Wednesday, December 23, 2015

warm bland fuzzies for all

Starbucks and Kohl's Department Stores have used the same song celebrating "the holidays."  From the Times-Union story:

The song, which starts with "This holiday, I'm coming home to you," is not specific to Christmas or Hanukkah and it has plenty of oohs and aahs so the commercial's narrator has space to speak – all calculated to make the song more marketable to advertisers.

This as opposed to specific holidays like, y'know, Christmas or Hanukkah.  But hey, it sells coffee--and obviously the young singer featured hopes it brings new musical opportunities.

Local angle:  the musician creating and recording this song graduated from my institution, The College of Saint Rose.  The College itself seems to follow the same sort of bland secularized holiday feel the song celebrates.  On the other hand, the same college also produced Father Matthew Venuti, one of the Anglican Ordinariate's first priests.

Thus an on-going, and beautiful, even as that beauty often emerges amid anguish and suffering (spiritual and physical), paradox of Christianity:  that particular commitments--heck, let's call them what they are, conversions--appear amid life's predominant, bland, undifferentiated reality.  Thus the Catholic tradition extols some of the greatest spiritual autobiographies:  Augustine's Confessions, Newman's Apologia pro vita sua, Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, and Day's The Long Loneliness.  More recently converts such as Scott Hahn, Jennifer Fulwiler, and Patrick Madrid's Surprised by Truth series detail new versions of this same story.

Something similar works in the time-tested Christmas favorites.  When played endlessly before Thanksgiving, the songs--particularly the secular ones like "Walking in a Winter Wonderland"--can, for all their imagery, lose some of their appeal.  What makes Christmas music Christmas is, of course, the Christian particularity. Warm fuzzies can take us only so far. We can come home any time during the year, but only once during the year does the joyful news that Christ is born ring true.

keep the Faith

international edition....

Checking this blog's stats and for the first time EVER, there are more reader hits from a country other than the United States.  Currently this blog's greatest activity comes from....BRUNEI.

At this point it is important to remember this story in the news.  Brunei is run according to Sharia law, and thus allowed Christmas celebrations. This year, though, the public celebration thereof was judged to threaten the beliefs of Brunei's majority population.  Public expressions of Christmas, i.e., Christianity, including crosses and decorations (at this point someone should perhaps inform Brunei's sultan that a cross is not a Christmas decoration) will be strictly banned.

So, if those in Brunei reading this blog are Christians (Catholic or not) restrained by this legislation, know that this blog appreciates your interest and prays for your faith, your well-being, and a very merry Christmas.

As St. John Paul II repeated, Be Not Afraid!  Never, ever give up hope.

surrender cobra

from an ESPN report on a familiar scene in sports television:  a player or team makes an amazing play to win the game at last possible second and the opponents' fans stand, dumbfounded, with their hands on their heads.  It often looks like this:

Image courtesy Reddit.

A fitting image, especially when Catholic colleges make decisions and announcements like The College of Saint Rose did Friday, December 11, 2015:  twenty-three faculty positions cut and several programs and majors cut from across the curriculum.  Some of these were professional and graduate programs (e.g., Bachelor's program in Art Education and the graduate program in Communications), while others covered liberal arts subjects like Economics, American Studies, and....Philosophy and Religious Studies.  These last three are/were the majors my department offered.

The Sisters of St. Joseph, the women's order that founded Saint Rose in 1920, issued the following statement about the cuts:
Nearly 100 years ago, Sister Blanche Rooney, CSJ, and other brave Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet saw a need and acted.
Inspired by the legacy of the original Sisters of Saint Joseph, who as women in 1650 took the radical step of going into the world to minister to the poor, the sick and the desperate of Le Puy, France, Sister Blanche envisioned a college that would teach and empower young women to be citizen leaders grounded in faith and dedicated to excellence and service.
In founding The College of Saint Rose, the local Province of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet recognized that, just as they were responding to a need, fulfilling its mission would forever require the college to be alert and amenable to a changing reality in the larger society, and especially among its current and prospective students.
In other words, to meet and serve people where they are.
This founding principle is why we support President Carolyn Stefanco, the Board of Trustees and all those on campus working diligently to lead our beloved Saint Rose in updating academic programs and priorities to meet the changing needs of students who count on the college to prepare them to succeed in a world they will inherit.
and then a bit later:

Change is upsetting for many in all walks of life, including our own. It creates anxiety and uncertainty, and can leave some feeling overlooked, forgotten, left behind. That is why it is so important in times of change to extend grace, love and affirmation to all in our community. Change also is an opportunity for renewal, and renewal is empowering. Responsible leaders are obligated to recognize the need for change and act carefully but resolutely.

Read the statement and you'll soon note what is absent:  any reference or indication of the College's founding as a religious endeavor.  It's utilitarian endeavor now;  what serves the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  A principle that many, including the Sisters themselves, would argue is not part of the Catholic social justice tradition.  And that is correct.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Quo Vadis?

Post title references Rome's Basilica di San Sebastiano and the nearby Quo Vadis chapel and this early Christian story about St. Peter meeting Jesus, post-Resurrection, just outside Rome.  The Basilica and church feature Christ's footprints captured in the stones he walked over to Rome itself.

But it refers to a question, posed rather directly, from a good friend this past July over dinner near Standish, Maine:  "Just who do you want to reach with that blog?"

Well, everybody, pretty much.

Except we all know it's not that easy.  First, St. Paul's argument notwithstanding, none of us can be all things to all people.  To the extent that any of us are is a gift from the Holy Spirit.  (Side comment: OK, Bishop Robert Barron comes awfully darned close.  There are others, too, such as Father Donio's Catholic Apostolate Center.)  Certain blogs will catch readers and audiences that others just miss.  That in itself is fine, insofar that the diversity of (Catholic) blogs all  intend the same end:  the building of the Kingdom, through the Church, here on earth. So, Artur Sebastian Rosman takes one approach, Deacon Scott Dodge takes another, while Elizabeth Duffy, Amy Welborn, and Elizabeth Reardon each take their own.  #allgood  #therearesomanyothers

So where's Spiritual Diabetes?

