Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fasting in a McWorld

Given that we live in a McDonald’s culture, fasting may seem at odds with the quick and indulgent gratification complex that characterizes the moral landscape of our society. This is exactly why fasting is probably more relevant now than at any other moment in time. The privilege of being Catholic has provided us with a season set aside for specifically this purpose. I write about this now, even though we are not in the season of Lent, in order to bring attention to an oft ignored aspect of our faith that can and should be practiced at times even outside of Lent. If we are going to overcome the self-indulgent McWorld in which we live, we must be imitators of Christ our Light even in His example of fasting.

While fasting and abstaining during Lent and other personally chosen times of the year are a given for most Catholics, these same Catholics have little to no idea as to why we fast, which nearly defeats the purpose. For many, it is simply a cultural practice devoid of any spiritual motivation.

Olivier Clement writes in The Roots of Christian Mysticism of the nature and purpose of fasting and other forms of ascesis:

"[Its purpose] is to transform the vital energy that has gone astray and been ‘blocked’ in idolatrous ‘passions’. Praxis gives birth to the virtues, which love will then synthesize."

To move from the blessings of this life, which are fundamentally good, to a radical demand to go beyond them, we must first have become aware of a higher perfection, and have received a pledge of God’s ‘sweetness’ (even if later he has to withdraw it and ask us to go through the desert places).

Diadochus, a fifth century bishop of Photike, writes in much the same language:

"But voluntarily to abstain from what is agreeable and abundant is a sign of great discernment and higher knowledge. We do not readily despise the delights of this life if we do not taste with complete satisfaction the sweetness of God.”

The motivation for fasting must be a recognition of the higher things of God, those things that sustain our humanity in ways that mere food does not. The hunger felt during fasting is a physical expression of the desire to be filled with God’s Word, for to be filled with the blessings of the material world is to leave no room for the greater blessings of the spiritual. Christ assures us that our human nature demands much more than the nature of animals when He teaches, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” This line of thought is in harmony with Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in which we learn that the body serves to express the soul. If in our souls we desire detachment from the things of the world in order to attach ourselves to God, then we must express this through the body. Fasting serves as such an expression. On the other hand, to fast without true spiritual motivation is to express a spiritual desire that does not exist. It serves as a lie, and is, therefore, an unacceptable sacrifice.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Rupture between Sexuality and Procreation

“The libido of the individual becomes the only possible point of reference of sex. No longer having an objective reason to justify it, sex seeks the subjective reason in the gratification of the desire, in the most ‘satisfying’ answer for the individual, to the instincts no longer subject to rational restraints. Everyone is free to give to his personal libido the content considered suitable for himself” (Ratzinger, 85).

These words of Pope Benedict from his book The Ratzinger Report constitute his analysis of the implications of the modern mentality on human sexuality, which is at the core of the debate over homosexuality today – a mentality in which the objective reason for the sexual act is no longer rooted in the absolute for which it was created, that is, unity and procreation. Rather it is reduced to an act that is perceived and touted as one that is the least absolute in all of nature, thus losing a sense of intelligibility about the act. And if this act, which in reality represents man as an image of God in nearly its fullest sense, is without intelligibility, then man loses intelligibility.

The defense of homosexuality represents an implicit denial of the intelligibility of man in that it makes the false assumption that there is nothing in the nature of man that should convince him that certain acts betray his nature. Stemming from an exaggerated personalist philosophy, the rupture between sexuality and procreation naturally leads to a rejection of objectivity in the sexual act and devolution into pure subjectivism where sexual gratification becomes the greatest good. Without intelligibility, there can be no guiding principle to act according to man’s nature, thus making it perfectly acceptable to use the body in any way one desires. If this is truly the case, then there is no basis for laws against pedophilia, rape, incest, etc. If there is no natural law guiding that which is most fundamental to the existence of man, that is, the sexual union between a husband and wife, then one would be hard-pressed to make a case for the existence of natural law at all with regard to man. This leads to a rejection of the entire concept of natural law, and thus, the nature of man. In other words, man has neither nature nor intelligibility. If man has no nature, then man is not man. If man has no nature, then man is nothing, for all existing things have a nature. If man has no intelligibility, then he is created by an unintelligible god, which is no god at all. Therefore, the defense of homosexuality is not only the implicit denial of man’s intelligibility, but also the denial of an existing man and an existing God.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Purification of Culture through Faith

