Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Does Protestant Christianity Employ a Nominalist Lens?

I'm still enjoying Louis Bouyer's "Spirit and Forms of Protestantism". (Having children will do a number on your leisure time.) After about 160 pages of discussing what he calls "the positive principles of the Reformation" Bouyer presents his view that Protestant Christianity derived its negative principles from the philosophy of Nominalism. (A Nominalism, mind you, that infected the Catholicism of the 16th century and lives on in Protestantism.)

This is not the first time I've heard this theory voiced and it makes want to read Occam and Biel to see if I can get a grip on it. The theory is intuitively believable from the bits and pieces I've heard, and the experience of becoming self-aware, from time to time, of this or that set of philosophical categories predetermining the way I think.

They say that failure to study history dooms one to repeat it. If there isn't such a proverb for philosophy, there should be one. Failure to study philosophy dooms a person to think entirely within the philosophy one unconsciously believes. Hmmm... rolls right off the toungue, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And Then There Were Two

Baby Anna came out into the world at 2:51am on Friday, November 20th.

Children are a gift from God.

Mommy and Daddy are very thankful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Grace of Matrimony

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I had a family member tell me that when his first child was born, he became much more sensitive to all the evil in the world. I experienced the same conversion when Carol was born. The operative principle appears to the be the intense connection that I feel, as Carol's father, to her state of wellbeing.

When I see Carol running about our home and she has a really close call with injuring herself, the anxiety I feel is palpable---it's a physical sensation. When I see Carol actually injure herself, that's something physical too. It's not just a thought or an emotion, it's in my flesh. Her vulnerability is my vulnerability.

I have the same physical sensations when I think about all the opportunities for Carol (and now Anna) to be injured outside our home (referring back the "evil in the world"). Our culture is not very kid friendly and on some levels is actually kid hostile. There are forces shaping our culture that are not so concerned about vulnerable persons as they are concerned about self-gratification.

I think solidarity with vulnerable persons (children) is one of the graces of the Vocation of Holy Matrimony. It's a powerful grace because it isn't confined to one's own children---it reaches out in all directions and deepens your connection with the human family.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hacking the Divine Office

I've been learning to pray the "Liturgy of the Hours" (a.k.a., "Divine Office"). I've made progress---to the point that I'm actually praying and not simply puzzling over what to do next.

The Hours are almost entirely a matter of of taking pre-written prayers and trying to make them one's own. Most of these prayers come from the psalms, and I've always had a hard time "owning" the psalms. The effort to move my heart to really pray these psalms, reveals a space, especially in the daytime hours, which consist of mostly "battle psalms".

This space, of course, begs the question, "why?" Why do I struggle to own these prayers?

And, I've found the search for answers to this question to be rather fruitful.

Friday, October 2, 2009

New Evangelism

Numerous recent events have revealed to me some realities of the state of Catholic Evangelism in my surroundings.

1. Many Catholic adults have never been Evangelized---they have never really heard the Good News. As Catholics, they are immersed in an ocean of Jesus but aren't able to relate those experiences to the person of Jesus. In this context, the phrase "New Evangelism" is much more meaningful to me. Catechists can't take familiarity with the Gospel for granted and dive right into catechesis. Moreover, evangelism can't stop when catechesis begins---catechesis must be charged with evangelism.

2. Some Catholics are being evangelized, but in various movements and retreat settings whose content is impregnated with elements hostile to the ancient faith. I experienced this personally during my own catechesis when I attended a "Life in the Spirit" seminar that passed out four-step salvation tracts! The seminar had some Catholic content and I honestly don't think the cradle-Catholics running the show recognized the payload embedded in the content they were delivering.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A "Great Apostasy" Negates the NT Canon

To justify their separation from the Catholic Church, Protestants require a theory of "Great Apostasy". This is the idea that the Christian Church vanished from the earth shortly after the death of the last Apostle, leaving us with only the Scriptures as our guide.

But as Devin Rose points out: the Great Apostasy "solves" one problem while introducing another. How can we have any confidence that the "apostate" 4th-century church successfully identified the 27 books of the New Testament without omitting inspired works or introducing spurious texts?

As far as I can tell, Mormon author James E Talmage doesn't answer this question in his 1909 work entitled "The Great Apostasy", and yet Mormons also accept the New Testament canon of the Catholic Church. His Scriptural "proofs" appear in pages 24-38 and only the last couple proofs come from the Book of Mormon.

