the other - we make a real human connection. In doing so, if we are spiritually minded, we can also discern the presence of Christ. This is very valuable; almost as important as the actual deed itself. Caring for the poor is an extension of the command to love all men and is meant to be an act of compassion and personal charity.

In other words, the command to care for the poor is about us as much as it is the poor.

How does this change when we run our giving through an organization? Well, the poor may still get the aid, but the human element is completely siphoned out. Now you never see the poor person, or the hungry person. You write a check from your kitchen table, pop it in an envelope and get a nice bi-monthly pamphlet explaining how your money is being put to work. That's better than nothing, but have you really learned compassion as much if, say, you would have had to literally clothe a naked person or feed the hungry physically? The human-contact element is gone.

This also puts the giver in the dangerous place of feeling like he has fulfilled Christ's mandates because he has written some checks. I'm not saying the checks aren't important, but I am asking whether or not charitable giving through third parties kind of sucks the spiritual value out of the act somewhat - while the poor still get fed, we don't get to interact with them on a personal level.

In the old days, the medieval kings used to fill their halls with beggars and feed them or sometimes (as is told of St. Louis IX) personally put a gold coin in each of their hands. The modern scoffs and asks, "How does giving one beggar a gold coin address the underlying issues of poverty?" I say, "By reminding the king that he, too, is but a man, equal in dignity with the very least." At least much more so than a president ordering a grant for $1 billion to some UN fund or something...

Once I had a friend who was hurting financially. He needed assistance with his mortgage payments. We were talking with a third friend about the problem, when my third friend pulled out his checkbook and wrote the man a check for $500, no strings attached. My friend was flabbergasted that another just so easily handed him a check, with no means of expecting it back. He was profusely thankful, and I think my other friend won some serious treasure in heaven for the act.

Not everybody can do that - but how different is that from what could have happened: my friend could have pulled out a business card and referred the other to some aid organization where his "case" would have been processed bureaucratically: fill out these forms, interview with this "case worker," get some contact info, start your "file", etc. etc. Everything spiritually vivifying about the work is lost.

One more thought: third party giving can turn the charitable works into bureaucratic systems, and like any system they are capable of being "played." Sometimes these organizations do create a dependency in people, as they go from organization to organization, knowing they can get their weekly ration of bread and noodles here, their soaps and hygiene products there, their free dinner over at that place, etc. We all know of people who have played the charity system this way. Because they are coming to get their food not from a person immediately but from an institution who disburses it, there is less gratitude and no chance for the giver to make a connection with the poor.

If we all simply watched out for one another and took the corporal works of mercy to be models for behavior in a very personal and immediate sense, I think things would be a lot different. Sure, we need big organizations to get food and aid to out of the way places, but we can't let these organizations exhaust our charity - nor can we think of giving solely in terms of sending money to some group who then disburses it at their discretion. To do so promotes unhealthy dependence on charity and makes what is supposed to be a very personal act into another administrative action of some bureaucracy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Missa de Angelis Sighting

Some time ago I announced that for the remainder of October I would only be dwelling on positive developments in the Church today - the biggest being the announcement of the structures to receive members of the Anglican Church back into the fold. This is a wonderful development for the Catholic Church, and it underscores a truth about our present Holy Father that so many in the mainstream have failed to pick up: he is a Pope of unity. Now the big question is that if we can reconcile Anglicans who have been in schism and heresy for 500 years, what on earth is stopping us from reconciling the SSPX? That's another topic.

On a more local level, something wonderful happened at my parish this week. I was praying in Church Thursday night with the men's prayer group that I am a part of when the pastor and our music director came in and went up to the choir loft together. As I prayed, I heard her rehearsing the Gloria from the Missa de Angelis with him; she was teaching him how to intone the first line. I thought to myself, "That's awesome. He wouldn't be rehearsing that unless he is going to use it. I hope we use that in our Mass here someday soon."

Well, the someday came sooner than I thought, because this past Sunday at all the Masses the Gloria from the Missa de Angelis was sung (hitherto we had been using some English Gloria that was based on the Missa de Angelis Gloria). The pastor came out before Mass, announced that we were going to start doing this Latin Gloria, and then gave an excellent little summation of why we were doing it, which can be summed up in two main points:

-Latin was never meant to be abolished after Vatican II and this is how we ought to be doing the Mass parts.

-Latin is the future of the Church, and part of the job of a pastor is to keep parishioners abreast of what is going on in the Church and teach them something that they will probably be hearing more often.

Then we rehearsed it twice with the music director leading and we were ready to go. It went over flawlessly and (as of yet) I haven't heard of any complaints; granted it has only been one day.

I attended an NO parish years ago that did the Missa de Angelis Gloria acapella. It was the most beautiful part of the Mass and what I looked forward to every week. I am so very grateful that this beautiful piece of music has been restored to our parish. I know that some of you out there hear it every week, and I am aware that the Missa de Angelis has been called the pre-Conciliar "Mass of Creation" (as here) and that there are other settings for the Mass. Fine. But you have to admit it that if you've not had a Latin Gloria in your parish for over thirty years then this one is a pretty good one to start with.

But how about my pastor's explanation of why the Latin Gloria was being used? Most of us who consider ourselves inclined towards traditional things instinctively revert to an argument from the past as to why certain things ought to be done (it's tradition; we've always done it that way; this is what the saints did, etc.); my pastor instead made an appeal to the future: "This is the way the whole Church is going, and you are going to be seeing a lot more of it in the future. This is the mind of the Church and a well-rounded Catholic needs to know these Mass parts." While this argument can't really stand alone, I think it is a very interesting and valuable addition to all of the other arguments (both historical and liturgical) for a liturgical praxis of continuity.

Kudos to my pastor and the music director for getting this done.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Medjurgorje Directives

This June (2009), Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno in Bosnia and Herzegovina sent letters to the pastor and a parochial vicar at Medjugorje, with specific directives about how they and the parish are not to promote the alleged apparitions of the place. Bishop Peric is the ordinary of the diocese in which Medjugorje is located and per Paul VI's 1978 CDF instruction "Norms for the Congreagtion for Proceeding in Judging Presumed Apparitions and Revelations", has jurisdiction over affairs at Medjugorje.

