Thursday, March 31, 2016

PINS supporting the Rock

PINS -- "Philippines, India, Nigeria, South Korea" -- John Allen, Jr.'s acronym for Catholic populations that will shape the Church's future.  

As with so much else, Allen hits the nail on the head here.  Over the past decade the West has recognized suddenly "global Christianity."  The faith is, and has been, growing there faster and more fervently than its traditional homes of North America and Europe.  An early, and certainly not the first nor the only, example is Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom:  The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford, 2002; revised edition, 2013).  Jenkins, as is his style, did not shy away from controversial conclusions, namely that "global Christianity" would be more conservative than its Euro-American predecessor.  Pope Francis' ascendancy to the Chair of Peter, despite the wide-ranging reservations and outright criticisms of the Holy Father, could be seen as validating Jenkins' argument.

Allen follows that path, contributing some real, up-to-date specifics.  First, all of these countries:

All four are nations where English is a primary language, and together they represent a vast pool of 130 million Catholics. (That includes 80.2 million in the Philippines, 19.7 million in India, 25.5 million in Nigeria, and 5.65 million in South Korea.)
That combined Catholic population is higher than that of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand together, representing the traditional cradles of English-speaking Catholicism. And the trend lines are moving in opposite directions: As the faith struggles in the latter group, it’s exploding in the former.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Καθολικός διάκονος: Rejecting faith as a resource

Καθολικός διάκονος: Rejecting faith as a resource: Deacon Scott Dodge's post-Easter post and, man oh man, does he not waste any time getting to the tough material.  Deacon Scott and Scott Eric Alt, a Catholic convert writing out of Cincinnati, regularly produce solidly written, intellectually provocative Catholic blog posts.  Follow them both and enjoy!

Deacon Scott takes Albert Camus' reckoning of postwar reality as the starting point for reflections on faith.  Dodge:

In his New York lecture, "La crise de l’homme" (trans. "The Crisis of Man"), Camus proposed metaphysical, as opposed to political, revolt as the answer to the absurd predicament in which humanity found itself in the wake of the desolation wrought by the modern world (i.e., World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, especially under the shadow of the mass murder of European Jews). In light of these bloody catastrophes and others, Camus felt everything and virtually everyone was discredited, which is why he insisted that only through such a rebellion could a person gain authenticity by living in solidarity with poor and oppressed of the world. 


Admittedly, the Church in 1945 was badly in need of reform. Many of the needed reforms would flow from the Second Vatican Council. Even Pope Pius XII, considered by too many as nothing more than a reactionary arch-conservative, grasped this and did a lot to initiate reforms between the end of the Second World War and his death in 1958.


Properly grasped, faith is not a "resource" upon which one relies, a mere coping mechanism. It especially bears noting on this Easter Monday that faith is faith in a person, Jesus Christ risen from the dead and already reigning at the Father's right hand, transforming the world from within by the power of the Holy Spirit. This transformation is the rebellion and revolution Jesus came to bring. Jesus' revolt is very much in line with what Camus suggests in The Rebel.

Deacon Scott, who knows evangelical Protestantism and Latter-Day Saint Mormonism, makes a point here congruent with theological neo-orthodoxy dating to Karl Barth's revised edition of Epistle to the Romans.  "Faith" here serves for what Barth called "religion"--the attempt of man to reach God on man's own terms.  This endeavor is bound to fail, but in so doing can convince itself that the problem lies with God, not man himself.  That is, even in failure, human arrogance cannot admit to itself that it, and not God, has failed.  Camus, the French Algerian agnostic, grasped a similar, yet nonetheless different, version of this.  Dodge notes, though, that Camus, like one of St. Augustine of Hippo's Platonists, saw the distant shore but didn't travel toward it.

Camus once told his friend Paul Raffi- "Catholic thought always seems bittersweet to me. It seduces me then offends me. Undoubtedly, I lack what is essential." Perhaps it was because he viewed faith too generically, as a resource that allows a person to avoid the reality of a screwed up, broken down, world. It may well be the case that Camus' grasp of faith can be attributed to the Church's reductive and narrow proclamation of the Gospel at the time. It was right about this same time that this narrow, simplistic, and reductive proclamation was starting to be challenged by theologians like Henri De Lubac, Yves Congar, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar once described what is often termed neo-scholasticism as a pastry with a lot of dry crust. 

