Sunday, June 30, 2002

Sunday Intentions:

Amy's son Joseph, Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Eternal Glory of the Sky

Eternal Glory of the sky,
Blest Hope of frail humanity,
The Father’s sole begotten One,
Yet born a spotless virgin’s Son!

Uplift us with Thine arm of might,
And let our hearts rise pure and bright,
And, ardent in God’s praises, pay
The thanks we owe him every day.

The day-star’s rays are glittering clear,
And tell that day itself is near:
The shadows of the night depart;
Thou, holy Light, illume the heart!

Within our senses ever dwell,
And worldly darkness thence expel;
Long as the days of life endure,
Preserve our souls devout and pure.

The faith that first must be possessed,
Root deep within our inmost breast;
And joyous hope in second place,
Then charity, Thy greatest grace.

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

Saturday, June 29, 2002

From the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, 6:10-20

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Important words in the present world--both within the Church, as we must recognize the Situation for what it truly is, and in the wider world, where Evil stands naked before us, eager to tear us down. We can only really lose, however, if we choose to fight Evil solely on the ground it has chosen. If we fight in a material way--with policies and committees, with soldiers and rifles--we can hope at best for a draw. But if we fight not only materially, but spiritualy, if we gird our loins with the Word of God, as the King James version puts it, we cannot lose--literally, we are not able to lose if we follow the Law.

I'm as hawkish on Osama and Iraq as the next guy, moreso than many, in fact. But the World is only one front in the war, and we should never forget who it is we are really fighting. The strange thing about the present war is how plain the Darkness is about its nature. It makes not even a pretence of being good, as Communism did. It does not even offer its supporters Lebensraum. It stands in front of us, in all its Hideous Glory, promising only winter, fire and steel. It is so blatantly Terrible, it promises death not only to its enemies but to its advocates, and they rejoice in the offer.

This can only be, because collectively we have stopped believing in evil at all. The greatest trick the Devil has ever played on mankind was not offering us the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but in convincing us to deny it. We in the West no longer know our own story, and so we no longer tell it, and cannot use it to evaluate our adversary. Evil can rise up as plain as day and we see it as a "simplistic" trick of the light. President Bush seemed so masterful in October and January, precisely because for a short time we recognized the Enemy. But as normality and security have returned, he has seemd to stumble, because we no longer see what he sees. We stand today as Peter on the night of Jesus' arrest, having known the Good, and known it for what it was, but denying It in the hope of material safety.

We must confront the evil that would use Christ's Body to harm children, and Christ's children as weapons against others. We must do so not only in Dallas and Bagdhad, Boston and Tora Bora, but in our hearts. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Friday, June 28, 2002

Obviously, if you missed it, I'm back. And my hand is getting better. Thank you to al the readers who checked in even while I was away. It's remarkable.
Friday's Intentions:

We must pray, every day. It's as important to our spiritual health as drinking water is to our physical. And the effects of not doing either are comparable. When you get dehydrated the symptoms start out mild but get worse the longer it goes on. First, you get a little tired, maybe a headache (a nurse once told me dehydration causes more than half of all headaches. Bet the makers of Tylenol will sue me now!). Then you can get dizzy, disoriented, irritable. Next comes vomiting and severe pain, hallucinations. Then your kidneys and other organs shut down, and finally, comes death. Interestingly, when the kidneys shut down, you have to revive a person with waer very slowly. At that stage, suddenly trying to take in a lot of water can kill a person just as surely as withholding it entirely.

The spiritual symptoms of de-pray-ation are very similar. No real harm done at first, just a little out of balance, and you can easily restore the balance very quickly. But if you don't, soon you get a spiritual hurt, that you try to chase away with spiritual analgesics, like money or lust. Those mask the symptoms for a bit, but don't address the root cause. But soon you begin to be angry at the cuase of your pain (the lack of prayer) and imagine that it is the fault of a God you no longer acknowledge. Your spiritual self begins to shut down, and you risk death. Here, too, trying to do too much at once can be as bad as not doing anything. We have all seen sudden, glorious conversions that burn out just as quickly and just as suddenly.

The solution to dehydration is to drink water regularly, and to cut back on or avoid entirely diuretics like caffeine and alcohol. And when you do partake of the diuretics, you have to drink more water, not less.

In the spirit it is the same. Pray daily to keep your system clear. When you participate in a spiritual "diuretic"--whatever worldly attachments you have can be thus--you need to respond with more prayer, not less.

I am condemning neither coffee nor wine (two of my favorite beverages) nor worldly attachments. Christ's first miracle was the provision of wine for a party, and he has commanded us to live in the world, and t do our best by it while we do so. But I am telling you that anything done Intemperately must be met with a deliberate and careful response as a counterbalance. Newton's Laws of Motion (an equal and opposite reaction to every action) and the Asian concept of Yin and Yang say essentially this same thing.

Therefore, today's intentions are for all those in need of praying, that sufficent Grace might be granted them to turn them back to a spiritual renewal, and a balancing out of the forces that drive them from prayer.
Eternal Father, Strong to Save

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Posting will be erratic the next few days. I will be traveling, but expect to be able to do some posting, though probably not at my usual 8-9am and noon EDT timeslots. I will post something of substance this evening.
Today's intentions: Those who cannot forgive, Q and all the persecuted Christians of China, the people of Cuba, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well. Please keep travelers in mind as well.
Thank you for the kind words and thoughts. I cut a finger on one hand deeply enough to require several stitches and a strong antibiotic. It should be fine in a few weeks.
Lead, Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith, home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

“One of the most unforgettable bishops in New York’s history electrified the large audience in the Bronx at his inaugural speech half a century ago. He had been preceded by a typical ‘brick and mortar’ administrator, fundraiser, organizer and ‘nice guy.’ But the new bishop announced, ‘I am here for one reason and one only. Everything I do for you will have one single aim: to save your souls.’

“The only justification for every dollar raised, every bible of hymnbook printed, every speck of dust swept up from under every pew, is salvation. That is the business the church is in.

“The church also seems to be in the social service business, the counseling business, the fundraising business, the daycare business—dozens of the same worthy businesses as the secular world is also in. Why? What justifies these things? The church’s ultimate end for all these things is different from the world’s end; it is salvation. This is its distinctive ‘product.’

“Why put out a product that is just the same as other companies’ products already on the market? Why would anyone expect such a product to sell? That’s why modernist or liberal Christianity, charitable as its services are, is simply not selling. The only reason for any of the church’s activities, the only reason for the very existence f the church at all, is exactly the same as the reason Jesus came to earth: to save poor and lost humanity. The church, after all, is in the same business as its Head. When the body runs in a different direction from its Head, it is like a chicken with its head cut off: it goes nowhere and quickly dies.”

—Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook for Christian Apologetics pp. 316-17
Intentions: Please pray for the victims of an earhquake in Iran, for the people of Israel, for Karin, my sisters, and for me. I hurt my hand rather badly last night.
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

Friday, June 21, 2002

As I was writing about the Cardinal Virtues a few weeks ago, I wrote that Courage is the virtue without which the other virtues cannot exist. In this sense, there really is only one “cardinal” (or “hinge”) viture.

In a similar way. there really is only one sin: Pride.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” goes the Proverb (16:18), and it is certainly true. Every single sin I commit is, in the end, about my Pride.

