It is wonderful that so many old books lying in libraries throughout our great universities have been digitized. Below is a facsimile of an old 1908 edition by a Professor Edwin Post of the Epigrams of the Latin writer Martial digitized at the University of Michigan by Google. When you read the very first paragraph, you will see what I mean by the Spanish School of Latin Literature.
Hispanic culture is ancient and very Roman.
Friday, May 24, 2013
It is wonderful that so many old books lying in libraries throughout our great universities have been digitized. Below is a facsimile of an old 1908 edition by a Professor Edwin Post of the Epigrams of the Latin writer Martial digitized at the University of Michigan by Google. When you read the very first paragraph, you will see what I mean by the Spanish School of Latin Literature.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Yes, it is time for the beatification of assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador to go forward. Recent news from Rome makes many of us optimistic.
In 1980, Romero was killed while celebrating the Eucharist. What more need be said? For more details, see link.
His martyrdom is an honor to the Church that produced him and to those of us unworthy to be his brothers and sisters in the faith.
(Image used under Creative Commons license)
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
These words have been uttered by many in one form or another. I came across them again in a letter of Pliny the Younger describing for the Roman historian Tacitus the brave actions of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, in the face of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D. The uncle died during the eruption.
Here is the saying in Latin: "Fortes fortuna iuvat" (classical Latin uses "i" as a letter "j").
The Loeb translator suggests that Pliny the Elder was quoting Terence's words found in his play Phormio (Act I, scene iv, line 203).
You can find the same saying in Vergil and also uttered by other historical figures with similar or different words. Caesar was a famous believer in the role of the goddess Fortuna which nevertheless called for individuals to take the bull by the horns in order to benefit from fortune. (See link.)
This ancient wisdom seems trite, but it is really quite profound.
Regardless of the limits imposed by our circumstance, we have a margin of action. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we call it free will. Even the most avowed determinist will live as if he or she has that free margin of action. Look at what people do, not at what they say. Within limits, we are indeed free.
Boldness is a recommendation for engaging that margin of freedom, hopefully after we have prudently scouted the terrain.
(Image of Caesar at the Rubicon in public domain)
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
A relatively few odd birds in our vast Church were initially taken aback by the refreshing simplicity of style of Pope Francis.
Well, that simplicity is a very old Roman virtue (and it certainly is a Christian one):
[Augustus] displayed the quality admired by the Romans under the name of civilitas, absence of unnecessary pomp. Genuinely preferring simplicity to luxury, he at first lived in an unpretentious part of Rome near the Forum, and then moved to a modest though tastefully decorated house on the Palatine . . . where for forty years he slept in the same bedroom. A later ruler, Marcus Aurelius, said he had been taught by his unostentatious predecessor Antoninus Pius that an emperor could almost live like a private gentleman. The founder of the principate [Augustus] had already been imbued with the same idea.
Michael Grant, The Twelve Caesars (N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975), p. 67.
(Image of Augustus in public domain)
Official Vatican Statement:
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
FR. LOMBARDI ON ALLEGED EXORCISM PERFORMED BY POPE
Vatican City, 21 May 2013 (VIS) – In response to questions from reporters about an alleged exorcism performed by the Holy Father Francis in St. Peter’s Square after last Sunday’s Mass, the Director of the Holy See Press Office Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said: “The Holy Father had no intention to perform any exorcism. Instead, as he frequently does for the sick and suffering persons who approach him, he simply meant to pray for a suffering person who was presented to him.”
Blogger comment: I can hear bloggers now: "Wait, he didn't follow the rubrics! He is setting a bad example!" They should get an Academy award for best, unwitting, spontaneous impersonation of the ancient Pharisees.
From Act I, scene ii of the comedy (about the twin) Brothers Menaechmus:
Unless you are evil, unless you are stupid, unless wild, unless bereft of your mind,
what you see that is hateful to your husband, you should find it hateful to yourself.
Besides, if, after today, you act toward me in this way, I will pack you off divorced back to your father.
For as often as I wish to go out, you delay me, you call me back, you interrogate me: where I may be going, what I may be doing, what business I am carrying on, what I may be looking for, what I may take along, what I did outside the house.
I have married a customs officer! So I must describe everything, whatever I did and whatever I do.
I have made you too pampered; now therefore, I will say what I will do, since I maintain you well: with slavegirls, food, wool, gold, clothing, purple--you do not lack anything,
You will beware of repercussions if you are wise, you will stop spying on your husband.
And so, lest you watch me in vain, on account of your diligence, today I will take a prostitute [some like to soften this term to "girlfriend"] to dinner and I will engage myself as a guest to anyone outside the house.
(The above is my translation; I consulted the 2011 Loeb translation by Wolfgang De Melo--I like his term "customs officer.")
Plautus, like Terence, wrote comedies. The Loeb Classical Library editors tell us that the comedies of Plautus "are the earliest Latin works to survive complete and are the cornerstones of the European theatrical tradition from Shakespeare and Molière to modern times." His works inspired the musical and movie "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
For those interested in the original Latin, see below from the online Latin Library collection:
MENAECHMVS Ni mala, ni stulta sies, ni indomita imposque animi, 110
quod viro esse odio videas, tute tibi odio habeas.
praeterhac si mihi tale post hunc diem
faxis, faxo foris vidua visas patrem.
nam quotiens foras ire volo, me retines, revocas, rogitas,
quo ego eam, quam rem agam, quid negoti geram, 115
quid petam, quid feram, quid foris egerim.
portitorem domum duxi, ita omnem mihi
rem necesse eloqui est, quidquid egi atque ago.
nimium ego te habui delicatam; nunc adeo ut facturus dicam.
quando ego tibi ancillas, penum, 120
lanam, aurum, vestem, purpuram
bene praebeo nec quicquam eges,
malo cavebis si sapis,
virum observare desines.
atque adeo, ne me nequiquam serves, ob eam industriam
hodie ducam scortum ad cenam atque aliquo condicam foras.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Did the holy cards of Josemaría Escrivá (founder of Opus Dei) contribute to the upset victory of an underdog Madrid soccer team over the dominant Madrid soccer champion?