Certainly in an academic vein of the Catholic blogosphere, but one attuned to trends outside the Academy's walls as well.  Popular culture, popular spiritual trends, and politics all appear, but part of what generates this blog comes from the admittedly rarefied air of Catholic theological studies and, this is crucial, my particular location therein.  Other posts have addressed my conversion experiences and my own views on Catholic higher education.  Animating those posts, though, is the theme of spiritual hunger, satisfaction, and overconsumption.  That is, after all, how one contracts Type II diabetes--you eat your way into it.  At some point, and this determining factor differs for each individual, one's consumption outstrips the body's own abilities to process and burn sugar. The diabetic, once diagnosed, knows darned well what the stakes are and reduces consumption, but then it's too late. Thereafter, the bloodstream courses with more and more sugar, which causes both thirst and more hunger.  Increased high blood sugar leads to circulatory and tissue breakdown, hence the association of diabetes with blindness, loss of mobility, and even loss of limbs.

The reality that the United States faces, and has faced for almost two decades, a Type II diabetes epidemic seems an apt portal or theme for addressing similar questions of spiritual overconsumption.  As stated in one of my earliest posts, originally I saw this theme as a means to address spiritual overconsumption on what might be called "the right" politically and socially-speaking in the United States.  Almost three years of blogging has led me to conclude, though, that spiritual diabetes flourishes just as strongly on the Left.  (Although at times I have used the phrase "spiritual veganism" to address that side.  I do need a couple more posts to explore further that relationship.)

Recently a tectonic shift in Catholic blogging occurred when Elizabeth Scalia "The Anchoress," longtime portal editor of Patheos' Catholic channel, moved her work to Aleteia.  Katrina Fernandez, a fiery convert and blogger who works in North Carolina, subsequently announced the end of her blog "The Crescat," and Max Lindemann has toyed with doing the same at his "Diary of a Wimpy Catholic."  No blog runs forever, and perhaps we Catholic bloggers should know of and work with that realization more so than we and more so than blogs of other faiths (and no faith at all).  Don't worry, this isn't a resignation post--I'm not going anywhere just yet.  That being said, for all the refreshing, inspiring, and challenging voices within the Catholic blogosphere, it bears repeating that the Catholic social media presence--as diverse as it is--must never be mistaken for the Church.  Only there--and not here--may we discover (repeatedly!) the authentic remedies for spiritual diabetes.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Ecumenism, Unity, Rural Religion & Future Joy

Last month I posted a clip of my morning convocation at Bismarck's University of Mary in November, 2014.  That same evening I gave another lecture on ecumenical dialogue and Christian unity celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio.

In light of the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II's conclusion AND what Scott Eric Alt rightly calls "Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome," it seems important to reiterate the great evangelical call Vatican II issued.  The Holy Spirit calls the Church out into the world to proclaim the Good News.  This requires clergy, women and men religious, and, yes, the laity.  Everybody has a role to play, and, yes, some or perhaps most of us will fulfill these roles working with non-Catholic others.  Not everybody, though, of course:  some are called into an apostolate of prayer that staggers the minds of many, including many Catholics.  For the rest of us, though, as St. Josemaria taught, it's out into the world we go.

The beginning, though, features some impromptu remarks about my 2002 book Saving the Heartland.  Having grown up in the rural Midwest, I had found every American religious history course and text unsatisfying.  The only times my region appeared involved either some hideous, reactionary, anti-Catholic movement or a brief recognition of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination now headquartered in Springfield, Missouri.  The reality I knew was much different and much more diverse.  I had seen black churches in Springfield, German Lutherans and even Waldensians near Monett, and, and this is where my book takes its roots, all sorts of Catholic Churches.  While driving around with my dad I used to ask him "Where'd this church come from? Where did that one?"  Finally, frustrated with my constant questioning, he said "Why don't you look it up at the library?????"  Several years later, while pondering the direction of my doctoral studies with my advisor, the mercurial James T. Fisher, I was given roughly the same answer.  In response to my questions about Catholics living in rural America, Jim charged me: "It's your region of the country, you write the history!"

There's a lot more to that history, but at least I contributed a small part.  And visiting UMary last year reminded me again of all that.  Earlier this year in a post about Catholic higher education I mention my impression of attending a campus Mass there.  Far from the usual poor attendance with daydreaming and smart-phoning students, Mass at Mary practically crackled with spiritual profundity.  It was also packed; I stood should-to-shoulder with students along the back wall.  So in these days of great consternation we should take, as Benedict XVI did when elected in 2005, comfort in the prayers and support of the Church's youth.  The Gospel springs ever anew with the joy of the Resurrection.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Can the Pope Reunite Christians?

Over the weekend Pope Francis visited the Lutheran community in Rome and expressed his enthusiasm for ecumenical dialogue.  This reminded me of 2014's fiftieth anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenical dialogue.  This time last year, in celebration of that document, I had the opportunity to speak at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.  Here's my morning convocation for students and members of the Christian Leadership Center.

Unitatis is, believe it or not, an underappreciated work.  It's also, as I detailed in the talk linked above, unapologetically Roman Catholic.  Far from giving away the keys to store, UR makes it clear:  Christian unity, ultimately, involves reunion with Rome.  So it's not "many paths to one center," because ultimately that center is Roman Catholic Christianity.  Furthermore, UR distinguishes between dialoging with Orthodoxy, where the conversation takes place among apostolic equals, and ecumenical dialogue with Protestants, where UR admits significant differences still exist.

