Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Twisted Words? On Presenting the Faith Whole-Heartedly

“As far as theological views of this sort are concerned, finally, quite a number of people have the abiding impression that the church’s faith is like a jellyfish: no one can get a grip on it and it has no firm center. It is on the many halfhearted interpretations of the biblical Word that can be found everywhere that a sickly Christianity takes its stand—a Christianity that is no longer true to itself and that consequently cannot radiate encouragement and enthusiasm. It gives, instead, the impression of being an organization that keeps on talking although it has nothing else to say, because twisted words are not convincing and are only concerned to hide their emptiness.” 
—Joseph Ratzinger, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of the Creation and Fall (1981), p. 8.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in a homily given when he was Archbishop of Munich and Friesing, hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head here in describing the typically modern approach to theology and faith. The sense you get from some folks is that it's all a mystery, there are various schools of thought, it's all so hard to sort out, and who can really say? And anyway, what with all the modern advances in something or other, and our superior knowledge and insight—I mean, it's 2016!—we surely have progressed beyond the conclusions of Bronze Age tribes and medieval monks, haven't we? So instead, let's re-cast our faith in the mold of whatever the prevailing opinion of the day is, always ready to cast it aside when it too becomes, gasp, outdated.

This seems the default position among many, and no wonder it's been a less than attractive option on the spiritual menu. Who wants lukewarm soup? Who wants half-cooked potatoes? Who wants kale... at all? A watered down wine will be spat out by anyone with any taste for the stuff, and a watered down faith will not satisfy anyone in any lasting way. It is a fact easily established by sociological data that parishes and dioceses that preach sound doctrine and celebrate beautiful liturgies have high Mass attendance, attract high numbers of converts, and produce high numbers of vocations, while parishes and dioceses that bend over backward to accommodate the direction the winds are blowing this week are sparsely populated and quickly dying out.

This is due to the simple fact that the truth fulfills us and makes us free to live our lives in accordance with our God-given nature, to live in friendship with God and fulfill the call to goodness, and that the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth are more attractive than any amount of ear tickling. Truth satisfies, beauty satisfies, goodness satisfies, because these are of God, and God alone satisfies.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Changing of the Guard and the Sacred Liturgy

The summer after my 8th grade year, my class took a week-long trip to Washington, D.C. We did fundraisers all through the previous year to gather up the money to go, and as a little history buff, someone who had been able to name all the presidents since age 6, I was just a wee bit excited. The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence--I was in Nerd-vana!

We moved at a break-neck pace, stopping barely long enough at any place to snap a few pictures and hear a few paragraphs from a tour guide. But one of the sights that sticks most clearly in my mind, almost 20 years later, is the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. If you've never seen it, here's a clip.

This is quite simply beautiful. The precision of their movements is almost mechanical. Every step and gesture is crisp with solemnity and respect. And this is a perfect example of an oft-forgotten truth: solemn does not mean somber, even at a tomb. C.S. Lewis says it well in his Preface to Paradise Lost regarding the Old English word solempne:
Like solemn it implies the opposite of what is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary. But unlike solemn it does not suggest gloom, oppression, or austerity. The ball in the first act of Romeo and Juliet was a ‘solemnity’. The feast at the beginning of Gawain and the Green Knight is very much a solemnity. A great mass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much a solemnity in its hilarious gloria as in its poignant crucifixus est. Feasts are, in this sense, more solemn than fasts. Easter is solempne, Good Friday is not. The Solempne is the festal which is also the stately and the ceremonial, the proper occasion for a pomp–and the very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of a 'solemnity’. To recover it you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people to enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connextion with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast–all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual… . You are to expect pomp. You are to 'assist’, as the French say, at a great festal action.
When I read this, I immediately think of the Mass (as Lewis does, when he mentions the celebrant approaching the altar). The Sacred Liturgy is intended to have just this kind of solemnity: an air of being set apart (which is the root meaning of holy). It is meant to take us outside of ourselves and into the presence of God and the communion of saints. When I run across people who complain that the Mass is "stiff" or even call it "empty ritual," I think of this passage from Lewis, and I wonder that these very same people would most likely witness the Changing of the Guard and think it beautiful for the very reasons they think the Mass not beautiful! Why is that? Why the double standard? An interesting question to consider. Thoughts?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Links to My Recent Writings Elsewhere

Howdy All!

