Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves
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Saturday, October 01, 2005C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves
C.S. Lewis's small book The Four Loves has always been one of my favorites. For those unfamiliar with it, Lewis uses the four Greek terms for our English word "love" to explore the different loves: affection or storge, friendship or philia, eros or marital love, and agape or divine love. Recently, I stumbled across a 1958 audio recording of Lewis commenting on the four loves--the recording was done before the book was published but generally tracks the content of the book's final version. The recording is a pleasure to listen to with Lewis's rich, highly educated English voice. I highly recommend it for listening (available at this Amazon link, courtesy of a regular reader).
Having read the book at least twice before, I looked forward to hearing its basic content read by the author himself. I was not disappointed. What struck me in listening is that the central message of the entire exercise is that our natural loves (storge, philia, and eros) must inevitably be transformed into the divine love, agape. Otherwise, our natural loves would consume us and disfigure us. That is something the modern world, including many of us, finds shocking. Our secular tendency is to canonize our natural loves as indisputably good. Any questioning of the wisdom of any of our natural loves is usually taken as an insult.
But as I read it and hear it, Lewis would view such serious questioning of our natural loves as essential. A deformed storge or affection can easily become a wild possessiveness that destroys the object of affection. A deformed philia can become an excuse to exclude others in complacent pridefulness. And a deformed eros can lead to the mere use of others as objects in order to re-experience the evanescent thrill of infatuation regardless of the human cost involved. In the end, it is agape, the divine love that is incarnated in the Cross that saves them all and gives them their rightful place in the sun.
As Christians, we have a tremendous advantage. Whenever we are in doubt in particular circumstances as to how we ought to love, we can look at a crucifix (an advantage of being Catholic or Eastern Orthodox!). No long explanations are needed. The claims of mere selfishness melt in the face of the crucifix. The message is clearer than any multi-hour sermon or seminar could communicate. Yes, let us celebrate our natural loves; but to really have them in all their glory they must, in a sense, die and rise up again as agape. That is the paradox of Christianity that, strangely enough, lets grace build and elevate nature so that nature can be most truly itself. The result is the abundant life promised by Christ. And, it is clear, as you listen to Lewis, that as a Christian he indeed lived life abundantly and fully. He did not miss out on anything the world has to offer.
Friday, September 30, 2005Polemics and What Counts
It is easy to get caught up in polemical apologetics. A fundamentalist or even a liberal Protestant will assail you with the stock attacks on Catholicism. The fundamentalist might say that the Church discouraged the reading of the Bible at the time of the Protestant Reformation (certainly the accusation cannot be made now). To which accusation I would reply that the Bible was heard regularly and methodically in the liturgy; and that the Bible permeates and soaks, like the floodwaters of New Orleans, the prayers of the Mass.
The objection will then be raised that this liturgical exposure was of no use to most of the people because it was all in the Latin that the uneducated could not understand. My own research indicates that the Bible still got through to the uneducated either through vernacular Scripture readings in the liturgy, through vernacular preaching, or through the stained glass, sculptures, and other great art of medieval churches. So the old polemical stereotype of Catholics not reading the Bible is based on the false assumption that the only kind of exposure to the Bible that counts is directly reading it for oneself as virtually all modern Christians do today at home or in a group setting. As a friend pointed out to me, at the time of the Reformation, many good Christians could not even read in the first place. In addition, some scholars have pointed out that even in the Middle Ages the people and the culture were very familiar with the stories of the Bible. One researcher I came across even referred to medieval culture as being "saturated" with the Bible. And remember that medieval culture was Catholic culture.
