Implicit in political ad, Catholic views on abortion are out-of-step from bygone era...

In a creative political ad, Paul Ryan is attacked as having "OUT-OF-STEP VIEWS!" from a "BYGONE ERA!" Putting aside the distorted attack on his controversial budget proposal, the video attacks Paul Ryan as being anti-woman. The implicit claim is that anyone who is opposed to abortion in all cases has 'out-of-step views from a bygone era.'

The problem with this implicit claim is that it implies that the Catholic Church's views are from a bygone era and that these views are out-of-step. I cannot help but ask: Out-of-step with what? If we are speaking of the popular views, it is important to point out that more young adults are in favor or stricter abortion regulation than in previous years. It would seem that growing numbers of young people are 'out-of-step.' For more info on this claim, click here.

Or maybe Ryan's views are out-of-step with reality, which is a much bolder claim. How would somebody discern what reality has to say about what is right and wrong? The Natural Law! According to the Natural Law, however, it would be an unjust act to transfer punishment from a rapist to an innocent. Even in cases of "forcible rape," which brings me to my next point.

Since the "Akin Scandal," in which Todd Akin used the term 'legitimate' in order to qualify the term 'rape.' A flare-up of outrage rightly ensued about the comment and its context. Now, the furor is being transferred to language Paul Ryan used in legislation qualify 'rape' with the term 'forcible.' It is an effective distraction technique from the economy, which the majority of Americans views as the most important political issue. The problem, however, is that there is a legal distinction between 'forcible rape' and 'statutory rape.'

Had the context of Akin's use of 'legitimate rape' been different, we could have said that 'legitimate rape' is rape under the law including both 'forcible rape' and 'statutory rape.' Proponents of abortion in cases of rape, incest, and the health/life of the mother, generally are referring to cases of 'forcible rape.' It is possible, that in cases of statutory rape, both parties are willing, in which case these same pro-aborts would be opposed to abortion unless it is also a matter of incest or the health/life of the mother.
So, it is simply an unfair comparison between Akin's "legitimate rape" and Ryan's "forcible rape."

The point, however, is that the 'mode of conception' does not determine the value of the life conceived. Rape, though we may not like to think of it as a 'mode of conception,' nevertheless, is a 'mode' or way that conception can and does take place. Furthermore, the intention or lack of intention does not determine the value of the life of the person conceived. So, persons claiming to be most pro-life rightly oppose abortion even in cases of rape (both forcible and statutory) and incest.

We should note, that the pro-aborts made sure that the term 'forcible' was dropped from the language of the bill. So, the bill went from opposing the funding of abortions except in the case of 'forcible rape' to except in the case of 'rape,' which can legally include statutory rape. So, even though Paul Ryan has attempted to oppose abortion and limit the cases in which it is funded, language seems to be a stumbling block. Maybe next time he should just oppose funding abortions in all cases like he actually believes. I say that but I think we all know how much harder an abrupt change to abortion funding would be to pass.

Does God hate the way you dress for Mass?

I previously wrote about modesty and some initial thoughts about how to dress for Mass. I concluded, that no, God would not reject someone who approaches Him in all earnestness and with sincerest intention. Here is the rub, that is simply not an excuse to dress however you would like. The mentality that says, "I don't have to change for God," is contrary to the sincere intention that I am talking about. In my other post, I shared some thoughts I pondered after reading the Summa Theologica on whether modesty as a virtue pertains to outward apparel (ST II-II 169).

So, the truth is, we come to God because we know our own shortcomings, which is to say that we recognize that we need to change in order to become better people. So, according to the principles laid out in our conversation on modesty, viz. humility, honesty, simplicity, and contentment, the way we dress reflects our desire for change. That is to say, that to dress in "fancy" clothes is not dishonestly saying that we are "fancy" people. In fact, forget any notion of "fancy." Our desire is to dress with simplicity and contentment.

The basic arguments for wearing dress clothes to Mass go something like this: 1) If the Mass is the most important thing that we do all week, then we should dress according to its importance. If we were going to meet the pope, who is the vicar of Christ, would we not wear our nicest attire? All the more, we should wear our nicest attire to receive the Eucharist, who is Christ Himself. 2) We should dress in a way that does not take away from the dignity and solemnity of the Mass. Therefore, we should wear our nicest clothes. 3) We are dressing up to please God, not other people. So, we should dress in our nicest clothes.

I think we could probably come up with plenty of other examples, but they all point in the same general direction. The Mass is what it is, so wear your nicest. To that I say, "RUBBISH!" Sunday's best ought to be reserved for Sunday, but if I were to go in my closet and pull out my nicest clothes, I would be picking out my tuxedo. So, for that reason, I say, "RUBBISH!"All of the arguments above are valid arguments, but what we need to recognize is that wearing our nicest and dressing appropriately are two different things.

Dressing with humility...

Again, our desire should be to dress with humility, honesty, simplicity, and contentment. If we are going to be humble, simple, and content, we should wear attire that lacks the look-at-me-ness of the tuxedo. The tuxedo says something very different from the traditional Sunday's best suit. It says, "Look at me! What we're doing here is about us." It is totally celebratory, but it lacks the it-is-not-about-me-ness that the next step down has, viz. the suit. For example, when the president is sworn into office, he does not wear a tuxedo. Instead, he wears a suit. Afterwords, to the inaugural ball, he puts on his tuxedo. The inauguration is all about the office of the president. There is a solemn moment when he places his hand on the bible and swears his oath to uphold his office. In so doing, he commits himself to something higher than himself. At the ball, however, it is all about him. He did it. He attained his goal. It is appropriate for him to wear such clothing for such an event. If Jesus showed up to Mass, it would be completely appropriate for him to show up in a tuxedo.