The times have been a-changin' 'round these parts of late.

(Note to self: stop talking like an extra in a John Wayne film.)

(Start again.)


Sorry I've been away from this space for a time. Allow me to catch you up:

June 1 I started a full-time position as the Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Mill Valley, CA. I'm in charge of overseeing the faith formation programs for the kindergartners through 9th graders. It's a beautiful and friendly parish, and I'm very excited to be working there! You can find our Facebook page here and our parish blog here.

I've had a few things published/posted/promulgated here and there in the last few months.

Over at Crisis Magazine, I asked, “Are We Still A Nation Of Laws?”, and shared some thoughts “On Converting for the Wrong Reasons.”

My first piece ever at Catholic Lane looked at one possible etymology of the word reconciliation to talk about how we can be “Eyelash to Eyelash with God.”

At Catholic Exchange I tried to give an explanation of the Church's philosophically-based understanding of the Eucharist in “Transubstantation for the Rest of Us.”

The Homiletic and Pastoral Review shared my thoughts on how the Church's art can communicate the truths of the faith in “Worth a Thousand Words: Iconography as Language.”

And Now... An Exciting Announcement!

I'm very pleased to share that my first-ever article will appear in print next month, as the St. Austin Review publishes my piece on how the evangelical counsels of poverty, celibacy, and obedience are present in The Lord of the Rings. Don't worry, I'll be posting a link so you can buy a copy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Links and Things: April 27, 2016

Greetings and salutations! Let's go around the horn on a few notable interests and interesting notes:

My obscenely talented brother, Paul Senz, had two diaconal-themed articles up at Our Sunday Visitor this week: one on deacons doing prison ministry, and another on deacons doing hospital ministry. (I have other ridiculously talented siblings, too, but their talents are not linkable, unfortunately.)

Here's an excellent piece over at The Catholic Thing by Fr. Jerry Pokorsky on the proper understanding of the word "judgmental," and why, when rightly understood, you want your priest to be judgmental after all.

Over at Catholic Stand, here's a moving piece by John McNichol that discusses his relationship with his father to illustrate the place of relics in our faith.

Check 'em out!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Philosophy of Sports Debates

I was listening to local sports talk radio the other day on my way home from work, as is my wont. One of the hosts introduced a quodlibet: "Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?" The other host stepped into the fray, and promulgated his judgment, not only of the question, but on the means by which it should be answered. And I think he was dead wrong. On both counts.

Our esteemed sportscaster said, "Everyone will say that Michael Jordan was the best player ever. Well, let me tell you. That's a belief. I have facts. And the facts say, when you add up all the accolades, all the championships, all the records, that Kareem-Abdul Jabbar is the greatest basketball player ever, hands down, no question, end of discussion." Or words to that effect. (Not to go all Richard Rich on you.)

Now, to decide any question, we first have to determine upon what grounds the question will be decided--that is, what is a fitting measurement or adequate method of evaluation. This is easier in some cases than in others. If the question is something simple and numeric, like "Who has the most home runs in baseball history?" then all we need do is count the totals of each player. (PED-related asterisks aside, for the moment.) The question at hand, though, is that of "greatness." How do we evaluate the greatness of a basketball player, or compare the greatness of one to another? This is where the sportscaster's distinction comes in, and in it we can see a deep philosophical bias--and, I would say, error.

There is a certain habit of thinking that attempts to make all of reality quantifiable--that is, this way of thinking assumes that there is a way to assign a number value to anything so that it can be measured. This is clearly the case with measurements of dimension and mass: length, width, height, weight, molar mass, and so on. We can divide these aspects of reality into discrete units and count them. My height can be divided into inches and added up. Simple enough. But some would apply this far beyond what we might usually expect.

A whole industry of "advanced metrics" has crept into sports in recent years and taken front offices by the cold calculating coup of number-crunching. These new measurements claim to be able to evaluate qualities that where heretofore considered "intangible." Whereas before we might debate amongst our friends how much better Player X is than other players at his position, now we have WAR (Wins Above Replacement) that makes this comparison numerical. Whereas before we might simply wax at how "smooth" or "effortless" a player makes the game look, now we have PER (Player Efficiency Rating) measuring the ease with which a player plays. Though the purists prefer combination of the classical statistics and their own "eye test," increasing numbers of fans, scouts, coaches, and executives are coming around to the idea that the intangibles were thought to be such merely because we hadn't yet devised the way to tangere (touch) them.

