Wednesday, November 30

Just....just watch

Quote of the day

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. 

Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. 

Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. 

Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. 

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha

Tuesday, November 29

todays reading: You guys don't even read this, do you?

I swear this is the response of
most people today
As the link on the left indicates, I follow two daily lectionaries.  As both of them only cover a (small) portion of scripture and they are on different cycles, I commonly get different viewpoints on things. 

Here's the gospel reading from the USCCB lectionary:

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Lk 10:21-22)

Having read the surrounding areas, concordances and commentaries, you quickly understand that it's not just the 'wise' and the 'children' that Christ is talking about.  He's talking about the pharisees and the people - the clergy and the laity.  The irony that this is the USCCB reading is both delicious and painful.

Do the prelates even read the scriptures any more or is that one of those other 'archaic things' which are no longer needed? Don't the laity read this, or is that another of those Vatican II reforms the RC sheeple are supposed to ignore?  I suppose that's there's a lectionary as opposed to the whole Bible - TL;DR, right? 

I mean, I guess there's really no need for people to read the Word of the Lord, as the prelates have the ability, nay, the responsibilty to rewrite the entire Deposit of Faith to suit their needs.  Be obedient, attend Mass and we may choose to reveal God to you (for a small donation of only 10%/week).

Nah, they don't read this stuff anymore.

Monday, November 28

(Not) keeping up with the Joneses

This Sunday was the first week of Advent and the service was, as expected for non-ordinary times, slightly quirky and very pleasing. The boundless creativity of our liturgy committee to re-imagine the non-ordinary times of the year is heart-warming, even if I don't always 'get it'. The hot topic of discussion in the Narthex wasn't the new wrinkles in our service, but rather what the Joneses Romans are up to. Somehow, I ended up being the Shell Answer Man.

"Did you hear about the new Roman Missal?" I've read the new mass, yes. No, I haven't heard it 'in person' as I'm not really welcome in a Roman church and have no interest in flying under false colours to hear a liturgy which I can't support theologically, morally or scripturally.

"Are we going to do that?" A change like that would require several public meetings and agreement by both laity and clergy. In short, it's more likely we'll be inviting the Arch-bishop to Christmas midnight mass. (Considering that the arch-diocese presently doesn't HAVE an archbishop, the odds are pretty easy to calculate).

There was one off-hand comment that really struck home, though. During these discussions, I mentioned how the new Roman liturgy makes me sad to one of our parishioners. She patted me on the shoulder and said, "They can do anything they like."  She's right and yet....

I guess what bugs me about that is the definition of the word 'they'.  To say 'they' implies an 'us' and indicates an 'other'.  Of course, I realise that she meant 'they' as 'Romans', but my mind went to the prelates and priests as 'they' vs. the 'us' of the laity.  I mean, the changes which the Roman laity want has nothing to do with consubstantial and mea culpa.

In our catholic church, the laity and the clergy decide together how things are to be run, how mass it to be celebrated and whether or not we, as a parish, will accept and abide by what the House of Bishops and the Synod say.  The separation between laity and clergy is a VERY thin line.

I've not been involved with the Roman church, but all accounts say that this is 180 degrees from their modus operandi.  Here's the sticking point, though - the basis of what I've described above came directly from the Roman Church with imprimatur.  The fore-runner of our church was established by Archbishop Casey some 30+ years ago wherein the laity ran just about everything and their was an on-call priest who lived an hour away who came and said mass on Sundays.  The most recent Arch-bishop decided to put a stop to that, so most of the laity left the Roman Church and became the core of our present parish, which joined the already extant Ecumenical Catholic Communion.

This is all a bother to me because, fundamentally, there is no 'they', whether collared or RC.  There are only 'us', the creations of the Divine.What clothes you wear or what job you hold doesn't change that.  What person you love or church you attend doesn't change that.  If the Joneses want to think otherwise, let them.  They can do anything they like.  Then again, so can we.

