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# Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Today I went with Mrs. dotNetTemplar, along with our three ambulatory munchkins, to see the latest addition to Clan Little on the big screen.  Well, it was like a 25" screen, anyways.  At the last ultrasound, the technician said she thought it was a 90% certainty that the new one is a boy, but today it was confirmed pretty much beyond doubt.  That makes 3 boys!  Yikes! :)

It's always nice to see the little boogers kicking around, even in low fidelity, and the other kiddies enjoyed it too.  It's very clear that there's a person there, and he already bears the name Thomas Martin Bonaventure, after St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Martin of Tours, and St. Bonaventure.

So it was with that in mind when I bumped into the news that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi totally misrepresented the Catholic position on abortion in an interview on Meet the Press.  Thankfully numerous Catholic bishops have spoken up to provide the accurate Catholic position, but it's unfortunate that it happened because no doubt there will be plenty who take what she said at face value and never hear the correction.

I must say I was very surprised.  I mean, most politicians who identify themselves as Catholic at least have some integrity to dodge the issue by saying that their personal opinion should not be their public policy, which of course is deeply questionable in itself, but to outright contradict one of the most well-established Catholic doctrines--established in one of the earliest Christian documents we have and held since--and say it is an okay position for a purported "ardent, practicing Catholic" to hold is just plain wrong.

It may be challenging to argue against abortion without reference to Divine revelation, but it's just plain easy to do with it.  I mean, come on.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 9:42:05 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, April 20, 2008

I was just reading the sermon Pope Benedict gave today in the Bronx.  The following struck a cord:

The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace."

Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us!

I've thought about this seeming paradox on a few occasions--that real, radical freedom is found in truth and living in conformity to that truth. 

Loss of Freedom?
There's a common perception that morals, ethics, and religion in general limit our freedom--that we're sacrificing freedom for some greater good.  But we're not actually sacrificing freedom--we're still free to choose to think and act otherwise, however, we are using our freedom, choosing to live in accord with what we believe to be true.  It's a different way to think about it, one that puts it in the right perspective.  I think it is put in a negative perspective so often because we focus on the things we're not supposed to think or do instead of on what we are freely choosing--positively--to think and do.

The funny thing that I've found is that in choosing to align my beliefs and actions with Catholic doctrine, I feel far more at peace and far freer.  I think it is because if we're constantly struggling with the basic (but important!) questions of life, such as our origins, the existence of God and our relationship to the Divine, as well as our right relations with others, we never get off the ground, so to speak--we're always stuck in an infinite loop, wondering and (maybe) worrying, if we are conscientious. 

But if we settle all that, we're free to move on and explore new horizons.  Not only that, I think we are better equipped to explore those new horizons, because we are aligned with truth, with reality.

Mental & Conceptual Models
This reminds me of the idea in psychology of mental models and conceptual models.  My understanding, based on Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things (a.k.a., The Psychology of Everyday Things), is essentially that there is a conceptual model that designers create and use when they design and build things.  This is the actual and correct model.  Then there are mental models that users of the design form and use when perceiving and interacting with the design.

The trick in design is to sufficiently express the conceptual model (through a variety of design mechanisms like affordances, feedback, "knowledge in the world," etc.) so that users will form the correct mental model--one that closely aligns with the design's conceptual model.  The reason this is important is that it empowers the users to use the design effectively and not spend undue time and energy trying to figure it out, dealing with frustrations and inefficiencies that come from having a wrong mental model.  You could say that having the right mental model makes the users more peaceful and more free to explore other things because they don't have the frustrations and aren't wasting unnecessary time on it.

Applied Mental Models for Freedom and Happiness
Now map that to how we think and act as human beings.  Imagine that there is a correct conceptual model that specifies how best we human beings can think, act, and relate to others.  This model can be discovered through a variety of the Designer's mechanisms such as nature (e.g., affordances in biology), reason, experimentation (use & feedback both personal, scientific, and historical/anecdotal), and even revelation (documentation, as it were).  Now if we form the correct mental model, one that most closely aligns with the human conceptual model, it follows that we'll be more at peace (less frustrated), more efficient, more effective, and freer to explore other things.  In short, having the right mental model would give us the most radical freedom and happiness.

Wouldn't we be crazy not to use the human design in accordance with the right mental model, once we figure it out?  I think so.  For instance, once we figure out that our door key is inserted into the key slot in a particular way that gets us through the door in the least amount of time, we'd be silly--bordering on insane--to keep trying to use the key in ways that don't match that mental model.  We'd be wasting time, getting frustrated, and getting stuck outside!

No, once we discover the right mental model, the only sane thing to do is to keep using it unless someone comes along and demonstrates a model that seems to work better.  Doing this--adhering to this mental model--is not "blind faith," as many liken the faith of Christians (and others) to be.  On the contrary, adhering to a mental model that seems right  to you is pure sanity, absolute reason; doing anything else would be idiocy of the first degree.

Sharing Your Mental Model - The Right Thing to Do
It also follows that if you see someone standing outside a door, fumbling with a key, unable to figure out how to use it, that what else could you do but walk over, show, and explain the right mental model--the one that you've found is the most effective and least frustrating?  Would it be kind of you to just say "well, whatever that person believes is fine for them" and just leave them stuck and frustrated?  (I'd suggest not.)

So it is with those who share their faith, their mental model about life, the universe, and everything.  They think they've found the right mental model, the one that is most aligned with the ultimate human conceptual model, the one that if applied will provide the most peace, satisfaction, and happiness.  It is an act of kindness, an act of caring, indeed an act of love, to take the trouble to share such a mental model with others.  Correspondingly, it would be an act of meanness, selfishness, even perhaps of hatred, to not share it and try to help others to understand and use it.

So to those who think having faith is ignorant, blind adherence and loss of freedom, I'd suggest they reconsider.  Using the analogy illumined here, it seems clear that such faith is actually the opposite--it is wide-eyed, reasoned, experiential, and ultimately more radically free and more likely to provide lasting happiness (which is a goal I think any sane human being can agree upon, no?). 

Similarly, perhaps the most popular philosophical adage of our age--"what you believe is okay for you and what I believe is okay for me"--is not in actuality the most humane, reasoned, or livable approach.  On the contrary, it seems far more humane--even positively caring--to try to show each other why we think we have the right mental model.  It's something to consider, anyways.

Sunday, April 20, 2008 6:24:28 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dominican Cross Given that tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) begins our season of Lent1, it seems appropriate to me to comment on the Dominican "colors" of black and white.  The friars habit (their outfit) is black and white (well, you might say white and black, depending on your perspective).  The Dominican cross' most distinctive mark is its alternating black and white, and many other derivative insignia use those two colors.

So what's up with these colors?  Were they picked just because they look good together, have great contrast, or what?  Well, they have a meaning.  The black represents penance, and the white represents joy. 

What an odd combination, eh?  After all, isn't penance about being truly sorry for one's sins, turning away from those sins, intending to not sin again, and even doing things to try to make things right (reparation)?  How can you have joy if you're penitent?

The thing is, that penance is really an act of faith, an act of hope.  Without faith and hope, it doesn't make any sense.  If you don't believe in a transcendent, objective Good (i.e., God) from whom the nature of good flows, it is hard to know, concretely, what evil is (essentially a negation/privation of good).  Sin is a moral evil; that is, it is an act that is not in accord with the transcendent, objective Good and thus in some way negates and loses that Good. 

Penance is an act of hope because without hope of forgiveness, of restoration of the good we've deprived ourselves (and sometimes others) of, there'd really be no point in penance.  Why even bother trying to make things right if there is no hope that they can be made right?  It just wouldn't make sense to do that; it'd be a waste of time and energy, and instead we'd just waste away in despair.

But for those who have faith and hope, penance makes a lot of sense.  And its precisely that--that faith and hope--that makes penance essentially an act of joy.  We can take deep consolation and joy in penance because we know that we are making things right through God's grace.  The good that we've lost is restored and then some, and that's where the joy comes in.

So tomorrow starts what we call the penitential season of Lent, about forty days of observing a spirit of penance prior to celebrating that greatest of all days, when God made it possible for us to get things right--Easter.  Tomorrow we get ashes to remind us of our fragility and mortality: "remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" echoing the words of God spoken to Adam as the consequence of that original sin. 

But the story doesn't end there; if it did, we may as well just do as Job's wife suggested--curse God and die.  No, the story goes on to the redemption of humanity through the Incarnation and atonement that makes it possible for us to restore that original good and in fact to go beyond that to become partakers in that transcendent, supreme Good, that Divine nature. 

So we can with true joy be sorry for our sins and do concrete acts of penance (fasting, abstaining from meat, giving to the poor, visiting the sick, and many others) because we have the end in view; we know the story doesn't end with our screwing things up if only we accept in faith and hope the grace made available to us to make things right.

So I hope that Christians will join me in joy as we celebrate this season of penance looking towards the resurrection of our Lord.  And maybe those who are not will better understand why it is we do what we do. :)

Notes
1. The word "Lent" is from earlier English and Germanic words for spring (because it's around springtime).  "Easter" is another one of those where the Church co-opted an English word for Church use; good symbolism, though--the east, the rising sun, the celebration of the rising of the Son of God.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008 10:56:16 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, January 19, 2008

One of the questions that gets asked and re-asked over the generations is "how can a good, all-powerful God exist if there is so much evil in the world?"  There's even a specialized term that's been created for dealing with that question--theodicy.  Needless to say, as many times as it has been asked, there have been answers given.  For some, these answers are sufficient, but the fact that it keeps being asked indicates that for some the answers are not sufficient.

I'm not about to say I have found the answer to silence the question, and even if I had, very few people will ever read this. :)  But I do think the correct answer is what has been offered by others, which is that evil exists so that greater good may come of it.

This answer is hard to swallow when we can't see the greater good, when we're being brought face to face with great suffering and the terrible things that people do to others or even just the suffering of the poor, those afflicted by natural disasters, and those who suffer as a result of accidents.  I think some would argue even that "natural" death itself seems to be an evil.  It can be very hard to see the greater good because these things stand out in stark, ringing, painful contrast to what we think of as the good life we want for ourselves and hope for others.

What is Evil and From Whence?
Tied up in this question is the deeper question of "just what is evil, anyways?"  If I recall correctly, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the great Christian philosophers and theologians, proposed that evil is the negation of good.  Depending on how you take it, this may be a good definition.  A friend of mine once suggested he thought that evil wasn't just the negation of good but that it was the twisting, or perversion, of good, but I can see that falling under St. Augustine's definition in that if you are twisting or perverting something, you are refusing it as it is and changing it into something it is not, which I think is essentially a negation.

On this question, I tend to hold with St. Augustine, as his definition seems to be a simple one that really does encompass the meaning of evil, and it reflects even our common understanding of evil--as inclusive of human suffering and death as well as the rejection of God, the ultimate good.  I do think that human suffering and death are, taken solely in themselves, evil, though not absolute or unconquerable evil.  I think that such evil can be overcome by good.

To reinforce that suffering and death are evil, apart from it seeming obvious common sense, we also see in divine revelation that we humans were not made for suffering and death.  God made us and our world and said "it is good."  Our sin, that is, our turning away from the God who is the source of our life and joy and our turning inwards on ourselves, introduced the possibility for death and suffering.  I think the curse of Adam is not so much an external punishment inflicted by a seemingly vengeful God than it is an affirmation and explication of the natural consequence of our willful separation from the source of all being and happiness.

The Transcendent Good that Overcomes Evil
But God foresaw this and, from the foundations of the universe, planned to redeem us from our turning away from our natural end, which was and is eternal sharing in God's goodness, his love, his joy, and his peace.  He planned to come down to us and become one of us, taking on our whole human nature, purifying it, restoring it, and further dignifying it by infusing his own complete divine perfection. 

He thus empowered us to turn back to him and to receive from him again that which was our natural end to begin with--that complete human participation in the perfect divine goodness.  By becoming human, taking on our whole humanity, he not only restored us to our status as "good" creatures of God, he adopted us as his children.  Through Jesus, the only, eternal Son of God--through his incarnation and sacrifice--we can now truly become children of God.

The redemption of humanity through God's becoming man and atoning for our sin, in itself, is almost an infinite good.  As far as we humans are concerned, I think it is the most perfect good, and its goodness overcomes (is greater than) pretty much all evil throughout all human history, including the supreme evil of our turning away from our source of life and happiness, which is what got us into this mess in the first place.

By joining ourselves to the incarnate Son of God, we can come to share in this unspeakable goodness.  All suffering pales in consideration of this goodness, and in fact, we can take consolation in our own suffering by uniting it to the suffering of Christ.  In offering our suffering in such a way, we make that suffering a loving act, a gift, for our own sake and for that of our fellow human beings.

Through his overcoming of death by his own resurrection, he enables the rest of us humans to do likewise.  And that is why death, for a faithful Christian, is not an evil, but a good.  We know that we have eternal life through Christ.  We know that in death, we come to share more fully in the infinite perfect goodness of God.  This is why the Psalmist can say "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints."

Now this is not to say that suffering isn't real by any means.  This is not to say that suffering and death are not evil.  They are.  Suffering and death is the natural state of humans separated from God; it is a consequence of our original turning away, which has created a real physical and spiritual corruption of the good human nature that we were created with.  Suffering and death are very real, and they are very painful.  When speaking of good overcoming them, we are not minimizing them; in fact, I'd say that the very reality of these is a stimulus to make us more aware of the incomparable goodness we receive from God through Christ.

Why Freedom?
Given all of this, the question remains, though, of why God would have allowed us to turn away from him in the first place.  Why grant us such freedom in the first place?  After all, we human parents restrict our children's freedom in order to protect them from hurting themselves.  Why didn't God keep us from hurting ourselves by turning away from him and entering into a state of suffering and death?

It is a fair question.  I think the answer is essentially the same--so that a greater good could come of it.  In this, I see two greater goods.  The first is the incarnation of God--God becoming human so that we humans could become more like God.1  This is why the original sin is known as the "happy fault" according to our ancient liturgy.2  Our original damaging of our nature occasioned God's joining himself to us and elevating our human nature, not just restoring us to our original state of human goodness but elevating us to be true children of God, more fully able to participate in his infinite goodness.