Just peddling out "faith" isn't going to win over this culture spiraling out of control.  God's revelation in Jesus, our crucified and resurrected Lord, will. Dodge:

My own experience has taught me that I do not "have" faith to provide me with simplistic answers to life's most vexing questions. I think it's faith that allows me to shout "Why?" in the assurance I'm not shouting the most human of questions into a void. I receive this assurance by seeing that between where I stand and the void stands the Cross of Christ. 

Deacon Scott then investigates von Balthasar and Pope Francis' embrace of radical faith and thus evangelization.  Read it all here.

I saw the Light -- last year

Last year's Divine Mercy Sunday post at the SJCME theology blog: I Saw the Light.

An excerpt:

A confession: at first I found Divine Mercy Sunday baffling. I have since recovered—through the help of Catholic commentators like Fathers Donio and Barron, but also through the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-38) herself. If you, too, have wondered about this relatively new devotion, perhaps you will find reassuring the following exploration.
The devotion’s stumbling block seems to be its novelty. Pope John Paul II declared it—with an element of surprise—during St. Faustina’s canonization mass. So what was heretofore a relatively obscure mystical devotion from the Pope’s homeland was now, with a few words, given place of prominence—the very first week after Easter. Deacon Scott Dodge writes that the genuine dilemma is:
Are we to view it [the Divine Mercy devotion] as somehow in competition with our observance of the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection, or as a complement to it, whether we choose to participate or not?
Furthermore, the accompanying image, St. John Paul specified, should be displayed as well. Critics immediately detected an act of papal authority, one with a particularly Polish accent.   (The rays of light—red and white—emanating from Christ’s Sacred Heart resemble the Polish flag.)
Kevin Tierney makes an important point here—the Extraordinary Form propers for Divine Mercy Sunday illuminate the devotion’s Scriptural foundation, especially the Epistle I John 5:4-10:
Dearly beloved: Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory, which overcometh the world, our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ: not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit which testifieth that Christ is the truth. And there are three who give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that give testimony on earth: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one.
Water and blood—precisely the explanation of the Divine Mercy image’s white and red rays Christ gives to Sister Faustina (Diary, #299): “These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross.” (This references John 19:34.)
Powerful stuff, but how significant has this new tradition of mercy become? This weekend Pope Francis declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy with copies ceremonially delivered to representatives of the Church around the world. Pope Francis gives us so many challenges through his frequent tweets exhorting greater concern for the poor and more ardent prayer and the example of his audiences where he joyfully embraces children and the marginalized. Now the Pope issues perhaps the most difficult yet sanctifying call so far: that we grant mercy, so that we in turn receive it (Matthew 5:7). This is far easier to write or say than to do. Sunday’s gospel—John 20:19-31—includes the well-known story of doubting Thomas (perhaps the Scriptural challenge to all theologians…that and Matthew 12:33-35). Tierney suggests this passages underscores our very real human frailty concerning mercy: we want to set human limits or standards on divine initiative:
Isn’t that us, always wanting more?  How often do we half-heartedly place absurd restrictions on Christ’s mercy?  We say we will accept His mercy if there is a miracle, or we can add this or that stipulation.  This doesn’t make us a bad person.  Mercy and grace are scary things, because they require us to likewise be merciful and gracious, even when, and especially when, someone else doesn’t deserve it.  Faced with that reality, we try to be good followers of Christ, but on our own terms.  We tell God when we will believe.
Much of St. Faustina’s diary consists in Christ’s concern for and overcoming precisely this human resistance. The Divine Mercy novena—which Christ stipulates begins on Good Friday—requests the broadest range of souls be brought in prayer back to Christ: priests and religious, but also pagans (#1216), schismatics (#1218), and finally the lukewarm (#1228) who pain Christ most. Even these, St. Faustina responds in her diary, can find solace in “the abyss” of God’s mercy (#1230).

Finishing this post gave some closure to a thorny stumbling-block in my spiritual journey.  I hope it helps others, too.  Read it all here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Calligraphers of the Ineffable: the Burden of Mysticism in the Digital Age

H/T Sr. Margaret Kerry, FSP on  Google+

A provocative talk about Catholic spirituality and social media from Paddy Gilger, SJ and Creighton University's Ignite Talks.  Gilger speaks of William Harmless's 2008 book Mystics.  Turns out mystical experience isn't some rarefied air that only a select few breath.  It--or at least some significant component thereof--interpenetrates our lives today through precisely social media like YouTube, Google+, and Blogger.  I still think there are roles to be played but traditional mystical elements like "silence" and "ineffability," but I bet Father Gilger agrees with that, too.    Watch and enjoy!