That being said, in the intervening fifty years--and something I didn't mention last year in Bismarck, developments like the Episcopal-Roman Catholic Ordinariate indicate that progress is being made while still honoring and recognizing the ecclesial traditions of other Christians.  We all have roles to play in this journey towards unity, a unity that exists now (in and with Rome) and will exist more fully with God's grace.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Can we pleez stahp?

Liberal education:  have the kids take classes in a variety of fields, encouraging them throughout to drink deeply from the traditions in each discipline, push the boundaries of those traditions, and seek their intersections.  Thus the students become learned, truly educated citizens who in addition to training in particular disciplines (Psychology, Education, Business, the arts, etc.) possess broad familiarity in other disciplines (the arts, religion, politics, etc.).

And the telos--the end towards which all this energy and study is directed--is that these learned individuals will go into the world, go their various ways, pursue various careers, meet with various levels of success, and yet maintain an understanding and appreciation of humane learning--that which makes us human.  The arts--visual and performative, politics, contemporary trends, historical awareness, FOOD, for that matter, and yes even religion.

So the first question;  what should the kids read?

The second question stems from this first:  Do they need to read that?

It turns out Duke University required its 2015 freshmen class to read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home:  A Family Tragicomedy.  As expected, some students protested, calling it pornographic.  As also might be expected, others leapt to defend Duke's required reading.  It's not pornographic, the students protesting are just close-minded, precisely the people who needs their minds opened by such reading.  Thus, an impasse.

So what's the hubbub about?  From, the Publishers Weekly review:
This autobiography by the author of the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys).Fun Home refers both to the funeral parlor, where he put makeup on the corpses and arranged the flowers, and the family's meticulously restored gothic revival house, filled with gilt and lace, where he liked to imagine himself a 19th-century aristocrat. The art has greater depth and sophistication that Dykes; Bechdel's talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man's secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter's burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide. The recursively told story, which revisits the sites of tragic desperation again and again, hits notes that resemble Jeanette Winterson at her best. Bechdel presents her childhood as a "still life with children" that her father created, and meditates on how prolonged untruth can become its own reality. She's made a story that's quiet, dignified and not easy to put down. 

Reproduced here without any claim to ownership.

So let's get this "straight" (bad pun, I realize):  Duke University, one of the nation's premier private education institutions, required its entire in-coming first year class (approximately 1600 students) to read a lesbian's memoir of her funeral-parlor-operating, closeted homosexual father.  Quite frankly, instead of decrying "pornography!" the students instead should have questioned the relevance of having to read this at all.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Goal & Path//Charity & Pope Francis

Here's my latest piece at the St. Joseph's College of Maine Theology blog.  Yesterday was the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a fitting saint for Pope Francis' U.S. visit.  What days in which we live!  So much attention paid to Pope Francis' every move and sentence, and really I bet he himself would tell us to focus ourselves on serving our neighbors.  Today's readings at Mass really underlined the importance of charity, too.  We need these reminders.  Otherwise we become like the rich chided and warned by St. James.  At the end of the Gospel today one of my daughters whispered:  "That's really creepy.  How come they never read that part at school mass?"  Especially since the Gospel yesterday also involves Jesus' injunction to receive children, we often overlook the ways in which we attempt to keep the Good News at a child's, not an adult's, level.  The call to charity, while certainly involving children, focuses on adults because in its the adult world where charity really gains traction.  And challenges us to ever greater charity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Holiness is Achievable – 3 Day Quote Challenge

It seems that my good friend and blogging guru, Virginia Lieto, has thrown down the gauntlet.  I have been named in a three-day quote challenge.  From Virginia (who was in turned named by Melanie Juneau):

The rules of this challenge:

  1. Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
  2. Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
  3. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

So, to cover all the bases, thanks first to Virginia for her kindness to include in the spirit of friendly competition and the great apostolic work of Catholic blogging.  This is, folks, the era of the New Catholic Renaissance. If you're reading this, were redirected here, and when you follow a link to another Catholic blogger, then, y'all, you are participating in the New Catholic Renaissance. It has many voices, themes, designs, and goals--but they all contribute to uplifting of Christ's Church.  And Virginia contributes remarkably to this.  (And, hey, Bishop Robert Barron has announced as much, on NPR no less, so there you go--the New Catholic Renaissance.)

And my three companions in Catholic blogging quote-dom are:  

*Michael Seagriff, my fellow upstater
*Nathan Barontini, one of my go-to +Google Catholic apologists

First day's quote....from a confessor who recommended this and I found it, while of course quite familiar, remarkably refreshing:  The Magnificat:

The Prayer Of Mary 
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

(Lk 1:46-55)

Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae; ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen ejus, Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam brachio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Sucepit Israel, puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae, Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semeni ejus in saecula.

So much good there--to contemplate and remember.  God's ways are not always our own. We do well to remember the power and mystery--and the love!--of God.

And then there's this:

News Hits the Street

Your earnest blogger has made a couple Albany-area appearances regarding Pope Francis' visit to Cuba and the US.

A phone interview with WAMC 90.3 FM, the area's powerful NPR affiliate

And television interviews with:

WNYT channel 13, Albany's NBC affiliate


WRGB CBS 6 (one of the nation's oldest television stations, by the way;  based in Schenectady, NY, one-time home base for General Electric).

And best of all, an interview with The Chronicle, the Saint Rose student newspaper!

Photo from @CollegeofStRose 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Spiritual decay by any other name still spiritual decay.  We lose what we once were.

This might be human nature, not merely a jeremiad of cultural decay.  The so-called good ol' days contained violence, racism, ethnic hatred, and oppression, too.  And before them, the same.  Things fall apart.  Critics like to bag St. Augustine of Hippo and Augustinianism for gloomy dispositions and low expectations about human improvement, but hey, the guy and those who follow in his intellectual wake have a point:  we tend to muck things up.