This belief has its roots in the philosophies of a host of Enlightenment thinkers, both empiricists and rationalists, who thought that reality, if nothing else, was measurable. And many of these, and their intellectual progeny, reversed the polarity of their thought and concluded that only what is measurable was real--that if I could not measure it, it did not exist. Only "facts" are real, and only measurable things are "facts." One sees this basic attitude in the writings of many a combox atheist today.

But, back to our sportscaster: do you see the connection? His primary assumption, the major premise of his argument, is that the greatness of a player can be calculated by a combination of countable things: championships, individual awards, performance records. So, if Kareem-Abdul Jabbar won six MVPs and six NBA titles, and Michael Jordan won only 5 MVPs and six NBA titles (just to truncate things a bit), then Kareem must be the greater player.

This, of course, is absurd. If we rely solely on adding these countable accomplishments, then clearly Robert Horry, who won seven NBA titles but no MVPs, is a greater player than Charles Barkley, who won no NBA titles and one MVP. In fact, such a measurement would populate the top of the "Greatest Players" list with the rosters of the Boston Celtics teams that won 11 championships in the 1950s and 60s. Would anyone say that?

No doubt, if confronted with this argument, our sportscaster would say, "Well, I mean, that's not all you'd take into account, obviously." Yes, agreed. And at that point we have exited the land of quantity and entered the realm of quality, where we can ask interesting questions like, "What does it mean to be 'great' at any endeavor or in any enterprise? What all must we consider?" Here such characteristics as competitiveness, determination, skills of various kinds, and the ability to inspire and connect with fans might come into play--all less susceptible to measurement. (While someone's shooting ability could be measured by a percentage, their ball-handling skills or defensive capabilities could not be.)

This is not a retreat to "belief," which the sportscaster apparently used to mean "sentimentality" or "unsupported feeling." No, now we're actually thinking about the myriad aspects of the matter, and not simply feeding the question into the supercomputer and awaiting an answer.

Let's ask the deeper questions and consider the larger picture. Because no one thinks Big Shot Bob is greater than Sir Charles.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Recent Hits

I know there's some stiff competition out there, but I may well be the worst blogger to ever put finger to keyboard. I have all the consistency of a watery tomato soup, with none of the flavor. But I have a renewed firm purpose of amendment. I will give y'all something to chew on, at the very least weekly. I think I can manage that.

Your entree this evening is... me! Here are a few of my recent postings from around the web....

An episode of The Twilight Zone addresses how it is we could have everything we want and still not be happy. St. Thomas Aquinas beat Rod Serling to the punch by 700 years, but the two mesh nicely together. I introduce them in Hell and Happiness in The Twilight Zone. (The piece was recommended by famed science fiction author John C. Wright. The fact that I emailed him about it is purely coincidental.)

Very often when we speak of the afterlife, we depict it as a state of disembodied souls blissfully floating around. How could we forget the great joy that awaits us, when we come to imitate Christ and rise from the dead? See more on this in The Resurrection: The Forgotten Tenet of Christian Faith.

I promise, I'll share again soon, and it won't be a detour to another site. Promise!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Against Heresy Hunters

There is A Certain Kind of Catholic out there that I would designate a “Heresy Hunter.” I think once you read the description, you'll know the sort. My purpose in describing the Heresy Hunters is to help bring them to self-knowledge, that they might amend their ways.

The Heresy Hunter operates with the intention of preserving the orthodox faith of the Church. A noble cause, to be sure, but while an admirable intention is the beginning of a virtuous act, virtue can easily slide into vice when the method used and the circumstances in which the act takes place are not fitting. How does this happen? What does it look like?