The liberal Protestant will then attack us for hating gays because we consider a same-sex orientation a disorder and consider homosexual acts gravely immoral. To the liberal, we can answer that the disorder of this orientation is divinely revealed in both Scripture and in the natural law. We cannot change that revelation, but the transforming power of Christ can take that disorder and any other disorder and make it a means of redemption and salvation that can bear much fruit. So the fundamentalist wants to expose people to the Bible in his particular way only, and the liberal wants to read it not at all. Because of these nonsensical approaches to Scripture, there is no end to polemical apologetics. We go on and on finding Scripture verses and historical facts to back up our side. Certainly, it is clear to me that the Catholic side "wins" hands down. A good and necessary resource to make this clear is the Catholic Answers website at this link.
But we must go beyond apologetics. When faced with the nitpicking questions of the Pharisees, Jesus went for the jugular: he pointed out the hardness of heart and hypocrisy of the Pharisees. What I believe is commonly behind all sorts of nitpicking polemical attacks on Catholicism is the lack of a personal relationship with Jesus by the attacker. The genuine presence of the Holy Spirit makes of each of us a fountain of living water that flows forth to others. Those waters are not focused on nitpicking attacks. To me, the polemical stance of many against Catholicism is not just a sign of insecurity--it is a sign of an emptiness. Notice how in the Gospels, the poor Jews, the Jews with sick children and friends, the Jews with little theological education, plus the Gentiles entirely outside the Jewish religious world itself, are the ones most open to what Jesus can do for them. They ran eagerly to Jesus. It is rather the theologically highly educated, the Sadducees and Pharisees, scribes, elders, and lawyers, who give Jesus a "hard time." These "picky" members of the ancient chattering classes are the ones who see the miracles of Jesus but cannot accept their obvious meaning and so desperately claim that Jesus is in league with Satan. They are the ones who see only obstacles, while the poor run eagerly to Jesus overcoming any obstacles in the way--even taking a roof apart in one famous instance.
In the end, meeting Jesus is, to borrow a phrase from Cardinal Newman, a matter of heart speaking to heart. In the Mass, in the Eucharist, we find, see, and eat Jesus. In adoration and prayer, he speaks to us. Here is the power of God, and no clever profusion of polemical attacks can erase that reality. Like the Jewish crowds and the Gentiles who were amazed at Jesus and flocked to him, the genuine Catholic knows the reality and really has no time for the quibbles of our modern-day Pharisees. We can and should answer the attacks; but the heart of the matter is that, in the end, the best thing to do is to advise our attackers to stop raising obstacles to Jesus and to come kneel before Him at the nearest open Catholic church. Let them come and see for themselves as the crowds did in the Gospels.
Thursday, September 29, 2005Anglicans in Chaos
The continuing, under-the-radar Anglican chaos over gay clergy continues. The latest is that the traditionalist Anglican primate of Nigeria has announced that his church has deleted all references to the Anglican see of Canterbury in his church's legal charter. Apparently, this move opens the way for the Nigerians to provide more direct pastoral support to Nigerian Anglicans in the U.S. who are repulsed by the gay activist Episcopal Church U.S.A. Here is a link to an A.P. news story that will keep you up to date in a situation that I believe even the major players themselves do not fully understand ("Anglican rift over gays deepens in Nigeria," 9/20/05).
For Catholics, the panorama is clear. As a friend of mine says, Protestantism is deeply split into hundreds of groupings and continues to splinter. That's what happens when communion is broken with the successor of Peter. There is no end to opposing opinions, disputes, rivalries, injured feelings, and grievances. And so there is no end to new denominations, schisms, and, to use the latest term, "realignment." Something is deeply wrong in modern Protestantism. It has paid a very steep price for abandoning the apostolic and biblical ministry of Peter in Rome. That is not to say that there is not much that is good among our Protestant brethren. But we do them no favor by ignoring the elephant in the room.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005Amazing Presence
Pick up the shortest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, and you will find again and again one word or variant thereof: "amazed" or "astonished." Here are some examples you can look up: Mark 1:21 (astonished at Jesus teaching with authority); 1:27 (amazed at an exorcism); 2:12 (amazed at the healing of the paralytic); 4:41 (filled with awe when Jesus calms wind and sea); 5:42 (amazement when Jesus raises little girl from the dead); 6:51 (astounded when Jesus walks on the sea); 7:37 (astonished when Jesus heals deaf and dumb man); 9:14 (amazed when Jesus appears to crowd); 10:24 (amazed at Jesus' words); 10:26 (astonished at his teaching on riches); 11:18 (astonished when he clears the money-changers from the Temple); 12:11 (Jesus quoting the Old Testament on how the stone rejected is marvelous); 12:17 (amazed at Jesus' answer on paying taxes to Caesar); 15:5 (Pilate wonders at Jesus' silence); 16:5 (women amazed at young man in white sitting in Jesus' tomb); 16:8 (astonishment as the women fled from the tomb).
