Friday, January 03, 2003

Who can you share the Good News of Jesus Christ with today? There must be someone.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

The Birds

The Birds- Hillaire Belloc

When Jesus Christ was four years old,
The angels brought him toys of gold,
Which no man had ever bought or sold.

And yet with these He would not play.
He made Him small fowl out of clay,
And blessed them til they flew away,
Tu creasti Domine.

Jesus Christ, thou child so wise,
Bless mine hands and fill my eyes,
And bring my soul to Paradise.

Off my chest

I am probably going way out on a limb with this post, and cutting it off behind me, but I guess I’m used to that. In addition, there probably won’t be all that many folks reading this so perhaps I won’t be drawn and quartered and run out of town on a rail. As Abraham Lincoln said of the fellow who was tarred and feathered: “If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, I’d just as soon avoid it.”

Tim Drake wrote a column in the latest edition of the National Catholic Register on the Prayer of Jabez vs. the Rosary. I wish he hadn’t written it. In it he seems to belittle the recent Evangelical phenomenon of the book The Prayer of Jabez, which he refers to as “an almost selfish prayer” and which he goes on to contrast with the Rosary. He almost seems to be saying “Nah, Nah, our prayer is better than your prayer.” It seems to me that this is not really a wise course of action.

First, while it is true that some of the promotion behind the Prayer of Jabez seems to smack of the so-called “health and wealth” doctrine that is not entirely true. There are many sincere evangelicals who are praying that prayer so that God might expand their ministries, in other words, to help them further the spread of the word of God in modern society. How many Catholics pray that they might be more effective evangelicals? Second, it seems to me that we do not do well to judge another’s prayer. It is fair and proper that, if we see difficulties in another’s spiritual life, we point them out in loving charity. But Tim Drake’s column seems much too judgmental. For example, there is this paragraph:
“The popularity of the Prayer of Jabez says a lot about evangelical’s doctrinal vacuum. On the one hand, they attack Catholics for what they describe as their ‘vain repetitious’ praying of the Hail Mary – a prayer taken from Scripture which reflects upon Christ. Then, some take an obscure prayer from the Old Testament, seemingly disconnected from Christ, and encourage people to pray it daily for material wealth.”
Are we going to say that one scriptural prayer is better than another? Is one part of scripture more valuable than another? It seems to me that Dei Verbum is quite clear when it says that the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New. You can’t have one without the other. Also, as pointed out above the prayer is not solely for material wealth. The prayer states that Jabez asked for a blessing and God granted his request – God did not reject this prayer, should we?

My point in all of this is that I wish Christians would stop picking on other Christians. I agree with Archbishop Fulton Sheen when he said that, as Catholics, our argument is not with our Protestant brothers and sisters. We share a common, and increasingly powerful enemy in our modern, relativistic, scientific materialistic and pagan society. Now, more than ever we need to try to find common ground with our evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ, we need the Christian unity that Christ himself prayed for. Many evangelical folks are sincere, Christ loving people that are living devoted and holy lives and seeking the truth of the faith. They do not deserve to be belittled and, in fact, would bring a great deal of new life to the Church if they could be brought to understand it’s truth and beauty.

I would suggest a different approach to our evangelical friends who have discovered the prayer of Jabez as an effective scripture based prayer. I would say to them, “Could I suggest another prayer you might find even more useful? The one I am thinking of is steeped in Christian tradition and in scripture and I have found that it has brought me immeasurably closer to Christ, perhaps you’d like to give it a try?”

Instead of belittling their devotion it might behoove us to share ours with them, explaining the value and peace it has brought us. This is what it means to be a “witness” or, to put it differently, to be a martyr.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Spiritual Reading, cont’d (again)

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” G.K. Chesterton.

I have been dialoguing a bit with Steven Riddle at Flos Carmeli about reading the saints and about the role of the gifts God gives us to use for his glory in our lives, especially that of the intellect. In thinking about this, it seems to me that there is one way in which our intellect can lead us away from faith – when we either refuse to or simply fail to use it. It is possible to be so completely sure of ourselves, so sure that we have all the answers that we stop asking the questions. This amply demonstrated in the attitude of the media and the “intelligentsia” toward anyone who professes faith in Christian doctrine. Today, religious faith is popularly seen in one of two ways, either as a crutch used by someone who is otherwise unable to face the real world, or as some sort of psychotic delusion that is suffered by someone who is abysmally ignorant of the way the world is. Seldom do we see it portrayed as a valid response to the reality of the world around us.

Yet the very people who hold these views have never taken Christianity seriously enough to investigate for themselves whether it’s claims are true, or whether those claims are even worth investigating. They are so sure they are right that they don’t stop to think about the validity of their own position either.

