Friday, February 27, 2009

Hans for Housewives I: The Cosmological Reduction

Here I go on another set of synopses. This is a Lenten discipline, and it very well may take the entire six weeks of Lent. I'm reading Hans Urs von Balthasar's Love Alone is Credible (trans. D.C. Schindler) and want to put it into accessible language. It's a great place to start with Balthasar; the book is short and sums up nicely the project of his entire life. The main difficulty is that the first two chapters are, well, pretty inaccessible to me. But I'm game for a good shot.

Chapter One: The Cosmological Reduction

The purpose of this little book is to understand more deeply what love means, what divine love is, and how we can become lovers of the Divine. It's sources of inspiration are Therese of Lisieux, John of the Cross, and Frances de Sales; Balthasar, however, also calls upon the philosophical traditions of Augustine and Pascal.

He begins with two chapters on partially true systems. These two systems of thought--the cosmological reduction and the anthropological reduction--are the Scylla and Charibdis of Christian thought. He will argue that Christianity "disappears" the moment we fall into one or the other of these traditions.

The cosmological reduction comes from the tradition begun by the Church fathers, including Justin, Origen, Augustine, and Eusebius. Their explanation of divine love was basically "external" or "extrinsic." Christianity is "the fulfillment of the fragmented meaning of the world." Human beings have ever tried to express religiously their desire for divine love, or for God. In all the world religions and philosophies, we see human longing for the transcendent, absolute Godhead. Only in Christ, the Word of God (Logos), are these longings fulfilled.

Therefore, all truths--however partial--and beautiful things are, ultimately, Christian. Justin wrote: "Everything that is good and beautiful belongs to us." Socrates is a disciple of Christ. Buddha was inspired by the Christian God. The beautiful art of China and Japan is beautiful because God--or Christ--is beautiful.

This conviction, however true, led during the Renaissance to Christian humanism. Scholars such as Erasmus wanted to shed their minds of all the "extras"--liturgical pomp, ultra-scholastic theology, devotionals--to get back to the pure Christ, the "pure Logos" pursued by pagan and Christian philosophers alike. Thomas More wrote about the "natural religion" of Utopia, which was in fact quite like Christianity. As soon as the pagan Utopians learn about Christ, they fit him easily into their perfect human religion. He was the one they were seeking all the time, by reason alone.

Again, there are a lot of truths to be had here. Unfortunately for Christianity, in the history of ideas, these ideas led quickly to the complete dismissal of revelation. If human beings can get at the truth of God, the pure Logos, by reason alone, what need is there for an historical Christ? "Revelation, in this sense, becomes a mere outward shell covering the inner religious dimension of mankind." Revelation is just something that got us to Christ more quickly than if we'd had to do it all ourselves.

The "cosmological reduction" means that all religions--with Christianity being the best among them--boil down to one, great cosmic mystery. That mystery reveals itself through our rituals and traditions that evolve progressively through history. We can only justify the fact that we are Christians by pointing to Christ as some sort of evolutionary necessity--the forced expression of the divine God. And love has been reduced to evolution and progress.

Is Balthasar rejecting the fathers? Absolutely not. But he is pointing out the dangers inherent in this way of thinking and arguing about the Christian faith. Do we really want to end up saying Christianity is just one--albeit the best--expression of God's love? Is the love of Christ really something we could have eventually arrived at on our own?

That's Scylla. Stay tuned for Charybdis.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


A little late in the day, but success nonetheless!

1. All sinners in the house went to Reconciliation on Saturday!

2. Had a beautiful conversation about God with a dear friend, another two dear friends, and another dear friend. Great Lenten preparation!

3. Planted 25 peat pots of cabbage seeds. 8 weeks to planting!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

3 pm Ash Wednesday

To hunger. verb.

to crave, to itch, to thirst, to yearn, to long for, to desire, to ache for, to want

Are you feeling it now?

Colbert for Ash Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dust to dust.

Tomorrow is the Big Day (or, rather, the Littlest Day). This year, I want so much from Lent. This undoubtedly means that I will be experiencing not so very much at all: it will be a real desert. I'm planning to fast from the noise in order to be more attentive to my children's noise.

This verse has been on my heart very much this past year, and it was in my Morning Prayer today: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil. 4.8) How many images or songs or thoughts or conversations in my life are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise? This Lent, I want to uplift these things, and cast out the others.

There is a time to read or watch the trash, but Lent is not that time. I've been spending too much time sifting through convoluted ultra-humanist thought (Teilhard, Rohr, cable news); it's necessary, but not for Lent. It's time to think and read about Jesus.

So, tomorrow we take a break and spend 40 days with Christ alone. With the true, the good, and the beautiful alone. The time for battles is past, this is a time of retreat.