Prayer With I-Thou Awareness, Obama, and Ad Orientum

Erin and I have been studying a pamphlet entitled "Lectio Divina: And the Practice of Tersian Prayer".

I think my favorite concept from the pamphlet is the idea of being aware that you are speaking and to whom you are speaking. That is, being actively aware of yourself and aware of God to whom you are speaking. It's an exercise of attention, an exercise of awareness, that is absolutely necessary in the mind of Teresa. Teresa goes so far to say that prayer lacking this kind of I-Thou awareness is "gibberish".

I think I've prayed my fair share of this "gibberish".

I wonder what Teresa of Avila would have to say about Obama's self revelation of his prayer life in this beliefnet interview he gave prior to being elected president.

Do you pray often?

Uh, yeah, I guess I do.

Its' not formal, me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I'm constantly asking myself questions about what I'm doing, why am I doing it.


(No, that's not some isolated gem, some slip of the tongue. The interview is equally kooky throughout.)

This I-Thou attention, this awareness of self and other that Teresa is calling for seems quite natural in Ad Orientum worship, but rather strained with the celebrating priest facing me. I find myself intentionally avoiding his gaze, looking at the crucifix or the tabernacle.

I really wish my parish was equipped to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, but very often a good thing not to get things exactly your way.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Delicious Quotes From Augustine's "On Christian Doctrine"

I love the fact that I can go to newadvent.org and read things like St. Augustine's "On Christian Doctrine". The best things in life are indeed free.

I think the Fathers are a fascinating glimpse into the early church. Often, the topics they find worthy of attention seem somewhat alien to our 21st century. At other times, the Father could be mistaken for writing in our own time. The following two quotations from the preface belong to the second category.
But now as to those who talk vauntingly of Divine Grace, and boast that they understand and can explain Scripture without the aid of such directions as those I now propose to lay down, and who think, therefore, that what I have undertaken to write is entirely superfluous. I would such persons could calm themselves so far as to remember that, however justly they may rejoice in God's great gift, yet it was from human teachers they themselves learned to read.
Oh, how often I have conversations in which people entirely dismiss the value of any systematic, calculated approach to interpretation of the Scriptures!
In the last place, every one who boasts that he, through divine illumination, understands the obscurities of Scripture, though not instructed in any rules of interpretation, at the same time believes, and rightly believes, that this power is not his own, in the sense of originating with himself, but is the gift of God. For so he seeks God's glory, not his own. But reading and understanding, as he does, without the aid of any human interpreter, why does he himself undertake to interpret for others?
Excellent question!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

PP Implies Fertility and Pregnancy are Diseases

I enjoy a dry martini after work.

Six parts gin, one part vermouth, two olives. The therapeutic effects are readily apparent. Therefore, I conclude, health-care reform should include the use of public funds to keeping my freezer/refrigerator stocked with gin, vermouth, and olives (and toothpicks---can't forget the toothpicks).

Sound ridiculous? Absolutely. But the the argument for subsidizing my martinis is far stronger than Planned Parenthood's argument for subsidizing contraception and abortion. The reason: my martinis address an actual disorder.

Planned Parenthood claims that contraception and abortion are "health care".
By implication, Planned Parenthood is also claiming that fertility, pregnancy, and developing human beings are diseases. Fertility, pregnancy, and developing human beings are not diseases, therefore contraception and abortion are not "health care".

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why are Most (All?) Catholic Politicians Pro-Abortion?


I've always wondered why most (if not all) Catholic politicians are pro-abortion. They weren't always pro-abortion. The above article offers an interesting explanation. Here's the place where it names names:

The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book "The Birth of Bioethics" (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.
Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that "distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue." It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians "might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order."
So sad.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Today's Readings

Today's readings (Jgs 6:11-24a, Mt 19:23-30) surprised me.

In the OT reading, Gideon is threshing his grain in the basement (the worst possible of places) because he wants to keep out of sight from Israel's oppressor-of-the-day (because they will come and take his grain away?). An angel appears to Gideon and declares he will be the military leader who will take back Israel's freedom.

The (familiar) Gospel reading, Jesus declares the impossibility of a "rich man" entering the Kingdom of Heaven, likening it to a camel passing through the eye of a needle. He elaborates further, talking about a great, eschatological reversal, in which the ostensible disorder and injustice will be resolved.