The other greater good is wrapped up in this:  Our freedom enables us to truly love.  Love, the free giving and sharing of ourselves with others, is the greatest act of good, and God desires for us to share in that goodness.  Without freedom, we cannot love; we can only mimic the act of loving.  We would be marionettes in God's great play.  In granting us freedom, however, God enables us to experience this supreme act of goodness, which is love--love of him and of others.

Eventually, we parents must let our children strike out on their own.  We must let them learn from their own mistakes and make their own decisions.  Only in doing so will they fully become their own selves, more fully human, and not an extension of us.  Loving parents will do what they can to protect their children, but they will also let their children develop into independent human beings.  Loving parents will teach their children the best path for them to walk in life, but they will also be there when their children choose to stray from that path and hurt themselves.

So it is with God.  In wanting us to be fully independent, to share fully in the goodness of love (that is, to become fully human), he grants us freedom, even freedom that we can use to harm ourselves.  He teaches us the right path to go.  First, in creating us, he imprinted upon our hearts a knowledge of the right path,3 then he reinforced and further illuminated this through his revelation of Himself--directly to Adam and Eve and later to Abraham, then through the Mosaic Law and the prophets, and finally in becoming human himself, teaching the Apostles, and through their writing and oral teaching, directing the Church with the Holy Spirit.  So he gives us freedom and shows us the best way to use it, but he also foresaw that we would not use our freedom wisely, so he planned from the beginning to pick us up and heal us from our fall, much like a loving parent treats the scraped knee or helps us recover from other, larger mistakes.4

So we see that God can be truly all powerful, perfectly and infinitely good and loving, and yet still allow evil to exist.  Evil exists both as a result of our freedom but also as an opportunity for good to abound, as a thing that spurs us on towards the good and to overcome with good.

The Ordinary Good That Overcomes Evil
Yet I realize that there are those who may be unable to perceive and appreciate the transcendent goodness of God in his creation, his giving us of our freedom, his revelation to us, and in his Incarnation and atonement that effects our redemption.5  Even so, for those, there is more to offer here.  I would suggest that even the ordinariness of human love, especially familial love, from a strictly proportional perspective, far outweighs all the evils in human history.  Think of it this way.  Almost every human being that has ever existed has experienced some, probably a lot, of just ordinary human love--love of parent, love of sibling, love of children, love of friends, and (for many) love of God. 

One could say that throughout our lives, the average human is surrounded by a swirling sea of human love that we never recognize because it is so ordinary and mundane.  It is not heroic.  It's just all those everyday experiences of kindness and sacrifice that are so small that, in themselves, they are not noticed.  But taken as an aggregate, I would suggest that these far outweigh the more shocking instances of evil in our history.

I would further suggest that especially when we see evil, some notable and notorious evil, the everyday human reaction is sympathy.  Think of 9/11, the tsunami, Katrina, earthquakes, floods, genocides, war.  For every great human evil, there seems to be a corresponding outpouring of ordinary human love.  In fact, it is often noted that such tragedies bring people together who would otherwise not be sharing with each other.

And so I think we should not wonder at the existence of evil.  Even in a purely human perspective, it seems to me that there is far more love in this world than evil and hate.  The fact that we seem to take more notice of evil strengthens this view because, as a rule, we humans tend to notice the out of the ordinary more than the ordinary. 

When you add on to all of this ordinary love the transcendent, infinite love and goodness that God has wrought in human history, all the evil pales all the more and we become truly thankful and at peace while enduring and witnessing evil because we know that there truly and actually is a greater good all around us every day, often increased in response to such evil, and we Christians have the firm hope of sharing in the eternal infinite goodness of God, leaving behind the evils of this present world and realizing the fullness of our human potential for good.  In light of all this, rather than wondering why evil exists, should we not be pondering why God created such a world in which love is so ordinary and yet so transcendent?

In pain, sorrow, and distress, suffering and death, let us not lose heart.  Let us cry out in our humanity with the Psalmist "O Lord my God, deliver me!", but also "I love the Lord, for he has heard the cry of my appeal."  For we know the trials of this life, however painful, are already answered through the work of Christ.  Let us not forget the ordinary love that surrounds us each day, and most of all, let us put our trust and hope in Him for "those who put their trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, that cannot be shaken, that stands firm forever."6 

--
Given on the Memorial of Blessed Andrew of Peschiera, O.P.

Notes
1. St. Athanasius put it this way: "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God," which is to say that we might become partakers of the divine nature.
2. From the Exultet, an Easter Vigil hymn of praise.
3. This is what we call "natural law," which is essentially an inherent human capability to know from reason what is the best way to live.
4. Let's not presume, though, that God models his actions on ours; it is the opposite.  We understand something about God's fatherhood through our limited understanding of what good fatherhood is here on earth.  But that's part of the beauty of God's revelation--he meets us where we are, teaches us through humans, through words, actions, and the image of God that we have received from him that has been perfected in Jesus Christ.  When we try to understand God's paternal love, we must keep in mind that we do not judge him by our understanding of paternal love but rather use paternal love as a means to better understand his actions in human history, including our own history.
5. It is worth noting, however, that given our presuppositions about God and his revelation and action in human history, we Christians can make a pretty good account of why evil exists.  A person's inability to appreciate it, which is understandable for those without faith, does not change the fact that we can make an account for why God allows evil to exist. 
6. From Psalm 116 and 125, respectively.

Saturday, January 19, 2008 3:17:21 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Sunday, December 30, 2007

"How many kids do they have??" asked the bemused co-worker upon hearing that someone is having a fifth child.  I am similarly bemused why so many people seem to feel negatively towards those with large families.  I guess that people may not really think about it or, if they do, maybe they really don't know why anyone living in the 21st century would want to have more than the popularly accepted family size of two, maybe three.  The best I can do is offer why my wife and I are choosing to have a large family.

You see, I did not grow up in a large family.  I have one brother and for most of my childhood, my mom was single.  Nor did any of my immediate family or even my friends have large families; I think the largest family had three kids.  I recall it as being a mostly happy childhood--I'm not complaining.  I only mention it to say I did not inherit or learn by example how or why to have a large family; it didn't come naturally. 

For my wife, Christiane, and I, it wasn't a decision to say "we want N number of kids" at some point or other.  Early on in our engagement, we did toss around the idea of four.  Christiane grew up in a family of six (that's four kids for those counting), my mom has three siblings, and so it seemed like a good number somewhere between two and some unthinkable number beyond four. :)

But as we progressed in our philosophical and spiritual journey, we became convinced that setting some artificial limit up front just didn't make sense.  Yes, we became Catholic in this time period, and yes, Catholicism has a rather radical teaching on this matter.  The essence of the Catholic perspective on children is that they are a blessing, a gift from God, and that we should remain truly open to these wonderful gifts.

Despite some Catholic caricatures, this does not equate to being irresponsible and just having as many children as you possibly can.  For example, the most recent authoritative Catholic teaching on the subject, Humanae Vitae, specifically speaks to the issue of responsible parenthood, saying that couples can decide to avoid conceiving "for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts."1  And in doing so, we're supposed to use the most effective, safe, mutually respectful, character-building, and morally commendable means when doing so--abstinence during fertility.2

There's obviously no one-size-fits-all family size. Some couples are infertile.  Some couples find the wherewithal to have a dozen or more children, even while relying on remarkably limited income.  In considering the question of how many children to have, there are a number of common concerns that need to be addressed.  Since this is a short piece, I can only touch on some of them, particularly those that seem to be the most common, and offer some positive reasons to have children.

What Do We Value?
For us, the question is not so much how many kids we should have.  I think the question is rather what do we really value in life?  Some time ago, Saturday Night Live had this series of crazy fake commercial where this couple were blatant cheapskates when it came to their children but would lavish luxury on themselves, advertising a fictitious online store for such parents--cheapkids.net.  It was ludicrous, but it is poignant.  I think this caricature speaks to those who, by their choice, remain infertile and yet enjoy a lavish or even just a very comfortable life as a married couple.  This satire portrayed a couple who at least had kids, even if they were cheap with them, but it seems to me that those who refuse children or limit them artificially and frivolously might want to ask themselves if they are denying life to potential human beings in order to live in relative luxury.  Are those things more valuable than human life?

Of course, I do not speak here of those who live in poverty or who truly would endanger the lives of their family by having more children.  I speak here of those who, like me, live in relative luxury compared to most of the humans in this world.  People who are not hardened have their guts wrenched by the poverty of many in this world (and rightly so), but there is another kind of poverty that goes unnoticed--the poverty of life, the poverty of being denied even the opportunity to exist solely so that another can live in ease and comfort.4 

From this consideration, it seems that the original perspective (of bemusement or even distaste or disgust at having many children) should be turned on its head.  The question becomes, instead, how can so many otherwise nice, well-meaning people deny so many more the chance to exist?  Perhaps folks should not respond with puzzlement or condescension to those who remain open to life but rather respond with admiration and respect.  We all know that kids, though they are indeed the most amazing and wonderful blessings we can naturally receive, are a handful to say the least, and so I think people should be a tad more reticent when criticizing those who have many.

Why Limit Family Size?
Are there good reasons for regulating birth?  Obviously.  Even beyond the grave economic reasons, I think there are others.  Perhaps there is real psychological concern for the mother or father.  Perhaps there is a physical or mental condition that a parent or child has that would make further growth of the family unwise.  Perhaps there is a real threat to the mother's health.  I'm not writing to address every conceivable circumstance; I'm writing to address popular notions concerning children that my wife and I have had to think about (and are often confronted with) in our own working out of how we live out what it means to be responsible parents wanting to live in the best way possible, trying to have the most perfect family we can.

Before moving on considering the common reasons given to limit family size, it is worth noting that the decision to have children should flow from a lifelong commitment.5  Just like there are not so good reasons to limit family size, there are not so good reasons to have children.  Having babies seems to be a pastime for celebrities these days.  It should be obvious that getting more attention/publicity, trying to save a marriage, keeping up with the Joneses, extending the family tree, etc. are not so great reasons.  Children are human beings, having the full dignity of human beings, to be treated and loved as such; they are not accessories, trophies, or any other means to an end--they are end in themselves, and we should be just as careful about our motivations for having them as we are in our motivations for not having them.

Education
The most common concerns we hear are monetary, the top being about the rising cost of sending kids to college.  I, for one, did not get a dime from my mom to send me to college--she didn't have it to give.  I made good enough grades in school and fared well on the ACT, getting a decent scholarship to a private school, and then worked for and borrowed the rest.  I have known many others, many of them my friends, who have similar stories.

We all want the best for our children, but is the "best" sending them to a good college?  I think that a good, liberal arts education is deeply valuable in itself.  I have a degree in history and humanities, but I worked my way into software.  I am glad of my education even though its credentials don't mean a lot in my occupation; I value it more highly than had I spent the same effort on a technical degree. 

But a degree, even from a good university, only goes so far in life.  Ultimately, it comes down to an individual applying himself or herself with the talents and desires he or she has.  You can teach a child a good work ethic for free at home that will do more for them in the long run than any degree would.  And I'd suggest you can teach such an ethic more easily in large families where mutual help from all members is a necessity. 

You can teach a child to be a lifelong student, to enjoy learning and to think critically, for free at home, and that, too, goes further than any degree.  You can teach a child values of honesty, integrity, commitment, kindness, charity, compassion, and other virtues for free at home that simply are not taught at university, and these as well far exceed the long-term value of any degree.  And I'm not talking about home schooling; I'm simply talking about setting an example, teaching, and encouraging your children in addition to any regular, formal schooling.

I'm certainly not opposed to college or formal education in general, but its value has been way overemphasized in our culture.  The purveyors of formal education have much to gain from this, as do lenders and investment companies who help you invest to save for your child's education.  I think we need to be careful not to be blinded to the economic realities involved in all of the marketing about education and simply recognize formal education for the value it does have.  It shouldn't be the ultimate deciding factor and choice in parenting.6

There are affordable alternatives for higher education, and if it is important to the child, he or she can make an effort to realize such goals.  Furthermore, I have no doubt that a large majority of parents who at some point use this reasoning actually end up not saving or investing properly or find themselves in a situation later where the investment was truly needed for other reasons.  In short, I tend to think that a vague concern about "sending my kid to a good school" is not a viable reason to limit family size. 

Expense
Apart from higher education, there seems to be a general consensus that children "are expensive."  I'd like to suggest an alternative to this maxim.  Children can be expensive.  Just as with higher education, you can choose to spend more money than you need to on each child, but it is a choice, not a given.  And it is on this point, more than any other, that we see the rubber meet the road in terms of a challenge of values.

If we are given over to our contemporary culture, children are indeed expensive.  If each child needs his or her own expansive room, if each child needs new, brand-name clothes on a monthly basis, if each child needs more toys than he or she could possibly enjoy, if each child needs his or her own car, then yeah, they can be very expensive.  But lets not stop with the kids.  If mom and dad need a brand-new car every few years; if they have to have new clothes every month, new jewelry, new perfume, new golf clubs, new computer, Playstation, or Xbox games, if they need to go to plays or other high-culture events regularly, and if the family has to eat out every day, then definitely, a large family is "too expensive."

Put simply, if one is a purebred consumer, yeah, a large family costs too much.  Doesn't it speak volumes that our primary concern and objection about large families is economical?  Doesn't it drive to the very heart of the matter if that is the chief concern?  Ultimately, doesn't it say that we truly do value things, comfort, and luxury more than we value people?  In short, doesn't it imply that we're just plain selfish?

What's truly sad about this is that we are deceiving ourselves.  I can attest from experience that all of these things don't really last--the return on investment just isn't there.  In fact, all these things actually "increase our sorrow" because they increase our worries and consume our mental and physical energies (in working for, acquiring, securing, insuring, storing, moving, caring for, and maintaining them).  Not only do we tend to get bored with new things; they tend to have a net negative effect on our lives that we've become blind to.  No, we're not really blind--we recognize the deficit they produce, but like a dog returning to its vomit, we try to ladle on the salve of more things, which only exacerbates the problem.  We're blind to the remedy; we're not blind to the effects of the problem.

The Common Good
There is another common concern that is not economical (at least on the individual scale), and it seems to be less pronounced these days than it was for the previous generation--that of the concern about overpopulation.  For Christiane and I, this has always seemed to be more of an excuse than a reason.  It seems that an uncertain, future concern about one day overpopulating the world is not a compelling reason to overcome the more sure, immediate positive reasons to have children.  Even so, it is a common enough concern to warrant addressing. 