The English translations became available last month and are available in their entirety at Catholic Light (here). The Bishop uses some very strong language and made some substantial directives on how things are to be done in Medjogorje. Here are the most important points of the directives, though I suggest you read them in full.

Regarding priests who come to Medjugorje to hold retreats or promote the apparitions:
"The rule is still valid that in the parish of Medjugorje priests coming from elsewhere are not permitted to conduct retreats or spiritual exercises, nor to hold conferences, without the approval of this office. Analogously, neither foreign nor domestic priests can promote alleged "messages" or "apparitions" which have not been proclaimed authentic in that church or on church property."

Regarding the use of the title "shrine" in reference to Medjugorje:
"The parish of Medjugorje cannot be called a shrine, neither privately, nor publicly, not officially, because it is not recognized as such by any level of competent ecclesial authority. And that wording cannot appear on the web site of "Medjugorje - place of prayer and reconciliation", where it is currently found in many places....As the local Ordinary, in this present letter, I declare that the so-called "shrine" has no mission to declare itself a "Shrine", nor to present (the parish) with that title, because it has no ecclesiastical mission to present itself in the name of Medjugorje, nor to spread or interpret the "apparitions" and "messages" of Medjugorje."

Here is a reaffirmation of a previous directive absolutely prohibiting the seers from appearing and delivering any messages:
"In September 2007, on the occasion of your installation in the office of parish priest, I indicated to you that the so-called "seers" cannot present themselves on any occasion to promote their private "apparitions" and "messages", nor to preside, nor to have anyone preside in their place, at the recitation of a certain number of prayers "received" in an "apparition". Therefore, they cannot use prayers from scripture or those approved by the Church as a means of introducing "numbers" and "messages" from the private "apparition"."

And regarding praying the Rosary:
"It is equally not permitted to introduce intentions received in an "apparition" or "message" during the prayer of the Rosary of Our Lady. We have sufficient official intentions (from the Pope, from the bishop, for the missions) and there is no need to arbitrarily have recourse to alleged apparitions and messages and mix them with the Church's public prayers."
These preceding directives all came in a letter dated 12 June 2009 to the parish priest of Medjugorje. The following excerpts come from a second letter, dated the same day, to the Franciscan parochial vicar of the parish, Danko Perutina.

The first directive prohibits seers from sending messages from abroad and having them published in the parish bulletin. The prior directives already forbid the seers from delivering messages in person, but this one prohibits the parish from acting as a messenger on behalf of the seers:
"Marija Pavlović, married name Lunetti, daily "seer" who lives in Italy, and temporarily also at Medjugorje, sends to the parish office or to some one of your pastoral workers in the parish of Medjugorje, her "message" of the 25th day of the month, which is then published on the Medjugorje web site and in other mass media. And you regularly make commentary on the monthly "message", which is published in various languages.

When I asked how the "messages" of the 25th were published, and not the other "messages" said to be "private", I did not feel I received a clear and convincing answer. I do not know who has sent and authorized you to comment on them and publish them on the site. What sort of person is assuming the right to decide that some "messages" be omitted and others published, and that this is done through the parish office and the site connected with the parish of Medjugorje?"

...To avoid any misunderstanding, in this present letter I declare that you, according to my decree, are not authorized, either in the name of the parish office or as parochial vicar, to comment upon and publish the "messages" of the 25th or any other day of the month. These are private "messages" of private persons for private use. And we cannot permit that this is given the form of a message from the parish office, from the parish priest, or any parochial vicar, or even of the "Shrine" which is not recognized as such at any level: not diocesan, or the level of the episcopal conference, or of the Holy See."
We may be mistaken, but Bp. Peric seems to be forbidding any communication of the alleged "messages" whatsoever other than on the entirely private level. The letter to the pastor of Medjugorje prohibits seers from delivering messages in person, and his directive to Danko Perutina prohibits them from sending messages abroad to be published. This rules out any type of official mass communication of alleged "messages."
This final statement from the Bishop expressed admirably what he is attempting to do here:
"We are gradually succeeding in distancing the unrecognized "apparitions" and "messages" from the parish church and from church property, and the appearances of the "seers" before or after Holy Mass."

Why would the Bishop want to do this? For the obvious reason that these messages are unapproved, will not be approved, and are so dubious that the local Ordinary wants everybody to understand that the local Church does not endorse them.

Here is a summary of everything contained in these directives:

1) Seers are not to deliver any messages in public
2) That alleged messages and commentaries on them are not to be published
3) That prayers from the apparitions are not to be used publicly
4) The parish church is not to be called a "shrine", even privately
5) That foreign priests may not give conferences or retreats without permission of the bishop
foreign priests wishing to offer Mass must present a celebret from their diocese or order, and the information is to be recorded
5) A privately-built church has already been closed and is not to be used
6) Unauthorized religious communities have no permission to set up residence in Medjogorje

Can anybody really think that this bodes well for Medjugorje? It is gradually being distanced from the official Church and will someday be condemned, at which point it will either peter out (hopefully) or go into schism.

"Yes, but the fruits, the fruits..."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ten Years

Today, October 21st, is a very special ten year anniversary for me; not the ten year anniversary of my marriage, but the ten year anniversary of my commitment to follow Christ. It was ten years ago tonight that I abandoned my indulgent, semi-agnostic and nihilistic stupor to follow the call of Jesus. Here's what happened.

I was nineteen years old. The year was 1999. I had a very nominal religious upbringing - a basic understanding of the most rudimentary basics of Christianity (the Ten Commandments pretty much). I was baptized Catholic, but had never been to Mass in my life - in fact, I was so ignorant of the faith that I did not even know I had been baptized.

After a raucous youth full of fleshly gratification and some drug use, I found myself at 19 full of misery and nihilism, not wanting to get up in the morning, failing to see any purpose in anything I did. I was a fresman student art an art college in Detroit pursuing a career in animation and graphic design, but my spiritual malaise so was so intense that it became debilitating. My grades began to suffer and a very deep depression set in. I recall sitting outside in the courtyard of the college, watching the leaves fall from the trees in the early autumn and the cold blueness of the sky and being utterly unable to find any joy in it - I even thought to myself, "Everybody has to die someday, so what difference does it make if I live out my life to the end or shoot myself right now? It makes no difference whatsoever..." These types of thoughts clouded my mind continually and life was bereft of joy.