Tuesday, November 22

words about words

Words have power.  What words we use, their order and the emphasis we place upon them matters to a level that cannot be understated.  So, it seems, I am in need to talk about words and about the new(?) Roman Missal.  The theory is that the 3rd Typical Edition is a more faithful and literal translation of the 'original latin' than that 'hastily penned' 2nd Typical Edition.  I suppose it never dawned on the Roman Church that the 'original' is common Greek and not medieval Latin or that, heaven forfend, there are idioms, phrases and concepts which don't literally translate....but nevermind that.   This is long enough that I'll hide the rest behind a cut.

Friday, November 18

Reimagining Bernardine - a consistant ethic of compassion

Wiki-creep is a fascinating thing.  Through a convoluted chain of links and related topics, I ended up reading Fr. McBrein's article about Cardinal Bernadine and the Seamless Garment (aka consistent life ethic) at NCR.  This got me to thinking...which leads to pondering...which leads to writing.

I believe that Bernadine's underlying premise, which is to construct a universally applicable ethical model regarding life is quite laudable.  Where I find a disagreement with him is to say that said life must be universally preserved.  There ARE fates worse than death for a person and to concentrate solely upon the life of an individual tends towards forgetting that we are all connected and that every action taken by a person has rippling effects that spread out to the ends of the earth.

In general, a person who must make such a choice needs to examine both the person 'at risk' as well as all of those directly affected by the decisions, taking into account the quality of the life, the life circumstances and take a critical look at the intent behind the decision.  They should call upon Holy Wisdom to guide and inform the decision, recognizing that each circumstance is unique and what is right for a certain person at a certain time may not be the right choice at a different time for a different person.

I recognize that these sorts of questions are never simple or easy.  There are no higher stakes and yet we must collectively recall that Primacy of Conscience and Free Will demand that the choice is not ours to make.  Each person must walk that road for themselves.  Our compassion affords us the ability to walk with them, to help and support them without judging as the Spirit walks with us, guiding and comforting, but not condemning.

That is, after all, what we would want in a time of need.  That is the essence of loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Thursday, November 17

Dancing in the Straw

Angels dancing on the head of a pin
So, it has a been a while since I have talked about the formal actions towards ordination. Indeed, I'm not entirely sure if I have spoken about this at all except in the vaguest of terms. A word of warning here, as the following statements could be misread.  I am not antithetical to academics, far from it, but a lack of ready application begs askance towards the intrinsic merit.

As I look more and more at differing programs, it appears so easy to become caught up in a whirlwind of theories, proofs, dogma and -ologies which are all vitally important for any serious candidate for ordination. It seems that anyone who has been called by God must be intimately familar with the ramblings of Rahner, the lectures of Lonergan and the homilies of Heidigger.  One must he hip to the hermeneutics in fashion,  conversant with the Christology du jour and versed in the vocabulary of the devoted elite.

Put in a 14th century context, a postulant must be able to answer (with attendant proofs) the famous question about angels and the head of a pin, as well as give context as to it's importance.  (As an aside, the question deals with the question of perfect, supernal beings existing without form (as pure entities of spirit) or if they have substance.)

Thinking about it brings to mind Aquinas and Dominic.  The first is the Angelic Doctor's famous statement, "All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me."  Why would arguably the greatest theologian of all time say this about the theology which he had written? Because he had had a direct, relevatory experience - a brush with the raw and ineffable Divine so incredibly different from the logics and proofs and counterarguments which comprise the Law.

The second is one of the few quotes we have from Dominic de Guzeman, spoken during his time studying theology. There was a famine which struck his city and he sold everything, including his precious books, to give alms to those in need. When questioned about such a rash and foolish gesture for a scholar, he replied,  "Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?"

A theologian is one who studies and ponders. That is my default state and something which comes as natural as breathing to me.  A priest is one who works and prays. That is what Dad has asked me to be.  Both have value and those categories are not mutually exclusive.  But quoting Jerome won't comfort a widow, prepare the greiviously ill for a happy death, feed the hungry or clothe the naked and, despite what I would like to become, this is about what She wants and has asked me to do.