A good deacon friend of mine put it another way that gives this concern a bit more weight.  If everybody in the world decided to have ten children, what would that mean for the common good?  He suggested that we may just be lacking in imagination to think how we'd address such a situation, and maybe so--we humans tend to get pretty inventive when we need to.  No doubt we'd figure something out.  But I have to say I am not suggesting that everyone have ten children.  I don't think that would be responsible for many, perhaps most of us.   Being truly and actually open to children does not necessarily equate to having ten.

On the other hand, I tend to think the larger problem, as it is with most of these life issues, is our generally selfish culture.  We're so busy looking out for number one that we accumulate for ourselves far more than we need in order to have a good and happy life.  I'm not advocating socialism or any kind of enforced equal distribution of goods; I am advocating charity as a core cultural value.  If we, the human race, shared this core cultural value, I tend to think that concern about overpopulation would be a moot point.  And in any case, it remains that it seems to be a rather vague, unsubstantiated reason to limit family size.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving
It seems to me that people, especially children, are truly a gift that keeps on giving.  If we lavish our care on them, they tend to give back in equal, if not greater, measure.  That's the funny thing about authentic love.  It's like investing in a sure thing--you give and you'll get back, well-measured, shaken and packed down, and running over.  It may not even be the recipient giving back.  That's another odd thing about authentic love; it tends to be its own reward--there is joy in the act of loving itself.

We often think that children are just a big hassle.  In Stumbling on Happiness, the author suggests, based on subjective surveys, that children do not in fact make us happy, that it is, rather, a big, consensual lie that we tell each other.  It is claimed that the people interviewed said they were happier after their children grew up and out of the house than they were when they were in the house.  Despite the author's disclaimers, I think this really takes a shallow view of happiness and does not account for the deeper happiness that is satisfaction, which results from seeing effort come to fruition.  These parents experience, naturally, a certain happiness and lessening of difficulty at having reclaimed time for themselves once children are out of the house, but they also share in the abiding joy of having their children "all growed up"--their investment, as it were, has come to completeness.

The survey also does not, I think, account for the consideration that perception is a large part of reality.  Because our culture sells us a bill of superficial bull about what makes us happy (i.e., things, comfort, entertainment, and luxury), our perception is deeply skewed and we see children as detracting from our attainment of these things (taking us back the the monetary objections discussed above). 

Indeed, it makes perfect sense, and I've seen it in my own life, that when my children cause me the most "trouble" and frustration is when I am turned in on myself (being selfish in some way).  They are taking me away from what I want to do or they prevent me from getting something I want, so I perceive them as a nuisance.  Usually, though, when I am in the right frame of mind, I see their activity for what it is--exploring the world, learning to function according to all life's little rules, or maybe simply just wanting to spend time with you because they are infatuated with you.  This latter dies away as they age I suppose, but wouldn't you agree, if you're being honest with yourself, that a large bit of the friction between parents and kids comes in the first two?

The point is that it is generally those times that we are most frustrated that we are being the most selfish.  In other words, it is not that the kids are the problem--we selfish parents are the problem.  If we change our perspective (which takes practice, I can promise--I'm still working on it), and learn to not fight for our selfish impulses against our children but instead indulge in authentic love (self-giving) towards them, we will find one of the greatest joys in life--shared, familial love

Once Christiane and I recognized this, it seemed almost a no-brainer that we'd want to increase this joy as much as we can.  We saw that instead of thinking how few children can we have, we think how many children can we responsibly have?  This way of thinking is, we think, the best not only for us but especially for our family as a whole. 

When we are considering when to have our next child, we do try to be responsible.  We think about how this new person will fit in our home both logistically and socially, and we consider the psychological impact on the other members of the family.  In the end, we try our best to err on the side of openness and only choose to delay for what seem to be good, unselfish reasons.  We're not perfect by any means, but this seems to us to be a big step on the the path toward a more perfect family life.7 

--
Given on the Feast of the Holy Family in the Year of Our Lord 2007

Notes
1. At this point, my darling 1-year-old, Brendan Patrick Irenaeus, toddled over to me with one of my house shoes.  Thanks, Brendan!  My feet are freezing... now where's the other one?
2. Without digressing too much, let me briefly touch on this subject which is so awesomely opposed to our popular culture these days.  My wife and I practice what is called Natural Family Planning (NFP).  You can read about all the details elsewhere; let me just add my own personal testimony.3  For a brief time early in our marriage, we did use artificial birth control, but for the vast majority of our 8.5 years together, we've practiced NFP.  I can honestly say that you don't die by not doing it; you can be just as happy and fulfilled.  (And trust me, this is coming from a very red-blooded, American male, if you get my drift.)  

Based on our experience, I do feel that mutual abstinence does indeed build character, build mutual self respect for each other, increase understanding of the way God's made us, increase affection for each other, and help you appreciate even more the times when you don't abstain.  Plus, not using artificial birth control (or rather, being truly and actually, not just hypothetically, open to the creation of life) does enhance our relationship and our intimate time together.  In short, we find the practice of natural family planning to be a significant positive influence on our marriage.  And it does work!
3. Now John, my three-year-old son, is yanking at my arm and climbing on me (took a while to type this); ah, tickling is a good deterrent.. now the other two are attacking.. :)  Bridget, my six-year-old daughter, is dancing around and tweetling (best onomatopoeia I could come up with for it).
4. This touches, of course, on the sensitive topic of abortion (and indeed the desire to have few to no children is directly related to abortion), but that's not the focus here.  Here I'm speaking in a more generous sense of even those who would otherwise never consider abortion, and yet make the regular, conscious choice to refuse the potential life of another human being for less than serious reasons.
5.  This comes from the understanding of the true good and beauty of marriage discussed in "On the Good and 'Right' of Marriage."  See particularly the section entitled "The True Good."
6. Besides, we've all seen and heard stories of parents' painstaking planning being tossed to the wind by children who have other plans for their lives.  There's no guarantee that even those who save and have money for their children's education will see that money go to good use. 
7. And thus we see that the teaching of the Catholic Church (as is actually true of all Catholic doctrine when you truly understand it in all its beauty and truth) is a positive prescription on how to live the good life to its fullest, that is, how to have abundant life.  And I have to admit, we've inherited this from our Jewish siblings.  Scripture, especially the Psalms, regularly laud the blessing that children are, and it is not talking about them being a help on the farm, i.e., large families are not only good in agricultural societies!

Sunday, December 30, 2007 12:00:54 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, December 22, 2007

Papal Approbation of the Order of Preachers Today marks the 791st anniversary of the official establishment of the Dominican Order.  It's so cool to be a part of this ancient order, being fraternally connected to the many Dominican saints, blesseds, and regular folk like me.

Happy Birthday, Order of Preachers!  May you have thousands more!

 

Of course, just being a member of the Catholic Church, the "one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years,"1 is pretty dang cool, too. :)

Notes
1. From G.K. Chesterton's "Why I Am a Catholic," circa 1926.

Saturday, December 22, 2007 1:07:07 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, December 08, 2007

In my last post, a co-worker of mine commented on my saying "they may as well be Protestants."  It didn't occur to me at the time how this might be interpreted by, of course, Protestants.  The point, in that context, was directed at those who think themselves to be "true Catholics" (those traditionalists who, above all, would not want to be identified as Protestants) but who end up being, by their protestations of the last ecumenical council, the Second Vatican Council, end up becoming Protestants themselves. 

You see (I've thought about this a fair bit, being a convert from Protestantism), I think the thing that truly separates a Protestant from a Catholic is a basic mindset, the mindset that sets itself up as the final arbiter and authority on truth.  In other words, it is a manifestation of the original sin of pride based on the original temptation for us to "be like God who knows what is good and what is bad," (Gen 3:5) that is, what is true and false.  Such a mindset, even if well-intentioned, is at the heart of all Protestation of God's authority, from Lucifer to Eve to Adam to us.  Of course, it is for God alone to judge our hearts, to impute, and to forgive our guilt, and he is a just and merciful judge.1

This post is a kind of expansion on how this mindset relates to being a part of the Church.  I have no delusions that these musings will "convert" anyone.  Just take them as my own personal reflections for what they're worth.  They revolve around my meditations on one of the mysteries of the rosary.  It's written to Christians, so I am writing from those presuppositions.

Introit

The Crowning with Thorns

    Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And
     kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!'  -- Matthew 27:29

The third sorrowful mystery is the crowning with thorns.  Lately while meditating on this mystery, I keep having the idea of the Church (the invisible, spiritual body of all Christians) in my mind.  The Church is a wonderful thing; it is sometimes called the body, sometimes the bride, of Christ.  It is a thing that honors and proclaims the majesty and dominion of Christ, the King of the universe.  In that way, it is a crown, which is a symbol, a proclamation of regal authority and power.

But I think it is a fractured crown, broken into many pieces, divided asunder by the arrogance and pride of many.  There is the Great Schism that has divided the eastern church from the west, and of course there is Protestantism and its many divisions.  But even before that, since the beginning (as attested to by the letters of St. Paul), there have been those who sow discord and cause division--even those who think they are doing the right thing and truly think they are following God's will.

So I see this fractured crown that we call the Church, a thing that despite itself is indeed a herald of Jesus' Kingship.  I see Jesus the King, bloodied, beaten, and scourged, being crowned, but instead of the crown being the thing of beauty and awe that it should be, it is this broken thing, disjointed, full of jagged edges and being driven down onto the head of the King of the universe, the splinters biting deep into His skin, tearing it, and scratching against His skull. 

Rather than being an occasion for joy, the crowning is an occasion for sorrow because what should be whole, smooth, unified, and undivided, is instead shattered, jagged, split, and divided.  This is the image of the Church today--the crown of thorns.  It is still a messenger of Jesus' kingship, but it is not the thing of beauty and awe it should be.

Jesus prayed four times to the Father (in St. John's Gospel, chapter 17) that we (the Church, Christians) would be one.  But through our arrogance and pride, we have utterly failed in this, from the earliest of times.  It seems clear, based on just this prayer alone, that unity in the Church is of supreme importance to God, and it is a perfect unity--the same unity that exists between the Father and the Son--that God desires for us. 

Jesus said "that they may be one as we are one" and prayed that we "may be brought to perfection as one," so we see that it is not a superficial unity or a unity only in "essentials" (a common term by ecumenists who try to glaze over real and important differences).  There is NO division in God, and this is what God wants for the Church.

Similarly, when Jesus founded the Church upon St. Peter, he promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  Here, a few interesting things stick out to me.  First, Jesus specifically grounds the Church he is founding as something on earth.  He gives the keys of heaven to Peter, saying that what he binds and looses on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven.  It seems to me this is a foundation of a visible (earthly) Church that Peter would lead with real binding power both here on earth and in heaven.

The Church is indeed the mystical body of Christ, but it is also an earthly body.  Like us, you could say, it has a body and a soul, but the two are fundamentally one thing.  When Jesus founded the Church, he established an earthly (bodily) existence with Peter at its governor, giving him the power to bind and loose, as well as a heavenly (spiritual) existence, also governed by Peter.

Jesus, at this institution of our mutually earthy and heavenly Church, promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  In other words, the powers of hell, the domain of Satan and the fallen angels, are going to try to prevail, but they won't.  The Church will be under assault, but it will remain forever, and being a unity of body and soul (earthly and heavenly, visible and invisible), this means that the Church will stand firm on both earth and heaven under the delegated governance of Peter and that the visible Church (as well as the invisible) is inextricably and directly linked with the headship of Peter.

Since St. Peter was not to live here on earth for eternity, yet we see from the Word of God that the Church remains forever on earth and in heaven under Peter, it follows that God intended for this headship, on earth, to pass to St. Peter's successors, whom we know as bishops of Rome, popes.  Thus the visible, earthly body of the Church is that Church which is under the headship of Peter and his successors, what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church.

Now we return to the prayer of Jesus.  If it is God's will (as it is clearly revealed in St. John's Gospel) that we believers be perfectly unified (absolutely no division in body or soul), and it is God's will (as seen in St. Matthew's Gospel) that there be a perpetual Church under Peter on both heaven and earth, it follows that this perfect unity is to come about in that Church and no other.  It follows that we are to place ourselves under that headship, subordinating our personal druthers, opinions, and reasoning to the leadership that Christ established and endeavor to eliminate anything in us that damages that perfect unity that Christ so strongly desires. 

Doing this is not only an act of obedience to the King of the universe, it is an act of love.  Seeing how strongly Jesus desires that we be truly one, we should desire, if we truly love God, to fulfill his desire.  Just as a lover infatuated with his love has no other desire but to please his beloved, so we  should desire to please God.  We should be that perfect, shining, unified crown upon the head of Christ the King.

We should also, therefore, be ashamed, truly sorry, and saddened, however, that we are instead a crown of thorns.  As long as we selfishly and proudly put our own opinions, desires, and reasonings ahead of our love for Christ, our fulfillment of his desire that we be one, we will remain this crown of thorns.  It is for this reason, in part, that I have joined myself to the Church of Christ under Peter's headship.  It is not blind faith; it is wide-eyed, ferocious love for Christ that compels me to do so.  Protesting against this Church, creating division upon division against it, is not only injurious to those souls who are driven from Christ by our divisions, it is an injury to God himself.  How long will we remain this crown of thorns?

--
Given on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Year of Our Lord 2007

Notes
1. Update: In other words, I'm sure there are plenty, probably most, who do not even recognize or intend this, but it seems to me that it is at the heart of the protestant approach to the faith, even if wholly unconscious.  I tend to think that God will have mercy on those who are not aware of it (inculpably ignorant), and in any case, I don't make such judgments on individuals myself! (cf. St. Matthew's Gospel 7:1ff.) 

Saturday, December 08, 2007 1:05:19 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Thursday, December 06, 2007

This is an open appeal to anyone interested in having the traditional Latin mass in the Princeton, NJ area.  The traditional Latin mass (TLM) is also known as the mass of Blessed John XXIII, the (now) extraordinary form of the Latin Rite, the Missale Romanum of 1962, Tridentine mass, and more.  With the publication of Summorum Pontificum (I know; I'm a bit late), I'd like to get in touch with anyone in the area who feels attached or maybe just is interested, priest, lay, religious, old, young, student, professional, whatever.  My hope is that there will be enough interest in the area to organize time at least once a week where the extraordinary form could be celebrated.