One evening (this very evening) I went to a party at the home of an old friend. I had a really good group of friends in high school, sincere and caring and though not without their own troubles, very sturdy souls to have about. But by 1999 the first dynamism of our friendships had spent itself, and all that was left of what had once been an idyllic and innocent youth was cynicism and despair, which meant a lot of drinking. The mood of the party was dour and it did little to soothe my aching soul.

But then a friend of mine showed up, a very special friend whom I had known in my youth and who had actually taught me how to play guitar. He had recently put off his former life and had embraced Christ and came to the party to preach to his friends still mired in the world. Most blew him off or scoffed at him, but my soul drank in his words like parched earth drinking in the rain. He went off to walk with another kid to talk to him more, and I tagged along because the name of Jesus seemed to light some kind of fire in my heart and I desired to hear more.

We walked for a ways, and the other kid eventually went his own way. Yet I remainded and said, "Tell me more." So we left the party and went for a long walk by night, where amidst the frigid blasts of Michigan October wind and the blustering skies he spoke to me of Jesus Christ, of God's love for man and of Christ's death on the cross - and of the forgiveness of sins. The particular type of Christianity he was preaching was simple Protestantism ("believe in Jesus Christ and confess He is Lord and you will be forgiven"), but oh how powerful the message was to one mired in misery.

At the end of the discussion I grapsed his shirt and asked to be baptized. I don't know where this came from, but I think I just knew that Christians were supposed to be baptized (and I was ignorant of my own baptism as a Catholic). He took me down to a lake by a park (pictured above), and under the churning clouds and among the choppy and blisteringly cold waters dunked me and pronounced the words of baptism. I know thaty sacramentally nothing occurred there, for I had already entered the holy laver as an infant, but the act of faith and the desire to truly start a new life must have been effacacious because I immediately and sensibly felt the greatest outpouring of grace and mercy I had ever known. This was by a special mercy of God.

The world seemed brand new, and as I came dripping (but not cold) from the waters, the whole earth seemed as fresh and beautiful as it did the moment it came forth from the hand of God and was beheld by Adam newly formed. I know grace is entirely of the supernatural order and not something knowable experientially, but at that moment God pulled back the veil and allowed me to feel and experience what was working in my soul - a true turning, a pulling back, the metanoia talked about by St. John the Baptist and likewise experienced so intensely by St. Augustine in the garden. This is what happened to me on this evening ten years ago today.

As I went home, my mind told me, "Nothing has really changed. You will wake up tomorrow and feel the same." And I did feel the same in the morning - but different; lighter, happier. It was the subtle and silent presence of joy for the first time. I became hungry for the Scriptures and devoured the Bible with zealous intensity, underlining and marking it up until the pages were worn thin. I did not intentionally set out to lose my old friends, but by and by as my interests became more focused on Jesus and His Kingdom, my old friends just sort of fell away. Before I know it I was a Christian and had only Christian friends. And though life was not easy, I was happy.

Well, there is more to the story - how I started going to a Protestant non-denominational church and met my wife; how through the study of the Scriptures and disputes with my friends I began to see the fallacy of sola scriptura and how I slowly became aware of my Catholic baptism and origin; how the historical fact of the Church's existence and the Catholicity of the early Fathers drew me Rome-ward, and how I was finally received into full communion with the Church on the Feast of St. Francis, 2002.

But today I commemorate that first wonderous night when the grace of God first blew apart the blindness and despair of my heart and let in the glorious light of Christ. It was that event which knocked me on a different course - and everything I have done subsequently has drawn its momentum from that initial burst of grace, just as an object in space once propelled will continue in that direction forever. Every night on this date I revisit this spot by the lake, as close to the original time as I can, and venerate the spot where God struck me from my horse. It has become a pilgrimage and an occasion of rededication, as well as repentance: repentance for years wasted, opportunities to do good thrown away, sinsAdd Image stubbornly clung to and selfishness yet to be rooted out.

Praise and thanks be to Jesus Christ our Lord. His mercy endures forever.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There and back again

I rolled in from New York at about 4:45 AM yesterday morning and am still recovering from the subsequent exhaustion...but it was a wonderful trip, with a lot of blessings and a lot of snags, and when I get time I will post a full write up with pictures and everything.

As for the "Who Said It?" quote, I was surprised that nobody took a shot at it, since this is from one of the best books of all times, Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. It is taken from the Epilogue of the book, part IV, where Alyosha Karamazov is talking to some street boys about how preserving the memory of how "we were once good" can be enough to bring one back to grace, even though they may grow old and wicked.

There is so much to blog about this week: the Vatican's announcement of new guidelines for the reception of Anglicans, new directives on Medjugorje that further call the validity of the apparitions into doubt, the continuing disintegration of the country under BHO and much more; I also have a book review for a great new work on the liturgy that I am putting together. I hope to be back at it soon - now I have to go to Confession, so I'll catch up when I can.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Question on the Real Presence


Some time ago when I was in college I recall hearing a quote from St. Thomas which said that "Christ is not present in the Blessed Sacrament as to a place." This confused me, since I always thought Catholic teaching is that Christ is present physically in the Blessed Sacrament. Can you clarify this for me?

Before I begin with this, I want to say that I am not an expert in St. Thomas or Scholastic theology, so if this is a little off point I would appreciate any clarification - but I will answer to the best of my meager ability.

The statement of St. Thomas, I believe, is found in STh III, 76.5, where the question being discussed is Whether Christ's body is in this sacrament as in a place? St. Thomas' ultimate answer to the question is in the negative, and St. Thomas says "Christ's body is not in this sacrament as in a place."

This certainly can be confusing, and I think I may have heard of some evangelical Protestants haphazardly tossing around this phrase as some sort of "proof" that St. Thomas did not believe in the Real Presence as understood from time immemorial. Clearly Thomas believed no such thing (I would be hard pressed to believe that the composer of Adoro Te Devote, O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo disbelieved in the Real Presence); therefore we can I think safely and immediately rule out any interpretation that would impugn the fidelity of St. Thomas. The correct answer must be of a more technical and semantic nature.