Why these two readings together? What could the connection be?

A connection: What the Gospel speaks of as "rich" and "poor" are what the book of Judges "speaks" of as oppressor and oppressed. Of course, Judges doesn't actually "speak" of this dichotomy, it shows it in the situation in which we find Israel under the boot-heel of the Midians, "poor" in security and freedom.

Both passages shed some light on how "poverty" precede God's liberation. In the first case, the very immanent, physical, concrete liberation from political oppression. In the second case, what I would call an even more concrete liberation, the liberation from oppression of one's soul by sin and death. In the Gospel, Jesus reinforces the necessity of this "poverty" that precedes wealth, and in other places affirms the need for us to become "poor" in order to enter into His abundant life.

What does this selection reveal to us about the Word of God as expressed in the Sacred Scriptures?

I think this selection illustrates the Bible's incredible interconnectedness and context-sensitivity. Despite the fact that it's actually a small library of documents authored centuries apart in three different languages and of diverse genres, it is an "echo chamber" on some level deeper than literal, declarative statements. It's these "harmonics" that make the Bible truly captivating.

I would have never seen what I had just seen in the Gideon story if I had not followed it with this particular Gospel reading. My reading was radically altered and improved by bringing these two selections together. And if I hadn't brought the Gospel to the Gideon story, I would have brought something else. I actually did this, because I read the Gideon story first, and then adjusted my interpretation with the Gospel.

Monday, August 17, 2009

RCIA Starts in Less Than a Month

RCIA starts in less than a month and, as previously stated, I'll have the pleasure of leading the lectionary reflections that begin each class. Rumination on how I'll be handling this thing has reminded me of how much my fascination-with, and love-of the Sacred Writings influenced my journey to the Catholic Church. I can get really passionate about this kind of thing I'll probably have to hold back tears.

Returning to the technical question of "how", I think the design of the lectionary has really "teed things up" for me. With a preselected reading from the Old Testament (O), the New Testament (N), and the Gospels (G), one can visualize a Venn Diagram in which each of these three selections is an overlapping circle, and then proceed to ask all sorts of interesting questions in a very systematic way.

Q1. How does the Old Testament reading overlap with the New Testament reading? Symbolically: What is O + N?

Q2. How does the Old Testament reading overlap with the Gospel reading? Again, symbolically, we can thing of this as asking: What is O + G?

Q3. What is G + N?

The unities are probably most important, but I think we must also discuss the disunities.

Q4. What is unique to O? What is unique to N? What is unique to G?

I think this dialog will help participants develop the type of awareness and attention necessary to read the Bible like a Catholic. That is, with the awareness that everything is related to everything else, and with special attention to the unities in the text. This seems to put the selective attention in order.

Naturally, this opens the door to talk about the senses of scripture, and help the catechumens to develop an incarnational, mysterious, and mediated understanding of divine revelation, which essential vocabulary.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Against a Preferenced-Based Anthropology

We all have preferences: likes and dislikes. We are all attracted to our likes and repelled by our dislikes. Everyone dedicates some of his life's energy to this preference-centered activity.

Moreover, every one of us identifies with his preferences to some degree. We tend to think of self in terms of preferences, and many go so far as to reduce the person to "an entity with the capacity for preferences".

This preference-based anthropology is the antithesis of the anthropology of Christianity (and even the anthropologies of Buddhism and Zen). In these spiritual traditions, man discovers persons only through the denial of his preferences, whether it be through obedience to the magisterium or hours of agonizing, motionless sitting in a meditation hall.

The preference-based anthropology is a dead-end and explains a great deal of disorder: atheism, euthanasia, contraception, abortion, fear of authority, identification with homosexual inclinations. The preference-based anthropology seems to be at the very root of the culture of death.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Changing Gears, Helping With RCIA

A course on "Deeper Participation in the Mass" is no longer my vehicle for the "Supervised Ministry Experience" required of me by the Kino Institute. Numerous reasons demand that I use participation in the RCIA program at my parish instead. I'll be helping with the lectionary reflections.

Obviously, I'll be most involved in helping students break open the Word in dialog, but I see every encounter as an opportunity to impart some practice or concept that will enable more-fruitful nourishment from the Word.

Concerning practices, I don't see how we can avoid talking about and practicing Lectio Divina, especially meditative and contemplative prayer. Concerning concepts, the list of concepts is rather long and interrelated. (There will be some effort involved in serializing them!)