A couple of years ago, Hugo Chavez was outraged by a comment made by Pope Benedict in which he stated that Christianity was an agent of purification for the Central and South American cultures that it converted. The fact that Chavez would see this as an insult rather than a completely rational observation is disturbing. I wonder what part of human sacrifice Chavez sees as worthy of retention. Was Pope Benedict stating his utter distaste for the heritage of the Central and South American people, or was he simply acknowledging the awesome power of Christianity to bring already existing cultures out of the ghetto of potentiality and into the actuality for which they were meant – an actuality characterized by adherence to natural law and the one, true God?

This incident provides an opportunity to ask important questions: What role does and should Christianity play in the development of those cultures in which it finds itself? Does Christianity seek to impose itself at the detriment of already existing cultures or does it seek to build up that culture while leading it away from those traditional practices that do not benefit the nature of man as an image of God?

The role of Christianity within already existing cultures has historically proven itself to operate in such a way as to preserve those positive aspects and traditions of that culture, even to the point of assimilating them into their expression of Catholicism. What else would explain for the great success in the Church’s missionary work and the continued adherence to the faith of these converted peoples? A clear example of this would be the many traditions that exist within Latino Catholicism distinct from the traditions of European and American Catholicism. These traditions that characterize the culture of Latino Catholicism were obviously not forced upon them by a foreign influence. If so, they would be clearly seen in that foreign culture with which it came into contact.

To claim that the missionary activity of the Church is an infringement on the individuality of another culture is to profoundly underestimate that culture. In fact, such a stance reveals a sense of superiority on the part of the one holding that stance over the culture it is claiming to protect. To hold this position is to show little to no confidence in a culture’s ability to determine its own future. If an event of interculturality, as opposed to inculturation, takes place, then the culture that is approached by Christianity and, thus, opens itself to the transformative influence of Truth, will without doubt lose nothing of its own that is objectively positive. Rather, those elements of truth that already existed within it will naturally be brought to a greater degree of perfection while shedding off those elements that were both contrary to Truth and even destructive to the culture in which they were spawned. It would be foolish to assume that every tradition and element of cultural identity is absolutely necessary and even positive for that culture, so when that culture encounters challenges to its established ways that allow it to respond with openness and even change within itself, then such a move must be seen as a legitimate expression of that culture. It is not the loss of culture but rather its evolution. When a culture opens itself to ideas outside of itself and recognizes the need to adopt as its own those positive elements it sees in others, we not only see the upward movement of that culture, but also the reaching of the goal of that culture which is ultimately the goal of all cultures – the attainment of Truth. Truth cannot destroy. By its very nature, Truth is creative and life-giving. It is safe to assume, then, that the failure of that culture to open itself to a positive transformation in an encounter with Christianity would be to deny itself the opportunity of self-actualization and the rebirth of itself in newness of life. Pope Benedict makes this very point in his book Truth and Tolerance:

“That may lead to a profound reshaping of that culture’s previous form, yet this does not necessarily involve any kind of violation or alienation. In a positive case, it may be explained by the potentially universal nature of all cultures, which is concretized in the acceptance of what is other and the change of what is its own. A process of this kind can in fact lead to a breaking open of the silent alienation of man from the truth and from himself that exists within that culture.”

This concept of the purification of culture through faith is not exclusive to those third-world countries that tend to be the more obvious examples. It is, indeed, as absolutely necessary to our own ‘civilized’ and ‘stable’ cultures here in the New World and Europe as it is in those parts of the world that are still being evangelized. We have yet to reach a cultural point at which we can say with surety that we have attained Truth. In fact, it seems that the very opposite can be said: “We have lost the Truth that we once had.” Therefore, a new evangelization is necessary. A new purification through faith must be established. Only then will this culture in which we live experience the rebirth that it so badly needs. Without rebirth, it will drown in the stagnant waters that it has drawn for itself.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Word of God Conference

I'll be in New Orleans for the weekend attending the Word of God Conference. Among the speakers will be Dr. Peter Kreeft, so I'm particularly looking forward to this. To top it off, we'll be staying at the Center for Jesus the Lord, a retreat center that was once a Carmelite monastery:

I'll be impressed if anyone can identify the setting of the picture at the top of this post.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Education and Play: Seeking the Proper Order (Part II)

In Part I of this topic, I wrote of the transcendent nature of play as that which is an expression of our nature as images of God. Developing this idea a bit further, speaking of the proper place of play within academia should be taken up.