When I was living in Tulsa, OK, I had the blessing of an FSSP parish.  In fact, the pastor was Fr. George Gabet, who went on to become the North American District Superior of the FSSP.  Although my family decided to return to Holy Family Cathedral while we were still in Tulsa, I've never lost my appreciation for the TLM.  It can have a certain beauty and mystery that seems to not be as common in the ordinary form in the vernacular.  Especially the high mass with the chant, the asperges, the incense, the vestments, the silence, the celebration ad orientem, and (to a small degree) the Latin itself have a quality that is transcendent and mysterious that you just don't get normally.

Traditional Latin Mass
[Courtesy of OKC Latin Mass Community]

Now, unfortunately, there are those who use the extraordinary form as an opportunity to promote dissension and disunity, some to the point that they may as well be Protestants (in the plain sense).  Despite my appreciation for the older form of the mass, I am not one of those nor do I wish to encourage that by petitioning for the Latin mass in my area.  I am one of those "young persons too [who] have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist particularly suited to them."  I, with the Holy Father Benedict, hope that "the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching."1

If you're interested or know of one in the area, please drop me a line; you can use the contact feature on the right or comment on this entry.  Pax vobiscum!

Notes
1. Both quotes from H.H. Benedict XVI's letter to bishops with Summorum Pontificum.

Thursday, December 06, 2007 11:48:43 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, November 13, 2007

[Sorry 'bout the title; I couldn't help it. :)] 

The weekend of 3 November was an important weekend for me.  Apart from getting some great, seasonal family (pictured below) photos with Hussey Photography, on Saturday, the feast of St. Martin de Porres (a Dominican brother), I was received into the Dominican Order as a lay Dominican. 

Clan Little Goofing Around
[This is what we normally look like. :)]

Believe it or not, I've been trying to write this post for over a week now, agonizing over the right way to write or even if I should write it at all.  I want to avoid repeating what is written elsewhere1 about Dominicans, and particularly lay Dominicans, even though I feel like explaining just about every other term I use because it's pretty unfamiliar to us everyday folk (and because I just like explaining things).

You see, I want to explain (told ya!) why I joined the Dominican Order, but it's kind of hard to do without using religious or Catholic jargon, but then when I start explaining the jargon, I find myself reiterating what one can find by looking into these other online resources.  When it comes down to it, I did it because I think it is what I am supposed to do; I believe it is what God wants me to do.  We call it a vocation (a calling).  It's not a club or cult or simple study group.  It is a way to a more perfect life, the life of perfection and holiness to which we are all called and for which we have all been created.  It's a peculiar way of living towards that end.

It's peculiar in the Dominican love of truth and the expression of that through study, contemplation, and sharing that with others (preaching), and that's why the Dominican Order is actually called the Ordo Praedicatorum (Order of Preachers).  "Preaching" is meant in the broader sense of proclaiming, not just from a pulpit.  Perhaps what Dominicans do was best put by St. Thomas Aquinas, an early Dominican: contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere, which means to contemplate and to pass on to others what is contemplated.

I don't know why; it's certainly no doing of my own, but I have a love of truth.  I think it's been with me my whole life, but it became more pronounced in college, and it is what led me to become Catholic.  I have an inkling that its something God instilled in me, and that's partly why I feel called to the Order of Preachers, even if only as a layman (since my first vocation is to marriage and fatherhood).

Local Friars Praying for Departed Dominicans at Dominican Cemetary on Dominican All Souls Day, Nov. 8th, 2007
[Local Friars Praying for Departed Dominicans at Dominican Cemetery in D.C. on Dominican All Souls Day, Nov. 8th, 2007]

For some time now, I've considered becoming Dominican.  I first thought about it back when I lived in Tulsa, OK, not long after I became Catholic.  But at the time, it took a long time to find a local chapter (community), and when I found one, it was about hours away.  So not only would it have been troublesome, but it just didn't seem like the thing to do at the time, so I let it go.

Four Brothers Making Final/Solemn Profession on 10 Nov. 2007
[Four Brothers Making Final/Solemn Profession on 10 Nov. 20072]

I didn't really think much about it for a long while after that, until Mrs. dotNetTemplar got me a small book last Christmas called How to Be a Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job.  That book, though intended to invite folks toward becoming Benedictine Oblates, renewed my latent interest in the Dominican Order, so I went online, found 3op.org, read up on it again, and it just seemed like it was the right time to pursue it further, so I got in touch and started attending the St. Catherine of Siena (a 14th century lay Dominican--yeah, the Dominican Order was established 800 years ago!) chapter in Philly, which meets once a month for prayer, mass, study, and sometimes, apostolate (thus bringing together the four pillars of Dominican life).

That made me what they call an "aspirant," which is basically someone who's checking it out, and it's a time for the Dominicans to get to know you, too.  At some point along the line, I became a postulant, which basically means you're intending to join but you are still in the getting-to-know-you phase.  At the end of the postulancy, if everything checks out on both sides, you can be received, and that's what happened to me on the 3rd.  I got the habit (which, for us lay folk, is the Dominican scapular), received the Rule, and professed my intention to live like a lay Dominican.3

Now I'm a novice, a n00b. :)  I'm officially Dominican, even if only a novice, but apart from not being able to vote or hold office, I'm fully a lay Dominican.  After a year, I make temporary profession, which is a three-year promise to live as a lay Dominican, and after that, I make a perpetual profession, which is a lifelong promise to do the same.  Of course, the point of the graduated promises is to make sure that it's the right thing for me (we call it discernment), so at any point up to the perpetual profession, there's still an easy exit route.  It is a real commitment, not as binding as marriage or religious vows, but a serious commitment, so that's why there's the period of discernment.

Anyhoo, I'm pretty pumped.  Being received actually had more of an effect on me than I anticipated; I expected to feel pretty much the same as before, but I don't.  I really feel a part of the Order, and I feel a renewed interest and strength to pursue the vocation.  It's just the beginning, but I feel really good about it.  I'm looking forward to continuing and doing more praying, studying, and sharing the fruits of all that.

Pax vobiscum!  [Peace be with you all!]

Notes
1. For instance, the official site of the Dominican Order, the vocations Web site here in my province, and that of the lay Dominicans in the eastern US, which I think is one of the best resources for learning about lay Dominicans.  Oh, by "lay" we just mean not ordained or consecrated, which basically means not a deacon, priest, bishop, or what most of us think of as monks and nuns (it's a bit more involved than that, though).
2. It should be noted that the brothers here and above are consecrated, not lay, brothers.
3. This basically means according to rules #8-10 of our Rule.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 12:45:44 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Tuesday, May 29, 2007

As a subscriber to First Things and Touchstone, I know that musings upon the compatibility or incompatibility of Christian faith with evolutionary theory are not in short supply.  Neither, of course, are the unceasing dialectics on the truth or falsity of evolution, including all the usual suspects and alternatives.  But this may come as a surprise to those who only follow these topics as flare ups occur in the national media--there are no assertions being made in these thoughtful magazines that Catholics, or any Christians, must adhere to literal creationism.

The authors writing for these magazines are well-known names in general (the Pope himself wrote a recent article, as well as Supreme Court Justice Scalia), and First Things in particular hosts some of the icons in the evolutionary debate.  These aren't oddball nobodies, and I only say that to quell any imaginations that the voices in these magazines are on the sidelines--these are people of note and, in many cases, authorities in the fields upon which they're opining.

The most recent discussions have been around the feasibility of the formal notion of "intelligent design," which as I understand it revolves around arguments against chance-based evolution due to irreducible complexity in organsims, such as the eye.  One may note in this that it is not an argument against all evolution, nor is it an argument for literal (seven literal days as in the biblical account) creationism.  I am not going to say much more on the details of the theory because I'm not qualified and would probably get it wrong anyways.  My point is simply that there are respectable Christian positions in the evolutionary debates that are not the oft-touted literalist creationism.

This came up recently for me at work.  We were brainstorming ideas for visualizing something, and the idea of evolution came into play, so I tossed out, half-joking, that we should show a fish crawling out of water and turning into a monkey or something like that.  Rather joltingly, a co-worker blurted out "hey, I thought you didn't believe in that," to which I, dumbfounded that my beliefs were brought up in that context but more annoyed at the misconception of my beliefs, just stared, smiled, and moved on.

Being busy like we are, I had to set it aside and just focus on what needed to be done, but now that I have the luxury to propound what I actually believe (in what I think is a proper medium and place for such exposition), let me say that Christian faith does not presuppose literal creationism.  In fact, it doesn't even preclude strict evolutionary theory, biologically speaking.

This message still seems newsworthy; the popular misconception of the Christian being the ostrich with his head in the sand in regards to evolution (and science in general) is still in force, as evidenced by my co-worker's remark.  This doesn't surprise me; I still recall reading the headline "Pope Says Evolution Compatible with Faith" back at university in 1996 (before I became Catholic myself).  It made an impression on me because I was in fact raised in the milieu that evolution is inimical to the faith, so there is definitely some truth to the stereotype.  Plus, the literal creationists tend to be the ones who make the most noise and controversy, which is likely why the stereotype exists and persists.  So I have to be patient and understanding with those who hold the stereotype, but I also want to do what I can to dispel it--to make some noise of my own.  Sadly, "Catholic Software Creator Says Evolution Compatible with Faith" doesn't promise to make much noise, but I can try.   

As this article mentions, Catholicism has long been reconciled to the possibility of an evolutionary biological mechanism in nature.  Despite the ever-popular sensationalizing of the Inquisition and the Church's treatment of Gallileo, Catholicism has a very positive view of reason and science.  Philosophy and learning have ever been a bulwark of Catholic (Christian) faith. 

For example,  St. Justin Martyr, an early second-century Christian (as in less than 100 years after the Christian Church was founded), championed the idea that there is truth and wisdom to be found in non-Christian learning.  He specifically builds on St. John the Apostle's (the disciple of Jesus and author of several New Testament books) description of Jesus as the "Word" (i.e., Logos, which is Greek for the faculty of reasoning) of God, the Word made flesh.  This passage has been the basis for much deep theological reflection over the milennia, and St. Justin is just one of the earliest examples of the friendship of Christian faith and reason.

One only has to lightly peruse a book on the Fathers of the Church, the discussions and resolutions of Church councils, or a handbook on medieval scholasticism to see that from its very origins and consistently throughout its 2000-year history, Christian faith has been deeply rational and embracingly friendly to learning.  The first universities were Catholic, and many of the greatest thinkers throughout Western history have been Catholic, including several of our current Supreme Court justices.

The exceptions to this friendship have occurred only when there is a perceived threat to the faith, and in those cases, it is not a fear of science per se but rather a sincere and generally well-founded concern for souls.  While I think it is true that this concern was misdirected and even abused at times, the point remains that it is not a general enmity for science or learning that animates those actions we see as negative but rather an overreaching of the pastoral impulse--to protect souls at all costs, even at the cost of the body or of freedom.  It is hard to understand the medieval mind on this point because our society today is different in very dramatic ways,  but that particular point is subject enough for multiple books (and numerous books have indeed been written, such as Characters of the Inquisition). 

The issue here is that even the sensationalist examples that are usually used to support the assertion that Christianity (and, in particular, the Catholic Church) are anti-rational, anti-science, and/or anti-learning are just not true.  In fact, they're patently false, at least for Catholicism.  There are some branches of Christianity, particularly the the Protestant fundamentalist ones, that may live up to the stereotype, but the vast majority of Christianity (in general) and Catholicism, specifically, embraces and has embraced learning that does not directly come from Divine Revelation.

The point at which we depart from a secular approach to learning is the point at which it becomes irreconcilable with Divine Revelation.  And it is, in fact, this point which is the crux when a Christian is bound to deny some scientific theory.  Evolution in particular has long been bound up with an underlying materialist philosophy, and it is this philosophy, rather than the biologicial theory of evolution, that a Christian should reject.  The essential problem of the materialist evolutionary philosophy is the underlying assertion that "this is all there is," i.e., that the material world is all there is, that there is no spiritual reality and, correspondingly, no Supreme Spiritual Being (God).

The popular view of evolution is imbued with this theory, and that is why there has been (and remains to be) so much debate between Christians and non-Christians around evolution (excepting, of course, the literal creationists, who object to anything but a literal interpretation of the creation account).  Those who believe in evolution are stereotypically also materialists because, theoretically, evolutionary processes free one from having to believe in a creator.  If we are, after all, just the product of chance mutations over millions of years, what need have we for a God to have created us?  This thinking extends into cosmology where the study of physics enables us to theorize about a universe that either always has been and/or continually recreates itself.  Freed from a physical or biological need for God, those who desire to reject Him now seemingly have a scientific basis to do so.

Historically, Christians have (and rightly so to some extent) seen these scientific theories as inimical to Christian faith.  The key lies in disentangling the materialist philosophy from the biological theory of evolution and from theories pertaining to the formation of the cosmos.  Inasmuch as a theory does not entail the rejection of Christian faith (which does include God's creation of the cosmos, including humans), Christians are free to believe it.

In the case of evolution, if you don't read the creation account strictly literally, it is conceivable that God could have created the world and in a manner that accords with the theory of evolution, i.e., using natural mechanisms that he built into the fabric of the universe.  The key moment of creation, inasmuch as man is concerned, comes with God's "breathing life" into us. 

It is in fact oddly believable that God did use evolution, allowing our human form to develop until the point at which he imbued us with spiritual life.  This would explain the seemingly sudden generation of civilization from what we think of as pre-history.  It could allow for the development of other physically similar, human-like species that ultimately died out.  The creation account certainly follows something of an evolutionary account from the creation of the cosmos, to the formation of the earth, to the growth of vegetation, to the animal life originating in the seas, then the air, then on land, and then ultimately humans whom he gave the "breath of life." He did not breathe on the other creatures that were also alive, so clearly the creationary moment for man was not the giving of physical life but of spiritual, and it is this that makes us different from the animals--our spiritual, God-like (we were made "in his image") nature.

Divine Revelation is even less specific about the creation and nature of the universe, so many of the theories about the universe that cosmology proposes are acceptable--as long as the universe can ultimately be held to be a creation of God.  I think we could even say that a universe that keeps recreating itself in time could be synthesized with Christian faith because there is still room for God to have set this self re-creation in place.  Even an eternal universe could be conceived of as long as the quality of "eternal" is understood to mean existing as long as time has existed.  In other words, it is possible to conceive of God's eternal nature to be such that he existed prior to the creation of time, that he is "eternal" in the sense that he is outside of time so that temporal terminology and thinking doesn't apply (is absurd) when speaking of him apart from how he interacts with time as a created thing.  Thus in one sense of the word "eternal" (existing as long as time has existed and continuing to exist as long as time does) the universe could be eternal without denying that God created that concept and reality of "eternal" because he himself is "eternal" in the since that he exists outside of time.

