Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Fulfillment of All Desire

It's a little hard to review a Study Guide, when you haven't got that to which it is a guide. Here, however, is my attempt.

Ralph Martin wrote The Fulfillment of All Desire as a guide to the spiritual life. He bases his outline on "the Wisdom of the Saints," as the subtitle says, using the roadmaps to holiness of seven of the Church's doctors. St. Therese, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Augustine, and St. John of the Cross all lend their wisdom to the earnest seeker. Different forms of prayer and meditation, as well as stages in the soul's journey into God, are discussed and presented as worthy and possible goals for every Christian.

The study guide is well-constructed and would be ideal for a parish or private Bible study or discussion group. A short synopsis of each chapter is followed by key terms, questions for comprehension and personal reflection, suggestions for concrete applications of the ideas, and references to Scripture and the documents of Church councils and the Catechism.

I'm going to try to talk some of my friends into this one.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Fulfillment of All Desire, both the whole book and the study guide. The Catholic Compnay is a great place for serenity prayer items and baptismal gifts, too!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Becoming free...

...stretching my philosophical limbs a little bit.

A friend wrote: I've been talking with someone about what freedom is. What's freedom?


This is one of my favorites.

In nature, freedom just means "free from constraint." As in, the water is free to flow downriver when there is no dam obstructing its path."

At the level of human nature, though, freedom also includes a lack of interior (or psychological) obstruction, as well. Our freedom to choose is constrained by our passions: fear of pain or desire for some pleasure/good.

Because human freedom is part of who we are, though, it cannot be divorced from who we are as humans. Sounds simplistic: But it makes all the difference, especially in our "truth is relative, I make my own truth" culture. There is no freedom apart from truth, the truth about who we are and what we were made to be.

So, a person is perfectly free to act irresponsibly or wrongly. But in doing so, he is actually submitting to his own compulsions. And, because we are creatures of habit, a choice to submit to baser desires means that the next time we are confronted with that choice, we will be more inclined to act basely again. At a physical and psychological level, this is how addictions work: sexual pleasure, over-eating, nicotine, soap operas, etc... Freedom is easily lost, when we choose to need things lesser than ourselves.

On the other hand, when a person chooses freely to act well or rightly, he is actually becoming more free of his passions/desires/fears. Freedom expands as it is exercised well (and this is what it means that there is no freedom apart from truth). Curiously, submitting to an objective law higher than ourselves increases our freedom to choose what is good and true next time. And the world of good things to choose from is much broader, wider, vaster, and more beautiful than the world of bad things. This is why men and women exercise: physically, spiritually, and emotionally, we can expand our freedom from physical and psychological limitations.

In the Christian tradition: "For freedom Christ has set you free..." We're not just free to do what we like (although we are); Christ's law is not, "Whatever makes you feel schweet." Rather, we're free in order to become more free. And "more free" looks exactly like Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

As morning dawns...

Your light will come, Jerusalem. The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.
~Responsory, Morning Prayer, December 19th

I just love the Divine Office for the last days of Advent (the beloved O Antiphons): It's as if the whole Church had that child's squeal of anticipation, "He's coming, he's coming, he's coming!"

Have a blessed last week of preparation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On speaking about Islam: UPDATED

It's time for a little penitential apology, followed by a little Christian rejoicing with the help of Athanasius (see icon to right).

About 18 months ago, I posted a YouTube video illustrating the demographic surge of Islamic communities in the West. The video also highlighted the decline of non-Islamic communities and made a bald-faced call for non-Muslims to, darnnit!, reproduce. The tone of the clip was regrettable, as I noted in my blurb, but I posted it as a quick reference for busy moms: (a) the Western world is in the middle of a demographic crisis; (b) in general, practicing Muslims are, however, reproducing.

UPDATE: So, yes. My two points (a and b) hold (even though there has been an increase in the birthrate, it is still below replacement levels), but here is a Much Better Breakdown of what's going on in the numbers. Read Kacie!

As a student of philosophy, my question is: Why?

