More on The Church

Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave quite the interview on 60 minutes.

Here is one of the most interesting parts:

In an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS that producers said took more than a year for them to persuade him to do, O’Malley seemed troubled by reporter Norah O’Donnell’s question as to whether the exclusion of women from the Church hierarchy was “immoral.”

O’Malley paused, then said, “Christ would never ask us to do something immoral. It’s a matter of vocation and what God has given to us.”

“Not everyone needs to be ordained to have an important role in the life of the Church,” he said. “Women run Catholic charities, Catholic schools …. They have other very important roles. A priest can’t be a mother. The tradition in the Church is that we ordain men.

“If I were founding a church, I’d love to have women priests,” O’Malley said. “But Christ founded it, and what he has given us is something different.”

Source: The Deacon’s Bench

I think O’Malley’s words perfectly reflect what I was trying to express in my last post.

Although some conservatives may be alarmed by his honesty – “I’d love to have women priests” – his view is actually a really beautiful example of faithfulness, and really expresses a view of the Church as a divine institution – not made or controlled by us.

We may like a lot of things to be different. And certainly there are many things we not only have the ability to change but the responsibility to change in the Church — starting, of course, with our own hearts.

But Cardinal O’Malley reminds us that the Church belongs to Christ. And we cannot manipulate what He has given us as revealed doctrine, even with the best of intentions.

A friend of mine, noting the rather somber tone at the end of my last post, reminded me of Pope Emeritus Benedict’s words at his final General Audience that seem particularly relevant to this discussion:

I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.

Source: Vatican News

I think Pope Benedict has it right.

I encourage you to read (or reread) the entire text of his last General Audience.

christ-asleep-in-his-boat-jules-joseph-meynier
“Christ Asleep in His Boat” by Jules Joseph Meynier source: fineartamerica.com

 

The Church: Two Views

I’ve had a lot of interesting (and sometimes intense) conversations of late about the Synod, the Church’s teaching on moral (usually sexual) matters. Shouldn’t the Church allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion? When is the Church going to allow women to become priests? How can the Church say gay people can’t get married when we all know they cannot help who they are and how they feel? Isn’t Natural Family Planning really, at bottom, another form of contraception?

And it has become clear to me that the real issue, the real question, goes much deeper than many people suppose.

These questions of doctrine really, at the deepest level, boil down to a single question:

What is the Church?

539w
source: Boston.com

The more “liberal” (I’m sorry for the useful but loaded political term) people tend to believe that lots of Church teachings should change. They believe this because they believe these teachings are not only outdated, but also wrong. For them, the Church changing its teaching would be a sign that those old men in the Vatican were finally listening to the Holy Spirit. Doctrine changing would not be at all catastrophic to their view of what the Church is.

crossx-large
source: usatoday.com

The more “conservative” people, on the other hand, believe that Church teaching should not change because it cannot be changed. It helps that many of them also happen to agree with a lot of these teachings anyway, and wouldn’t want to see them changed even if they *could* be. For them, the Church changing its teaching would be a sign that… well… the Church is not the Church. In other words, doctrine changing would be catastrophic to their view of what the Church is.

Liberal Catholics and Conservative Catholics continually talk past one another because they are operating under completely different definitions of the Church.

Liberal Catholics think of the Church as a huge group of people, followers of Christ, who are shepherded, taught and sometimes oppressed by the hierarchy. The hierarchy are men who can make mistakes – sometimes big mistakes, even about doctrine. History, culture, and sin can cloud human judgment. According to this view, changing Church teaching on marriage, communion, the priesthood, etc. would be a sign that the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into the Church. Welcoming as many people as possible into the group of Christ’s followers is kind of the idea. Doctrine changing is a big deal only in the sense that the Church would finally be catching up with the times.

Accordingly, many liberal theologians try to find instances in history in which Church teaching has changed in the past, in order to prove that since it has happened before, there is no good reason why it should not happen again. (Eg: They usually cite teachings like limbo, the infusion of the human soul after conception, the Assumption, etc. as examples of important teachings that have changed.)

Conservative Catholics, on the other hand, think of the Church as a divine institution. It consists of people – sinners and saints a like – but it also has a mysterious divine element – The Holy Spirit – which works through it in very specific ways. Doctrine is therefore something that cannot change because it is safeguarded by the Holy Spirit (and established by God). Human beings did not make up the doctrine, and therefore they have no power to change it.