In the above examples, others are astonished at Jesus (even the Old Testament writer is expressing astonishment at the stone rejected). But there is an instance in Mark (there are others in other Gospels) in which Jesus himself is amazed or marvels. In Mark 6:6, Jesus "marveled" at the unbelief of the people in his hometown of Nazareth. So we have the spectacle of crowds, disciples, and even enemies being constantly amazed by Jesus' healings, exorcisms, teachings, and responses to questions. At least in Mark, as far as I can tell, Jesus himself is amazed only at the unbelief of his own.
What can we learn from these citations? When we come to the Eucharist, we see Jesus again, the same Jesus who did all these mighty works and uttered all of these words. Are we amazed? Are we astonished? Do we marvel at Him? Do we even wonder, as Pilate did, at his silences? Or is he just too familiar as he was to those in his hometown who knew him as an ordinary carpenter among his own family? In other words, do we lack faith as happened among the people of Nazareth? Do we see no more than all too familiar ordinary bread and wine at the Eucharist?
Perhaps, we will indeed be amazed and astonished next time we visit the tabernacle or celebrate the Eucharist if we pray with faith and confidence for healing, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional, or if we pray with confidence for Jesus' specific intervention in our particular life circumstances. Or if we listen intently with expectation to his teaching as the Scriptures are read in church or at home. The one in the Word and in the Sacrament is the same one described in Mark. So why do we not marvel?
Tuesday, September 27, 2005Former FEMA Chief: Louisiana "Dysfunctional"
The much maligned former FEMA chief Mike Brown pulls an "Oliver North" performance reminiscent of hearings in the eighties as he defends his role in Katrina. Brown hits the nail on the head: Louisiana's public officials are dysfunctional. That's the reason an entire major city was lost to Katrina. I predict careful historians will reach the same conclusion. Here is the AP story. By the way Louisiana Democratic congressman William Jefferson took umbrage at Brown's truth-telling: note well that the congressman is currently under investigation for public corruption.
The more you see the complexity of individual lives and situations the more you see that the initiative of resourcefulness is key to human flourishing. We see it on this very medium of the internet where weblogs have created an entirely new dimension of public discourse and debate. We see it emerging in the educational system with charter schools and homeschooling, plus the push for school vouchers that let parents make the most important decisions themselves. Human life is malleable--not in the sense that human nature is malleable--but in the sense that the circumstances of human life are extremely malleable. We can shape circumstances and transform them to yield new, previously unexpected possibilities. Mercifully, even tragic circumstances are malleable in this way.
In the moral and idealistic life, this malleability means that if an idea is in fact good, if we are indeed pursuing the truth, then we should go forward even in the face of great obstacles and even sneers. The true and the good always find a way. The cliche is that where there is a will, there is a way. We can also say that where there is truth, there is a way.
This insight is especially valuable to Catholic and other Christians living in Western societies that are increasingly pagan. The theological liberals would have us simply follow the secular and pagan paths with a few Christmas decorations thrown in for effect. The authentically Catholic will say that the truth cannot be compromised and will be lived. And so to be a Catholic today in Western societies is to be quite defiant. We defy experts, apparent trends, and ideologies that seek to drown us in amnesia by offering again barbaric and primitive solutions and lifestyles superseded by the Christian revelation.
