Friday, May 31, 2002

Thanks to Widening Gyre

Thanks to Widening Gyre for pointing out that the version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic I posted was missing a verse. Here 'tis.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

We interrupt this blog for some good news!

Indiana Jones to return for fourth film

I was beginning to wonder if this would ever happen. It is getting perilously close to "IndianaJones and the Wheelchair of Doom" time.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled Catholicism.
More on Virtue

Last week we talked about Courage—even with an initial capital “c” it was mostly about small courage. It is necessary to think about courage in small ways, for most of us, because comparatively few ever get to practice big courage, at least in a physical sense. If you live your whole life in the suburbs or the wealthier parts of cities, and you work in an office building someplace, chances are you are going to lead a pretty physically safe and dull life.

But it would be a mistake to glorify physical courage while denigrating the mental and moral kind. For if you fancy yourself a physically courageous person, but then fail to do an act requiring physical courage, people who know and see will think you a coward. It is truly a terrible thing to think oneself a coward, far worse to know it.

But mental or moral courage is often very much harder to practice. For one thing, few people nowadays have any idea of what moral cowardice really is, and fewer still would condemn someone for it. “You have to take care of yourself, first” is the self-help mantra of the age. Often, that means practicing moral cowardice. “You have a right to be happy,” so it’s okay to leave your wife and family if they drag you down. “It’s your body, your choice” so go ahead and have the abortion if having a baby is going to mess up your plans. “You’re a real go-getter, and on the Fast-Track to the top!” so don’t have any scruples about taking the credit from or shirking the blame onto your co-workers.

Aquinas follows the Greeks in crediting courage as one of four Cardinal Virtues (from the Latin for “hinge”). But Courage really is the hinge that allows Justice, Prudence and Temperance to operate. Try walking away from a big promotion that will mean too much time away from your family (Temerance) and see how much courage it can take. Try speaking up on behalf of the unborn in the name of Justice at a party sometime. Try giving a friend just the advice he needs but doesn’t want about moving back in with his family.

The little chances to practice courage matter so much, because without taking those opportunities you will lack the habits necessary when the large moments arise. To some extent, terrorism caused me paralyzing fear. This surely happened because in my fat, comfortable life I have grown intemperate in my enjoyment of it pleasures, unquestioning of the world as it is, and blind to the injustice of life under Islamic fascist regimes.

I oppose abortion, but I can’t say as I have done anything about it. Cowardice! No rallies, no donations to group, no counseling or support for women who regret. No helping adoption agencies offer their services. Not even loud arguments (at least for a long time) with people who accept abortion without having really considered it.

I have a job, and sometimes I work very hard at it, but other times I twiddle away time on distractions. Cowardice! I have a child but I shoosh him to hear the punchline on the sitcom. Cowardice!I have a magnificent wife that I lose my temper at because she doesn’t always do the dishes after I make dinner. Cowardice!

All of these are cowardly acts because I lack the courage to do what is so clearly right in favor of what is merely easy. So it is difficult to be surprised that when something truly frightening came along I lacked many of the habits and underpinnings necessary to respond appropriately.

Next stop: Temperance, or “All things in moderation—even moderation!”
Friday intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me or suggest them using a comment, and I will include them. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: Veronica and the soul of her brother Thornton, Kathy, The people of Israel, Lauren, Lou, the people of Pakistan and India, Nick, Jay, and Corey, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Today's Opening Hymn is Salve Regina

(MIDI accompaniment)

Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae,
Vita dulcedo et spes nostra salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae.
Ad te suspiramus gementes et flentes,
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eja ergo advocata nostra,
illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte.
Et Jesum benedictum fructum ventris tui
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria.

Hail holy queen, mother of mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To you do we cry poor banished children of Eve,
To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping
in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate
your eyes of mercy toward us.
And after this, our exile,
Show us the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Opening Hymns...

Does anyone have a good source for more traditionally Catholic hymns? The Cyber-Hymnal is great, but missing many of the classic RC hymns. The Catholic-Hymns site has just Midi files, and unfortunately many of the sequenced ones are OCP stuff, which is fine, but not what I'm looking for. Requests and suggestions are highly valued!
Italian bishops vote to adjust Lord's Prayer

(from wire services and miswired services)

The Italian bishops agree God does not lead people into temptation, and they voted almost unanimously to make that clear in their biblical version of the Lord's Prayer.

A phone call to Jesus requesting comment went unreturned, but later a publicist for the so-called Second Member of the Trinity released a statement. "The whole situation is terribly embarassing," the statement read. "Mistakes were clearly made."

A Group calling itself "Sound of the Faithful" began calling on the Church to dump scripture in favor of "new ideas." "Keep the Faith--Change the Original Words of Jesus!" is their motto.

Meanwhile, a number of Church reformers are calling for further revisions. Protesters outside the Vatican held signs reading "Our 'Father'? WWJT?" and chanted "Ho Ho! Hey Hey! We need a Pope a little more gay!" When asked about the signs, a woman who would only identify herself as a "52 year old practicing lesbian and devout Catholic" explained that "WWJT?" stands for "What Was Jesus Thinking?" "I mean, come on!" she added.

Inside the Vatican, an anxious-looking Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was seen stacking piles of wood in St. Peter's Square before being called indoors by an unidentified nun.

(Thank you to Kathy Shaidle for linking to this story. My Greek never got good enough to read the New Testament in the original--though I did try for a while--so I can't say that these prelates are absolutely nuts. Let's just leave it that I am suspicious that they may have missed the point.)

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Another Top Ten List? Already??

In honor of Emily Stimpson, who just posted the Top Ten Catholic pickup lines (and I'm not telling which suggestions were mine), I am hereby soliciting entries for the Best alternative meanings of NFP. Now, the REAL answer is Natural Family Planning, your very own Church's approved method of keeping the kneebiters in your house to a minimum. As it happens, I've been corresponding with a reader on this very subject, and here are just a few examples to get you thinking:

Naturally, Find a Pregnancy
No Fun Plan
National Fetal Producers

Now, there is one obvious word that can be substituted for "Family." If you need it to make your point, please make liberal use of the * key in lieu of some letters. Nothing is quite so depressing as finding an inbox full of that word. Email me with your suggestions, and I will post some reasonably good ones in the coming days.
Sorry, folks. The big post I had planned on Chairty and/or Temperance is going to ahve to wait until tomorrow. I do most of my blogging before work starts and during lunch, else it needs to wait until the off hours. So tune in tomorrow for more on the Cardinal Virtues (which would be a great name for a rock band!).
Thursday intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me or suggest them using a comment, and I will include them. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: Kathy, The people of Israel, Lauren, Lou, the people of Pakistan and India, Nick, Jay, and Corey, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Thursday's Opening hymn is number 33

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!


Alleluia! sing to Jesus! His the scepter, His the throne.
Alleluia! His the triumph, His the victory alone.
Hark! the songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood.
Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by His blood.

Alleluia! not as orphans are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us, faith believes, nor questions how;
Though the cloud from sight received Him when the forty days were o’er
Shall our hearts forget His promise, “I am with you evermore”?

Alleluia! bread of angels, Thou on earth our food, our stay;
Alleluia! here the sinful flee to Thee from day to day:
Intercessor, Friend of sinners, Earth’s Redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless sweep across the crystal sea.

Alleluia! King eternal, Thee the Lord of lords we own;
Alleluia! born of Mary, Earth Thy footstool, heav’n Thy throne:
Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh our great High Priest;
Thou on earth both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast.

will try to post this afternoon.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

“Our Elder Brothers”

Holy Scripture nourishes faith, strengthens ecclesial unity and is an important element of our common spiritual patrimony with Abraham's stock, our Jewish brothers and sisters.
--Pope John Paul II, 1987

Thomas Cahill’s excellent book The Gifts of the Jews tells the story of how Judaism made what we now think of as “The West” possible. By taking aside a pagan named Avram and teaching him and his children over the course of centuries that this God called “I am” is not only the greatest of the gods, but the only God, the Father raised all of us from the level of finite and irrelevant, to infinitely important. In becoming Avraham, father of a great nation, Avram bequeathed us the gift of Selfhood. His child Moses then gave us the gift of Law.