The point is not so much to theorize about what is or is not the truth in terms of the creation of the universe and man but rather to illustrate how Christians can faithfully accept what science has to offer.  I should note that although Christian faith can be compatible with evolution and theories about the universe in general, we are under no compulsion to adhere to any of these particular scientific theories. 

I am often amazed at what seem to be boundless extrapolations (from the specifics of dinosaurs to evolution to the creation of the universe), but I am more amazed that popular society seems to accept them all without any critical thinking.  I for one remain non-committed to these theories; I retain the same healthy skepticism for them that many reserve for propositions about God. 

For me, God is much more real, more verifiable than the theory of evolution or the big bang, and I also happen to think that my relationship (or lack thereof) with God has a much greater potential impact on my personal happiness (and those around me).  Therefore, I think it is a far better use of my time to invest in my spiritual life than worrying about whether or not I share 97% of my genes with a chimp.  Seems logical and reasonable to me. :)

To wrap things up, Christian faith is not at enmity with reason or even with material science--it cannot be--because, as St. Justin Martyr highlighted, truth is truth and can be found outside of Divine Revelation in non-Christian philosophy and the material sciences.  Where there is truth, we should embrace it.  Where it seems to conflict with our faith, we should strive to understand how it does not.  Science, when understood correctly, can only serve to enhance our faith, for as our understanding of the amazing complexity and beauty of the material world increases, so should our amazement at and love for our Creator increase.   Our faith should complement and enhance our learning.  Like cocoa without sugar is bitter, so is learning without faith (Eccl. 1:18; a.k.a., "ignorance is bliss").  However, when we combine faith with our learning, we get something joyous, sweet, and delicious.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9:43:01 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I don't watch the news.  I figure what's important will filter down to me through one avenue or another, and it generally does (as far as I know hehe).  Recently, Pope Benedict XVI made a comment in a university lecture that has caused quite the controversy.  Naturally, the controversy wasn't intended, and the Holy Father, numerous bishops, and other Church officials have quickly done what they can to calm the situation down.

It appears that, as is often the case in such brouhahas, words were taken out of context, causing much consternation in the Muslim world and, possibly, even some violence on its account, such as the murder of a missionary nun in Somalia.  Although I know I shouldn't, I still am dumbfounded and in disbelief when confronted with such inhumanity and evil as a group of individuals who would gun down a woman who has devoted her life to relieving ill and suffering around the world.

It does make one wonder if the words of the Byzantine Emperor that the Pope was quoting did not have some truth to them.  Looking at the startling acts of violence, inhumanity, and yes, evil, perpetrated in the name of Islam (such as 9/11, the London bombings, not to mention those in the Middle East) and those acts which have been thwarted (such as the shoe explosive, recent liquid explosives, and more that we probably don't know about), outsiders such as myself are forced to wonder if the central message of Islam is not such evil and inhuman activity.  And then a senseless and violent killing in Somalia only serves to harden such suspicion.

Yet despite all of this evidence, forgetting the unknown, countless lives tossed aside during the jihads that spread Islam across the Middle East, Africa, Turkey, and Persia in the first milennia, let us with good faith assume that the Emperor was not right (though surely he was more learned on the subject than I).  Let us assume that there is some new good that Muhammed brought to religion.  Even so, the point at issue is still a matter of lack of context.

The Holy Father was quoting the Emperor not as an endorsement or affirmation but as an illustration.  He even says that we are "astounded" at the Emperor's "brusqueness."  Pope Benedict continues, as Manuel II Paleologus reportedly does, showing that this is a hyperbole leading into a discussion about the incompatibility of violence with the nature of God (and reason).  I've read the whole text, and while it isn't immediately obvious how the consideration of the Emperor's remarks fit into the greater dialogue other than, as the Pope says, "a starting point," it does fit with the broader theme of giving reason a greater place in human affairs, both in religion and faith and in the university, which these days has tended to want to limit reason to scientific thought stemming from Cartesianism and empiricism.

I believe the parallel between the reference to Islam and the reference to the developments in modern thought is that in both reason and God are seen to be somewhat, if not wholly, incompatible.  With Islam, as His Holiness expounds, there are developments which say that faith is something other than and often in contradiction to reason; such a stance makes believing that conversion by the sword an acceptable means because reason is opposed to violence.  The Holy Father also notes similar developments by some in the modern Christian tradition, so we see that it is not simply a criticism of Islam on this count.

Similarly, the modern scientific worldview sees anything that is not mathematical or empirically observable and verifiable as suspect, subjective, or wholly false, not in line with what is perceived as "reason."  In both cases, the Holy Father is advocating a wider understanding of reason and its applicability to religion and faith--that there are valid, useful, indeed critically important modes of reason outside of the mathematical and empirical, that the mathematical and empirical depend on these, and that reason is in accord with them and with God's nature.

Thus we see a dual consideration: on the one hand, a critique of those who would push reason out of the sphere of faith and on the other those who would push faith out of the sphere of reason, leaving them as disparate spheres of life, more often than not in conflict.  This is not the Catholic (read, historically Christian) way of understanding the relationship between reason and faith, and it is a greater understanding of and appreciation for the interdependence of faith and reason that the Pope is advocating, seeking more open and rational dialogue on both fronts.

All that said, I must say that I think the point could have been made without restating the controversial quip from Manuel II, but there I think we simply see the intellectual side of the Holy Father--the university professor who curiously relates how reading a text struck him and what it made him think of.  Given the context of the address (a university lecture), this seems wholly likely.

It is highly unfortunate that this has been blown out of proportion and taken out of context, even to the point of violence.  Hopefully, Muslims will see this as an opportunity to prove the Emperor wrong and make the noise of the good in Islam louder than the noise of those who would continue to try to spread and defend Islam through violence.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 10:27:45 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [6]  | 
# Sunday, April 30, 2006

Commenting on a recent entry, Stanley asked me about why the Catholic Church has historically used censorship, citing the case of the naming of the canon of Scripture (as specifically excluding other books, such as the so-called Gospel of Judas and others that did not make it into the canon). 

The New Testament canon is, remarkably, something that Protestants and Catholics agree upon.  Its formation is outlined here in more detail than I am qualified to provide.  The council that most cite is either that of Hippo (393) or Carthage (397) as the official formation of the canon, but, as the referenced artice makes clear, the canon was more or less formed long before that.  The Gospels, in particular, were settled long before then; as the article puts it, "the patristic testimonies have brought us step by step to a Divine inviolable fourfold Gospel existing in the closing years of the Apostolic Era."

That quote hints at the Catholic principle on the formation of the canon of Scripture, namely, the doctrinal witness of Tradition, which is the deposit of the faith left to us by Jesus and his Apostles, passed on through history by the witness of their successors, the bishops of the Church.  This is why I just laugh (and am bothered) when the TV shows make inflammatory statements about "new gospels" that "will change Christianity forever."  I just don't get it.  These "new gospels" were around back then (and in greater numbers than are extant today) and did not make it into the canon then, so while I value their historical significance, that's all it is, historical (not spiritual or religious).

Perhaps the reason that they're seen as so potentially important, revolutionary, or threatening is that there is a perception that censorship in the Church was done by power-and-money-seeking hierarchs, as is constantly suggested by the popular media in movies such as the recent movie The Order, in which the "gospel of Jesus" is rediscovered as well as the centuries old plot to conceal it because it offers credence to the popular notion that organized religion is unnecessary.

This and virtually all other recent flicks that involve the Catholic hierarchy paint them as the most nefarious powergrubbing politicians ever to walk the earth.  And this, of course, is why the Church had the Index of forbidden books and supposedly suppressed the reading of Scripture, much less the gnostic gospels.  These are the same reasons that the Church at times tries to conceal the weakness of its leaders, or so the implications go.  Of course, The Da Vinci Code is just one more in a long line of such fiction to impugn the reputation of the Catholic Church.

While I certainly don't view the history of the Church through rose colored glasses--I am fully ready to see and admit the many failings of Christian leaders through the ages, including St. Peter himself who denied Jesus three times--I also certainly don't see the entire (or even majority of) Catholic hierarchy as corrupt as they are so often painted.  My personal experience, my studies, and my watching of current events teach me that the vast majority are more or less (usually more) good men who are living their vocation to lead the Church as well as they are able.  And without a doubt they have the best intentions (as a whole) of the Church at heart.

And it is this, in fact, that is and has been the primary motivation behind the various attempts in Church history to smooth over the rough spots where it can and to even censor.  Namely, it is out of a care for souls, which is their vocation.  The bishops and priests are (and see themselves as, one hopes) our spiritual fathers.  That's why we call them father.  As such, they are bound to protect us in as much as they can in paternal care. 

As my children grow older (my oldest is five now), I increasingly gain a sense of this paternal instinct and care, particularly in relation to what my children are exposed to.  How many of us would defend the "right" of our children to view pornography, senseless, graphic, and brutal violence, profanity, or anything else that we think would be damaging to them?  Even our secular nation has an enforced rating system that prevents just this thing.  Is that not censorship?  It is, but we do it for a good reason.

This is precisely the same motivation behind censorship and "cover-ups" by the Catholic Church.  We may disagree with the principal that they are our spiritual fathers (and all that it implies), but that doesn't change the truth that this is how they and we (should) perceive their vocation.  The desire to avoid scandal is the same.  True, there are cases where individuals have probably let their own pride be a more motivating factor than care, but overall, the principal is sound.  This has been proven to be true in the fallout from the recent sex scandals.  There has been a dramatic damage to the faith of many. 

There are many these days, many Catholics and even bishops included, who now seem to think that people have a "right" to know everything, that somehow this helps them.  The popularity of shows like Dateline further emphasize this--people think they need to be informed of everything that could potentially affect them.

In truth, I would argue that this is not the case and rather that you can indeed know too much.  There is a line between wisdom and paranoia, and the more that you feed your mind with worrisome "threats" that might affect you, the more paranoid and disfunctional you can become.  Some people can deal with it; others can't.  But I digress.

The point is simply that it is out of a care of souls, a desire that faith and hope not be damaged due to either the weakness of others or of the individuals themselves, that is the primary motivator for such actions.  Most people do not in fact take sufficient time to form their conscience to make the right decisions, and even when we do, we have many non-rational implulses that pull us away from the truth.

For better or worse, we are now living in a society where such pastoral control is really not possible.  The Church can still try to avoid scandal, but it is much harder due to the exponential growth in the freedom of information provided by the mass media and the internet.  Now, in fact, it would almost be unwise to try to conceal potentially scandalous facts because their latter revelation, coupled with their attempts at concealment, only make the scandal worse. 

This is why, I think, the bishops have adopted a much more transparent stance in the wake of the sex scandals.  The fact that sex abuse was kept in house, so to speak, is not really that impactful on the reality of the sex abuse problem--there are many, far more influential factors that allowed it to become the immense issue that it became.  But it is evident that in these post-post-modern days, any attempt at pastorally motivated shielding from scandal will likely only lead to greater scandal because the popular sentiment is that such covering up of sin can only be for bad reasons, which is, in my opinion, manifestly not the case.

So the change in approach is, as I see it, not guilty political maneuvering but rather a frank realization that it is more pastorally wise to do so.  And that is why I think the Church has acted in the way it did in the past and why it has changed the way it acts to meet the changing nature of the society in which it is a part.

Sunday, April 30, 2006 8:54:55 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Saturday, April 29, 2006

I just updated this site to the latest version of dasBlog.  Many, many thanks to Scott for helping me out with getting it (given that I am a total noob to CVS and, apparently, picked a bad time to start since SF was having issues).  Most notably (that I know of), this version incorporates using Feedburner, which I guess is the latest and greatest for distributing your feed and lowering bandwidth usage, though I'm sure there are some other goodies in there.

Anyhoo, let me know if you suddenly start running into any problems with my blog.  Have a good un!

Saturday, April 29, 2006 2:19:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Part of the common "wisdom" these days seems to be that religion and religious feeling are a bad thing.  Don't believe me?  When was the last time you heard someone say "I'm not religious about it"?  I'll wager that not much time has passed since you last heard a statement to that effect.  The speaker intends to say that he is not irrationally attached to the idea, equating, implicitly, irrationality and negativity with religious sentiment.  

I trust I need not rehash the bad rap that religion, particularly "organized religion," gets these days.  You can see it all over the media, in film, magazines, television, etc.  If an established religion is involved, particularly a Christian one such as Catholicism, the "organized" aspect of it is villified.  Religion is a byword in our society today.  Any attempt at its intrusion in public life is met with suspicion (at best) and often outright hostility.

And who are these who demonize religion?  Certainly there are the active atheists, but more often than not, it is your neighbor, or maybe even you.  After all, everybody knows that if you get "religious" about something, it is not going to end well, right?  I mean, everybody knows that lots of people have been killed and tortured for religious reasons, no?  Religion is a disease of the brain that prevents humans from thinking rationally, or so seems to be the presupposition these days.

So how about we just take a few seconds to think about history and religion?  Hmm.. we have the Crusades, the Inquisition, the 30-Years War (and other bloodiness surrounding the Reformation), and.. and.. hmmm.. Dang, I've flat run out of stock examples of how religion is so terrible.  Sure, there are the odd one-offs here and there you hear about, but this is pretty much the stuff of it that so permeates our consciousness today.  Strangely (or not so strangely), these are the same stock arguments that have been bandied about since the so-called Enlightenment.  Let's take a closer look.

The Crusades.  What can we say about them?  A lot, actually.  A lot more than the squishy tale of romance and vacuous "spiritual" comraderie displayed in the "Kingdom of Heaven."  In fact, I recommend a good and, more importantly, short book on them by the accomplished historian Thomas Madden.  In fact, you can read a short summary article treating the same topic here.  Read it, you might be surprised.