Let’s start, though, by distinguishing Pride from some other things. Pride is not vanity, Taking pleasure in praise is a sign, albeit a weak one, that you still depend on the “other.” A person totally consumed by Pride cares not a whit for the opinion of others. The Sin of Pride is also not the kind of pride a father takes in a son’s accomplishments. Affection and a stirring of heart at the talents of a child also continue to depend on the other, and take one somewhat out of the self. This can lead to a sinful pride, when the son becomes a mere factotum for the father’s abilities, but it need not and does not always lead that way.

The sinful kind of Pride is the kind that places oneself above others, even—especially—God. It is precisely this that CS Lewis wrote of when he said there are in the end only two kinds of people: “those who say to God ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom in the end God says ‘thy will be done.’”

Pride says that I, the Self, am the most important thing. It says that whatever I accomplish, I accomplish, by my own power and my own lights. It denies the “Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship on the Holy Spirit” in the most essential way, by insisting that the grace, love and fellowship were unnecessary. “Thanks, guys, for the offer, but I’ve already taken care of it.”

The eradication of Pride does not, however, come from the destruction or even the despising of the self. The answer comes, as always, in being Christ-like. Christ, the third person of the Trinity, was lowered Infinitely, from Creator to creature.

When we say in the Mass that “He humbled himself” we should pause and reflect on that, like we do during the Passion. There should really come a moment where everyone stops, kneels, and thinks about that very idea in several minutes of silence, for there is no more shocking thing in all of human history. God, all-powerful and all-knowing, the Infinite Creator of every single thing became a finite, frail, pathetic human being. For 33 years, God couldn’t go more than a few days without sleep, two or three weeks without food, and 3 days without water. “He suffered under Pontius Pilate” by being whipped and paraded through the streets of Jerusalem with a tree strapped to his back, and he was nailed through flesh, bone and nerve to that tree and left to suffocate and drown on it.

Go back and read that last paragraph again, and then ask Andrew Sullivan how his travails of trying to be fulfilled as a human being compare. Ask Cardinals Law and Mahony about the image of the Church. Ask the women who practice illicit “masses” in secret about the problems of women in the Church. Ask the priests who promise celibacy but take up with women and men in secret how chastity compares to that.

Or, come ask me in my comfortable middle class apartment and my little Kairos website about any of the hundreds of complaints and imprecations about life being “unfair to me” that I utter every day. But arrive early, because the line of people who can justly claim to have been treated as less than me by me is going to be pretty long.

It is easy, at a moment like this, to become filled with self-loathing, but that is the wrong response—it still, after all makes a totem of the self. The answer, easy to write but hard to do, is to view your own self in exactly the same way you view others: to become humble. Take the same pleasure in watching another member of the team make a great play as you do when you make it. Don’t think, “When he did that it was remarkable, but pathetic when I did.” Think, “Isn’t it remarkable that God made people such that some can do amazing things on the ballfield!” whomever makes the play.

Be unmindful of yourself as self. And when that fails, be mindful of the humor of yourself. If you find yourself getting proud of your humility, laugh it off, and pray for the Grace to do better next time. Don’t laugh it off in the sense of thinking it unimportant. But recognize that our capacity for absurdity is very great, and that the Devil will take any and every opportunity to induce pride however possible. And to mock the Devil is to offend his pride.
In "Christian Apologetics" CS Lewis observed that it would probably be better if people who wrote apologetics for other Christians instead wrote things that would be apologetics but might not be recognized as such. In this way Christianity could be spread to non-believers, rather than merely being reconfirmed in existing Christians.

With that in mind, here's a thought that at first blush has nothing to do with Christianity.

"Baseball's inherent rhythm, minutes and minutes of passivity erupting into seconds of frenzied action, matches an attribute of the American character. But no existential proclamation or any tortured neo-Freudianism, or any outburts of popular sociology, not even--least of all--my own, explains baseball's lock on the American heart. You learn to let some mysteries alone, and when you do, you find they sing themselves."
--Don Hall, Fathers Playing Catch With Sons
Today's intentions: Elizabeth, 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, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostileAgainst the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

A pathetically small attempt at doing something big

I have in recent months begun, to the best of my ability, to avoid purchasing Chinese made goods. If you have ever attempted this, you know how hard it is actually to carry through with.

The reasons for doing so are several. First, there is the matter of slave labor, prison camps, etc. China’s manufactories use an awful lot of forced labor, most of it from what I can tell political or social prisoners, rather than simple criminals. A man I know in the apparel business says that it is very difficult for him to discern (even after visiting factories himself) which factories use regular laborers and which use prisoners. (Prison labor as such is not necessarily a problem, by the way. Western countries use it too. But when the “prisoners’” “crimes” are things like going to Church, and they haven’t been given a fair trial, right to counsel, fixed sentences, and other basic rights as human beings, the concept is morally untenable.) So “Made in China” is a label that signifies a strong possibility of slave labor.

If that weren’t enough, many manufacturers are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the People’s Liberation Army. I think there is a better than even chance that after we finish with the Islamofascists we are going to wind up toe-to-toe with the PLA across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea. Therefore, I am not eager to fulfill Lenin’s prophecy that “The capitalists will sell us the rope we use to hang them!”

And finally, China is one of the least religiously free countries on the planet, after Wahabi Arabia. Christians see treatment akin to that in the pre-Constantine Roman Empire. Other religious groups fare poorly as well.

My attempt is not comprehensive, and very inconsistent. First of all, it may not be possible to live and work in 21st Century America and buy nothing made in China. And it is especially difficult if you have a five year old child when you decide to start doing it. If you were to go to Toys ‘R Us and remove all the products made in China, you would be left with perhaps half an aisle’s worth of merchandise, and most of that aisle would be board games. Try explaining to a five-year-old that the toys you allowed last week you won’t allow this week, because of some fairly difficult-to-grasp concepts around labor rights, slavery, and geopolitics. Had I never allowed such toys, he would be used to it. But the change in policy is a tough one, and I am waiting until he is just a smidge older to make my case.

Many products appear to come almost exclusively from China, and replacements from elsewhere are not easy to find. It took my wife a week of looking in many stores, for instance, to find a pocketbook not made in China, and it cost twice as much as comparable Sino-made ones. Our finances are such that until fairly recently the price tag might have made me balk at spending the extra money.

There are other countries that have labor problems, but I don’t spend as much time or worry focused on them. First of all, I think that many of these problems are culturally-perceived rather than real. I don’t see a problem with a company paying a country’s prevailing wage, whether it’s $0.50 an hour or $5.00. A cousin with whom I have frequent arguments on this subject will concede that these “exploitative” wages are often the best jobs around, and the difference between starvation and life for a family. I don’t really want to start a labor argument, but suffice it to say that I find much more clarity on China than I do on many other countries, and I find many of the things Americans take for granted to be the luxuries of wealth that impugn the “activists” as much as the complacent.

And so I now check the labels of the products I buy, and put back many of them when it says “Made in China.” When I can, I choose alternatives made in places like India and Mexico, countries whose democracy requires wealth for security. It’s a pathetically small attempt at charity that has more to do with Pride, really, and it’s horribly inconsistent of me to allow a major exception in the form of toys. But it’s a start.
Warning: Shameless promotion of my Hibernian Ancestry ahead

Interesting bit of trivia, picked up last night from the PBS series “In Search of Ireland.” Did you know that Ireland is the only country in Europe not to have martyrs in resulting from its conversion? It’s especially interesting when one considers that it was never a part of the Roman empire. And so sad to see that with increasing wealth Ireland has started to become as materialistic and neopagan as the rest of Europe.