The most frequent way in which the Heresy Hunter slips into sin while on his quest is in his method, specifically his neglect of his most effective and most necessary tool: charity. When I appeal to charity, I do not mean simple “niceness,” meaning a bland desire to not offend another’s sensibilities—so please, refrain from jeremiads against “the Church of Nice” and appeals to Jesus flipping over the money changers’ tables in the Temple. When I speak of charity, I mean it in its deepest sense: the love of the other, willing the good of the other, for the sake of the love of God; so, to speak to another charitably means to speak with them out of a desire for their good and salvation. St. Peter reminds us of this: while we are always to be ready with a defense for the hope that is in us, we must offer that defense "with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:16). Niceness may not be a Christian virtue, but kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

When you speak to another about the orthodox faith with charity, your goal is to open their mind to see the truth and persuade them to put aside any biases they may have against it. Your goal is not to berate them for having an incorrect opinion and to put them into a verbal armbar until they tap out and admit that you were right. When you do this, you put the person off and erect a new barrier in their minds against the truth of the faith. Even if your argument is persuasive and your evidence incontrovertible, your interlocutor may still refuse to acknowledge it and may still balk at the notion of entering the Church, because you’re a jerk, and they’d rather not associate with a jerk. This person has been driven away from the faith, not because “they can’t take the truth,” not because “this is a hard saying, who can do it,” not because they have found Catholicism difficult and left it untried, not because they are stupid or wicked or lazy, but because of you and your cold, harsh, joyless presentation of the faith.

There are also many occasions upon which the Heresy Hunter’s hyper-sensitivity causes him to see heresy where none exists. In my experience, this happens because the Hunter is overly familiar with one era of Church teaching but ignorant of others—one further proof of Alexander Pope’s maxim that “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” The Heresy Hunter may have memorized the canons of the Council of Trent but be less versed in Scripture (pun intended). To give an example, I knew of a priest who publicly excoriated his choir for singing a hymn that contained the line “this bread that we share is the Body of Christ,” denouncing the verse as an example of the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, in which the bread and wine remain really present along with the presence of Christ (like a eucharistic version of Nestorianism, for you nerds playing at home). However, this phrase comes directly from 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” It is an understatement to say that one should probably refrain from calling a verse of Scripture heretical. This is the mirror image of the tendency of some of our Protestant brethren to reject any extra-Scriptural term as “unbiblical.” Though its texts are inspired, the words of Scripture do not exhaust the concepts they describe, nor do the quaestiones of the Summa Theologiae, nor the anathemas of Trent.

These two tendencies, the lack of charity and the hypersensitivity to language (and over-emphasis on certain expressions), often come together in that greatest of discussion spaces: Facebook. A prime example often occurs when people write paeans to their lost loved ones. Someone might write, "Grandma's gone, but that just means we have another angel watching over us." This is an expression of their belief in the communion of saints, in their grandmother's continued charitable concern and intercession for them. And most people will take this in the spirit in which it is offered. But the Heresy Hunter does not. Rather than offering condolences to the family member or prayers for the departed person, the Heresy Hunter believes it most pressing to point out that people do not become angels when they die, that angels are pure intellectual forms as opposed to substantial relations of matter and form as humans are, and that It's a Wonderful Life is a terrible movie for spreading such fallacious ideas. The Heresy Hunter here has missed the point, and in his zeal to technically correct a sentimental statement, he has no doubt made that person ill-disposed toward anything further he has to say. (I would like to see someone respond to that by noting that the Greek word angelos simply means "messenger," so that it is appropriate in an analogical sense to refer to any intercessor as an angel.)

The nub of my gist here is that the Heresy Hunter treats a means as an end: the purpose of our seeking to refine our theological language is not to end up with a fine set of spiritual encyclopedias all perfectly accurate and up to date; rather, the purpose of such precision is to aid us in our contemplation of God, and our growing in friendship with Him. We write theological books not to bash others over the head with them, but, in a sense, as love letters to the Lord. The great saints and the great theologians are marked by a joy and serenity. The Heresy Hunter is marked by anger and sourness. I would encourage the Heresy Hunter to keep his eyes fixed on the Lord. Contemplating His face brings us peace, a peace that compels us to draw others in to enter into their Master's joy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Links and Things: February 24, 2016

Let's go around the horn and look at a few points of interest....

Amy Wellborn reminds us, clearly, calmly, and rationally, that we need not get ourselves in a dither over this or that of the Holy Father's comments--and that we need not defend them, either, in Against Popesplaining at her blog, Charlotte Was Both. (It's a little lengthy, but do press on, especially to the point below the **** across the bottom of the page.)

Scott Eric Alt exposes a statistic commonly used by Catholic apologists as hogwash in We Need To Stop Saying That There Are 33,000 Protestant Denominations at the National Catholic Register. (The multi-denominational argument is strong enough on its own; it needs no embellishment.)