I think there will be a common theme through all the concepts I propose to introduce: Incarnation. Jesus, the "Word made Flesh" is fully human and fully divine. Likewise, the Bible, the "Word made Words" is also fully human and fully divine. Catholicity demands that we keep humanity and divinity in intellectual tension. The moment we neglect the Bible's humanity we become fundamentalists. The moment we neglect the Bible's divinity, we become skeptics. In both cases, it seems more like a sin of omission rather than a sin of commission.

There is also a great deal of material for me to re-read. There is the abundantly useful The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. There is also Dei Verbum, Divino Afflante Spiritu, the Catholic Encyclopedia articles on the various senses of scripture, and the the introductory essays from the NAB.

Let's get started!

Ontological in Distinctions in Man

Faith and experience bear witness to man's unity, but who can ignore the distinctions within this unity? Of utmost relevance to uncovering the truth about man are the ontological distinctions. In other words, the "levels of being", or the relative degrees of "realness" within the human person.

* * *

The first distinction is extremely accessible to experience. I am speaking of the distinction between the physical, material body and the part of man that thinks, which we'll call his "mind".

This distinction is most apparent in the sleep-wake cycle, especially at its transitions. When I am asleep, my mind does not exist. As I progress into the dreaming and waking phases, my thinking self emerges out of nothingness into something having definite form. As I drift off to sleep, my mind disintegrates once again.

My physical, material body survives the death and rebirth of my mind, night after night, and even through the occaisional afternoon nap. There is clearly some distinction between the two.

But there is also a very close relationship between mind and body. We know that the brain is the organ of thought, and that there is a physicality to thought. Thought is an activity enabled by electro-chemical reactions in the brain. If anything unfortunate were to happen to my brain, my mind would suffer (to say the least).

In our culture, I think we are accustomed to thinking of the mind as superior to the body, but from the perspective of ontology it's quite easy to see the mind is actually dependent upon the physical body to the point of contingency.

If the body (especially the brain) is like a candle, the the mind is like a flame. This candle is lit and extinguished and re-lit for the duration of our lives on Earth. Which is "more real"? The candle or the flame?

* * *

If my suggestion that the mind is less-real than the body disappoints, I think it is because we intuitively grasp the transcendence of man. We grasp there is something immaterial, spiritual, and mysterious about him. Many, including myself, believe the "soul" of man survives the death of his physical body.

The simplest solution that presents itself is to disentangle the soul from the mind, to recognize physical death as the experience that discerns soul from body, and to assign the soul to the highest ontological category (even higher than the body). I realize that's a mouthful, so let me break things down a little further.

When we "sleep" (which is a Biblical euphemism for death) the immobilization and degeneration of the body is very much like the disintegration of the mind that occurs when we fall asleep. The resurrection of the body is then very much like a reawakening not of mind-in-body, but mind-in-body-in-soul.

Just as mind is to body as flame is to candle, body is to soul as flame is to candle. Man exhibits three, distinct ontological categories within himself. Mind is contingent upon body. Body is contingent upon soul. The complex unity of all three (soul, body, and mind) are contingent upon God. The three-part temples the Jews constructed since the Exodus revelation appear to be patterned after the "temple of the body".

I don't think discernment of this second distinction absolutely requires the death of the body, (which is fortunate). I think there is plenty of "death" in the form of sin that will suffice!

The Word of the Cross is extremely rich and complex message and I think this is one of the things it is saying. It brings death into focus and gives us the opportunity (demands, really) to make a choice to set things into their proper order. Without some experience of "death" (in the broadest sense I used above), Fallen human beings seem incapable of doing this. Death, which is the punishment for the Fall, becomes the very instrument for lifting us out of the Fall.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Conversion Fragment 4: Justification

At some point in my journey I was moved powerfully by a side-by-side comparison of the Protestant and Catholic salvation theologies. That is, the abundantly important answer to the question of, "How we are saved?" I assented to the Catholic position on Justification well before my "conversion event".

Beginning with my experience of Protestant justification theology, it was an encounter of numerous ideas. The idea of "once-saved-always-saved" (OSAS) was extremely popular but not universal. The ideas that we are saved by "faith alone" and "not works", and that salvation was a purely extrinsic, purely juridical event (rather than process) was, however, universal. Despite the juridical tone, there was also a great deal of talk about "personal relationship with Jesus Christ".

