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.