Books for Lent:
Love Alone is Credible, Hans Urs von Balthsar
Story of a Soul, Sweet, strong Therese
He Leadeth Me, Fr. Ciszek
Romans, St. Paul
Drink of the Stream, Prayers of the Carmelites

25 minutes of spiritual reading after the kiddos are in bed (Todd and I are keeping each other accountable on this one!)
Miriam's sacrifice jar (she gets a jelly bean/M&M in the jar for each kindness/good work that I didn't have to tell her to do; she eats them at Easter)
More meatless meals (Fridays, for sure, and three other nights per week)

Great Posts for you to read:
Recommended reading for Lent, from Jen
Would you kids be quiet? I seeking God's will here., also from Jen
Yes, from Amy Welborn
A Meaningful Lent, Part III (Parts I and II rock, too), from Karen Edmisten

Friday, February 20, 2009


In the current economic crisis, does anyone else feel the desire to return to the barter system? It seems so simple, and I'm sure it would work if not for original sin.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Success!

Well, now, it was a good week!

1. I finished all my progress reports for the Regina Caeli Academy students. On time!

2. In spite of a major head cold and sinus infection and threat of croup, I fed my family dinner every night.

3. The girls and I made it to the library yesterday, thus avoiding major late fees while at the same time restocking our pile of books for "sthick daysth." (Miriam is currently experimenting with listhpsth.)

Vocab word!

Here is a great distillation for you (I love that word). Jennifer Morse, from Acton Institute, explains the ramifications of same-sex "marriage." She does a great job of putting into very understandable language the natural law argument; and she ties it into what it means for a state (e.g., the United States) to assume the power to grant parenthood. Interesting stuff. Necessary stuff.

Gratias ago, e!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lepers all.

A little dark for a Sunday, but so vital.

"If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. [Society] becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds."

~Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II

Thanks to Jean Bethke Elshtain, from her new article in the March 2009 issue of First Things. (I would link you to it, but it's only in print at the moment.) It is a chilling portrait of a Europe that has (almost) fully embraced what John Paul II describes.

In today's gospel, Jesus heals a leper (or, in our PC-speak, "a man afflicted with leprosy"). The secularist culture in which we live is a sort of self-imposed leprosy--an extreme isolation from other human beings. All that matters is our own moral "imagination" and our own self-preservation; the concept of a communion of persons based in an inherent human dignity is lost. Perhaps through willful ignorance, perhaps through the more subtle routes of apathy and over-indulgence.

What matters is the manner of healing: Jesus touches the leper. He touches him in a way he hasn't been touched in years.

Do I believe this healing is possible for "Europe"--or, rather, for all the millions of individuals who make up what was once Europe? I do. But I must admit, after an article like Elshtain's, I hope with fear and trembling.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Small Success.

I'm jumping on the Faith and Family bandwagon, mostly because I've been having a hard time feeling much "success" lately. The things that do "go right" seem to do so more because of some divine intercession than my own effort. But it is funny to think back over the week and wonder, "What did I get done?" The list looks a lot different today than it did antefilia...

1. I ran on both Saturday and Sunday and Monday. In shorts. For over 30 minutes each time.

2. Scientist Dad and I had a date! Red curry salmon for me. Teriyaki salmon for him. (It was Friday.)

3. Miriam and I finished digging two garden beds in the front lawn. We also transferred some poor crocus bulbs from under an imposing box bush to a sunnier clime beneath the mailbox.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quote of the day.

"Precisely because we are Christians, philosophy must become for us nothing but the love of wisdom; God's wisdom, however, is his logos--it is Christ; and thus we must love him in order to become true philosophers."

~Petrarch, letter to Giovanni Colonna


Today the Church remembers the brief encounters between a little girl, Bernadette, and Christ's mother, Mary, at Lourdes. 150 years ago, something happened in southern France that didn't fit into the current of the times.

It was an age of unbrideled optimism and confidence in the power of the human mind. Men dreamed of steam engines, diamonds, coal, the rights of the worker, the new science. Liberty, fraternity, equality. The transcendentalists were enjoying their heyday in America; Marxism was ruminating in secret in Europe.

It was almost a joke: For some reason, in a backward little town, to an uneducated and slightly "stupid" female--she was also ridiculously pious--the Mother of God appeared. And then this water sprang up from the ground. It was infuriating, because not only did the people travel to Lourdes en masse for a "spiritual experience," but they also received physical healing. If Lourdes had been content to stay "religious," it may have been forgiveable. Like Kabbalah. But here, God made the religious tangible. He gave concrete, physical evidence of his presence. It threw all the assumptions of modern man in his face.