Part of the problem with these sorts of questions is the imprecision with which we are used to speaking about the Blessed Sacrament. Even very orthodox Catholics sometimes use language that is improper when talking about the Sacrament. Sometime back, I was speaking about the Sacrament and used the terminology that the Lord was present "under the forms of bread and wine." My pastor, whose field of study was Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy, pulled me aside and said that this language was not acceptable due to the metaphysical implications of the word "form." He told me that I ought to only refer to the "species" of bread and wine, "the appearance" or bread and wine, or the "signs" of bread and wine, but never the forms. I am not astute enough at Aristotelian hylomorphism to grasp the subtleties implied by the word form, but the point is that precision of language is needed when dealing with the Sacrament (does anyone know what the issue with "form" is? If so, let me know).

In Article 5 of Question 76, St. Thomas proposes to answer the question of whether Christ is present in the sacrament as in a place. He has already established in the preceding articles that Christ is truly present in the species and in every particle of the species. Now he attempts to describe how Christ's presence in the sacrament (already asserted and assumed here) relates to the physical place in which the sacrament is consecrated locally.

The real question Thomas is getting at is whether, in the physical locale where any given Sacrament is consecrated or reserved, the Body of Jesus Christ can be said to fill that place. Here Thomas is drawing a distinction between the species themselves and the place occupied by the species. Clearly, the whole Christ is present in the sacred species, even to the smallest fragment (III, Q. 76, Art. 4.). So though it is certain that Christ's whole substance is contained in the sacred species, this is a different question from whether or not the physical place the sacred species occupy is filled by Christ. It is this latter question that St. Thomas answers in the negative.

Thomas notes that, "The place and the object placed must be equal, as is clear from the Philosopher (Phys. iv). But the place, where this sacrament is, is much less than the body of Christ. Therefore Christ's body is not in this sacrament as in a place." Since the particular place occupied by the species is less than Christ's body, it is not possible that a single place could encompass the whole Christ or be filled with it.

It is important to note that St. Thomas does not regard the sacred species as a "place", even though their accidents can be said to occupy space. St. Thomas would not say that Christ was present in the sacrament "physically", as we are accustomed to do, but would rather say that His mode of presence is according to substance, or that it is a sacramental presence. We'd better let him explain it:

I answer that, As stated above (1, ad 3; 3), Christ's body is in this sacrament not after the proper manner of dimensive quantity, but rather after the manner of substance. But every body occupying a place is in the place according to the manner of dimensive quantity, namely, inasmuch as it is commensurate with the place according to its dimensive quantity. Hence it remains that Christ's body is not in this sacrament as in a place, but after the manner of substance, that is to say, in that way in which substance is contained by dimensions; because the substance of Christ's body succeeds the substance of bread in this sacrament: hence as the substance of bread was not locally under its dimensions, but after the manner of substance, so neither is the substance of Christ's body. Nevertheless the substance of Christ's body is not the subject of those dimensions, as was the substance of the bread: and therefore the substance of the bread was there locally by reason of its dimensions, because it was compared with that place through the medium of its own dimensions; but the substance of Christ's body is compared with that place through the medium of foreign dimensions, so that, on the contrary, the proper dimensions of Christ's body are compared with that place through the medium of substance; which is contrary to the notion of a located body.

Somewhat intricate, but here is what he is getting at. If I say "My cat is on the counter," and if this in fact true, this means that the cat fully occupies the space at which it is present; it is present on the counter, whole and entire, and in such a way that excludes its presence anywhere else. If the cat is on the counter, this means is it necessarily not on the floor or on the bed. This is what it means for the cat to be present on the counter "as in a place." Yet this is not the way Christ is present in the Sacrament - if He were, it would not be possible for Him to be present on all the altars of the world, but only in one locally, just like during His earthly life we could say that He was present in Palestine "as to a place." Yet this is not the manner of His sacramental presence.

Christ's body is fully contained in the sacred species because of the relation of substance to dimension. Thomas notes that when the substance of our Lord succeeds the substance of bread, the accidents remain, but there is an important change: whereas the accidents of the bread are natural to the dimensive qualities of the substance of bread, the dimensive qualities of the Body of Christ are foreign to the accidents of bread (this could not exist in nature, and it is only miraculously that the accidents remain at all). Thus, though the species take up space according to their accidental properties, it cannot be said in anyway that the whole Christ is present locally in that space or that the space can contain Christ exclusively (inasmuch as what is contains is greater than that which is contained).

St. Thomas says in the same Question (III.76, 5):

Hence in no way is Christ's body locally in this sacrament... Christ's body is not in this sacrament definitively, because then it would be only on the particular altar where this sacrament is performed: whereas it is in heaven under its own species, and on many other altars under the sacramental species. Likewise it is evident that it is not in this sacrament circumscriptively, because it is not there according to the commensuration of its own quantity, as stated above. But that it is not outside the superficies of the sacrament, nor on any other part of the altar, is due not to its being there definitively or circumscriptively, but to its being there by consecration and conversion of the bread and wine, as stated above (1; 15, 2, sqq.).

What St. Thomas is arguing against here is any idea of a local presence which would exclude the possibility of His presence elsewhere, and he notes that this is due to the nature of Christ's presence in the sacred species. I admit I am a little muddled on the last sentence here, but I think I get the drift. So while Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, His real Presence is different from the presence He had upon earth, though both are "physical." His earthly presence was physical but also local, and the dimensive properties of his earthy body and its accidents were commensurate with the properties of His substance. In the Blessed Sacrament, Christ is present in a physical, literal manner but not locally or "circumspectly", as if He is present only upon one altar. The qualities of Christ's Body are foreign to the accidents of the bread, which is why a miracle is necessary to hold the accidents of the species in place while the substance of Christ succeeds the substance of bread. The species become His body by substance but cannot contain it locally because He is greater than any place.

I think this is what St. Thomas is getting at - can anyone offer any clarifications or correct me if I have gone astray here?