Coming down through the centuries, the prophets sounded a constant warning to adhere to the path of Righteousness and foretold of a king who would be anointed to set God’s people free. Long before anyone thought about or was promised eternal life, God demanded that we live as we were created to live: as lovers of His Law. For more than 2,000 years before the birth of His Son, the Father pounded it into our heads that we have but one purpose: not the achievement of eternal life, but the fulfillment of God’s love. Only after centuries of this teaching, did the outcome—eternal life—begin to appear in God’s story.

It is difficult to study this history of what we now call Judaism in the context of the wider world, without noticing something very peculiar. Within a very few centuries of the birth of this religion, the Hebrew people are enslaved in Egypt. 500 years later, they are set free, only to be conquered or controlled successively by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. After Christ, and then the conversion of the Roman Empire, the Italians put them in the first Ghettoes; the Spanish forced their conversion or expelled them; the Russians invented the Pogrom; Poles, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and nearly every other nation of Europe at best ill-treated and at worst simply murdered them. Germans finally tried to do explicitly what had been implicit to a greater or lesser degree for 15 centuries. Today, the Palestinians stall and delay and avoid peace at all costs, waiting for the day when Saddam Hussein will do with missiles what the Germans nearly managed with camps. Down through history, we chase them from our towns and villages as the goat is sent from the city on Yom Kippur.

The peculiar thing about the history of the Jews is this: something recognizable as Judaism has existed for more than 4 millennia. Every part of humanity that has come into contact with these people has spent the better part of those 4,000 years trying to kill them. Christians have, to our everlasting shame, openly espoused this eradication, reading into the fulfillment of the prophets the end of the need for the Nation that produced them. Often, this attempt at the destruction of the Jews is proposed as God’s Will, or God’s Judgment on the Jews.

It would surely be proof of an incompetent god who, with 40 centuries to wipe out a small tribe of desert nomads, failed time and again. Many peoples, tribes and religions have fallen silent in the history of the world, but not the Jews. 2,000 years after sending us the answer to the questions posed by Judaism, He has preserved the questioners from every peril, from more than one near-destruction. (Some demographers have estimated that, had the Hebrew population grown in the same proportion to the world as it had in 33 AD, there would be some 280 million of them today.)

What do they know, that 2,000 years after Christ, God has plainly worked very hard not to destroy them, but to preserve them? What purpose do they serve, that the Darkness has perverted so much of humanity’s creativity to the end of their destruction?

Truly, the answer is that there is no “them.” I have written repeatedly above of “us and them” and committed the same fallacy as those who would drive God’s Chosen ones from the cities. To be a Christian is to be a Jew fulfilled. All of us who accept a Jewish carpenter from the countryside as God’s only Son must accept Judaism, not reject it, persecute, kill it. Christianity cut loose from its roots will surely falter and fail, surrendering to worldliness en masse in a way that so many of us already do individually. Our elder brothers continue to show us perseverance in the face of complacency and indifference, unspeakable horror and terrifying evils.

In other words, fruit plucked from the vine quickly withers and dies.

Perversely, the Wahabi Fascists who would destroy us understand this better than we ourselves do. “Crusaders and Jews” are uttered so often together in Arabic, it may as well be a single word. Today, at this very moment, it is important that all Christians recognize this, and work through prayer as well as economically and militarily once again to preserve our elder brothers. We are all Jews, and the Diabolical Powers once again seek to kill the Vine that gives us Life.
Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like that to that above.

Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.

We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.

From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.
Wednesday intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me or suggest them using a comment, and I will include them. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: The people of Israel, Lauren, Lou, the people of Pakistan and India, Nick, Jay, and Corey, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002


Uncharity is afoot in the countryside again. This time, a blogger offers a prayer for the soul of a deceased atheist, and some cad takes him to task for it. At what point, precisely, did Jesus tell us, “Be proud of the fact that you will be saved, while those dummies who aren’t as smart as you go straight to hell!”? Do we not pray every Sunday that the Father will “bring…all the departed into the light” of His presence? Are we now to be in the business of declaring we have distinct knowledge of what is in the hearts of men as they pass from the world? I am afraid I will have to get off the train at this station, for my own heart is often opaque to me.

The Baltimore Catechism tells us that our Church teaches there is no salvation possible after death. I don’t know whether this is correct: I choose to believe it, because believing it is safer than the alternative. But might there not come a moment before death and after animal life, when Christ might stand before those who implicitly acknowledged Him in their hearts while denying Him with their minds? Has no one ever fooled himself into thinking that he did not love that which he did love?

Is it not possible for the all powerful God who wants all of us to be saved that Jesus might present Himself to a dying man in an infinitely long space at the final moment of life? Is it not possible for death to occur outside of time, for the transition from bastard half-spirit and half-animal to wholly spirit in a moment that has no “after”? None of this prevents a rejection of Christ even then, and so does not violate that teaching.

Please. What harm can possibly come from praying for the soul of a dead man? We are all beyond redemption, except that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make it possible. The only person I will damn is myself, and only by God’s Grace will I avoid it. It is well and proper for us to act in our own cases as though I am wrong. But there is little danger in hoping that God’s mercy in the case of others is greater than we can know.
Final Words on Priestesses, for a very long time

There are people for whom the absence of women clergy is nothing more or less than proof of the corrupt patriarchy. I am not among them.

There are people for whom the ordination of women is the sine qua non. I am not among them.

There are people who want to use the present crisis within our church as a bludgeon to force politically-motivated changes on it. I am not among them, either.

The truth is, I am only in favor of women clergy insofar as they may have once existed. The evidence for this existence is, to put the best possible face on it, sketchy. The crisis which we now endure demonstrates that even in a “media age,” prelates are capable of concealing vast amounts of evidence of things they want to remain hidden. So I give the smidgeon of evidence that does exist fairly great weight, recognizing that the tendency to conceal is not a new one.

This does not mean that women were ordained in the early church, nor that Ludmilla Javarova was a valid priest. The scholarship I have read on these subjects does not strike me as honestly entered into. That is, authors on both sides have written polemics, rather than open discussions of the facts as history records them. Much work needs to be done by people more intelligent and learned than I before such questions can honestly be considered as settled.

Until then, I have nothing more than opinion and tantalizing possibilities to go on. Those who argue against me have the weight of 1700 years of inarguable tradition on their side. (I leave open the first 300 years as the debatable grounds.) The Javarova case is different, and is best left to canon lawyers, not uninformed lay people like me, or theologians who are used to dealing in absolutes. (An unambiguous statement on her specific case from Rome would help, though to the best of my knowledge has not been forthcoming. Please email me with a citation if I missed it.) Pope Joan is nothing more than legend—if she really reigned, so little exists in the way of fact about her, that she only exists or doesn’t for History “but wishing makes it so.”

The Holy Spirit will bring about the modern ordination of women or not, and nothing any blogger says on the subject will affect that. I will not pray that women are ordained, as such, but I will pray that history sheds further light on the subject, and that truth will out.
Tuesday intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me or suggest them using a comment, and I will include them. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: The victims of another bombing in Israel, Lauren, Lou, the victims of the China Air crash, the people of Pakistan and India, Nick, Jay, and Corey, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Tuesday's Opening Hymn is number 281

Amazing Grace


Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below,
Shall be forever mine.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

I will be back to things more Catholic on Tuesday. I know some regular readers come from Canada, and as far away as Spain and even Japan (and welcome to you, whether Spanish, Japanese, or expatriate American!), and I apologize for going somewhat off-topic. Possibly in the future I will reflect on "God and country"--the manner in which patriotism and religion intermingle and stay separate for me.