So, today, remember Mary's message: Forget the steam engine. Pray. Come. Be healed. The apparition was not about "being spiritual." It was testimony to God's love for each of us in our humanity--body and soul. Both are only saved in him.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Miriam the spiritual director. Part II.

Miriam: "I love Uncle Ben."

Mom: "That's good, Miriam. What made you think of Uncle Ben?" (We had just been having a conversation about grapefruit. Not about Uncle Ben or any other human being for that matter.)

Miriam: "Loving him made me think of him."

Of course. Unless we become as little children...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Permanent reprieve.

Here's a great post from Jen on atheism-as-death-row. Very cool. She brings home the point that, if you're going to be extinct in a few minutes/days/years, what's the point of anything? The truth about God's existence (or lack thereof) matters so very, very much.

Keepers of Memory

Yes, Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of a Pius X bishop who, among other mind-boggling gaffs, denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers. This has, of course, inspired an almost-as-mind-boggling pile of crud in the blogosphere, accusing the pope of being himself a Nazi. Not worth linking to.

So, it was refreshing to read an account of a truly heroic Catholic priest who has made it his life mission to commemorate the forgotten victims of the Shoah (or "Holocaust"):

"As the unmarked mass graves are slowly located, one by one, and sanctified with the recitation of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning for the dead, the cries can at last be silenced. Are we our brothers' keepers? To Father Desbois, the answer is a resounding 'Yes.'"

How beautiful are our keepers. This is not voodoo or superstition; this ministry reaches to heaven. We must all expose the unmarked graves in our lives, beg mercy for those deaths and God's grace to begin a new life.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hooking Up

The blogosphere has been at the bottom of my priority list (is that where it belongs?) this week. Friday, in particular, was a delightful day during which the Internet was down. I discovered how happy and cheerful the world seems when the virtual world takes a nap. Sunny!

So I'm back with a vengeance, but also some perspective.

Last night, the Scientist Dad and I watched a rough version of a documentary-in-the-works: The Hook-Up Culture. Specifically, the film targets the link between alcohol, drugs, and casual sex (my mind was blown open to vast, new horizons of what constitutes "sex"). The whole, banal story wouldn't shock anyone vaguely familiar with Cosmopolitan, though part of the point of the film is just how shocked parents can be when they discover this culture.

Here it is in a nutshell:

1. Students abuse alcohol regularly on and off campus.
2. Students have immediate access to the drug of their choice: Marijuana is tops, ecstasy is big, and cocaine isn't the far down the list.
3. When under the influence, students have casual sex or make-out sessions. Lots of it.
4. Fraternities are the temples of the hook-up culture.
5. Very little shame is attached to hooking up (unless, students say, you do it "too many times").
6. Girls say other girls get emotionally attached to their hook-ups. Boys (and these are boys) say "whatever" but insist that sometimes they regret it.
7. STD's, pregnancy, and depression are all equally regarded as "bad." But no one seems to think it could happen to them.

I think it was WH Auden who said that imaginary evils is romantic and thrilling; real evil is dull, monotonous, and predictable. Yup. Exactly.

But what was really predictable was the film's commentary. Whose to blame? Repressive Christian morality (huh?). How do we fight this? Educate girls and boys to have really satisfying sexual experiences (i.e., use condoms).

Apparently, repressive Christian parents and schools--the kind who make rules against this kind of behavior--alienate their children and students to the extent that said children won't "come talk to them" when in need. Girls need to be able to "talk to their parents without fear of being judged."

I'm all about kids talking to their parents. Amen. The implication, however, was that if the parents set rules, then the kids will be alienated.

Respondeo: It is not the rules that alienate kids. It's the way those rules are communicated from early childhood that makes all the difference. The rules are there to protect those kids and help them to flourish. Binge drinking four nights a week is not flourishing. Having a glass of wine with dinner and then settling down to study is--for a college student. Parents have a responsibility not to be the non-judgmental ear, but rather to advise and guide. Loving guidance and an unwavering ability to forgive is what these kids need to see from mom and dad. Law enforcement is what they need from the universities.

We have to make the case to our kids that Christian morality frees us--it does not repress us.

I wish that filmmaker had done a contrast study. Go ask young students who enjoy happy relationships, laugh at true humor, can discuss a serious thought, strive to examine themselves and become better, and love their studies: they are all these things because they have chosen a moral code. That code frees them for real relationships, frees them from the "need to feel wanted."

Finally, we've tried the education thing. Sex-ed doesn't work. Abstinence ed apparently doesn't work, either. Only real relationships--with mom, dad, peers, teachers--that encourage us to lives of heroic virtue work. Only person-to-person can we combat the hook-up culture.