Recently in Catholicism Category

Zmirak on Tolkien

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One of my favorite contemporary writers on one of my favorite all-time writers:

Instead of doing what most writers (trust me) settle for, the minimum needed to move the story forward, Tolkien showed all the Liberality of those medieval craftsmen who would carve even the backs of pillars that no man would ever see -- since they worked for the glory of God, Who would. Tolkien crafted for his creatu...res' use entire languages with alphabets and whole continents with maps. He limned out their history for thousands of years, from the mists of our own faded legends (such as Beowulf and the Brothers Grimm) all the way back to Creation.

It's also interesting to find out that a good deal of Tolkien's faith formation came under a priest who, Zmirak notes, was "one of John Henry Cardinal Newman's protégés at the Birmingham Oratory."

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Newman on literature by Christians

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This is one of those quotes that's probably been posted on Catholic blogs a bajillion times, but I'd never seen it before, so here it is, 'cuz I like to share:

I say from the nature of the case, if Literature is to be made a study of human nature, you cannot have a Christian Literature. It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless Literature of sinful man. You may gather together something very great and high, something higher than any Literature ever was; and when you have done so, you will find that it is not Literature at all.

John Henry Cardinal Newman, as quoted by Graham Greene, as quoted by Edward Short here.

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Douthat on Dan Brown

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Reading this in the New York Times makes me smile:

Brown's message has been called anti-Catholic, but that's only part of the story. True, his depiction of the Roman Church's past constitutes a greatest hits of anti-Catholicism, with slurs invented by 19th-century Protestants jostling for space alongside libels fabricated by 20th-century Wiccans. (If he targeted Judaism or Islam this way, one suspects that no publisher would touch him.)...


In the Brownian worldview, all religions -- even Roman Catholicism -- have the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one of them might be particularly true. It's a message perfectly tailored for 21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized "religiousness" detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.

The polls that show more Americans abandoning organized religion don't suggest a dramatic uptick in atheism: They reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional religion's dogmas and moral requirements shorn away. The same trend is at work within organized faiths as well, where both liberal and conservative believers often encounter a God who's too busy validating their particular version of the American Dream to raise a peep about, say, how much money they're making or how many times they've been married.

These are Dan Brown's kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination with lost gospels and alternative Christianities, he serves up a Jesus who's a thoroughly modern sort of messiah -- sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

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No God, no fathers.

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John Zmirak:

If our image of fatherhood is drawn after Homer Simpson, so we will picture Our Father in heaven -- as I must confess I used to do, figuring that catastrophes like tsunamis, genocides, and altar girls could be traced to God snoring at the controls of Springfield's nuclear reactor.
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Operation "Not those rice bowls again!"

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Admit it! That's what you think when you see your parish vestibule overflowing with oddly shaped purple cardboard boxes. But you grab one anyway, take it home, throw some change in it and return it at the end of Lent.

Have you ever wondered where the money actually goes?

Well, it goes to these folks and what may be a minor annual ritual in our lives is a huge deal to them. So take some time to visit their website, maybe even check out their blog, which shares stories from their work around the world (RSS feed), and perhaps find it in you to pack that rice bowl with some serious silver, or better yet, some green.

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St. Jude Catholic Worker House

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Kudos to the News-Gazette for profiling our local Catholic Worker House, which is seeing a surge in clients and could use your help.

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Weekend Reading

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  • WSJ on the SEC:


    The breadth of the South's football culture creates a fanaticism that crosses all lines. People who didn't attend the schools, or go to college at all, still support them, and will even make donations. It's a group that insiders call "dirt-road alumni." After his business was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, Joe Yargo, a trucker from Hammond, La., who did not attend LSU, says he told his wife "I might lose my house, but I won't lose my season tickets."

    "Half the people in that stadium can't spell LSU," says political consultant James Carville, an LSU alumnus. "It doesn't matter. They identify with it. It's culturally such a big deal."

  • I have just returned from Santo Domingo de Silos, a Benedictine monastery where I spent four days--What four days! I have not been so happy this whole voyage--The life is so good, I can well join my homely upright friends & remain forever in this cloister--It is surely healthful & sane--It is also beautiful: & beside the world around it[,] it is free from superstition, religion, strife, stupidity, wastefulness, disease, & bad manners--The religion is a reverent habit which gives a great dignity to everything done. There is no excess--no sermonizing--inquisitiveness, or self-torture--I have not eaten better in Spain, than in S.D.S. The food is grown within the monastery--There is beautiful fruit, delicious honey, & wine, & Benedictine liqueur beyond words--One is rich here--The library is very rich too, and the cloister sculptures--of the 11th c. are the finest works of Spanish Romanesque art, without any parallel, & strangely isolated in history--There is also a treasure of mediaeval metal-work and Mss. [manuscripts], noble monks, generous life--fine talk & companionship & apparently the perfection of freedoms--one sings the Gregorian chants--& the mass is very simple & beautiful...