Dressing with honesty...

We see something similar played out with the wedding ceremony. There is a distinct difference, an added layer if you will, about why these couples and their party wear tuxedos and the great white wedding dress. The marriage ceremony is about the couple. It is not only about the couple, but in a very special way, they are separate from the faithful at this rite while they are receiving this sacrament. In this way, the attention drawn toward them points to God.

The added layer for a couple to be married is that they dress in their baptismal garment. So, it is appropriate for the bride to dress in white. It is her sacramental gown, the same gown she was clothed in at her baptism. The same is true for a young girl receiving her First Communion. I would argue for the same to be done at confirmation, and that men should wear white too. It is more common for tuxedos to be black and we should not start changing our venerable customs on account of color preferences, but the vest and tie should be white (similar to what Pres. Obama is wearing in the picture above to the inaugural ball).

We read in Mt. 22:1-14 the parable of the wedding banquet. A king invites strangers to a weeding feast in order to fill his hall after being rejected by those he originally invited. One man at the feast is not wearing wedding clothes and is cast into the outer darkness. The story has always been understood such that the wedding garment is the sanctifying grace of God. Similarly, we put on the white garment at Baptism to signify the grace we put on in Christ.

In the book of Revelation, we read about all the faithful who have gathered around the throne of God in worship, and they have clothed themselves in white robes, robes made white by washing in the blood of the Lamb (cf. Rev 7). What we, therefore, ought to do is to put on Christ. In putting on Christ, we become sons of God, and we share in Christ's inheritance. In coming to the banquet feast of the Son, come not only as guests, but as His bride. And as His bride, we become one with Him.

As the bride, we have put on the white garment of His sanctifying grace, which we need not signify every time we come to Mass. As sons of God, we have received an office. We are coheirs because of our sonship, and out of respect for our office we should dress accordingly.

Dressing with simplicity...

Not Simple
By dressing with simplicity we avoid becoming an obstacle for others and for ourselves. We should avoid adorning our bodies in ways that draw attention to us. Like the tuxedo, which draws attention to itself by claiming some centrality or sense of importance, other ways we dress can attract a variety of desirable, and sometimes undesirable, glances. We should, therefore, avoid wear tight fitting clothes that are designed to show off our most pleasant features. We should avoid garish colors and busy or noisy patterns. We should avoid excessive jewelry, make-up, cologne/perfume, etc...

Not Simple
Dressing with simplicity also involves not wearing clothes for the sake of comfort or the sensual pleasure derived from the feel of it. We should, in fact, usually avoid wearing the nicest clothes that we can afford, which are most often designed to draw attention to ourselves. We we speak of the nicest fabrics, we are usually talking about something that grabs attention or is pleasant to the touch.

Dressing with contentment...

We do not need to go out and buy a new suit or a new dress. If we have nice clothes we should wear them. If we do not have nice clothes, we should buy some. Forget Neiman Marcus and Emporio Armani. Swing by a thrift store and find something that fits and is not dingy or worn out. When you do go shopping for clothes to wear to Mass, keep in mind the principles and ask, is this humble, simple, and honest. If so, be satisfied with it. If it is already in you closet and meets our criteria, be satisfied with it. 

If you want to learn how to dress with contentment, then thank God for what you have. If what you have is good, give thanks. If you do not have nice clothes and cannot afford even a $15 outfit from a thrift store, wear the nicest thing you have, and God will accept that as an earnest effort. 

We ought to dress with the simplicity and humility to say, "this Mass is not about me;" the honesty to say, "I need to change," and "I have the dignity of the sons of God;" and the contentment to say, "thank you."

Modesty and some thoughts about what's appropriate...

Why conversations about modesty stink...

Discussions about modesty usually involve somebody ranting about how trashy somebody else dresses. Inevitably conversation reduces to specific rules about how low a neckline can plunge and how short a skirt can be. Very few ever even attempt to lay out rules that apply to both men and women.

Often times, the conversation revolves around a certain sexist notion that the way women dress leads men to sin. While it is true that the way we dress can lead to scandal and even sin, the culpability is often times limited by ignorance of what is appropriate and cultural norms. It is unfair to lay the blame on just the ladies when the men lack self-control and custody of the eyes to avert their attention elsewhere. There is plenty of blame to go around, and the way men dress can be just as problematic.

Furthermore, the way we dress is usually based on cultural norms. Therefore, when we visit other non-Western cultures, the way we dress can be an obstacle for other people. The point is simply to not be an obstacle for other people or even for ourselves. We are not meant to be obstacles, but rather we ought to conduce the salvation of others.

The question is whether there is a virtue and vice that pertains to our outward apparel. St. Thomas Aquinas roots the virtue of modesty in honesty. That is to say, that the inverse of modesty, immodesty, is rooted in dishonesty. But for our purposes we are not going to focus on the vice. If we are asking, "How low can my neckline plunge?" we have already failed. The right question to ask is, "How can I dress to conduce others to salvation?" Ok, I agree it is a little ridiculous to ask that question every time I get dressed. The point is that we should not be thinking about what we can get away with. We should be looking for what is good and true and charitable.

What modesty is and isn't...

