Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Here's to more contemplation, a quieter heart, and sincere love of wisdom in 2008! Hail to all philosopher moms, dads, and progeny!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Feast of the Holy Family


Happy Feast of the Holy Family, the "living image of the love of God." I love this image, above, because (a) the blue is so vibrant and (b) Joseph seems to be whacking a tree with a large stick in the background. Now, I understand he is merely harvesting figs or grapes or something, but couldn't he also be venting some angst? After all, he is fleeing into Egypt with the world's only Perfect Woman and Perfect Infant. Perhaps he took great delight in just whaling away on fig trees from time to time...

On a serious note, here is Benedict XVI's address at the Angelus from last year's feast.

It is a lovely rest for the heart today. After contemplating all the brokenness of our own families this Christmas time--with the family reunions, parties, squabbles--I need so much to rest in the image of a family perfectly surrendered to the Creator. Silent, obedient Joseph, the wondering heart of Mary, and the little God-made-man in their arms. Alleluia. God is with us.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On fleshiness

Merry Christmas!

I've been pondering the imponderable mystery a little bit here and there: that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Christmas with a two-year-old and a large, pregnant middle is very fleshy. Most of the time is devoted to calming the born child and feeding the unborn child, delighting in both. It's a high-stimulation situation. I am very much aware of (a) my own body and (b) my subsequent inability to concentrate on anything for more than three minutes.

So, it is with great thanks and an incomparable sense of lowliness that I turn every so often, for about ten seconds, to the infant logos, the Word in flesh. I am grateful that the Truth is not the answer to a logic problem; nor is it the concluding sentence of a long philosophical discourse. The Truth is a person. His concrete, fleshy presence is my heart's desire. And even a pregnant, ex-academic, exhausted, hungry, moody mother of two can rest in a presence. My brain can't wrap around any deep reflections this Christmas, but my whole being can be in the presence of the Word made flesh. Alleluia. His mercy is beyond all telling!

"We come together as the Church to learn how to recognize the fact of this Presence, and to witness to it in any circumstance of life, especially when there are no answers. Jesus Christ is the way to the Answer. In him, way and answer coincide." ~Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete

Friday, December 21, 2007

O Oriens


O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown."

The Philosopher Mom is signing out of the blog for the rest of Advent. May your Christmas be holy and blessed! Veni, Emmanuel!

Monday, December 17, 2007

O Sapientia

Today begin the O Antiphons--the last days leading up until Christmas. Fr. William Saunders has a good explanation of them here. They are different titles for the coming Christ invoked during these days before the Magnificat at evening prayer.

Today is O Sapientia--"Come, O Wisdom!"

O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christ comes!

Since the first half of Advent is the time of waiting for Christ's second coming, I thought this whimsical poem apt. It hails from "Dappled Things."

An English Apocalypse
The end of all things will be on Wednesday afternoon
After tea.

Mr Peterson, in his second best charcoal suit
will be accosted by Caphrael, a Prince of Hell
(who will be recognisable by the smell of old eggs)
Mr P. will cry “Bugger me” and drop his briefcase.

Death, War, Famine
and the other member of the band
(you know the one, his name escapes me)
Will run amok in Camden market
And overturn three stalls of leather goods
And upset some arrangements
Of ersatz Gucci handbags.

A Tube driver
Aghast for all the strange apparitions
And in a foam-fuelled frenzy
will lose control
And drive his Piccadilly train
Very slowly
From Holborn to King’s Cross
London Underground will announce delays
Due to a power outage at Liverpool Street.

Leviathan, in full sea monster regalia
Will arrive five minutes behind schedule
And eat Tower Bridge

The dead will rise in Smithfield
Angels will be seen in Highbury
Hellfire will rain on a third of Bloomsbury
Bloody hail over Hyde Park
A six-point earthquake in the City
All in all, London will experience more chaos than is typical for
teatime on Wednesday.

Then will come the end, and suddenly:
The Son of Man coming on all the clouds of heaven.
The cherry red doubledeckers will burn like paper models
Before Christ the Tiger.

—Gabriel Olearnik

I'm not sure about "Christ the Tiger." It seems a little inconspicuous here. But I like the understatement in the poem--very British.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Books on sale!

Loome Antiquarian Booksellers is closing its doors forever on December 31. This is sad. Even sadder, however, will be the fate of their "tens of thousands" of books if you don't buy them.

See this video to find out what happens to abandoned old books.

The good news is: you can spend your Christmas money on rare, philosophical, theological, historical, or prayer books at 25-90% off the original price!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12

Patroness of the Americas

An elderly Indian man named Chuauhtlatoczin ("Juan Diego" in Spanish) had a vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at Tepeyac, a squalid Indian village outside of Mexico City, 467 years ago. Mary directed Juan Diego to tell the bishop to build the church in Tepeyac. The Spanish bishop, however, dismissed the Indian’s tale as mere superstition. He asked that he bring some sort of proof, if he wanted to be taken seriously. Three days later, the Virgin Mary appeared again and told Juan Diego to pick the exquisitely beautiful roses that had miraculously bloomed amidst December snows, and take them as a sign to the bishop. When the Indian opened his poncho to present the roses to the bishop, the flowers poured out from his poncho to reveal an image of the Virgin Mary painted on the inside of the poncho. That image hangs today in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and is venerated by thousands of pilgrims from all over the world.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin of Guadalupe, that in your apparitions on Mount Tepeyac, you
promised to show pity and compassion to all who, loving and trusting you, seek your help and protection.
Accordingly, listen now to our supplications and grant us consolation and relief. We are full of hope, that
relying on your help, nothing can trouble or affect us. As you have remained with us through your admirable
image, so now obtain for us the graces we need. Amen.
Clear star of the morning
In beauty enshrined!
O, lady make speed to the
Help of mankind.
~Pope John Paul II's Prayer to our Lady of Guadalupe, visit to Mexico City 1979

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A little giggle


If only this were so!

Mr. President

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and candidate for president of the USA, recently gave his "here I stand" speech on being Mormon and being American. Many, including Peggy Noonan and Richard John Neuhaus, were impressed. I was pretty impressed, too--much more impressed with Romney than with my own faith's candidates.