    ...I wrote you of how beautiful was the monastery at Silos. I saw little of its exterior or the surrounding country--The course of life is so pleasant and orderly within: & the work suggested by the buildings, the manuscripts, and the carvings, so absorbing, I had no wish to leave or to explore beyond. The monks were, every one, gracious and quiet; there was no touch of morbidity or suffering or extreme asceticism in them. I was embarrassed by their prayers which were brief and simple, but in which I could not join--I was embarrassed by my own lack of faith: for it seemed, in my non-participation--a criticism of these men, an estrangement, that was really only formal. The short chanting before and after meals was beautiful, a reverent thanks and acceptance--which surely I owed more than the others--In the mass, all was subdued: no shrill and over-resonant music (& no jingling of coins) as in the cities, but simple chants of the middle ages. The mass was a meeting of pious musicians--The church itself, an 18th c. baroque building, is an unfortunate hall for these services--The cloister outside is miraculous, with more in common with the chanting and the Benedictine life.

    Thruout the meals, which are excellent & served in a fine refectory, there is silence, except for a man who sits in a pulpit & reads chapters of church history. After lunch, after a brief prayer in the Chapel of Santo Domingo, the silence is relaxed--but in amusing gradation, lest a sharp transition indicate a suppressed desire, and a criticism of the restraint imposed. As we descend the steps of the chapel, we offer by signs the precedence to each other, gesture and smile, like dumb men; prolonging this talk till we are in the cloister where the first words are uttered. Then for a half hour we sit in the garden or a small chamber, and drink coffee and a delicious cordial, prepared by the monks.

    From letters from 20th century art historian Meyer Schapiro to his future wife, written while studying monastic sculpture in Europe. The letters are in the current New York Review of Books but are not online.

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Priestly Pop

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There are drawbacks to turning priests into pop stars. Because they need to stay close to their congregations, the Priests won't be doing a typical promotional concert tour. But Father O'Hagan says his parishioners have pledged to support his new mission. "They have assured me if they go a couple days without Mass, they're not going to lose the faith," he says.


But there are also upsides for music executives accustomed to dealing with rock-star antics. "Why do most guys get into this? To get a chick and behave as badly as they possibly can," Mr. Raphael says. "These guys have already passed up on that side of life."

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None of the above

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I should know better than to start an election series so close to election day. Due to being out of time, I'll have to condense my thoughts.

For the sake of brevity (ha!), I'm going to set aside a whole host of issues and look narrowly at issues related to respect for human life. This is in a sense unsatisfying because both candidates have a whole host of stances that are destructive of society and culture, both here and abroad, but I think it works out because they in a sense cancel each other out.

While I think a vote for Barack Obama is morally indefensible for anybody who believes that an embryo is a human being deserving of legal protection, we should not be too quick to support John McCain. For starters, McCain supports embryonic stem cell research, which, last I checked, involves the direct killing of innocent human beings. Of course, Obama supports the direct killing of more innocent humans by his support for abortion, but this is not how the debate has been portrayed by Catholics. We're hearing that Obama supports an intrinsic evil and must be opposed, without reference to McCain's similar problem. I think that is a grave disservice to embryonic human life and is hurting the prolife witness. Analogize this to any other issue -- "McCain supports exterminating Hispanics, but Obame wants to get rid of Hispanics andJews, so obviously we have to support McCain." To the extent that Catholics are not speaking out against McCain's support for ESC research, they are injuring the prolife movement.

Furthermore, although McCain has a decent voting record when it comes to abortion, Rick Santorum, who fought honorably for the unborn when he was a senator, publicly stated last year that John McCain, behind closed Senate doors, opposed prioritizing prolife bills and amendments. Again, that's not nearly as bad as Barack Obama -- who couldn't even bring himself to support medical treatment for babies who accidentally get born because he didn't want to undermine Roe v. Wade -- but it's hardly cause for cheer.

Finally, the dream of most prolifers, myself included, is getting those five votes on the Supreme Court. "We're just one vote away!" That's true, and while the prospect of having Roe v. Wade finally overturned is tantalizing, it's hard to imagine that McCain would have a better record than, say, Ronald Reagan, who, if you count Bork, was only 50% on his Supreme Court picks in terms of their votes on abortion. Once again, we have to believe that McCain's picks are more likely to be pro-life than Obama's, but we're dealing with contingencies here, not facts, and similar contingencies have historically not worked out in our favor.

