Thursday, January 31, 2008


If you haven't seen Juno yet, you must. Do not bring your children. Just bring your spouse/honey and any in uteros you may be carrying.

Contrary to, whose reviewer can't believe any teen out there is having unprotected sex (?), this is a real film. I would even say more real than Bella.

My favorite bit to chew on at the moment is the social commentary on perpetual adolescence. The 16 year-old pregnant Juno finds her heroic little self through losing her little self. The 30 something almost-adoptive dad Mark loses his chance to lose himself and slips back into the pubescent dreamings of, well, most 30 somethings.

Preggers brain

It must be hormones. I can't think or even speak clearly.

But if it's the hormones this time, what was it all those years before I was pregnant? The thought baffles the mind.

Pascal was right: Behold the genius. Man! Master of nature! but do not be surprised if he cannot think right now. There is a fly buzzing about his ears...

Descartes was wrong. Reason does not rule absolutely. It is ruled.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Second Terrace has an entertaining little number (see opiate number 3) on the true sources of cultural numbness, illiteracy, and general lack of reflection. Hint: it's not religion. But for all you moms and dads out there, seeking to minimize the opiates in your child's and your own lives (though "moderation in all things" is a good mantra), this is a good place to get some ideas.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

January 28--St. Thomas Aquinas

John Paul II on the Angelic Doctor's invaluable contribution to our understanding of "faith and reason":

"In an age when Christian thinkers were rediscovering the treasures of ancient philosophy, and more particularly of Aristotle, Thomas had the great merit of giving pride of place to the harmony which exists between faith and reason. Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he argued; hence there can be no contradiction between them.

"More radically, Thomas recognized that nature, philosophy's proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine Revelation. Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason. Illumined by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God. Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice." ~Fides et Ratio, no.43

The problem of the good atheist

Fr. Neuhaus again, this time on atheism. Atheists have a hard time explaining why we should care about "humanity" or doing good things since life is ultimately meaningless. Enter the existentialists.

"Existentialism" gets a lot of press because it's so, well, comfortable. A basic thought-pattern of existentialism is that truth is one thing, but meaning is another. So, in atheistic terms: the truth is that human life is uncreated and finite; but we can give meaning to life by creating meaning. If I say life has meaning, then by golly, it does! Enter Father Neuhaus, commenting on popular atheist writer, Comte-Sponville:

"If we follow Comte-Sponville and reject the theological rationale for the unity of the universal and personal, can both survive? “All truth is universal,” he writes. Fair enough. But then the question follows immediately: “How can a truth belong to me personally?” His answer: “Things do not matter in and of themselves but only through the attention we bring to them and the love we bear them.” It’s a familiar and modern existentialist solution: Truth is truth, but then there is meaning, which is quite another matter. We serve truth but we make meaning. “We do not love an object because it is valuable; rather, our love confers value upon what we love.”

Perhaps Comte-Sponville will succeed in convincing his fellow atheists that humanity is to be loved even though our lives have no value. But one may be forgiven for entertaining doubts. The heyday of the modern existentialist approach was the 1930s, the decade before millions were killed in death camps, gulags, carpet bombing, and other horrors continuing into our time. It is not only in the horrors of history, however, but in the dark knowledge of our own hearts and in the irrepressible demands of reason that thoughtful people will find it implausible that the humanity we are to venerate is worthy of being venerated only because of our veneration. Andre Comte-Sponville’s “atheist spirituality” betrays a very large measure of the wishful thinking that he attributes to Christian faith.

"Comte-Sponville reminds us, however, that there is atheism and then there is atheism. This is a truth underscored by Father Ranier Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, in a recent essay:

“The world of today knows a new category of people: the atheists in good faith, those who live painfully the situation of the silence of God, who do not believe in God but do not boast about it; rather they experience the existential anguish and the lack of meaning of everything: They too, in their own way, live in the dark night of the spirit. Albert Camus called them “the saints without God.” The mystics exist above all for them; they are their travel and table companions. Like Jesus, they “sat down at the table of sinners and ate with them” (see Luke 15:2). This explains the passion with which certain atheists, once converted, pore over the writings of the mystics: Claudel, Bernanos, the two Maritains, L. Bloy, the writer J.K. Huysmans and so many others over the writings of Angela of Foligno; T.S. Eliot over those of Julian of Norwich. There they find again the same scenery that they had left, but this time illuminated by the sun. . . . The word “atheist” can have an active and a passive meaning. It can indicate someone who rejects God, but also one who—at least so it seems to him—is rejected by God. In the first case, it is a blameworthy atheism (when it is not in good faith), in the second an atheism of sorrow or of expiation.”

Friday, January 25, 2008

Faith and Reason

A recent banner outside a Congregational Church in my hometown:

"Our faith is two thousand years old. Our thinking is not."

How cute.