Part I ended with the conclusion that play exists as a sort of signpost, and it is merely that. It reminds us of our ultimate end at which point we will exist in a state of timelessness, order, and perfect unity and justice. It also reveals our own sort of impatience. We want that higher existence now, not later. We even train our bodies to become better athletes and musicians in order to perfect performance with the hope that greater performance results in greater play. Greater play means greater anticipation and clarity of that world that we are seeking to imitate even if done so unknowingly. Play is our creative expression as images of God and is, thus, a gift from God that should reveal to us our true nature. But it is still just a signpost. It cannot and should not be the final destination.

As heaven is that final destination about which I write, then it is incumbent upon us to put every tool and gift God has given us to reaching that destination. This is not to say that we can somehow earn our salvation, rather it is an acknowledgement that God has placed us upon this earth to reach greater heights of holiness and love before He calls us to judgment. The most obvious gifts God has given us to reach greater knowledge of love of Him are our intellects and wills. Without them, we can neither know Him nor love Him, and this knowledge and love is expressed through the body. This reveals to us the role of education as that which forms the intellect to accept not only the truths of God’s creation which we call the sciences, but also that which the sciences were created to reveal – the wisdom and beauty of God Himself. Because the intellect informs the will, a well-formed intellect should lead to well-informed decisions, and thus a greater display of proper character. This is where play, especially the form seen in sports, is insufficient.

Is it, then, wrongheaded to believe that sports should play no role within academic institutions? I believe that it is. Because of the unifying effect of sports, it plays a role that cannot be filled by education alone, but it must be acknowledged that the role of sports within academia is only that of unification and, therefore, representation of the entire student body. Sports and other forms of play within schools are at the service of the greater good of education and the entire student body, not the other way around. They are meant to enhance education by fostering unity. Sports must be seen as the handmaiden of the gentle master that is education. This is the proper order that exists between play and education, and to stray from this is to inject within this system a principle of chaos. One begins to see the tail wagging the dog. Sports begins to demand service from education and sets itself up as an entity independent of the greater student body, seeking recognition beyond its calling. Rather than being a force for unity, it establishes itself as a source of divisiveness and even belligerence towards that which it must serve. This naturally becomes the mindset of those engaged in such play, and a culture which sees sports as the greatest good to the detriment of education is now at work. But the divisiveness doesn’t end there. If this is what the athletic world then begins to offer, then it must necessarily turn on itself, eating its own children. If its children are fed the same bitter food, then the children become divisive amongst each other, separating themselves from the good of team unity, seeking personal aggrandizement and grossly high pay for something that by its nature should neither demand nor deserve such things. This should also raise questions about the forms of play on which a school focuses. As mentioned before, there are forms of play such as music that seem to better reflect our human natures and that to which God has called us. Is it, therefore, intellectually consistent to uplift the lower forms of play while degrading the higher forms?

It is for the benefit of both academics and sports that the proper order be sought and eagerly embraced. To do otherwise would be to destroy both.

Education and Play: Seeking the Proper Order (Part I)

Peter Kreeft has written of those ways in which Heaven haunts earth. Such things as the effect of timelessness experienced when engrossed in a beautiful piece of music are things that reveal to us the other-worldly nature of many of our worldly experiences. They serve as reminders that we are not purely natural but also supernatural, that is, not only corporeal but also spiritual.

Another interesting phenomenon of human experience is that of play. In fact, it is such an important element in the human experience, Pope Benedict saw fit to mention it in relation to liturgy in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. He makes the point that play is much like liturgy in that it is characterized by its own set of laws and time independent of the laws and time of the world in which play is done. It becomes an independent world within a world.