Professor Anthony Esolen writes a moving thought experiment, looking at the modern world through the eyes of our forebears, in What Would Our Ancestors Think of Us? over at Crisis Magazine. (And no, I did not choose this simply because there is a picture of the TARDIS in the article.)


Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Reader Asks: Are Christians Entitled?

Recently I shared an article commenting on the recent mini-controversy about a tweet from Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign and the response by one pundit that appeared to betray a serious lack of knowledge of the basics of Christianity. Sen. Cruz's campaign tweeted that "we have to awaken and energize the body of Christ," which Ms. Parker interpreted as a call for Jesus to rise from his grave and serve Ted Cruz--nevermind that Christ's tomb is empty, and that the central claim of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

A reader raised a concern about jumping on this gaffe:
I am, however, a bit conflicted about the first link. It seems to take an unkind view of an admittedly ignorant pundit. It sounds rather like 'everybody point and laugh at the moron who doesn't know the first thing about a faith that she probably doesn't share'. The author goes on to a laundry list of Christian themed works of art and lumps the experience of those in with both particular knowledge of Christian faith, and by analogue, basic knowledge that everyone has. 
It might be my own anecdotal experience, but I feel like Christianity as a whole is being affected by a kind of "creeping entitlement"; a feeling that because we as a group believe in these things, we're entitled to have everyone else believe them too. Therein lies my frustration with the article. The author seems to think he's entitled to a better class of pundit, who knows about Christianity, or better yet, believes the exact same way as him. The stark reality is that there a lot of people out there, and not all of them believe in or even understand Christianity. I somehow doubt that merely expecting people to have the knowledge or experience of Christianity will win many converts. 
Would it not be better to take an attitude of love and kindness toward this person who showed ignorance of something we take for granted? Use this instance to call people to live their lives as Christ would have us live, and be luminous examples that the unknowing would wish to understand or emulate.

For me, the point of bringing attention to this story was not to mock a woman for a public slip-up. Rather, it was to express surprise that a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a person whom we might expect to be familiar with basic facts about core constituencies in society, apparently thought that it was the belief of Christians that the corpse of Jesus Christ lies in its grave. One might argue, as you do, that we should not expect people who are not Christian to be versed in the basics of Christianity, and that such an expectation would entail a sense of entitlement that is unwarranted. If the point at issue were a minor one, an obscure notion, or if Christianity were a minority faith in this country, or if we were not part of a western culture that had been formed by Christianity, I could agree. 

But I think that in a nation that has a supermajority of Christians, with a culture rooted in and built up by the Christian faith, we could reasonably expect that an educated person whose profession it is to know about and comment upon national affairs would be familiar with the most basic tenets of Christianity, especially the most central one: that Jesus is risen from the dead. We can expect this not out of a sense of entitlement, that this is the way things ought to be, but rather in the sense that it is a fact relevant to a large percentage of the population. One need not be a Christian to know the basics of Christianity, any more then one need be a football player to know who's playing in the Super Bowl. 

This is a pervasive problem in journalism, as journalists are disproportionately non-religious and for some reason do not feel the need to brush up on the subject before reporting on it. Such practices lead to embarrassing errors sufficient in number to warrant an entire website to covering them. Shouldn't we expect better from our so-called intelligentsia? As David Mills has pointed out,
For some reason journalists can make almost any mistake about the church or religion in general and no one says “boo.” No editor would hire a guy who said the Steelers were going to draft a point guard to help improve their relief pitching, but religion? There it’s “OK, whatever, just say something.”
I do not know if Ms. Parker is a professing Christian of any kind, or what sort of personal familiarity she has with the faith. But regardless of whether she's a Benedictine Oblate or a lifelong atheist, I would expect that a person who is not only highly educated, supposedly in the world's diverse ideas, but also living in the milieu of a Christian culture, should be familiar with the basic shape of Christianity. I agree, there is no need to be nasty or personally insulting to her, but certainly, when journalists fail to do their homework, they should be called out on it.

Apostles on Third and Main

This morning I drove by a storefront that looks like it would have been a music store in the 1970s. When I read the marquee, though, I discovered that this was in fact a church. Instead of the names of singers or bands, the names of the church leadership were emblazoned on the sign. What really caught my eye, though, was the additional title that the pastor had for himself: apostle. (That is, I'm assuming it was the title, and that it wasn't his name, like Priest Holmes or Deacon Jones.) It was a tad surprising to see. When we hear the word apostle, we think of the 12 selected by Jesus to assist in and carry on his ministry, and of men like Mathias and Barnabas and Paul who joined this effort. We don't think of Todd Smith who runs his little place on Third and Main. How do we understand this? What exactly is an apostle anyway?