The Inquisition.  The mere word strikes disgust and fear into your heart, right?  Well, before you go swallowing mythology hook, line, and sinker, you should check out this article by Thomas Madden and, if you have more time, maybe take a gander at this book, Characters of the Inquisition, by William Thomas Walsh.  Brief summary: The Inquisition was a good thing for its time.  You don't even have to be Catholic to think so, if you'll just look into the facts and how it was a civilizing and taming influence in otherwise extremely brutal times.

The Reformation and ensuing atrocities such as the 30-Years War.  Now for these, I'd actually grant that there's a lot of bad stuff being perpetrated in the name of religion.  But the key phrase is "in the name of religion."  I won't argue against a lot of really, really bad things being done in the name of religion, but, uh, that don't make religion bad, it makes it abused.  I'd actually argue that the reason religion has gotten such a bad rap in all that is a direct result of the destabilizing and modernizing effect that the so-called Reformation had on Western society.  I'd further suggest that the only reason such atrocities have taken place in the name of religion in the four to five hundred years leading up to the 20th century is precisely because Western man was unlearning religion, particularly Catholic, Christian religion. 

The Reformation gave a carte blanche to European powers and principalities to do whatever they darn well pleased, without having to worry about the checks and balance of religious corrective exercised through the Catholic Church (as in, e.g., the Inquisition, interdicts, excommunications, etc.).  The more freed from any answer to a "higher power" that the rulers became, the more brutal and bloody things became.  This is not to say that bad things were not done by Catholic rulers as well during (and before) this time, but, like the Crusades, these were first and foremost defensive postures, reacting (and overreacting) to the new threat that Protestantized monarchs posed.  And of course, Catholics were fighting amongst themselves long before this for reasons having nothing to do with religion (they shared the same one, after all); this isn't to claim that churching culture makes men perfect but rather that unchurching culture makes them far worse or at least far more susceptible to being bad.

But if you think all the mess of the Reformation is bad, consider the absolute bloodiness of the French Revolution.  Under the guise of folks like Robespierre (whom I had the "opportunity" to do a paper on in school), these "supremely rational" people unleashed an unholy terror on their own countrymen, bathing the country in blood in the name of reason.  Yes, that's right; the French Reformation was all about "enlightenment" and "reason."  And lets not stop there.  Who was the French emperor of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that stomped all over the European continent?  Was it a religious fanatic that spilled the blood of countless thousands in the name of Enlightenment goals like public education?  No, it was a self-appointed dictator of the Enlightened world, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Did it stop there?  No, as world leaders became more and more distant and divorced from Christian rule, things progressively got worse.  Witness the many continuing continental wars of the 19th century with nothing more than national and empirical ambition as its goal.  Witness the explosion of the British Empire that ruthlessly subjugated more peoples across the world than history had yet seen for nothing more than financial gain.

Oh and now we move on to the worst record in human history in terms of how humans have treated other humans.  The 20th century saw more bloodshed than all previous centuries combined, or so I've heard.  Was it in the name of religion?  No, rather, it was in the name of secular, materialistic philosophies such as facism and communism.  We see the blatant attempt at exterminating an entire race of people, along with anyone else not meeting an atheistic conception of the perfect man as well as those who would stand up for the targets of extermination (namely, members of organized Christian religions).  Let's also not forget the bequeathment of that philosophy that so many rational, liberal, academic people coddled--communism.  Far more have been killed in the name of that philosophy than Hitler ever dreamed of (well, maybe he did dream of it).  Both of these philosophies are completely divorced of Christian religious power. 

Now, who is it that is seen as probably the most influential person in bringing communism to an end?  Many say it was John Paul the Great.  In many documentaries and commentaries following his death, none especially Catholic in name or nature, I heard of his unwavering resistence to communism and the dramatic role he played in its fall. 

And so we see the true nature of religion:  arguably the most organized religion in world history has consistently tried to act as a check to the powers of this world, reminding them of their duties to mankind and trying to enforce those duties when it could.  The worst periods of violence in human history were made possible by the utter elimination of this religious power, the only power that strives to act in the name of something higher than itself, the only power that truly believes (and has a basis for believing) that we, as humans, have distinct and undeniable dignity and rights that flow from an Absolute Source.

So the next time you're tempted to diss religion, think on these things.  The next time you are tempted to laugh or cheer when somebody takes a pot shot at organized religion, think again.  Religion, if one approaches history with an open mind, has a track record of an undeniably positive effect on human nature, both on the individual and in public life.  The facts are there folks if you're willing to see them.  As Jesus said, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 1:51:34 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Monday, April 24, 2006

Not long ago, I polled subscribers as to what they're interested in.  There seemed to be a fairly even divide between what I'll roughly call Technical posts and Non-Technical posts.  In fact, my goal with this blog is to be a blend of those two general categories.  At the same time, as much as it hurts to admit it, I know that some folks really don't care about my opinions on non-technical matters.  So it struck me (some time ago, actually; I've just been lazy) to create two general categories using the creative taxonomy of Technical and Non-Technical. 

Why?  This is because dasBlog (and most other blog systems, I imagine) allow you to subscribe to category-based RSS feeds as well as view posts by category.  So from this day forward, in addition to the more specific categories, I'll be marking all posts as either Technical or Non-Technical.  If all you care about is one or the other, you can just subscribe to one or the other and never be bothered with the stuff you don't care about.

You can view/subscribe to the feeds using the feed icon next to each category in the list (of categories).  Here are direct links as well:

Technical

Non-Technical

I hope this helps!

Monday, April 24, 2006 10:28:33 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, December 10, 2005

I was prompted recently to write some thoughts about Christmas and what I think it means as a Catholic living in America.  The reason I think it's important to mention that I'm American is that Christmas has taken on a lot of popular American traditions and has thus lost sight of the essentially Christian and Catholic meaning.  I think it's important to say Catholic because the Catholic tradition is what gave birth to and has developed the essential significance of this holiday.  Some traditional Protestant denominations (like Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopalian) have retained some of these Catholic vestiges, but it seems to me that Catholicism has the most to offer in understanding Christmas, both historically and theologically.  I also mention it because I speak as a convert from evangelical Protestantism, which has retained very little of the Christian significance of this holiday, and it seems to me that it is this evangelical and non-traditional Protestant culture that has most strongly shaped the popular American understanding of Christmas today.
 
If you asked most Americans today what Christmas is about, they'd likely say family, giving, and (possibly) the birth of Jesus Christ.  The more jaded might say it is all about trees, lights, and shopping.  Growing up, I witnessed a number of "put the Christ back in Christmas" campaigns, all wistfully yearning for a return to an earlier time when Christmas did not involve the other popular aspects (such as gift giving).  And I even know of some who refuse to give gifts in their family because they think it helps them to put more focus on the "real" meaning of Christmas, which of course is, at its most basic level, a celebration of the birth of Jesus.
 
But there is, at least in the Catholic tradition, much more to Christmas than that, and there are, I think, theologically sound reasons to participate in Christmas as it has developed (including the giving of gifts).  First of all, the Catholic new year starts, as far as the Church calendar is concerned, with Advent.  Advent (an Anglicized form of the Latin adventus, which roughly translates as "coming") starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas; it is a four-week period of prayer and penance during which we are called to prepare for the coming of Christ.  It has a two-fold meaning: first, symbolically, we are preparing for the first coming of Christ at his birth, the Incarnation, which is celebrated at Christ's mass (Christmas); second, really, we are preparing for the second coming of Christ, which all Christians are called to be prepared for. 
 
This is why Advent is a time of prayer and penance, and in times past, both Catholics and Orthodox celebrated it in a way similar to Lent (another penetential season leading up to Easter).  In fact, I'm told by an Orthodox friend that they still celebrate Advent with fasting, and it is a more solemn season than Lent is for them.  This is why, if you go into a Catholic church during Advent, the altar will be decorated in purple (the color of penance) as well as the priest's vestments; it is also why Advent wreaths use purple candles.  Additionally, on the third Sunday of Advent, the color of the vestments and candles are pink to symbolize a heightened sense that Christ is almost here and to lighten the penetential character a bit in celebration of that anticipation. 
 
These days most Catholics (in America at least) seem to have forgotten the penetential aspect of this season; I think it is in part due to the popular American sentiment during this time, which is anything but penetential.  It is hard to focus on penance when the culture around you is saturated with the happy-go-lucky atmosphere of "the holidays."  Of course, we should never lose site of the joyous culmination of the season, but Catholics should try to remember that in the midst of all this, we are called to prayerful penance in preparation of Christ's coming.
 
Advent is one way in which I think the Catholic understanding of Christmas is greatly enriched.  Of course, the pinnacle of Advent comes with Christmas, when we celebrate the Incarnation of God.  There is much in early Christian writings and, especially, in the East about the significance of the Incarnation.  Some have seen it as the single most significant event in human history, even more significant than, or at least as significant as, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  I don't have time to explore this topic in any depth, but to sum up, there is an ancient saying attributed to St. Athanasius (and/or St. Irenaeus, depending on whom you ask) that speaks to it: "God became man so that we might become God."  On its surface, this seems radical, but the essence is that it is by Christ's taking on humanity in the Incarnation that our likeness to God (our being created in the image of God) becomes complete, and it is only through his becoming human that the sacrifice on the Cross can be the source of saving grace for us. 
 
There is so much more to explore, theologically speaking, on this point, but I draw it out briefly to highlight that there is an ancient Christian significance that is lost in the popular, superficial acknowledgement that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus' birth.  The Nativity is only important in as much as we consider the grace that became possible through the Incarnation.  I should pause here and comment on a misconception that might occur when speaking of the Incarnation in relation to the Nativity, which is the suggestion that by thus speaking, we are implying that life begins at birth.  Obviously, though, this is not the teaching of the Church (who unequivocally teaches that life begins at conception), so one must be more reticent and simply appreciate that the Nativity provides a tangible way to reflect on the Incarnation, and that is why we meditate on the Incarnation with the Nativity.

Another point to ponder about the Nativity is that it is God's gift of himself to us and (ultimately) his gift of salvation through the Incarnation.  Because of this, I think it is good that we imitate God in celebration of that gift by giving gifts to others.  This is where I think we can see that a firmer grounding can help us to truly celebrate what is good in the holiday, even despite that this aspect has become secularized and commercialized.
 
Now, I just said "the Nativity" referring to Christ's birth; however, there is yet more significance in the "Nativity scene," as it is commonly known.  This is the portrayal of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, angels, and the wise men at the birth of Christ.  Of course, it is great in the obvious significance of recalling the historical events surrounding Jesus' birth.  But I think there is a deeper meaning to be garnered from it.  Catholics often refer to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as "the Holy Family."  It is in this Holy Family that we see God further blessing the social institution of the family.  God chose to not only become human but to become human in the context of a loving family and to grow up within that family.  During Christmas, we have a special opportunity to cherish this significance, and it adds theological depth to the common acknowledgment that "Christmas is about family."  Without the Catholic tradition of the Holy Family, one loses a rich source of grounding in the value of the family and, especially, why we should celebrate it at Christmas.

Another neat Catholic tradition in relation to the Nativity scene is the practice of not putting Jesus in the manger until Christmas.  This is a physical expression of the theological significance of Advent.  In fact, having grown up with "complete" Nativity scenes, I find it quite poignant and noticeable when Jesus is not present.  It becomes an immediate and regular reminder of the purpose of the Advent season, and it adds an extra happy ritual for Christmas when we finally get to put Jesus in the scene, further emphasizing the meaning of the celebration.

One might think we could stop there.  We did, after all, just talk about Christmas, right?  Well, another old Catholic tradition is the celebration of the "twelve days of Christmas."  These are the days from Christmas to Epiphany, which is the celebration of the finding of Jesus by the wise men.  This is the time whence we get the term "Christmastide."  It is the source of the song about the twelve days of Christmas, and Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" was set on the last night of Christmas.  During this time, American Catholics celebrate other important holy days (feasts) like the Holy Family (on the 26th), St. John (the Divine, apostle and author of John's gospel), the Holy Innocents (those slaughtered by Herod's henchmen in search of Jesus), Mary (the mother of God, celebrated on New Year's Day), and other saints. 
 
Christmas isn't just a one or two-day affair for Catholics.  It starts four weeks before Christmas and ends twelve days after with the Epiphany that the wise men had in finding him.  It's not just about the birth of Jesus, at least, saying this does not speak to the profound significance that this holiday holds for the Christian, including a season in which we are called to renewed conversion and repentance to prepare for the coming of our Lord.  It's not just about feeling good and having fun with your family; it is an essential celebration of the value of the family as shown through the Holy Family.  It's not just about running your feet off, buying gifts for people because that's what everyone does; it's about imitating God and giving of ourselves to others as he did of himself in the Incarnation.  Even the paradigm of the giver, Santa Claus, is derived from St. Nicholas (an early Christian bishop) who freely gave of himself to the poor.

We can still enjoy the season with all our fun American traditions, but I think these should be additive to the more essentially Christian significance of the holiday.  I'm thankful for becoming Catholic, learning about, and experiencing these traditions that enrich this uniquely Christian holiday.  I had many reasons for becoming Catholic.  I have many reasons for remaining so, and the Catholic experience of Christmas is just one of the ways in which I think Catholicism offers a richer understanding of the Christian faith and heritage.  You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy this holiday as I've described above, but it is certainly easier to do when it is built into the culture and history of your Christian community, and there is something to be said for the shared experience to be had in a communal celebration of these things, which I think can only fully be found in the Catholic Church.

Saturday, December 10, 2005 4:30:53 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I was just looking at my blog today and noticing some of the ads in my Google AdSense.  There are ads for some 'universal church' and ads for some 'holy bull' blog.  Seems everybody's got a beef to pick with 'organized religion' these days.  It's kind of sad that we organized folks have screwed up so much to make people think that they need to come up with something new, but the idea is actually really, really old.  Gnostics have been around since the beginning of Christianity, each sect claiming some special secret knowledge ('gnosis') that you need to be perfect or what have you.

But we know that when questioned by Pilate, Jesus boldly stated that he had said nothing in private.  His teaching had been on the hillsides, on boats, and anywhere there were people who had an ear to hear.  The very nature of Christianity is the Gospel, which is literally the good news, and Christ instructed us to not keep it hidden but to be like a beacon on a hill and the flavoring of the earth.  Christians should know that there is no secret revelation that they need. 