The defiant have no choice but to be resourceful. The wider culture no longer provides support for Christian truths. And so today, we have to read books and think long and hard about how to guide young people in finding a spouse because the wider society offers only self-destructive anarchy in this crucial endeavor. We have to stand for life in a wider culture that sees any inconvenient life as disposable. We have to live in the richest society in the world and yet refuse to make money the ultimate criterion of self-worth and decision-making. The old-fashioned word for all of these necessities is discernment. In many specific circumstances and challenges, the exact ways to go forward in defiance are unclear. Fortunately, the Paraclete is present to advise us, to counsel us, and to be our advocate throughout the adventure.
Monday, September 26, 2005"A Swamp of Corruption"
If you want to know the real Louisiana and New Orleans, read this piece in today's OpinionJournal.com at this link. The column, unfortunately, fits in well with today's post on liberation theology.
Liberation Theology 101
We have heard a lot about liberation theology in the past twenty years. Usually, the setting for applications of liberation theology--the correct jargon is "praxis"--is Latin America. One of the leading theologians in this area, Jon Sobrino, S.J., even shares the same Spanish last name I have. But now I want to apply a bit of liberation theology north of the border to Louisiana and especially New Orleans. This attempt is apt because one of the nicknames of New Orleans before Katrina was "northern Honduras" and not a few residents enjoyed referring to Louisiana as a "banana republic" even before the chaos of the hurricane. So let's start.
The issue is what to do about housing for the hurricane evacuees scattered throughout the rest of the country. The federal government has sensibly decided to start giving evacuees cash so that they can get out of shelters or the homes of friends and relatives and rent apartments. The goal is to provide "the maximum amount of flexibility and freedom to decide [by evacuees] where they want to relocate and what they want to do over the next few months" (see this news story).
But Governor Blanco of the Democratic Banana Republic of Louisiana is aghast. She wants no cash housing payments to displaced persons. Instead, she wants Louisiana evacuees put in hotels, motels, and--get this--trailer parks. She fears that many will decide to find apartments out of state and may end up saying good-bye permanently to the Banana Republic that utterly failed to evacuate them from New Orleans before the storm and so left many of them trapped in a flooded city that erupted in widespread looting. Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff replies that "not everybody can or necessarily wants to get into a trailer."
After bungling the pre-hurricane evacuation, why would the Madame Governor of the Banana Republic want to put people in trailers that are notorious for being easy targets for tornadoes? Will she evacuate them from trailers before a tornado hits? I doubt it given that you usually get less warning of tornadoes than you do for hurricanes. My opinion is that she wants to corral the evacuees so that she can eventually reconstitute the concentration of impoverished and dependably Democratic voters in the blighted and drug-infested neighborhoods of New Orleans. It reminds me of how Pharaoh's soldiers chased the Israelites as they fled through the waters in the Exodus. Pharaoh wants his wards back.
In contrast, the Bush administration is empowering individuals and families to make their own decisions--to rent wherever they want to rent or even to give up the rent subsidy and decide to live in a trailer park back in Louisiana. But the Banana Pharaoh wants no choice--she fears choice. Poor people who never dreamed of being able to relocate from a city that was already a failed community prior to the hurricane now get the same chance I and many other New Orleanians had to find better communities elsewhere in the United States. But, in an eery and exact parallel to liberal Democratic opposition to school vouchers, the Democratic governor does not want her constituents to have a choice. I guess the only choice liberal Democrats reliably favor is the choice to abort.
What can liberation theology bring to this issue? Let the people freely choose to take advantage of this new Exodus to act in the best interests of their families, to have the same choices the more affluent have, the same freedom of choice that I and many others had. Governor, stop trying to force people back and corral them into trailer parks. Governor, let the people who want to depart go.