The total divorce of faith from reason--and the resulting divorce of Christian from Christian--is nowhere more evident. I will have to extrapolate, of course, and guess that what the banner means is this: "We accept everyone regardless of race, creed, lifestyle, sexual orientation, etc., etc. Other Christians (whose thinking is still two thousand years old) do not. Our common faith in Jesus has no bearing on how we think about human behavior."

If what we believe (our faith) is so far removed from what or how we think, then we are truly fragmented creatures. Faith is simply a gift of God--"having the mind of Christ." It is a point from which we encounter and think about the world, ourselves, and our Creator. If faith does not inform our thinking, it is as dead as St. James's "faith without works." It's just a pacifier that makes us feel happy on Sundays.

Reason informed by faith, however, receives the gift of a new viewpoint: the world is finite, the Creator infinite; man is created, fallen, and redeemed; the virtues have meaning beyond "manners." All sorts of new possibilities open up to the human mind, including, I might add, modern science.

But if you refuse to let a two thousand year old faith inform your thought--fearing it might be "backwards"--you have also failed to truly believe that faith in the first place. The Christian faith came to the world two thousand years ago. Its truths, however, are yesterday, today, and forever.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tranquility: St. Francis DeSales

I was just a bit frazzled at the thought of how the days fly by with nary a contemplative hour. The moments of quiet are too, too short. And then, this passage from Francis DeSales comes through:

In order to acquire tranquility in action it is necessary to carefully consider what we are capable of accomplishing and never to undertake more than that. It is self-love, ever more anxious to do much rather than to do well and this self-love that wishes to undertake everything and accomplishes nothing!

-- St. Francis DeSales

Amen, amen.

Friday, January 18, 2008

For an end to abortion

This weekend we mourn the anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States. Not that any nation has a monopoly on either virtue or vice... but when we publicly allow and condone the slaughter of the unborn, a new world of evil opens up. Let us dwell on the beauty of each human life conceived--regardless of its parents, class, or race--and contemplate the horror of its deliberate destruction by its fellows.

From no. 1 of John Paul II's Gospel of Life:

"The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus' message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as "good news" to the people of every age and culture.

At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news: "I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:10-11). The source of this "great joy" is the Birth of the Saviour; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. Jn 16:21).

When he presents the heart of his redemptive mission, Jesus says: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). In truth, he is referring to that "new" and "eternal" life which consists in communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Son by the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this "life" that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance."

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Tyranny of Relativism

Relativism is the basic idea that the truth of a matter is relative to one's perspective or circumstances.

Some things are relative. For example, a proper choice of clothing is relative to weather conditions, cultural expectations of decency, and mom's prerogative. The truth of the matter depends on these factors.

Some things, however, should not be left to perspective or circumstances. When one confuses those things that are relative with those that are absolute, one becomes subject to what I call "the tyranny of relativism." Reality does not smile kindly upon these unfortunates.

The tyranny of relativism is the bane of the two-year-old child. Everything, for her, is relative to her two-year-old, personal whim.

This reality came home to me on a recent baking adventure. Relativism guides her every decision.

Child: "I want a make a cake."
Mother: "Yes, that's what we're doing. Now we need two eggs."
Child: "No, five eggs."
Mother: "Well, just two eggs in the bowl."
Child: "I want five eggs in the 'firgerator. NOT IN A BOWL!"
Mother: "But if the eggs are in the refrigerator, they're not in the cake."
Child: "Yes, in the cake! In the 'firgerator!"

You get the idea.

The art of baking a cake is not a good time to exercise relativistic tendencies. Your cake will end up looking like (and tasting like) a pile of sawdust.

Truth, on the other hand, is beautiful. And tasty.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Too pregnant for anything but...


Sometimes the philosopher mom must simply acquiesce: I am too hungry and too hormonal for anything but eating, sleeping, and chasing a two-year-old. Alleluia, "little nothingness."

Saturday, January 5, 2008


The incomparable Fr. Neuhaus has a lovely blog post on the future of marriage over at First Things. It is mostly about questions of same-sex "marriage," but also on the post-modern metamorphosis of marriage into a private commitment between two people based on emotion.

He mentions a line from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "who wrote to a young couple getting married that it is not only their love that will sustain their marriage but also their marriage that will sustain their love." This hits the nail on the head. How many times have you heard a divorce justified because "we just don't love each other any more"? That is to say, "we have ceased to feel loving at a level of intensity that we feels makes worthwhile the continuance of life together."

But of what value is a marriage if the vows, made in perhaps (perhaps not) a time of intense emotion, do not mean what they say: "In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health..." Surely loving feelings will not carry us through sickness, months of forced celibacy, endless sleepless nights, infidelity, poverty, disfigurement... They will not. The marriage--the promise made before the God "who will not abandon you" and the Church, "the eternal bride"--will sustain the love. Perhaps not the feelings of love, although I'm told they usually return in the later years to those who persevere, but rather the love of self-gift and the Cross. The marriage will sustain the love. And, in moments of need and plenty, the love will strengthen the marriage.