First of all, the most basic purpose of clothing is simply to cover the body. There are all sorts of reasons that the body needs covered, e.g. protection from the elements, support, utility, etc... If the primary purpose is to cover, then we need to ask how much or how little is necessary. Necessity is essential, and prevents us from falling into victorian prudery. It is just as absurd to wear a speedo as it is to wear a wet suit to go swimming at a pool party, to wear a speedo to go scuba diving in Alaska as it is a wet suit to race the 100m butterfly.

I think that these examples help to bring out the basic notions of necessity, moderation, and honesty. Focusing on moderation, it is important to keep in mind that moderation must be understood in the context of local customs. In a sense, all I am saying is, "When in Rome, do as the Romans." If you were to wear a loincloth and nothing but a loincloth to the Vatican, you will be causing quite the scandal. If, however, you were to wear a loincloth in Sri Lanka to work in the paddy fields, you would not be causing scandal. Moreover, to wear a kings robe to work the same paddy fields would be immoderate. The immoderation comes from the lack of harmony between what is generally acceptable and what would be considered unacceptable for the purpose of the work.

There is another kind of immoderation that arises from an inordinate attachment to the pleasure effected by the use of apparel. The inordinate attachment occurs in three different ways. First, people seek praise from excessive attention to the way they dress. Everyone wants to look good, but spending an excess of time for the purpose of attracting attention and garnering compliments is inordinate and immoderate. Secondly, the attachment can arise from the sensuous pleasure from the excessive attention to apparel. Spending an excess of time or money to make clothing more comfortable than what's necessary for the task or purpose of the clothing is also immoderate. Thirdly, the immoderation can arise from a fascination with the look of the apparel itself.

There are three virtues and maybe principles that combat the immoderate attachment. The virtue of humility combats the attachment to vainglory; contentment combats a desire for excessive comfort; and simplicity combats the excessive fascination with the appearance of the apparel. Immoderation does not arise solely from excess. Neglect and deficiency can be just as immoderate.

It is a matter of immoderation to allow your attire to become soiled or tattered because of neglect or laziness. It can be immoderate to wear that favorite old shirt  for the sake of comfort when the shirt  attracts undesirable attention. In another way, intentionally dressing in a way that appears neglectful so as to attract attention is immoderate, e.g. to gain sympathy.

The fact of the matter is that we do not dress one way or another according to the dictates of our nature. It belongs to our nature as rational beings to moderate the way we dress. I think that if we follow these principles of how to dress we will do all right. Dress with humility, simplicity, honesty, and contentment., and do not forget to take care of your attire.

Proof I was a genius at eight years old. Or was I?

I was maybe eight years old when I first tried to use the argument, "God accepts me for who I am. Therefore, I don't need to dress fancy for Mass." Wow! What great insight! This child is a prodigy of the theological and philosophical sciences! People from all over flocked to me to hear my great words of insight and to sit at my feet and listen to my teachings.

In all reality, my mother did not give much thought to my words. With her, I never got away with wearing anything less than a polo shirt and khaki shorts. We were only allowed to wear khaki shorts on those days, growing up in Los Angeles, when the heat was excruciating and the humidity extreme. So, in total we maybe wore shorts one or two Sundays during the summer.

What is both interesting and amusing to me is how many people still use this basic argument to defend their attire at Sunday Mass. I am not speaking of just eight-year-olds, but adults I know still use this basic argument. So, I think it is worth the time to sit and ponder whether the great epiphany of my childhood carries any water.

So, let us begin with the basic principle of the argument: God is Love. The idea hear is that the God of Love, who is Love would never turn anyone away from Him, who approaches Him asking for Him, seeking Him, desiring Him, etc... I cannot think of a single person who would deny that if God is Love, that is to say that He is All-Loving, He would never reject anyone simply based on the way they are dressed, which gives us our first premise.

There it is. There is the whole argument. We are done. Case closed. The eight-year-old wins. Right? That is not how we do theology or philosophy. We do not simply consider the principle of the argument, but the premises and the conclusion. I agree to the principle: God is Love. So, let us draw out the unstated second premise of the stated enthymeme. "Who I am is a person that dresses this way or that way." Simply speaking, if I do dress this way or that way, then I am a person that dresses this way or that way, and we can say that the second premise is true. So, we have two premises: God (who is Love) accepts me for who I am. Who I am is a person that dresses this way or that way. And so it naturally follows that our conclusion would be that God (who is Love), therefore, accepts me who is a person that dresses this way or that way.

It seems that the entire syllogism does hold water. So, it must be true that I was an eight-year-old genius. Not quite. The argument is coherent. This is true. God does accept us as we are and for who we are, and He is willing to love us even when we do not love ourselves. He loves us even when we sin and when we reject Him. What we are not considering is where this argument leads us. What we tend to do is to use this argument to justify dressing a certain way. But the argument does not claim, "Therefore, I should dress however I want." In order to address this question, which is quite a different question, we need to make a different argument. So, let us ask the question. How should we dress for Mass.

In order to answer, or at least begin to answer this question, we should ask some pretty basic questions. First, what is the Mass? What is its purpose? How do I relate to it? How do I relate to God? The Church teaches that the Mass is above all things the worship of God (cf. SC 33). I, therefore, relate to it in as much as I am a worshipper of God. See, the sacred liturgy is a relationship between me and God, in which I offer Him worship (a brief note on the word 'worship': it comes from 'worth-ship' which means that holding in esteem or of great worth).