In the meanwhile, if you can, please keep the men and women who serve in the American armed forces in your prayers, and ask God to keep them safe and to lead them to victory. Please remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, the firemen and police and EMS workers, the passengers and crews of the four airplanes, and the families of all those who died September 11. Please ask God's mercy on the nearly 3,000 civilians, from the United States and more than 80 other nations, who were murdered that day. Pray that God's light will shine on a darkened world.
Butterfield's Lullaby

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.

Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.

Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Shineth bright,
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,
'Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.

(You can find a large .wav file here.
Battle Hymn of the Republic

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.
Something to look forward to

The National Memorial Day Concert at the Capitol tonight honored the survivors of the Bataan Death March, while Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki looked on. Several years ago, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was Gen. John Shalikashvili, who was born in Warsaw in 1936. In 1984, Shali was deputy commander of the 1st Armored Division in Germany, whose job was to defend against the East German, Russian and Polish troops who might try to cross the Fulda Gap. The Secretary of State, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, is the descendant of West Indian blacks, who worked the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. Five American Indians have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and one of the Marines who raised the flag on Mt. Surabachi was Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian.

50 years from now, I hope the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a name like "Abdullah."
John 15:13

No greater love has man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.

Here in the States, it is Memorial Day weekend, where we collectively take note of our "honored dead." The specifics of how the day originated are in some minor dispute, but the story I like best involves freed slaves decorating a Union cemetery in Charleston. Others involve widows of Confederate soldiers taking care of the graves of Federal and Confederate soldiers. All agree that it came out of remembrances for the Civil War. (For some of my take on that war's lasting hold on the soul of the nation, see here.)

A visitor to America could be forgiven in most years for not noticing any of this, for thinking it just a "bank holiday" in the English sense. Between the "great overstock selections" that mysteriously appear at car dealerships across the nation, or the "bargains that won't last" on electronics, it is easy to miss the solemn nature of the day. Most other Federal holidays have in their nature at least some whimsical quality. Even July 4, the official--if dubious--birthday of the country, has its fireworks embedded in its roots, as it was John Adams himself who first called for them in celebration of the day. Veterans Day ("Armistice Day" to those of a certain vintage, or British and Canadian backgrounds), of course, is equally solemn. More so, in fact, inasmuch as it has resisted the 3-day weekend trend of other holidays, but it celebrates the living as well.

Memorial Day is different. It uniquely honors the dead. As we have many more dead to honor this year than last, and as more are still to come, before this War is over, consider today--Trinity Sunday, the day we honor the God who lay down His own life for His friends--the words of President Lincoln:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in
a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so
conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great
battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their
lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and
proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot
dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.
The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated
it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will
little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never
forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be
dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here
dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these
honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this
nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that
government of the people, by the people, for the people shall
not perish from the earth.
Trinity Sunday's Opening Hymn

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory's sight. Amen.
Sunday intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me or suggest them using a comment, and I will include them. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: The victims of the China Air crash, the people of Pakistan and India, Nick, Jay, and Corey, the bloggers, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

Amendment to an earlier blog.

My buddy Kathy at +relapsed Catholic points out that she had the Crucifix story before Andrew Sullivan, which is true. And since she has given me lots of plugs, whereas Andrew Sullivan could care less if I existed, I am officially taking her side.
Saturday intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me or suggest them using a comment, and I will include them. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: Nick, Jay, and Corey, the bloggers, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Saturday's Opening hymn is number 243

O Merciful Redeemer


O merciful Redeemer, Whom yet unseen we love;
O name of might and favour, all other names above.
O bringer of salvation, Who wondrously hast wrought
Thyself the revelation of love beyond all thought;
We worship Thee and bless Thee; to Thee alone we sing;
We praise Thee and confess Thee; our gracious Lord and King.

In Thee all fullness dwelleth, all grace and pow'r divine;
The glory that excelleth, O Son of God is Thine.
O grant the consummation of this our song above
In endless adoration and everlasting love.
Then shall we praise and bless Thee; where perfect praises ring,
And evermore confess Thee, our Saviour and our King!

(thanks to Dave Pawlak for the suggestion. Why not visit his blog nto thank him if you liked the hymn?)

Friday, May 24, 2002


Yesterday I wrote of my fears. In trying to write about virtues, I have chosen to highlight them by pointing out my own failings and sinfulness. In much the same way as the Screwtape Letters highlight virtue by showing the devil how to attack it, my own inadequacies I hope may find resonance with you, and help you find your own way out of the things with which all of us struggle. In most cases such limited virtues as I possess will take care of themselves, if I am mindful of my vices.

Fear, however, is not a vice, even though it lies in opposition to Courage. And so in this instance, I must write a little more directly about Courage, my own and others’. I hope you will forgive what might become an exercise in Pride if I am not extremely careful.

I did some digging this morning on Thomas Aquinas’ take on Courage. (An excellent summary of the Thomistic view can be found here.) Aquinas is the bedrock of any modern theology of Virtue, so any direct discussion of a Virtue must start with him.

For Aquinas, the four “Cardinal” Virutes (that is, the “hinges” of behavior) are Justice, Prudence, Courage and Temperance. The three “Theological” Virtues are Faith, Hope and Charity. Courage has four parts to it: magnanimity, generosity, patience and perseverance. Note that none of these parts directly have anything to do with fear as such.

Fear is an emotion, and though Thomas and other philosophers have felt that emotions can be moderated by habit, few besides the Stoics felt they could be mastered entirely. (Let the Philosopher-flames begin!) What could be mastered was one’s behavior in the face of an emotion, especially when one had somewhat limited that emotion.

So Fear can be moderated by Courage. For Aquinas, magnanimity means sharing or even forgoing the honor that comes from a great deed. Generosity means bearing the financial cost so that the deed might come to pass. Patience keeps the goal in mind, the true Good of the deed, no matter the delays. Perseverance is the continued effort even when Patience is at its ebb.

CS Lewis summarizes Courage in the Screwtape Letters: “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

So I have confessed my fears to you. But because those fears are not necessarily in opposition to Courage—indeed are the opportunity for it—I need now to tell you a little of Courage. You may choose to infer from this that I do these things, and you may be right (though not in all cases). Please excuse any Pride in myself that creeps in here. Sometimes Humility means allowing oneself to be an example against one’s wishes.

In the face of fear of Terrorism, Patience and Perseverance are perhaps the strongest aspect of courage for the ordinary citizen. Getting out of bed each morning, going to work, playing with my child. So much of the Cross we are asked to bear in life involves simply what Woody Allen joked about, showing up.

It was hideously overdone in October, the way everything seemed to be about “…or the terrorists will have won!” But that marketing ploy, cynical as it was in many cases (“Buy her a diamond anniversary band, or the terrorists win!”), worked and resonated precisely because it was about courage.

In one sense, the marketers were entirely right. Though we have an obligation to live in the present, and not the future, we nevertheless do have a duty to plan for the future, to expect the future. It’s the great balancing act, between living in the here and now and doing sensible things about what might happen, without giving in to anxiety. Courage helps us balance. And so, for someone for whom buying a car in October caused all kinds of worry about whether to bother, because we might all be dead in a week, buying the car is in fact an act of Courage. It really does defy the terrorists. In fact, a major capital investment like an automobile is inevitably an act or patience and perseverance for most of us, who finance our cars over 4 or 5 years, and who then commit to arranging our lives around making those payments.

Don’t overdo it, of course. Owning a car is not inherently virtuous, however patient or persevering your planning for it is. It can be, or it can be sinful. It all depends on the circumstances.

Generosity we saw in droves: my job involves raising money, and my organization saw a marked decrease in giving in the weeks after 9/11. The reason of course was that our regular supporters were giving their money to the Red Cross and others to help the victims and the families. Others, my wife and I among them, saw the dropoff that worthy groups were experiencing, and made larger gifts to organizations we didn’t usually support, or support as generously. Food pantries and homeless shelters seemed particularly hard hit.