The story can be found in Spanish at this link.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Here is the link, and below is an image of the Pope's letter to a fellow Jesuit who also washed feet in a juvenile prison on Holy Thursday--a bridge from Rome to L.A. by the bridge builder.
See this link at Religion News Service (credit to M.S. Winters at Nat'l Catholic Reporter).
Here is an excerpt from Professor Mark Silk of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut:
Francis is very wary of those who pride themselves on their intellectual grasp of religious doctrine. In a talk six years ago, he had this to say about the Prophet Jonah, who fled God’s command to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh:
Jonah had everything clear. He had clear ideas about God, very clear ideas about good and evil. On what God does and on what He wants, on who was faithful to the Covenant and who instead was outside the Covenant. He had the recipe for being a good prophet…
What he was fleeing was not so much Nineveh as the boundless love of God for those people. It was that that didn’t come into his plans. God had come once… “and I’ll see to the rest”: that’s what Jonah told himself. He wanted to do things his way, he wanted to steer it all. His stubbornness shut him in his own structures of evaluation, in his pre-ordained methods, in his righteous opinions.
We never learn, do we. That's why it's good to reread what we think we already know.
(The image of Jonah in the Sistine Chapel is in the public domain.)
He was a freed slave from North Africa, who uttered one of my favorite quotations (one that fanatics of all stripes should consider carefully):
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto"/"I am human, I do not consider anything human to be alien to me" (see link).
Like Plautus, he wrote Latin comedies. The one I read today was The Brothers.
Here is a wise tidbit:
"Life is like a game of dice. If you don't get the exact throw you want, you have to use your skill and make the best of the one you do get" (Loeb translation).
As a fan of the great and underappreciated philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (maybe, his being underappreciated is a good and telling sign), I have always loved how Ortega captured the drama of each of our lives: "I am I and my circumstance; and, if I do not save it, I do not save myself." See link. What is this "saving"? It is finding meaning and purpose.
It's ancient wisdom as Terence attests. It also strikes me that those who get the throw they want may actually be worse off: what they want is often the product of vanity, egotism, and ignorance. They have their reward. For the rest of us, the rewards are surprising and come in unexpected ways that our small minds could not have foreseen.
(Images of Terence and of Latin manuscript of The Brothers are in the public domain.)
Thursday, May 16, 2013
POPE TO NEW AMBASSADORS: FINANCIAL CRISIS ROOTED IN REJECTION OF ETHICS
[Bold emphasis added by blogger]
Vatican City, 16 May 2013 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father received the credential letters of four new ambassadors to the Holy See: Mr. Bolot Iskovich Otunbaev from Kyrgyzstan; Mr. David Shoul from Antigua and Barbuda; Mr. Jean-Paul Senninger from Luxembourg; and Mr. Lameck Nthekela from Botswana. In the address he gave them, the pontiff urged them not to forget the predominance of ethics in the economy and in social life, emphasizing the value of solidarity and the centrality of the human being.
“Our human family,” the Pope said, “is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in . . . our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis. In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
“The worldwide financial and economic crisis,” the pontiff observed, “seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces men and women to just one of their needs alone, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have started down the path of a disposable culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies; and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules. Moreover, indebtedness and credit distance countries from their real economy and citizens from their real buying power. Added to this, as if it were needed, is widespread corruption and selfish fiscal evasion which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The will to power and of possession has become limitless.”
“Concealed behind this attitude,” the Bishop of Rome warned, “is a rejection of ethics, a rejection of God. Ethics, like solidarity, is a nuisance! It is regarded as counterproductive: as something too human, because it relativizes money and power; as a threat, because it rejects manipulation and subjection of people: because ethics leads to God, who is situated outside the categories of the market. These financiers, economists and politicians consider God to be unmanageable, God is unmanageable, even dangerous, because He calls man to his full realization and to independence from any kind of slavery. Ethics—naturally, not the ethics of ideology—makes it possible, in my view, to create a balanced social order that is more humane. In this sense, I encourage the financial experts and the political leaders of your countries to consider the words of Saint John Chrysostom: 'Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs'.”
The Pope asserted that “there is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. This would nevertheless require a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and farsightedness, taking account, naturally, of their particular situations. Money has to serve, not to rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but the Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them. The Pope appeals for disinterested solidarity and for a return to person-centred ethics in the world of finance and economics.”
“For her part, the Church,” he reiterated, “always works for the integral development of every person. In this sense, she reiterates that the common good should not be simply an extra, simply a conceptual scheme of inferior quality tacked onto political programmes. The Church encourages those in power to be truly at the service of the common good of their peoples. She urges financial leaders to take account of ethics and solidarity. And why should they not turn to God to draw inspiration from his designs? In this way, a new political and economic mindset would arise that would help to transform the absolute dichotomy between the economic and social spheres into a healthy symbiosis.”
Finally, Francis greeted—through the ambassadors—the faithful of the Catholic communities present in their respective countries, urging them “to continue their courageous and joyful witness of faith and fraternal love in accordance with Christ’s teaching. Let them not be afraid to offer their contribution to the development of their countries, through initiatives and attitudes inspired by the Sacred Scriptures!”
Blogger Comment: Neoconservatives will turn their noses down at this cri de coeur.
(Image in public domain)
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
As my review of Latin literature continues, here are some tidbits from the Hispano-Roman philosopher Seneca:
I. From Epistle/Letter 114:
He observes that a lax writing style indicates the moral state of the writer:
"a lax style, if it be popular, shows that the mind (which is the source of the word) has lost its balance" (Loeb translation, Epistle 114.12).