The Church itself is held to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures and the deposit of the faith, what St. Paul called "the traditions which [we] were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter." (II Thess. 2:15)  None of this is secret but is plain for everyone to see and hear in the Bible, the Church Fathers, Doctors, catechisms, encyclicals, pastoral letters, and so much more.  There is a public historical and doctrinal record of the Church from the earliest of times; there is an unbroken succession of bishops from the apostles to today.  Just think about it--literally, there is a physical link back to the apostles by the passing on of the ministry by the laying on of hands in ordination.

So I would not get too caught up in these new fangled organizations and individuals who claim to have some special knowledge about God that is all you need.  All of these indirectly depend upon the Church for their knowledge about God and Jesus, and what is in the Bible itself was decided by this same Church.  Without this 'organized religion', we would have no knowledge of God beyond that which the pagans have, which is, as St. Paul said, "written in their hearts."  But that would make the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Incarnation of no effect--God revealed himself first through the Law and the Prophets and later by becoming one of us, not only to redeem our human nature but also to make himself better known to us. 

This revealed knowledge of God would be unknown to us without the so-called 'organized religion' so often anathematized today.  So even these who claim we don't need organized religion contradict themselves as they partake of the knowledge of God we have from Revelation afforded by organized religion.

Similarly, I would not be too keen on new organizations claiming to be 'universal', meaning they have no creed or doctrine and 'accept' everyone.  The Catholic Church is universal, not only in name ('catholic' coming from the Greek for 'universal') but also in reality--it stretches to every part of the earth.  It is also accepting of every individual as a human being with dignity, made in the image of God, loved by God, and able to receive the grace God offers through the Sacraments. 

Accepting and loving someone does not mean you have to approve of and love everything that person does.  Somehow this is confused all too often these days, part of the post-modern, relativistic mentality so popular in our culture.  I would suggest that loving someone means more than just hugging them and saying so; it means also that you sincerely want what is best for them and that you will try to help them become the best that they can be.  Sometimes this means letting them know that what they are doing is not the best for them.

So no, no thanks.  I think I'll keep my 'organized' and 'universal' religion.  We may not be perfect, but we are trying to be.  We are trying to grow in love, joy, peace, and the other 'fruits of the Spirit', but it is a process that most of us will not complete until we enter those pearly gates and behold the face of God.  We're not happy to just be as we are--we want to be all that we can be through the grace of God.  Now doesn't that sound better than being alone or simply patting each other on the back all the time while being internally miserable?  I think so...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005 7:59:50 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Saturday, September 10, 2005

I was recently reminded of the paradox of the relativist, which is the insistent assertion that there is no objective truth, that is, truth that applies equally to everyone.  The paradox, to be painfully evident, is that one cannot say, on the one hand, that there is no objective truth while, on the other hand, claiming the objective truth that there is no objective truth. 

One could come up with any number of pithy sayings to this effect, but to say it right out may be more productive: relativism has no rational or moral grounds on which to stand and judge other ideologies.  It is self-defeating.  Essentially, it is an irrational plea against reason and truth; it is an abandonment of reason in favor of such conflicting impulses as practicality, compassion, selfishness, and humility.

Don't mistake me.  I am not saying that relativists are inherently evil or even that they're any worse, humanly speaking, from the average exclusivist.  There are plenty of good people who adhere to this philosophy, some of which are my own friends and family members.  Most people do not critically think about their philosophy—they just go with the flow. 

And the flow these days is with relativism, as is supremely evident in the mass media and just as evident in the conversation of everyday folks.  There is the implicit assumption that we cannot “judge” others’ way of approaching life (that is to say others’ philosophy), that what may be true and best for me is not true for others.  To say otherwise garners almost immediate anathema or, at the very least, shock and awe.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say that there aren’t any opportunists that use relativism for nefarious purposes.  Surely there are.  And surely there are those who, when relativism is challenged, shy away for less than laudable reasons.  After all, if I can’t tell you that what you think or how you act is not good, you can’t tell me either.  Thus, each of us gives the other a moral carte blanche to do what we will as long as we don’t hinder each other in our pursuit of pleasure.

But truly, I’d say almost any philosophy can be abused; however, abusus non tollit usum—the abuse of a thing does not nullify its proper use.  The real question for the thinking person is whether or not relativism is the best approach to life, even when it is at its best, even when it is held for praiseworthy reasons. 

This question should be applied to any philosophy, including Christianity and other religions.  How often do we hear so-called arguments against religion that ultimately boil down to abuse of it?  The answer, simply put, is almost all the time; it is rare to hear a rational argument against religion that does not hang on its abuse.  But I will not fall prey to that temptation in this essay; I will consider what is good in relativism and show how its good is not peculiar to it and how it is essentially flawed. 

Relativism is expressed in so many superficially beneficent ways as, for example, wanting to legalize same-sex marriages, wanting to exterminate any apparent endorsement of particular religions, not wanting to "judge" anyone, etc.  At its heart is a seemingly ultra-rational principle, i.e., "I might be wrong."  As an example, in response to a previous post of mine, a reader expressed concern that I might actually hold to something I consider to be objectively true; he said “the definitive tends to make me uneasy, so from my perspective, your certainty increases my uncertainty.”

I think most people who hold to relativism do so out of good will and humility to believe they might be wrong and to avoid “judging” another.  I would also wager that its popularity today is chiefly due to human history that involves people who injure and kill those who disagree with them.  Humanity has a very bad record when it comes to dealing with those that disagree with it.  And that is, while a compelling non-rational motivation, still based in the logical fallacy of abusus non tollit usum.

This historical facts—the abuse of humans at the hands of other humans—are rather an argument against relativism.  Relativism implicitly assumes that humans are innately good; otherwise, it would not follow to believe that what another believes is ipso facto good for them.  Our history shows quite unabashedly that humans are anything but innately good; it is patently clear that our nature is to be selfish at the cost of others.  So we cannot presume that another’s philosophy is okay, and once we acknowledge this, we are forced to judge others’ philosophies (and our own) to endeavor to find what is a good philosophy for us all.  And thus relativism falls flat.

Ultimately, relativism is a self-defeating philosophy that no rational person should cling to.  Any attempt to rationally think about it and apply it causes innumerable contradictions, and the goods that make relativism so popular today, i.e., good will, charity, compassion, and humility, are goods that are promoted by other more consistent philosophies.  Indeed, there are perfectly good exclusivist philosophies that do not require the extermination of all who disagree.  Christianity, despite claims to the contrary, is one of these.

One can happily and reasonably believe in the existence of a personal God, that Jesus is who he is reported to be, that the Church is who she claims to be, and in all the consequent doctrine without being forced to believe that one must force that faith on others.  It is certainly true that some have believed that force should be used to convert others, but they are far and away a minority in Christian history.  And especially today, that belief is virtually non-existent. 

Nor is it necessary to believe that all who are not active church members are damned to hell.  Of course, this is contested by some fundamentalists today, but they are still a very small minority.  Unfortunately, this is the view that logically leads to the idea that force is acceptable because, after all, if one believes another is damned if he doesn't believe as you do, that person loses his human dignity and can therefore be treated as less than human, either to be exterminated or forcibly converted.  But the Christian Gospel is anything but that. 

Quite the contrary, one can have all the aforementioned virtues implicit in relativism, while still maintaining a rational ground to stand on.  Good will is at the heart of the Gospel.  At the Nativity of Christ, the angels proclaimed the message of peace on earth and good will to men (or to men of good will, depending on your translation).  Charity is the chief virtue of Christianity—St. Paul wrote that even if we have all the wonders of heaven and its virtues, without charity, they are empty.  Compassion is the central motivating factor in the Incarnation and ministry of Jesus, and we are called to share with Jesus in his passion (his suffering) as well as the suffering of the least of us (the poor).  Humility is also a virtue implicit in Christianity—we are all fallen human beings in need of God’s grace and all the good that we have comes from God, including our talents and abilities.

So you see that Christianity has all that commends relativism without requiring one to believe what is patently false and irrational—that what someone else believes is inherently good for them and that their beliefs are just as good as your own.

I am convinced that we must believe in something to give meaning to our lives.  This is not a desperate, irrational cry but a stark reality, for if we do not believe in something, we are merely automatons driven by our nature, no different than any other animal, plant, or protozoa.  And if we believe in something, we must believe it is better than believing in something else (or nothing) because if we did not think so, would we not believe in the something else that we considered to be better?

Truly, it seems clear that by choosing to believe in one thing over another, we are implicitly asserting that we believe it to be superior to another belief.  And if that is the case, why not say so?  Why should we falsely and irrationally claim something to the contrary?  Can we not say so without being arrogant?  I think we can.

Whether or not we are arrogant is not a matter of being exclusivist but rather in how one approaches interaction with others.  Surely we all recognize when one athlete is better than another, and often, athletes know this just as well as we do.  But that does not make them arrogant.  Demonstrating their abilities does not make them arrogant.  No, arrogance is a matter of attitude, in sports, in the workplace, and at the table of philosophical dialogue.

You can believe that your philosophy is better than mine.  In fact, you can believe that your philosophy is the best for the entire human race.  You can do this without being arrogant.  You can even attempt to demonstrate how your beliefs are best without being arrogant.  What makes you arrogant is how you do this.

Would it be arrogant for me to try to force my belief on you?  I think so.  Would it be arrogant for me to dismiss your beliefs?  Yes.  Would it be arrogant for me to make snide remarks and jokes about what you believe?  I tend to think so.  There are all kinds of ways that we can be arrogant, and in doing so, we can easily kill any productive dialogue.  But simply adhering to a set of beliefs and believing that they are the best for everyone is not arrogant.  It is logical.

So what say we stop patronizing each other and try to convince each other again that what we believe is best?  How about we quit stifling valuable, productive, and enriching dialogue?  Let’s be honest with each other and ourselves and see that we truly do believe in what we believe, and that what we believe is worth believing more than the alternatives.  But let’s also remember to do so in a spirit of good will, charity, compassion, and humility.

Saturday, September 10, 2005 3:39:02 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Sunday, July 24, 2005

It is not surprising to me that so many find the Da Vinci Code so fascinating.  People like to think that they have special knowledge, especially when that knowledge gives them license.  It is also an important thing to remember about history--it is far more important than most people give it credit.  When I was studying history in college, I was asked many times why I'd pursue that instead of something more "worthwhile," more "pragmatic."  "After all, what's so important about history--it's just something that happened a long time ago.  Who cares anyways?"

I should think that the Da Vinci Code is a perfect example of why we should care.  If you rewrite history according to your own agenda, it gives your agenda validation.  The most poignant example of this is the Nazi propaganda in WWII that convinced everyday people that Hitler and his henchmen's final solution was a good idea, based in a grand history of the Aryan race. 

The Da Vinci Code is similar in that it starts out with the presupposition that the Catholic Church is an untrustworthy, self-serving, and oppresive institution, and then the Code rewrites history to support that in order to discredit the Church, who just happens to be one of the few remaining influential forces for truth and morality in our society today.  It is a common theme, actually, as seen in most of the contemporary portrayals of the Church. 

The agenda is, of course, to lessen the influence the Church has on our society today by giving it a bad reputation.  I commented on this previously in Perpetual Absurdity.  People don't want to believe the Church because the Church tells them they can't just do anything that they want--anything that feels good.  So in order to justify and rationalize their desires to do whatever they please (and, notably, instead of confronting the issues head on through honest dialogue), they simply try to discredit the opposition by highlighting and focusing on individual personal failures or, in the case of the Code, rewriting history.  This is, of course, a logical fallacy, but it is quite effective rhetoric because most people are not disciplined or trained enough to detect it. 

In any case, I ran across a handy site today that I just had to share (and partially to make sure I don't lose track of it):

http://www.life4seekers.co.uk/TheDaVinciCode-resources.htm

For anyone who's read Da Vinci Code, I urge you to at least consider giving some of these responses a fraction of the time you gave to the Code.  If you care about truth and reality, you really should.  If you just thought the Code was a fun read and don't really buy into it, I congratulate you because that's about all the book is good for.  Oh, and it sure made the author and publishers a lot of money, so I guess that's another thing it was good for. :)

Sunday, July 24, 2005 10:23:04 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, May 12, 2005

I am often and repeatedly reminded that believing in God does not make someone a good person.  I know this, both from experience and reason.  In fact, everyone seems to know this.  Yet somehow people seem to want to ignore this fact and expect that believing in God--heck, let's just throw it out there--believing in Christ should make saints of us all.

I say this because the media perpetually revisit this proven absurdity by constantly mocking believers; they (the media) hedonistically relish the idea of Christians, particularly Christian leaders, not living up to this long-defunct idea that we should somehow be without flaw.  The priest sex abuse scandal is an example of this. 

Despite the facts, during and since, priests as a group have been repeatedly defamed and maligned.  No one in his right mind would defend sexual abuse; it is clearly wrong and should be answered for.  But at the same time, I think we should all keep in mind that 98+% of priests in the U.S. in living memory have not been accused, and of those who have been accused, we should keep in mind that they are accusations that could well not be true.

But for the sake of argument, let's say all ~2% that have been accused are actually guilty.  That leaves that 98% who have been faithful to their calling, selflessly serving God and their parishes.  98%.  In what other areas do we see such commendable "grades"?  That's an A+, summa cum laude.  And yet the media has had a heyday with this, leaving one with the impression that all priests are pedophiles in collars.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

But let's not forget these people who are guilty of this sin.  Consider that roughly the same percentages of pedophiles are seen in society at large.  People in all walks of life.  It is in no way a problem selective to the priesthood, certainly it has nothing to do with the requirement of celibacy.  Psychologists will be the first to tell you that pedophilia is more about power than it is about sex.  But the point is simply that priests are people, too, subject to the same humanity that we all are.

I've seen the same prejudice against others, not just Christian leaders.  In fact, I've seen this prejudice operating within Christian circles.  Somehow people seem to think, despite the irrefutable plethora of evidence to the contrary, that believing in Christ and sharing that belief system with others should somehow make one a saint.  It is a perpetual absurdity!  Name me one Christian you know personally whom you would call a saint.  I think that most of us would be very hard-pressed to do this, and yet I'm sure all of us know plenty of Christians.

I can only guess at why this absurdity persists.  I think it's because people just have axes to grind.  The Church (and more generally, Christianity) stands for truth; it stands for morality; it stands for a better world, the best and most beautiful philosophy.  Unfortunately, this wondrous philosophy wars against the lower impulses of human nature, in particular, sexual desire and greed.  In short, the Church tells us that we can't do everything that strikes our fancies and we can't have everything we want, and that gets under our skins.