Bravery in the battlefield or NYPD/FDNY sense is not really something most of us have an opportunity for. But fear can take root in such a way that even acts that objectively have no greater risk today than September 10 can require actual physical courage to undertake. My commute requires me to drive sometimes on several obvious targets, bridges and tunnels whose loss would have significant economic and human cost. Sometimes my job requires me to travel to the juiciest targets in the nation. Other people live and work there every day. It’s not the Courage of running into a burning building, but the small courage of saying, “target or not, today you cannot make my fears confound me.”

Resolving every morning not “to live this day as if it were my last,” but to live it as it comes to me each moment, is the Courage that banishes fear of tomorrow. Government leaders, soldiers, policemen, have a duty to plan for the things that really make me anxious. I have a duty to give them the tools, support, and encouragement to do so. My Courage in that case comes not from stupidly promising myself that “all is well” when plainly it is very much not well. Instead it comes from acknowledging that it is not well, but I must limit my worries to what I can do, and then do them well enough that I do not worry.

A priest recommended to me at the end of a Confession (a long litany of things I did wrong simply to avoid loss of Control) that I start each day by turning control over to God. “It’s just you and me today, Lord,” he suggested. “Help me get through it as best I can. Show me what you want.” This doesn’t mean God is going to keep the rain away from me. It means He provided someone to invent raincoats, and helps me remember to put one on.

Courage is measured in deeds, and great deeds inspire small Courage. That is, few of us ever have the opportunity to do a heroic thing, but it takes Courage to do many small things, and memories of heroism to remind us of that. Small children who fight mock battles do not, it seems to me, learn violence from that so much as they practice heroism. Every childhood battlefield of my memory had one side who were clearly the “good guys” or “bad guys.” There were a few kids who always wanted to be the bad guys, but most fought over the right to wear the white hats. And nearly every battle culminated with a white hat charging an imaginary machine gun nest and, with his last breath, throwing a grenade at the enemy. Great arguments often ensued as to the effectiveness of the grenade, but everyone understood intuitively that the charge, if well executed, was to be applauded.

Aquinas understood Virtues to be a sort of habit. The habits of heroism that children learn on the playground (at least before Zero Tolerance made such battles unacceptable) are the habits that keep fear in check. My fears can upset my stomach. They can wake me at 3 am, or keep me from falling asleep in the first place. They can make me check on my sleeping son “one last time,” or cause me to blink away tears for the dead. But they cannot keep me from driving to work, or traveling where I must, or even saving a few dollars for retirement or my son’s college education. There may be machine gunners right after the next exit ramp, but by God I will toss my grenade into them if it kills me.
Preview of My Coming Attractions

Reflections on Courage are coming around lunchtime, Eastern Daylight Time. Until then, probably not much. Feel free to comment on my "fears" post from yesterday. Talk amongst yourselves.
Friday Intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me or suggest them using a comment, and I will include them. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: Nick, Jay, and Corey, the bloggers, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
This morning's opening hym can be found on page 401

God of Grace and God of Glory (accompaniment)

God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places,
Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces,
In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee.

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee Whom we adore,
Serving Thee Whom we adore.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Mark 9:41-42,50

Jesus said to the disciples, "For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

Based on a little feedback from the few people who know me personally and also know this blog, it would appear that you the reader may have a mistaken impression about me. You may have the impression that I am in some way wise and knowing, at peace in my faith, or something of that sort. That would be the most wrong thing you can think about me.

Truth be told, I am basically just scared, and trying to talk myself out of fear. I’m scared of bad guys with bombs and germs. I’m scared they’re going to leave my little boy fatherless before he’s old enough to manage. I’m scared the economy is going to be ruined, and I’m going to wind up out on the street, starving and begging for scraps to feed my family. I’m scared my meager retirement savings are going to be made more meager by terrorism. I’m afraid my entire profession is going to disappear. I’m scared my friends in major cities are going to get nuked.

You see the pattern?

Forget the terrorists for a minute. They are the agents of my fear, but not the root of it. What I actually fear is losing this nice cushy life I have built for myself: a small but comfortable apartment; a decent but not thrilling job; money I don’t need for 30 or 40 years. I’m afraid of losing meaningless things.

Of course, I’m also afraid for my family, and that has meaning. But even that is a worldly thing, and as much as I like to pretend otherwise, it’s not the one True thing I fear.

I am afraid, in the end, for myself, though it shames me to no end to admit it.

Stumbling blocks appear in odd places, placed there by strangers and friends, family and coworkers. They usually amount to what St. Ignatius calls “unwarranted attachment.” In this case, I am attached to things that, except my family, have unwarranted sway over me. (Even a family can be an unwarranted attachment, I just don’t think it is one for me, at the moment.)

Lately I have been praying for release from my anxiety, and have gotten frustrated that such release has not been granted. But I have been praying for the wrong thing: I need to pray for release from my attachments, those stumbling blocks, placed there knowingly and willingly by myself. They are leaching the salt out of me.

I am also afraid that I am placing stumbling blocks in front of you. My opinions about the teachings of the Church are just that. I am no canon lawyer, no moral theologian. I’m pretty well read, and my arguments have some fact behind them, more than mere assertion. If they help you to understand your faith, then they are good. But if they cause you to stumble or to doubt, then step around them, and consult authorities more learned than I.

My brain gets all this stuff, while my heart does its own thing. Perhaps I’ll add myself to the intentions list tomorrow.
Thursday Intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me or suggest them using a comment, and I will include them. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: Nick, Jay, and Corey, the bloggers, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Thursday's Opening Hymn is found on the yellow card

Ye Clouds of Darkness, Hosts of Night


Ye clouds and darkness, hosts of night,
That breed confusion and affright,
Begone! o’erhead the dawn shines clear,
The light breaks in, and Christ is here.

Earth’s gloom flees broken and dispersed,
By the sun’s piercing shafts coerced:
The day-star’s eyes rain influence bright,
And colors glimmer back to sight.

Thee, Christ, alone we know; to Thee
We bend in pure simplicity;
Our songs with tears to Thee arise;
Prove Thou our hearts with Thy clear eyes.

Though we be stained with blots within,
Thy quickening rays shall purge our sin;
Light of the Morning Star, Thy grace
Shed on us from Thy cloudless face.

All laud to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To God the holy Paraclete.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The Potter's Wheel

This story, from Jeremiah 18, has been rattling around in my head. (lest anyone think I falsely pretend to be a scriptural scholar, these stories and psalms all originate in my leisure reading or visits to places like Sacred Space. I share them because they resonate, not because I know very much about the Bible.)

1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 2"Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words." 3Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 4And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.

5Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 6"O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the LORD. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!"

The Holy Spirit is working each of us, every day. I am poor clay, to be sure, but "Grace makes beauty out of ugly things."
Instead of today's intentions, some musings on prayer

In all honesty, I pray not nearly enough. If you were keeping a running total, and you subtracted all the prayers offered for relief from fear or anxiety, in fact, you would find that I really, really don't pray enough. (Thanks to Vice President Cheney, I'm praying a good bit more this week than recently!)

Petitionery prayers are well and good, and those make up much of my prayer. “Lord, please let Osama into the Light of Your Presence, sooner rather than later!” “Lord, please let my family get home safe, even though they are an hour late.” “Lord, please take care of my sick friend Karin.” Or even, “Lord, please help me not be such a blamed 'fraidy cat during the evening news.” These probably sound very familiar, and they are an appropriate form of prayer. Some think it impious to pray for oneself, a feeling that I have flirted with once or twice myself. But I came across a reflection in a book, where a minister told the author that “A man who won’t pray for himself is too Proud for his own good,” and that sounds more right to me. (The book was The Coalwood Way by Homer Hickam, which is worth a read.)