It reminds me of the saying--you will know them by their fruits. People's words and actions reveal what is within. When we see art and music that are full of darkness and the bizarre, we are seeing minds that are also dark and bizarre. The shame is that many in the audience can identify with the darkness and irrationality of the artist or writer.
Seneca follows up at section 22:
"Therefore, I say, take care of the soul; for from the soul issue our thoughts, from the soul our words, from the soul our dispositions, our expressions, and our very gait. When the soul is sound and strong, the style too is vigorous, energetic, manly; but if the soul loses its balance, down comes all the rest in ruins" (Loeb translation).
Readers of the gospels will find these words very familiar (notice the dates for Seneca).
II. From Epistle 88 (all from the Loeb translation):
Seneca presents a sensible way to deal with the uncertainties of life:
"For just as I know that all things can happen, so I know, too, that they will not happen in every case. I am ready for favorable events in every case, but I am prepared for evil." Ep. 88.17
There is a sound, healthy core to this viewpoint. You are steady and ready, shocked, as your humanity requires, by the evil people do but never really surprised.
Seneca also gives a word of warning to legalists, utopians, and fanatics of every stripe:
"Wisdom is a large and spacious thing. It needs plenty of free room." Ep. 88.33.
I think that Seneca's point is similar to that of 20th century phenomenologists: we must clear our minds first and look at things with fresh eyes. He continues:
"And in order that these manifold and mighty subjects may have free entertainment in your soul, you must remove therefrom all superfluous things. Virtue will not surrender herself to these narrow bounds of ours; a great subject needs wide space in which to move. Let all other things be driven out, and let the breast be emptied to receive virtue." Ep. 88.35.
III. From Epistle 65:
The Stoic advice: Fortes sim adversus fortuita. "Let us be brave when facing chance events" (blogger's translation). Ep. 65.24
Here is good advice when listening to a discussion by very self-assured know-it-alls:
"[S]tate who seems to you to say what is truest, and not who says what is absolutely true. For to do that is as far beyond our ken as truth itself." Ep. 65.10 (Loeb trans.)
(Image under Creative Commons License at this link)
Saturday, May 11, 2013
I write these thoughts after spending a day watching the torrential, unbelievable force of nature that are these greatest of waterfalls. They are beautiful as you see massive columns of water pour over the edge of a cliff, turning bright blue-green as the columns flow over the edge and descend. They never stop. We see a continuous, constant, massively powerful but graceful descent, elegant in its beauty.
People come from everywhere on the globe to take it all in. There is a healing and calming effect to see such an overwhelming, perpetual combination of power and beauty.
Our own lives are part of that constant movement, as each generation follows another and is in turn replaced. As I showed my kids the falls, we enacted a pilgrimage to a holy place bespeaking the power of the deity, the source of all life. I know many others see no need to invoke the deity, yet also feel struck by the beauty and majesty of the falls. Our intuitions differ.
In the falls, we see the transient nature of our human lives: how they are constantly passing away. Yet, in that passing away, I see vibrant life, beauty, grace, elegance, meaning, and purpose. That is why my intuition differs from that of my atheist friends. No matter all the evil and mistakes of this world--the falls remain, life endures with its truth, goodness, and beauty, fused into one. No evil can defeat the falls. No evil can defeat the goodness of life. The crashing, continual descent of the falls drowns out the evils present in nature and the evils we choose to impose on nature. The falls with their soft, constant roar marginalize evil and stupidity. The falls persist in spite of everything that is wrong. It is as if the falls are continuously baptizing the world. The idiots who bring so much evil into the world have lost.
(Image by blogger)
Here is today's papal homily from Vatican Radio at this link.
When I teach the Gospels, the Exodus is the theme that I emphasize (in fact, I emphasize the same theme when teaching the entire Bible).
Like a master, Pope Francis takes the theme and runs with it.
By the way, in my personal opinion, these simple and profound homilies are of more value in reaching ordinary people than lengthy encyclicals which sometimes have a greater impact on theological connoisseurs than on the rank and file.
Next time you hear someone criticize the simplicity of Pope Francis, remind yourself that the teaching office does not exist primarily for the pleasure and comfort of self-styled theological connoisseurs.
(Image of Israelites leaving Egypt in public domain)
Thursday, May 09, 2013
My native state of Louisiana is different. After all, I never heard of counties growing up. All we had were parishes, sometimes even named after saints (St. Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard, St. Helena, St. Martin, St. James, etc.). Our cultural background (at least in the southern half of the state) was French and Spanish, not Anglo-Saxon.
By the way, congratulations to my Jesuit college alma mater, Loyola University New Orleans, for celebrating 100 years as the largest Catholic university in the South in 2012, and for having survived the Katrina crisis. And how providential to celebrate this anniversary with the crowning event of the first Jesuit pope ever!
I was fortunate to be part of a cohort in an honors scholarship program that required courses in Metaphysics, in Epistemology, and in close study of a major philosopher (in my year, Heidegger). That program instilled in me a lifelong love of philosophy. The philosophy courses were required of all majors, even if you were in the business school. Without the requirements, I doubt that I would have ever taken a philosophy course on my own. After the four years honors program, we were deeply educated--probably more so than many attending elite graduate schools, certainly more than many at elite undergraduate colleges where curricular chaos reigns.
Maximas Gratias, Alma Mater!
“The Christian who would bring the Gospel must go down this road: [must] listen to everyone! But now is a good time in the life of the Church: the last 50 or 60 years have been a good time - for I remember when as a child one would hear in Catholic families, in my family, ‘No, we cannot go to their house, because they are not married in the Church, eh!’. It was as an exclusion. No, you could not go! Neither could we go to [the houses of] socialists or atheists. Now, thank God, people do not says such things, right? [Such an attitude] was a defense of the faith, but it was one of walls: the LORD made bridges. First: Paul has this attitude, because it was the attitude of Jesus. Second, Paul is aware that he must evangelize, not proselytize."