That's where this blog piece by Dominican brother Paul Clarke, OP, makes a great contribution.  Among the many things Pope Francis' Laudato Si' indicts stands indifference.  We simply don't understand and feel the pain others experience.  Clarke:

The indifference that Francis is taking aim at is a kind of spiritual leprosy, a problem with our nerve endings where the concerns and pain of others fail to register. We need to feel pain if we are to avoid severely injuring ourselves. If I put my hand on a hot stove, it’s the searing pain that will make me (a) scream like a banshee as I (b) pull my hand away. The harm done is actually the burning skin on my hand, but without the pain, I might have left it there to char. That’s basically what’s so dangerous about neurological disorders that make you insensitive to pain (basically, imagine leprosy). For a hodge-podge of reasons that are cultural, historical, political, personal, and spiritual, we have a moral equivalent of leprosy. Where the suffering of others should cause us pain, we just don’t feel it.

Bingo.  Clarke's argument gets at this blog's title and inspiring notion--spiritual diabetes--through another, related, metaphor.  Both diabetes and leprosy involve rot;  one's internal and the other external.  Make no mistake, though, things decay in either situation and, Clarke makes a great point here, one of the significant and first results is...indifference.  We don't "feel" as we should or used to.  Healing starts with recognizing the interconnectedness of things--of life itself.  Clarke:

Laudato Si’ is an effort to integrate the splintered moral narratives into a single, spiritual frame, a dramatic portrait of reality in which the central character of the story is us. Pope Francis contests the logic of a “piecemeal” approach which treats man’s relationship with the earth as a series of discrete problems. Like Pope Benedict XVI, he points out that “the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since ‘the book of nature is one and indivisible,’ and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth” (§6).

Diet and exercise.  And the Theology of the Body.  We have bodies--from God!--and what we do with them matters, and we can learn to act correctly when, as Clarke reads Pope Francis (and thus his predecessors St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI), begin with an appreciation for interconnectedness.  What we put into our bodies and how we remain active (diet and exercise) are more than just physical practices;  they provide an avenue for understanding how to combat a very real spiritual pandemic: indifference.

Brother Clarke's piece is just one (the third) in a five-part series on Pope Francis' Laudato Si' in honor of the Pope's US visit next week.  Read it all here at the Dominicans' theology blog Dominicana.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Whuppsie-Daisy, there's a scandal:  what we thought was scientific, anthropological evidence, ain't.  This has some legs, too;  an eminent scholar ends his career in shame, forced to resign after several falsifications were revealed.

Defenestration -- being thrown out a window.  This particular phrasing has roots in Catholic-Protestant tensions in early modern Europe.

Except science scandals like this qualify more as self-defenestration.  Everything rolling their way, and the agents in question simply go out of their way to screw things up for themselves.  They throw themselves out a window.  Self-Defenestration.

Maybe this is just another way of saying:  original sin.  Keep rubbin'--that stain ain't coming out.

In our memed-up world where we communicate in Uzi-short bursts of 140 characters and Handmaid's Tale-esque images, these sorts of scandals will continue as the norm.  The conventional wisdom:  "science" tells us what's true because it's verifiable.  So whatever science tells us is true, then that, and certainly not "religion," is the acceptable view.

Hence memes like this:

This is a secular version of what I've called "comedy porn."  Here's another version (NSFW/offensive language warning!):

Here we have one embodiment (there are others) of "comedy porn:"  the self-satisfied, condescending, "you don't know what's good for you" tone that delights in ridiculing others.  Usually this serves a progressivist, roughly secular, perspective but that doesn't stop progressivist Christians from getting in on the act.  If there's a chance to lampoon supposedly dumb Christians, watch everybody line up! Note:  this savage satire does, at times, serve important purposes.  Consider the success of Eye of the Tiber.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

gratitude's surprising environment

Stephen Colbert, the new host of CBS's Late Show, is GQ's cover story.  Brooklyn's Deacon Greg Kandra writes:

The funnyman is about to unveil “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS, and he gets profiled in the latest issue of GQ and offers some personal theology that is as beautiful as it is unexpected. When was the last time you heard a famous late night comic talk like this?  Luke Russert even tweeted about this yesterday, noting: “Fantastic piece. Catholic undertones in every Colbert answer.”

Full Colbert interview in GQ here.

Kandra's post interpreting said interview here.

Catholic undertones in every answer. 

Just let that sink in.  Are there problems with mainstream media.  Yes, absolutely.  But here, in the time slot where we expect to see nothing but cynical ridicule instead we have Colbert's startling declarations of gratitude and faith. And these are thoroughly, unapologetically Roman Catholic. So much for evangelizing through dour denials or condemnations.  Look at Colbert's intelligence, wit, and humor... and realize that fueling all that is his faith.  

There are times when Colbert shamelessly offers as humor what we might otherwise call catechetics.  Here's another one--a send-up of hymnody and dance.

He's out of breath at the end...and you can tell he had fun doing that. Good--and good to laugh at ourselves.
It is wonderful to appreciate and should spark thanksgiving to God for gracious gifts such as this.  Not Colbert's position to influence culture (although he does have that), but not even the moments when his material is conscientiously Catholic, but rather the simple, joyous presence of his faith...and the power that illuminate and inspire us, too.

Late addition:  Colbert's show debuted last night on CBS.  Here is Deacon Kandra's review.  With Colbert now all three major late-night show hosts are Catholics:  Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon.  James Fisher once wrote about the Catholic takeover of popular culture.  It would seem we're about to see another installment.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bishop Barron on His Episcopal Coat of Arms | Word on Fire

Bishop Barron on His Episcopal Coat of Arms | Word on Fire

Non nisi te Domine--Only you, Lord....