Unfortunately, petitions are where most prayer begins and ends. Real openness to the Spirit and to Christ, however, requires something more. My little boy sometimes tells God knock-knock jokes, which seems to me a rather excellent way to pray. I find it helpful sometimes not to think in words at all. Particularly when I am seeking forgiveness, words result in excuses and justifications for acts that will not allow them. A recollection of the actual thing for which forgiveness is sought and a general disposition of honest revulsion at my behavior help me to confront my sinfulness rather than hide from it. But other prayers too can benefit from a mental silence. The Spirit really does speak sometimes in a still, small voice, and too much internal chatter can drown it out.

Prayer in fact need not be about anything at all. Simply saying the Lord’s Prayer or Hail Mary for no good reason except I want to pray is sometimes the most settling of all. Just as I sometimes see a friend for no reason other than fellowship, sometimes I find praying for its own sake to be fulfilling.

Prayers of thanksgiving are perhaps my weakest area. I am willing to ask forgiveness, and I am willing to ask for all kinds of blessings, but only rarely do I remember to thank God once a blessing has been bestowed or forgiveness offered. Usually it is Pride that causes this--“Wow. I really did something special!”—rather than “Wow. Thank you God for doing that through (or for) me!”

Prayer is something that need not be done in isolation, or in designated places, or at designated times. A momentary pause in activity and a momentary thought to God can be done almost anywhere. Unfortunately, this possibility often leads me to forget that prayer sometimes does need to be done in isolation, in a church, or at a service. It is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and one. I need not wait for Mass to offer my thanks or ask God’s help, but I do need to do those at Mass as well.

Prayer need not even be prayer as such, all the time. Offering to God your particular activity at the moment, whether singing well, playing your position to the best of your ability, taking care of a child or a sick person, doing your job. All these, offered to God through the Spirit, are prayers.

Every one of these things I find to be necessary to having a good prayer life, and having a good prayer life is necessary to being well with the Spirit. Praying for myself, for others, for forgiveness. Praying out of gratitude, in Church, or for no particular reason at all. Praying a memorized form or comporting myself to listen. Offering my toils and troubles to God in a spirit of willingness.

How easy to write these things, how hard to remember them every day.

A caution, however, about prayer. Prayer ought not be a bludgeon with which we sneak a Judgment on others into our piety. All too often, I hear Christians say “I will pray for you” in a spirit of Uncharity or Anger or Pride, and I do not think such prayers are really prayer at all. It is one thing to say, “Dear Lord, please continue to show Kathy your Light, that she may move further into it.” But it is another thing entirely to turn that into “Dear Lord, thank you for making me so good. Please help that heathen Kathy get as good or as smart as I.” It is fine—Good, even—to pray that a person will become more open to God. Who among us cannot use such a prayer, after all? But it is dangerous in the extreme to pray for the sake of a living person’s soul, if one does so in judgment of that person ‘s worthiness.

I do not claim to avoid this sort of thing myself (cf., “Osama” above) at all times and everywhere. (Though I also think it not impious to pray for the defeat of one’s enemies in wartime, but would need to bore you again with many quotes from CS Lewis, and don’t have the time today.) I just warn that prayer should be the time when I am most open to the Spirit, and trying least to be clever.

Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay

Veiled in darkness Judah lay,
Waiting for the promised day,
While across the shadowy night
Streamed a flood of glorious light,
Heavenly voices chanting then,
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”

Still the earth in darkness lies.
Up from death’s dark vale arise
Voices of a world in grief,
Prayers of men who seek relief:
Now our darkness pierce again,
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”

Light of light, we humbly pray,
Shine upon Thy world today;
Break the gloom of our dark night,
Fill our souls with love and light,
Send Thy blessèd Word again,
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Another word or two on Celibacy and Women

In response to comments and email let me say something important: neither women priests nor non-celibate priests are essential to me, at least. And how could they be? How can a human office have any special bearing on an essentially unhuman thing, salvation?

Summa Contra Mundum and Emily Stimpson seem to think the female ordination thing is Infallible. Given the part about "a definitive act he proclaims a (1) doctrine of faith or morals" and that it is not at all clear to me that ordination of women is a "doctrine of faith or morals" I'm not sure I buy it. So far no canon lawyer has explained it to me in a convincing way. I'm way out of my depth on canon law, and so it's a little like during the Impeachment, when all us laymen were arguing about what "rises to the level of impeachment." We can parrot what we hear, but so far it's a history BA (me), a theology MA or Ph.D. candidate (Emily) and a Ph.D. in Ph. (Karl at Summa), and I can't honestly say who is "right" in a legal sense.

The celibacy thing is clearly not infallible, and also clearly worth arguing about. There is great merit in saying that all people cannot do all things right or well, and that therefore celibacy should be the rule and married clergy the exception. I put the emphasis someplace else, but I don't see celibacy as evil or automatically stunting, anymore than I see marriage as automatically fulfilling. The priesthood is what a priest makes of it. Open to the Holy Spirit, a priest will be and do good, at least on balance. Closed, he will not. Everything in between is open for discussion.

But so what? There are people ready to tear down the Church over this, and I find them reprehensible. If the Spirit wants women clergy, there will be women clergy, "infallible" declaration or not. Perhaps the Spirit already does want it, and has sent us the Protestants to fulfill that ministry. If the Spirit wants more married clergy, he will most certainly get them sooner or later. I will not stand side by side with those who would destroy, nor with those who place two essentially political goals ahead of Salvation.

As for Pope Joan, I actually rather suspect she existed. (I also believe in Big Foot and Sasquatch, if you want to know the truth. But I don't believe President Carter saw either a UFO or a Killer Rabbit. So I'm only a little crazy.) Much more intelligent and better read people than I have fallen under the spell of her legend. But she is neither here nor there to the argument, except as a curious sidebar. For those who are curious just what the heck I'm talking about, may I refer you to this book. It's utterly inconclusive, but it explains why people can get a little goofy around the idea.
Pick a little, Talk a little

Another blogger, whom most of my readers certainly know, got in trouble for a pretty sarcastic assault on the pro-life movement. So much so, that St. Blog's now feels completely like an actual old-time parish, where everyone knows everyone else's business, and everyone has an opinion. (I'm treating her anonymously on the tiny chance that this is the only corner of the blogoshpere you visit. She's gotten enough hate mail already.)

The problem I have with some other bloggers--not to mention myself most of all!--is the same problem I have with many large groups, especially conservative ones. It's the reason I almost always vote Republican, but have never joined the party, and the reason I'm pro-life but don't belong to the Family Research Center.

Possessing truth, especially The Truth, is a dangerous thing. It is possibly the gravest temptation, the thing that makes Lucifer fall and Adam eat the apple. Not just thinking but KNOWING you are right, in your heart of hearts, is a powerfully intoxicating thing, and the sin of Pride can hardly be avoided except by the most extreme measures. God forbade us the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because He knew we could not resist the temptations that come with that Knowledge.

I am such a self-righteous prig most of the time it annoys even me. My wife the converted Unitarian is constantly calling me on it, which is a good if annoying thing. I never dislike her half so much as when she has absorbed some priggishness of mine and shown me what I often really sound like. And I never love her half so much as when she won't let me get away with it myself.

We the Church have made very complicated some things that are very simple. Be Humble. Be Charitable. Be Loving. Be Faithful. Participate in this thing called Communion. Repent of your sins. “Do unto others as you would be done by.”

Everything else, everything extraneous to the explanation of our faith that Lewis wrote about in "Mere Christianity" is good if it helps you to the essence and bad if it becomes the object of your faith, instead of its facilitator.

Our friend the blogger was very critical of the prolife movement, though not the actual position that abortion is objectively wrong. She has already noted on her own site that perhaps her tone was too intemperate, so I’ll leave that out. There’s one substantive complaint I have: she objects to the lack of media-savvy of pro-life people. Now, this may be a fair critique, but it really ought to matter less. In “Jesus Christ Superstar” Judas objects in his post-hanging finale the same thing about Jesus: “Why'd you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you'd come today you would have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication!”