Friday, March 11, 2016

memento mori reflections, part MMXVI

Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.  

Perhaps such a sentiment, a reminder, is expected these days.  It is Lent, after all.

However, this past Monday I received a much more shocking reminder:  Steve Webb, one of my Wabash College professors, died suddenly on March 5. Steve had taught Religion and Philosophy at Wabash for twenty-five years.  More recently he blogged regularly at First Things, taught at Christian Theological Seminary, and had started a prison ministry.  He had published over a dozen books on topics ranging from Karl Barth to education to vegetarianism to, in what turned out to be his last years, Mormonism.

All that production, though, doesn't cover half of Webb's impact at Wabash.  For a time, no faculty member came close to Webb's popularity.  Nobody had more advisees, and nobody taught more students (his courses routinely carried double the maximum enrollment).  Attending a lecture featuring Webb became de rigueur. And within Webb's own department was another prominent, universally-adored and well-published theologian.  At the time--well over a decade--most of us did not recognize the extent of the Wabash Religion department's productivity, and particularly Webb's contributions.

And, above and beyond all that, he was a devoted husband and father.  Steve himself saw the connections because he wrote about them frequently.  Here about soccer, and here about the "dietary celibacy" of dieting food fads.  Steve's mind moved several steps ahead of us mere mortals, being able to find theological reflection amidst the hum-drum routines of feeding the kids or watching them play their games.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

LaFollette Lecture - BIll Placher (November 2, 1990)

Twenty-five years and four months later to the day, and I can still recall this lecture: the room, Dr. Williams' introduction, and Bill's lecture.  I sat in the front row to the speakers' left.  We hung on every word.  I was part of the crowd mentioned at 4:23.  It wasn't a week until I had spent some time in Bill's office, then Dr. Blix, and then Dr. Webb.

And yes, it's "PLAY-ker."

Art & Contemplation in Kansas

Elizabeth Duffy, accomplished Hoosier Catholic blogger at Patheos, travels to the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas, to see a puppet show produced by local artist/contemplative Jack Baumgartner.  Duffy, her husband, and their traveling counterparts.  They find themselves transfixed--by the show as well as by Baumgartner himself.  By turns an artist and musician as well as puppeteer, The bearded Baumgartner has developed a distinctive Christian counter-cultural style.  (He also excels at engraving and wood-working.) Check out his work here.  Be prepared to spend some time.) Duffy:

Perhaps it is his ability to talk about these spiritual longings openly, to use this particular language without irony, that draws people to Baumgartner and his work. I began to interview him by email a year prior to the performance. In person, he’s unpretentious, quick with a joke, easy to laugh, and a bit salty. In writing, his answers to my questions revealed mystical and poetic flights of
thought. These depths would surface periodically throughout the weekend, not only in his performance, but in his attention to each person there and his willingness to express why their presence was important to him.

Why does everyone love Jack Baumgartner? I knew why I did, not only for his competence in a broad range of artistic mediums—puppetry, painting, drawing, woodworking, music, and songwriting—but I’d managed to believe that his art spoke only to me. My reaction to it was so personal that it seemed no one else on earth could have experienced quite the same thing, but I was not alone.
“He was a hipster before hipsters even existed,” says Julia Anderson, possibly in reference to Baumgartner’s long, full beard and holistic lifestyle. No doubt beards have become a trademark accessory of stylish back-to-the-land craftsmen all over the insta-feeds, but Baumgartner’s oldest friends vouch that his has been there from the beginning—or at least since his first whiskering, probably sometime in the mid-nineties by my estimate. He is a slouched and rangy figure, with eyes lined from smiling or squinting and large, notched, and knobby hands, all of which give him the sage appearance of someone much older than thirty-nine. But his laugh is youthful and generous, and unlike most hipsters he maintains a fierce Christianity that supplies the driving force for his work and life, a wide-eyed approach to the things of God and a clear-eyed, unscandalized approach to the things of the world. All that is to say, his beard serves more of a priestly function than a fashionable one. It is a veil, and perhaps also a mark of voluntary poverty.