Most of these folks hold to the idea that the universe and everything in it is the product of some highly fortuitous accident, an idea that seems to spring from Darwin and his theory of evolution. From modern “scientific” theory they hold that there can be no God because there is absolutely no purpose to anything in the universe. They never seem to stop to think that, if that is true, then there is no basis for human reason and thus no basis to assume that their ideas are any more valid than those of the Christian. They don’t seem to see the logical dead end their worldview leads them to. On the other hand, having never investigated the claims of Christianity, they don’t understand that there is a high probability that the Christian worldview would provide them with a very profitable framework within which to pursue research into how our universe really does work. They are too closed minded to consider that there might be a different way of looking at reality.

This situation not only prevents them from following a potentially profitable avenue of scientific research, it also has the unfortunate consequence of keeping them from faith. But modern intellectuals are not the only ones to suffer from this difficulty; many Catholics today don’t see the full beauty of the teaching of the Church because they don’t think there is anything there worth their interest. They are sadly ignorant of the fullness of their faith because they’ve been fed nothing but theological baby food all their lives. Even many folks who regularly attend Mass and are active in their parish are unable to cogently explain even the most elementary doctrines of their faith and don’t know that there is anything more to learn. The sad part about this is that so many are led away from the faith into such sects as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons because they are presented with something that on the surface appears richer and fuller than anything they’ve been exposed to in the Church. This is sad, but it is a consequence of people not using a gift given to them by God, that of their intellect, and not being challenged by the Church to do so.

When we come to Church we are not asked to check our brains at the door. We are presented, at Mass especially but I think in all of the Sacraments of the Church, with something that is intended to engage us totally as human persons, we are given the opportunity to love God with “all of our mind, all of our strength, and all of our hearts.” I wish this would become a greater reality for more Catholics today.

Monday, December 30, 2002

The Necktie– One of the reasons I am doing a blog is that I would like to develop some skill as a writer and I hope to impose upon myself some discipline in terms of writing about things I might not otherwise write about. For example, consider the necktie. Being an older guy I grew up in a world in which the necktie was commonplace, if there was any kind of a special occasion the gentlemen wore a jacket, actually a suit in most cases, a white shirt, and a tie. I can’t say as a boy that I enjoyed wearing a tie but I simply took it for granted that this was expected behavior in polite company. I did have one relative, my mother’s cousin, who, when we were all gathered wearing our neckties, was prone to ask the question, “Who invented this useless piece of cloth that men are forced to wear?” I never could answer that question, and it seemed to me a good one.
Life went on and after serving my country in the military, in which a necktie was part of the uniform, I graduated from college, became a CPA and entered the business world. For many years at the start of my career it was considered de riguer to wear a tie to the office every day, and again, while I never actually enjoyed the practice, I complied in the interests of fashion and keeping my job. Then I went to work for Joe Nowell who owned a construction company.
Joe had two rules in life. One, don’t shave. He considered shaving a barbaric practice engaged in by people who did not have to work for a living. Two, never wear a tie. The reason for rule number two is that one time, in a meeting with a real estate developer and an architect on a new project and the client, one of the developer’s employees piped up with a remark that was not going to have the effect of pushing the project toward fruition, in fact may actually have killed the project on the spot. The developer, apparently acting on the spur of the moment, reached across the table and grabbed the guy by the necktie and proceeded to punch him repeated in the nose. Stretched across the table as he was, the victim was virtually powerless to do anything but accept the chastisement. Thus, Joe’s rule number two, no neckties. In the four or five years I worked for Joe I don’t think I ever saw him violate the rule, no matter how important the occasion.
I have to say that ever after hearing this story I always felt a bit insecure wearing a necktie, even though I have never had a similar experience. However, while I think this is a good rule, it is not necessarily one of life’s vital requirements. And I think the habit of “dressing down” can be carried, perhaps, a bit too far. For example, living in Colorado I see any number of folks, some of whom should be old enough to know better, dressed in an extremely casual fashion while attending Mass. Some of these folks even wear sweats and other types of exercise clothes to church, even though it is very evident that, while they may be wearing this type of attire to church they have never worn it to exercise, and would likely suffer a fatal heart attack were they to do so.
It seems to me that this is more evidence that we have lost our sense of the supernatural. I think if I were going to a meeting with, say, the President of the United States, I might be more than willing to endure the inconvenience of putting on a suit and tie for the occasion. Should I not be willing to do the same to go to meet the Lord in his House? I think we have lost the idea that in going to Mass we are going to meet God. I wonder if this hasn’t just become another weekly activity to be gotten through in the most painless manner possible?
I realize that I may be getting a bit cranky in my old age, but it seems that there are some things in our lives that deserve our attention and respect.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Steven Riddle at Flos Carmeli has put up several posts at his blog that have really attracted my attention. I am a regular at his place as of today. He has posted another reading list that is very good and contains a number of books that I hope to get to soon (although not John of the Cross). The first one I'm going to try to pick up is Chesterton's Heretics but almost all are worth reading (or re-reading) for sure.