Thoughts to return to later
Thursday Intentions

The cross I bear again is that I find myself praying still for victims of more murder-suicide bombings in Israel. This lowers my spirit almost unbearably. Add to it prayers for the bishops and victims of the sexual crisis within our Church and my spirit recedes further. If anyone has a positive intention to add, please let me know.

In addition, please pray for: Elizabeth, 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, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Good It Is to Keep the Fast

Good it is to keep the fast,
Shadowed forth in ages past,
Which our own Almighty Lord
Hallowed by His deed and Word.

Moses, while he fasted, saw
God Who gave by him the law;
To Elijah angels came,
Steeds of fire and car of flame.

So was Daniel meet to gaze
On the sight of latter days
And the Baptist to proclaim
Blessings through the Bridegroom’s Name.

Grant us, Lord, like them to be
Oft in prayer and fast with Thee;
Fill us with Thy heavenly might,
Be our Joy and true Delight.

Father, hear us through Thy Son,
And the Spirit, with Thee One,
Whom our thankful hearts adore,
Ever and forevermore.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

A little more on Atonement

I’m not wading into the controversies on the mechanism by which the Atonement works. A lot of it is very esoteric stuff, and too sophisticated for me to get my mind around. (Words like “teleological” “eschatological” and “Thomistic” appearing in the same essay always make my brain hurt.) What is most important about the Atonement is that it does work, disagreements on the mechanics notwithstanding.

Taking the word at its face value—to make "at" (or into) one—we are fortunate to see a way in which we can in fact atone for the sins of others. When I wrote that Law must be forgiven, that nnecessarily means different things for different people. For me, never abused by a priest, let alone one under Law’s obedience, I cannot forgive Law a wrong he has done to others. I can only forgive him what he has done to me, by bringing discredit on the church, by exposing Christ’s body to grave danger, whatever wrongs I am able to perceive against me personally.

But, strange as it may seem, I can atone for his sins, in the sense of working to make him and the community once again “at one.” I can atone for the sins of Paul Shanley, too, and for those of everyone who has done anything wrong within our church. I do so not by pretending to repent of that which I have not done, but by accepting in charity and humility the anger and scorn and hatred of the victims of these men and of the outsiders who seek to use this as a cudgel against the Church. I can do so by assisting those who have been harmed with prayer and charity. I can do so by giving total support to those who would further open the Church to the working of the Holy Spirit.

It does not matter that “I have done nothing wrong.” One of the callings of Christians is to be Christ-like, to imitate Christ in the ways which life offers us. In this time of great unrest and terrible hatred and anger, a Christ-like willingness to bear the burdens of the moment will in a very real sense be an Atonement for the sins of others. I possess the power to forgive only those who have wronged me. But I can work for the forgiveness of anyone at all.
Please pray for: Elizabeth, 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, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Joy and Triumph Everlasting

Joy and triumph everlasting
Hath the heav’nly Church on high;
For that pure immortal gladness
All our feast days mourn and sigh:
Yet in death’s dark desert wild
Doth the mother aid her child;
Guards celestial thence attend us,
Stand in combat to defend us.

Here the world’s perpetual warfare
Holds from heav’n the soul apart;
Legioned foes in shadowy terror
Vex the Sabbath of the heart.
O how happy that estate
Where delight doth not abate!
For that home the spirit yearneth,
Where none languisheth nor mourneth.

There the body hath no torment,
There the mind is free from care,
There is every voice rejoicing,
Every heart is loving there.
Angels in that city dwell;
Them their King delighteth well:
Still they joy and weary never,
More and more desiring ever.

There the seers and fathers holy,
There the prophets glorified,
All their doubts and darkness ended,
In the Light of Light abide.
There the saints, whose memories old
We in faithful hymns uphold,
Have forgot their bitter story
In the joy of Jesus’ glory.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

I don't think I have linked to the Same Sex Attraction Morality League before. Whatever your attitude towards homosexuality, it's hard to hope for anything but good things to happen to these folks, in spite of the unmellifluous name.
Kneehill Off stat says "Marty Haugen is not the Antichrist."

Ok. But Marty may be taking requests....

(For the record, I'm as pedantic as the next guy, but a whole website of pedantry....?)
Kairos will be away from computers Wednesday. Therefore, I have posted tomorrow's thoughts today, which is no problem if today is already tomorrow, meaning Wednesday, which for most of you it probably is, but for some of you it won't be until later, because you have only read it today. Get it?

It is often said of Jesus by non-believers that He was “a great moral teacher.” What they usually mean is, “I like the outcomes Jesus’ teachings as understood by liberation theologians, but I think we’re all a little too sophisticated to accept all that nonsense about his being the Son of God.” At least, this is what the nonbelievers I encounter seem to mean. Your mileage may vary.

Strangely, though, the “Son of God” part, per se, is not really the root of their objection. They can conceive of God, and they can even conceive of God-made-flesh, albeit perhaps not in an orthodox way that encompasses full humanity and full divinity. What they stumble on is something that even believers often don’t fully understand, the doctrine of the Atonement.

The doctrine simply states that God lowered himself to become united with man in the person of Jesus, in order to raise up humanity, and that in dying for our sins Christ fulfilled this unity, and reconciled us to, or made us “at one” (the origin of the word) with God. This is essential to Christianity: if you don’t believe it, you cannot be Christian as such.

The specific mechanism by which the Atonement occurred is not something that all Christians do or must agree upon. Various metaphors have been put forth over the centuries, with “ransom” being one of the most common. I’ll avoid the mechanical question entirely, because it is extraneous, and anyway not the main difficulty for nonbelievers.

The surprising thing, to me at any rate, is that anyone should have any sort of difficulty at all with the idea that Christ, by taking on our sins, would remove them from us, could atone for them. Even a cursory glance at the people around us should make it clear that our very nature reiterates the idea on a daily basis.

I for one am constantly putting my sins off on others. How often do I nurture some petty resentment against my wife into a festering sore upon our marriage—the dishes not done; the laundry still in the baskets? I am not satisfied to let them go until she has taken them on herself. (And then I am usually filled with regret and self-loathing that all too often does not get communicated half as easily as the resentment.) In larger society we see it all the time; call it the Hilary Clinton Syndrome, where a person bears the sins of another in order to achieve fame or success or some other transient goal.

Now, I do not suppose that my wife is really atoning for my sins, though she may tolerate them with Christ-like patience some days. Nor do I suggest there is anything very admirable or holy about the Clintons’ nakedly twisted ambition. What I do suggest is that, as so often happens, the miracle of Christ is echoed up and down through history, almost a literal echo. Our very nature is wired from the ground up to expect that a moment will come when some other will bear our sins away from us, and free us from their terrible burden. The holiday of Yom Kippur in ancient times was celebrated by symbolically putting the sins of the community on a goat and then chasing the goat out of the city walls—hence the “scapegoat.” In this way, our constant effort to shift the blame, to avoid responsibility for our actions, can be seen as a perverted reflection of the reality.

Everything about our beings expects that someone else will come along to make it all right, to make us whole again. This is an observable phenomenon, testable and repeatable within a lab. The only thing strange about it is that something so obviously inherent in human nature should become objectionable only when it is explained.