Continue to pray for Bishop Barron, his brother bishops in Los Angeles, and all bishops, especially the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Καθολικός διάκονος: Anticipating an Extraordinary Jubilee

Καθολικός διάκονος: Anticipating an Extraordinary Jubilee: Utah deacon Scott Dodge's reflections on Pope Francis' announcement of the Jubilee of Mercy starting on December 8, 2015 the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Deacon Dodge:

First and foremost Pope Francis describes how all the faithful may obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. In his letter the Holy Father expresses his “wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting the sin forgiven.” Indulgences are not a thing of past, but remain an important practice of Christian faith. Once again, I encourage everyone to read Bl Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina

Pilgrims to Rome for the Jubilee can obtain the Jubilee Indulgence by making a pilgrimage to one of the four Papal Basilicas and churches “traditionally identified as Jubilee Churches” each of which will have a Door of Mercy. Every Cathedral in each diocese will have a Holy Door to which one can make a pilgrimage. Only a brief visit, made as expression of one’s “deep desire for true conversion,” is requested. I expect miracles. 

The Holy Father makes provision for those who are ill and elderly. In a deeply moving passage in his letter, Pope Francis makes it possible for prisoners to obtain the Jubilee Indulgence by making prison chapels sites on par with Papal Basilicas, Jubilee Churches, and Cathedrals. 

Those fluent in Italian can read a Roman tourism article describing the Jubilee pilgrimages here.  In the same letter Pope Francis allows all priests to absolve women who've had abortions. This made, in case you missed it, some stir in the media.  The Holy Father also, for the Jubilee year, recognizes as valid and licit confessions heard by priests of the Society of St. Pius X.  This is, Dodge notes, is quite surprising to our human sensibilities, but not so much when considered from the scope of divine mercy.  

Read all of the Deacon's post here.

So there's one image of Pope Francis:  the great reacher-outer, the great inclusionist.  As Deacon Dodge concludes, c'mon, people, it's not that difficult.  And may God sustain him so for many years to come.

On the other hand, Pope Francis hasn't thrown the baby out with the bath water.  Church teachings on the family, sexuality, women's ordination--nothing's changed there.  You would think somebody would've read the memo by now.  The. Pope. is. Catholic.  This is not a newsflash.  In fact, as Dodge notes, it's because the Pope is very much Catholic that the Jubilee of Mercy reaches out to so many different groups:  women who regret abortions, prisoners, the SSPX, pilgrims to Rome.  And really all of us; we are all sinners.

And still God, through Pope Francis, extends the call home. Symbolized by Bernini's colonnade at St. Peter's, the Church's arms still reach out to all.

Bishop-elect Barron on Stephen Colbert and Providence | Word on Fire

Bishop-elect Barron on Stephen Colbert and Providence | Word on Fire -- Bishop-elect Barron traces the connections from Colbert through Tolkien to Newman.  And it's providential.  We might give consolation and courage to others--alive now or not yet born.  Yet more great watch from Word on Fire and Bishop Barron.

not nearly as funny as you think it is

Simcha Fisher, Patheos Catholic blogger and mother of nine, writes about Slate education reporter Rebecca Shuman's confession that she photographs herself flipping the middle finger to her sleeping baby.

You read correctly:  a reporter, on education mind you, for a national online publication, published an article--with photographs--detailing her delight in giving vulgar hand-gestures to her own child.  Because, apparently, the seven-month old has trouble getting to sleep.

I'm not terribly concerned with Shuman's piece.  The photo alone suggests that she, an elite, well-educated and well-employed journalist, feels empowered enough to do basically whatever she wants...and then tell us all about it.  It's this last part that really grinds the gears;  why do we need to know this?  What benefit does Shuman's article and her photos serve?

Fisher's response is direct, honest, and devastating.  It's also has some direct and NSFW language, so be warned.  Fisher:

This is bullshit, and I’ve said so more times than I can count. It makes us into worse parents when we expect to be joyful and grateful all the time. Raising babies is hard, and there are lots of times when it just plain sucks. I recall telling my pediatrician, in a moment of sleep-deprived candor, that I wasn’t actually going to throw my always-screaming baby out the window, but I sure felt like I wanted to.

Simcha expresses sympathy and understanding for frustrated parents who need to blow off some parenting steam. Hey, the woman's given birth to nine children--I think she knows what she's talking about.  The need to release tension, though, isn't absolute.  Fisher:

But listen to what I said: the demands of babyhood are awful. That does not make your baby awful. One of the first things you need to learn, if you want to be a good parent, is to make sure you know the difference between “fuck this situation” and “fuck this baby.” The former is a universal experience. The latter is grotesque.
But why? The baby doesn’t know the difference, and I believe this mom who says she loves her baby. Isn’t this just some harmless, if tasteless, venting? Does it really matter what goes on around the head of someone who doesn’t and can’t understand what’s happening, which is really just a joke anyway?
But this, Fisher correctly argues, is precisely the point.  Human dignity extends to all, and Shuman does care for her child.'s precisely because the baby is, well, a baby that such gestures are problematic.  They dehumanize the powerless--the very people we're all called to defend.  Fisher:

Just because someone can’t fight back, that doesn’t mean we can use them. Just because someone can’t fight back, that means we can’t use them.
Recall the infamous Army Private Lynndie England photos from Abu Ghraib. .....

No, the Slate writer’s baby isn’t be tortured. But there is something chillingly familiar about “HA, you can’t fight back!” attitude. You don’t need to look up your Aristotle to know that some things just aren’t funny. Even if it makes you feel better.
The very worst thing that you can do to another human being is to use him. I used to think this was just some abstract theological formulation meant to neaten up the codification of sins. But now I see that objectification of human beings lies at the heart of every sin. That’s what it always comes down to.