Romney boldly embraced his faith. “Some believe,” he said, “that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.” While the president of the USA serves peoples of all faiths and beliefs (or, presumably, non-belief), he will not compromise his own convictions or distance himself from his church. While I'm no rabid fan of Mormonism, I've got to admire the guts. Romney displays a lot more guts in the arena of fidelity than, say, JFK or Dukakis or Pelosi, some fellow Catholics. I wouldn't mind a man of character and fidelity in the White House, even if his religion is not my own. (That is not an endorsement. Just a matter of fact. He's eligible in my book.)

Others, however, have not been so impressed. How could he make a speech on religion in America without mentioning the, um, non-religious? The Economist.com just ran an article on America's atheists and non-religious--one of the fastest-growing belief-groups in the country, currently numbering about 30 million--and the neglect and even persecution they feel in the public square. Could Americans ever elect an atheist to a high public office?

An interesting question. I wonder if it is bigotry to say one wouldn't vote for an otherwise qualified candidate. On the other hand, given sound policies, good moral character, and electability... perhaps I would vote for Senator Atheist before I ever voted for Senator Dukakis.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Word of the Day

som-ni-fer-ous--adj.--bringing or inducing sleep, as in drugs or influences.

Or, as in two-year-olds.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Two Masses this weekend

Yes, tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is also a holy day of obligation /opportunity even if it falls on a Saturday. You get to go to Mass twice this weekend!

The image to the left is kind of neat: I've never seen a painting of "St. Anne conceiving the Virgin Mary in her womb."
It is in the Chartreuse Museum in Douai, France.

(Nota Bene: St. Anne could indeed have been praying in the synagogue while conceiving Mary, since conception usually occurs a few hours or even days after the nuptial embrace.)


Thanks to Danielle Bean for the "Saturday" obligation thread!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Christ, True Philosopher


So, for various reasons (most of them 2-years-old), I have not read Benedict XVI's new encyclical through yet. I have read 7 sections. But what I have read is great.

It is particularly great Advent reading. The first sections describe, through the story of St. Josephine Bakhita (an African slave-become-nun) and the lives of the earliest Christians, the way in which the world changed when God became man and dwelt among us. Benedict compares the way in which the Romans and even the Greeks experienced the world to the way we experience it today: the world is governed by fixed laws of nature, there is nothing personal to guide the stars or planets, it is a great machine to be feared and respected.

Not so! says Christ. Not so! echoes Benedict:

"Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love." (Section 5)

Then he turns to early Christian art:

"The sarcophagi of the early Christian era illustrate this concept visually—in the context of death, in the face of which the question concerning life's meaning becomes unavoidable. The figure of Christ is interpreted on ancient sarcophagi principally by two images: the philosopher and the shepherd. Philosophy at that time was not generally seen as a difficult academic discipline, as it is today. Rather, the philosopher was someone who knew how to teach the essential art: the art of being authentically human—the art of living and dying." (Section 6)

Yes! That is why we are philosophers! Or, rather, that is why we are students of philosophy. We want to learn how and to actually become "authentically human."

He continues:

"To be sure, it had long since been realized that many of the people who went around pretending to be philosophers, teachers of life, were just charlatans who made money through their words, while having nothing to say about real life. All the more, then, the true philosopher who really did know how to point out the path of life was highly sought after. Towards the end of the third century, on the sarcophagus of a child in Rome, we find for the first time, in the context of the resurrection of Lazarus, the figure of Christ as the true philosopher, holding the Gospel in one hand and the philosopher's travelling staff in the other. With his staff, he conquers death; the Gospel brings the truth that itinerant philosophers had searched for in vain. In this image, which then became a common feature of sarcophagus art for a long time, we see clearly what both educated and simple people found in Christ: he tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human. He shows us the way, and this way is the truth. He himself is both the way and the truth, and therefore he is also the life which all of us are seeking. He also shows us the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life." (Section 6)

That should keep your minds and hearts humming at least until the second week of Advent. Seriously consider making Spe Salvi you Advent reading for this year--we wait in joyful hope! That is true wisdom.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Veni, veni, Emmanuel


Welcome to the beginning of the new year. It begins in quiet, stillness, and waiting for Jesus Christ, "the center of the universe and of human history."

Here is a link to some Advent resources. Have a blessed season.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Papa delivers again!

Pope Benedict has just put out his new (and second) encyclical: Spe Salvi. Here is the full text.

And here's the introduction. To whet your appetite.

SPE SALVI facti sumus”—in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. Now the question immediately arises: what sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here?"

Go to it!

One final poem for November: Rilke

A last, melancholy salute to the end of the year. Advent begins at sundown tomorrow--the waiting hope of a new year. But here is Rilke, the end of his Eighth Elegy.

"And we: spectators, always, everywhere,
facing all this, never the beyond.
It overfills us. We arrange it. It falls apart.
We arrange it again, and fall apart ourselves.

Who has turned us around like this, so that
whatever we do, we find ourselves in the attitude
of someone going away? Just as that person
on the last hill, which shows him his whole valley
one last time, turns, stops, lingers--,
so we live, forever taking our leave."

~Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), The Eighth Elegy, in The Essential Rilke

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Poetry again: TS Eliot

With TS Eliot, I always ask, "What does it mean?" I only grasp shadows or wisps of the meaning, but they are beautiful shadows. Surely the real is even more beautiful (or more terrifying) than the shadows. November continues to inspire a return to poetry.

Little Gidding (No. 4 of the Four Quartets)
T.S. Eliot
IV

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Miriam

Miriam: Can I have a Jesus in my heart?

Mommy: Yes, he's always in your heart.

Miriam: That's good. It makes my heart feel safe.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The End of All Things


That is, the end meaning the goal or fulfillment:

This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. The Church rejoices in the truth that Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father in glory, "from there he shall come to judge the living and the dead." It is also the end of the liturgical year.

So, throw a New Year's Eve party!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This is hot.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus over at this month's First Things included a long excerpt from Fr. Thomas Hopko's commencement address to St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. It's worth the time to read it. May the Church soon be one again!

"The first and most important thing is that we are boudnlessly loved by God who blesses us to love Him boundlessly in return... The Church--the communion of faith and love (as St. Ignatius of Antoich defined it), the community of saints who are Christ's own very 'member' as his body and bride--is essential to our human being and life. We cannot be human beings--still less, Christians and saints--by ourselves. We need God and his wise and faithful servants. We need God's commandments and living examples of their fulfillment. We need the Church's scriptures, sacraments, services and saints. And we need one another. As Tertullian said centuries ago, 'One Christian is no Christian.'... Like it or not, we are members 'of one another' in God. If we like it, it is life and paradise. If we reject it, it is death and hell."