The cross I bear today is that I find myself praying yet again for victims of a murder-suicide bombing in Israel. This lowers my spirit almost unbearably. Add to it prayers for the bishops and victims of the sexual crisis within our Church and my spirit recedes further. If anyone has a positive intention to add, please let me know.

In addition, please pray for: Elizabeth, 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, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
All Creatures of Our God and King

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!


O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!


Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.


Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.


And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!


And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.


Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!


Monday, June 17, 2002

Last week, before vanishing for a few days, I posted this bit about doctrine. Because Emily Stimpson and I have gone back on forth via email as well as in our blogs—always in the friendliest manner, by the way—I emailed her, pointing out the piece I had posted. So I was surprised when she emailed back saying, in effect, “…and…?”

Thinking about it over the weekend, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t say quite enough. To Emily I hoped to say, in effect, “I know we disagree on some subjects, but I am trying to keep the conversation on legitimate ground.” To regular readers, my hope was to remind people who are much further from the teachings of the Church of reasons to be cautious. That much was probably pretty clear.

What I didn’t write, but what rattled around in my brain, is the truly remarkable thing about this. God’s love and openness to our weakness is such that He will accept us into his embrace even on the terms I outlined. And those terms are pretty stingy, if you read them that way. “Don’t do what the Church teaches because you think it is Right, do it because it is safe.”

My parents were never satisfied with me merely saying the right words, they had to be convinced I meant them. I often had to get rid of “that expression” on my face before I could walk away from the scolding or correction I was receiving. But God will accept me even when I fight, if I yield even a bit.

He wants a conversion of heart, of course. But He accepts first a conversion of behavior, or a surface conversion. Its not that you can be insincere, or fool Him—please, please, PLEASE don’t think I’m telling you that. But an incomplete conversion, an openness to the possibility of further change, is desired by God because it is the sine qua non for all else that is to come.

Start being faithful by acting like the Church matters. If you are not sure what to make of this or that teaching, follow it to the maximum extent possible while you make up your mind. If you can’t induce a charitable attitude in yourself, at least take charitable actions. Open the door a tiny crack and see what sneaks in.

A pearl is formed when a grain of sand or some other irritant gets inside an oyster. If the only irritant you can accept is the possibility that the Church might be right about something that you’d rather it were wrong about, God can accept that, and will still welcome you into His fold as the pearl forms inside you.

“She carries a pearl in perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things”

From “Grace” by U2
Today's intentions: Elizabeth, 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, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
What Wondrous Love Is This?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Friday, June 14, 2002

Who do you think you are: Imus?

A "best of" post until Monday...

More on Forgiveness

Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.

This needs repetition. Cruelty and Treachery besiege our Church at this very moment, both the deliberate sort done by men such as Geoghan and Shanley, and the more accidental sort done by Law. (Please withold your flames until the end of the blog, at least.) Little needs to be said about the former; they are to be held to account under Man's law, and surely will be under God's. They are to be forgiven, and any who would themselves wish to be forgiven must do so for others.

Law's treachery and cruelty are of a more accidental sort. Please do not suppose that by this I mean he did not know what he was doing: the record and even his own non-denial denials make it clear that he knew what actions he and underlings were taking, and that he and they chose them consciously. I only mean to say that he probably did not mean for the actions to be cruel or treacherous.

So many Catholics these days put Intentionality as the primary determiner of right and wrong (rather than including it as a coequal member of a trinity that also includes the Act itself, and the Consequences), perhaps because when they do so, they claim their Intention is solely to make someone "happy" or were trying to be "nice"--the only two Virutes of our time, happiness and niceness. How ironic, then, that when a nominal conservative seeks to shield himself with Intentions, these same reformers and neotheologizers will have none of it. Law should know better than to seek refuge in Intentionality, the last refuge of most Catholic soundrels, to be sure. But those who have been occupying that space now are unprepared to make room for the Cardinal, nor to vacate it themselves.

Law must be forgiven. That need not mean he must keep his mitre and it does not mean we must not seek for answers nor hold him to account. But the vitriol has grown increasingly unforgiving. His clinging to power when leadership demands that he fall on his sword has surely contributed to it. But we, the Body of Christ, are not supposed to justify un-Christian behavior by the un-Christian actions of others. We are under orders to forgive the Cardinal though we may hate his actions without fear until the Last Day. There are few things in scriputre of theology that require less glossing, less explanation, less textual or contextual exegesis than this. The bloggers and the priests and the editorialists and the Catholics outside the churches on the evening news who fail to understand this fail to understand everything.

When we deny forgiveness, we deny Christ just as plainly and surely as Peter three times did. All the hurt and anger and fear and pain in the world do not now justify the witholding of forgiveness, nor have they ever done so. Penance and repentance are equally due, but we must be as Christ in this and stop hating the Man for what he has done.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Kairos will have little or no access to computers between now and Sunday, so check back on Monday.
I intended this reading as it relates to my post below about doctrine. But I now think it also applies to the Bishops meeting, and I hope someone there reads it aloud.

From the Letter of Paul to the Philipians

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

It may well seem funny, coming from me, but I want to say a word about why it’s important to follow the teachings of the Church. (It will seem especially funny to the handful of readers who know me well.) I have with this blog occasionally questioned in a very direct way some doctrine, and if I haven’t actually reached the level of heresy (I don’t think I have) I certainly have staked out some ground well to the left of center.

But don’t take my word for it, when I have.

Let me repeat that: don’t take my word for it.

The doctrines of our Church are important, carefully thought out, and deserving of great weight in your moral thinking. They cannot and should not be dismissed lightly or out of hand. They certainly should never be dismissed because they are inconvenient, or conflict with some political ideology. They should only be set aside gently and carefully after much deliberation and, finally, because in your moral heart you truly find them to be wrong. And even then, you must be careful.

After all, you may disagree with teachings on sexuality (to take a common example), but it is hard to see how following them can lead you into sin. It is very easy to see how dismissing them might. If you are gay or unmarried but behave chastely, for instance, there is no sin there that I can see. But if you decide Rome is wrong in principle, it becomes very much easier to travel a path that does lead to sin, even if you are in fact right. And if you decide that the teaching is wrong not on the merits, but because it interferes with your “self-actualization” you are likely to wind up in sin without having to take very many steps at all.

The potential harm of my being wrong almost always outweighs the potential harm of the Magisterium being wrong. If I argue that extramarital sexual activity is not always sinful and am wrong, the consequences can be unfathomable for someone who says, “Well, if that’s what JB the Kairos Guy thinks, that’s good enough for me.” If someone decides to follow the Church teaching and it is wrong, well, then the worst that happened is he or she wound up being more chaste than was strictly necessary, in the end a purely worldly problem.

In my case, anything I am willing to argue about on this site is something I have spent much time studying and praying over and trying to understand in the context of the Church. When I disagree on an aspect of sexuality, I do so not because the Church isn’t “keeping up with the times” but because I think the Church has not been consistent with sexual matters compared to other areas of moral theology. I have done my homework, and am prepared to discuss it with others. In the end, I may be wrong, but as I understand moral theology it is not sinful to be wrong; it is sinful to know one is wrong and not care. I am also eager to be shown my error if it exists, that I may more quickly wind up on the right path.

But if you haven’t done your homework (and I’m like Cliff Notes in this regard: no credit given), then you haven’t fulfilled the most basic obligation of moral behavior. You haven’t sought to inform your conscience of the basic rules of right and wrong, and so have no sound basis for disagreeing with the Magisterium on anything at all.