It is safe to say that this sort of organized play is a particularly and peculiarly human activity. But why is this so? What is it about being human that drives us toward forsaking the world in which we are bound for a game-world even if only for a few hours? As Christians, we believe that we are images of God, a God who creates out of nothing, is bound by nothing, and has brought order to chaos. Is it any wonder that the image reflects that of which it is an image? Let us entertain the example of our beloved football game. Time begins and stops, implying an existence not bound by time’s onward march. A set of rules peculiar to that game is enforced. To stray from those rules is to invite punishment; it contains within itself its own sense of justice. It mimics a battle against good and evil in its physical aggression between opposing teams which has proven to be something of which the human mind and imagination never seem to tire. There is also the coach, the one who establishes and demands order and unity among those whom he directs. It is a sort of universe within a universe with all the necessary elements present. Not only does it become this sort of universe to those engaged in the actual play, but also to those entering into it as spectators. In the opening paragraph, I mentioned the medium of music and the role that it plays in lifting us out of time and space. What may be less obvious is that it functions in much the same way as a typical game of football. The fundamental elements that constitute them as play are nearly identical in both. In music, specifically orchestral or choral performances, there is the presence of a unifying principle, that of the musical piece itself. Within the piece, time begins, accelerates, decelerates, and stops. There are certain rules set down within the piece in order to play it effectively such as dynamics and key. To stray from this is to produce bad music, noise instead of beauty; thus there are consequences for not following the rules. The dynamics produce the effect of tension and release, elements present in a life that is not stagnant, that is, a full life. There is also the conductor upon whom are all the eyes of the musicians looking to him for guidance and following his every movement. He is the one who ultimately determines the movements of all the musicians, but they must exercise free will to follow him. One would be hard pressed to find a clearer example of the spiritual life.

Even more profound about musical play is its presence in all cultures of the world. Music has proven itself to not only be present within all cultures, but to even be a defining expression of that culture, and music also serves as a reflection of a culture’s height. A culture that embraces high standards of education typically embraces high standards of musicianship. There is an irrefutable connection between education and music within cultures. Conversely, cultures that embrace low forms of music tend to be lacking on the educational side of things. In this, we can see that some forms of play even inform and nourish our ideas about education, something that is not readily apparent as an effect of sports. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be true in that a greater emphasis on sports leads to a general de-emphasis on education. The conclusion that can be drawn is that in some way, music reflects and nourishes the entire human intellectual person in ways that sports cannot. The reason for this is the greater connection between music and human nature than between sports and human nature. As human nature includes intellect, will, and body, there are some things that appeal to all three to greater degrees than others. Music uplifts all three due to its inherent requirements of a trained intellect, a focused will, and a body trained to perform. While sports certainly requires fitness of the body, strong intellects have not proven to be key elements within athletics.

In my next post on this subject I will look at the proper relationship between the academic institution and the sports that it sponsors.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Order through Prayer

The following is a short essay I wrote while I was still teaching. It's also been previously posted on another blog a couple of years ago.

In teaching my students about what it means to be an image of God, a much clearer view of human nature has emerged within my own spiritual vision.

What is natural to man? Is indulgence in worldly affairs natural? Is revelry in sexual adventure that which completes man? Are we naturally bound to the desire for the accumulation of material goods? To know what is natural to man, one must first know man’s nature.

To say that something is natural, one is claiming that that which is deemed natural is in accordance with the nature of the thing being observed. Is it natural for a fish to swim? Of course it is. By observing the nature of the fish, the conclusion is easily reached that swimming is natural to the fish, for that is in accordance with its nature. A fish that doesn’t swim quickly dies. A bird that doesn’t fly falls to its death. A man that doesn’t pray is crushed under the weight of the world, for he is not made for the world in both his and its present state.

What, then, is man’s nature? The answer is both simple and profound -- man is an image of God. The image must tell us something of that which it reflects, and if the image is a reflection of the eternal, then to reflect eternity for all eternity is what is natural to it. This is confirmed by St. Gregory of Nyssa in his Catechetical Orations in which he writes:

"If humanity is called to life in order to share in the divine nature, it must have been suitably constituted for the purpose…That is why humanity was given life, intelligence, wisdom, and all the qualities worthy of the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire what is akin to it. And since eternity is inherent in the godhead, it was absolutely imperative that our nature should not lack it but should have in itself the principle of immortality. By virtue of this inborn faculty it could always be drawn towards what is superior to it and retain the desire for eternity."