My brass-tacks question to any course of study is if it helps one love God and/or love thy neighbour more fully?  If the answer is no, then mayhap there are better things to be doing.

Monday, November 14

An antidote to the poison (belated)

This post should have gone up about two weeks ago, but I only got the text below today.  Given the poisonous rhetoric which I read coming from the RC church (among others), I figure that I really should post this, as it captures the essence of my Catholic (but not Roman) church and what we're about. 

The following are selections from readings which were interspersed throughout the All Saints Day mass.

Before processional
"Who are you? Are you married with kids, worrying for them and committed to their welfare?  Are you divorced?  Are you married for the second, or even the third time?  Are you a single parent struggling to make ends meet, but also hoping to have love in your life again?  Are you gay or lesbian?   Well if you are, then you belong to us because you belong to Christ.  The Good News is that Christ is the host here today and he welcomes you as part of his body.  The words from the Gospel are addressed to you: Peace be with you."

During Eucharist, after the Words of Institution
"Are you new here? An immigrant maybe?  Are you from another Christan tradition? Are you full of doubt today, like Thomas?  Are you fearful like the disciples were?  Has it been a while since you darkened the doorway of a church?  None of that matters.  You belong to us because you belong to Christ. The Good News is that Christ is the host here today and he welcomes you as part of his body.  The words from the Gospel are addressed to you: Peace be with you."

During Eucharist, after Agnes Dei is sung
"All people of good will are welcome here: That is the Good News!  If you've been away, you can come back; if you've been living in darkness, you can come to the light; if you haven't been able to believe without seeing God, look around you, the Body of Christ has come to Mass today.  Sinners are welcome, saints too.  Everyone is welcome to come to Christ, our God indeed!"

(what is said at the end of the prayers of every Eucharist)
"The meal of God has been prepared for the people of God, which is each and every one of us, so all are welcome to receive."

Thanks be to God for these people.

Tuesday, November 8

Balancing act

As I sit today and ponder things, there are several balancing acts that come to mind.  The first which shows itself is the balance between the spiritual and the religious,  a scale which I consider in the terms of our vertical relationship with the Divine and the horizontal relationship with each other.  It is all well and good for a person to have a strong vertical relationship, but without a healthy horizontal relationship it does little to help the Body of Christ (which is composed our brothers and sisters in Christ) or, in a more general sense, the Family of God (who are all of us).  Contra wise, if we focus entirely upon those around us in physical form, we lose invaluable insight into the nature of the Divine and fail to cultivate a truly vital and special relationship with the Divine.

Another balancing act is between the Heart and the Mind, what may be considered the art and the science of Religion.  Without an understanding of the Heart, the experiential and spiritual aspect of the religious, then the all the words of the Law and the Prophets are but dried ink on dead skins.  Without a grasp of the Mind, the academic and rational aspect of the religious, then our experiences are without context and are incommunicable to others.

Another balancing act which has presented itself recently is the question of Temperance vs. following one's heart.  Temperence lies in moderation and restraint.  And following one's heart lies in doing what is often unrestrained and immoderate.  It is, again, the tension between the logical, rational mind and the emotional, non-rational heart.  Too much of either causes you to burn with ardor or freeze with icy logic.  One could extend it further and say that it is a confluence of structure and creativity, of order and chaos.

All of these balances to many wheels in motion....just like the world around us.

Monday, November 7

breaking the cycle

Back a thousand years ago, when I was married, my (now) ex said something to me which has stayed with me.  She said that how you were treated in your last relationship is how you will treat others in your next.  Put into more general terms, unless you actively attempt to break the cycle, how others have treated you forms how you treat others.

This thought came back to me this morning as I was reading an article about Israel and Palestine.  The problem really comes in what I would call a destructive echo chamber or feedback loop.  This is something which anyone with small children knows intimately.