-----Pope Francis at this link.
(Image in public domain)
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
I recall hearing a conservative, multimillionaire talk-radio "performer" continually mocking political moderates as those who stand for nothing, who are just indecisive, spineless, and useless.
That line of mockery makes sense for him since the cash flow for conservative talk radio is in direct proportion to the amount of over-the-top rhetoric provided to the audience. Many audiences have a natural taste for extreme rhetoric, a taste related to a general liking for vulgar, outrageous behavior and speech in books, movies, videos, and social media.
But it is easy to be immoderate. It really takes little courage to be so. Once you adopt a take-no-prisoners ideological posture in politics or religion, your intellectual life is easy: you have all the answers, the old reliable tropes trip off your tongue with ease and without thought.
What is harder and takes more courage is to let the facts determine your response. Letting the facts in means taking time to observe and collect facts, both the kind you can read about and the kind that comes only from human experience and interaction.
Facts are very difficult and challenging things. They usually do not conveniently fit ideological agenda. Borrowing from 20th century philosophy, I recommend a phenomenological approach: bracket your preconceptions and focus on the facts first and foremost. Only after doing that, should we start exploring solutions. This approach is supremely fruitful in our personal lives and can also be very fruitful in our social and political discussions. The best way to approach reality is inductively, not deductively from unthinking assumptions.
We also have to be careful to know ourselves, as the ancient Delphic oracle said. Our political conservatism, for example, may be rooted in great personal insecurity about our personal identity. Our political liberalism may also be rooted in visceral personal reactions based on resentment or, even, ironically, on a sense of elitist grandiosity. Those visceral, emotional stances shape a lot of what is passed off on the surface as rational discussion and analysis. Both the right and the left thrive on plenty of personal anger.
Another major inducement to immoderation is the drive to reject the good because it is not perfect. If you reject the good because of the unattainably perfect, you will often end up doing nothing at all for no one at all. The moderate knows how to save what he can. I recall the wisdom of an elderly, African-American councilwoman (Fannie M. Lewis) in a major Midwest city when she was attacked for supporting school vouchers: you "save who you can." That approach doesn't mean giving up on others--but it also means not refusing to help those whom we can indeed help now.
The answer to personal insecurity is not to create a right wing world of neat pigeonholes. The answer to injustice is not to overthrow all traditional customs and taboos. A friend I like recently mentioned that she would never again have a child without being married but made clear that she was motivated by practical, not ethical, reasons. I simply noted that the ethical is often rooted in the practical that has been validated over centuries of human experience.
So, be moderate: look for facts first then take a stand. That is the braver option because it requires a personality comfortable with a period of ambiguity as the facts emerge. Hemingway once observed that courage was grace under pressure. Moderation is grace--being able to suspend rash judgment--under the pressure of events until the moment is ripe. The true moderate is more courageous than an ideologue of either the right or the left. The true moderate can stand on his own two feet without an ideological crutch--as long as it takes to get it right.
(The image of "Know thyself" in Greek is in the public domain.)
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
That statement comes from me, a life-long student and teacher. What do I mean?
Very many can create an academic product: cite many sources, use many footnotes, follow the desired format, use the jargon of your specialty, demonstrate that the general public cannot understand you--and, presto, you have created another academic product, whether in the form of a book or commentary or dissertation. And often you can find an academic institution to bless the final product.
We often take these external markers as sufficient for a demonstration of insight, intellect, and useful analysis. We are often wrong to do so. While, in academic settings, most of the above markers are necessary in order to obtain a degree or tenure, the customary markers of the academic product are certainly not sufficient to produce the valid conclusion that the product is authentically intellectual, rather than being merely a mime of the intellectual.
What external markers might indicate the real thing--genuine intellectual insight?
1. The end result is understandable and explains its use of technical terms;
2. The product has a clear and logical structure--the reader can follow the train of thought, even if the route is complex;
3. The product addresses a non-trivial issue. In the humanities, the issue should address in some way wisdom for living and for understanding the world (two types of wisdom which are profoundly connected to each other, as all forms of wisdom are).
4. The writing shows how a non-biased, non-committed reader can honestly reach the same conclusion. The writing is persuasive to the non-committed.
Given those markers of genuine intellectual insight, many academic products fail the grade.
For example, in the area of theology, we often see (as we also often see in legal analysis of all kinds) that the writing is simply the demonstration of a foregone conclusion. What is better is to show the reader how honestly engaging the data and the sources in a wide and comperehensive manner leads to the suggested thesis or conclusion.
Start with the sources then reach your conclusion, not the other way around. Approach the sources with a wide and liberal cast of mind by paying attention to all clues not just those which advance your preferred conclusion.
Often, what is presented to us in books is not a search for truth but a justification of a pre-existing view or bias or even a mere apologia pro vita sua (a self-defense) of some kind. The justification of a pre-existing view or bias can easily be transformed into an academic product, but still falls short of being genuinely intellectual.
Of course, there is an audience for the pseudo-intellectual academic product. Many simply desire a confirmation of their views and are willing to pay for it in print or via other forms of media.
The intellectual shows us the steps of thinking, the path of grappling with questions. Many are uncomfortable and impatient with the twists, turns, and repeating spirals of what is truly intellectual. They prefer a straight and snappy path to a sedating conclusion. They have their reward. Caveat emptor.
(Image depicting Socrates and Plato in public domain)
Monday, May 06, 2013
Religious vs. Christian. Some of our Protestant brethren often speak about this distinction. I know why. You can't read the Gospels without seeing the conflict between the religious elite and Jesus right smack in the middle of the storyline.
What doesn't work?
1. When your love for liturgical ritual really means, first and foremost, your love for your own tastes and preferences present in the liturgical ritual.
