Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Fr. Jim has weighed in on the discussion about the lapsed Catholic. I think everyone got so focused on the details of the woman's particular case, that my larger point got buried. Let me be clear: I think it best that a lapsed Catholic confess before rejoining the other sacraments. I think it probable (based on what I know of the situation, which is precious little) that everything worked in accord with Grace in the woman's case.

The objectionable part is a priest (as well as numerous laypeople), unfamiliar with any of the actual individuals, declaring with certainty that the woman would have received only "spiritual sickness" from the Eucharist. Zorak, in the comments box actually went so far as to reduce her resolution to a syllogism, even concluding with "therefore," which is precisely my complaint. Nowhere in that syllogism does God actually appear, which I also find frustrating. I am not denying any of the rules, nor the power of those rules to assist us. I am simply trying to make the point that anyone who looks at a few general bits of data about another, and quickly arrives at x+y=z, has reduced God to mere naturalism. God in such an equation becomes no different than a photon, because He can only behave in a single, predictable, and absolutely limited way.

Don't focus on what might have been best for the woman, because I agree with what was best. I am trying to talk about what is possible, and the syllogism-approach denies what is possible.

Trust me, I speak from personal experience, that spiritual healing can come from an approach other than the best one, and even from one that people who live in black and white worlds of absolute predictability would condemn.
One reason for men to marry is, having a family keeps you from doing a lot of the stupid, reckless, and/or immoral behavior you would otherwise give serious consideration to. Not always, of course. But mostly.
I keep forgetting to mention this, apropos of nothing, but I absolutely LOVE the Miller High Life commercials with the crusty voice over of the vaguely paranoid, middle aged white guy. My favorite is the one that begins with a 50 year old man, peddling a woman's bike with basket on the front in a snowstorm, while the narration begins, "That's right, Patriot. Let the OPECs keep their oil." My wife HATES them every bit as much as I like them, but that's her problem.
And speaking of baseball...

Kathy, and perhaps one or two more of you out there, might find this story interesting.
I know it's still only July, and I know lots of times it has felt like this before. But I cannot watch this year's Red Sox team and fail to think that they are about to do something really special. Last night Bill Mueller (who?) hit a solo home run, followed by two grands slams IN CONSECUTIVE AT BATS, FROM OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE PLATE. Sal and I estimated that in the past 100 years, there have been at least 20 million at bats in the major leagues, and no one had ever done that before. Only 12 other times had players hit multiple at bats in the same game at all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The item immediately below this one, and a few words at Minute Particulars, caused me to reflect briefly on how wonderful it would be if we took the word "profession" in its sense of the verb form, to "declare openly" and "make vows," that is, in a sense where we declare ourselves as in a "profession of faith," instead of merely as the "opposite of amateur." In other words, if we could resort to the old sense of viewing whatever we do in life as a vocation.
The thing I am most rebelling against these days is the reduction of God to a mere natural force. Many rules, and many rule-oriented Catholics, seem to me to do this. I am really unclear on how easy or possible it is in fact to commit a mortal sin, and on how much actual repentance affects it.

A couple of months ago, someone blogged about a lapsed Catholic friend who was to go to Mass. The writer advised the friend not to receive Communion, because she hadn't been to Confession in many years, and was in a state of "objective mortal sin." (I dislike the term, but am using it precisely, denotatively, not connotatively. I would prefer "apparent" or something, but I don't write the moral theology textbooks--praise be!) This sparked a long comment box discussion, into which I briefly interjected myself.

The thing that made me angry was at least one person who identified himself as a priest approved of the writer's advice. The approval didn't make angry actually, since I can see arguments in favor of speaking up as well as keeping silent, but the priest advocated a position (that I cannot substantiate within the Catechism, though that doesn't mean it can't be done) I object to. He made reference to her receiving of it (in the sacriligeous, unconfessed state) as certain to cause her worse "spiritual sickness." I cannot for the life of me wrap my mind around this idea, except as the fruit of someone who has drawn lines around God's power.

It would seem that a person, away from the Church for many years, who one day decides out of nowhere to attend Mass is receiving God's Grace. (And it may even be that selfsame Grace that directed the writer to counsel his friend.) Under those circumstances, it seems to me that God can much better determine who in the Communion line is or is not in a state of Grace. It seems equally probable that an appropriate but arbitrary set of rules about frequency of Confession will not form a barrier to Grace, but are meant as an aide, to be plucked like a troublesome eye when they impede. It seems as if the priest in the discussion had reduced God to something like a^2 + b^2 = c^2, whereby the output is predetermined always and automatically by the inputs.