The question we have to ask then is: how do we show our appreciation to God? A good place to start is by also asking: How do we show our appreciation for others, with particular regard to attire? I want to offer at this point some food for thought. It is commonly said, "do not dress for the job you have, but the job you want to have." The point holds true for job interviews. If I currently work at McDonalds, but I want to work at a bank, I ought to dress like person that works at a bank when I interview for the position. In fact, if I really value that position, I might show my own desire for it by dressing a notch up from a person that works at a bank, e.g. I might wear a suit jacket instead of just a dress shirt and tie.

If we take the Christian vocation seriously, it means that we desire to be people of virtue. In our current state we are sinner, and we recognize that. We know that we ought to be virtuous in spite of our shortcomings. So, again I suggest that maybe we should dress like virtuous people if we want to be virtuous. That is to say, that we should dress modestly, if modesty is the virtue that pertains to how we dress. I am not saying that modesty only pertains to dress. If it does, then should we not try to dress in such a manner? If we desire to be like God, if we desire to share in His divine life, then we can dress in such a way that we show how much we value the virtuous life that He can help us live by His grace.

A reflection on the dangers and gifts of priestly formation...

Today is the start of my third week blogging, and I'm impressed that I've garnered over 500 reads since I started. In fact, the number is closer to 550. I've noticed that there are two topics that I've written on that have seemed to be most popular. One was politics and the other was sacraments. So I'll do what I can to write on these topics more. If there are topics that you'd like for me to reflect on, let me know in the Comment Box below.

Today, my younger cousin is heading to the seminary for the first time. He is on a very dangerous road of self discovery. Dangerous because he will be forced for the first time in his life to look at himself deeply and communicate who he is to others. These others will give him feedback and criticism like he has never heard before. It will be like standing in a hall of mirrors where each mirror, rather than distort, emphasizes certain aspects of one's life. I know because I was there.

The real danger is in not being honest. Some have a tendency to be dishonest and hold things back. They refuse transparency and end up lying to themselves. In the end, they do not grow as they intended. They do not mature into better wine. Rather, they turn to vinegar and face reclusion, guilt, loneliness, and despair.

The upside is that if he gives himself over to formation, it will help him to grow in many ways. It will allow him to see his own weakness and to focus his strengths. He will whet his intellect and penetrate deeply into the mysteries of the universe. He will make lifelong friendships and find a vocation. It is very clear to me after spending three years in the minor seminary (sophomore-senior) and two more years studying theology outside of the seminary, that I have found my vocation. There is a certainty that I have that I do not believe that I would have otherwise had I not entered priestly formation.

For those who do not know, priestly formation focuses on a few different aspects of the person. It recognizes that man is a spiritual being, and as a spiritual being has an intellect and a free will. Man's ability to know and to love sets him apart from other animals, and so, priestly formation focuses on these aspects not to make him the best priest that he can be but to be the best man he can be.

First, formation focuses on man's intellect, and since this formation is ordered toward the priesthood, there are certain college courses that he must take that prepare him for theological studies. Secondly, it focuses on his will and does this in a two-fold way. It develops his relationship with God in spiritual formation and his relationship with others in character/human formation. It is important to point out that there is a principle that says that one cannot love that which he does not know. In this case, that would mean that the seminarian must come to know God and His creation.

There are two ways to study God and creation. One is under the aspect of reason alone, whereby we employ philosophy. The second is under the aspect of revelation, whereby we come to know that which we would not know without God's revelation or with a new found certainty. This second method we call theology. If we are going to study theology, we must first make a reasonable argument for God and revelation. So, in his philosophical studies he will take a course on Natural Theology, which reasons to God's existence by philosophical means, i.e. without scripture.

His spiritual formation will be made up of daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, personal pieties, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and private spiritual direction meetings. He will be steeped in the prayer of the Church and learn to converse with God as with his friend, father, brother, mother (I am not saying that God is a woman! But he does encompass all maternity), and physician.

His character formation will consist of meetings with his chaplain, peer group meetings, apostolic ministries, and constant fraternal correction. If we dislike something in another person, we must learn to hate that thing in ourselves first. If we do this we will not hate the other but pity them. So, character formation focuses on the self and hating our own deficiencies first and foremost. Once we hate our own shortcomings it is easier to love the other.

Thinking back on the formation I received, I am very grateful to God and the formators that I had. I would be half the man I am today, and I know how much I still fall short of what God wants me to be. I pray for the growth of my cousin and the growth of all men in priestly formation. May their hearts be open and willing to change.

Why Paul Ryan is good for America and bad for Catholicism

I have a love/hate relationship with politics. I find it as enthralling as high school prom drama. "MacKenzie told Kayla who told Bobby that Jesse said he likes you, but he doesn't think you like him, so you need to walk over to the gym with you backpack on your left shoulder by two o'clock or he's going to ask Susie to the prom, but I heard Susie talking with Mike saying that..." you get the picture. Every political story is a run-on sentence of juicy gossip about he-said-she-said scenarios. You never get to hear Boehner speaking directly to Pres. Obama, all you hear is Boehner saying Obama said this and did this, or vice versa. It's incredibly mind-numbing but incredibly captivating. The best part is, there's no attachment to politicians, because they're not your friends, and you know half of them (a generous number) are lying through their teeth.