To be Catholic, or even to be Christian, at least truly to be so, one must start by acknowledging the existence of Truth and of truths that exist outside of time and place, that always and everywhere apply. It is all too easy to forget that in the present climate of the world. If you want to deny the truth of a teaching, you had better be prepared to appeal to a higher one.
I have tried for the most part not to take up questions asked on other blogs, because a lot of the blogosphere feels like a snarky high school for the gifted, where students are constantly mislabeling each other’s acids and bases, hoping to create havoc in the chemistry class. After playing around at this myself in my first days of blogging, I have grown weary of it.

I make an exception, however, for other bloggers’ contests, and for questions that are both excellent and easy. The Volokh Conspiracy asks, “Why do we even read old philosophers?… Maybe my philosophy friends might tell me what we gain today from reading Plato, Aristotle, Voltaire, or Nietzsche. Or is philosophy these days just a fancy term for intellectual history?”

Nietzsche isn’t fit to unstrap Plato’s sandals, but he is worth reading as a context for much of the moral heinousness of the twentieth century, just as you can’t understand the French Revolution without knowing something of Les Droits de l’Homme (or however one spells that cheese-eating language). Voltaire, Rousseau, Hegel, Nietzsche and many other post-Reformation philosophers fall into the Intellectual History category, useful not so much for their ideas as for the results of those ideas.

Plato, Aristotle and other ancients are still read simply because what they wrote was true, or true enough. In math, one need not read Pythagoras to learn his eponymous theorem; a trig text takes it as true, and builds upon it. In philosophy, objective truth has often been discarded, and so one cannot find it in very many modern texts. One can read Aquinas, of course, and learn all one needs to know about Plato (or most of it, anyway), but Aquinas was a religious person and so can’t be taught in a secular world without arousing the ACLU. If one wants to know the truth the ancients taught in philosophy, for the most part one must read the ancients.

Philosophy in the modern academy has so completely sold itself out to its destructors, that it actually teaches that it is the creation of whim and prejudice. (How one could have taught logical positivism with a straight face is beyond me!) But the consequence of this is that the truths of ancient philosophers are not for the most part used as building blocks for more recent ones; the builders have rejected the cornerstone. Since one cannot find it in the edifice, one must return to the original quarry to look for it.

The question that prompted this discussion was about why we read biographies of philosophers. I am not nearly so persuaded that this is important, especially because of the purpose such biographies seem to have. A biography which asks, as a many do, “What historical trends led inevitably to certain prejudices being written in this manner?” (A sort of Hegelian/Marxist approach to biography) is of absolutely no use, because it is principally concerned with assuming the conclusion that no real truth is or can be found in the philosopher’s writing. A biography that seeks to understand how the philosopher himself understood his teachings might have some value, but I haven’t come across any such work.
Wednesday Intentions

Today's intentions: Annelise's Dad, the people of Pakistan and India, Elizabeth, 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, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
O Thou Who Dost to Man Accord

O Thou Who dost to man accord
His highest prize, his best reward,
Thou Hope of all our race;
Jesu, to Thee we now draw near,
Our earnest supplications hear,
Who humbly seek Thy face.

With self accusing voice within,
Our conscience tells of many a sin
In thought, and word, and deed:
O cleanse that conscience from all stain,
The penitent restore again,
From every burthen freed.

If Thou reject us, who shall give
Our fainting spirits strength to live?
’Tis Thine alone to spare;
With cleansèd hearts to pray aright,
And find acceptance in Thy sight,
Be this our lowly prayer.

’This Thou has blest this solemn fast;
So may its days by us be passed
In self control severe,
That, when our Easter morn we hail
Its mystic feast we may not fail
To keep with conscience clear.

O blessèd Trinity, bestow
Thy pardoning grace on us below,
And shield us evermore;
Until, within Thy courts above,
We see Thy face, and sing Thy love,
And with Thy saints adore.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Eve Tushnet has a contest. I will post my entry here after she is finished.
Of the moment, not in it?

The great challenge of living is that everything is over, or it hasn’t happened yet. As soon as the realization of a moment enters your thoughts, the moment itself has passed, and your thoughts are already into the perfect tense.

Now, it may happen that the moment that has just passed is being succeeded or about to be succeeded by other moments more or less just like it. So the thrill of going down the roller coaster track seems to continue for several seconds successively, before being replaced by the temporary calm of clackety-clicking your way up the next hill. All too soon, the ride has ended, and you have to decide whether to get back in line to go again, trying to recapture a thrill that will not be quite so much the next time, or look for another ride. But before long, the day at the amusement park will be over and the long ride home will leave you with quickly fading memories of the marvelous terrors of the day.

Time will pass at 60 seconds per minute no matter what you do, and everything you can think about has already happened.

The future differs because we have influence over it, but never control. It is ours to nudge this way or that, to delight in anticipation of it, or hollow ourselves out with worry. We have a duty to the future, to borrow its resources to plan for that which can be reasonably expected. But even the “reasonably expected” rarely materializes in quite the way we thought.

The only moment we control is the present one. We control it by accepting it, reveling in its tangibility. The only thing we can touch, the only thing we can manage, is right now. But each now has to be consigned to the past as the past. A pleasure can be set in a special place, to be considered now and again, to be given up as thanks later. A sin must be repented of, that its past occurrence does not dominate the present or threaten the future.

Our language has so many cliches for this thought, simply because it is true. We say a person is “living in the past,” or that he “lives life to the fullest.” Alcoholics use its truth as a means to recovery: Easy Does It. One Day at a Time. They consign the future and the past to their “Higher Power” (in the language of 12-step programs) because mortal peril lies in trying too hard to control either. “If only” is useful only insofar as it teaches the lessons of next time. When it takes hold for its own sake, it becomes sin.

The Spirit challenges us to live right now, because only in right now can we do anything. Right now the beggar is at our door. In a moment, he will be someone else’s problem. Right now the victim of priestly abuse stands before us. Tomorrow, he may be an abuser himself.

Right now we can do. Yesterday we did. Tomorrow, we will have done, and must let go again. We must be of each moment, but not in it. In it, we can get stuck. Of it, we can take it and pass it along.
I've quoted this song before, but it so perfectly captures the human aspect of the post about moments that I thought just to post the entire lyric here.

I'm not afraid of anything in this world
There's nothing you can throw at me that I haven't already heard
I'm just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company

I never thought you were a fool
But darling, look at you
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight
These tears are going nowhere, baby

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it
Don't say that later will be better now you’re stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

I will not forsake, the colours that you bring
But the nights you filled with fireworks
They left you with nothing
I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me
I still listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see

And you are such a fool
To worry like you do
I know it’s tough, and you can never get enough
Of what you don't really need now... my oh my

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it
Oh love look at you now
You've got yourself stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it

I was unconscious, half asleep
The water is warm till you discover how deep...
I wasn't jumping... for me it was a fall
It's a long way down to nothing at all

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it
Don't say that later will be better now
You’re stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it

And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if our way should falter
Along the stony pass

And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass
It's just a moment
This time will pass
Some days

Some days, I miss this sooooooo much. If you knew my son, you'd really understand.
Shorter blogs today

Kairos has been too long winded lately, so postings today will be somewhat shorter. (I hope.)
Tuesday Intentions

Today's intentions: Annelise's Dad, the people of Pakistan and India, Elizabeth, 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, Mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
God of Our Fathers

God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

Monday, June 10, 2002

A request

If you like Kairos, and find it has something worth saying, please share it with someone. You don't need to use the handy-dandy "Tell-A-Friend" form on the left. Just sned an email with a link. I'm not doing this to become rich or famous (since I don't use my name, and there's no collection plate, that should be obvious), but I am hoping to make a little bit of a difference in my small corner of the world, and the more people you tell, the more chance there is of that happening. Mille Grazie.
Response to “Confession” from a reader

Robin wrote me to comment on my confession posts. I present here her email in italics, with my response in regular text. Sorry for the length of this one: I couldn't find a good place to edit Robin's email down, and wanted to respond to several of her points.

