Friday, May 16, 2003

Points to Ponder:

It was a dream. Needles to say, it was absolutely not a vision. If I ever had a vision I would head straightway for the psychiatric unit, not to the Pope. Only vanity desires visions anyway. I cannot remember whether it was a day or night dream. The city hung heavy over us all. I was lifting a lantern---a lantern I have seen in so many dreams before--- before an immensely crucified Christ at the end of some alleyway. All around me was fog and shadows and the grating noise of the city. What city I do not know, though it had the “feel” of London, maybe Paris. He said nothing. He was simply there. Crucified. His eyes were closed. I stumbled backwards, disoriented by the love, and made my way as best I could through the dim lit city streets. I wanted to tell everyone but could not speak. Try as I would my tongue was paralyzed. Through the debris I walked, the lantern barely illuminating my way, my heart pounding within, a wandering mute. Here I saw rats tugging on all sides of a decaying chunk of bread. There I saw a mother, a very poor woman, breastfeeding her infant son on the step of a store that had long closed. Her loneliness staggered me. Another woman, apparently a prostitute, was bending over talking to a man in a car. On the ramp of an overpass a very thin man with long hair, a canner with an old dog, pushed his cart up a hill and eventually disappeared into the night. There was nothing I could do.

Cut now to wakefulness. I am at work. This is real. A man comes into the shelter. I have to do his intake. He was young, in his early thirties. Handsome. Italian features. He tells me he cannot live like this. I asked him to tell me his story. In brief, he was addicted to heroin and had a severe gambling addiction. He had a good job, a nice car not long ago. Showed me a picture of the car. He told me he had gotten into a bad accident, was injured, and received a hefty settlement from the other fellows insurance company. Money in hand, however, proved too much. He left his job thinking he would win big this time, took his girl friend to Las Vegas and gambled away every last dime in a week or so. Because he had to feed his addiction he was now lost without his job. They lost the house, the car. My heart bled for him as he recited the tragedy, his eyes to the floor the whole time. He didn’t want to be a “bum” and was ashamed. I told him he was not a bum, that he had only made some terrible mistakes and that he was young. There was time to repair the damage and we would help him. He said he was having some dangerous fantasies: walking in front of a truck, throwing himself off a bridge. I pulled my seat closer and tried to look straight into his eyes. Think of Sharon, I said (not her real name). She loves you. Suicide can also be an act of hostility, even if not intended, to those left behind. Don’t do that to her, I implored. I told him he needed courage now, that we have all made mistakes, some of them terrible, and that only if we lose hope are we doomed. It could be grist for the mill of life. He was free to show courage now. He stared at me, silent. Silent as the grave. I made him promise he would not hurt himself, and we would get him help. He promised but refused to go into the hospital. Time, I hoped, would help him recover enough perspective until we could. He promised but it was far from clear that he meant it. I wrote up that this man needed very urgent psychiatric intervention.

Cut to the following Tuesday. I walk into work and was told to brace myself. My friends on staff told me that a car pulled up in front of the shelter the previous day and that the young man was blue in the back seat. Some friends of his had helped him from a motel into the car and that while he seemed in fair condition when he left he fell into the heroin “nod”; they thought it was only that. An ambulance was called as crowds gathered around the car. His girlfriend was hysterical. He’s dead! She cried and cried. They moved her away.

An autopsy revealed he had died of an overdose of a combination or legal and illegal drugs. My heart sank into the depths. He had promised. But he was too weak, too ashamed, to keep the promise.

I attended his funeral. He was cremated. The poor, when cremated, are put into a small black box that looks something like a very small stereo speaker. I could not take my eyes of the tiny box. Just days before he was a living, breathing, albeit hurting, soul. There was nothing we could do. I hope. He was an organ donor and left his eyes and some other organs for those who needed them. A final act of love I cling to.

Around his resting box were pictures of him as a youth, so handsome, athletic, luminous eyes, so full of promise. Barely the eyes I saw on Thursday.

“But for the grace of God,” the cliché goes, “goes I”. On the lips of the self-righteous it can be a careless cliché. But who can deny its terrible truth when sufficiently pondered?