 It was recently announced that Paul Ryan would be Mitt Romney's running mate. You can imagine, that I was glued to the TV to hear Romney say the words himself. Not to mention, I wasn't surprised. I made my prediction after Santorum and Gingrich pulled out of the race. It seems to me to be the only reasonable move to make. Granted, I believe it does indicate that Romney didn't believe he could win the election with his own record. He needed somebody to fire up his base. I think Ryan did that.

The problem is, Paul Ryan, does fire up the base, but the base is so far removed and at odds with the political left that this VP selection creates more of the drama that I absolutely love. It's particularly what's so divisive about Ryan that is good for America and bad for Catholicism, particularly Catholicism in America.

Bishop Richard Pates, Dio. of Des Moines
In the last few days, we've all heard it mentioned that Paul Ryan's budget, which he claims he wrote with Catholic Social Doctrine (CSD) in mind, was given a scathing review by the US bishops' conference (USCCB). First of all, I'd like to point out a bit of the he-said-she-said scene taking place. It wasn't the USCCB that issued the letter to Ryan. Two bishops in particular issued these letters, viz. Bishop Blaire, chairman on the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Pates, chairman on International Justice and Peace. That being said, no the US bishops did not team up against Ryan. Rather, two experts on justice and peace, who represent committees and in some sense represent the US bishops, sent four letters reminding everyone of certain principles and urging particular changes to the proposed budget.

Bishop Stephen Blaire, Dio. of Stockton
What's amusing to me is that here we see a particular problem with Catholicism in America. It's a sort of cafeteria mentality that we can pick and choose what we want to believe and obey. There is, however, another problem and that is the tendency, when we pick something to hold, to treat it with the same authority as the magisterium. I'm sorry, but Bishop Blaire, even in his official role as chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, does not speak with supreme authority. Secondly, problems within Ryan's budget is not a critique of American Conservatism, but of particular proposals that will ill-affect some of those most in need.

That being said, Paul Ryan's dismissal of these bishops, who are speaking with some authority on these matters, is uncalled for. As a Catholic we have an obligation to submit ourselves in such a way that we are docile to authoritative teaching. We ought to listen attentively to our bishops and ruminate on how we can best obey them and our consciences. Paul Ryan has, however, sought direction from his own bishop, who has more authority over him than the US bishops' committees. Ryan discusses his budget and his relationship with the bishops at some length in this interview here:

I find it amusing how many Liberals or Progressives, who are Catholic, immediately invoke the conscience mantra on issues of contraception and abortion, but attack viciously the Conservative on issues of justice. Conservatives do something similar, and attack the Left for not having consciences or at least having malformed them. The sad thing is, when it comes to politics and faith, we have a tendency to identify with our party first and adjust our beliefs according to party lines. Or we say, "I'm a Democrat but I don't support abortion personally, so that's ok." No, it's not ok. Not only do we need to not support things, but we need to change our parties' platforms. We need to be politically active, not just on voting day but every day.

Paul Ryan is wrong. Joe Biden is wrong. Nancy Pelosi is wrong. John Boehner is wrong. No one is changing. No one is saying, "enough is enough." No one is trying to change their party's platform.

What Paul Ryan has done, and what is not only good but GREAT for America, is he has brought CSD into the conversation. His failure to bend and adjust to fit Catholic teaching, his failure to be docile to the authority of certain bishops, only encourages a greater rupture between Liberal Catholics and Conservative Catholics. No, Liberals and Conservatives will never agree about who and how to tax or about what social programs are necessary or whether they should be federal, state, or municipal. If only, however, they would stop for a moment and reflect on CSD some more, we might actually get along.

I haven't heard much of a discussion between Liberals and Conservatives on CSD. No one, other than the bishops, is recommending how we can improve the budget. So, I encourage all Catholics to stop attacking Ryan and dismissing his budget, encourage him to make some changes to it. For that matter, stop attacking Pelosi and Biden, and encourage them. Help them change.

Ephesians 4:29, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."

Why approaching anything with humility is helpful

I was reading the homily of a friend for this Sunday, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, and his beautiful words got me thinking, particularly about how we approach anything with humility. He points out with doubt, we have one of two options. We can either claim that the defect is in me or that the defect exists in that which I desire to understand or believe.

Where we choose to put the defect ultimately affects our relationship with God, in the case of doubt. If we doubt Christ's words, we can claim a deficiency in ourselves and draw closer to God, despair that we will never be smart or holy enough, or we can put the blame on God and claim He is deficient, whereby we flee Him. For, if God is deficient, He is not God.

With other matters, we have similar options. For example, if we do not understand a math equation, as Fr. Miller points out, we can claim that there is a problem with the equation, and in doing so claim a problem with mathematics as we know it, or that there is a problem with me, the person trying to understand the problem. Now, if I claim the defect is with me, I will say one of two things, "Forget this!" or "What am I doing wrong?" If I say the former, I despair and walk away from mathematics. If I ask, "What am I doing wrong?" I put myself in a position to study harder, to draw closer, and to eventually understand, whereby my relationship with mathematics is strengthened. The second option I have is to claim that mathematics is wrong and does not work, and to replace it with myself, by which I become the arbiter of how numbers work. In effect, I end up relativizing numbers. Let me give an example: 2+2=4. If I can't figure this out and I claim the problem is with mathematics, then I conclude that any symbol in this equation means something different to me. 2 is not 1+1 and 4 is not 1+1+1+1.

So the approach that I need to take is one that puts trust in the great mathematicians that came before me. I need, however, to be honest in this approach. If I do not grasp the concept, that does not mean that I am stupid. What it means is that I do not grasp the concept.