And then this bit:

"Thus, if we have become convinced of anything at all as Orthodox Christians, we are convinced that human beings are not autonomous. The proclamation and defense of human autonomy is the most insidious lie of our day, especially here in North America, and in the Western and Westernized worlds generally. Human beings are by nature heteronomous. Another law (heteros nomos) is always working in our minds and members. This 'other law' is either the law of God, the law of Christ, the law of the Holy Spirit, the law of liberty and life that can only be recognized, received, and realized by holy humility, or it is the law of sin and death (cf. Romans 7-8). When the law within us is God's law, then we are who we really are, and we are sane and free. But when that law is the law of sin and death, then we are not ourselves, and we are insane, enslaved, and sold to sin."

Finally, he wraps it up by a sobering look at CS Lewis's The Abolition of Man:

"I am convinced that what Lewis foresaw has happened, and is still happening with ever more catastrophic consequences, in our Western and Westernized worlds. It happens that men and women who once were human are simply no longer so. They have become nothing but minds and matter, brains and bodies, computers and copulators, constructors and cloners, who believe that they are free and powerful but who are in fact being destroyed by the very 'Nature' that they wish to conquer as they are enslaved to an oligarchy of 'Conditioners' who are themselves enslaved and destroyed by their insane strivings to define, design, manage, and manipulate a world and a humanity bereft of the God who boundlessly loves them."

Hm. Two thoughts:

First, in my youthful idealism, I hope that Fr. Hopko's diagnosis is extreme--that there is something to the men and women of my generation besides their machinized bodies and atrophied souls. I hold an uncertain hope that the young people I see around the university campus--with designer clothes, dead eyes, and iPod-plugged ears--can come back from the dead. I am sure it is a narrow, difficult road from there back to being human.

Second, I really must read The Abolition of Man. So must you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Getting ready to vote.

Wow! The bishops have yet another helpful website: Faithful Citizenship. It's not poetry or even "Doctor of the Church" material, but it does a good job of presenting the guidelines by which lovers of Jesus Christ should make their political decisions.

This is particular: "The Church is principled but not ideological. We cannot compromise basic principles or moral teaching. We are committed to clarity about our moral teaching and to civility."

Of course, the document makes the rather wild assumption that Catholics reading it will themselves have such clarity on their Church's "moral teaching." It fails to mention that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, for example. But it a well-formed priest or catechist presents it to the people with such clarifications, it may be quite helpful.

In a year when I wonder for whom I could vote in good conscience (besides Steven Colbert, of course), it helps to get back to basics.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

For the discouraged Catholic

The following is from Romano Guardini. It speaks eloquently to anyone who feels he's being discouraged by his priest, bishop, or other Christians from witnessing to and loving the Gospel of Christ.

"The individual bears the Church in his faith, both her power and her weight. . . . She bears him and weighs him down. Her life nourishes him. Her immensity humbles him. Her breadth enlarges him. Her wisdom gives him a rule of life. . . . Her formalism blocks him; her coldness hardens him; and whatever is violent, selfish, hard, or vulgar about the Church has an influence on the faith of the individual, so that he sometimes seems obliged to sustain the cause of God, not only in the darkness of the world, but also in that of the Church."

Marriage!

The bishops have just posted a new website on marriage. Check it out and spread the word!

Thanks to the Feminine Genius.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More poetry: from Chesterton

This is probably my all-time favorite poem. November continues to move the philosophical mind to song...


The Great Minimum
by G.K. Chesterton

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Popcak on abortion...

Here's a fabulous rebuttal to Gary Wills, who recently informed the faithful that abortion is "not a religious issue." Darn right it's not "religious." It's a basic human--and therefore all-encompassing--issue.

This op-ed is particularly run because it has quotes from as way back as Clement of Alexandria, instead of the old "Aquinas says so." It also explains how determinative your view of unborn humans is for your view of all humans.

Rock on.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

At the end of the year

November always brings out the Slav in me. The year is drawing to a close, the earth is gathering itself for sleep, and darkness falls early and suddenly. It's all a bit melancholy but also strong and wise. Czeslaw Milosz is among my favorite Slavs--a poet every melancholic and philosopher should know. He won the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature, back when that meant something.

This is from his later notebooks, titled "A Mirrored Gallery."

Pure beauty, benediction: you are all I gathered
From a life that was bitter and confused,
In which I learned about evil, my own and not my own.
Wonder kept seizing me, and I recall only wonder,
Risings of the sun over endless green, a universe
Of grasses, and flowers, opening to the first light,
Blue outline of the mountains and a hosanna shout.
I asked, how many times, is this the truth of the earth?
How can laments and curses by turned into hymns?
What makes you need to pretend, when you know better?
But the lips praised on their own, on their own the feet ran;
The heart beat strongly; and the tongue proclaimed its adoration.

And why all this ardor if death is so close?
Do you expect to hear and see and feel there?

And I have lived a life that makes me feel unable
To bring myself to write an accusation.
Joy would spurt in amid the lamentation.
So what, if, in a minute I must close the book:
Life's sweet, but it might be pleasant not to have to look.

~Czeslaw Milosz, "A Mirrored Gallery," in New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001

Saturday, November 3, 2007

All Saints Octave?

I was prevented from posting an appropriate All Saints' Day item, so here it is belatedly. The real reason I like this video is because it has an illustration by Gustav Dore for Dante's Paradiso.

Friday, November 2, 2007

All Souls' Day



"All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." ~Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030


Today the Church remembers those who have died but are still awaiting full union with God in heaven. This is purgatory--the soul in final purification. My addictions to coffee, sensual comforts, white lies, fear of rejection--all those things that make me rely on me instead of on my Creator--will be purged away until, as St. Teresa of Avila says, "God alone sufficeth."

Or, as Dante put it so perfectly, until my soul is "pure and disposed to mount unto the stars." ~Canto XXXIII, line 145

Let us pray for the dead who wait in joyful hope.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Life and truth

The newest post over at First Things is a compelling reflection on the human tendency to call evil good and good, evil. Applying it the "culture of death," Joseph Naumann takes example from everyone from Mother Teresa to The Twilight Zone. Here's an excerpt.