Bobby does X, which means Sally can do X, which encourages Bobby to do X+1, which entitles Sally to reciprocate and and and....I'm stopping this car RIGHT NOW!

That's the point.  We need to stop the car (individually and collectively).  If the internet has taught me anything (other than every cat owner needs a video camera), it is that trolls, like the poor, will always be with us.  There will always be someone in a group who is insensitive, deliberately argumentative and generally irascible.  Do we treat them as they have treated us or do we treat them as we wish to be treated?

Saturday, November 5

The 'root' of the problem

A turnip shaped like a thingie?!
With apologies to any who speak OZ.

After reading Colkoch's reply to my earlier post, I felt the gentle rapping of a ten-ton hammer against my skull as my muse, subtle as ever, wished to gain my attention.

As I commented elsewhere (and my brilliant friend Bill pointed out), Avila's comments are a nuanced version of Manichaeism, an early Persian belief which competed with Christianity during the early church.  In a nutshell, Manichaeism says that 'God' created all of the perfect and eternal things, which are of the spirit.  Additionally, 'God' has an evil countpart called the Demiurge who created all of the imperfect and temporary things which are of the flesh.  Thus, to embrace the natural, physical world is to 'worship' the Demiurge while by denying yourself the things of this world, you revere and worship 'God'.

Obviously, as we are born and raised in the natural, physical world as corporeal beings, we must have a predisposition towards what we know, see and interact with seamlessly - the natural, physical world.  Therefore, we have an inborn disposition to turn from 'God'.  At this point, let us introduce our 'agent'.

Raised as a Christian, this agent defied his mother's faith and became a libertine. Indulging in wine, women and song, he became a Manichaeist.  After over 15 years of a hedonistic lifestyle, he had a conversion experience and returned to the religion of his youth.  Key among the tenets which precipitated the conversion St. Anthony of the Desert's extreme aesthetic lifestyle and Romans 13:13-14.  "Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."  Five years after this conversion, Augustine was made bishop of Hippo.  The rest of the story you probably know.

It is difficult to understate the influence of Augustine on Christian thought.  His views on sin and the material world were the backbone for Thomas' writings on the matter and are the template for Calvin.   How profoundly Augustine's 'personal issues' have affected overall Christian thought can be seen in the concept of concupiscence. Catholic Catechism teaches that concupiscence is the natural desire to sin (which comes as a direct result of the Fall of Man).  One would note that the word itself translates from the Latin: con-, with + cupi, cupid - desire (usually sexual) + -escere - suffix denoting beginning of a process or state) and is most commonly translated as 'ardent, usually sensual, longing or lust'.

Thus, the 'root' of sinful desires is sexual in nature.  To deny sinful desires is, at its core, to deny sex.  This has been said in many ways over the years, but to see how deeply ingrained the thought is and to see how profoundly one man's guilt over his hedonistic past has shaped Christian doctrine is...illuminating.

Yet, we observe in nature and our own Reason informs us that sex is not, in fact, innately sinful.  It  is a natural and powerfully positive force which helps cement the bonds of an intimate personal relationship with another.  At the most profound level, it can provide an emotional and even spiritual experience of two people becoming one (as Christ spoke of in regards to marriage) and, in a more general sense, is an experience which is treasured and revered as good by any who practice it as part of a healthy relationship that also includes attraction and attachment.

Who, then, argues that it is sinful?  A celibate man wracked by guilt over his past? A patristic hierarchy who are forced to refrain from any form of healthy intimate relationship?  I am reminded of those who lived through the psychedelic era talking to their children.  "Don't do drugs or have any of that free love.  We did that and it was great...but, um...we 'know better' now, so don't you do that."