One of the authors he cites is Ron Hansen, whom I was fortunate enough to meet at a writers conference at Steuby U in September. He read one of his short stories which was on the death of a dog that is one of the funniest stories I have ever heard. I laughed so hard it hurt and I wouldn't have suspected he would write something so funny. And he couldn't get anyone to publish it!!

One point he takes issue with in my first post on Spiritual Reading is as follows:

"One other point of mild demurral--I do not think St. Thomas is necessarily the best place to seek the truth about humankind. While he did dissect and lay open much--there are other sources (most notably the Bible itself) that tells us much, if not all, that we really need to know of humankind. St. Thomas did not so much discover much new in the truth, as lay open for us what was already clearly present. In a sense St. Thomas's work is a demonstration and proof of the concept of "development of doctrine." And St. Thomas himself with his final words on writing makes clear the recognition that his contribution was not in the realm of innovation so much as it was in the realm of explication."

Here he is right here in that St. Thomas showed the use of reason to arrive at a fuller understanding of truth already known, or at least intuitively understood by the Church. Thomas is a prime example of the development of doctrine, and actually, no one should come up with anything new, at least since the time of the Apostles. But he is also right that Thomas is not the only source of truth or understanding about the faith or about ourselves as human creatures. I guess one thing that has attracted me to Thomas is the work being done by the Dominican theologians, Frs. Servais Pinkaers and Romanus Cesario, who draw on the writings of St. Thomas, in the area of natural law and the virtues. This is so because of my interest in, and difficulty with, making my faith a part of my every day life and having it influence how I approach my responsibilites in life. When I get into the pressures of the day I am tempted to focus solely on the task and hand and lose sight of the reality of my faith and trust in God. I fail to see that everything is in his hands. I have found the idea especially of the virtues as habits that I can, at least to some extent work on to develop to help me grow in my relationship to God.

Spiritual Reading cont’d – As a convert to Catholicism one of the things that I have come to be deeply grateful to the Church for is her acceptance of a great variety of different spiritualities, or different ways to respond to God’s call in our lives. God’s call to each of us is unique, he calls no two of us in quite the same way, yet the Church recognizes that there are enough similarities in the way we are called that we can share our experience with others. For example, the Franciscans share Francis’ call to “build the Church”; to be Franciscan is to be Catholic and support the Church in all she does. Franciscan spirituality also involves the deep desire to follow Christ and live the Gospel live as St. Francis did, seeing everything in creation as evidence of God’s providence and seeing its destiny to return to eternal union with God. There is also an aspect of it that calls us to evangelization, to spreading the Good News of the Gospel. The Dominican spirituality is closely related to Franciscan spirituality but emphasizes the study of theology and preaching the Word. Carmelite spirituality (which I admit I am not too familiar with) emphasizes the deep prayer life taught by Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.
When I began investigating the various Third Orders I thought I might be drawn to the Carmelite Third Order. However as I tried to look into it I was told that in view of my interest they were considering disbanding the Order on a worldwide basis so that there would never be any possibility of such a thing occurring. (Well, perhaps they didn’t put it quite that way, but there did seem to be several difficulties that I could not overcome.) In any case, I sort of fell into the SFO and it seems a pretty good fit, (despite what the fellow members of my fraternity here in Colorado Springs may think).
In any case, at various times, I have tried to read both Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, without much success. I have to admit I can’t make heads or tails out of St. John and reading St. Teresa brings it’s own problems for me. First, there is the guilt that I feel for being such a spiritual slug in the face of such holiness. Then, there is the heightened tendency to selfish introspection (“Let’s see, am I in the first mansion or can I claim to have progressed to the second mansion?” And “Will I ever be able to make it to the third mansion?”) that is not at all healthy. I view this inability to read these two great saints as a grave personal shortcoming, but there it is.
So there are saints that we might have great difficulty reading or might never be able to read and appreciate, depending on our spirituality. But you see, we don’t have to read St. Teresa, we don’t have to read St. Thomas, and we don’t have to read St. Francis to be good and faithful Catholics and Christians. We can understand that they all have something to teach us about the truth of our faith, and they have given the Church the great legacy of their individual wisdom, but not all of us will be able to read all of them with the same benefit. Each of us is different and drawn to God in a certain way and it is important for each of us to try to discover that way and do our best to grow within it.