Yet another "both-and" moment!

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Great Silence

I've just been watching, in installments, Into Great Silence, the 2006 film portraying a monastery of Carthusian monks. It is not a documentary--there's no Discovery Channel-style narration or score; it is a painting. It's a sort of total-immersion program in the language of contemplation. The filmmaker strikes a remarkable--and entirely positive--balance between individual and community, prayer and work, penance and rejoicing. All-in-all beautiful.

I particularly wonder--after hours of monks sitting, kneeling, standing, working in silence--what they think about. How does one pray when there is little time-constraint and no noise? I'm not how sure I would even begin to assimilate.

I marvel, too, at the power of habit in our lives. The monkish life seems so foreign to me; but after even a year of living in the habit of silence, how normal or ordinary that pattern of life might become. In choosing the monastic life, the monk chooses to learn a habit and language of grace. In choosing marriage, I have chosen another language of grace. But it is one God, one love, one mercy. The danger, of course, is that we all become numb and unreflective in our habits. Fidelity must not become automation.

The eternal adventure is finding greater and greater oceans of mystery and mercy in the patterns of our lives. Fidelity becomes an ever-deepening love affair.

The pattern of the monk's life holds me back from becoming numb to the grace in my own life. That's why I love the Church's wisdom--God's peace seeks us in every possible state of life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"The Doubleness of Things"

Ralph Wood has a fantastic (no pun intended) article over at First Things on Chesterton and Tolkien, the two perceived "anti-moderns" of the 20th-century English literary springtime. Although perhaps reactionary in some of their proposed remedies for the evils of modernity, the two men shared a deep love for the world as it is given to us. That is, for "the primacy of being."

Things as we receive them in the senses have a "doubleness"--an inner as well as an outer significance. The inner is not divorced from the outer, but rather the outer can communicate some of the inner meaning. When we start to create our own meaning for things, divorced from what they give our senses, we become detached or untethered from reality.

That's hefty stuff. Which is why reading Tolkien's and Chesterton's fiction, which teach us these truths in a more intuitive way, is a perfect path to healing the "great divorce" in our hearts between "Me-the-creator" and "God-the-Creator."

Here's a brief sample of Wood:

"[T]hey share the conviction that we human creatures are most like God in our positive creativity. “We make,” said Tolkien, “by the law in which we’re made.” Virtually every human act—from dressing in the morning to making vast literary epics and philosophical systems—is an act of creation. Unlike Coleridge and the Romantics, however, Tolkien and Chesterton never grant godlike status to artists and thinkers as having the power to invent their own self-enclosed universe. On the contrary, they share a deep Thomistic regard for the primacy of being: for things as they are perceived by the senses. Like Kant, they confess the difficulty of moving from the phenomenal to the noumenal realm of things-in-themselves. Yet, unlike him, they do not despair over the seemingly impassable gap between the inner and the outer, the mental and the natural; instead, they reveal that the world is not dreadfully dead (as we have believed since Descartes and Newton) but utterly alive and awaiting our free transformation of it. The universe that has been made dissonant also requires reenchantment, therefore, in order for us to participate in an otherness that is not finally cacophony but symphony, a complex interlocking of likenesses and differences that form an immensely complex but finally redemptive Whole. The doubleness of all things is cause for rejoicing, it follows, rather than lamentation."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Mary, Mother of God

Yet another great feast day! Today the Church begins the year with Mary the Mother of God. (The painting at left is Franz Dvorak's Purity and Passion. I thought the title and face and lilies appropriate for young Mary.)

This is from Adrienne von Speyer, a Swiss doctor, mystic, and stigmatist. She died in 1967 and is one of the most intriguing, if obscure, Catholic writers of the 20th century.

"The incomparability of Mary's fruitfulness lies in the fact that her assent is definitively and indissolubly housed in God. It is true that the rest of us, in an impulse of enthusiastic love, promise to belong entirely to him, to sacrifice everything to him, to be eternally faithful to him and, by our renunciation, to lead as many people as possible to him. And this assent, as far as it is true, does not lack fruitfulness; it is, after all, the human response to the Lord's invitation to place our life in the service of the world's redemption ...

"With Mary it is completely different; in speaking her assent, she experienced the essential death, and she has died so completely to herself that she lives only in her Son and for him. God did not first have to take her life away in order to break her resistance to his life, to redeem her completely and finally; from the very beginning he can deposit the life of his Son within her, knowing that the Mother will always live her life in service to the Son, as a function of his life. Nothing in her opposes the redemptive action of the Son; rather, everything places itself at his disposal to further and enhance it."