I usually love your posts, but I thought your defense of Confession was almost damning with faint praise. Your argument can be summed up as follows: (1) Confession is not really a very big deal -- maybe a little silly (we all need to vent, but there are other ways to do so); (2) the Church says we gotta; and (3) certainly no harm done, and maybe a little good from it, so why not.

I have no argument with 2) or 3) (recognizing that 3 is aimed at people who think confession superfluous) but 1) I take exception to. I think that captured my idea about it before I reconsidered. However, you need to read this post on forgiveness, to understand how important I consider the psychological letting go to be to the spiritual forgiveness. The last 2 long paragraphs don’t do as good a job as I had hoped of recapitulating the idea, but it is there. Only confession gives you certain knowledge of forgiveness, and so only confession can clear away fully the destructiveness of sin. Contrition alone may clear away the sins, but our minds don’t let the aftermath go quite so easily.

Additionally, implicit in the idea that “we are made for confession” is that God made us that way. Therefore, even treating confession as a purely psychological activity is nevertheless not dismissive, and even high praise, if we take it as something Divinely ordained. None of this was made explicit or clear enough in the original post, however.

I know I'm oversimplifying your points a bit, but I think you are underestimating the power of the sacrament of Confession. And I say this as someone who also underestimated it for many, many years.

Until relatively recently, I had not been to confession in 20-some years. Although I was reared as a Catholic, during the 20-year period, I had spent time as an agnostic, an objectivist, a Protestant, and as a Catholic of sorts (attending Mass and raising my kids to go to Mass but not really feeling that I was a "true" Catholic because some of the Church's demands -- including but not limited to Confession -- were more than I felt I could bear).

This is all sounding very familiar—except the objectivist and Protestant part.

About three years ago, I got some of my act together and began attending Mass on a regular basis instead of sporadically. I went every week. I had no idea any more how to pray. I bowed my head during communion but just pretended to pray because I didn't know what to say. Something in the Mass was drawing me, because I had grown to looking forward to it each week, but I was still separated from God.

Early this year, I began attending a more traditional Catholic church. (It was amazing how quickly the new environment inspired reverence in me, but that's another letter to the editor!) Within a short time, I decided that I was going to go to Confession no matter what it cost me emotionally.

I spent days reading about the sacrament and examining my conscience. It had been so long since I'd gone that I was afraid I was going to miss something big! Once I was satisfied that I had managed to recall all my mortal sins, I was deeply ashamed. Indeed, "horrified" would not be too strong a word. I had committed several over the 20-some years, and they were not small. My first reaction was to make excuses -- well, this was, after all, 20 years' worth of sin; and I have a lot of good qualities, too; these sins are not all that I am; etc. But I knew that the confessional was not the place for excuses.

That last point is the reason I said the Sacrament is better than simple private contrition. I am always inclined inside my head to justify and excuse what I have done. I am even inclined to do so in ordinary conversation. But the discipline of the confessional forces rejection of that kind of thinking.

I was scared to death, but I did it, with no excuses. The priest was very kind to me, and the whole process was over in five to ten minutes.

I left the confessional and did my penance, weeping in relief and thanks to God. But the really amazing thing is what happened to me afterward.

I am convinced that that confession was a necessary step to bring me into true communion with God. I had stopped misbehaving long before. I was going to Mass, and I had stopped doing the other things that were seriously sinful. But I was not close to God. I still felt psychic anguish, depression, and dread, and I was frustrated about many of my own personal characteristics that seemed to have become worse as I got older. I certainly did not feel any strong compulsion to lead a truly Christian life.

My confession has completely transformed my relationship with God. The anguish is gone. I thank Him every day for the miraculous way He has changed me. I get up early in the mornings now (NOT an easy task for me!) so that I can spend some quiet time with God before the kids get up and my work day starts. I'm praying for my enemies -- by name. I'm praying for the co-workers I once found so annoying or foolish. I am now aware of the sins that I am most susceptible to, I ask for help each day with them, and God always helps me! Best of all, I am daring to pray AT ALL -- something I was completely unable to do before I received the sacrament of Penance. I am really experiencing God as my good and loving Father.

The Church is absolutely right about this sacrament -- if anything, once a year is not nearly enough. It's not just "harmless," but a true sacrament, a miracle.

Many people like me who grew up in the 60's have very bad memories of Confession. When we were children, we remember being bawled out by priests because of what we did, or because of the time since our last confession, or because we couldn't recite the Act of Contrition smoothly enough. That trauma made it very easy to stop going once we were old enough to make our own decisions.

Fortunately, young people today don't have this same experience. Based on discussions with my kids and their friends, I think the biggest stumbling block to young people is that Confession seems pointless.

In short, the baby boomers are scared to death of Confession, and young people think it is an innocuous waste of time.

Both groups are wrong, wrong, WRONG! If you're older and were traumatized by a nasty priest when you were young, please have enough faith to give Confession one more try. The Church has changed in many positive ways, and this is one of them. I can almost guarantee you will not have a bad experience again.

If you are young and wondering "What's the point?," first forgive your elders for "overcorrecting" for the abuses they suffered in the past and failing to give you a sense of sin. Then read the Catechism and find out what sin is. Then examine your conscience and make a meaningful confession.

All it takes is a mustard seed of faith to result in a mighty tree. If you take this tiny step and make a good confession, God will reward you a hundred times over.

PS - I agree with you completely about the need for priests to preach this in Mass. I was fortunate -- at my church (the non-traditional one, believe it or not!), one of our priests got on a tear about our failure to go to Confession. He spent two full homilies on it. He was absolutely right to do so, and his homilies were what started my thinking that maybe I needed to do this. Before his sermons, I had convinced myself that no one went to Confession any more, and I wasn't even sure that the Church required it.

I don’t think that we are in disagreement on any significant point. The biggest problem for the sacrament is that one often hears the reasons not to participate and rarely hears an opposing viewpoint, except from tired old sticks-in-the-mud who are much more concerned with wickedness than forgiveness. If we disagree, it is mainly in emphasis: my focus is on showing opponents of confession that, even on their own terms, confession makes sense. Robin takes the argument back onto a more spiritual plane, where all penitents wind up, it is to be hoped.
Monday Intentions

Today's intentions: Annelise's Dad, Veronica and the soul of her brother Thornton, Kathy, Lauren, Lou, Megan, the people of Pakistan and India, Elizabeth, 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

To Jesus' Heart All Burning


To Jesus’ Heart all burning
With fervent love for men,
My heart with fondest yearning
Shall raise the joyful strain.

Chorus—While ages course along,
Blest with loudest song

The Sacred Heart of Jesus
By ev’ry heart and tongue,
The Sacred Heart of Jesus
By ev’ry heart and tongue.