Now, to be clear: I think God's grace was certainly active in the writer as well as the friend. (His actions had been a major factor in the friend's desire to attend Mass at all.) Equally, I think it best that the woman receive Communion in an "objective state of grace" rather than the opposite. But I also point out that it is at least as likely as not that she had never learned any of the rules about Confession and Communion (by the deficiencies of her teachers, rather than hardheartedness), and if so she would not have committed a mortal transgression of those rules. (As I understand it, ignorance of the law can sometimes be a defense in moral theology, with many caveats and provisos of course.)

But I rebel angrily at any notion that a baptized Catholic, long absent from the Sacraments, but moved by the Spirit to present herself for them, could create within herself a "spiritual sickness" by receiving our Lord.

There are many other such "conservative Catholic" or "Traditionalist conservative" (or whatever the hell other schismatic, remnant, True Catholic language people choose to identify themselves with) approaches to the rules that see God's Love not as power unbounded but as the algebra of life, a formula for Salvation. (This, I think, accounts for a large measure of Christian "self-help" writing, too.) Ignatius commanded his order always to construe a person's professions and actions as charitably as possible, to grant the broadest possible understanding, in order to start from a presumption that a person was acting in accord with the Faith wherever that action could be in some way reconciled to the faith. Would that modern Catholics would do the same.

Monday, July 28, 2003

My computer is playing Van Morrison right now. (Never was such a voice as Van's, by the way...) The song right this second is "(That was a) Wonderful Remark," which seems to me a critique of the vacuousness of much conversation. Possibly hitting on why I have been light at the blogging thing lately.
The thing I am most looking forward to about having another baby (in the near term) is the stage when the little guy/girl will fall asleep on me while I do other things. I know some people who find this inconvenient, but to me there is no happier parenting moment than when the little one nods off in the completely floppy way. [sigh]
One of the nice things about being noticed by Hernan Gonzalez, and linked to from his excellent Argentinian blog, is now I get porn spam in Spanish as well as English. And Benedikt linked to me in German a while ago, which means occasionally nice young frauleins show up naked and unbidden in my inbox.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Has anybody tried the new Apple Music service yet, or Any reviews?

A while ago, in a comment at another blog, I mentioned that I apply Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to prayer as well as subatomic particles. In terms of prayer, this means that if I don't yet know the outcome of something, I can still pray for it and have some expectation that my prayers will be as effective as they ever are, even if that something has already occurred. So (for instance) if I know someone was having surgery from 10-noon, and at 3 I realize I did not offer the prayers I had planned to offer during the surgery, I can still offer them at 3, and hope they will have effect, so long as I don't yet know the outcome of the surgery. Tom, snark that he is, nicknamed this "Heisenprayer."

Well, though tom and others have dismissed this as superstition, I disagree. I think it is perfectly legitimate to pray into the past, so to speak. In fact, in certain ways, I think it better. (At the same time, it is worth noting that I think it better that I remember during the surgery to pray, rather than waiting until later; for one thing, I have a higher level of certainty that prayer can affect events still in progress than already completed.)

Imagine that Tom Hanks in Castaway, instead of becoming an idol worshipper (with his painted soccer ball), was a devout Christian. He would have been free, for all his years on the island, to pray for anything at all (save his own rescue) without any possibility of knowing the outcome of his prayers. He could pray for world peace, the life of a dear relative, an end to global warming--anything at all--and be free from the distraction of assessing how much or how little his prayers were granted, since he has absolutely no way of knowing the outcome. The act of praying, after some adjustment period, becomes sufficient unto itself, and that is surely a desirable thing.

Surprisingly, Heisenprayer shares some of that freedom. For, when I engage in my belated prayer at 3 pm, the surgery has been over for 3 hours. Instead of staring at the clock wondering whether or not my prayers will be granted during the surgery, I am focused solely on the spiritual aspect of praying, and on God's limitless power. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (which dictates that you cannot know a particle's vector and location simultaneously) also implies that observation interferes with a system, which is a fancy way of saying that, in one sense a tree falling in a forest without an observer does not make a noise, or at least does not make the same noise as it would with an observer present.

Praying without obtaining the data that already exists (say, by not checking voicemail or email until after finishing the prayer) takes the focus off of the lottery-effect ("He lived! God loves me!") and puts it back where it belongs, on Thy will, not mine. At the same time, I am not praying for God to undo something (since I am praying for one outcome, but do not affirmatively know that outcome to be in opposition to reality), but am seeking to add my own effort in just that mysterious way we are commanded to do, without fully knowing how it can make a difference.