Fisher's article parallels Schuman's photo with Lynndie Englan's Abu Ghraib pic.  The resemblances are uncanny--and frightening.  It's one thing to view Schuman's photos in Slate--where's the harm there?  We all have problems with our designer children....or so the breezy dismissal goes.  Fisher hits a home run with the Abu Ghraib comparison:  the condescendingly reassertion of power and objectification strike us as wrong....but in one instance we condemn yet in another we pass it off as a mother's frustrations.  But Fisher reminds us:  such objectification is sinful.

And she's also right--that objectification appears everywhere.It's not nearly as funny as we think it is.
And we all, sadly, fall into the trap--but that doesn't mean we can't fight the temptation.

Read it all  here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

the Dickey lick in Catholic theology

Not a dirty-minded title! This post does not involve clergy sexual abuse....but you sure thought about it, didn't you?

"lick" -- a particular musical phrase, rhythm, or melodic pattern; not quite a hook

"the Dickey lick"  -- a particular chord or passage in an Allman Brothers Band song written by, played by, or performed in the style of, founding member and guitarist Dickey Betts.  The phrase comes from Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, the band's guitarists and musical directors for the group's final decade.  Haynes, who joined the group in 1989, and Trucks, who joined in 1999 and the nephew of founding drummer Butch Trucks, faced a conundrum perhaps common to many who perform classic songs written by another hand. Do you remain faithful to the song's original format and style, and to what extent are you, the current performer, allowed to improvise?  Haynes and Trucks, both exceptionally accomplished musicians, recognized the necessity--for the band's fans as well as the band's own legacy--to perform "the Dickey lick" as Betts crafted wherever it might appear in a song, even though they themselves might want to, and could quite easily, play it differently.  "The Dickey lick" is part of what makes particular Allman Brothers songs what they are.

  Thus an old-school entry:

 and a more recent example:

 Betts wrote and sang both songs (and that's him in the second video tab)

All this comes courtesy of the 2014 book One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.  In oral history format--the band's members and agents speak for themselves--the book covers the band's entire history except its final concerts in October 2014 in New York City. An interesting read if you're a fan of the band or that type of jamming-Southern rock.  It is interesting to recall that "Rambling Man," containing perhaps some of the most recognizable "Dickey licks," was recorded after the death of founder, spiritual guide,and lead guitarist Duane Allman.  In fact, the band played for several decades after Duane Allman died, expanding and changing all the while yet maintaining spiritual and stylistic ties. From pages 371-3:

HAYNES:  It was really different to record an Allman Brothers album without Dickey, and playing in this band without him has led me to alter my style quite a bit. His playing is marked by a very clean tone and a beautiful melodic sense, so I tended towards a nastier approach playing with him. The melodic thing and the clean-versus-dirty tone contrasts both have to be there to sound like the Allman Brothers, so I've taken some of things on myself. To go too far against the grain just wouldn't be right...which is why you hear those ascending lines on songs like "Firing Line" and "The High Cost of Low Living."

TRUCKS:  "The Dickey lick."

HAYNES:  If Gov't Mule [blogger's note:  this is Haynes' side-project formed in 1994] was recording the song we probably wouldn't put that lick in there.  It's there because it's an Allman Brothers riff, and you need things like that to keep the thread going from 1969 til now--though I must say that Gregg [Allman] wanted it out.  He said, "We've been doing that shit for thirty years.  Can we take that lick out?"

TRUCKS:  A lick like that is the band's sound.  The rhythm section and Gregg's organ sound lend themselves to certain guitar lines and you play them almost without realizing it. When you're playing a tune, you think "This is what the Allman Brothers would do."  You just happen to be in them.

And that, folks, summarizes basically the story--tensions, crises, and triumphs--of American Catholic theology since the Second Vatican Council.  To what extent do we, who did not write the songs we play, remain truthful to "the Dickey lick"--a particular melodic strain--to keep the thread going?  To what extent do we create and continue a tradition even as we criticize it?  Because we are in the song we're playing.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Can We Cana? A Community to Support Catholic Marriages: Parochial School Girl Meets Public School World

Can We Cana? A Community to Support Catholic Marriages: Parochial School Girl Meets Public School World: A wonderful and warm post by Karee Santos about her oldest daughter confronting the crazy secularism and (im)modesty standards in many public schools.  Very familiar territory for me--my daughters encounter the same situations.And Karee's right; we do have to let go a bit so they can make their own decisions.  Prayer--by Moms, Dads, and daughters--will help.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Virginia Lieto's FINDING PATIENCE -- review and blog tour

It is both an honor and pleasure to contribute a review of Virginia Lieto's Finding Patience, a book for children ages 4-8.  Virginia, whose blogging work I have mentioned frequently, is also raffling five signed copies of Finding Patience. You can enter that raffle by clicking here.

Virginia' s spry, simply illustrated book introduces the Livingstone sisters:  Faith (age 8), Hope (5), and Charity (3).  The girls and their parents, Peter and Grace, have relocated and face unpacking the house and meeting new people.  Their kind new neighbor, Luke Gabriel, raises puppies. Taking a break from unpacking, the Livingstone girls visit the puppies.  Faith, feeling alone and friendless, bonds with the litter's shy puppy.  As school approaches, the Livingstone girls get anxious--to start school itself, to play, and for Faith, to meet new friends.  Unfortunately, the first day comes and Faith spends the day alone.  On the bus, in class, and at lunch--nobody speaks to Faith.  Her mother delicately yet firmly encourages Faith to wait. Mother and daughter pray, asking God for patience.  That night, her father and sisters add Faith's request to their prayers.  Faith struggles through a second, and then a third, day.  She and her sisters pray for old friends and new, and for patience.  By the third evening, Faith regains some confidence and plays with her sisters.  As they do, Mr. Gabriel visits to deliver a puppy--the same one with whom Faith bonded a few days before.  Charity names the puppy "Love," which leads to one of the best passages in the book:

"Now that Faith had Love, being ignored on the bus didn't hurt as much."