Click here for a link to III.76, 5

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sungenis Responds to Hahn

Here is the latest segment in an unfolding saga. Last time, Dr. Scott Hahn made a thorough and charitable response to me regarding his opinion concerning understanding the Holy Spirit in a feminine sense. I was mostly satisfied with his explanation and no longer intend to question him on the matter or cast doubt on his orthodoxy - I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is meant to be interpreted in the most orthodox manner possible (i.e., as a metaphor). But I still don't necessarily think it is a useful or prudent metaphor. Remember, even if the thesis is entirely orthodox, that does not mean it merits being promoted or applauded. There are propositions called suspecta de hæresi, errore (suspected of heresy or error) which the Catholic Encyclopedia defines as follows:

"Propositions thus noted may be correct in themselves, but owing to various circumstances of time, place, and persons are prudently taken to present a signification which is either heretical or erroneous."

One could therefore say that even if everything Hahn says is entirely valid, there is still a prudential reason for perhaps not going forward with this theory anymore, due not to any internal error with the propositions but with regards to "circumstances of time, place and persons"; i.e., what people at large will think Hahn is saying. Though Hahn has the best of intentions (and because of his over 20 year record of distinguished service to the Church, we ought to assume the best of intentions), his theory would be subject to immediate misinterpretation by many people less well informed and with less pure motives. The Gospel is always subject to misinterpretation, but a proposition that is suspecta de haeresi, errore is a propisition that invites misinterpretation by its very nature.

Furthermore, the encyclical of Pope Paul VI Mysterium Fidei said the following regarding safeguarding theological language:

"Once the integrity of the faith has been safeguarded, then it is time to guard the proper way of expressing it, lest our careless use of words give rise, God forbid, to false opinions regarding faith in the most sublime things" (MF 23).

This is an important point that is seldom brought up in the discussion. Not only is it important to maintain the truths of the Faith, but even the traditional language of the faith that expresses those truths ought to be guarded.

Please understand that this is not about Scott Hahn the man - I am trying to be very charitable and reasoned here, so as to avoid being accused of blasting or criticizing Dr. Hahn. All this is about his thesis, not Scott Hahn the man. I respect Scott Hahn greatly and admire the work he has done for the Church and for how his work has affected my own personal faith.

Another man I greatly respect, Dr. Robert Sungenis, has made a lengthy reply to Dr. Hahn's response, posted on my blog last week. As you read this, please note that it was originally given in a private email and wasn't submitted as an article or post, so please give Dr. Sungenis some leeway before criticizing him - (how would your email conversations fare if subject to critique?) That being said, this is a pretty good response for an email - it was sent to me by a reader, and I'm taking the liberty of assuming that Dr. Sungenis will not mind me posting it [UPDATE: Dr. Sungenis has since given his explicit permission to post the following response].

Dr. Sungenis' response to Dr. Hahn will be in blue (my comments in red):

I think Hahn defended himself about as good as he could, but there still remains some problems, as you will see below. Perhaps it was all a big misunderstanding [Which I think is probably the source of most of the controversy on this topic]. Only Hahn knows for sure, because only he knows what he really believes about this issue. I had always found it difficult to gauge just how much Hahn was attributing by means of metaphors to the Holy Spirit as opposed to how much he was singling out the Holy Spirit as the only person of the Trinity to have these feminine characteristics. In fact, in reading his explanation, I’m still somewhat unclear as to the where he stands.

I think it is easy to grant to Hahn that he is not saying the Holy Spirit is feminine in the sense of having a feminine gender [Right - which is the most important point and what everybody is agreed upon]. I think that goes without saying. But I think he is saying, of all the persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the one to whom we can attribute feminine characteristics. The problem lies, however, in just how Hahn attributes these feminine characteristics. Is Hahn saying that they are ontologically based in the substance of the Holy Spirit? If so, then it seems that feminine characteristics are part and parcel with the being of the Holy Spirit, even if one claims that the same Holy Spirit is not feminine in regards to gender.

On the other hand, is Hahn merely saying that if we were to see feminine characteristics somewhere in the Trinity then the Holy Spirit would be the best candidate to exhibit them (even though the Father and the Son are sometimes seen in light of feminine characteristics as well)? Again, I’m not sure what he is saying at this point. In what way is the Holy Spirit, in Hahn’s view, distinct from the Father and the Son with regard to feminine characteristics?

If Hahn’s whole thesis is merely saying that the Holy Spirit is preponderantly pictured as having what we normally understand as “feminine” or “motherly” actions toward human beings or toward the other two persons of the Trinity, perhaps there is not much cause for much alarm [I think personally that this is closest to the truth]. But if in some way these feminine aspects of the Holy Spirit that Hahn wants to emphasize are ontologically based wherein the Holy Spirit is now distinguished from the Father and Son because of them, then I believe we have a serious problem, for we are out of the realm of mere metaphors and into the substance of the Godhead.

Hahn’s quote of Cardinal Ratzinger, which states: "Because of the teaching about the Spirit, one can as it were practically have a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine, in a mysterious, veiled manner, within God himself,” is troublesome for me. First, I don’t know precisely what the cardinal is trying to say, for the language is very obtuse, at least not without some more context to flesh it out.

The use of “as it were” seems to make Ratzinger’s imagery merely a hypothetical suggestion rather than a confirmed teaching. Also, I have a hard time wrapping myself around the clause “a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine.” A presentiment is a foreboding of something bad, so how that fits with promoting the idea of a “primordial type of the feminine” I don’t know. Perhaps the English translation is bad.

Lastly, when we speak of “primordial” we are commonly talking about the beginning, and more specifically, the prototype to whatever is subsequent. But here again is where one might see a slippage into the ontological, since a “primordial” feminine would have to mean that it came before anything subsequent, existing as such for all eternity [That would present a problem...]. Again, I see a confusion here between ontology and metaphors. All in all, the clause “a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine…within God himself” is much too vague and ambiguous a sentence to use as support for Hahn’s theory [suspecta de haeresi, errore?]. Hahn needs to first unwrap what Ratzinger is really saying before it can be commandeered as a support.

As for the Catechism at para. 370, I don’t think this offers Hahn much help for the simple fact that it is not singling out the Holy Spirit but is speaking of the Godhead in toto.

