Saturday, March 29, 2014

Babies & Metaphysics

This post links to Convert Journal

not appreciating the cosmicness of it all

I was at lunch with my father earlier this week, we were discussing a favorite subject: God. Somehow we got around to contraception, and that in neither of our marriages was there any contraception, natural or artificial. We reflected on how much less our marriages would be if we had contracepted, and why that was so. This led to me pinpointing when in my life I embraced the idea that God was completely interested in, and aware of, every hair on my head. That God loved me personally, infinitely and uniquely. Such that now, decades later, I accept it like I accept gravity: a done deal.

I was in my early 30s when my understanding of God-stuff and Science-stuff merged into just Stuff, my own Grand Unified Theory. That is, it seemed to me as though all knowledge pointed toward God, and that lumping it all together worked better than keeping it in separate boxes. On the science-side I was especially prodded by Einstein's wonderful equation E = mc². It essentially says that Energy and Mass are interchangeable. Einstein said Energy and Mass are "manifestations of the same thing," sort of like 1 gallon = 4 quarts; or 1 kilo of ice = 1 kilo of water. That fit in well with something I read (I think it was in Hawking's A Brief history of Time) about the first moments of the Big Bang, when the universe was a small, hot, dense, churning continuum of matter and energy, both and neither at the same time. What is colloquially referred to as massergy.

So matter is a manifestation of energy; and I believe the source of that energy is God. And that God created the physical universe through some energy manifesting the characteristics of matter. That's why there was Light before there was the Sun or the Moon: first the Energy, then the Matter. Which reminds me on the religion side that Dante described the energy of the Universe as "L'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle/ the love that moves the sun and the other stars."

You may also recall that at every step of Creation, God saw that it was good, at least until He noticed Adam lacked a wife. Why was it all good? Like Dante, I believe it's because the energy of the Universe is Love. That is, the Universe is 100% composed of God's love. Not love as how one feels, but love as a force; the generative force that sustains the Universe; the force that we may also understand as gravity or magnetism or light. Or as a rock. Or a drop of water. Or a hair on my head.

God is typically described as omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent; and in that order. I'm more inclined to put all-benevolent/ all-good/ all-loving first. Why? Because God could have the first 3 qualities and not be moved to create a single thing. God's all-loving nature manifested itself as Creation; that is, God "thought" love, and Creation resulted. Why, I bet Einstein would agree with me that Love and Creation are "manifestations of the same thing."  Put in Catechism class terms, Love Creates. Where there is Love, there is Creation. And where there isn't, there isn't. Think of Satan. He hates being made of, and sustained by, God's love. And he doesn't create a single good thing.

We also know from Genesis, and from simply being alive, that God shares with us humans the ability to love, so we create too. He gave Eve to Adam, and our quintessential creativity channels through married love: babies. So for us to contracept is to profoundly push against the entire loving-creative raison d'être of the Universe, its very fabric; and our own loving-creative natures, which we among all creatures uniquely share with God.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kids Wanna Know

The next few posts link to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Too Catechetical for Words

We had 28 class meetings on this year's Wednesday Night Sunday School schedule. Since New Year's we've lost two days to snow, plus about another 1/2 class to other events. The later in the year I lose classtime, the harder it is to compensate. I don't talk faster because we already move at the Speed of Comprehension. What I do instead is prioritize and eliminate, like Frederick the Great.

Two evenings ago we covered the Resurrection through the Ascension.  We use a handout showing an image of the Anastasis, and a Supper at Emmaus by Rembrandt. In covering the Anastasis, for reasons of time I didn't translate a couple of Greek abbreviations in the picture, although I did explain the Greek word Anastasis, and show the kids how to pronounce the letters. Then we moved on.

After class one of the kids asks, what do these two things mean, i.e., the IC and XC.

See, what I leave out is exactly what someone wants to know. I go over the squiggies and the letters. In moments like this when a child wants to know something particular, I always want to answer the question directly, but than add a bit that points to the bigger picture. So I say a bit about words on ikons, and also write on the board similar squiggied-letters that often appear in Mary-ikons: MP and ThY, which abbreviate Μητηρ Θεού MITIR ThEOU, Mother [of] God. It was a nice little lesson.