In response to this discomfort, we are only to quick to point out the deficiencies in others, trying to deflect the light of truth that scrutinizes the soul.  The Holy Scriptures speak explicitly of this in two places that come to mind. 

First, in the third chapter of the Gospel of John: "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."  Here we see an understanding, if we don't already have it from experience, as to why people dislike the light of truth. 

Then in the Gospels according to Luke and Matthew: "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?"  Here we see a testament to our human nature, which is to try to hide our own failings by highlighting those of others.  It is our natural response when the light is shone on our darkness.

So when a Christian, that is, someone who stands for the light has a failing, we are all too eager to grab a mirror and put it in front of our own failing, attempting to deflect the Light and hoping, thereby, to hide our own failings.

For Christians, we know the proper response when the light shines on us, though we most certainly do not always do it (which only reinforces what I'm saying).  Jesus tells us in the scripture immediately following: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."  And again, from our passage in John's Gospel: "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." 

As Christians, we should embrace the light, even when it shows our own evil.  In fact, we should embrace because it illumines our darkness.  Without the light, how would we know how to please God?  Because of it, we can see our failings and, with the help of Grace, work to improve them.

For non-Christians, for those to whom I probably sound like a raving looney, all I can ask is that I hope you see the absurdity in expecting all Christians to be saints.  We're not--we're people just like you, subject to the same human baseness.  When we share what we think is truth with you, it is not in order to show our own glory or holiness (for we are more often than not just as base and sinful as the next person), but it is to share the beauty of truth, the light of Christ and of the saints (yes, they have existed and do exist today!). 

True, it can be uncomfortable, particularly when we feel convinced on a very basic and non-rational level that the Gospel of Christ is indeed truth but do not want to accept it, but I can assure you that you are not alone if you feel that way.  Christians walk the same path and experience the same discomfort.  And we must all recognize this--that we all have darkness in us.  Instead of letting that divide us, why not make it a source of strength and comfort, the strength and comfort that comes from knowing you are not alone--you are not forsaken.  God loves Christians and non-Christians alike; his grace is there for all of us to help us overcome our weakness if we only depend on him instead of our own strength.

Surely we are doomed to fail if we depend on our own strength because our strength comes from our human nature, which is the selfsame source of our own failings.  We should not be discouraged, however, because even though humans, Christian and non-Christian alike, may persist in the perpetual absurdity that believing should make someone perfect, God does not.  He understands our human weakness and offers us the grace of the Cross, which atones for the guilt of our failings, and the help of the Spirit to aid us on our way to holiness.

Thursday, May 12, 2005 11:09:55 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Friday, May 06, 2005
Why pirating music, software, movies, and other seeming victimless crimes are not okay.
Friday, May 06, 2005 2:51:10 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [26]  | 
# Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Another thing that struck me while reading the new Pope's homily was his comment about "fruit that abides."  True, he was speaking to the cardinals at the time, but I think we are all called to bear such fruit.  This reminded me of what has long been an inner dialogue of mine--whether it is more worthy to give money to the poor, for the support of the Church, or for religious artifacts (such as buildings, paintings, liturgical items, etc.).

My upbringing (evangelical Protestant) definitely tended toward the first two--money spent on surroundings such as church buildings and the like should only be pragmatic.  Yet as I explored other Protestant communions and, ultimately, the Catholic Church, I found myself drawn to the beauty of the buildings, the vestments, the art, and other religious artifacts.  I found myself amazed, imagining just how much money must have gone into these things.  And of course, those who have visited the Vatican and other great artistic and architectural treasures of the Church can only be dumbfounded by the thought of it.

In fact, not long ago I was attending a Jesuit church here in Tampa, and they were in the midst of renovating.  During that time, they were offering people the opportunity to sponsor a stained glass window in the upper portion of the nave.  These things couldn't have been more than 5'x7', and when I asked into it, the going rate was $50,000.  I was stunned.  Looking around at the much larger windows that adorn the sides of the nave, I can only imagine their cost.  Of course, they were long-since paid for, a few generations ago, so I asked about it.  I was told that some folks would mortgage their land to pay for a window in the church.  Again, I was amazed. 

Yet I could not shake my upbringing, thinking how "that money could be better used elsewhere."  So I didn't act.  Since then, I have become even more interested in the plight of the poor and convinced of my obligation to help, and the inner dialogue on this point stopped for some time. 

But now I find myself thinking about it again.  I find myself wondering about it.  True, buildings, windows, paintings, chalices, and such do not remain--they may last for many generations, but they are not eternal.  But neither does suffering remain.  Both are temporal--what is eternal, as the Holy Father points out, is the human soul.  So while it may seem more worthy, on a purely humanistic level, to give money to the poor than to invest in supporting the Church or even financing religious artifacts, I wonder which has more potential to produce fruit that abides.

Surely supporting the Church--one's parish, diocese, or the Church at large--has a much greater potential to produce fruit that abides, i.e., positive impact on human souls.  And I can say from experience that religious artifacts have a profound ability to positively affect the soul, even many souls over many generations.  So perhaps it is not so clear cut as it may seem.

Now, I'm not suggesting the cessation of support for the poor by any stretch of the imagination--Christians have a clear mandate from Christ to do so.  I am, however, suggesting that we should not be so quick to belittle, impugn, or dismiss the value of these other contributions, contributions that have a very high potential to produce fruit that abides.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005 12:44:09 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, April 19, 2005

For those of you who haven't heard, the cardinals have elected a new pope--Benedict XVI, a.k.a., Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, another great theologian and strong Church leader.  He was previously the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals, so it seems like a natural choice.  Anyways, it'll be good to see where we go from here with him at the helm.

[Edited 24 April 2005]

It seems that there is some press coverage trying (not surprisingly) to paint a negative picture of the new pope.  I thought I'd pass along some positive coverage to balance it out: The Real Benedict XVI.

[Edited 21 April 2005]

Since I've been getting search engine hits on "habemus" and "papam," I figure I should go ahead and provide a translation (I'm assuming these folks are searching to find the meaning).  This a Latin phrase, and it means "we have a/the pope," with "habemus" meaning "we have" and "papam" meaning "pope." 

[Micro Latin Lesson]In Latin, there are no articles (a, an, or the), so you have to pick what makes sense in context when translating from Latin.  I'd say that "a" makes the most sense with the phrase above. 

Also note that "papam" is a declined form of papa, which is actually derived from the Greek "papas," meaning "father."  The pope, bishops, and priests are our spiritual fathers; hence, the pope is often called the "Holy Father," and we often call priests "father." 

In Latin, nouns have different endings (a.k.a., inflections and declensions) that signify what role the noun plays in the sentence.  "Papam" is the accusative, which more or less correlates to the direct object in English.

[Edited 20 April 2005]

I was just reading the homily given by Benedict XVI prior to the conclave.  These lines struck me so that I wanted to stick them here for a reminder and reference.

"Truth and charity coincide in Christ. In the measure that we come close to Christ, also in our life, truth and charity are fused.  Charity without truth would be blind; truth without charity would be like 'a clanging cymbal' (1 Corinthians 13:1)."

Early on in my philosophical journey, I thought that truth was the only thing that mattered--that it trumped everything, and that it should be given even if it hurts or offends.  However, as the Holy Scriptures attest (that HH Benedict reminds us above), without charity, truth is nothing.  I have found this to be profoundly true, which is why I always endeavor now to fuse charity with truth, giving charity precedence.  It is a better way to live.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005 12:50:10 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, April 08, 2005

John Paul the Great

You all knew it was coming.  I simply have to say something about the passing of one of the greatest popes and men of our time.  It's tempting not to say anything just to avoid adding to the cacophony of voices talking about him (and popes in general), but since he had a personal impact on my life, I figure I should say something.

No, I'm not saying I ever met him.  When I say "personal impact," I mean that his writing was instrumental in my becoming Catholic, and I've grown fond of him over the years.  In particular, his encyclical (letter) Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) had a profound impact on my thought surrounding issues of life, specifically on the death penalty and artificial contraception.

Strangely enough, Evangelium Vitae doesn't go into the issue of artificial contraception in depth.  If I recall correctly, it really only talks about it in passing; however, it was the overall profound unity, simplicity, and depth of thought expressed by this great theologian and pastor that brought me (tentatively at first) to the other side of those two issues. 

For me, the issues of papal infallibility and artificial contraception were two key points that I had significant difficulty reconciling with in my journey towards the truth.  The former was an intellectual stumbling block; the latter held very real, practical consequences for me.

Needless to say, I've gotten past these issues.  And I'm glad of it because they were hindering me from moving on in my spiritual and intellectual journeys.  I also do believe, based on personal experience, that not practicing artificial contraception enhances the quality, longevity, and, dare I say, intimacy of marriage.  I suspect there are metaphysical implications that produce this effect, but there is also simply that you are forced to learn to know and respect each other and to patiently work with the physiological uniqueness that each person brings to the marriage.

Yet I digress...

I have nothing but admiration for the man.  On the one hand, he was criticized by ultra-conservatives (traditionalists, sede vacantists, SSPX, etc.) for being too liberal; on the other, he was criticized by the "liberals" (pro-abortion, pro-contraception, pro-womens' ordination, etc.) for being an iron-fisted dictator.  Some people even thought he was the anti-Christ.  Yet for all this, he patiently shepherded over one billion people and positively impacted many more. 

Some have said he played an integral role in the fall of communism.  He has taken great strides in rapprochement with the Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Protestants, Hindus, and even Muslims.  And in all of this he has remained true to the faith, which is a significant challenge in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

For myself, I felt a certain parallelism with him.  He was elected less than two months after my birth, so my life could be measured by his pontificate.  I don't know why, but that meant something.  Strange how we humans find significance in the smallest of things.  But the objective implication is that I have never known another pope, so it is strange for me to think of him as no longer leading the Church, even if I've only been a Catholic for a few years.  It's like you get to know someone you feel you've known your whole life just before they have to leave.

I can say that there is a touch of sadness I feel, yet I can't help but feel (honestly) happy for him.  As Archbishop Pell said, we are Christians--we believe that this is not the end.  I am also happy for him in that he can finally rest.  It was often hard seeing him, struggling to speak, walk, and even kneel due to his illness, especially when contrasted with the earlier video footage of him as a vibrant personality.  Yet despite all his illness and age, he was constantly on the go, constantly praying, writing, speaking, even singing, and visiting people all over the world.

In addition to his social activities, he has been truly prolific and profound in his writing.  I suspect that he will become a doctor of the Church due to his significant (and orthodox) contributions to our understanding of the faith.  I mentioned Evangelium Vitae, but there is so much more than that.  Not only has he written tomes of invaluable thought himself, he also sponsored and organized the new universal catechism, its revision, a few revisions to the missal, and much much more.

One could go on and on about the positive impact on almost every realm of human existence that he has had, and that is why I think he truly deserves the title of "magnus"--"the great."  Some men are called great because they waged many successful wars, as if killing is something to be praised, yet here is a man who is great because he spent his long life truly in the service of others, of goodness, of peace, and of life.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.  Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto him, Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him.  May he rest in peace.  Amen.

Ora pro nobis, Ioannes Paulus Magnus.

Friday, April 08, 2005 12:47:50 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, March 17, 2005

It's nice when a patently Catholic holiday makes it into most secular calendars, even if it's just so that the retailers can sell green stuff and Guiness can make a few extra $$.  As fun as this day can be, let's not forget about the origination of this feast.

Here's a great article on St. Patrick. To sum up, St. Patrick was an early, perhaps the first, Catholic missionary to Ireland, circa 500 AD.  There have been many legends that have grown up around him, but suffice it to say that he took the route that made the most sense in societies in the early middle ages, i.e., to convert the political leaders, because, in those days, religion was a matter of state; if you convert the leaders, you convert the society. 

St. Patrick was successful in this, so he is credited with converting Ireland to Catholicism and has so been named the apostle and patron of Ireland.  For a variety of reasons, Ireland and the Irish, have retained a very strong Catholic identity despite (or perhaps because of) the several attempts by the English to convert and suppress them to one or other flavor of Protestantism.

The Irish brought the holiday of their primary saint and their distinct Catholic cultural identity with them over to the U.S. and the rest, as they say, is history.  So wear some green, go out and have a pint, and think about St. Patrick and how amazing it is that one person can have such a great impact on humanity.

Thursday, March 17, 2005 7:34:56 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, March 10, 2005

I've been asked numerous times what “dotNetTemplar” is and/or do I know the history of the Knights Templar.  The answer to the latter is yes, probably a little better than most, as it falls within one of my areas of expertise.  And I did, in fact, choose dotNetTemplar with the Knights Templar in mind, as the Latin motto and icon on this site might suggest.

For those of you who don't know, the Knights Templar were the first military order, founded during the time of the Crusades.  For a brief overview, you can read this article.  The primary reason the order appeals to me is that they were the first group to successfully blend a patently secular occupation (soldiering) with a religious vocation.  Their motto, “not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,” is what I think all of us who strive for excellence in this world should have as our motto.

So I adopted their motto as my own.  I, too, work in a secular occupation, and I try to do my best at it.  Yet I am a man of faith and believe that all the good that we have--our talents, belongings, intelligence, strength, etc.--is a gift from God.  I believe that without God, the source of all being, I would be and do nothing, so everything good that I am and do is thanks to God; therefore, he deserves to be honored for it.

Hence I try in my life (though I'm not by any stretch of the imagination perfect at it) to blend my faith into my secular activities, whether it be through keeping reminders of my faith near me, sharing my faith with others as seems appropriate, or simply doing what's right as much as I can by, for example, not pirating software, not lying, not cheating, giving to the homeless guy on the street who asks for money regardless of what I think he'll do with it, etc.  And by working towards this blend, I hope to in some ways--ways that I truly hope are not ostentatious--glorify God in my everyday life.

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini Tuo da gloriam.

+dotNetTemplar+

Thursday, March 10, 2005 9:27:36 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Sunday, November 28, 2004
Thoughts on the justness of the death penalty.
Sunday, November 28, 2004 7:57:40 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 
# Wednesday, November 03, 2004
A comment prompts further dialogue...
Wednesday, November 03, 2004 12:24:24 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Monday, November 01, 2004
Just wishing everyone a happy All Saints' Day and sharing some thoughts on Halloween...
Monday, November 01, 2004 11:10:08 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 

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