The clip, however, should not have been posted. There were other ways for me to pose the question, and other ways to communicate the information. It's not that the facts aren't true or that we shouldn't think about what they mean for us; the point is that, unless we speak the truth in love, we are "resounding gongs." I may resound, but I'd rather not be a gong.

This morning, I received an email (this is only one of several over the past year) from Anonymous, which I'll quote here in its entirety. Then I'll post my response and a few more thoughts on thinking about Islam as a Catholic/Christian.

Here is the comment:

Dear Philosopher mom,

I have only just been introduced to your blog and my first visit was to the page where you quoted the brilliant T.S.Eliot, whom I greatly admire.
But slowly, I came to this page on Islam and shortly after, had the distinctly unexplainable experience of viewing this video that brought to mind some of the war propaganda employed in the early 20th century.
My point of contention here is a simple one for I am a humble student, building my path in the world of academia and in life.
I believe, and find support in a particular scholar, that being of the Islamic faith, or Muslim, does not necessitate an abrogation of the culture of where that individual may find himself. It's not as if being Muslim means that you are no longer a Swiss or a Spanish, that you can no longer speak their language or love that country and locality. The rich history of that place is not put under the mercy of the delete button as soon as the person behind the keyboard accepts Islam.
I personally don't appreciate the manner of speech of those who, while pretending to speak for all of Islam, as ridiculous as that sounds, purport the idea that the faith will silently vanquish its foes.
From the 8th to the 13th centuries, Islam contributed to every thing under the sun; from literature and philosophy to industry and technology. Muslims worked side by side with Jewish and Christian intellectuals, and freedom of speech and religion fostered these relations. This wasn't called the Golden Age for nothing.
And you probably know this better but most of Aristotle's work, if not all of it, survived primarily because of its translation from Greek to Arabic. I'm not suggesting that I'm particularly fond of philosophy, a simple student as I said I am I can hardly make that suggestion but nonetheless, that is history that gets easily overlooked despite its apparent nature.
I myself found the video to be a bit embarassing, especially since I believe strongly in the preservation of cultures and languages. And on that note, of the 7000 languages spoken in the world at this very moment that I'm writing to you, only half of them will survive and make it to the next generation. How come people do not lament that loss or the loss of all of the great indigenous traditions.
In the end, I had really wished to tie my view with what I had read at the very outset of my introduction to your blog, quoted Eliot as you had. If considered through that lens, Islam can be seen as the one constancy that ties together all the streams of intellect and consciousness. This shared value system can address the want for harmony and repair the fragmented ethos of wisdom of modern man.

thank you for giving me this space and I hope I have not offended you in any way.

This is a well-considered comment, and deserves a response. So here I went:

Dear Anonymous,

Yes, this post really got me into trouble! Thanks for sharing your perspective on it as a practicing Muslim, and I am truly sorry for any embarrassment it caused you. I do regret posting it, not because I think the demographic information is erroneous, but because of the tone. I keep it up as a reminder to me that I make significant lapses in judgment from time to time.

I am grateful that so much culture has been preserved over the centuries: I believe God has at times used men and women of Islam to preserve what is good and true in human accomplishment. Some of the most beautiful names of God are in the Koran.

Of course, as a Catholic, I also believe that the fullness of His revelation is in the person of Jesus Christ. God is not only Majesty, but has also chosen to be "with us" in the Emmanuel, Jesus. And so, instead of Islam, I believe that Christ is the one who unites all streams of consciousness (as Eliot says).

Thus spake I.

But there are a few more notes I'd like to make and questions that keep bugging me.

First, as I said, there are better ways to talk about the demographic changes in the West. George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral comes to mind as a great, quick read on the subject.

In answering my question-- Why is the West in a demographic decline? --Pope Benedict's reflections, as summarized here, are a good place for the Catholic to start. I do believe that the fundamental reason for post-Christian Europe's refusal to reproduce is that post-Christian individuals have lost their own desire to live. We now question, both individually and as a society, whether it is a good thing to exist and to pass on existence to another. The answer is increasingly, "No, it is not."