Now, this isn't just a chance to for a child to take away something extra; it's also a chance to involve the parents. Next week I'll give her a prayer card like this one:

Is has MR-ThY and also IC-XC. Thanks to reader Moonshadow, I understand that to the left and right are the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The Greek says O AP M  (The ARchangel Michael) and O AP G (The ARchangel Gabriel). I'll write the translations on the back. I'll also get her to tell me what the angels are holding, and why they matter (they're a few of the Instruments of the Passion). I'm confident she'll know the cross and the spear. But what's that other thing? I blew it up for a closer look, and I think it's the sponge on the hyssop stick. She already knows what it is, it's just not easy to recognize. I expect to give her hints, e.g. "I thirst." I'll conclude by saying she oughta show her parents what she's learned and impress the heck out of them.

In this business you never know when or where stuff will grow. Just throw the seeds, you won't run out.

If I had all the time in the world, a whole class could be spent on this single image: its visual catechesis, Queen of Heaven, King of Heaven, Mother of God, Fully God, Fully Man, Immaculate Conception, Crucifixion, angels, the Greek words, all of which allude to Scripture and of course the Big Catholic Picture.

For those who want to know more about cryptic Greek on ikons, here's an old post about John the Baptist.

Book Review 8: Fr. Ryland's Memoir

I wrote this review about 6 weeks ago, then kind of forgot about it. Fr. Ryland died yesterday.

As usual I made a mistake by judging this book by its cover: Drawn from Shadows into Truth, A Memoir by Ray Ryland. I expected something nebulously reflective; I didn't get it. Instead, Father Ryland has recounted both his vivid and peripatetic life story, and his journey of faith, from his Disciples of Christ roots in Depression-era Oklahoma, to coming home to the Catholic Church. It is indeed a memoir in the conventional sense, but it also takes the reader through a lifetime of spiritual inquisitiveness, growth, change and maturation. The pace is measured, and we share in Fr. Ryland's gentle, decades-long philosophical development as a Christian, and ultimate fulfillment as a Catholic priest. I've read many conversions stories, but don't recall another that played out over such a long time, and with so many stops along the way.

Fr. Ryland remembers each person who influenced his faith, and takes careful time to show how their ideas and added to or altered his Christian worldview. Some were authors long dead; others were contemporaries. Among the authors he admires is Cardinal John Henry Newman, in whose own faith journey Fr. Ryland found encouragement. A few years ago I tackled Newman's Apologia pro sua Vita, but never finished it. The Cardinal's prose was just too difficult. But Fr. Ryland does a fine job of explaining Newman's thinking in a writing style that's clear, but not condescending.

What I most appreciate about Drawn from Shadows is its wide angle. Fr. Ryland became Catholic by thinking holistically for decades about the nature of Christ's Church, and where one might find it. If that sounds nebulously reflective, trust me, it's not. It was refreshing and exciting.

The last third of Drawn from Shadows comprises essays which treat aspects of Fr. Ryland's conversion one at a time, rather than following them as assorted threads through 50 years of faith-formation.


Monday, March 17, 2014


I suppose y'all periodically run into the "Jesus had brothers so Mary and Joseph were sexually intimate" idea. This is partly based on how Hebrew was translated into Greek; and how both Hebrew and Greek were/are translated into English, which IMNSHO is a terrible language in which to translate the Bible. English is a cataclysmic collision of Romance and Germanic tongues; an oil-and-water jumble of vocabulary, spelling, grammar, syntax, culture, worldview, history, and religion. A glorious language. In my opinion, the most glorious; but still, not an ideal language in which to translate other languages.

Anyway, the Brothers of Jesus Thing hinges on the Greek word αδελφός-adelphos-brother; and whether its meaning extends to relationships for which English has other, specific words...such as cousin. Or nephew. Or relative. 

In the Gospels we read:

"While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him."

"Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

"Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."

So... are those brethren Jesus' brothers in the strict genetic sense of being male children of Mary? Or at least sons of Joseph from a previous marriage? I believe the Church is correct, that Mary is ever-virgin; and that Jesus was her only child. So the arguments don't much interest me. But I'm keen on the language aspects. I was curious: how often do languages have one word for brother; and a completely different word to express what we mean by cousin? Well....not often, and most of them use the same French word that we "English" speakers use.

I have Maronite Rite friends from the Levant who refer in English to their cousins as "brothers" unless they are being careful when making an introduction. Their first language is Arabic. In Arabic, cousin is expressed as uncle-son; but informally they are brothers.

In Hebrew, cousin is uncle-son.

In Hungarian, cousin is unoka-testvére, uncle-son.