My experience with Catholic justification theology was incredibly different. Where Protestantism was speaking in terms of an event, Catholicism acknowledged an event, but emphasized a process. This process was a dynamic (personal) relationship with God that had a direct impact upon the interior condition of the person being saved. This relationship (and by extension, the person) thrived when nurtured and degenerated when neglected or abused. Every single thought, word, and action had consequences for this relationship.

While Protestant justification concepts appeared founded in microsamples of Pauline writ, the Catholic justification theology impressed me with its harmony with the Exodus narrative in the OT, the spousal language of the prophets, and really, the Bible as a whole.

Catholic salvation theology looks rather strange through the lens of micro-texts. Catholic salvation theology looks even stranger through language designed for the express purpose of making it unintelligible. But with a view of the entire Scriptural canon (the Protestant canon will suffice) Catholic salvation theology emerges as something astoundingly beautiful and astoundingly salvific.

Let's begin with the Exodus parallel. Exodus is the archaetypical story of salvation. It's in Exodus that God first saves in a big way. Specifically, He saves an entire community through a rather elaborate process. First came the saving-out-of Egypt---a sort of "negative salvation" by removal from danger. Then came the testing and purification in the desert. (Not everybody passed.) Finally came the saving-into the Promised Land, the "positive salvation" of possessing God's blessing. God indeed "gave" them this Promised Land, but get this: He required that participate in the gift by picking up their swords and fighting for it.

Catholic salvation theology exhibits remarkable fidelity to the Exodus narrative. Catholics recognize the communal nature of salvation. Baptism is a sort of the crossing of the Red Sea and release from bondage. Our lives, from Baptism to final purification are a desert pilgrimage. There is even a concept of "Church Militant" to describe those of us who haven't died, and are fighting day after day. Salvation, in the Catholic system, isn't fully realized until resurrection into a glorified body.

Moving now to the Spousal language of the Prophets, the Scriptures frequently speak of the relationship between God and man as a husband-wife relationship. Relationships are dynamic. They change according to the commitment level of the partners. Catholic salvation theology follows this pattern of a spousal love relationship. We can trust in God's commitment, but committed are we ourselves? Entry into the Church is very much like a wedding, and the Eucharist has a very Spousal character to it. In the Catholic mind, God is a God who wants no boundaries with us so ever, He is so humble that he desires to unite his Divinity to our Humanity, changing it from the inside out. This is very, very, very (did I say "very"?) different from the relationship between a judge and the criminal he acquits.

Here, I recognized, is a paradigm I can actually live, has an extremely broad base in the Sacred Scriptures, has no anxiety about "works", is even more "personal" than the Protestant system, and goes so far as to "theologize" my marriage. Could it be true? I am a hopeful person. I believe the truth exists, that it is attainable, and that it is the best possible thing for all. For this reason I think I assented quickly---it's far too sublime to be solely a human work.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Category of Mystery

"Mystery" seems to be an indispensable category, especially for the language of Catholic Christianity. My own concept of mystery, which follows, is rooted in the nature of persons...

A mystery is some hidden truth that is difficult (but not impossible) to attain. A mystery is hidden within the interior privacy of a person. A person reveals his- or herself only voluntarily---no force can extract it! Furthermore, the recipient must be attentive to the revelation.

This personal truth is hidden in another sense because a mystery revealed remains a mystery. We never come into full intellectual possession of a person, no matter how many times he or she self-reveals. The same is true of mystery. The encounter with mystery is itself mysterious.

And this personal truth is hidden in yet another sense because a mystery is very difficult to mediate to a third person. We can point to it with words, pictures, and dramatization, but these things are very easy to ignore or distort on the receiving end. The mediation of a mystery to a third person is also mysterious.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009



I really like this post because I think something really important is being said.

1. Words indeed carry intellectual/historical content.

2. Shared expectations of that intellectual/historical content is one of the things that makes communication work. Without communication, there can be no community and there can be no peace.

3. The coupling between the spoken/written word and its content is rather delicate. People sometimes "meddle" with the meanings of words, consciously or unconsciously with destructive consequences.

4. The particular meddling I'm thinking of is the reduction of a word to a sort of blunt instrument, a general-purpose swear word for an out-group, a sort of effigy to burn in one's mind and one's speech.