O Heart for me on fire,
With love no man can speak,
My yet untold desire,
God gives me for Thy sake.

Too true I have forsaken
Thy flock by willful sin,
Yet now let me be taken
Back to Thy fold again

Friday, June 07, 2002

The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.

---From The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Confession, Part II

(If you didn’t read part I, skip down, and read that first.)

So, why go?

I admit to finding persuasive the logic that makes confession somewhat extraneous. I really do. Several things have caused me to rethink my attitude towards the sacrament, though.

First of all, the Church says we should go once a year, even if we believe ourselves not to be in a state of mortal sin. While I’m not quite sure why this should be, anyone who takes moral theology seriously understands that one must give great weight to Church teaching in informing the conscience. This means, if the Church says something, and you don’t want to do it, you have to be able to explain why the teaching is not merely inconvenient or unfair, but wrong. I can construct a case that perhaps confession is not essential, but that’s not the same thing as proving the teaching in error. So there’s one major reason right there.

Second, what harm does it do? Now, this may seem a silly reason to follow a teaching, but it isn’t. Think about birth control. In the very recent days when “NFP” wasn’t as accurate or reliable as now, following Church teaching on birth control had potential consequences that were quite significant in the present world. So a couple had to decide one way or another, and be prepared for the outcome of their decision. But there’s no harm in confessing one’s sins, at least not that I can see. So, suppose I had been right, and confession is unnecessary for the forgiveness of sins. If I go anyway, the worst that has happened is I lost an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon, hanging around Our Lady’s chapel, praying. That seems like one of the least risky propositions I can think of—especially as compared to the alternative. (I.e., that I was wrong about the necessity. This is one of Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God, by the way: the Divine Wager, I think it is called. Which bet would you rather lose: that God exists, or that he doesn’t?)

The third, and final reason that I have rethought my opposition to the sacrament is the one that I have always recognized as valid, as encapsulated in the quote above. We are designed for confession. We are built with a release valve, set to let out all the “bad humours.” We can’t help it. Don’t believe me? Turn on Oprah, or Sally Jessie, or any other daytime talk show and watch for a week. The urge to confess is what makes those shows possible. It is a psychological necessity.

When I reflect on my ills, my failings, my sinfulness in the peace and quiet of my room, I am always inclined to mitigate and excuse. “Well, I really let poor so-and-so have it today, but he sure deserved it!” In the confessional, no such excuse is tolerated. I let so-and-so have it. Period. I am sorry for having done it. Period. The clear contemplation of my fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do, is the surest path to forgiving myself. Truly. Because I cannot forgive in myself what I do not acknowledge about myself.

And that is why I think the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important. It is true that God’s forgiveness is all around, and always there for the taking. But hanging on to the wrong things—the excuses, the justifications, the sins themselves—fills the place where forgiveness goes. Continuing to condemn yourself is a way of clinging to your failings, and being contrite, by itself, leaves you no certain knowledge that you can safely let your sins go.

In the moments before death, the Act of Contrition succeeds as it does not at other times because it is not a way around the problem right before death. It may be true that Confession is not necessary to accept forgiveness, but it is the best way I know of to receive it. At the end, when all is said and done, you walk out having let go of your wrongs, in the certain knowledge—because someone other than you has confirmed it—that you are forgiven. There is remarkable liberation in that moment.

Now, if one of the priests would just get up and remind us of that some Sunday.
The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.

---From The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Confession, Part I

For many years, my attitude towards Confession has been that of most American Catholics. I never went out of my way to attend it, and only on very rare occasions availed myself of it at all. Until one noon last November, I hadn’t been in many, many years.

I never thought it out quite so logically as I’m going to present it here, but most of the reasons for not doing so that I now write were in my thoughts. My reasoning went something like this:

“Confession” as we think of it now is a comparatively new innovation. For the first several centuries, the Church taught that there was “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” and that was it. Constantine converted to Christianity, but delayed his baptism until he was on his deathbed—a common practice at the time—because he knew as Emperor he would have to sin.

Having moved baptism to shortly after birth (again, my thinking went), the Church had to find a way to allow for forgiveness of the sins we all inevitably commit. Thus came Confession. For a long time, this meant a public recitation of one’s sins and failings, and a public penance. Sometime in the early middle ages, apparently, Irish Monks instituted a screen between the sinner and Confessor, and the sanctity of the confessional was born.

One can choose to see the hand of man or the Hand of the Spirit in this evolution and still come to the conclusion that God had lots of forgiving to do of people who were truly repentant but had no mechanism for repenting prior to the institution of Confession. And it is not a far leap from there to the idea that the state of repentance is much more important than the act of confessing. From there it is a couple of baby steps only to the idea that Confession is not essential to forgiveness.

AND (my reasoning continued) the Church itself teaches this too. If you are about to die, and know you are about to, you can rattle off an Act of Contrition, and, if you are really sorry, expect forgiveness on the other side. If the train is heading for the avalanche, Father Benevolent in the front row can turn around and give mass absolution to everyone on board, whether they asked for it or not.

Finally, I can’t actually say as I have heard a homily about attending confession since perhaps my First Penance. If the priest can’t be bothered to encourage me to go, how important can it actually be? Surely, if it’s as important as all that, a priest might occasionally mention it, right?

In other words, Christ’s mercy is such that confession and forgiveness are not so intimately bound up that you can’t have the latter without the former. So why go?

(Whatever you do, please don’t stop reading the Kairos blog at this point. Come back later today or over the weekend, or early next week for the answer. It’s important.)
Psalm 32

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.
I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.
For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.
Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.
Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.

Because I do not have time this morning for a "Virtue" blog, I thought I would try to find a reading that says something worthwhile. Since I turn 32 in the near future, I picked the 32nd Psalm, without knowing its subject matter. The reason I tell you this is: I have recently been rethinking my attitude towards the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I had been mulling a blog on that subject for a while, and will take the occasion of this Psalm to do so later today if I have a chance, or over the weekend if not. It will be light blogging until lunchtime at least, so check back in late in the day.
Friday Intentions

Today's intentions: Once again, the victims of a bombing in Israel, Annelise's Dad, Veronica and the soul of her brother Thornton, Kathy, Lauren, Lou, Megan, the people of Pakistan and India, Elizabeth, 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 Guest Hymnalist is GKC himself

O God of Earth and Altar

O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide;
Take not Thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honor and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether, the prince and priest and thrall;
Bind all our lives together, smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation aflame with faith and free,
Lift up a living nation, a single sword to Thee.

Thursday, June 06, 2002


As with the other virtues, the name of Justice leads to some confusion. Americans tend to think of justice as something the State does, on our behalf, criminal justice, essentially. Or we think of it as something we as private citizens demand from large corporate entities, whether public or private. But it is very rare to hear individuals, other than parties to a lawsuit, talking to one another about “Justice.”

Which is really too bad. For if we could return to a classical, older notion of justice, there might be fewer lawsuits. As Aquinas sets it out, Justice is keeping in right relations to others. One finds out what is just by use of reason, and in spite of common misunderstandings, it is not particularly dependent on arbitrary cultural standards to be known.

Anyone who doubts this should spend a little time volunteering in an elementary school. Children arrive at school with an inherent sense of justice, only they call it “fairness.”