God is all good, and order is good. Therefore, God is Order itself. We see a reflection of the face of God in the order of His creation. The Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement in his book The Roots of Christian Mysticism writes:

"Each being manifests the creative word which gives it its identity and attracts it. Each being manifests a dynamic idea, something willed by God. Ultimately each thing is a created name of him who cannot be named."

There is order in creation, for its Creator is Order itself, and Order begets order. Man is an image of God; therefore, he is made in the image of Order. Order is part of man’s nature as an image of God; therefore, disorder is unnatural to man.

In God, all of His attributes are one. Because he is eternal and infinite, He cannot be made of parts, nor does He possess parts. He is one is His essence. This has infinite implications, a few being that His order is His love, His love is His justice, His justice is His love, His love is His order, etc. God is all these good things, and man being an image of God finds in them his natural habitat. It is natural for man to have order both in the world and in his mind, will, and body. It is natural for man to love, to seek justice, etc. It is unnatural for man to do anything else. In saying that it is unnatural to man, although man seems tends towards these, I mean to say that it goes against his nature as an image of God. Yet more often than not, we do that which is unnatural to us and claim that it is simply human nature. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! To do anything but love, seek justice, obey God, etc. is to introduce disorder into our minds, wills, and bodies. Disorder in the human soul is manifested in many and various ways, all of which are hideous to the ordered soul.

Who is the man that embraces disorder? He is the one that is confused, addicted, angry, materialistic, yet all the while convincing himself that he has found happiness and contentment. Of course, the conclusions of a disordered mind will almost always be disordered.

How must a disordered system be overcome? By introducing order into the system. When it comes to the human soul made in the image and likeness of Order, Order must be brought into the disordered soul. By an opening up of the soul to the influence of Order through the indwelling of Order can the human soul begin to banish from it the darkness of disorder. This opening up of the soul is called prayer, which is as natural to man as barking is to a dog, as flying is to a bird, as swimming is to a fish. Yet we are like dogs that do not know how to bark and fish that cannot swim. We are dominated by the world which was created to be dominated by us. How absolutely unnatural!

Prayer is our best bet for happiness as happiness can only be found in order. In fact, order is happiness. The purpose of prayer is to turn outside of ourselves, to empty the image in order to be filled with the reality. It is our nature to empty ourselves to both God and neighbor, that in emptying ourselves we may be filled. Fulfillment in emptiness! Yet another of those wonderful Christian paradoxes.

How can we know that our calling is to turn and open to others? If we were created to turn in on ourselves, then our eyes would be facing the opposite direction. We would be created to look inward. But according to nature that is not so. We look outward. It is in looking outward that we can empty ourselves just as the greatest Man, the God-man, did: “Who though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped; Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave…”

Through prayer, we look outward to the Source of all order and happiness. Through prayer, we empty ourselves of our worldly accretions, placing ourselves under the direct influence of a Perfect Order. As Order begins to reign in our souls, so, too, does love, truth, joy, peace, and all other attributes of God.

We pray in order that the unnatural might be overcome by the natural, that darkness might become light, and that disorder be crushed under the liberating weight of Order.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Eucharistic Miracle

The Gospel reading today (John 6:1-14), when read through a Eucharistic lens, sheds light on the covenantal and unifying aspect of the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and loaves. It seems appropriate to immediately see shades of the Eucharist here because of the wider context. Just 11 verses later John records Jesus’ discourse of the bread of life, an apologetic goldmine for the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.