"In some of the inner-city neighborhoods where I served as a priest, there was a great problem with gun violence. Could you imagine anyone saying that they were personally against drive-by shootings, but if someone else wanted to do it they should have that right? Yet it is precisely that illogic that has been used now for several decades to defend the legalization of abortion—the destruction of an innocent human life.

Without the acceptance of objective truth, everything becomes negotiable. The moral conscience of society and the individual are impaired. There is confusion in the recognition of good and evil. We become uncertain about such fundamental institutions for family and society as marriage. From the denial of natural truth, a nihilism emerges that we find expressing itself today in art, literature, and films. We become confused about what is good and noble. We question what is worth devoting our life to. This confusion results in a great interior emptiness. We try to distract ourselves with more and more things, divert our attention with more and more entertainment, and numb ourselves with drugs and other addictions.

I remember watching, as a child, an episode of The Twilight Zone. It began with doctors and nurses with surgical masks gathered around a hospital bed of a female patient whose face was completely bandaged except for her eyes and nose. From their conversation, it became apparent that this woman suffered from a hideous disfigurement which a series of plastic surgeries had failed to correct. They had attempted one final surgery that the doctors were optimistic would solve the problem, but they would not know for certain until they unbandaged her face several days later.

They finally come to the moment of truth—the unwrapping of the bandages—and we see that the woman’s face is stunningly beautiful. The doctors and nurses shake their heads with disappointment and apologize for their failure. For the first time they remove their surgical masks revealing grotesquely hideous features. That is how it is in The Twilight Zone: The beautiful is ugly, and the ugly is beautiful.

This is a helpful image for the consequence of relativism that impairs a culture from recognizing what is objectively good, beautiful, and true. In The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul had this to say about objective truth: “The Gospel of Life is not for believers alone: It is for everyone. The issue of life and its defense and promotion is not a concern of the Christian alone. Although faith provides special light and strength, this question arises in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which cares about the future of humanity. Life certainly has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers. The value at stake is one which every human being can grasp by the light of reason; thus it necessarily concerns everyone.” "

You can read the whole thing here. It's an especially good way to end the month of October, set aside in the Catholic Church in America to promote respect for human life. This year, it's also nearing the end of the 40 Days for Life initiative--a nation-wide program of prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil outside abortion clinics, and community outreach to women in need.

The widespread acceptance or, at best, indifference toward the abortion industry is the grossest symptom of a deep confusion: What is good? What is worth living for? Why am I here? What value is any human life? The loss of millions of human lives is a holocaust that cries out but is not heard. It is felt, deeply, I believe, by those who have ears to hear and by those who find themselves the survivors of abortion: mothers, fathers, doctors, nurses, and those who pray and work for their healing. As a whole, however, we're still too muddled about ourselves, life, and meaning to listen or find their deaths worthy of notice.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On having opinions

If one more personage tells me that church architecture doesn't matter, I will... well, probably smile and nod and then vent my disagreement quietly to friends and blog-readers.

One particular homilist instructed the gathered faithful (of which I was one) that they should stop criticizing "where the Blessed Sacrament is," "the stain-glass or no stain-glass," how the seats are placed, and other structural peculiarities. What the gathered faithful should do is "be glad" that there is a "place where God is worshiped." They should simply give thanks that they are in a gathering-place/worship-space.

Point taken: Instead of allowing our physical surroundings to dictate our participation in the Mass, we Catholics should be able to recognize the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, primarily, and in the Church body. In a sense, no, the building doesn't matter. Charity is all.

But as true as this is... it needs a little nuance and attention. We are spiritually fed no matter what building we are in when we receive Christ. Human beings, however, are not just spiritual beings. Exhortations to stop criticizing (or, I assume, praising as well) church buildings flirt with gnosticism, that old belief that we can exist on a purely "spirit" diet. The worst offense against charity is a lie, and to say physical surroundings "don't matter" is indeed false.

Because we have bodies, because we learn with our senses, our physical surroundings matter. They are not everything, but they matter. In other words, to be fully human is to exercise our judgment about what is true, good, and... beautiful!

Now, I'm not saying that there is an absolute standard of beauty in churches. But physical aspects of buildings serve to teach or guide the spirits/souls of the worshipers in the church. They can capture our imagination, for better or for worse; they can confuse or clarify, free or bind. For example, I once entered a Catholic church outside Chicago in which the Eucharist was housed at the entrance (in the "gathering space"), instead of behind the altar. But almost every parishioner knelt to the altar before entering his pew. Were they being taught by the architecture to kneel to Christ alone? No. They were confused. And so was my family as we stood around the pew entrance and finally turned around to genuflect toward the door marked "EXIT."

Other types of architecture--particularly modernism and its child, brutalism--come from philosophical schools that deliberately seek a divorce from all tradition. Images, arches, floorplans that evoke memory are bad; blank spaces, door frames, lawn chairs are good. The Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, in Ronchamps, France, is a premier example of intentionally anti-memory, gnostic architecture. It screams: "The building doesn't matter!" And yet, it sends a message that very much does matter.

Beautiful churches, unlike ugly churches which tend to all look the same, are startlingly diverse in their make and manner. In the USA, we enjoy the gothic beauty of a building like St. Vincent Ferrer, the Dominican church in New York City. It teaches through statues and stained glass; it also evokes a sense of the transcendent in its high vaulted arches. The simpler but still-stunning beauty of the Franciscan tradition is in eidence at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery and Shrine, Hanceville, AL, as well as the new monastery of the Poor Clares of Virginia.

There are also churches that are nearly bare but still reflect something true and good about man, who is nothing, and God, who is all. See the Trappists' Monastery of the Holy Spirit's chapel on the top of this post.

The building matters. It's not everything, but neither is it nothing. Physical beauty and truth in architecture (e.g., making the Eucharist the center of a building's focus) can enrich our "worship experience." At the very least, the building should not be a stumbling block to the "beauty of the infinite One."

Amen. Rant concluded.

Jacques rocks.

Jacques, aka Neulieb, over at Random Musings of a Philosophy Student, has made all of us brainiacs a little more perky today. I'll have to quote in full, since she puts it best. Philosophers can be real people, too! Discussing Descartes and Pascal at dinner parties can be fun!