The word apostle comes from the Greek word meaning "to be sent." Its Latin equivalent would be something like missionary. Now, the thing about the verb "to send" is that there's always an object--that is, there is always someone or something being sent, and there's always someone doing the sending. The identity of the sender is a crucial question. If someone approaches you and says "I have been sent to you," your immediate response will be to ask "By whom?" You are always less interested in the messenger than in the one who sent the message. So, we know right off the bat that if someone calls himself an apostle he must have been sent by someone, and it's essential that we know who that is.

To be an apostle is to be sent by Christ for the purpose of preaching the Good News and building up the Church. Christ is no longer personally present on earth to appoint more apostles, nor has he made extraordinary interventions as he did with St. Paul. So we know that, strictly speaking, there can be no one today who holds that rank, and certainly no one can seize it for themselves. Yet the gospel still needs preaching, and the church still needs building, so who is left to do it? The apostles were aware both of their own limited lifespans and of the Church's perpetual need for this ministry, and thus they provided for us in the form of those offices mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of St. Paul, most especially in the letters to Timothy and Titus. Those are the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon. It is to these offices that the apostles entrusted the sacred duties of teaching, governing, and sanctifying. The bishops especially are considered the successors of the apostles, not in the sense that they carry the full weight of apostleship, but in the sense that the office of bishop succeeds that of apostle and provides for the Church those essential things which the apostle provided and which need to be carried on through time.

The mandate to carry on this ministry of servant leadership comes directly from Christ himself. Christ commanded his apostles to preach, to baptize, to forgive sins, and to celebrate the Eucharist, among other things. And all of these duties are essential to the church. So, it is essential that there be an office to carry them out. Thus, bishops, priests, and deacons trace their mandate, their commissioning, their being sent, through a direct line of bishops all the way back to the apostles and to Christ himself. This is what we call apostolic succession.

To be an apostle is to have been sent directly by Christ. No one today can fit that bill. To be in apostolic succession is to be sent by those who were sent by Christ. Those unbroken lines are found in the hierarchies of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The bishops send men on behalf of Christ to carry out this work. If you are not sent by one who has the authority to send, you are not an apostle, nor are you apostolic. Pastors who take this title unto themselves should be very wary. Apostleship cannot be claimed or assumed; it must be given; you must be sent. Much as we might want to style ourselves after the Twelve, we can't summon apostleship by ourselves down to Third and Main.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Links and Things: January 17, 2016

Let's go around the horn and look at some interesting items from the last few days...

Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign tweeted that we need "the Body of Christ" to "rise up" in political action. Pundit Kathleen Parker thought Cruz was calling on Jesus to rise from the grave and serve his campaign. Wow. The ignorance there is staggering. Prof. Anthony Esolen breaks it down here.

Columnist Ross Douthat on the progressive mentality that the Church and its faith are always in flux with everything up for grabs--that it is always Year Zero:

George Weigel asks priests to stop treating Mass like an improv class:


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Miracle Man of Montreal

Tomorrow (or today, depending on when you read this) is the feast of St. Andre Bessette. This once well-known saint seems to have fallen out of the general Catholic consciousness, but his life of simple holiness deserves to be remembered.

Andre was born in Quebec in 1845. Though he was slight and sickly his entire life, he lived to be 91. Andre's poor health hindered his attempts at making a life, whether finding work or pursuing the call to religious life that he felt. He applied to join the brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross several times but was turned down due to his poor health and limited education. Finally, his persistence paid off, as the archbishop intervened and famously concluded: "At least he can pray."

Andre was given the job of serving as porter of the community's college, opening the door and directing people to where they needed to go. And as he kindly spoke with the people he visited, he found that people shared their problems and sufferings with him. Andre's advice was always the same: "go to Joseph." Many came to him, and many were aided through his prayers--including even physical healings.

Word of Andre's actions quickly spread, and soon Andre was receiving tens of thousands of letters per year asking for his intercession. Andre would bring the oil that burned in the lamp by the statue of St. Joseph and anoint the sick with them, urging the sick to trust in St. Joseph's intercession. And people were healed: from blindness, burns, paralysis, and all kinds of disease. And their faith was enlivened and strengthened.