My boss said once that some people take a left turn in life and some take a right turn and we don’t know why. Maybe it was a tragic chance meeting with the wrong friends, maybe a secret agony, an inexplicable nexus of compulsions, that needed, short of genuine medical attention which eludes so many, self-medication. Seldom in my experience is it simple wickedness, even if I have seen my share of rascals too who set traps for others and for themselves. In this case, as in so many others, the man seemed to me a victim of the rascal wretches, not one of them. He may have been a victim of that pernicious materialist philosophy which says that without the house, deck, pool, and car you are a “loser”. You have nothing to “show for yourself”.

God save and spare us from such superficial heartlessness.

Victor Frankl said that, unlike in Freudian psychology, sex is not the main driving force in human beings, the search for meaning in our lives is. I have found this to be so true. A search for meaning which is not futile but which defines us and distinguishes us from the mere animal and vegetable world. We are surrounded by images, personas, in our time which people project as if to say “I am a winner, you are not”. Such persons are themselves the victims of a nihilistic materialist philosophy which is little better than Stalinism. John Paul II has said over and over that a democracy without spiritual and existential values is little more than a thinly guised new form of totalitarianism. It is not democracy which will save the world but, if at all, only a democracy which is infused with the conviction that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, a democracy which understands the life-affirming implications of that realization. We are all full of contradictions, hypocrisies and stumblings. We can only hope that we are stumbling upwards to the Kingdom, and not backwards where we would only have to start again.

Many today do not understand dogmas. But they can understand Jesus. So Jesus comes first---to give Hope (Mt 11:28-30; Apoc 3:20). Dogmas come afterwards and people grasp them as best they can. I do not see Jesus giving theological exams to sinners in the Gospels, even if dogmas rightly and immutably enshrine the ineffable truths of the Faith.

Last night I read an interview with Alexander Solzhenitseyn, the great Russian dissident and prophet, conducted by his most recent biographer and scholar, Joseph Pearce. Again I was struck by that prophet who refused to let even the west off the hook just because it wrongly thought he flattered us at first. Prophets like Solzhenitseyn work above flattery and the usual obligatory polarities and factionalisms. He knows that only the spiritual values of the Gospel can feed man’s deepest hunger and rescue him from the propaganda of all totalitarian, materialist claims, whether brutal, as in Stalin’s time, or whether more subtle as in the temptation of our time on this side of this ocean. I see so much in common between that prophet and JPII who dared to tell the world twenty five years ago in the face of all propaganda: “Be not afraid.” Courage! [Stephen Hand: The City and the Cross]


"The Feeling is Gone" Dept.
("I won't be your fool again...")

I just lost a lengthy blog entry before it could be posted which discussed the recent rumours on upcoming liturgical disciplinary modifications. The motivation to rewrite it is gone at the moment but I hope to post comments on these somewhat complicated subjects over the weekend. So to quote the late great bluesmaster Albert King (one of my guitar playing influences) "the feeling is gone..." Worry not though, it will return in a day or so...

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Points to Ponder:

The biblical teaching that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" is one of those teaching that does not affirm us in our okayness very much. It's something that utopians like to forget in their deathless faith in the perfectibility of man. One excellent way to forget it is to focus with righteous rectitude on the evils of others while focusing on the nobility of oneself. The NY Times, parent of the Boston Globe, scourge of fallen bishops and corrupt Enron execs, is now learning the reality that Romans 3:23 is not meant vindictively, but is simply a cold, sober description of the Real World, including at the offices of the Times. The lesson we need to take away from this is not, "Ha! Gotcha!" but "[insert my name here] has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". It's just a matter of when, not if, our failings and corruption will be shown up in broad daylight, you know. [Mark Shea (5/15/03)]


Points to Ponder:

For myself, I would simply confess that no doctrine of the Church can be rigorously proved by historical evidence: but at the same time that no doctrine can be simply disproved by it. Historical evidence reaches a certain way, more or less, towards a proof of the Catholic doctrines; often nearly the whole way; sometimes it goes only as far as to point in their direction; sometimes there is only an absence of evidence for a conclusion contrary to them; nay, sometimes there is an apparent leaning of the evidence to a contrary conclusion, which has to be explained;-in all cases there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church. He who believes the dogmas of the Church only because he has reasoned them out of History, is scarcely a Catholic. [Venerable John Henry Newman (c. 1875)]


"As the Yeeeears Go Passing Byyyy" Dept.