The complaint, while accurate, underscores the point that media-savvy has little or no relationship to Truth. Either can and often does exist without the other. In fact, the curious paradox (that a Gallilean carpenter could change the world in a time without mass communication, is a theme of the play: there’s a bizarre Press Conference scene after the Arrest at Gethsemane.

(She identifies herself as a “Gen-Xer” who demands media expertise, and is also careful to say that her Catholicism is not nearly so doctrinal as many other bloggers. Fair enough. But half measures in religion sooner or later demand reconciliation, and I suspect for her that reconciliation may be nearer than she would like.)

To oppose abortion is to believe that one possesses a particular shade of Truth. And the failure to heed that Truth is a heinous outcome. But, on some level, so what? We still must approach that Truth as all others: with Humility and Charity for those who do not yet understand it. Of course how Charity and Humility manifest themselves is different here than in a case where someone else is merely rude, as opposed to committing murder. But that fact only increases the challenge to those who already hold Truth.

I also kinda sorta agree and kinda sorta disagree with her about the word “Holocaust.” I agree because there are substantive and categorical differences between the victims of abortion and the victims of the historical Holocaust. But I disagree because there are millions of victims and they are all innocent, and victims of at best the indifference and at worst the deliberate malice of others. And the eugenicist Margaret Sanger cannot be removed from her progeny Planned Parenthood in any honest way, however much one would rather imagine Fay Waddleton as the face of the organization. I think the comparison perhaps not apt, but certainly not trivial.

If she has played the snarky slave to the pro-life movement's Emperor ("Sic transit Gloria!") then she has done a Good thing, even if the Emperor has decided to make a candle out of her, as appears to be the case.

The final word (from me, at least) is this: the blogosphere is not a ground where only the Pure speak. In fact, I have yet to correspond with a blogger who would describe herself as anything but incomplete, inadequate, and sinful. Some aspire to some sort of Purity more than others, which is fine. The nature of the medium is to write first, publish second, then go back and read what you wrote. We all seem to link to other blogs that catch our fancy, not necessarily because we endorse what is written there. Those who come to St. Blog’s filled with ideological purity have nothing to learn here, as far as I can tell, because all the blogs that I read (and certainly every single WORD that I write) are uninterrupted strings of failure. Some fail more spectacularly than others, and some come occasionally quite near to success. But the Holy Spirit has very poor clay to work with, and good workmanship can only cover up so much.
Tuesday Intentions

If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me, and I will include them. Some on this list are sick, some are deceased, and some have particular needs that are their own. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: The bloggers, Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Today's Opening Hymn

Dear Shepherd of Thy People, Hear

Dear Shepherd of Thy people, hear;
Thy presence now display;
As Thou hast given a place for prayer,
So give us hearts to pray.

O Lord, our languid souls inspire,
For here, we trust, thou art!
Send down a coal of heav’nly fire,
To warm each waiting heart.

Show us some token of Thy love,
Our fainting hope to raise;
And pour Thy blessings from above,
That we may render praise.

Within these walls let holy peace
And love and concord dwell;
Here give the troubled conscience ease,
The wounded spirit heal.

The feeling heart, the melting eye,
The humble mind bestow;
And shine upon us from on high,
To make our graces grow!

May we in faith receive Thy Word,
In faith present our prayers;
And, in the presence of our Lord,
Unbosom all our cares.

And may the Gospel’s joyful sound
Enforced by mighty grace,
Awaken many sinners round,
To come and fill the place.
Sorry about that...

Don't know where the blog went for a while this am, but it's back now. Sorry for the technical difficulties.

Monday, May 20, 2002

X-Files ending

Since the displaying of the Cross at the end of the X-files seems to have cleared the shows way into Catholic blogdom today, let me just ask: am I the only one who found the whole silly trial thing just a little toooo reminiscent of the last episode of Seinfeld? Calling as witnesses (or showing as ex-people) all the people who ever had a hand in the conspiracy was...uninspired, I guess. Seemed like a lazy way to get everyone one extra royalty check, or something.
Re-Read, please

If you found my post below hard to follow, please re-read it. There was a hypertext error that cut out half a dozen important paragraphs in it. It is now fixed.
Fools Rush In

The time has come to rush in where angels fear to tread, and start discussing the question of a celibate priesthood and female clergy. My own thinking is a little muddied, but not so much as I pretend sometimes, to avoid getting drawn in by an ideologue.

My comments should be prefaced. It is plain to me that many people who argue in favor of an end to celibacy or the ordination of women, do so not from a sense that history has miscarried, but out of animosity. Such people are Destructors, more interested in tearing down than in building up. They want an end to “the patriarchy” or male privilege, or whatever post-modern claptrap such people toss around. Those who want an end to celibacy are (surprise, surprise) often the same people who want to define marriage as something other than one man, one woman. The largest single reason I feel “muddied” is I want very much not to be allies with such people, who wish the Church harm.

Nonetheless, I do believe that holy orders, particularly Presbyter and Bishop, will be opened to women and married men, and I believe that result will be correct.

Let’s take celibacy first. The argument from history has been summarized by Emily Stimpson in recent weeks. For the sake of argument I will stipulate her entire history as true, though many scholars have contested specific parts of it, and it doesn’t confront the necessarily pragmatic facts that Rome very often tolerated wide divergence from policy, especially in the countryside. Nevertheless, the Pope inherits Peter’s throne, and Peter was married. Anything that came after was a historical graft onto the Body of Christ, and though it may be a true, necessary and valid graft, history is not consistently on the side of the celibates.

Even if it were, another problem looms. There are married Eastern and Roman Rite Catholic priests today. The married ones are by and large Anglican converts who have been “re-ordained” as it were. Nowadays, most exceptions are taken as a matter of course to “prove the rule” but for the life of me I cannot see how this one does not disprove it. If celibacy is necessary and married clergy are defective somehow, or less effective, then why are they permitted? One cannot help but feel that the rule is bent in favor of earthly politics: “We are stealing one from the Protestants, so we’ll let the married part slide.”

Any discussion of celibacy must start from the exceptional case of married clergy, rather than try to brush it off at the end. Until then, those in favor of mandatory, nearly exclusive celibacy are playing at mere casuistry.

Now, on to women. Again, the historical argument is the basis of the case, and it goes something like this: Jesus was a man, and he chose only men as his Apostles, and he was doing much more shocking things than picking women as Apostles, so that must have been deliberate. (Funny, but this argument is never trotted out for celibacy. How come?) The first problem is the Apostolic bit: it takes some pretty clever exegesis to get past Paul calling the woman “Junia” an “Apostle” (Romans, 16:7). (Cf. St. John Chrysostom: “O how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!” Homily on Romans 16.) Paul also tells women to be quiet in Church, of course. But Paul started life as a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians, and his choices can be taken to be more in line with his Judaic upbringing, in a way we cannot admit for Christ.

There is a more theological argument against women, hinging on the Eucharist, and the priest as symbolizing Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, and the communicants as the bride. (See my post here for my take on some of the flaws in this argument.) This argument, if true, certainly does argue against women priests or bishops, since they alone can perform the Eucharistic sacrament. But it says nothing about the Liturgy of the Word, which can be administered by a Deacon as well, and there is ample evidence that women were Deacons, the “other” holy order.

Once again, however, the exceptions come in.

Tertullian wrote around 204 in “On the Veiling of Virgins” that:
It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say (in any) sacerdotal office.
This leads some to argue (just as Emily does about celibacy) that the proscriptions are meant to curtail a practice that has been going on. (In fairness, Emily says such practices would have to be known to be illicit, since the proscriptions do not contain justification.)

Historically, some have argued that St. Brigid may have been a bishop (though others argue she was actually a pagan holdover, and neither a Christian nor a Saint at all). There is also the legend of Pope Joan, who is supposed to have given birth during a papal procession down the street in Rome still known as the Via Pappia (which means something like “Lady Pope Street.”) Joan’s ascension to the papacy, even if true, would clearly have been illicit, but it would still mean that apostolic succession runs through a woman.