Here's Jacques:

"To be an academic and a real person at the same time...doesn't happen as often as it should. It's all too easy for academics, I think, to take refuge in the life of the mind and let their hearts (and everything else) atrophy. Those are the professors who take refuge in the library to escape the world and real interaction with other people. They may be brilliant at their specialty, but they're stunted as complete human beings.

But of course it's not fair to condemn all academia just because some professors are like that. I guess I might have a jaded view of nuns if I had known more of the sort who went into the convent to escape life and now go around dour-faced, beating small children with rulers. But I haven't. I've known so many joyful, young, life-embracing religious that it's kind of foreign to me that anyone would think nuns go into the convent to escape the world. And I'm glad that now I'm also getting to know some wonderful young intellectuals who are interested in real life too, who are fun and well-adjusted and loving and not just wrapped up in their footnotes. Shoutout to Gina and Jeff, Monica and Dave, Erika and Todd (hmm, they seem to come in pairs... fascinating...) and all the other grad students who are academics and real people too!

There's a quote I've carried around in my wallet since the day I started grad school. The bottom is torn off so I can't remember what random scholar said it, but here it is:
I never wanted to be an academic. I still don't. I wanted to be -- I know
this sounds pretentious -- I wanted to be an intellectual. I wanted to be
involved in the arts. I wanted to be in a place where people cared passionately
about ideas, about teaching, about discourse and about reflecting critically.
What I found was a world of small-minded, partisan professionals, many of whom
were there because they couldn't figure out what else to do. So I created a life
inside the academy that reflected the life I wanted to lead.

I don't think I'll ever be an academic myself -- I want to be a writer, and that's a somewhat different vocation. But I'm glad I've seen that being an academic doesn't have to mean renouncing the real world and the chance to be a whole person. Just like I'm grateful I know how good and joyful religious life can be -- I've seen it at its best, and even so, I know it's not for me. I think that's the most freeing way to find a vocation: to choose one good thing without needing to deny the real beauty and value of the alternative..."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quid est veritas?

One of my favorite scenes in the The Passion of the Christ is the conversation (in Latin! sigh) between Pontius Pilato and Jesus. "What is truth?"

A friend mentioned her conversation with a priest over ways we know truth. This friend happens to be a PhD in Chemistry, so she lives and works in the Scientific Academy where what is true is usually what can be measured. Portrait of a happy materialism.

In other words, we can only say "that's true" when we're talking about how many kilometers it is to Canton, how many electrons the Carbon atom has, or how many milligrams of Tylenol I can safely take with x milligrams of Advil. It's true if you can measure it, experiment on it, prove it.

But this friend and her priest weren't so sure. There must be other ways of knowing something is true. For example, in a Jane Austen novel, I find something true about human nature. In TS Eliot's poetry I find truth about the world. I know it is true that my husband loves me and that brings me joy. This is a sort of poetic knowledge of truths that can't be measured.

(But somehow they are more real to me than atoms, distances, or even time.)


I think it has something to do with the fact that, in the end, truth is personal. In fact, it is a person. Jesus gives no answer to Pilate's question, because truth is not just beakers, scales, poetry, philosophy, or theology. It is all these things, but it is finally him. Strange waters.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Today the Church celebrates St. Teresa of Avila, reformer of the Carmelite Order and Doctor of the Church. A true thinker and lover.

St. Teresa's Bookmark

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing; God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.

Understanding Islam and the West

"Do you know anything about Islam?" someone asked me yesterday.

That's a hard question to answer. I know something about Islam: the five pillars, the Koran, the basic history of its conquests and losses, some sources of tensions between the East and the West. But when asked to explain it, I feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Perhaps I have been studying in the intolerant academy for too long; I have imbibed that reluctance--expected of Christians--to comment on a religion not my own.

Nevertheless, Islam (or, rather, the problem of Islam-Christian-Jewish relations) fascinates me. I've tried to pick up some resources for y'all to browse over should you, too, harbor such a fascination. These books/articles/websites have helped me formulate some responses to questions folks raise about Islam and the West. I'll profligate some of those opinions later, but thought the experts should do the talking first:

Islam's Teachings and History

"The Pillars of Islamic Faith," by David B. Burrell--a great article on the 5 pillars that also points out some key differences between Christian and Islamic theology.

Knowing the Enemy, by Mary Habeck--This book is a not-difficult explanation of the various interpretations of jihad in Islamic history; a great way to understand the rise of what the media calls "Islamic fundamentalism."

For a fascinating discussion--between several Muslim and Christian women--of the wearing of the veil (hijab) see the Feminine Genius.

Islam and the West
Pope Benedict XVI's address to the faculty at Regensburg, Germany, on September 12, 2006; the address sparked worldwide attentions and riots in Islamic countries, but its central theme is actually on the role of faith and reason in Islam.

"Islam and Us," by George Cardinal Pell--this article is the best short explanation I've read on the possibilities for Muslims and Christians to dialogue and come to some sort of peaceful co-existence; also some good points on secularism.

"The Regensburg Moment," by Richard John Neuhaus--a great summary and analysis of Pope Benedict's address at Regensburg in 2006.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Assisi

I've never been to Assisi, but this poem speaks to any heart that has lost its fear.
Fragment from Assisi
Because I heard the cockerel’s golden cry
Ring from the bottom of the silver olive glade,
Because he called the chapter of the noonday sun,
I shed the shackles my own hands had made.
Because the towers up and down the hill
Fired like beacons answering when they tolled the time,
Driving the white wrack of the winter orchard smoke,
I lost my fear between that chill and chime.

—Meredith Wise

There's more to enjoy at this month's issue of Dappled Things.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Up.

I'm sitting up!

I heard the baby's heartbeat this morning at the OB office and I think it chased away some of the nausea. Philosopher Baby2 says, "whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh..."

So now I'm sitting at the computer, eating Cup Noodles, and basking in the beauty of life. The sheer facticity of creation. And my melancholic-philosopher mind muses,

"All the philosophies and rational proofs for truth are pale compared to a heart on fire with gratitude. The proofs tell me that my existence is a participation in God, the Act of Existence, and I have acknowledged that it is so. But only the heart on fire with love will cling to God. The heart sees it is beloved by God and responds. Set my heart on fire."

Raptures of a woman ascending from bed rest.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Neat conversion story.

This is the story of the conversion of an Islamic woman to the Catholic faith. I was struck especially by the concrete differences between the Islamic and Catholic understandings of marriage. Anyone who tells you that your faith is a private matter of the heart that has little or no bearing on everyday life hasn't experienced the joy of Christian love in marriage.