2. When your first and persistent instinct is to correct someone rather than to go positive and find common ground.
3. When your religion reflects more a personality addicted to authority, control, judgment, and structure than a personality that generously and warmly reaches out to individuals.
4. When your image is antiseptic and "white-bread" rather than that of someone who is willing to get into the trenches and into the midst of the messy, complex lives and questions of people.
5. When your religious knowledge is a badge of hidden arrogance (no different than secular arrogance) rather than a lesson in humility.
Pope Francis captured it best: we must be people who go out into the streets and risk the inevitable accidents, rather than just staying in the sanctuary and in select "self-referential" circles. We must be people others find immensely approachable, rather than forbidding and intimidating.
Here is Christian wisdom that is good advice for all, whether they are consciously Christian or not. It is advice of value to anyone who wants to be fully human.
The Founder did it. But the lesson is especially true here, that is also true of many other founders: too many of the followers (and some who are the loudest and project the greatest rigor) end up being the opposite of the founder--an ironic but common inversion. (If you want a label, we can call it "follower inversion.")
(Image in public domain)
Friday, May 03, 2013
Recently, George W. Bush inaugurated his presidential library at the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas (a very nice university to visit with an excellent art museum dedicated to Spanish art and with close ties to the Prado museum in Spain, if your budget does not allow a Madrid trip).
Well, as I read the poems of Catullus in preparation for an exam, I was struck by this word used to translate one of the poet's lines in Poem 37: "clintonize." Well, at least, they don't use the poor, confused woman's name.
Here is the link with a user warning that the content is neither tasteful nor dignified nor appropriate for all users.
Wow, all of that sturm und drang, for this. Or, as Shakespeare would say, all this "sound and fury signifiying," in the end, "nothing."
(Image in public domain)
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
The Pope says daily Mass in public. Many have told us (some very loudly) how important the liturgy (from the Greek for "public service or work") is to the work of salvation and evangelization. Well, Pope Francis puts the liturgy front and center: by celebrating daily Mass, as every priest must do, in a simple, dignified, and very public setting. Why wasn't this done before in such a public manner? Never mind. Let it also be done by future popes. I hope the future popes among us are taking notes.
And ordinary people--the common priesthood of the baptized--assist in this public work. That's why this image is so powerful. On May 1st, the day of the worker, we see the most important work, a public work involving and including both types of priest, the ordained and the lay.
And so I propose this thought: Pope Francis is the most liturgical of recent popes because he dramatically and very publicly puts the daily liturgy at the center of each day.
(Image source at this Vatican link)
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Here is an excerpt from Scientific American:
People with good writing and research skills are rare. People who cross disciplines and read widely are rare. But don’t we need these people for academia to thrive? After all, many times, the greatest innovators are those who bring in fresh eyes and the perspectives of fresh disciplines: they are less likely to be myopic and be constrained by lines of thinking that are area-specific—and more likely to see patterns and connections that are invisible to the insiders.
The single best training and preparation I could have possibly had for writing my dissertation was the exact training and preparation I received in my career as a blogger and a writer. I just hope that others can have that same experience, and that in the future, my path will be the rule rather than the exception.
(Image below from this source)
Monday, April 29, 2013
That's certainly one of the meanings of the rich term "Catholic." I saw it over the weekend when I attended a seminary graduation in the Midwest as a faculty member. What (better "whom") did I see? What did I hear?
1. Several Africans receiving licentiate degrees (these are ecclesiastical or church degrees midway between an American M.A. and Ph.D.);
2. The first biblical reading at the graduation Mass was in Spanish;
3. I spoke in Spanish with a Central American member of a religious order;
4. I saw a large Chaldean family happily being photographed with their son who is on the way to ordination (Chaldeans are the original Christian inhabitants of Iraq--there before someone else came along).
I am sure I missed others whose origins are also very international. But I saw enough to delightfully re-confirm that the Catholic Church is very expansive in its breadth.
(Image in public domain)
Thursday, April 25, 2013
In the Gospel, we are told not to condemn others and to remember that the degree of scrutiny that we apply to others will be applied to us. Given that warning straight from the mouth of the master, it is amazing how so many jump to quick judgments--even about the Pope when he carries out a very biblical and highly defensible act, like the washing of the feet of juvenile prisoners, both male and female. That is just one recent but glaring example. You can find many more examples of instant judgment that bears no fruit (just turn on talk radio or the internet equivalents, whether secular or religious). In talk radio, you also have to take into account that the more instant the judgment, the faster the cash flow.
Gospel wisdom is not something that floats down from the air, something not rooted in the soil of this life. The wisdom of not judging too quickly is the wisdom of humility: we do not know everything, we cannot know everything--so let issues percolate, let them simmer, ponder them. Why so much hurry to react to the lastest thing on the news? The survival and well-being of the world do not depend on our instant reactions. We are not the saviors of anything. Follow the rhythm of that old Latin word: paulatim, gradually, little by little.
After pondering, you may find that it may actually be better to say, of all things, nothing at all. And, after pondering, you may find out that you might say something more nuanced, more intelligent, something more comprehensive and more comprehending of the entire situation.
Instant judgment is not a gift of the Holy Spirit. Instant judgment is the folly of deceptive certitude and of an exaggerated sense of the importance of our own opinions. And remember that some of the most certain are among the most insecure. Situations develop over time. So should our judgments, especially when made in the public arena.
The Ad Modum Argument
Now, some might say: "Well, I know my arguments are correct. I have known all about this issue and have dealt with it for years. You are just making an ad hominem argument that is irrelevant to my logical point."