Once again, however, even in our own age, we need not stand on history alone. Ludmila Javorova was secretly ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in December 1970, to serve with several other women in the Czech underground church. Javorova was the vicar general of this group. The rationale for the exception here is much meatier than the converted Anglican issue (though one wonders why converted women pastors from the Anglican faith wouldn’t qualify for a similar exception as married men). Nevertheless, this exception would seem to invalidate the rule. If the crisis of communism in Eastern Europe was sufficient cause, why not the crisis of life in the West? Are there, even now, women being secretly ordained in China? Arabia? North Korea? If women are adequate symbols of Christ and sacramentally valid in extremis, what distinguishes (theologically, not rhetorically) those women from women in the West?

These existing cases must be dealt with honestly and at the beginning of any argument. (Again, in fairness to Emily, she does seek to take on Anglican converts: her own pastor is one, and she thinks the world of him. But it is ex post facto, not at the outset.)

For myself, I would like to see the diocesan priesthood open to married men, though not the orders. I don’t mean to invalidate celibacy: it is a great and noble thing, with a long and proud history, and it certainly serves all or nearly all the causes its supporters in mandatory form suggest. I have more than once been tempted to go get myself ordained an Anglican priest and “rediscover” Rome after the fact. So long as such practices are legitimate (if admittedly dishonest; hence I have not done so), our Church certainly seems to be arguing in less than full good faith.

And so with women. I am less persuaded that ordaining women is the right thing (much more muddied about this: the historical argument is actually a good deal stronger in this case than celibacy). But so long as the Church is going to say one thing and do another, the burden appears to be on them to prove that the existing system is the right one.

I honestly hope that neither situation changes very much in the next 20 years. Those who were brought up to a pre-Vatican Council Church have seen enough turmoil and tumult in one lifetime. Demanding such changes now seems to me to be a very selfish thing, however just the case.
Bad Aim

On the way in this morning a comment from the other day kept percolating up through the morning fog. In a post about a Cardinal, I said, "He also sounds like someone who thinks 'fixing the World' should come before 'preparing for the next.'"

The thought was not fully formed when I wrote it last week, nor in fact is it now. But what interests me about it is how often it is true. We as a species have remarkably bad aim.

In all of human history, those who set out to “fix the world” have a failure rate of 100%. Communism failed, fascism failed, democracy even has failed (though perhaps less spectacularly than the others). Liberation theology, libertarianism, free markets and statist markets. Feudalism, Empire, oligarchy, aristocracy. Every one of them has failed to improve the lot of the world. (Don’t misunderstand: democracy and free markets do more for the poor than all the rest combined, and they at least allow people to pursue Salvation comparatively free from interference. But they have not cured, nor will they ever cure, poverty.)

On a smaller scale, think about individuals you know. People have ambition to “climb to the top” only to find a barren hilltop when they get there. A priest seeks to be a bishop and then an archbishop and then a cardinal, thinking to “do good” once fully only enabled, only to find that the compromises made along the way limit his ability to do the very thing he wanted the mitre for. A man seeks money to give himself some security and finds that “just a little more” will finally give it to him. A husband goes off to “find himself” and finds that the road goes home again, but discovers it too late.

The aim is bad, because the target is moving. Christ himself told us this, when he told us that the last shall be first, and that those who would save their lives will lose them. Most of us—certainly I do—seek the wrong thing. We seek the effect and not the result, when the result is all we can control. Think of the athlete who wants the fame and the contract, but doesn’t want to practice, or doesn’t want to risk the big play at the end of the game. The result of that play is victory or defeat, and the effect fame or ignominy.

It simply isn’t possible to be happy by trying to be happy. In fact, that seems to be an unyielding law of the universe, with many corollaries. One can certainly achieve a temporary state of contentment. But like the song says, “you can’t get enough of what you don’t really need.” It is rather like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube one color at a time, or to win a chess match by protecting your own King.

The hell of it, the perversity of it, really, is that many people who don’t seek these things often find them. Yes, the driven, ambitious man often makes it all the way up the corporate ladder, but how many of them fall just as quickly? How many wealthy people seem constantly to be chasing after—what? A building named for them at their college? Is that what they really why they missed so many birthdays and anniversaries? But the people you know, who love their jobs, love their families, and seem never to miss a beat: they have found contentment that abandoned it. (These are not to be confused with the blithering idiots who think Pollyanna was too conservative.)

Strangely enough, though, Christ also told us to ask and we shall be answered, to seek and we will find, which is certainly in direct contradiction to my own experience. The only conclusion is that we must ask for and seek the right thing. There is only one target that doesn’t move, because it is the one real thing in a universe of illusion: God. It is in fully abandoning our Selves to Divine Providence that we find we are not abandoned at all. The only integrated thing in this Newtonian or Quantum universe is God himself, and everything we try to fill our Selves with that is not God does not fill us.

Christ came in part to remind us of this; the Spirit had already told us long before Jesus, in the words even non-Jews and non-Christians know: Psalm 23. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Monday Intentions

If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me, and I will include them. Some on this list are sick, some are deceased, and some have particular needs that are their own. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Monday's Opening Hymn is number 87

Lord, as to Thy Dear Cross We Flee


Lord, as to Thy dear cross we flee,
And plead to be forgiven,
So let Thy life our pattern be,
And form our souls for heaven.

Help us through good report and ill
Our daily cross to bear,
Like Thee to do our Father’s will,
Our brethren’s grief to share.

Let grace our selfishness expel,
Our earthliness refine,
And kindness in our being dwell,
As free and true as Thine.

If joy shall at Thy bidding fly,
And grief’s dark day come on,
We in our turn would meekly cry,
“Father, Thy will be done.”

Should friends misjudge, or foes defame,
Or brethren faithless prove,
Then, like Thine own, be all our aim
To conquer them by love.

Kept peaceful in the midst of strife,
Forgiving and forgiven,
O may we lead the pilgrim’s life
And follow Thee to heaven.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Sunday Intentions

If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me, and I will include them. Some on this list are sick, some are deceased, and some have particular needs that are their own. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: Elizabeth, Karin, Michael, S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Welcome to the Feast of the Pentecost
Our Opening Hymn today is found on page 375

We Limit Not the Truth of God


We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial, and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:


The Lord hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from His Word.
Darkling our great forefathers went
The first steps of the way;
’Twas but the dawning yet to grow
Into the perfect day.
And grow it shall, our glorious sun
More fervid rays afford:


The valleys passed, ascending still,
Our souls would higher climb,
And look down from supernal heights
On all the bygone time.
Upward we press, the air is clear,
And the sphere-music heard:


O Father, Son, and Spirit, send
Us increase from above;
Enlarge, expand all Christian souls
To comprehend Thy love,
And make us to go on, to know
With nobler powers conferred:


Saturday, May 18, 2002

The Solution

I think I know how, henceforth, to avoid any problems with the clericalist mentality, at least in terms of dealing with pedophiles and ephebophiles. It should be a requirement that no priest can be assigned, nor bishop elevated, nor anyone sent to another diocese, without the responsible authority submitting an affidavit to the new church or diocese. The affidavit, signed "under the pains and penalties of perjury," would simply state that there have been no allegations of sexual impropriety alleged against the priest. If allegations had been made, the signatory would have to specify them, and list the procedure followed to clear the person.

Why would this not work?
Saturday Intentions

If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me, and I will include them. Some on this list are sick, some are deceased, and some have particular needs that are their own. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, Mona Charen and her son Jonathan, those who cannot forgive, Diana, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Elizabeth, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, Michael, Karin, and the anonymous ones as well.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Last blog before my flight

Amy Welborn linked to this story , and focused on the prospect of a papal resignation. But she didn't mention the most interesting part.

Maradiaga, who is considered a potential papal candidate, said a "Latin-American pope would give an huge impetus to a new evangelism, a new missionary surge for the church."
He added that a Latin-American pope could play an important role in "overcoming the north-south conflict and in the battle against poverty."