Gratias ago to the Feminine Genius.

October ploddeth on...

and the Philosopher Baby2 continues his/her temperamental reign of my stomach. But little does he/she know that

1. Someday I will say what he/she may/may not eat.
2. Someday he/she will have only one thing to eat for months.
3. Someday we will all ogle and coo and have completely forgotten the Dark Months of the first trimester.

The woman cries aloud in pain as she labors to give birth, but when the child is born she forgets all pain. It is so. Blessed be God.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A New Delight

The Feminine Genius has put me on to this blog, Second Terrace, a venerable source of critical Christian thought.

The latest quips are from Hilaire Belloc, whose Cautionary Tales for Children is a must-read for every pater, mater, puer and puella. For the elder classes (including your high school students!), The Path to Rome provides a beautiful glimpse into pre-war Europe and its debt to Christendom. It's also a great poetic argument for Pope John Paul II's claim that the European Union must acknowledge that debt or lose its identity.

Belloc was a brilliant writer, though these quotes at Second Terrace remind me why his words are difficult for the pregnancy-brained. A little thick, but so witty and worth the crawl. he minced no words of praise for philosophers:

On philosophy and religion

"There you go, Grizzlebeard, verbalising and confumbling, and chopping logic like the Fiend! exegetic and neo-scholastic, hypograstic, defibulating stuff! An end to true religion!

So it is with philosophers, who will snarl and yowl and worry the clean world to no purpose, not even intending a solution of any sort or a discovery, but only the exercise of their vain clapper and clang ... Now this kind of man can be cured only by baptism ..."

A stumbling block to the Gentiles. Thank you, Mr. Belloc. And thank God for baptism.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Little Doctor

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux--probably the most famous "modern saint" and known most popularly as the "little flower." I've had a tumultuous relationship with Therese. In fact, I so disliked what I perceived to be simpering cuteness that for a while she was to me the "little weed." I think she chuckled.

But towards the end of high school, I read Therese of Lisieuxby Those Who Knew Her, a collection of the testimonies from witnesses at her beatification process. Hot dang. This girl was no cutie. She was real and muscular and full of the passion of Christ. She was simply a life totally surrendered to the incarnate God.

Her "little way" and all the "littles" that accompany her--well, she was a woman of littleness. With her clear vision, she could see how tiny the human being and the whole human race is. On the other end of the spectrum, she perceived the enormity of God and the vastness of a Love that would bridge eternity to be with his creatures. Her very littleness was the source of her joy in God's mercy and love.

So let us be little and joyful.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Buy books!

So, they tell us that Sophia Institute Press is in financial straits. Since blogging is beyond me at the moment, maybe it's time to go find something of quality to read. A great excuse to buy books.

Dietrich von Hildebrand's Humility is out of this world.

Monday, September 17, 2007

One more time

...here's another fun clip on Mother Teresa from, believe it or not, Comedy Central. It's actually clean and tasteful, even if the Jesuit is from America magazine.



Tip of the hat the Whispers in the Loggia.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

more on Mother Teresa's "atheism"

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, is the preacher to... well, to the pope. Here's a link to his thoughts on Mother Teresa's "atheistic" tendencies...

It has lots more "meat" than the previously-posted TIME article, since it actually quotes her writing extensively. Fancy that. An article on Mother Teresa's last writings that uses excerpts from her writings! TIME should take note.

Here's a sampling:

"Mother Teresa has words that no one would have suspected of her: 'They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God. ... In my soul I feel just this terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing. Jesus please forgive the blasphemy.'" ~Fr. Cantalamessa

Sweet comfort to sinner. Challenge to all would-be mystics.

Lord, make me a mystic. But not yet.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Our Lady of Sorrows, Sept. 15

Today the Church remembers Mary as she stood under the cross of Christ. I like to think of how she still stands there.

We are all a little immune to the tragedy of sin. Immersed in the world, we hardly notice the tiny little rejections of God that pile up around us and in our hearts. But for Mary, a heart that sees clearly what each such rejection is in the big picture, no such immunity is possible. She is "set apart" for God and so is able to grieve truly and fully for us, who set ourselves apart from God daily. A heart that grieves, but only because it is a heart that loves.

Mary, Queen of Sorrows, pray for us.

And here's a little video action to honor Mary. I thought it appropriate to showcase some ladies who have set themselves apart from God in order to love more like Mary.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A little on Harry


Harry Potter seems to be a litmus test for the average homeschooler: If you detest him, you're blessed, if you adore him, you're woefully misguided at best.

Whether you approve or disapprove, your judgment must be vehement. "The Harry Potter books promote Satanic cult worship!" "The Harry Potter books are the new childhood classics!" There's little room for quiet, thoughtful debate on the literary merits of the books, to what age-group they are most appropriately introduced (or not), or, indeed, even the spiritual perils and graces available in them.

Mark Shea, over at my favorite First Things, has written a brief (if exasperated) analysis in favor of the Potter books that's pretty convincing. It'll delight my dearling friend, Christine Neulieb, who recently posted a less-intellectually-stimulating but hilarious "Potter Puppet Show."

The puppets speak much more to my present condition than does Shea, I have to admit...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

biology beats out philosophy

The Philosopher Mom has been officially flattened by pregnancy. That means light blogging, if any, ahead. First trimester ends in early October, so we're all hoping the sickness does, too!

Here's to contemplation, that far-off vista.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Gregory the Great, Sept. 3



Arguably, the keynote savior of Western civilization. Awesome woodcut, showing Gregory with his also-sainted parents, absconded from The Shrine of the Holy Whapping.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

melts a philosopher's heart


Here's baby's 7-week old hand...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Dark nights...


No, this is not a reference to first trimester nausea.

It is, however, a reference to what appears to be a major revelation for some news outlets: Mother Teresa of Calcutta (now a "Blessed") experienced for some 40+ years feelings of abandonment and the absence of God. TIME magazine recently had an entire article on the recent release of her letters and writings from this period: Come, Be My Light. A much more informative source is the May 2003 article from my very favorite periodical, First Things.

My thoughts? The "dark night" is nothing new in Catholic--or, I would even hazard, human--experience. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux (oh, they're all Carmelites!), and more (brain malfunction) all experienced a withdrawal of divine consolation at some point in their journeys to God.