5. There is also the opposite kind of meddling in which a word is idolized in order to lavish praise (or flattery) upon the "in-group".

6. Both of these words become tools for emotionally steering people and undermining inter-group dialog. They are, in a way, idols in the dimension of language (rather than wood, stone, or gold).

7. When you have two groups oriented in opposition to each other, one group's effigy is the other group's idol.

8. Another destructive consequence is the loss of cultural wisdom.

What do these language patterns reveal about the human heart? How can we (at the very least) avoid unwitting participation in this evil? At best, how can we participate in dissolving this "malediction" in order to replace it with authentic communication?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sola Scriptura Reading Comprehension Test

I hope you'll play along with me.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:
All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.
1. T/F? Paul says the Scriptures are God-breathed. (True!)

2. T/F? Paul says the Scriptures are "profitable for" various things: doctrine, reproof, instruction, training in righteousness. (True!)

3. T/F? Paul says the above-listed things contribute to, or are purposed for the man of God being "complete" and "fully equipped for every good work". (True!)

4. T/F? Paul says the man of God needs only doctrine, reproof, instruction, and training in righteousness in order to arrive at said completion. (False!)

5. T/F? Paul says the man of God needs only the God-breathed Scriptures for doctrine, reproof, instruction, and training in righteousness. (False!)

6. T/F? Paul says the man of God needs only the God-breathed Scripture to arrive at said completion. (False!)

None of the last three only statements are actually present in the text. Let's try again with a simpler example.

My Ukrainian grandmother used to say:
"Eat your vegetables so you will grow up strong like bull!" [sic]
1. T/F? My grandmother says eating vegetables will make me grow up strong! (True!)

2. T/F? My grandmother is telling me to become a vegetarian. (False!)

Neither Paul (nor my grandmother) are making any statement about the sufficiency of Scripture (or vegetables). They are both, however, advocating that Scripture (or vegetables) are useful, if not indispensable. Unfortunately, Sola Scriptura significantly strengthens the text beyond its literal meaning. If Sola Scriptura important (or even true) why did Paul miss this opportunity to teach it? Why is it not clearly and unequivocally repeated like the OT law concerning the Sabbath rest?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Conversion Fragment 3: At Peace With Images

As I gained familiarity with the Bible, I learned that rarely is the scriptural evidence for a particular theological position entirely clear-cut. For any position there will be a handful of texts that seem to support it and a handful of texts that seem to contradict it. This Sola Scriptura stuff was a lot of work! Simply disregarding the texts that challenged my position wasn't acceptable---any given position must some how be brought into harmony with the entire body of text.

For example, consider the accusation that Catholics are idolaters for their use of iconography and statuary. Everybody knows that Exodus 20:4-5 says this:
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
Verses 22-23 in the same chapter reinforce the point:
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites this: `You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.'
But only a few chapters later, we see this text in Exodus 25:17-22:
"Make an atonement cover of pure gold--two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
Clearly, there is some nuance to this graven-image stuff. How can God unilaterally condemn all use of images in worship in one passage and then command their construction in another passage? The tension begs the question of "What is idolatry? Really?" Is it simply the exterior act, or could idolatry be a deeper, more-interior phenomenon? Can we be idolatrous without the use of physical objects? Given this tension in the Scriptures, why have so much anxiety about pictures and statues? Can this anxiety backfire into a sort of reverse-idolatry?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Course on Deepening Participation in the Mass

I'm developing a course to address the following concern:
"But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds be attuned to their voices, and that they cooperate with the heavenly grace lest they receive it in vain." (SC.11)
And again:
"Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, ..." (SC.14)
I read this as a call to a "Marian" participation in the mass: deeply interior, attentive, sensitive, receptive, continuous and unbroken. (Think of a pupil fully dilated.) I do not read this as a call for the laity to "do more things", but to make a total self donation to God through the celebration---to really pray without ceasing, with one's whole person, for the duration of the Mass. (If we can't do it under ideal conditions, what are the chances we'll succeed at prayer when things get tough?)

I've already received a great deal of helpful input from helpful persons. Perhaps you have your own insights to share?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Conversion Fragment 2: Contraception


In my three-year Protestant-Christian experience, never once did I hear a pastor speak about contraception. This puzzled me when I learned that many contraceptives are "abortifacients", meaning they actually kill your baby after conception rather than prevent conception. Both the "IUD" and "the pill" are abortifacients.