“Aha!” you say. “That proves that it is arbitrary and cultural, for children always start out thinking that whatever negative thing happens to them is ‘unfair!’”

Not at all. The error here lies not in the child’s perception of justice, but in the child’s perception of others. If little Johnny is hungry, and ready to eat, but told to wait, he may perceive that as unfair, or unjust. But small children are inherently egotistical. They think first of themselves—for a long time only of themselves. If the requirement to wait for a meal were entirely arbitrary—if Johnny were the only person eating that day—Johnny would be quite right; it would be unjust to make him wait. But if Johnny is being told to wait because there are others who must eat dinner too, and they have not yet arrived, or dinner is not yet ready, Johnny’s sense of justice is only incomplete. Johnny doesn’t need to be taught what is fair, only that he is not the only one affected by what is fair.

As he grows, Johnny will come to understand this, if he is taught appropriately. His innate sense of justice will allow him to see that the teacher who punishes the whole class for the transgressions of one member is acting unjustly, and he will say so, if he is the courageous sort. When his father promises to play catch after work and then reneges on the excuse of being too tired, he may accept it, out of compassion, but he will know that too was unjust. When the other team’s pitcher in the ball game hits a teammate with a pitch, Johnny may even do likewise in a later inning. Though it violates a rule of the game, it is in accord with his sense of justice.

It is only as we grow clever that we begin to think justice arbitrary. We mistake the rules for applying justice for the thing itself. Take the case of the hit batsmen above. The written rules of the game prohibit a pitcher from deliberately hitting a player with a ball. It is, after all, extremely dangerous, and always painful. If it were not proscribed, nothing would prevent a team from deliberately injuring the other team’s best batters in order to win. It is, therefore, unjust. The rules of baseball, however, generally favor the first pitcher to strike a player: a warning is usually given for the first offense. This may be necessary for the keeping of order, but it is not just. And, because it offends the inherent sense of justice in every one on the team, the opposing pitcher almost always retaliates.

Listen (if you can) to your local sports radio station after a ball game where batters are hit, and you will understand what I mean. Half the callers will argue that the retaliation was absolutely required (in the name of “fairness”), and the punishments handed out by the League totally unfair, and the other half will argue for an absolute application of the rules.

There is another confusion about Justice that I will have to address later: the belief that the personal virtue of Justice should be the same as the impersonal application of it by the State. I need to brush up on St. Paul before I do that, but it’s time to get to work.
Thursday Intentions

One of the most solemn obligations of a Christian is to pray for those who need God's help. Each day that I blog, I will post the names or descriptions of some people who need not only my prayers, but yours as well. If there are people you would like to add to the list, email me, and I will include them. Friday's intentions are below.

For those who are wondering whether it is worth doing this, check out this and this. The Beauty of the Infinite is, God knows who you mean, even if you aren't sure yourself. 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: Once again, the victims of a bombing in Israel, Annelise's Dad, Veronica and the soul of her brother Thornton, Kathy, Lauren, Lou, Megan, the people of Pakistan and India, Elizabeth, 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 found on page 173 of your Missal

Jerusalem My Happy Home

Jerusalem, my happy home!
Name ever dear to me;
When shall my labors have an end,
In joy, and peace, and thee?

When shall these eyes thy heaven built walls
And pearly gates behold?
Thy bulwarks, with salvation strong,
And streets of shining gold?

There happier bowers than Eden’s bloom,
Nor sin nor sorrow know:
Blest seats, through rude and stormy scenes,
I onward press to you.

Why should I shrink at pain and woe?
Or feel at death dismay?
I’ve Canaan’s goodly land in view,
And realms of endless day.

Apostles, martyrs, prophets there
Around my Savior stand;
And soon my friends in Christ below
Will join the glorious band.

Jerusalem, my happy home!
My soul still pants for thee;
Then shall my labors have an end,
When I thy joys shall see.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002


One of the great literary characters in recent decades is Jack Aubrey, RN, Commander of HMS Surprise. Together with his great friend, Stephen Maturin, medical doctor, ship’s surgeon and sometime agent of Naval Intelligence, Jack fought dozens of single-ship and fleet actions in the Napoleonic wars in Patrick O’Brian’s masterful series of 20 novels. (The first, Master and Commander, can be found here. Give yourself 50 pages to get used to the old-fashioned way of writing, and you’ll be hooked. Soon enough, all your meals will come from this, and you’ll be listening to this.)

Aubrey is highly skilled at his profession, a virtuous man for his age, with great courage, and a piety that finds great comfort “in the sound of the Book of Common Prayer, if not quite in its full implications.” He possesses abiding loyalty to family and friends, a passionate sense of duty and chivalric honor. He is a bit weak in the chastity department, perhaps, but he is a sailor after all. Afloat, few men are Jack’s equal, and none his better.

Ashore, on the other hand, Jack is lost. Throughout the 20 novels, Jack is forever getting himself into trouble with women, speculators, crooks, con men, and the politics of the Admiralty. His native intelligence and professional training help him not at all on land.

For Jack, you see, lacks wisdom in the ways of men. Though he marries Sophia and his first command is the Sophie, Jack never fully possesses either his wife or his vessel. The latter is lost in battle and the former fights him to a standstill, possessing his heart but never quite his full attention. The same intelligence which allows him to see through the most delicate subterfuge by sea, cloaks him in self-satisfaction on land, and gives him no end of trouble.

The greek word for wisdom, of course, is Sophia, and I prefer it when thinking of wisdom as Virtue. Sophia is a female name and a feminine characteristic, just as intelligence is a masculine one. (Please don’t write to tell me women can be intelligent and men wise; I would never dispute it. I write here of gender, not sex.) Where “Wisdom” conjures up images of long, flowing beards on the faces of gray haired mountain dwellers, “Sophia” calls to mind a patient woman explaining to a precocious child that he has much to learn.

Sophia differs from Intelligence, the sort of “book-learning” that more worldly people distrust and even despise. “Intelligence” can often make me think of arrogance, of simple knowledge unmeasured by compassion or understanding. Intelligence brought about atomic weapons and ICBMs. Sophia has kept them in their silos. The beginning of Wisdom, as Plato recognized, lies in knowing the limits of intelligence.

And indeed, one need not be brilliant to be wise. In fact, Sophia is quite distinct from brilliance. Where Intelligence scorns the commonplace, the common knowledge, the platitudes of ages past, Sophia revels in them. Intelligence rejects them because they are old, because they are not in keeping with the current thinking, because they cannot make him shine. Sophia enjoys them because they are true.

Sophia does not come with an IQ score, nor a diploma, nor an important job, though all of those things impart the opportunity to receive her. She is as present at the local public high school as at Harvard—may even be easier to find there, in fact—but she must be wooed and welcomed. For she only visits in the shadow of her brother Humility. Only a man who recognizes his own limitations, the limits of his brains and his training and his education, can be open to Sophia.
Wednesday Intentions

Today's intentions: Once again, the victims of a bombing in Israel, Annelise's Dad, Veronica and the soul of her brother Thornton, Kathy, Lauren, Lou, the people of Pakistan and India, Elizabeth, 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.
Please welcome Dave

Please welcome Kairos' new musical advisor, Dave, everybody. Dave appears to have been raised in a better class of Parish than I was, where not all the music came from OCP, and so has a lot of good suggestions for the daily hymns. Since the consensus is that at St. Blog's we don't applaud the music people, why not send him a comment during donuts and coffee after the 10:30.