When we approach God, we do the same. I may not understand the Trinity, but that does not mean that I am stupid. That does not mean that God or the Church or the Bible is wrong. It means that I do not understand. I can refuse it or draw closer to God or the Church or the Bible and strive to understand. We need to tell God, "I doubt." We need to beg for belief. We need to repeat the words from Mk 9:24, "I believe, help my unbelief." We need to make these words our own.

As with other sciences, we should not expect to receive belief or understanding without our own efforts. God does not treat us like puppets. It is in theological terms a matter of secondary causality, a cooperation between man and God, in which God moves us completely and we move ourselves completely. There are things, however, that we can never attain by our cooperation with God's divine assistance, e.g. salvation. We do, however, prepare ourselves to receive grace by that cooperation. This is the aspect that we should always be concerned with, i.e. putting our own effort in. So, it is appropriate to say first, "I believe," followed by, "help my unbelief."

We can, therefore, in a similar way, say, "I understand, help my misunderstanding." We can say, "I am trying, give me success." We claim a relationship with the source of all knowledge and goodness and ask to be drawn closer.
Mary Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

Good Confession, Bad Confession

The other day I had one of the worst Confession experience of my life. Now, so you know, I go to confession at least once a month and try to go more often, which is not always my fault. I live too far from my parish to drive there whenever Confessions are scheduled, and they're always scheduled on Saturday at 3:30pm.  I don't like to go to the Saturday evening Mass, I prefer to start my Sunday with Mass. And trust me, I get the whole 'Sunday starts on Saturday' thing.

Every FSSP parish that I've gone to does it right. They hear confessions for a half-hour before every Mass. Sometimes, if there's another priest around, they'll hear confessions during Mass (yes, it is allowed) when the lines are too long.

Granted, not every parish can manage this schedule. I'm from a mission diocese where one priest saying three to six Masses at three to six parishes in one weekend, because of the distance between parishes and the lack of priests is so great, isn't uncommon. Understandably, they can't hold confession before every Mass because there's no time. But I digress...

Back to my bad Confession experience. Every confession begins with the sign of the cross and then we begin by saying, "Bless me Father for I have sinned." This time, didn't happen. I walked in and waited for the door to close and then, "HEY! HOW YOU DOING!"

"um... ok I guess."


So, I began, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son..." I accused myself of my sins and waited for my penance.

"Why don't you say two Hail Marys? Go ahead and make an Act of Contrition if you want."

If I want? So I did. He absolved me and I left. Made my penance and an Act of Thanksgiving.

First of all, I've never received only two HMs. That for me is a new record, and like most people I don't confess entirely new sins every time I go. The mood in the ambience of the confessional was very strange and did not lend itself to a feeling of contrition. For me, it's hard to make a solid confession without help and a few questions from the priest. Generally, the best confessions that I've made were because of the helpful interrogation of the priest. A good confessor will know what questions to ask and how to keep the questions from flustering you. But in the end, you feel like you confessed everything, and you feel like going to Confession again sometime soon.

That was not the feeling I got this time.

I was once asked by an older Catholic who no longer goes to Confession what it was called these days.

"Is it called Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, or Spiritual Counseling." This particular gentleman asks these sort of questions to make a point.

"It's not called Spiritual Counseling, but any of the others is acceptable," I replied.

"Oh. That's why I don't go anymore. There's too much emphasis on sins. I'd rather just talk about how to be a better person."

"Do you get Spiritual Counseling then?"


If it wasn't for sin, there'd be no need to talk about how to be a better person. It's true though that a helpful Confession is one that gives some advice. My experience with Dominicans leads me to expect a lot of advice. The whole reason for Confession is sin and any Confession that forgives sin is indeed a good Confession.

Curiosity lands on Mars. TIme to evangelize?

The book of Genesis is very clear that when God created the world, he created ours in six days and only put living things on our planet, right? So, if we find life on Mars doesn't that mean that we're wrong?

Hold up. Let's think this through. Tradition holds that Moses wrote the book of Genesis ca. 1600BC. Modern scholars hold that it was written between 1000BC and 500BC. Regardless of the date that these scholars attribute to the writing of the book, they agree that the oral tradition of the stories is much older and could very well be attributable to Moses in 1600BC. 

Modern science as we know it, which starts to take shape in the 18th century, doesn't develop for at least 20 centuries after the writing of the story of creation and possibly over 30 centuries since the oral tradition began. 

So, why are we trying to read the book of Genesis and the creation account as if it was an account of how things came to be according to modern scientific terms? Why do we equate scientific fact with truth, and everything else as fictional myth?

It's completely anachronistic to read the creation account with scientific eyes. That doesn't mean that it isn't true. But I digress.

What would it look like if we find life on Mars? It depends on the kind of life we find. What if we were to find intelligent life? It depends first on if we can communicate, and if we can, we have a lot of questions to ask. C.S. Lewis explores a lot of these ideas in his space trilogy, such as, if another intelligent race had never experienced a Fall, would they understand a lie? 

We could say with some certainty, that if they hadn't experienced a fall, there would be no need for Baptism, as we know it. They would have no need for the forgiveness of original sin. If they didn't believe in God, surely we'd have the obligation of preaching our God, but how would the message change? There are so many hypotheticals to think about, which can be fun, that it is almost absurd to try. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that life elsewhere does not discord with what we believe. If God's revelation is truth, and there is life elsewhere, all this means is that we know what 'truth' Genesis doesn't intend. 