So, unless a faith-teaching community supports abortion, how can it remain silent on the topic of contraception? At the very least, must not it speak against the grave evil of abortifacients, which destroy innocent life?

I saw this as a major inconsistency in the teaching I received, but the kicker for me was that this favorable disposition towards contraception was less than 100 years old. That's right, Christianity universally condemned contraception until Anglican bishops gave it their approval at the Lambeth Conference of 1930. (The Catholic and Orthodox Christians gave no such approval.)

If you can see the evil in killing an unborn child, I don't think it's much of a stretch to see the evil in abortifacient contraceptives.

But as I studied the Catholic Church's position on contraception in general, I came to accept the evil in all forms of contraception, it's organic connections to numerous other evils, and I came to see the merits of regulating births with periodic abstinence, also known as "Natural Family Planning" or "NFP".

I was so impressed by how well these teachings harmonized with the Bible, which doesn't explicitly condemn contraception in no uncertain terms. I was also impressed by the Catholic Church's willingness to speak on this "touchy subject".

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Prayer for the Soul of George Tiller

Many wise voices in the blogosphere are counseling prayer for the soul of George Tiller.

Given what little I know of Tiller's career, I'd say he needs them, but I am wary of situations that enable me to ignore my own need for prayer. I must admit I have a lot more in common with Mr. Tiller than I do with Jesus Christ, and that the bulk of my perfection will most likely be accomplished after my death.

No, my life is not such an obvious participation in evil, but if Mr. Tiller could not see his obvious participation in evil, what am I capable of missing? Should I find God's mercy in my final hour, what terrible things will God be forgiving me?

Choosing hope---believing that truth exists, is good, and is attainable---requires a sort of two-fold movement in opposite directions. One must be willing to accept the truth (no matter how beautiful) and likewise accept the truth (no matter how grotesque).

If we choose not to examine ourselves in this way, I think we expose ourselves to the risk of being drawn into even further participation with evil than we currently are. Tiller's murderer is the most obvious participant, and the media that are trying to turn Tiller into a sort of martyr for the culture of death are probably the next-most obvious participants.

Evil multiplies in the dark---it thrives when we aren't watching it.

Pray for George Tiller, prayer for his murderer, and pray for all of us that we aren't seduced into artificial notions of moral superiority and that God will reveal to us our own participation in evil. Pray.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Dialogue" is the New "Tolerance"

I'm glad that not everybody is fooled by the application of the word "dialogue" to what happened at Notre Dame on May 17th.


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean---neither more nor less."

I am interested in learning when the word "tolerance" ceased to mean simply refraining from killing, torturing, and oppressing an identifiable social group and started meaning a sort of unwillingness to accept everything about that group's beliefs and actions uncritically.

The word "dialogue" seems to be undergoing a similar transformation---or maybe I have already missed it. Rather than its literal meaning, which I presume to be "opening words" (dia-logos) it seems to mean a sort of uncritical assimilation to the viewpoint of another.

This tendency of ours to abuse words in this particular way keeps me up at night. I think it engenders all sorts of confusion. I think it makes us dumber.

Human beings have captured a great deal of wisdom in language, and when we deliberately change the meanings of words to suit our practical/political purposes, the vast majority of us are in danger of losing our connection to that wisdom.

This tendency to abuse spoken/written language is one reason why I am thankful that Christianity has preserved its deposit of faith in multiple forms. We have the Holy Scriptures, we have the councils, we have popular piety, we have disciplines, we have the Sacred Liturgy, we have a system of highly interrelated dogmas. They are all saying the same things in different ways.

Are we listening?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kimiec and the Logos of Contraception


Doug Kmiec is consistent in his mediation of the logos of contraception.

Kmiec's latest prophetic utterance is that we should end the homosexual-marriage controversy by eliminating the state's recognition of marriage altogether and having it issue "civil licenses".

If, as the Catholic Church teaches, the state exists for the good of human persons, the state is not free to use, abuse, intimidate, and kill human persons. On the contrary, the state has an obligation to do them good.

And how can the state fulfill its obligation to human persons if it does not even recognize what (or who) a person is?

And isn't the state's concept of a person horrendously incomplete if it does not recognize the single most important inter-human relationship?