In modern Greek, cousin is εξάδελφος, ex-adelphos, out-brother.

In Russian, cousin is двоюродный брат, dvayu-rodniy brat, second-born brother.

In Serbian, cousin is either bratranec or sestrična, based on the words for brother/ brat; and sister/ sestra.

In Hindi and Bengali, cousin is a two-part noun ?-brother, I can't figure out the prefixes.

So it's typical in most other languages for the English concept of "cousin" to be understood in terms of brother or son; especially in non-formal, traditional contexts, and where extended families are the norm.

And some languages have no native phrasing for cousin at all:

Turkish borrows from French: kuzen.

German borrows from French: Cousin

Polish borrows from French: kuzyn.

Swedish borrows from French: kusin.

And French imposed itself on English: cousin.

So- does "brother" in an English Bible necessarily mean "a male offspring having both parents in common with another offspring"? Not at all. And if English expressed "cousin" with phrasing that involved the word "brother" or "son" as many languages do, I doubt we'd even be having this discussion.  

More Nice

Between Sports and the Party: When Teaching the Faith Feels Like Babysitting

A fired-up catechist shares successful lessons with a frustrated volunteer.

Friday, March 14, 2014


The next few posts link to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

I like this.

This too:

DIY card via Vistaprint. It was too easy. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Thumb on Ya Forehead

My take on Ash Wednesday: people like the intimate, blunt touch of the priest's thumb against their foreheads, and being marked by the touch. It gets right to the fundamental wisdom of sacraments.

Of course it's not a sacrament. And as a symbol of repentance you could could mark your own forehead with a cross of ashes. But that would be skipping the bit where someone with Jesus' authority reminds you of your sinfulness and mortality; and you meekly accept that gentle chastisement. Without necessarily understanding the fullness of the ritual, I think that's the main reason so many non-Cats want to receive ashes.

Not Like Magua

For what ails ya

I heard this story at Mass this week:

The serpent said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" 2 And the woman said, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden..." 4* But the serpent said to the woman, "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 So..the woman...took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate...The LORD God said, "Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" 12 The man said, "The woman...gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." 13* Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate." (That's 10 eats.)

A Whole Lotta Eating going on. And I was thinking how Adam & Eve weren't forbidden from looking at something, or holding something, or wearing something, or using something; but eating something. Which makes sense because what you eat becomes part of you, whether it's nutritious or poisonous. And sin is as much a part of me as say, the DNA I also inherited from my parents.

But here's another Whole Lotta Eating episode:

"Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever... The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56* He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58* This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." 
(That's also 10 eats. More than coincidence?)

Another nice OT-NT couplet. Humans freely ingest the poison of sin; but they can also freely ingest the antidote.
This is a concept the kids will grasp immediately. But John 6 doesn't show how. The how comes at the Last Supper. This year we've already covered Genesis and John 6.  So during tomorrow night's Last Supper class, I'll start with a quick backtrack to the eating in Genesis. Then when we get to "this is my body, this is my blood" we'll recall John 6 and eating the fruit, the kids will figure out how they combine to say something significant about Mass. Then in our Mass classes at the end of April, I expect I will be able to ask, "What does eating the fruit in Genesis have to do with Communion," and hear back something like, "Adam and Eve ate the bad food but now we eat the good food." In 6th grade that's an A.

Next year this idea will run from the first class to the last class: Genesis/ Passover/ John 6/ Last Supper/ Mass.

Audio based on the above content here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Enchanted Sirach

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

My wife personifies the Ideal Wife in Proverbs 31, which is not the subject of this post. This post is about our courtship some 26 years ago. Briefly, this was our courtship:

Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you
Across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side,
And make her your own
Or all through your life you
May dream all alone.

Once you have found her,
Never let her go.
Once you have found her,
Never let her go.

That's right, a couple of verses from South Pacific's Some Enchanted Evening. I first heard Ezio Pinza sing it when I was a kid, and it has defined romance for me ever since.

So tonight I was browsing the Bible before Mass started. Let's try...Sirach. I get to Chapter 6:

"My son, from your youth up choose instruction, and until you are old you will keep finding wisdom. Come to her like one who plows and sows, and wait for her good harvest... Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might." It's about Wisdom, but it made me think about my wife. And "Make her thy whole heart’s quest, follow, as best thou canst, the path she makes known to thee," which reminded me of our courtship, and Some Enchanted Evening. Then "search, and thou wilt find her, hold fast, and never let her go."