The quote from St. Aphrahat is certainly interesting, but not any real support, since Aphrahat is merely expressing in poetical style his affection for the Holy Spirit as his “mother.” Obviously, Aphrahat is not saying the Holy Spirit IS a mother, so it must be metaphorical. If Hahn is going to use Aphrahat as a support for his thesis (whatever that thesis is), he would have to show Aphrahat having a fully thought-out theology of the Holy Spirit in which the “motherly” aspects he writes in devotion can be transferred into a theological understanding of the Holy Spirit as distinguished from the Father and Son. From what I know and have read of Aphrahat, there is no such thought-out theology. Logically, if there is no other statement from Aphrahat that speaks of the Holy Spirit in feminine or motherly characteristics, we may be doing him a disservice by appealing to him as a progenitor of Hahn’s thesis. This is especially true in light of the fact that the Eastern Fathers had a tendency to use rich and flowery language in their theological descriptions, much more than the Western Fathers did. (There is actually a specific word for this type of Eastern writing, but I can’t remember what it is) [Hymnography?]

Hence, it is no surprise to me that all of the ancient witnesses that Hahn can garner to his aid (however minimal they may be), are all Easterners, and all use the same type of ornate imagery common among Easterners. As regards to doctrine, the Easterners wouldn’t be bothered by this ornate language, since, from what I can see, they confined these rich descriptions to their hymns and prayers, not their doctrinal stances. Granted, our motto is lex orendi, lex credendi, but still, prayers have much more of a poetical license than strict doctrinal formulations.

Kolbe’s use of the phrase “uncreated Immaculate Conception” and “quasi-incarnation of the Holy Spirit” in reference to the Blessed Virgin is also troublesome. First, Kolbe was sainted not for his theological knowledge but because of his impeccable life, so he really shouldn’t be esteemed as a “theologian of unimpeachable orthodoxy,” in the sense that whatever Kolbe said in the theological realm is “unimpeachable.” [This is a point that deserves to be weighted carefully - just because someone is a saint, even of unimpeachable orthodoxy, does not mean their teachings are authoritative, especially if we consider why they were sainted. When we consider martyrs like St. Thomas Becket, St. Isaac Jogues or St. Thomas More, we can see their sanctity bound up with their witness for the Faith, but no one goes around citing their writings as the basis for doctrinal claims. Is Kolbe in this category as well?]

Second, the Church has never used such vague and ambiguous language of the Holy Spirit, not even close [Remember Paul VI on guarding traditional language?]. What is a “quasi-incarnation”? Either one is incarnated or one is not. There is no in-between state. This kind of terminology only creates confusion; it doesn’t clear up anything. Likewise, “uncreated Immaculate Conception” is Kolbe’s invention, since it certainly wasn’t used by anyone in Catholic history. If we don’t draw these solid lines around how we describe the Holy Spirit, the whole enterprise becomes a shell game of word meanings and implications [This has been the problem with this whole debate since the beginning - figuring out exactly what is being implied]. This ought not to be. When we speak of the Holy Spirit we must be as precise as humanly possible. Metaphors about feminine and motherly characteristic may be good in prayers and homilies, but certainly not in doctrinal formulations.

For the same reason, the quote from Edith Stein is also troubling. Here we have use of what seems to be an ontological categorization of the Holy Spirit (in distinction to the Father and Son) by her use of “prototype.” She says “Thus we can see the prototype of the feminine being in the Spirit of God.” Once again, if Edith Stein were a noted and decorated pneumatologist for the Catholic Church, we might take pause and give her words some weight, even if they seemed to run counter to traditional descriptions of the Holy Spirit. But Edith Stein, saint or not, was not recognized for her insights on pneumatology, but for her impeccable life in service to God. Thus, she is not an authority on this subject, and certainly not one to support a major thesis such as the one Hahn is promoting. Edith Stein simply had no thought-out theology of the Holy Spirit to even be considered a support for Hahn’s thesis. Proof-texting from Stein, or anyone else for that matter, is simply not enough.

As for Scheeben, he is merely using an analogy when he says "As the mother is the bond of love between father and child, so in God the Holy Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son." Whether Scheeben would want to be categorized as supporting Hahn’s thesis (and again, I’m not sure what that thesis really is), remains to be seen. Hahn is certainly not going to prove that Scheeben is on his side by extracting a mere analogy from his writings.

I also have problem with the use of the quote: "As Eve can, in a figurative sense, be called simply the rib of Adam... St. Methodius goes so far as to assert that the Holy Spirit is the rib of the Word (costa Verbi)." Once again, we have another Easterner (Methodius) using ornate language. Westerners did not use this language, and even many Easterners were cautious about using it, especially those who were the articulators of Catholic doctrine on the Trinity (Athanasius). Moreover, Hahn gives us no context for Methodius’ assertion (e.g., was this a prayer or a doctrinal formulation?), nor does he explain what precisely Methodius means by such a strange mixed metaphor as “rib of the Word.” In a way, Methodius’ phrase is non-sensical, and it certainly has no support from any other patristic writer.

As for “R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP; L. Bouyer; J. Kentenich; B. Ashley, OP; Cardinal Y. Congar (Tradition & Traditions, pp. 372-75); F.X. Durrwell; A. Feuillet; H.M. Manteau-Bonamy, OP” supporting “this notion,” I don’t know what “notion” Hahn is referring to. If these eminent theologians are supporting Hahn’s thesis, then he would do himself a service, and us as well, to show specifically what they are saying as support. At this point, I don’t know anything in their writings that is supportive. I think it is safe to say that, if there was supporting argumentation that was clear and concise, Hahn would have excerpted quotes from their books just as he did with, say, Kolbe or Methodius [Good point]. At this point in the controversy, Hahn cannot hold up mere source citations as support. He must dig deep into these theologians and draw out the specific evidence. This is his thesis. It behooves him to do the homework.

As for Catherine LaCugna’s objections to accepting feminine traits attached to the Holy Spirit for fear of further subordination of women, Hahn needs to show that this lone opinion is the consensus among Catholic feminists. I haven’t done any research on this particular angle of the argument myself, but I can imagine that there are a significant portion of Catholic feminists who applaud the idea that the Holy Spirit is considered feminine, in distinction to the Father and Son. What more basis can one have for Catholic feminism than the fact that God, in some sense, is feminine? This would make Eve much more than a rib appendage from Adam, for she would be an appendage from the Holy Spirit which only used Adam as the vehicle!