Of course, we wouldn't even be having this conversation---about whether or not the state should recognize the marriage relationship, about whether or not a homosexual relationship should be recognized as "marriage"---if married couples hadn't set the stage by embracing contraception and its logos.

Human rights cannot exist as long as we remain in bondage to contraception.

Monday, May 11, 2009

"What Was the One Thing...?"

"What was the one thing that drew you into the Catholic Church?"

I've been asked the same question many different ways and given it as-many unsatisfactory answers. Today is the first day I have a satisfactory response:

"Only the Catholic Church provides the way to surrender every aspect of my life to Jesus Christ."

That's it. That's the one thing. And next time you bump into Home Depot, that's the answer you'll get!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Conversion Fragment 1: Christian Unity

I am a convert to the Catholic Faith and dissatisfied with my inability to articulate my journey. The story lives inside me as a cloud of disconnected fragments that I can't see all at once. My hope and prayer is that verbalizing these fragments will set things in order and that the story, in this intermediary form, will be of some benefit to to others.

One day, I was reading John 17 and I saw something different that I hadn't really noticed before. A little added emphasis should help you to see what I saw:

When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said,

"Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.

"I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them. And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely. I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is
truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.

"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.

In this beautiful passage, Jesus prays repeatedly and at length for the unity of all believers. Not just any kind of unity, but the kind of unity that exists between Himself and the Father. In giving reasons for this unity, there's one reason He mentions twice. Only a single word (in the NAB version) changes in the repetition, "that the world may believe that you sent me" and "that the world may know that you sent me."

I hadn't been a Christian for very long, but I had picked up enough theology to know that God the Son and God the Father (and the Holy Spirit) are about as tight as you can get---so tight that Jesus died at the request of his Father, so tight that Christians still consider themselves monotheists even though there are clearly three persons here. I was familiar with the language, "three persons in one substance," which described the remarkably intense unity of this Trinitarian God.

So, this is the kind of unity that Jesus prayed for all believers. I could handle the fact that this unity wasn't present reality. "We'll get there," I thought. "How could the Father possibly deny the prayer of his Son?" What really troubled me was that disunity, the very opposite of what Jesus prayed for, was upheld as a value by so many believers within and without my faith community. More than once, I encountered so-called "scriptural arguments for denominationalism!" and romantic portraits of the schisms of the Protestant Reformation.

My troubles were compounded by Jesus' stated intent for the unity. Yes, so that the Church will be "brought to perfection as one," but twice he mentions that His purpose for Christian unity is for people who are not already Christians. The unseen casualties of our present dereliction of duty will be those who don't already believe.

Christian Unity became a priority for me in that moment. I was suddenly aware of the interconnectedness of my own faith journey and the faith journey of others. I resolved not to be part of the problem and to seek ways to be part of the solution, and there was at least one Christian community out there that took unity seriously. I was conscience-bound to take the Catholic Church seriously and to learn more about her.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Apostle's Creed in UML

I know what you're thinking, "Where on earth can I get a UML visualization of the Apostle's Creed?" Well, look no longer! ;-)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rick Warren, Is This What You Were Trying to Say? (CCC 2357-2359)

Rick Warren is struggling to articulate his position on gay marriage. I'm not surprised. Talking about homosexuality is difficult. Perhaps Rick could use a little help from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2357-2359. I have added some emphasis.
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Notice the clear distinction between person and action, between being and doing. The text is careful not only to safeguard but uphold the dignity of the human person while at the same time being absolutely clear on the Church's position concerning the actions in question.

Our culture resists this separation. We tend to think of people who suffer homosexual inclinations as homosexual persons. The transcendental dimension of the human person is lost in this confounding of being and doing.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Welcome to my Blog!

Hello, my name is David Charkowsky and welcome to my blog! I created this space to develop and discuss things I think about, to indulge my hypergraphic impulses, and to Love. I sincerely hope and pray that what I write fosters, in some way, the Culture of Life.

Anticipate the bulk of my posts to concern theology and technology. I mean "theology" in the literal and widest possible sense of "words about God." In all matters of faith and morals, I submit final judgment to the teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church. I mean "technology" in the unusually narrow sense of "computer programming." It's what I do for a living and it's great fun to do and to talk about!

For those who know me personally as David Charles, let me alleviate potential confusion. I am the son of Ukrainian immigrants who gave up their name when they came to the West. It's a name I hope to reclaim (legally) someday and in the meantime I've decided to write under it.