A Thoughtful Alternative: An Example
What mode or manner of argument allows us to avoid the silliness of instant judgments that are all too common in the "fast" media (radio, TV, and internet)? I suggest a wide inductive approach: observe and gather alot of information first. Then digest the information before deciding. In contrast, most fruitless instant analysis labors under the illusion of a purely deductive approach: these are the two or three things I have to know, I know them, here is the only conclusion possible. Yes, if you narrow the scope of what you consider, you will get a quick and snappy conclusion--but do not be surprised if you lose many others in the process and fail to be persuasive, even if those others cannot exactly articulate what is missing in your analysis. They will still sense that something important has been overlooked.
For example, not a few Catholics love to fight about liturgical rules. The incident of the recent papal foot-washing is a good example. What inductive approach would apply to this issue? Look at the text of the rubric or liturgical rule. Look at it as if you had never seen it before: notice what someone with a different view of the matter would notice. Aquinas left us a great legacy of giving the best possible exposition to an opposing view. In my old textbook on symbolic logic, this approach is called--even by secularists--the principle of charity to be applied in interpreting any argument. You give the other side the best you can give for its view. Sometimes, you may, as a result, adopt the other view. So what? After all, the issue is not winning or saving face or sticking to our past answers but rather getting closer to the truth.
Continuing our liturgical example, then you ask: what is the purpose of the rule? Does the rule itself tell us? At this point, in the foot-washing example, it would be useful to go back and read the chapter in the Gospel of John where the foot-washing takes place. What is the purpose and meaning of Jesus' action?
After taking time to absorb all of the above, then consider whether canon law is of help in this matter or whether it is a matter for liturgical analysis only. Can we find principles in canon law that can help us to fruitfully analyze the Pope's action? When I followed this process, I thought of the canon law principle of custom--whereby a custom can in some special circumstances overturn an explicit rule. The idea of custom overturning a written rule tells us alot about the Church as a community: the practice of the community is considered to be very important. That idea should not be surprising since canon law itself originates in the first place with the customs and practices of Christians. Remember the old saying: how we pray reflects what we believe ("lex orandi, lex credendi": the rule of praying is the rule of believing). Thus, at the root of a true Catholic analysis there is a profound regard for what the community concretely and actually practices on the ground.
If all of the above steps had been followed by many, the papal foot-washing would have been a teaching moment for all of us, not another occasion for empty polemics. Cast out the net and take in the information. Then, ponder. Then, speak publicly. We will all make mistakes, even specialists. The key is to continue to be open to new information and to continue to think. As the Gospel tells us in many ways, cast your nets widely in order to make a great catch.
(Image in public domain)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
That's the warning I give my kids. Based on my observations and stories I have heard, American culture is a substance abuse culture--abusing alcohol with abandon, along with prescription drugs and illegal drugs (and now with quasi-legal drug use evident in the farce of "medical" marijuana as the worst generation, the baby boom generation, seeks to have the government subsidize its coping mechanisms).
Of course, substance abuse is a symptom of deep unhappiness. People who need a chemical (whether legal or not) to feel good, to have a "good" time, to make it through the week, are deeply unhappy. They have no purpose in life that makes sobriety and self-preservation worthwhile.
And, among Catholics, we see an epidemic. Too many with a Catholic cultural background have been taught from very young that immoderate use of alcohol is fun and glamorous. It is neither. Hopefully, changing cultural demographics among U.S. Catholics will change this situation for the better.
But, of course, the problems go beyond Catholics. Just go to any major American university where you can see a cross-section of all types of Americans deep into substance abuse.
And the problem goes beyond liberal and conservative, black and white. You will find epidemics of drug abuse in rural, Republican areas that on the outside pretend to be Mayberry but that, on the inside, have more in common with the inner city: family breakdown, child abuse, rampant promiscuity, illegal drugs. The only differences with the inner city are that gun violence is not as frequent as a daily reality and that there is a heftier dose of denial.
The U.S. is a substance abuse society and culture. The U.S. is a deeply unhappy culture. We could talk for years about the causes. But the problem is clear.
I recall in a discussion of Spanish literature years ago a professor mentioning the concept of "intrahistoria"--the history of the cotidian, of the daily realities of life, as opposed to the history of election results, revolutions, and celebrities (most prominent politicians today fit into that celebrity category, ever since the JFK era). When we look at the "intrahistoria" of U.S. life, we see a substance abuse culture very distant from the civic pieties we like to mouth and pretend to believe.
(Creative Commons License image via Wikimedia Commons)
Monday, April 22, 2013
At the end of March, I posted various quotes from Ovid's Ars Amatoria (link).
Here are some more Ovid quotes for your pleasure:
1. "Leve fit, quod bene fertur, onus": "The load is light which is carried well." (Amores I.ii.10).
2. "Fugere pudor verumque fidesque": "Chastity and truth and good faith fled." (Metamorphoses, Book I, line 129). This line describes the iron age of mankind as humanity degenerated from the golden, silver, and bronze ages. In the United States, I date the iron age to circa 1968, with premonitions of its arrival in the 1920's. I see the great good of the Civil Rights Movement as the last gasp of decency and idealism coming just before the iron age arrived in full force. Many do not realize this period is now "iron" because they are too young to remember or are and were simply oblivious to the moral earthquake that struck. We now have to reinvent the wheel for many of our friends in the iron age.
3. "Sterilem sperando nutrit amorem": "He nourishes his fruitless love by hoping." (Metamorhoses, Book I, line 496. This line refers to the god Apollo's love for Daphne.
4. "Pia sunt nullumque nefas oracula suadent": "The oracles/prophecies are holy and they urge nothing unlawful." (Metamorphoses, Book I, line 392. I recommend this line to all theologians, liturgists, canon lawyers, and the self-anointed, varied magisteria of the internet. For "oracles," we Christians can say "the Gospels." Nothing proposed by the Gospel is unlawful. If an interpretation of a particular law or doctrine seems to undermine the Gospel, the interpretation cannot be right. We need to think about the matter again--even if it is hard, time-consuming, and inconvenient to think again and even if it is much easier to be superficial and "shoot from the hip." This canon, this rule, of interpretation is supreme. And it is not antinomian at all: for the Gospel is the New Law that is universally and supremely binding.