Doesn't Canon Law forbid campaigning? This guy sounds an awful lot like Mitt Romney at the Salt Lake closing ceremony. He also sounds like someone who thinks "fixing the World" should come before "preparing for the next."
Lest you lose interest in my ponderous thinking

While I'm gone, O Loyal Reader, O outraged accidental visitor, feel free henceforth to avail yourself of the "Comments" option attached to each post. Please keep the Spirit in mind when writing, and remember that, when I get a chance, I will delete unChristian or swear-filled comments.


(that's the emoticon for religious leader. amuse yourself with many more emoticons here.)
Kairos takes a Holiday

Actually, Kairos will be traveling on business this afternoon and all day tomorrow. So there won't be much posting today or tomorrow. But I will return over the weekend, and post Saturday or Sunday. Meanwhile, if Osama does the Bad Thing in DC this week, and I don't start posting again soon, light a candle for me at St. Blog's.

An Interesting Thesis

My correspondent in Texas (who really does need his own blog, lack of time or no lack of time) wrote in response to my Congregational blog below. But as he worked through it, he came up with this, regarding "The Situation."

Perhaps it began with the elevation of priests to the episcopate from the War generation. Some of them had been formed in heterodox seminaries beginning in the 1940s. More importantly, the titanic figures of the 1940s and 1950s Catholic culture began to die, retire, etc, and the old episcopate was replaced by men weaned on the genius of American Management Techniques as the Path to Order, and implicitly to Salvation. I think the resurgence of clericalism within the last two generations of bishops is traceable to that phenomenon in American culture. Even more insidious to the core of our faith than the sexual 'revolution', liturgical abuses, etc., was the wholesale acceptance that through "scientific management" man could progress through his own efforts to temporal perfection. Not a new idea, but applying it in a formalized, structured way is a legacy of the early half of this century when many of the titans of industry died off and were replaced by middle managers and the prototypes of consultants who tried to figure out a way to bottle the financial magic of Rockefeller, Morgan, etc.

The New Deal and the Second World War provided many people with the evidence they sought that scientific management and bureaucracy was the most efficient way to run any large organization. People couldn't be allowed to make decisions based on common sense, community standards, or moral principles. Experts had to be consulted. What happened in the post-war era was the institutionalization of this mentality all over America and the export of it to the world. No longer was Christ, fidelity to the Magisterium, or reliance on ancient moral precepts necessary. There were experts now who knew these things better than others, and this is the birthplace of the dissident theologians and professional (9-5 and no more) priests.

I don't totally buy it. For one thing, until Arthur D Little starting spouting Total Quality Management in the 80s, corporate centralization and a regimented hierarchical structure was THE American management model. But there's a lot in here I do buy, and I think Chris is on to something.
Today's Opening Hymn is number 43


Ruler of the Hosts of Light

Ruler of the hosts of light,
Death hath yielded to Thy might;
And Thy blood hath marked a road
Which will lead us back to God.

From Thy dwelling place above,
From Thy Father’s throne of love,
With Thy look of mercy bless
Those without Thee comfortless.

Bitter were Thy throes on earth,
Giving to the Church her birth
From the spear wound opening wide
In Thine own life giving side.

Now in glory Thou dost reign
Won by all Thy toil and pain;
Thence the promised Spirit send
While our prayers to Thee ascend.

Jesu, praise to Thee be giv’n
With the Father high in Heav’n;
Holy Spirit, praise to Thee,
Now and through eternity.
Thursday Intentions

If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me, and I will include them. Some on this list are sick, some are deceased, and some have particular needs that are their own. Please take a moment to ask God to look out for each.

Today's intentions: S, her mother, her siblings, and especially her brother, Mona Charen and her son Jonathan, those who cannot forgive, Diana, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Rita, Bridgit, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Elizabeth, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, Michael, Karin, and the anonymous ones as well.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Diane's Cry

Although it began to shock me less as time went by, it never ceased to make me think that before we make up our minds about voluntary euthanasia or make sweeping judgements about other people's quality of life, we should listen to a cry like Diane's and attempt to understand what she meant when she said that for her, life was worse than death.

There is nothing I am likely to do or say that could make this poor woman's life any better. Unfortunately, that is also true of the people who produced this film. And their agenda is to use people like Diane to make the lives of many, many more people worse.

I received a very moving email yesterday from a woman who was physically, psychologically, and even sexually abused as a child by her mother. I share part of it here:

One of my quiet joys these days is that my mother seems to be experiencing some genuine happiness for the first time in her life. It is as though the final movement of my own healing is to see my mother becoming free to enjoy herself. I realize that in the current climate, rejoicing in the ultimate happiness of the one who made your childhood a living hell must seem unimaginably sick. One of the unexpected fruits of forgiveness for me was that I was suddenly free to see my mother as a person for the first time, a pathetically child-like, self-absorbed, but not unlovable fellow human being. But, you might say, I suppose it’s excusable. She is your mother after all. But a priest would be entirely different! Would it? How could betrayal by a relative stranger, however exalted his office, be more terrible than decades of rejection and abuse by the one person who has known me since conception and whose personal vocation it was to love me into life and maturity? Who most profoundly and immediately stands in God’s place in the life of a child: the one who gave you birth or a priest that you barely know?

I would be very sorry if you came away from the end of this passage with the impression that my correspondent was complaining about her victim status. The entire message is too long to quote, but the context of this passage makes the very opposite clear: only through forgiveness has she been able to relinquish a sense of victimhood and move, through pastoral and psychological counseling to be sure, into a healthy, happy, integrated life.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius set this problem before us on the very first day. In No. 16, Ignatius writes:

That the Creator and Lord may work with greater certainty in His creature, if the soul chance to be inordinately attached or inclined to anything, it is very proper that it rouse itself by the exertion of all its power to desire the opposite of that to which it is wrongly attached.

It would seem to me, though money, sex, and power are the usual things to which people wrongly attach themselves, that anger, hatred and an unforgiveness are equally obstacles to the Lord working "with greater certainty in His creature." I suppose it is not for me to forgive the abusers on behalf of the victims. But is must be for me to encourage the abused themselves to do so.

No doubt that last statement is going to provoke anger and outrage in some, and I am sorry for that. I have never suffered anything like what some of these victims appear to have gone through, and that no doubt disqualifies me to speak on the subject in many eyes. But there is no exception to the rule that those who would be forgiven must also forgive, no clause that says "unless you were really wronged." What would be the point of demanding forgiveness in the case of petty offenses, but allowing really awful things to go unforgiven? Christ himself was scourged and murdered "that sins might be forgiven." He lived that we might know the conditions.

The Universalist heresy says that all are forgiven, no matter the offense. The reasoning is that God cannot demand of Man--unqualified, unlimited forgiveness--without offering it Himself. I must confess that I have more than once been tempted to accept this heresy, for it has a profound logic to it, and Logic too is God's creation. But it ultimately fails as an idea, because it misses something essential. The act of unlimited forgiveness is not an arbitrary precondition laid down by God, but an explanation of the manner of receiving Grace.

Think of it this way: There is a space within you, a part of your soul, where Grace slides in. Grace, being the proper goal of the human soul, is the one true and proper desire. Unfortunately, other Desires are corruptions of Grace, and though they cannot fill the space where Grace belongs, they can block it, just as carbon monoxide bonds to hemoglobin where oxygen is designed to bond. To receive Grace, to receive God's forgiveness, we must first clear the part of our soul where desire goes, to make room for it. Hanging on to a wrong, however profound and evil, covers the entrance, and keeps the Grace out. A victim of CO poisoning is given pure oxygen for a long time, to cleanse the blood completely, just as God constantly offers us pure Grace to cleanse the soul. But in both cases it is our choice to receive treatment or die. We would surely not describe a doctor who tried to help such a person as laying down arbitrary conditions for his patient's recovery.

But as Jesus tells the rich man in the story of Lazarus, "they will not be persuaded though a man rise from the dead."