This is why I am not so concerned about "the Islamic tide" or the supposed replacement of Christian Europe by Muslim Europe. It is not Islam, or any other set of ideas, that threatens the West: Even if Islam were to disappear today, the West would still be lost so long as it has lost hope in the meaning of life. The West must recover its hope in human commitment, human dignity, and the salvation of the human family in Christ. With that recovery, nothing more will be necessary.

These are the terms in which we should discuss demographics.

Second, and in more response to the comment above: I appreciate anyone who seeks to find a constant thread that ties together all human experience and consciousness. That is the fundamental philosophical question: Why? But, as I wrote in my response, the answer is only found in the Source of all that is: in English, "God."

We can argue and study the extent to which Islam saved civilization (best sources: Neuhaus and Bat Ye-Or). We can try to understand whether or not Allah and the Judeo-Christian God are the same One (you don't have to be Pat Robinson to ask this question). These are good and necessary questions.

But, as T.S. Eliot found and as all Christians have found, the tie that binds all human experience together is God. And this God is not an alien God, utterly ineffable and seated utterly apart in Majesty. We have been shown--through revelation--that the answer to the fundamental, philosophical question is this: from the beginning, God willed to be with man. Even when we rejected him, he sought to come back and be with us again.

This is the message of Advent, the message that sets Jews and Christians forever together and forever apart from Islam: God desires to walk with man, God desires that all be gathered into his people.

The most intimate and all-binding Truth is the Person of Jesus Christ: God Made Man, Emmanuel, God With Us. In Him, every human experience and thought is brought together. This is the Theosis. In the words of Athanasius, "God became man that we might become gods."

It is a big pill to swallow, and a big difference between the two faiths. Indeed, I would argue, it is all the difference.

And if the West would reclaim its creeds, its belief in the Theosis, there would be no demographic crisis.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II

Just wow. It's hard to review a book that is not only the sequel to the magnificent Witness to Hope, but also stands alone as a thriller spy novel (it's true!), a full course in Roman Catholic theology, an entire seminar in the ecumenical movements of the late 20th century, and a history text of, oh, the whole world.

Weigel's sources make this book an irreplaceable account both of the last years of the pontificate and of the decades-long struggle between Karol Wojtyla (later John Paul II) and the communist leadership of Eastern Europe. Documents released after John Paul's death in 2005 provide new insight into the role he played in the fall of communism as well as the extent into which the Soviet Union's spy network infiltrated the daily life of the Church at that time. No other book, with the exception of Whittaker Chambers' Witness, has opened my eyes quite so much to the realities of life under (or with) communism.

But the book is less about John Paul II than it is about God's action in the Roman Catholic Church in the last half-century. In this, Weigel does with John Paul II's life precisely what John Paul II himself would have wanted: He uses the pope to point us to Christ.

So, although I know you've all finished your Christmas shopping (haha!), this is a great addition to your list. I'd especially recommend it to anyone (especially guys) who wonder why the heck they should still bother or think about bothering to be Catholic.

I'll leave you with this poem, written for John Paul II by his fellow Pole (and one of my all-time favorite poets), Czeslaw Milosz:

"Ode for the Eightieth Birthday of Pope John Paul II"

We come to you, men of weak faith,
So that you may fortify us with the example of your life
And liberate us from anxiety
About tomorrow and the next year. Your twentieth century
Was made famous by the names of powerful tyrants
And by the annihilation of their rapacious states.
You knew it must happen. You taught hope:
For only Christ is the lord and master of history.

Foreigners could not guess from whence came the hidden strength
Of a novice from Wadowice. The prayers and prophecies
Of poets, whom money and progress scorned,
Even though they were the equals of kings, waited for you
So that you, not they, could announce urbi et orbi,
That the centuries are not absurd but a vast order.


You are with us and will be with us henceforth.
When the forces of chaos raise their voice
And the owners of truth lock themselves in churches
And only the doubters remain faithful,
Your portrait in our homes everyday reminds us
How much one man can accomplish and how sainthood works.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The End and the Beginning. Also be sure to check out their great selection of Christmas gifts..