I think these are all fair critiques from Sungenis. Any comment on them? Regardless of what you may think of Sungenis or geocentrism, this seems to be a pretty balanced critique. Basically he seems to be saying that Hahn's explanations still give room for ambiguity and that, even if everything is on the up-and-up, this idea is simply too novel and subject to misinterpretation; i.e., it could be technically true but still confusing and very imprudent to promulgate. Any thoughts?

Thursday, October 08, 2009


I am blessed to be part of a wonderful homeschool co-op that operates out of our parish and works with about 65 students. These students meet on a two ir three day per week schedule, six hours each day, and learn things that most college students never pick up. Logic, Latin, philosophy, biology, history, art, schola, theology and Scripture studies - everything necessary for the development of a well-balanced Catholic person. There is a healthy emphasis on the tradition of the Church in establishing Catholic identity, and liturgy and Catholic spirituality are fully integrated into the life of the students. It has been a truly wonderful experience to be identified with this program, and I am constantly amazed at the advanced level of cognitive achievement these kids reach. I can't imagine the Headmaster would oppose me promoting the program, so if you are curious, you can view their website here.

I bring this up because I believe that wherever you see the Catholic life being lived and the Church being restored, there you will find homeschoolers right in the midst of it. I am not denying that public and private school families also contribute to this, but I think it is fair to say that if you take parishes where orthodoxy is established, liturgy is reverent and Eucharistic devotion is practiced, you will see strong homeschooling communities. This has been my experience in southeast Michigan over the past ten years - is this what you people out there notice as well? Is a vibrant parish life concomitant with homeschooling in most situations you have witnessed?

The late Fr. John Hardon, SJ, who in my neck of the woods is already revered as a saint, made a similar observation when he said, "In my judgment, homeschooling is absolutely necessary for the survival of the Catholic Church in our country." While I originally saw homeschooling as more of a preferable option among many valid educational choices, I now see it as more essential to the preservation of Catholic identity. Sure, we may send our kids through public schools or private schools and have them maintain the Faith, but I think it is homeschooling that best way (and perhaps currently the only way) to maintain not only the Faith but the Catholic culture and community that goes with the Faith wherever a true "inculturation" has taken place.

I think we could say then that the renewal of the Church is intimately connected with the growth of Catholic homeschooling - 15,000 in 1970 to near 2.7 million in 2007. Part of this increase, I think, is due to a renewed emphasis in recent times by the Church of the "primary duty" of the parents as main educators of their children. This gave Catholic parents the pastoral support and impetus they needed to encourage their choice in homeschooling (since in most places, there was no support from diocesan or parochial officials). The following statement from Familiaris Consortio is the foundational principle of the Catholic homeschooling movement:

The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others (FC, 36).

The drastic rise of homeschooling in the Catholic Church is one of the surest signs of renewal, and wherever homeschooling is encouraged you will find orthodoxy, morality, intellectual growth and the blossoming of vocations. Besides being intrinsically better than public schooling from an academic point of view, it is an essential tool in the building up of the Church.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Vote to support a local Pro-Life charity!

Here's your chance to help a local pregnancy help-clinic in western Michigan win some much needed funds!

Each year, Lori Moore, morning radio host on WKZO, Kalamazoo, raises money for local charities by selling her "Dish to Pass" cookbook. During the holidays, she appears in local businesses and sells the books with all proceeds going to selected charities. This year, fourteen non-profits will benefit. She will choose those fourteen based on who receives the most votes in her online poll.

Alternatives of Kalamazoo, Pregnancy Care Center, is one of 30 nominated charities. This great organization reaches thousands of yong women each year with hope, encouragement, and tangible assistance. Alternatives is across the street from the local Planned Parenthood. They truly provide an alternative to abortion. If you click here, you will be taken directly to the voting page, where you can click on Alternatives, Pregnancy Care Center (they are close to the bottom of the list). I'm pretty sure they are already in the top ten, but they could use another several thousand votes to secure their place.

You can vote more than once, so those of you who do nothing but sit in front of a computer all day, you have your mission. The deadline is the end of today, so don't hesitate to pass this on.

Monday, October 05, 2009

So what's the good news?

This weekend I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do with this blog and came to some conclusions, partially as a result of my own reflection, and partially at the behest of my pastor, who asked me the consider what I was trying to accomplish with this blog and what I wanted to contribute to the building up of the Church.

As I was reflecting upon these questions, I was thinking of the heresy of Sedecavantism and came to the intuitive conclusion that Sedevacantism is a heresy of despair. It is a dead end, a position arrived at by those who have walked too far down the road of criticism and anger and have lost the virtue of hope. I'm not claiming this as a theological maxim, but as an intuitive insight, and of course I have no way to know the interior disposition of those enmeshed in Sedevacantism, but from listening to certain Sedes talk on various blogs, it is evident to me that this is a theology of despair.

This got me thinking that, while I would never ever consider Sedevacantism as any valid system of thought, one can put oneself in a dangerous place spiritually by focusing excessively on the negative aspects of today's crisis. We all know about the empty seminaries, depleted religious orders, the liberal nonsense, the episcopal inaction, et al. However, perhaps it is the case that by dwelling upon it too much we run the risk of diminishing our view of the Church and losing our hope in the promise of Christ to defend it against the gates of hell. If we focus our light too much on the abuses and problems in the Church (that do rightfully need to be addressed), we can obscure our vision and come to view the Church as a purely human institution corrupted by bureaucratic machinery. I know nobody ever says that explicitly, and no trad of any stripe would do so, but is that how we relate to the Church? When we place way too much emphasis on the errors of the fallible persons who constitute the Church on this earth, are we not implicitly acting as though everything depends solely on human actions and motivations and not on Christ's promise?

This should not be a justification for inaction, but it should be a call to a balanced approach - one that can acknowledge and attempt to right wrongs without becoming despairing and dour about everything.

In order to accomplish this, I've decided that for the next month on this blog (roughly until Advent), I am only going to post about things that are going right with the Church. I don't want to be known as a complaining blogger (probably too late for that, heh heh), but way more importantly, I don't want my view of the Catholic Church to be dimmed by a kind of fatalist despair. I want to maintain and build up Faith in Christ's fidelity to the Church by spending some time pointing out signs of hope in the current catastrophe, and highlighting things that have gone right with the Church in the past decade or so.