Professional atheist Christopher Hitchins tells us that Mother Teresa's experience had nothing to do with God, but is simply a manifestation of her hypocritical denial of the fact that all religion is a human fabrication. She had seen the void on the other side.

Perhaps so. The Church's understanding of the "dark night" is one of a lover-beloved relationship. See the Song of Songs first. It is God, the lover, leaving the beloved alone in the "night" of the world. The beloved pines and longs for him, surviving only on an act of pure faith. Even her subjective proofs ("I feel He is with me" or "He comes to me in prayer") are gone, and her faith is purified.

The "night" is a scandal to the world, but also a great consolation (ironically?) to "we of little faith." Even in the darkness, we can serve and love the hidden God.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

more on atheism...

First Things has again alerted me to the ongoing debate with the "new atheists." Here they provide a link to a YouTube video clip ("clip" is a relative term--it's over an hour long) and brief analysis of the debate.

Most of the analysis focuses on the question of suffering, especially of innocents. Dawkins, in the debate, asks the Christian apologist how he can explain a God who allows thousands of children to suffer in disasters. The Christian dances and stumbles in an attempt to justify the ways of God to man. The whole question of suffering, though, must be grappled with: it is often the primary roadblock to faith, I've found. We must be able to "give an account of ourselves" that does not sound like a clock-work world of checks and balances that somehow justifies suffering...

So here's a link to get those thoughts flowing. It's a shorter version of David B. Hart's The Doors of the Sea, his work on the Christian response to the tsunami of Christmas 2004. Probably the best popular theology I've ever read on the subject (yes, even better than Lewis's The Problem of Pain).

Augustine of Hippo

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo. Doctor of the Church, saint, and preeminent philosopher and theologian, he articulated for all generations the deepest questions (and sketched some answers) of the human heart and intellect. And, remarkable for the ancient world, he wrote his deeply introspective Confessions for our pleasure and growth in charity.

Some commentators (which we all are) find him "dark" or "judgmental," but I can hardly understand this censure for a man so obviously aware of his own shortcomings as well as his outstanding brilliance of mind. One who can hold both extremes--wretchedness and greatness--up to the light of God in sight of all the world cannot be "dark."

Best reads: Confessions, On the Trinity, City of God, and any sermons/homilies you can get your hands on.

But here, from the mouth of the man himself:

"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved
you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace." ~The Confessions, St. Augustine

Saturday, August 25, 2007

rejected paragraph from the thesis...

Christian theology is differentiated from pagan religious and philosophical reflection primarily by the introduction of a new distinction, the distinction between the world understood as possibly not having existed and God understood as possibly being all that there is.

The world, which is all created things, is now understood and analyzed as being the thoroughly contingent term of a distinction that might not have existed at all but, in fact, does. God is the necessary being; indeed, he is ipsum esse subsistens, the pure and unadulterated act of being itself. “To be God, God does not need to be distinct from the world, because there does not need to be anything other than God alone.” The context in which Pascal considers human nature, God, and eternal life, then, is one in which only God is necessary. The rest is, simply, not. This distinction is not merely cerebral, but elicits particular attitudes from its adherents: “The existence of the world now prompts our gratitude, whereas the being of the world prompts our wonder.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

body and mind

Fighting dualism in the classroom has been good fun. First of all, I incarnate in my own body the truth that mind depends and works in, to a great extent, the body.

"Now, let's turn to.... ah. Let's turn to... Well. Never mind. Er, let's go back to what we were just talking about. Yes. What were we just talking about?"

Yes, a simple backache brings all-powerful reason to its knees.

But seriously, we've been having great fun with dualism (Descartes) and utilitarianism (Mill) in the senior high school class. So, I thought I'd give the basic definitions the class has been working with.

Dualism, at least Cartesian dualism, says that all certainty is based in the "thinking thing," that is, me, "I." The foundation for clear and distinct knowledge is in the fact that I am. Now, that "I" is just mind. It's the thing doing the thinking. Bodies become a "probably conjecture" that we work with in science in order to master and possess nature. The mind and body are joined in a special way, but Descartes never really explains how they're joined and repeatedly insists that "I am essentially my mind." The body is non-essential to me.

Utilitarianism, in general, works on the principle that we ought to "maximize pleasure and minimize pain." Sounds great. John Stuart Mill made this a sort of cosmic principle: "Seek the greatest happiness (which he equates with pleasure) for the greatest number." I'm confirmed in my skepticism by none other than Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), who says that inevitably utilitarianism becomes "greatest happiness for me."

Wojtyla wages a fascinating war on both dualism and utilitarianism in Love and Responsibility, his philosophical case for sexual ethics that predates the later, theological Theology of the Body addresses. It's probably my all-time favorite ethics book, and along the way it dabbles in metaphysics, aesthetics, and on and on. Here was a guy who did not believe in compartmentalization!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Grammar

Teaching grammar ought not to quench the philosophical spirit. In my weak and fallen state, however, hours of explaining adverbs to eyeball-rolling 9th-graders reduces dramatically my desire and capacity for contemplation.

I just want to watch Law and Order reruns.

(NB: "I" is the subject, "want" is the action verb, "just" is the adverb answering the question, "To what extent?".... etc.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

on barbarism...

The barbarism of the 2-year-old ballerina who does not wish to eat her rice is, upon reflection and when the "event" is over, amusing.

Other barbarisms are not. I am reading Night of Stone: Death and memory in twentieth-century Russia, by Catherine Merridale. I'm only to the great famines of 1932-1933 that murdered an estimated 5-7 million peasants in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. That leaves another 67 years of the 20th-century left to kill. Literally.

Once again, what strikes me is the ordinariness of the men/women who engineered the conditions that led to the famine. Stalin was not mad. His followers were not some aberration on the stage of human history. Just bumbling ideologists who plunged their country from one barbarism to another. I am as capable of such barbarism as they.

Here is a civilized man's take on barbarism. Evelyn Waugh in a reflective mood:

"Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of error left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on. … The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls, we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

If I'm a handmaid, does that make my husband a butler?

"Philosophy: the handmaid of theology"

Thus began another year of Catholic Doctrine for the high school seniors at Regina Caeli Academy.

I asked them what it meant to be a handmaid.

"You take orders from the mistress." Yes.

"You cook and clean." Ye-es.