If you're going to credibly defend a vote for John McCain, it can't be on broad philosophical grounds, because there's just not much there. I think it has to be on very narrow political grounds: the Mexico City policy and the Freedom of Choice Act. Nobody doubts that President Obama, like Clinton before him, would overturn the Mexico City policy, which prohibits government agencies from making abortion one of America's few remaining exports. And he has already stated he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would strip away even more legal protection from the unborn. Those two policies are, I think, decisive in making McCain "better" than Obama on abortion. But is this impact enough to justify voting for McCain, a man who supports the direct killing of human embryos?

Archbishop Charles Chaput put it wonderfully a few months back in a piece on the primacy of abortion. He said something to the effect that if we are going to vote for a candidate that supports legal abortion, we have to have a reason good enough to tell the unborn to their face on Judgment Day. Again, while it's clear that this rules out voting for Obama, I have a hard time envisioning meeting not the victims of abortion, but the victims of embryo destructive research and saying, "I supported a man who favored your death in order to stop a few abortions. Besides, the other guy had no value for your life either. I could have fought and denounced both candidates, but I decided to downplay your plight to serve other noble ends." It's not that I don't think I'd be in a sense justifiable, I just don't think I'd have taken the highest road.

I have trouble with the fact that if I want to vote for one of the major party candidates, I have to perform the grimmest of calculations: take x amount of unjust wars McCain is likely to start, subtract out the 1.5 million abortions per year that he oppposes (but can't really do much about except appoint the right judges, which is at best a 50% shot -- Souter! Kennedy! O'Connor! Stevens!) but add back in all of the frozen embryonic humans he wants to cannibalize for research. And where does that get us? Are we Catholics really transforming society by thinking like that?

I am truly thankful that I don't have to perform that calculation. Living in Illinois, which will go for Obama by about 60%, I'm happy to "waste" my vote on a third party candidate. Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party opposes abortion and embryonic stem research and invading harmless countries. He has some policies I dislike, but none that, as far as I can tell, lead to the direct killing of the innocent.

For those of you who live in a state that matters, I pray for you and ask you to pray for wisdom, prudence and discernment.

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Pray for my sister!

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by mama-Lu

This year on December 28th, my sister will make her final profession as a Carmelite with the Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. We are very happy for her and excited about visiting. Please keep her in your prayers are she prepares for this blessed event. (I should also add that Sister Mary Louise is a regular reader here so if you would like to leave a message that you are praying for her, she will see it.)

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I Have Dreams

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Last night I dreamt that a friend started an order:The Canons of Wrigley Field. If only.

I haven't watched Bull Durham in about 6 years. Honest.

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1st Century Church Possibly Discovered in Jordan

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I'm surprised this isn't making bigger headlines.

We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," the head of Jordan's Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, Abdul Qader al-Husan, said.

He said it was uncovered under Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.

[...]

These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine," are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan, Husan added.

[...]

Inside the cave there are several stone seats which are believed to have been for the clergy and a circular shaped area, thought to be the apse.

UPDATE: Duh. Mike Aquilina has been on the case all week. He even links to pictures (scroll past the ads).

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Mother Teresa and Mary

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Zenit has an interview with Missionary of Charity Father Joseph Langford, author of a new book about how Mother Teresa's faith sustained her during decades of darkness.

Q: How would you describe Mother's periods of darkness, and what do you think about the recent controversies over her "dark night?"

Father Langford: Contrary to reports in the press, Mother Teresa did not suffer a "crisis" of faith. In fact, her struggle was not with faith at all, but with the "loss of feeling" of faith, with the loss of a felt sense of the divine. As she stepped out of the convent and into the slums of Calcutta, what had been her usual consolation in prayer abruptly ended.

Though she would not understand it until later, she was being asked to share the same inner darkness, the same trial of belief suffered by the poor and destitute -- and to do so for their sake, and for the love of her Lord.

She was allowed to feel as though God was absent, and at first she agonized at the disconnect between her emotions and her belief -- though never did her lack of feeling become lack of faith.

In fact, her dark night revealed the hidden depth of Mother Teresa's faith in a way that any lesser challenge could not. Her darkness not only allowed her to exercise her extraordinary faith to the full, it allowed us -- modern disciples too often of "little faith" -- to discover the true dimensions of which faith is capable, even under duress, even in the night.