The reason I mentioned that the covenantal aspect can be seen is because of a connection that I believe can be made between this Gospel reading and Jeremiah 31. Verses 31 and 34 of the latter reads: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” It’s important to note the distinction between ‘Israel’ and ‘Judah’, for ‘Israel’ is used in reference to the 10 Northern tribes that fell into idolatry and were then displaced by the Assyrians. They simply ceased to exist as a distinguishable, ethnically Israelite community. It seemed impossible that unity between these tribes and the faithful tribe of Judah would ever be a possibility, yet Jeremiah the prophet pronounces such a reunification of all 12 tribes through a new covenant. Through nothing short of a miracle, God would gather in the twelve tribes through this new covenant, and this covenant would be one by which their sins are forgiven and God’s law is placed within them. Compare this to what we read in Matthew 26: 27-28: “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is, therefore, the new covenant the world had been waiting for! The Eucharist is the means by which the 10 northern tribes, displaced and paganized for centuries, would be brought back into the true worship of God, worship by which the Law Itself in its very fulfillment (Jesus Christ) is placed within them.

With this in mind, the Eucharistic paradigm of the multiplication of the loaves comes into view. Consider a couple elements that may help to illustrate this:
-The manner in which Jesus prepared for this miracle: “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.” (Jn 6:11) This sequence of events is mirrored during the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist.
-The details of the gathering of the fragments: “He told His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves…” (Jn 6:12-13) This very event itself serves as a prophecy for the miracle that would occur through the new and everlasting covenant of the Eucharist. Through it, the twelve tribes would be gathered into His covenant through the effort of the Apostles and, of course, His grace.

Interestingly, it was the area of the Northern kingdom, the area in which the 10 northern tribes dwelt, that were among the first to accept the Gospel, and therefore, be gathered back in to the true worship of God through the Eucharistic covenant. Nevertheless, this “gathering in” is yet to be complete as we await the full inclusion of the tribe of Judah, our Jewish brethren, who as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans would experience a mass conversion in the end times.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Authority, Obedience, and Selfishness

The title of this piece reminds me of the “which one doesn’t fit?” question often found on IQ tests and the like. Clearly, the answer to the above would be ‘selfishness’, but why doesn’t it fit? If we recognize that selfishness is insoluble with authority and obedience, why do the terms ‘authority’ and ‘obedience’ cause such discomfort in people? I would propose that a population conditioned by an environment and culture absolutely obsessed with individualism claiming that this individualism is what makes us ‘great’ has not a chance of escaping the pitfalls that are bound to occur – pitfalls characterized by the eventual rejection of obedience as a virtue and selfishness as a vice. When this occurs, recognition of authority as a good becomes a virtue held by a small minority, those who are diagnosed as sheltered, parochial, and even simplistic by the multitude of self-made pop psychologists who have it all figured out. They just can’t seem to figure out why their own marriages are broken, their children are self-mutilating misfits, and the list could go on.

Evidence of this as the prevailing mindset of many today (although none would ever admit to it), is most clearly seen in the elementary and high school classroom, a veritable observatory of the many and varied errors the modern family has imposed upon itself with the children serving as guinea pigs for the new human cultural experiment performed by mad scientists that go by the title of ‘mother’ and ‘father’. In this experiment, a dual hypothesis is being tested: children will be better suited to reach the goal with less guidance, and they will be able to assimilate into the real world in a productive way without being conditioned to recognize the need for authority and more importantly the need to accept another’s authority.

There is an insidious movement of parents away from the role of teacher, guide, and disciplinarian and towards the role of friend. This establishes a relationship in which authority has no place, and the results of this new experiment are quite telling. Since ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ have decided to be simply peers to their children, there has been a corresponding rise in apathy towards those things that create a stable society – education, self-discipline, faith, and marriage. This should raise a question in our minds: Why would lack of authority on the part of parents within the home lead to such a result?

To answer such a question, we must first understand the nature of authority and, therefore, its purpose. Etymologically, ‘authority’ comes from the Latin auctor and auctoritas, meaning ‘model, teacher, and progenitor’ and ‘security, full power, and decree’, respectively. The purpose of authority is to provide a standard by which we learn and model our lives. It is meant to securely and with power guide those in submission to it into a life of goodness. Clearly authority can be abused in the most horrid of ways; nevertheless, this fact does not take away from its necessity for cultural stability. More specifically, authority in the home plays an even greater role. The role of the father, and consequently his authority, is meant to provide an image of the paternity of God to his children, thus forming the child’s notion of God and the submission due to Him by virtue of His authority. St. Paul assures us of this notion in Ephesians 3:14,15 where he writes, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.”