(Image of Apollo and Daphne in public domain)
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Periodically, in Catholic circles, there is an ongoing discussion about how many may end up in heaven or elsewhere. With that in mind, I was struck by this weekend's Sunday Mass reading from Revelation Chapter 7:
After this I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands:
(Image in public domain)
I saw a quote by Winston Churchill today: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average elected official.
For the record, democracy is still the best of all forms of government--maybe, with term limits added.
(Image in public domain)
Friday, April 19, 2013
Snippets of news reports that I read today sound eerily like that TV series. When nuts decide to engage in violence, they are apparently looking for a sick thrill. When TV celebrates that violence and perversely makes it seem glorious, it can't help matters. TV or movies did not cause this disaster. But these and similar depictions could have given these fanatical psychotics an additional strange and twisted confirmation of the thrill involved in their fantasies. Extremely violent TV and movie scenes make such actions seem even more plausible, demonically glorious, and doable to committed fanatics.
But that realization implies that Hollywood must put commonsense restraint over profit. That won't happen as long as there is a public willing to pay plenty of money for extreme depictions of violence. Maybe, out of respect for all of the real victims, the public will experience a change of heart, a change in consumer preferences.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Let what others say of you be their own concern; whatever it is, they will say it in any case [Loeb Classical Library translation by C.W. Keyes].
(Latin: quid de te alii loquantur, ipsi videant, sed loquentur tamen; my translation: "What others may say about you, let them see to it, and indeed they will still speak.")
Cicero, De Re Publica, "Scipio's Dream," Book VI.23.
Like all other aphorisms, you must apply this one in its practical context. In many contexts, what others will say should not be high on your list of concerns if you are doing the right thing.
(Image in public domain)
|Personal Finance (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)|
I saw dedicated and enthusiastic teachers serving kids with challenging problems. I saw joy, exuberance, and success. I saw life.
I compare that to others who have staked all on the million dollar plus house in the prestigious suburb exercising a career in a profession that society thinks of as prestigious. At the end of the day, what do those who stake all on financial assets and status have? At the end of the day, nothing, nihil, nada.
The goal is not to be rich but to live a richer life. The richer life is, without question, the life of serving others and seeing them live better and happier because of you. What an obvious truth and how often ignored!
If you can influence someone in their choices, tell them the truth: the challenge is to find a richer life, not to be rich.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
|Think outside the box... it's where the best ideas live. (Photo credit: ArtJonak)|
For each of us, thinking outside the box should be part of daily life. I have been amazed to see people bypass great opportunities to turn their lives around through education and training or just by associating with an entirely different type of social network. Through fear or just plain blindness or indifference, they fail to think outside the box. It is more comfortable to stick with the routine of the familiar, even if the familiar is a dead end.
When you face a problem or challenge, do not be afraid to wait for a solution that has not been tried before by anyone or by only a few. It often takes time for the new approach to germinate as our minds work on a challenge. But wait, make haste slowly (festina lente, as Augustus liked to say), and you may change your life, your world, and maybe the world of others.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
As a Hispanic who is very organized and efficient and abhors delay, I take exception to the stereotype of Latins as too lax. Well, our Italo-Hispanic Pope is putting that stereotype to rest with his swift action today naming an advisory group of eight cardinals, just one month after being elected Pope. You will find many other posts and articles giving you the details of his latest move (here is the NY Times story).
But I want to focus on the general stereotype I hear once in a while in the U.S. about "those Italians" failing to run the Vatican well. That type of remark comes from people in a country--our U.S.A.--where the Church has paid millions for scandals exacerbated by astounding negligence and obtuseness: scandals that have resulted in several diocesan bankruptcies. Neither Italy nor Spain has experienced anything remotely similar to that level of mismanagement.
And yet, we find American Catholics drawing up blueprints for Vatican reform. Well, that's chutzpah or, more accurately, a great denial of reality.
The Latins Ignacio de Loyola and Domingo de Guzman (St. Dominic) were quite efficient and effective. So was Josemaría Escrivá. So were and are many others I do not know. But I do know Jorge Bergoglio is in the class of the efficient, effective, and decisive. But Latin efficiency should really be no surprise. Caesar was known for his effective speed as he made his way around Gaul.
(Images of Julius Caesar, Dominic, and Loyola are in public domain. Image of Escrivá is used under Creative Commons License.)
Friday, April 12, 2013
We have not only a Pope but a Pope who says daily Mass with a homily/sermon for all of us. I reprint today's sermon from Vatican Radio (go to this link to get more sermons). The spirit of triumphalism is not of the Holy Spirit. Thus, triumphalism must come from somewhere else, either from our own egotism or even from the Accuser or a combination of both. We see a form of triumphalism in the pride of a few who posture as more Catholic than even the Vicar of Christ. We see triumphalism when being Catholic is not viewed as a challenge to our pride and egotism but rather as another way, among many other ways, to lord it over others or to immaturely try to impress others. Some even use triumphalism to compensate for their own basic insecurity and sense of inferiority. Ironically, the only salve for such insecurity is humility. With humility, we are always secure--we have thrown away the pride that is always vulnerable to being punctured by reality (and will be punctured by reality).
Below is the text of today's sermon:
Pope Francis: triumphalism is a temptation of Christians
2013-04-12 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) In following Christ, one walks with perseverance and without triumphalism, said Pope Francis in his homily during Friday morning’s Mass at Casa Santa Marta. The Mass was attended by personnel from Libreria Editrice Vaticana, including the director of the publishing house, Fr. Giuseppe Costa, as well as personnel from the Vatican pharmacy and perfume shop.
When God touches a person’s heart, the Pope said in his homily, he grants a grace that lasts a lifetime; he does not perform some “magic” that lasts but an instant. The Pope reflected on the climate of agitation immediately following the death of Jesus, when the behaviour and the preaching of the Apostles caught the attention of the Pharisees.