It struck me recently that prior to the post below, Tim Enloe and I have not dialogued in almost two and a half years. (Our last threads go back to January of 2001 at Steve Ray's old board.) I happened to pop into Gary Hoge's message board late last year and briefly reacquainted with Tim. Then around December or so, I found myself unable to access ez-boards. Nonetheless, I read some of the threads occasionally.

In the interim since we last dialogued, Tim has been studying medieval history. So I look forward to hopefully being able to dialogue with him perhaps in the fall of 2003 again if our schedules allow for it. To set the stage for the response linked below, here is the context.

Recently my good friend Dave Armstrong wrote a satire about Tim meeting Plato and Ockham. I liked it but Tim did not. In reading Tim's responses to people at Greg's board, I wrote a response and tried to post it to ezboard but no luck. I then thought about Gary's board and that did not work either. But my friend SecretAgentMan who is a regular at Gary's board agreed to post it for me. Hence the link you see below:

Response to Tim Enloe.

Tim responded in three parts and I plan to respond to those responses. Barring the possible need to clarify certain points I will let Tim's responses to my planned responses be the final word for now. I am not sure the extent to which Tim's complaints about many Catholics he has dialogued with in the past couple of years are applicable but anyone who is involved in that medium I would ask to examine what Tim has to say and simply ask if it at all applies to them.

Do not be deceived, Tim has had no shortage of rhetoric himself over the years.{1} But he seems to want to start anew in that department and certainly calls for more irenic discourse are not unreasonable ones. For more on this subject albeit from a slightly different angle, see this margin link for details.


{1} And he would admit to this.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Points to Ponder:

There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval. [G K Chesterton: Illustrated London News article The True Middle Ages July 14, 1906]


Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Points to Ponder:

To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a "mystery of light". Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: "their eyes were opened and they recognized him" (Lk 24:31). [Pope John Paul II: Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia circa April 17, 2003]


Sunday, May 11, 2003

Input from Jeff Culbreath on the Latin, etc.

I was unaware that Jeff Culbreath was taking a retirement from blogging. It seems that I am not making this position an easy one for him though I do not write anything with the idea of "what will ________ say about this" unless I am of course responding to something that an individual has written.

Though I plan to respond to other points in his brief responsum, at the moment I am content to only focus on the point I am going to set forth in this entry. It is I believe the most significant point to raise at this time. Some of what I plan to subsequently cover will probably contribute to an uneasy retirement by Jeff whereas other parts will fall under the realm of areas where Jeff and I can agree to disagree. However, the point to be covered here - or shall I say the apparent understated presumption - is one that I am not sure is that easily categorized.

Jeff it seems took objection to what could be construed as a one-sided view of the situation with the SSPX and Rome. I of course readily agree that this is a one-sided understanding. I give the same leeway to SSPX that I would give to the Donatists or the Old Catholics, the Lutherans, or other historical dissident groups. I see no compelling reason apart from personal attachments to view the SSPX any differently and I am not about to let personal attachments get in the way of objective analysis.

In response to my statement about the schism being prolonged by the obstinacy of the SSPX, Jeff responded with [b]ut it is also true that if not for the obstinacy of Rome in suppressing the old rite, permitting widespread liturgical abuse, and failing to enforce sound doctrine, the schism would have been resolved some years back. Jeff is under the illusion it seems that these are issues that rely primarily on the authority of Rome rather than on the informed conscience of clerics and the lay faithful. However, that is a subject for perhaps another time as I do not want to get off track of the primary point to be made in this entry.

Jeff is right that any effect has a cause so one could to some extent view the attitude of the SSPX as a reaction to actions taken by Rome. But he would be inconsistent in only applying this to the SSPX and not giving the same benefit of the doubt to all historical schismatics and heretics. Arguments of varying worth can be brought forward to defend virtually any historical schism or any historical heresy. (The latter in the sense that schisms tend to trump up heresies to justify themselves.)