She would want to encourage us to do the same in our own Calcutta, in our own dark night: Instead of allowing our trials and pain to become a prison, we can, as she did, make our pain a bridge into the pain of others, a bond of solidarity, a catalyst for charity.

Q: How did her relationship with Mary assist her in these times of trial?

Father Langford: Just as the Israelites were given a column of fire to lead them by night, so Mother Teresa was given her own guiding light through the night of faith, in the person of the Virgin Mary.

The gift of Jesus' mother -- given to St. John on Calvary, and to disciples and saints through the ages -- strengthened Mother Teresa in carrying her own pain, and in tending to the pain of the poor.

Our Lady would help her to not only believe in the night, but to love in the night -- to transform the mystery of the cross, both within her and around her, into seeds of resurrection.

As it was Our Lady who brought St. John, alone among the Twelve, to stand faithfully at Calvary, so it was Our Lady who would bring Mother Teresa through the sea of suffering opened before her, that she might shine the light of God's love on the poor.

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Friday Links

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Some articles to drink your coffee over this weekend :

  • Sandro Magister, Vaticanista extraordinaire, reruns a decade-old account of a pilgrimage to Mt. Athos.
    Saints, centuries, empires, earthly and heavenly cities – everything seems to oscillate and flow, no longer distant. The monastery's treasures – golden and silver boxes with sapphires and rubies that are set in the Virgin's belt, the skull of Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom's right hand – are offered to visitors for veneration. The light of the sunset sets them aglow, makes them pulsate. And the frescoes of Theophanes – master of the Cretan school in the first part of the 16th century – are also lit up, as are the blue majolica tiles on the walls, the mother-of-pearl on the iconostasis, on the lectern, on the episcopal throne.

    After vespers one leaves the catholikon in procession and, facing the square, enters the refectory, which is also built like a church and frescoed by the great Theophanes. The same liturgy continues. The igoumenos takes his place at the center of the apse. A monk reads stories of saints from the pulpit, almost singing. One eats blessed food: soups and vegetables from old iron dishes – and on feast days even amber-colored wine – on thick, roughly hewn marble tables, themselves resting on marble supports. They are a thousand years old, yet evoke prehistoric dolmens. The exit is also made in procession. A monk gives everyone a piece of blessed bread. Another incenses it so artfully that the perfume remains a long time in your mouth.

  • Two recent articles about human trafficking and prostitution caught my eye. The first is this lengthy but excellent New Yorker profile of a Moldovan woman who works for a non-profit that helps women who have been trafficked into prostitution get home. The second is this First Things daily article from last week that discusses a new book about the modern day slave trade by a reporter who has investigated trafficking all around the world.

  • Lastly, Zenit has a brief article quoting Fr. Joseph Fessio talking about Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to America. This quote stood out to me:

    "Most people already knew [Benedict XVI] is extremely intelligent and articulate. Many weren't aware of the personal warmth, what in Bavaria they call 'Gemütlichkeit,'" Father Fessio said.

    I don't know about you, but to me, nothing says "personal warmth" like Gemütlichkeit

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Divine Mercy

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This is pretty sweet

Hat-tip to my old accy teacher who emailed it to me.

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What have we done with this gift?

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Some early morning linkage

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Catholic nerdy stuff

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Some Catholicish stuff from around the web:

  • NCR's John Allen previews next week's meeting of the American bishops, where they are expected to elect Cardinal Francis George as president of the conference (Woo Hoo! let sociology majors everywhere be cheered!).
  • Spengler on the Catholic Church as the west's "indispensable institution," featuring an interesting take of Vatican I vs. Vatican II and Catholic theology in general.
  • It's a shame that Greg Popcak had to waste precious time rebutting what has to be one of the worst op-eds ever written, but kudos to him for doing it.
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Molecular Christology

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First Things

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I just finished perusing the Aug/Sept issue of First Things. Some thoughts:

  • This piece on global warming is one of the best attempt at denial I've seen, and I'd be interested in a rebuttal.
  • I was surprised at some of the negativity of this review of Jesus of Nazareth. It makes sense though - it must be tough to edit the Pope. In the Pope's defense, he did turn 80 this year and one could understand how the pressure to get the thing published would lead to some of the omissions that irk the reviewer.
  • I skimmed Harvey Mansfield's article on politics and it didn't really make much sense. Furthermore, I was so bored by it I didn't go back to give it a closer read. If somebody wants to try to persuade me to revisit it, fire away.
  • Victor Davis Hanson's review of a new book about the Battle of Lepanto is enjoyable.
  • Algis Valiunas' review of a revisitation of Victor Hugo's life and Les Miserables is a charming, adventurous read. There's much, much good in there.
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