I personally am starting with myself in trying to break the mold of stingy, dour trads - whether that stereotype is accurate or not I cannot say, but I want to make sure that it at least never becomes accurate in me.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Scott Hahn's Response

Well, when I posted on Dr. Hahn's idea of the Holy Spirit acting maternally, I never thought the post would make it up to him or that he would personally take the time to offer a response, but indeed he did, for which I am truly grateful and somewhat humbled. After all, this is the man through whom God led me back to the Catholic Faith. I'll post Dr. Hahn's responses in their entirety (they are also in the combox-emphases mine):


I am grateful for your blog and also for your kind words. And I appreciate your concern about my understanding of the Holy Spirit, and some of the bridal-maternal aspects that may (or may not) pertain to the Holy Spirit's Person and work. Please allow me to share some thoughts that might help to alleviate your concerns.

First, I have never once referred to the Holy Spirit as feminine, as the ancient gnostics did. Indeed, I expressly deny the Holy Spirit is feminine in my book First Comes Love (both editions).

I do quote Cardinal Ratzinger, from his book, Daughter Zion (p. 27), where he states: "Because of the teaching about the Spirit, one can as it were practically have a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine, in a mysterious, veiled manner, within God himself." I subsequently go on to clarify Ratzinger's point by stating: "Once again: God is not feminine by nature. Nor is the Holy Spirit feminine" (pp. 163, 166).

I then proceed to quote the Catechism's teaching about God: “He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective ‘perfections’ of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband” (CCC 370).

As to my patristic sources, I quote first, from a baptismal homily of St. Aphrahat (who speaks of "God his Father and the Holy Spirit his mother"); second, from a homily by St. Macarius (who speaks of how "Adam no longer saw the true Father, nor the good Mother the grace of the Spirit, nor the desirable brother, the Lord"); and third, from the Syriac rite of pre-baptismal anointing (where the Holy Spirit is called upon,"Come, Mother of the seven houses").

As you mentioned, I quote St. Ephrem, a Doctor of the Church, who actually refers to the Holy Spirit as "Mother" on many occasions (in homilies, hymns and prayers). I also cite St. Catherine of Siena, another Doctor of the Church, who wrote: "The Holy Spirit becomes a mother who feeds them from the breast of divine charity."

But I draw most extensively from modern Catholic saints and theologians of unimpeachable orthodoxy. So for instance, St. Maximillian Kolbe speaks of the Holy Spirit as the "Uncreated Immaculate Concepion," and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the "quasi-incarnation of the Holy Spirit."

St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross (Edith Stein) writes: "Thus we can see the prototype of the feminine being in the Spirit of God poured over all creatures. It finds its perfect image in the purest Virgin who is the bride of God and mother of all mankind."

The great 19th century German Thomist theologian, Matthias Joseph Scheeben, who is generally acknowledged to be the founder of Mariology as a distinct branch of Sacred Theology), writes: ""As the mother is the bond of love between father and child, so in God the Holy Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son." He also notes: "As Eve can, in a figurative sense, be called simply the rib of Adam... St. Methodius goes so far as to assert that the Holy Spirit is the rib of the Word (costa Verbi)" (Mysteries of Christianity, 183-85).

I go on to show how this notion is affirmed by many other notable theologians: R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP; L. Bouyer; J. Kentenich; B. Ashley, OP; Cardinal Y. Congar (Tradition & Traditions, pp. 372-75); F.X. Durrwell; A. Feuillet; H.M. Manteau-Bonamy, OP (The Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit).

All of this does not prove that bridal and maternal elements are proper to the Holy Spirit's Person and work, of course; but it does indicate how highly unoriginal I am in exploring something that has never been condemned by the Church's Magisterium. Nor should this ever be linked to (or confused with) the bizarre speculations of the ancient gnostics, who rejected the Incarnation and Trinity in favor of bizarre aeon-schemes drawn from a pantheistic/emmanationist view of God and the world.

Likewise, it should be noted that this approach to bridal-maternal aspects of the Holy Spirit is generally rejected as abhorrent to feminist scholars, like Catherine LaCugna, who warns that "the Spirit's activities should not be stereotyped according to gender-determined roles for women.... Further, the association of feminine imagery solely with the Spirit would reinforce the subordination of women in church and society" (cited in First Comes Love, p. 206).

All of this is found in a chapter of First Comes Love ("The Family Spirit"), which is available on-line here.

All the best,
Scott Hahn

PS I might add that I first ran the entire manuscript of First Comes Love by my "spiritual father," Bishop Bruskewitz (who received me into the Church back in 1986), asking him to read it carefully and offer his critique. He offered some suggestions and then concluded: "I assure you that in my view it is not only completely orthodox but also exceptionally useful."

PPS Thanks for suggesting that I write bigger books, which makes me think you may be interested to learn that in June, I published a 600-page book with Yale University Press, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God's Saving Promises (Anchor Bible Reference Library), and a 1000-page Catholic Bible Dictionary (Doubleday), also in June, and then last week a measly 200-page book, Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Baker Brazos). But I will get to work on another big tome just as soon as I've recovered from these! It's a start, at least.

All the best,

I want to first thank Dr. Hahn for writing such a lengthy response and trying to clear up some of the confusion on this matter. I think this may be the most thorough exposition of his opinion outside of the appendix of First Comes Love, which he was gracious enough to link up in his response.

This does indeed "alleviate some of my doubts", at least to the degree that I can say that it is not something Dr. Hahn is pulling out of thin air. He seems to be suggesting that certain maternal aspects of God seem to be attributed to the Holy Spirit by appropriation, not stating that the Holy Spirit is essentially feminine. If this is all he is getting at, then I think that I for one can give him the benefit of the doubt - after all, Proverbs 8 speaks of Wisdom as unambiguously feminine, but this has never stopped the Fathers, Scholastics or modern theologians from applying these passages to the preexistence of the Son, who is obviously not a female. In the same way, while keeping in mind both that God has revealed Himself as a Father, but that in His substance He is neither male nor female, I don't see as much problem in saying that the Spirit acts maternally now that I have read Dr. Hahn's exposition of it and seen his citations.