Strengthened, Faith begins to participate in her new school's daily routine.  When a rude boy budges her in the lunch line, Faith does not overreact.  She recognizes God had given her patience.  As she walks to her seat in the lunchroom, she joyfully thanks God in silent prayer.  As she sits down, Faith then makes her first friend.

As a father of three teenagers I certainly recall the days of bedtime reading.  And I now wish I had access to a book like  Finding Patience.  It conveys crucially important lessons to an audience that needs precisely this message.  Young readers themselves will enjoy learning to read as they learn about patience.  Parents reading to their children will catch Lieto's rich symbolism throughout:  the family's name embodies their firm presence for each other "living stone," and the neighbor "Luke Gabriel" stands as a messenger announcing good news.  It is, after all, when Faith receives Love that she discovers she has patience.   Furthermore, it is helpful that institutional Christianity--an entity that surely has tested the patience of many bloggers and blog-readers--appears as a benign reality.  Lieto portrays the Livingstone girls attending a "Christian academy," but that could be Catholic or Protestant. The children wear uniforms, but apart from the ICHTHUS/fish symbols on the boys' shirts, the book does not clutter mind nor eye with unnecessary distinctions.  The focus remains on Faith and her sisters.  Thus Lieto's intended audience can imagine themselves in Faith's shoes--they can see themselves gaining patience and friends just like Faith does.

Along the way, for adult readers Finding Patience conveys a truth discussed in the Church's Catechism #773.  The Church's Marian charism--its internal, spiritual life--precedes the Petrine--its external, authoritative voice.  Importantly, Faith's mother, Grace, helps her begin her prayerful search for patience...and thus friendship.  So, in addition to conveying virtue--part of the natural law--Virginia's book also imparts a Marian lesson.  External expressions and actions, if they are to be authentically Catholic and Christian, must be formed first spiritually. Faith's teacher doesn't orchestrate the classroom to coerce classmates to become friends, nor does her father intercede to demand other children like his daughter.  Lieto's childhood readers already know that truth:  Mom and Dad can protect us, but they cannot make or script friends for you.  Christian friendship comes from God and thus is a gift.  Finding Patience illustrates this wonderfully on many levels.  The book should find its way into many parents' gift choices as well as the appropriate collections at schools and public libraries.

Next step:  TOMORROW, MONDAY, August 31, be sure to check Sarah Damm's review of Finding Patience.  A Catholic mother of six children, Sarah blogs unflinchingly about the joys and crises she faces.  Her review of Finding Patience will shed more light on the trials and temptations Virginia's book so deftly covers.

And keep up with the other bloggers reviewing Virginia's book.  There's a new Catholic renaissance growing.  It's online as well as in the pew, and many of Virginia's blogging colleagues contribute significantly.  We're all part of the New Evangelization!

Friday, August 21, 2015

the Us, not the They and the It

Albany's bishop, Edward Scharfenberger, is the real deal, folks.  His latest article in The Evangelist lays out some important challenges and reminders for the Church.

What if each of us took personal responsibility not only for some of the good and important works we expect to be done by the Church, but also in the face of the corruption that, during its pilgrimage throughout history, has tarnished the Church, its reputation and its integrity?

Scharfenberger knows this is the great temptation:  to take only the good of the Church--its victories, its martyrdoms, its service--and foist all the bad--gee, what scandal will it be today?--onto somebody else's shoulders.  Nope, God alone separates the wheat from the chaff.  In this world we must take the one with the other.  That being said, Catholics do have justifiable pride in the Church's accomplishments.  On the other hand, worldly success isn't the only metric...and the Church knows it.  Worldly success can become its own temptation and occasion to sin, and that reality sits atop our own human frailties and fallness.  We can, do, and will make a mess of perfectly good situations...because we are human.  And humanity is not perfect.  Scharfenberger:

This is the risk of freedom and autonomy, as Pope Francis has often noted in his daily homilies. We are all sinners, but the corrupt have taken a step beyond, in that they have become hardened in their sin so that it becomes a habitual pattern. Their "genetic code" -- as the Holy Father put it -- has not changed, since they still have a relationship with God and can turn to Him. Instead, however, they have made a "god" of themselves and their own desires.

The temptation to corruption can occur at any time, in places high or humble. The damage of which those in authority -- both in sacred and secular office -- are capable is enormous, as we see when public officials abandon their moral conscience in order to placate constituents or conceal their own complicity in some form of plunder.

Here's where Scharfenberger really riffs it good.  It's precisely in this fallness, this inescapable reality which we nonetheless are called to avoid, that we must not erect the oh-so-tempting "Us" and "Them" categories.  That alone starts the Church--which is an "Us," our community locally, nationally, and globally--towards becoming an "It."  And while the Church is an institution, it must always resist the temptation of becoming institutionalized.  Scharfenberger concludes:

The Church must never harden into a "them" instead of an "us." If it does, "it" will only turn more into that cold-seeming, heartless, bureaucratic fortress that everyone says we do not want to be.

Only the Church of "us" -- our Church -- is capable of responding in a human fashion: person-to-person, the way Jesus did, and especially to sinners.

Perhaps the remembrance of our own imperfect reality -- as sinners in need of a Savior -- will spare us from its very hardened state of the corrupt whom we may be all too tempted to point the index finger of one hand at -- even as the other three fingers inevitably point right back to us.

Read the whole thing here.  Bishop Scharfenberger has been a great gift to Albany since his installation in April, 2014.  The diocese has a great history (first diocese to be formed from New York City in 1848) and a great spirit.  It has been an inspiration (and challenge!) watching him lead the diocese in the 21st century while maintaining the legacy of his predecessor, Howard Hubbard. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Catholic Social Teaching: It's Time to End the Misrepresentations - Crisis Magazine

From 2012 and still relevant:  Anthony Esolen lays out the terms of engagement in: Catholic Social Teaching: It's Time to End the Misrepresentations - Crisis Magazine.