If Oscar Hammerstein wasn't riffing on Sirach when he wrote that lyric then this is a bigger vale of tears than I thought.

P.S. Sirach is a deuterocanonical book. I do wonder how Hammerstein might have encountered it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Cri de Coeur 2

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Sunflowers maybe

In the past week I engaged in some online discussion about the Church and the Laity. At one blog I was asked to answer the following question: "If you were able to make a request of your pastor regarding what you would like to see happening at Church, what would you ask for?"

I responded:

"The Institutional Church might enable the laity to use its structure to do things that the Institutional Church doesn't initiate, or direct, or manage, or oversee. Take my Diocese of Charleston SC. About 200k Catholics. Let's assume at a 1% rate, there are 2,000 Intentional Disciples in the state. I know maybe 100 of them. Suppose there were a clearinghouse for all self-identified IDs? It'd be useful for the motivated layman to know who all the others are, and coordinate, and support each other in ways we can only guess at. There are great things only the laity can do. But until we know who is ready to act we can only act individually, and in isolation. We can coalesce imperfectly around existing structures such as prolife and RE, but I believe we'll thrive if the Church simply calls the scattered mustard seeds to know each other at the diocesan level on down. And leaves the rest to Holy Spirit.

Speaking on the lay side, the fact that I'm socially connected to like-minded, New E Catholics in my parish/ deanery/ diocese/ Anglosphere is a huge encouragement in what I do as an individual. And it also means we give and receive lots of feedback, coordinate and put people in touch with each other, have lunch, etc. It may sound facile, but that sense of family matters a lot. And it all happens without being the clergy's problem."

Also in the last week I proposed to a pastor this approach to jumpstarting the New Evangelization in his parish. Something like it would be read from the pulpit and included in the weekly bulletin:

"Brothers & Sisters in Christ,

You are probably familiar with the term New Evangelization, which was first used by Pope JP2 more than 30 years ago. I’ve spoken about it both from the pulpit and in my other communications to the parish. Pope Francis regularly encourages all Catholics to help with "the church's primary mission of evangelization in the modern world." So evangelizing is something that the Church has been emphasizing for a long time, although I expect we can all agree that there’s not yet much evangelizing going on.

So what can we do? I hesitate to create a new parish-wide initiative or program, because I don’t think that's what we need. Instead I’d like all of you to reflect for the next month on whether you as an individual Catholic are called by Jesus to participate in building up the Church, whether by evangelizing or something else. You may feel a bit isolated or frustrated that God wants you to do something, but you may not know what it is. Or maybe you do know, and don’t see a way to make it happen. Maybe some of you already evangelize in your daily lives, and no-one else in the parish knows. Whoever you are, I know you’re out there, because the God gave each of us something to do, and the Holy Spirit gave us the gifts to do it. But I don’t know who you all are, and you may not know each other, either. So here’s what I propose:

On xx/xx/xx at xx p.m the parish will host a one hour social with light hors d’oeuvres. If the Holy Spirit moves you to come, come. If the Spirit doesn’t move you, but you’re curious, you come too. If this isn't your regular parish, come anyway. There won’t be a program for the evening beyond me saying a few words of greeting. Most of the time would be spent meeting each other, and finding out how we all help, or would like to help, make the Church all Jesus wants her to be.

As I said, there’s no plan, no program, and no obligation; just conversation and nibbles. It’s ok to just show up, but it’d help to figure food and drinks if you email xxxx if you do plan to come. See the bulletin for the email address.

It's a great time to be Catholic."

Here's my point: there are too many lay Catholics with too many unique gifts waiting to be used in ways that only the Holy Spirit may be aware of, for the Church to motivate and direct them all from the top down. So the alternative is to let the purposeful faithful find their own ways forward. That's how things have developed in my part of Upstate S.C.: a self-maintained, growing informal network of Intentional Disciples. But it took 15 years to develop all by itself. What I'd like to see is that same lay network extended throughout the diocese in much less time. How? By having the Diocese use its statewide structure and authority to generate an ekklesia, a calling-out of the motivated faithful from random obscurity into the light, so they can all see each other, both physically and via the net. The shepherd would still care for the flock, and watch for wayward sheep; but wouldn't organize, direct, or program this informal association. That'd be left to the people and the Holy Spirit.

Like Mao said, "Let Flowers of Many Kinds Blossom."