"You take care of the mistress." Ah-ha! And the course instructor (me) went into metaphysical raptures. That was a fascinating--and personally gratifying--way to think about the relationship between philosophy and theology.

Yes, philosophy is the handmaid: reason and common sense prepare the way for "the queen," theology. Reason must submit (a la Pascal) to the truths of revelation. Theological truth enriches and opens the horizons of human reason.

But is there a sense in which theology can't do without philosophy? The mistress needs her handmaids to flourish and grow. The more disciplined and thorough the philosopher, the more rigorous his/her concepts and arguments... the more (insert adjective) theology.

I think it has in part to do with the persuasiveness of theology and the attraction it has for the "natural man." If theology can speak to reason and the human heart (using philosophical terms to which the natural man is open), it can persuade. And if theology is not winning hearts, it's lost its purpose.

Ah, but the musings are endless...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cardinal Lustiger, RIP

Although it has now been a week since his death, I must recognize the passing of this great man of God. Born to Jewish parents in 1926 (his mother died in Auschwitz), he was the archbishop of Paris from 1981 until 2005, and invited Europeans and all Catholics to "open wide the doors to Christ."

Here is a link to George Weigel's tribute.

The new atheism

Have you noticed all the latest tracts on atheism in Borders and Barnes & Noble? Gracious.

Harvey Mansfield had an article in The Weekly Standard on the latest attacks on religion. They are different, he maintains, from the usual fare ("the usual fare" being the Enlightenment relegation of religion to the private sphere). Hard to believe, since atheism has been around since only shortly after gods and goddesses and God appeared on the historical scene.

The new atheists of the West live in a post-Christian society in which religion has largely lost its public influence (we're speaking here of Western Europe and the Americas, not of the East). It has been successfully quarantined in private lives, where its pernicious influences won't detract from human progress.

But! Mansfield writes:

"In our time, religion, having lost its power to censor and dominate, still retains its ability, in America especially, to compete for adherents in our democracy of ideas. So to reduce the influence of religion, it is politically necessary to attack it in the private sphere as well as in the public square. This suggests that the distinction between public and private, dear to our common liberalism, is sometimes a challenge to maintain. If religion, then, cannot be defended merely on the ground that it is private, what might be said in its behalf for the public good?"

This, I would contend, is the problem with submitting to the urge to confine "my religion" to my private home. It just doesn't work. Faith loses every time. The very idea of a "private world" in which I can do whatever I want without affecting the "public world" is tenuous at best. Even my decisions about my sexuality (will I reproduce?), my children's discipline (will I tell her it's wrong to steal?), my faith (do I believe in unlimited abortion license?), will bear on public life if I have any integrity at all.

So, of course it has become necessary for atheists to ridicule private religion. To our great surprise, there's no such thing.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

St. Teresa Benedicta, aka Edith Stein



And August continues its slough of saint-days in the Catholic Church. Today is another patron(ess) of philosophy: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD.

Born in Germany to a large Jewish family as Edith Stein, she grew into a brilliant student of philosophy and worked closely with Husserl. Husserl founded a particular school of phenomenology, which attempts to overcome the abyss of modern thought.

Like many of the members of Husserl's school of thought, Edith converted to Catholicism. Because she was Jewish, however, she was never allowed to teach at the university level in Germany. In her early forties, she entered the Carmel at Cologne. She and her sister, also a Carmelite and convert, fled to Holland early in the war but were arrested by the SS and sent to Auschwitz, where they died in the gas chambers.

Great reads from her life work:
The Science of the Cross (written from within Carmel just before her arrest)
Self-Portrait in Letters (letters to others from before her conversion until her arrest)
Essays on Woman (a series of lectures given in Germany before she entered Carmel)

"Learn from St. Thérèse to depend on God alone and serve Him with a wholly pure and detached heart. Then, like her, you will be able to say ‘I do not regret that I have given myself up to Love’." ~St. Edith Stein

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Philosophical Canon


Edward T. Oakes, SJ, has just posted a charming, witty, and insightful article on the First Things blog on the philosophical canon.

Among other fascinating questions he asks: How on earth did someone as verbally obtuse as Hegel get on to the "must read" list? Why is Descartes impossible to ignore while Cartesians are impossible to forgive? What qualifies an author or work as canon material? Why should we be familiar with the philosophical canon?

It's a fun read, though long, so get a cup of coffee first. But it is also especially appropriate for St. Dominic's day, since the latter half focuses on Thomism and the relationship of faith and reason. Enjoy.

St. Dominic, August 8



Today is the feast of St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (OPs). Since I went to Catholic University and lived in Gibbons, across the street from the Dominican House of Studies, and since three good friends have entered the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia, and since St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican of great philosophical gravitas, I have been blessed to know and love a few of his sons and daughters. Here's a twitch of the veil/cowl to them all!

"To praise, to bless, to preach!"

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Shout out to true feminism.

This article is quite disturbing, but gives a blinders-off look at what abortion does to women. Particularly unborn women.

Shedding a little light...


I ran into a blessed philosopher yesterday and confided my frustrations with the thesis on Pascal. After ruefully recounting my attempts at clarity, I asked, "There's no right answer, though, is there? I'm not looking for the right answer, am I?"

"No," she said, "there's no right answer. Your job is just to shed a little more light on the subject."

Of course, I went immediately into mystical raptures over this revelation of the end for which I create the thesis at all. To illuminate--not definitively disclose--the truth of Pascal's project. Thank heavens.

This also allays many of the frustrations one feels in teaching history. Last year, I led a seminar in early modern history for high school juniors and seniors. The books we were assigned by the school's curriculum were determined to present the "right answer" to all historical problems; that means they sought to explain away all the awkwardness of the Inquisition, the conquistadores, Galileo, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, etc. It was so easy and so nauseatingly comfortable to be able to say: "And that's why it all happened the way it did. And here's how we can justify the ways of God to man, and man to God."

But what is harder, in a way, to say is that the end for which we study history is not to find the definitive answers and justifications for "the good guys." The reason we read history is to shed light on, among other things, human nature, our own origins, and the rise and fall of human civilizations.

I also find history to be a particularly convincing lesson in original sin, but, again, it only sheds light on sin. History does not prove anything (such as, original sin) in the way the hard sciences can prove something (such as, the existence of microorganisms). It simply sheds a little more light on the truth of who we are, who God is, and where we are going.