I’m sick of it.  I’m sick of hearing that Catholic teaching regarding sex and marriage is one thing, in that old-fashioned trinket box over there, while Catholic teaching regarding stewardship and our duties to the poor is another thing, on that marble pedestal over here.  I’m sick of hearing that Catholic teaching regarding the Church and her authority is one thing, the embarrassing Latinate red-edged tome tucked away in that closet, while Catholic teaching regarding the laity is another, and pass that bread this way!  No, it is all of a piece.  What the Church says about divorce is inextricable from what she says about the poor.  What she says about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is inextricable from what she says about the respects in which all men are created equal—and the many respects in which she insists upon a salutary inequality.  When we fail to see the integrity of the faith, not only do certain truths escape our notice; the rest, the truths we think we see, grow monstrous, like cancers, and work to destroy the flesh they once seemed to replace.

Esolen establishes the entire conversation around the encyclicals of Leo XIII (1878-1903) (and thus basis for Esolen's 2014 book Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching.) Just as today, Leo recognized that not much permanent can built atop secularism's shifty ground.  Not that folks don't try, obviously.  Either way, Esolen reminds us that Catholic social teaching calls us to (at least) two vocations:  1) witnessing to the truth in the marketplace, i.e., get out there and speak to and in defense of the Truth--the Gospel; and 2) minister to those crushed by their furtive embrace of secularism.  There will casualties, and it's not our place to stand along the sidelines, pointing our fingers, clucking our tongues "Look what you got yourself into now!"  No, Esolen argues, we are called to love.
"We must insist upon this connection.  I cannot give amoral love.  But human beings need love; they need the love that brings them deeper into the truth."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Physical War, Spiritual Weapons

Requiring a strong stomach to read, here is an expose on ISIS' "theology of rape."  Author Rukmini Callimachi:

“He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.

 Does Islam condone slavery?  The Qur'an mentions it, but, Callimachi deftly notes, so does the Bible.  <<panic ensues among the literal inerrantists reading this blog...surely a small group>>  Callimachi:

In much the same way as specific Bible passages were used centuries later to support the slave trade in the United States, the Islamic State cites specific verses or stories in the Quran or else in the Sunna, the traditions based on the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, to justify their human trafficking, experts say.

Scholars of Islamic theology disagree, however, on the proper interpretation of these verses, and on the divisive question of whether Islam actually sanctions slavery.

Many argue that slavery figures in Islamic scripture in much the same way that it figures in the Bible — as a reflection of the period in antiquity in which the religion was born.
“In the milieu in which the Quran arose, there was a widespread practice of men having sexual relationships with unfree women,” said Kecia Ali, an associate professor of religion at Boston University and the author of a book on slavery in early Islam. “It wasn’t a particular religious institution. It was just how people did things.”

Lovely--a group of violent men who believe themselves chosen by God alone to resurrect sexual repression and violence as an act of praising GodThink this is a problem for another part of the world? Well, a heck of a lot closer to most Spiritual Diabetes readers, a couple in Iowa convicted of their own sex-slave-trade crimes

According to federal court documents, the 20-year-old victim was tortured, sexually abused and forced into prostitution after being abducted in Iowa by Hodza and Sorensen [the mid-30s man and woman couple arrested] in mid-December.  The victim told federal officials that she was forced to engage in prostitution in order to earn money for Sorensen and Hodza to use for food and gas during their journey from Iowa to Virginia.

But how to defeat this?  As good King Theoden once mused, how to respond to such reckless hatred?

As Aragorn responds, ride out and meet it.

quack, quack, zombies!

For reasons legitimate and not-so-legitimate, the right side of the American political spectrum has been characterized as inundated with conspiracy theories.  And this beyond the garden-variety 9/11 & "birther" stories.  This certainly includes Christians and even some Catholics who should know better.

 Let's not forget, though, that the Left suffers from this malady, too. Here's a recent installment:  the POW-MIA flag should be grouped with the Confederate battle flag as symbols of hate.  Author Rick Perlstein concludes:
That damned flag: It’s a shroud. It smothers the complexity, the reality, of what really happened in Vietnam.
We’ve come to our senses about that other banner of lies. It’s time to do the same with this.

In the short time since the article's publication (August 10, 2015), Perlstein and an American Spectator editor issued apologies over using the term "racist." (Found at the end of the linked story)  However, Perlstein stands by his claim:  the POW flag derives its power from a secretive and sham process that hides the real truth.

So we have quacks on the right (already presumed) and quacks on the left.  Maybe this is why scenes like this from World War Z resonate so well:
Here we are, minding our own peaceful business, when suddenly over the wall come these crazies hell-bent on our destruction!  They're mad!  They hate us!  Only solution:  (Corollary:  watch Father Robert Barron [bishop-to-be!] give a Catholic theological take on the movie here.)

Over a decade ago Michael Barkun noted some of the reasons why conspiracy theories gain so much traction in American life.  Significantly, "stigmatized knowledge" -- theorists claim to possess "true" knowledge that all others outside the enlightening community consider worthless, irrelevant, or just plain wrong--fuels the intransigent passion.  The more the "true" knowledge is debased by outsiders, the more fervently they adhere.  Hence a spiritual diabetes angle:  conspiracy theories are the attempt to slake thirst with full-sugar/corn-syrup soda pop.  You need water and a sensible diet to combat diabetes, not something that will send your already-elevated blood sugar sky-rocketing.  Spiritually, as one might expect this blog to argue, the remedy lies in the Roman Catholic tradition wherein natural law and revelation work together, each providing unique knowledge, while maintaining freedom for the individual. And animating all of it is the Gospel.  This is not always sexy nor thrilling, and occasionally it's stigmatized itself, but it is the only sure remedy and preventive care for some of the whackiness that seems to inundate our world.