While Jeff would not probably extend the same leeway to other schisms or heresies historically, the two reasons for this would seem to be (i) no personal attachment to them on his part and (ii) they did not promote an agenda that he personally would in any way endorse. Because of this, it is human nature to give such the benefit of the doubt because it allows us to justify ourselves and our own positions. For this I do not begrudge Jeff any more than I would a current (or former) Lutheran who gives the benefit of the doubt to Fr. Martin Luther. One question of course is if Jeff would apply this principle in the same manner also. For some reason, I am inclined to doubt it. Which prompts another question worth contemplating: where does the benefit of the doubt properly belong???

If one would argue that historically and in light of the divine promises it should belong to the Roman See, then one would in being consistent have to deny it to the SSPX. If one claims it belongs to the SSPX, then one must find a way to apply it to the SSPX that does not by default exonerate past schisms and heresies whose status as schisms and heresies is based on the same criteria that we judge the SSPX: the authority of the Roman See. To quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on schism (as quoted in my treatise):


[I]t may be of interest to quote the appreciation of Bayle, a writer above suspicion of partiality and a tolerant judge: "I know not," he writes, "a more grievous crime than that of tearing the mystical body of Jesus Christ, His church which He purchased with His own blood, that mother which bore us to God, who nourishes us with the milk of understanding, who leads us to eternal life" (Supplement to Philosophical Comment, preface).

Various motives have been brought forward in justification of Schism:

(1) Some have claimed the introduction into the Church of abuses,dogmatic and liturgical novelties, superstitions, with which they are permitted, even bound, not to ally themselves. Without entering into the foundation for these charges it should be noted that the authors cited above do not mention or admit a single exception. If we accept their statements separation from the Church is necessarily an evil, an injurious and blameworthy act, and abandoning of the true way of salvation, and this independent of all contingent circumstances. Moreover the doctrines of the Fathers exclude a priori any such attempt at justification; to use their words, it is forbidden for individuals or particular or national Churches to constitute themselves judges of the universal Church; the mere fact of having it against one carries its own condemnation.St. Augustine summed up all his controversy with the Donatists in the maxim: "The whole world unhesitatingly declares them wrong who separate themselves from the whole world in whatsoever portion of the whole world" (quapropter securus judicat orbis terrarum bonos non esse qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum, in quacumque parte orbis terrarum). Here Bayle may be quoted again: "Protestants bring forward only questionable reasons; they offer nothing convincing, no demonstration: they prove and object, but there are replies to their proofs and objections; they answer and are answered endlessly; is it worth while to make a schism?" (Dict. crit., art. Nihusius). [Catholic Encyclopedia: Article on Schism as quoted in I. Shawn McElhinney's Treatise A Prescription Against 'Traditionalism' (c. 2003, 2000)]

As I noted in the aforementioned writing [t]his same argument could be addressed to the self-styled 'traditionalists' by noting that they "bring forward only questionable reasons; they offer nothing convincing, no demonstration: they prove and object, but there are replies to their proofs and objections; they answer and are answered endlessly". And the same question could be advanced: "is it worth while to make a schism??? My answer to this of course is "no, it is not." And therefore consistency applies and the SSPX cannot be given the benefit of the doubt here.

St. Augustine's dictum could well be applied to the SSPX for "[t]he whole world unhesitatingly declares them wrong who separate themselves from the whole world in whatsoever portion of the whole world." So the SSPX would receive no favours from the Doctor of Grace for their stance. Not only that but their supposed "patron" Pope St. Pius X was himself no less consistent stating in a speech ninety-six years ago as of yesterday:

Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by the cunning statements of those who persistently claim to wish to be with the Church, to love the Church, to fight so that people do not leave Her...But judge them by their works. If they despise the shepherds of the Church and even the Pope, if they attempt all means of evading their authority in order to elude their directives and judgments..., then about which Church do these men mean to speak? Certainly not about that established on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). [Speech Delivered on May 10, 1909]

Thus whatever pretext that is used, there is not a valid excuse for schism at any time. That is the essence of Traditionalism properly understood. And that is why the SSPX are not true Traditionalists and why they do not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

I know that some are preoccupied with the goods of the Church. As for me, I am preoccupied with the good of the Church. Let us lose the churches, but save the Church." - Pope St. Pius X

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