Just. Yes.

Thank you, Anchoress. Now I'm certain that there's no need for me to babble on today... Take it all away, Lord, take it all away. Read the whole thing here.

"But the obstacles we place before His Majesty don’t always have to be what we would consider our negatives. Other obstacles to his presence might be the pride we take in our housekeeping, or our work; our beloved “principles” and our studied “opinions.” Other obstacles might even be our families, or our love of country – any love that is so passionate that it supersedes all else, and perhaps comes before Him.

Obstacles are the things we cling to so much, out of love, that they take up the room He requires to bring the fullness of His divine, pure and unfathomable Presence into us."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Modeling Mary

"You are the highest honor of our race." ~Judith 13:18

Mary looks a little bored here, but I'm sure it's just the usual "pious expression." I wondered at Mass today what we would look like if we all walked around free from original sin. I hardly think our expressions would be this sort of "ho-hum, there are angels floating around me" or "tra-la-la, I'm having a beatific vision."

I rather think we'd look like a seven-month old's alert expression: "WOW! This is GREAT! There's my DAD AGAIN! Blagoooh!" or the 2-year-old's: "I love you, too much, my Mommy." And we'd be laughing. Then there's the 5-year-old's: "Do you see that sunset, Mommy? It's the most beautiful sunset I've seen since yesterday!"

Yes, I think the Immaculate Conception would be closer to these children than the dyspeptic lady in the pictures...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent 2010.

Advent has just sort of happened this year. My mom and I went to the little parish church in Podunk, NH, on Saturday morning; I fed the baby and coped with severe back pain while she hung up her astonishingly beautiful banners. Then it was suddenly Sunday evening, and we were lighting our first candle on the wreath. I blinked, and it was Wednesday. So, the girls and I started on our Jesse Tree ("In the beginning...").

Now it is Friday, and the first week is almost over. Time to reflect for a moment while the baby sleeps, Miriam gathers firewood, and Bella sits on her potty.

Dear Little Six-Pound, Seven-Ounce Baby Jesus,


What I want for Christmas This Year and How to Get It

1. The self-pity party must stop. It's been quite a busy 18 months here in the Philosophical Family. And still, crises keep piling on. As the days grow shorter and colder, I find my little introvert soul turning in on itself and looking behind: "So, cold, so sad, poor little stay-at-home mom." We've been listening to the ingenius Pooh Audio Books (you must get a hold of these), and I realized with a laugh that I sound exactly like Eyeore: "Well, why not? We can't all have houses now, can we?" I want all the crises to stop. But they're only crises insofar as I sit and moan about them. St. Paul tells me, "Look not behind, but only ahead to the prize which is to come." Or something like that. Advent calls me to look forward, to be free from all that came last year or last Spring or even last night. Looking ahead, not behind.

2. Get back to the Scripture. Speaking of St. Paul, I've been totally lax on praying the Divine Office. Advent resolution: Start each day with one psalm, and rest each afternoon with one Psalm. Waiting for the Christ child to arrive should mean praying with our Jewish brothers and sisters, going back to be with them in their waiting. I want so much to get back to the Psalms, which cry out for the Savior to come.

3. Go to Confession. 'Nuff said. At a time of life when my brain can hardly engage in meditation, I need the Sacraments so much. I don't often feel contrition or consolation or rejoicing, whether due to sleep deprivation or just a long day with Little People. But "there's an app for that." It's called objective absolution, and it's available in the Sacrament of Penance.

4. Say: It's okay to play Christmas Music during Advent. Miriam and Bella said this.

5. Use that Bread Machine with Pride! A lot of people will be getting bread for Christmas from us. There's no need to add to the list of to-do's by insisting on "handmade." "Home-made-in-a-bread-machine" tastes just as good. What does this have to do with Advent? Well, I'm hoping it will leave more time for quiet-ness, reflection, and play with the kids. At the very least, it will smell like Christmas.

Onward! Behold, He comes...