On balance, we know God listens to our prayers. We also know that the future can be affected by our prayers, even if that effect isn't always what we desire or expect. It is surely best that I pray for my friend's surgery from 10-12, not at 3 without checking email. But I can see no harm** in praying at 3 without checking email (since I have at least some inkling that God's time-unboundedness can come into effect there), and see positive good coming out of it, at least insofar as my attitude towards my prayer at 3 is perhaps more appropriate than it is at 10.

(**I said "no harm," but that's not quite true. The potential harms are in allowing Heisenprayers to intrude on time that should be spent on the more conventional sort, and in believing that the more abandoned to Divine Providence mindset of Heisenprayer is superior to conventional prayers dutifully done. I only said "in certain ways, I think it better." It is only better viewed in certain light, but it is not better over all.)

[Golly, my blog writing and my Catholic thinking have gotten sloppy in my 6 weeks off. Sorry about that.]

Friday, July 25, 2003

If I slide back in...

Will anyone care, or notice? I've been gone so long, I forgot my username on the bravenet stats, and hadn't even realized that they changed the format of them to a much less useful version.

So, what do I think? Well, here are a few things, in no particular order.

1) If a baseball team, per se, can be damned (without that damnation affecting the individual members of the club) then the Yankees ought to be. Pedro Martinez has given up about 6 earned runs to the Yanks this year, and has beaten them only once, I think. Ugh.

2) The Democrats are making fools, absolute fools, out of themselves over this Uranium thing. They clearly have lost all sense of how to conduct moral reasoning. The moral case for war never, ever hung on the purchase of uranium, and the absolute worst thing you can say about the President is that he took something of doubtful, but not definitely false, provenance, and gave it too much play. But the Brits stand by their intelligence, and it's hardly unknown for MI6 and CIA to disagree on things. But in any case, the WMDs question is much more difficult than did or did not Saddam attempt to buy some Uranium. Even the Big Creep himself the other day said that this is no big deal, and he has hardly been shy about criticizing his successor. You can build a good case that the wMD thing was not a good moral reason for going to war (though as "Realpolitik" it's pretty hard to fault) but they are shooting their wad on it 13 months before the election, and merely riling up the Howard Dean voters, who are never going to be a big enough bloc to defeat W.

3) I still have made no progress whatsoever on either my novel or my screenplay. Been too darn busy working on the curriculum stuff. Any of you ever go see "Holes"? What did you think?

4) I spent part of last week in Vermont, helping my uncle-in-law build a house. Every time I do stuff like that, I regret that my parents weren't hearing me when I said that I wanted to take a year off before college and go to trade school or apprentice with someone.

5) The other half I spent at the Dayton airshow, with my AF buddy back from CENTCOM. It's sad that he and I have seen the Thunderbirds and Blue angels enough to be able to critique their shows.

6) We are into the final stretch (ha ha) with the baby. (That "ha ha" is for the play on "stretch marks," for those of you who haven't had the joy of newborns recently.)

7) I am absolutely loving the cookbook that goes with "Michael Chiarello's Napa" series. I bought it a few weeks ago, and none of the recipes have failed me yet.

8) Someday I may post more on wine. But I've mostly been drinking old standbys lately, though I should mention that I am a convert to Proseco. Run, don't walk, to your nearest Trader Joe's and get the $5.99 bottle they sell. And then serve it with a nice shrimp cocktail or crabcake recipe.

9) I just read "Evangelical is not enough" before giving it to an RC friend who has been going Evangelical for the last few years. Like most cradle Catholics, I learn a lot even in the remedial classes, and this book clarified a lot of things. Thanks to Emily Stimpson for recommending it.

I am sure I will have more thoughts at some point, and I may even post some of them. (Insert smartalek joke here.) So, feel free to keep on checking in.

By the way, there's a Boston Catholic blogger gathering that is tentatively supposed to occur during a bog to do in Salem on (I think) August 9. Anyone from elsewhere in the country who has occasion to be in New England then should check Dom Bettinelli's page, since it is his parish that is coincidentally hosting a picnic that day, which others will be horning in on.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Thanks for inquiring, but...

I am fine. Just busy, and unsure about the status of continued blogging. Trying to wind down my semi-fulltime writing job, and enjoy the baseball season. Portland Sea Dogs tomorrow, baby due in 7 weeks. According to the ultrasound today, the little critter is already 5lbs., 13oz. Gonna be another bruiser.