There are reasons why only 30% of Catholics believe in the Real Presence

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.  In everything that we do, not just in prayer, there are reasons why we do what we do. There are principles that underlie even the smallest of our actions, and when we are acutely aware of these principles we become more in control of our actions. Sometimes these principles are not reasoned, our will, weakened by the Fall, is often times the principle of our action. Other times, we choose to ignore our defective will and choose to do that which we do not desire but we know to be good. This is our goal, to reason to what is good and then to do it, which requires that we know what is good.

We know what the Eucharist is, viz. the real presence. In this last Sunday's Gospel Christ says, "I am the Bread of Life." Just moments later, the priest in persona Christi, says the words of consecration and makes present His Body and Blood. Most of us get this, but here is the catch. Our actions, and in particular, the actions of our clergy do not correspond with what we believe and know to be true. For, after the consecration we hear the doxology, the great Amen, and the invitation to pray in the words of our Lord. 

So, again I repeat, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. For those who do not know what these words mean, they mean that we believe according to the way we pray, literally, the law of prayer is the law of faith. This also means that we believe something, we ought to pray like we really believe it. So, when it comes to the Our Father, if we believe that Christ is truly present, why are we staring up, looking at Fr. So-and-so, he looking at us, looking at the crucifix, etc... Christ is here in our midst, and we are to busy shuffling around to hold hands with people two pews away than to look to Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, the image of the Father, and beg him for that which we need most.

If we want Catholics to believe in the real presence, we can start by praying to Him at Mass. If we are acutely aware that the bread of consecration is Him, why would we look anywhere else? Fr. So-and-so, whoever you are, please stop staring at the ceiling fans, please stop looking at us, and please start looking to our Lord. 

Now, a few words of encouragement. I recently attended the first Mass of a friend, a friend I have never had this conversation with. There I noticed something interesting. At this Mass there were several other newly ordained, all of whom have been trained in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass. There were other much older priests, who were only ever trained in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Now, the newly ordained, during the Lord's Prayer, all held their gazes fixed intently on the Blessed Sacrament and the older priests looked up. 

The bottom line is that we just don't pray like we believe what we do and it affects what others believe. What I hope is that these young men get it. I hope that the way they pray helps others to pray the same, and in praying in the same way, to believe. The bottom line is that we just don't pray like we believe what we do and it affects what others believe.

Olympic Catholicism

Tom Hoopes over at has put together a list of Catholic athletes competing in the London Olympic Games this year. Some of these athletes have been very open to talking about the role of faith and God in their lives. In fact, it seems that daily Mass attendance in the athletes' village is higher than the attendance of any other religious services.

What seems to be lesser known, however, is that their are young people from 21 nations in London, not competing in the games, but rather spreading the Gospel. They've pitched tents nearby at St. Bonaventure's Catholic high school, and every day they socialize with sports fans from all over the globe. What's incredible about this is twofold: 1) They're doing this as a response to a call by Pope Benedict XVI one year ago and reiterated by his August intention: "that young people, called to follow Christ, may be willing to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel to the end of the earth," and 2) that these young people are living out that radical response to God's call that I mentioned in my last post. The former point, that they are responding to the Pope's call, shows a deep filial trust in the Pope and our Mother the Church. It shows a deep love for Christ and a desire to share Him and His message with others. The second point, that this is a radical response, shows a willingness to rely on God. It speaks in many ways more profoundly than any conversation they may be having with sports fans. 

There are hundreds of young people in attendance at the "Joshua Camp," as it's called. Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood reminded these young people in the opening Mass in London of the motto of Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, "Cor ad Cor Loquitur." Bishop McMahon said, "I want you to look into your own heart and ask yourself: 'What kind of person do I want to be?'" It isn't about getting others to be great, but by being great ourselves and allowing our lives to influence them and do the preaching. 

On a side note, a Spanish athlete Carlos Ballve, who plays defense for Spain's field hockey team, is planning on entering the seminary when he finishes these games. And if you think that people just don't respond radically to Christ's call, just look at the seminaries. The number of young men in US seminaries is low but on the rise, which gives hope. Entering priestly formation is in itself an expression of an openness to live a life of radical commitment to God. That numbers are rising, only gives evidence that more people are willing to bear witness to the Gospel with their lives. In fact, check out Oprah's nuns, the Ann Arbor Dominican Sisters, ten of whom just professed first vows. Or how about the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Valparaiso, NE, who will be starting another foundation in Oakland, CA soon.

There's a lot of hope for our Church because there are a lot of young people who are willing to leave their secular lives behind for a life of radical commitment to Christ and His Church. 

Why blogging ultimately fails to evangelize.

Yesterday I wrote about why I love the olympics, and today I was thinking about some of the things that I wrote. It's interesting how easy it is to watch different analogies of the spiritual life and get carried away by the power of the human spirit. Our competitive nature is just enamored by the pursuit of success.

I think it's easy to see why it's so easy for us to fall into sin when we can so easily be enthralled by that pursuit. In this case it's the olympics, but in other ways it's the Oscars and its fame, it's politics and its power, it's Bain Capital and its wealth, that infatuate us and stir our desire for success. Truth be told, it takes a lot of time and effort to succeed in any of these areas. It takes discipline. St. Paul's argument hinges on a key notion: "They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." Our success isn't fame, wealth, or power; these things are fleeting. Our wreath is eternal life. Life in relationship with Life itself. To this end, the question must be raised: Why aren't we more enthralled by the lives of the saints?