The natural consequence of such a lack of authoritative parenting, most clearly seen when they choose to be their children’s peers, is a corresponding lack of acknowledgement of God as Father. This rejection may not occur in an explicit fashion but can certainly be discerned in the wayward decisions of those who adopt such a way of life. How could a child conditioned to reject the notion of valid authority somehow innately accept the authority of God? Faith, therefore, becomes no longer part of the equation, nor is the concept of self-sacrifice, for if mom and dad have taken on the role of ‘friend’, then at what point will little Suzy or little Johnny ever experience the need to submit their will and desire to the greater good? This sets up children for nothing but failure, but not only children as individuals, but also the society of which these children will ultimately take control. With no appreciation for self-sacrifice and an overdose of selfishness, lasting and fruitful marriages become near-impossibilities, and as we are experiencing now, the breakdown of marriage translates into breakdown of the culture.

Another symptom of such rampant selfishness is the unveiling of its high-maintenance handmaiden that goes by the name of Materialism, which should be no surprise to the thinking individual. The materialist philosophy is a natural outgrowth of such an environment in that the one who rejects sacrifice for the greater good accepts only consumption for the benefit of self.

At the risk of sounding sheltered or parochial, I would gladly forgo the pleasure of being my child’s friend if it meant saving them from adopting the status of a selfish, materialistic, and faithless divorcee.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A New Magnificat

What I am offering in this post is a firsthand experience of the transforming effect of suffering on the conventional idea of beauty into a recognition of beauty as determined not by shapeliness and symmetry but by faithfulness and poorness in spirit.

My wife has recently pulled through one of the most trying experiences she will ever face – brain tumors that left her completely debilitated for a period of approximately half a year. For both of us, this experience of suffering worked wonders at adjusting our vision, which could actually be qualified more as blindness rather than vision. Blindness to our own insufficiencies and hypocrisies may have been more debilitating than her physical illness, yet it was the illness that helped to open our eyes, particularly mine.

It was Beth’s intense beauty that first drew me to her, but of course at that time, my understanding of beauty was the result of complete acquiescence to what was socially and culturally defined as beauty. It was a conventional view of beauty, and Beth certainly fit the conventional mold. Watching her waste away in her hospital bed was another level of suffering, but also an invitation to modify and purify my limp standard of beauty. She no longer had the strong and shapely legs she once had. In fact, I remember thinking that they now looked like the legs of a frail, thin, 80 year-old woman. Her eyes were crossing and her hair was falling out in clumps. The smell of tube-feeding seemed to emanate from her body all day every day. With face gaunt, skin unnaturally pale, and nails yellow, it was as though my wife had disappeared. But what struck me throughout all of this was that though I saw this, my love for her never dimmed. It only grew stronger. In fact, the more she lost her conventional beauty, the more I loved her. I still believed she was beautiful, not because of her thin legs or her gaunt face, but because of her. This was my wife, flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones. How could I think anything else of her?

What the loss of her conventional beauty did was open a door that I never thought existed. It was as though her physical beauty stood as a dense fog or a veil before a door that opened to the heart of true beauty, a sanctuary of holiness. Once the fog lifted and the veil was torn in two from head to toe, from top to bottom, I was able to lift my eyes upon a soul strong and alive with holiness. In the midst of all the suffering, Beth remained completely faithful, never crying out of self-pity and always calling upon God for strength. While I should have been the one to comfort her, more often than not it seemed as though she was doing the comforting. She constantly reminded me that I needed to learn to trust God and that our earthly life was not the greatest good. The word that keeps coming to mind is magnificat, for her soul truly did magnify the Lord. If God is Beauty Itself, then to magnify Him is to magnify Beauty. It is only in complete docility to God’s will for us that magnification of Him becomes possible.

This was the beauty I finally began to see – the beauty of holiness through submission. And what a privilege it has been to be called by God to minister to her, attending to her and guarding her.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Things are looking up

Things are looking up with the installation of Archbishop Di Noia:

Concise and beautiful.