The attention Andre attracted concerned some of his confreres. They worried Andre was developing a cult of personality around him. The archbishop came to the local superior and asked, "If you asked Andre to stop these healings, would he?" The superior responded, "Yes, Andre is an obedient religious, he would stop if I asked." The archbishop said, "Then don't. That tells me it's not about him." Andre never took any credit for himself for what occurred; he always pointed to St. Joseph.

Andre's ministry led to the construction of a beautiful Oratory of St. Joseph, which still attracts many pilgrims today. At his death, one million people viewed his coffin. He was dubbed "the miracle man of Montreal," yet his fame has diminished somewhat over time.

We would do well to remember the lessons of St. Andre's life: persistence, humility, devotion to the saints, and humble submission to the will of God. He is a reminder that God calls all of us to be saints: the strong and the sickly, the well and poorly educated alike. All that is required is love of God and love of neighbor.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Links and Things: Epiphany Edition

Bishop Robert Barron's Christmas Day op-ed in the LA Times on the "subversive nature" of the infancy narrative in Luke's Gospel. In his time, Caesar was called "son of the divine" and "savior of the world." To call Jesus such things, then, was not just a theological statement: it was treason.

Fascinating article at The Imaginative Conservative by Fr. Dwight Longenecker on a way of seeing the three Indiana Jones films as a spiritual journey. (You may think that there was a fourth film. This was a mass hallucination. Never happened.)

Mike Eisenbath on the challenge and importance of detachment in the spiritual life.

I highly recommend Big Pulpit for links to all kinds of Catholic-y things. (Full disclosure: its founder also founded Catholic Stand, for which I am an editor.)

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year and A New Title

Welcome, and a Happy New Year to you all!

The observant reader will notice that the title of this site has changed. The unobservant reader is probably trying to find the right sidebar item to update his fantasy football roster. I have contemplated changing the title of this site for some time. There are several reasons for this.

First, though the title DomiNickan is intended to refer to my association with the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, it often instead has led people to believe that I am a member of the Dominican Order. I wish neither to confuse people nor to bank off of the good name of those itinerant preachers. 

Second, since I have now completed my degrees, I feel it is time for me to shove off from the school's shores and give my blog an independent title, though I will always be the first evangelist and apologist for the school's mission. 

Third, I wanted a title that evoked a deeper idea than a pun that relies on a misspelling.

Thus, goodbye, DomiNickan, and thanks.

Why Two Old Books, then?

This phrase refers to a quote from C.S. Lewis, and speaks to my own beliefs and motivations for writing. Lewis wrote an introduction to a new edition of St. Athanasius' book On the Incarnation. (Keep in mind the historical context: this was the time at which the study of the Church Fathers was coming back into fashion, and new editions and compilations of their works were being published by men like Danielou, Von Balthasar, and DeLubac.) In it Lewis offers a reflection on students' relation to classic texts:

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed atsome other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance... It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

You can find it in its entirety here, and I suggest you read it.

There is much wisdom in this invitation. Certain works have inspired generation after generation, remaining always fresh and relevant. They have served as fodder for reflection for centuries and millennia. Why should we not also draw from their wellsprings and gain the same inspiration? Why should we be content to read Sparknotes and not Shakespeare? To read Thomists and not read Thomas? To read biblical commentaries and not the Bible?

I will go beyond Lewis, though, and suggest that you read two old books for every new book you read. There's a simple reason for this: there's a lot more of the past than there is of the present. There are a lot more old books that have proven themselves than there are new books that appear promising. Our Catholic Faith is rich with millennia of history, philosophy, theology, poetry, and literature--great minds thinking deep thoughts on important questions. So much to read and experience!

Additionally, as Lewis mentions, becoming acquainted with old ideas inoculates us against the same ancient errors that rise zombie-like every generation to terrorize us anew, and revives for us valuable ideas and insights from the past that have since fallen out of fashion. 

I am not going to develop some trope where I always mention two old books in my posts. That would be tedious, obvious, and just plain uninteresting. But I do tend to cite classic works anyway, so it might work out that way unintentionally. 

Thank you for visiting. I hope you will be back often, and in this new year I hope to provide material for your enjoyment more regularly. I am always open to suggestions for topics. Let me know what you want to know about!