He picked up on the words of the Pharisee Gamaliel, cited in the Acts of the Apostles, who warns the Sanhedrin of the danger of attempts on the lives of Jesus’ disciples and reminds them how, in the past, the clamour generated by prophets found to be false subsided along with their followers. Gamaliel’s suggestion is to wait and see what will come of Jesus’ followers.
This “is wise advice even for our lives because time is God’s messenger,” Pope Francis observed. “God saves us in time, not in the moment. Sometimes he performs miracles, but in ordinary life, he saves us in time… in history … (and) in the personal story” of our lives.
The Pope added that God does not act “like a fairy with a magic wand”. Rather, he gives “grace and says, as he said to all those he healed, ‘Go, walk’. He says the same to us: ‘Move forward in your life, witness to everything the Lord does with us’ ”.
Pope Francis said “a great temptation” that lurks in the Christian life is triumphalism. “It is a temptation that even the Apostles had,” he said. Peter had it when he solemnly assured that he would not deny Jesus. The people also experienced it after the multiplication of the loaves.
“Triumphalism,” the Pope asserted, “is not of the Lord. The Lord came to Earth humbly; he lived his life for 30 years; he grew up like a normal child; he experienced the trial of work and the trial of the Cross. Then, in the end, he resurrected.”
“The Lord teaches that in life not everything is magical, that triumphalism is not Christian,” the Pope said. The life of the Christian consists of a normality that is lived daily with Christ.
“This is the grace for which we must ask: perseverance. Perseverance in our walk with the Lord, everyday, until the end,” he stated.
“That the Lord may save us from fantasies of triumphalism,” he concluded. “Triumphalism is not Christian, it is not of the Lord. The daily journey in the presence of God, this is the way of the Lord.”
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Become more humble.
Show more warmth.
Treat others as equals.
Put our pride in our back pockets and move on.
Thaw personalities frozen by fear, arrogance, insecurity, pomposity, perfectionism, status-seeking, and absurd ethnocentrism.
Accept one's inherent dignity and abandon the yoke of inferiority complexes that blocks new paths.
Reject the worship of money and material possessions.
Remember that the meaning of your life is serving others, not serving or entertaining yourself.
We hear a lot about Mediterranean diets being good for our hearts.
Well, maybe our hearts themselves have to become more like the warm Mediterranean, more at ease with circumstances, our circumstances, wherever we are and with whomever we are.
Let us become human.
(Van Gogh painting of Olive Trees in public domain)
The photo is from April 5, 2012, and can be found at this link.
This photo is more evidence of a widespread factual custom in the U.S. that the Vatican has on occasion explicitly approved and which has been tacitly permitted for years. Did Pope Francis' inclusion of women in 2013 signify papal approval? I think so. Let's see what the Pope does in 2014.
For more on this matter, go to the Canon Law Issues page link at the sidebar of this blog.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
When I read the remarks of our new Pope, I am reminded of the way St. Josemaría Escrivá spoke in the videos we have of Escrivá speaking. What are the similarities? Simplicity, directness, warmth, yet at the same time there is gravitas. Maybe, this way of speaking derives from the common Spanish-speaking culture in which both men matured. Or, maybe, it is that both men share an impatience with beating around the bush with circumlocutions and "theologicalese."
I recall one video where Josemaría says to a group (my recollected paraphrase--this is the gist): I could give you a pretty little talk with great elegance. But I want to speak as if we are among family.
That's the way Francis speaks: as if he is among family and friends. How appropriate since he is the vicar of the One who calls us friends.
By the way, when you go to the Opus Dei site for Argentina, you see that the people of the Obra are delighted with our new Pope (if you read Spanish, here is the link). The Opus Dei headline in the link is: "The Authenticity of Papa Francisco Has Captivated Us."
(The priest celebrating Mass below is Cardinal Bergoglio on the feast day of St. Josemaría.)
I saw a picture today of the Pope with Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles (the largest archdiocese in the U.S.) who was staying at the hotel. Thus, the contact goes beyond the formality of the every-five-year ad limina visits by bishops. Most importantly, the Pope is exposed to different sources of information and is not at the mercy of a gatekeeper. That is a good thing for any top executive or administrator.
And the liturgy is at the center of this move--for the Pope celebrates daily Mass in the hotel chapel. We get to hear a daily Mass homily from the Pope. Instead of the private chapel in the papal palace, we have a more open setting, one to which he has been methodically inviting various groups of Vatican workers. This daily outreach is a way to reach the hearts of those who are crucial to the organization that needs reform. It also seems to me that, if I were a Vatican official living at the hotel, I would be on my best behavior with the Pope as a fellow resident and fellow diner in the hotel dining room.
In retrospect, the Pope has made a major change from a quasi-hidden, aloof papacy to an accessible papacy. The advantage of the change now seems obvious, but all good decisions seem obvious in retrospect.
So, a very simple act and preference is very fruitful in opening up lines of communication and flows of information for the man at the top. A very simple act lets the new Pope get to know his employees better. A very simple act allows contact with visitors to Rome from all over the world. A very simple act makes the daily papal Mass a reality for everyone.
Surely, staying at the Domus Sanctae Marthae (Latin for the "House of St. Martha") is also a gesture demonstrating this Pope's "preferential option for the simple and the humble." Let's hope that preferential option becomes very influential for future Popes. But choosing a new residence is also a great management decision--one that escaped all of the analysts with their know-it-all prescriptions for curial reform. Oh, and this reform was not even proposed by an American, although some Americans take up the posture of expert consultants in managing the universal Church--although several American dioceses have filed for bankruptcy due to scandal and some other dioceses have paid out large sums!
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
(The map below is in the public domain; portions of the U.S. should also be in green.)