Thursday, November 3

The fundamental disconnect

So, last week the Boston Pilot (the official publication of the Arch-diocese of Boston) published an editorial written by the USCCB associate director for policy and research, Dr. Daniel Avila.  In it, Dr. Avila advanced the notion that same-sex attraction is of the Devil.  And I quote,

"In other words, the scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the devil. Any time natural disasters occur, we as people of faith look back to Scripture's account of those angels who rebelled and fell from grace. In their anger against God, these malcontents prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. They continue to do all they can to mar, distort and destroy God's handiwork.

Therefore, whenever natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the evil one, not God."
Daniel Avila, "Some fundamental questions on same-sex attraction," The Boston Pilot
Sharp readers will note that the article itself has been pulled with a retraction/apology which says that somehow Dr. Avila's editorial was published without a nihil obstat or imprimatur. I can and have argued on multiple occasions as to why the 'natural law' argument is fundamentally flawed, as well as how the 'intrinsically disordered' position is explicitly contrary to both the Deposit of Faith and the Catechism of the Church. The more I have pondered this, though, the more that it begs 'some fundamental questions', as the article title states.

The most fundamental of these is the understanding of what constitutes an intimate relationship.

The noted anthropologist Helen Fisher defines the parts of a relationship as lust, attraction and attachment, with what she is calling lust being analogous to what Avila is calling 'attraction' - being the only one of the three which has anything to do with sex.  Her research has shown that the drive of lust is the least powerful of the three.  For those of us who have actually been in a long-term relationship, her research 'proves' what we have known all along - that long-term relationships have little to do with sex.  They are about being with the other person, sharing your lives (both in good and bad) and working together. It's chicken soup and fluffed pillows when they're sick, TV on the couch and cooking in the kitchen together. It's putting up with his family (and he putting up with yours), laughing about 'that one time' and conversations with just knowing glances. Can sex be a part of that? Yes, but even then it's about being together, not the quick fix.

And this is the root of the disconnect. These concepts are as foreign to them as the form of celibacy practiced by clerics is to us. There is no frame of reference, no way of understanding.  No class or book can teach you what it really means.  Individually and collectively, the celibate clerical class has no possible way of grasping or understanding these things.  They must be experienced for oneself and those experiences are gender-independent.

And now for something completely different.

In stark contrast to pouring my heart out earlier, I would like to reflect upon something rather different.  The more and more I sit and consider matters of sexuality, sexual orientation, marriage, procreation and how 'some people' view them, the more I am coming to the conclusion that it is not based upon arcane theological opinions, ancient holiness codes or a deep-seated desire to protect society.'s far more fundamental than all of that.  I keep coming back to the idea that it is based around the cartoon behind the cut.

Wednesday, November 2

clarifications and authenticity

Be forewarned....this is a deep dive into my brain and heart.  Don't feel bad if you want to skip this and go onto other topics.

To prevent the spam and TL:DR, I have linked the rest of this lengthy post behind the cut.

All Saints Day

Yesterday was the feast of All Saints.  At our parish, there is an exercise we are performing regarding this feast.  The laity was given pen and paper and asked to write down the name of a saint which personally inspires them.  Since I helped out collecting the papers, I got a chance to look at the names and it was more than a bit of a surprize.  In the first, let me tell you who was NOT on the list.

No Mary.  No ancient prelates or popes.  Nobody listed in the Golden Legend or Butler.  In fact, I don't believe there was a single canonized saint in the pile.

The people listed were people, most of them alive.  There are grandparents and cousins, fellow parishioners and neighbours.  Flawed, human beings who are doing their very best to be like the Master and in doing so, accidentally inspiring others to do the same.

Whether consciously and intentionally or not, this is pretty much the exact understanding of the saints which existed in the apostolic and pauline period of Christianity and despite my love of hagiography and history in general, I am comfortable with the the parish's general choice.  For there to be inspiration, the stories must have resonance and relevance to us as people in the here and now.  That's why, in part, I chose Michael Judge over the archangel of the same name.  Who holds more resonance, the general of the Armies of Heaven or a gay cleric who fought against alcoholism?

In the end, though, we should follow their example by following the example of Christ.