Blogging is great, don't get me wrong. I love blogs. I love everything they do for the New Evangelization, but here's where they fail, they aren't a expressive enough of the love that God has for us and, moreover, the love we have for God. In fact, that's were the 'lives of the saints' struggles to convert. The lives of the saints are great at the daily conversion of the faithful, and blogging is great, at times, at the daily conversion of the faithful. In order to evangelize, which goes beyond just the faithful, we need to be able to engage in a different way. Our love needs to be, in a sense, an in-you-face kind of love. It needs to be seen, but more than that, it needs to be experienced.

One of the reasons the Franciscans were so effective just after their founding was their example of a radical dependence on God. Our best olympic-evangelists are going to be those who live out God's love in the most radical ways. Running is great, but making it the center of your life is radical. Caring for the sick is great, but putting aside EVERYTHING else in order to care for the sick is radical. I think the question comes down to, how much are we willing to give up for the sake of the kingdom?

Blogging, as I've said, ultimately fails to evangelize because its not a radical expression of love. The best evangelization has got to be works of mercy and love. Personal contact is necessary because our relationship with God is not me and Him. It's an us and Him relationship. The kind of love God gives to us is effusive, and if He gives us His love, we are compelled to share it. Caritas Enim Christi Urget Nos!

St. Paul's Argument for the Olympics

I like millions of other American find it incredibly difficult to turn on the TV at 7:00pm+ and not go searching for the Olympics. I can't seem to switch over to without reading at least three articles about what amazing feats took place today in London. I find myself constantly asking myself, why am I even watching this? Why am I watching synchronized diving? Why am I watching badminton?

There's something about these games that is more magnetic than sitcoms. I dare say, that these games are even more fascinating than midseason hockey. I think, that most of my friends that get jazzed about March Madness would agree that there is something more exciting about that one month than the entire season and post-season of pro basketball. Now, I'm not here to make arguments for or against, but rather, to lay some foundation for my argument and St. Paul's for the Olympics.

You see, what the Olympics and the college basketball tournament have in common are multitude, but I only care to address a few of them. First, these are amateurs competing. The word 'amateur' itself is quite telling. It's a French word deriving from the Latin meaning, "lover." The amateur doesn't play his sport because it's a job nor for any other motive, ulterior or otherwise, other than out of love for the game. Granted, college athletes do for scholarships or to make it into the NBA, but I would argue simply not all. Some get scholarships because they're good at it, and they're good at it because they simply love the game and given the chance to play in the March Madness tournament, without scholarship, they would out of that same love.

Furthermore, there is no scholarship for the Olympian. For the Olympian there is only the prize and the chance to represent something greater than oneself. For me, these two things are inseparable. The chance to represent your country is ordered toward winning the prize. No one wants to represent - nor be represented for that matter - only to show oneself as a loser (I don't want to get into arguments about how every Olympian is in fact a winner. It's just too much of a digression). The goal is the gold. The goal is to be the best.

Now, for my intended digression. There's currently a commercial being aired on NBC featuring several different olympians. It quickly moves from one point-of-view shot to the next of each athlete in the middle of their sport, e.g. a camera shot of a gymnast's view while swinging on the high bar. As you watch each shot, you can hear the same athlete saying things like, "I haven't ordered dessert in two years."The entire commercial is meant to evoke some sense of how hard these last four years have been for these athletes. They've given up so much in order to be where they are, and in that way, we can easily say that what they do and have done takes a lot of discipline.

Moreover, to work so hard for so long would be heartbreaking if it was all in vain. To go through all of that effort only to be disqualified, would be crushing. And even for a viewer to watch any of these athletes DQ before they even have a chance is sad (with the exception of the Chinese men's synchronized diving, they're just too good).

The work is done for the competition. The competition is done for the sake of winning. The winning is done for the prize and nothing more. And this stands as a beautiful analogy for the spiritual life. It ought to inspire us to do the same in our race for heaven. So, here's St. Paul's argument: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. So, we need to discipline our bodies for the sake of preaching the Gospel. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times - if necessary, use words." We should act with our goal in mind at all times, not aimlessly. It's a struggle and a fight, it won't be easy. And if we act rightly, if we live a good life we too can receive our wreath, our crown.

Wisdom and wine

Bl. Pope John XXIII once said that men were like wine, some turn to vinegar and the best improve with age. Relying on God for His Divine Assistance, I hope that I might become a wine pleasing to Him. Secondly, the wise men are those who can taste the difference between good and bad wine, figuratively speaking.

Don't believe me? The word wisdom in Latin is "sapientia." The root of the word is "sapio, sapere" meaning to taste or understand. The two notions tasting and understanding are inextricably connected. In the same way that a person who has had many experiences in life and taken the time to understand those experiences and why they happened the way they did, a person who has drunk many different wines and taken the time to understand the subtle differences can become a true sommelier. This sommelier when asked, "What wine ought I to have with this meal?" can easily recommend the perfect wine. The wise man, similarly, can recommend to the inexperienced an appropriate course of action.

The skill of being able to taste the subtleties of food and drink has always been the perfect analogy for wisdom. The most famous taste experts are those of wine, the sommelier or wine steward. For this reason, I found wine á propos to the name of this blog and "like" fits á double entente to make the title mean two quite inextricably related things, men appreciate wine and men are similar to wine. And if this is the case, then it follows that men who appreciate wine in the figurative sense are men who improve with age.