Accordingly, many conservative theologians go to great lengths to prove that although doctrine has developed (Newman) it has not changed – the apple tree grows stronger and taller and wider and more fruitful, but it doesn’t decide one day to turn into an oak tree instead. They emphasize the distinction between a discipline (a practice that can be changed with no theological catastrophe – e.g.: married priests) and a doctrine (a divine teaching that, if it were changed, would call the whole nature of the Church into question – e.g.: women priests).

At bottom, that’s why lots of people have been freaking out about the Synod.

Some liberals are hoping Church teaching might finally change under Pope Francis. They see this as a step toward justice and a movement of the Spirit. Finally, the Church they belong to will no longer be so embarrassingly judgmental. The Church will catch up with the times.

Some conservatives are afraid Church teaching just might change under Pope Francis. And if so, what then? “To whom shall we go?” The gates of hell will have prevailed, despite what Christ said. And then we shall know that the Holy Spirit, despite what we had hoped, had never really been guiding the Church to begin with.

Other conservatives are afraid that although Church teaching will not change because “the gates of hell cannot prevail against it”, that there still may be catastrophic schism in the Church because bishops will fall into teaching heresy. That has certainly happened before. The Arian heresy involved all sorts of confusion, and at one point a huge number of bishops taught it as doctrine. You think the Church is divided now? Just wait, they say.

So when Catholics argue about moral teachings of the Church, what’s really going on is a battle over the nature of the Church itself. Can her teaching change, or can it not?

And if it does, is the Church what she claims to be at all?

 

Further reading:

On Heretical Popes by Father James Schall

When the Answer Exceeds the Question

I was so excited to begin Unit 2 with my kids today.

We have finally (!) wrapped up our unit on essay writing (although of course I’ll make them continually write essays all year long) and are ready to begin a unit on mythology.

Last year, I got two weeks into the Mythology Unit before I realized that most of my kids can’t read.

Well, they can sound out letters on a page. They can read tweets and Facebook statuses and text messages.

Some of them can even read Harry Potter and the Hunger Games and Nicholas Sparks.

But ask them to tackle something hefty and meaningful, and all of a sudden, it’s “This is boring” and “I don’t get it” and “Why can’t Shakespeare talk normal?” and “I give up.”

So yeah. They don’t know how to really read.

imagesTherefore I’ve decided, this year, to spend Unit 2 teaching them. The Unit is entitled, simply: “Mythology and Reading Strategies.”

So we started class with a bell work on “Explain the word ‘myth’ in your own words” and a discussion on how our modern (mis)understanding says that myths are basically “made-up stories”. Myths are untrue – which is why we have shows like “Mythbusters.”

And then we read an excerpt from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology in which she blows our modern conceptions to smithereens and defines myth very differently: myth is a type of “early science” (Hamilton, Mythology 10). It is an attempt to answer inescapable human questions: Where did we come from? Why is there suffering? How did the universe begin?

Of course, today, as I pointed out, science tries to answer these questions too. Where did we come from? Evolution. Why is there suffering? Psychology. (Well, anyway, psychology is the branch of science that largely tries to tackle that question.) How did the universe begin? The big bang. Et cetera.

So, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th period seemed to be pretty interested in all this. And then 6th period came in – my biggest class, and the class that has the largest number of struggling students.

Let me briefly inform you about how my 6th hour struggled with simple directions today, to give you some context for the real point of this blog entry:

Me: “Okay, today our table of contents is going to look a little bit different. Please write down our new Unit Title and objective…”

Student 1: “Wait, what? Where do I write this?”

Me: Raises hand as a reminder.

Student 1, raising hand: “I don’t get it. Where do I write this?”

Students 2, 3, 4, annoyed: “She said in the Table of Contents, Bryan!!”

Student 5: “Wait, Ms. Shea, I… [ raises hand, continues talking ]”

Me: “Jacob, please raise your hand.”

Student 5: Raises hand. Waits for me to call on him. Then: “Ms. Shea, where do I put the date?”

Student 6: “Yeah, aren’t we supposed to…”

Me: Raises hand to remind student 6 to please shut up.

Student 6: Raises hand.

Me: “Yes, Amy?”

Student 6: “Aren’t we supposed to put ‘2.1’ somewhere? Like, next to the thing? I’m so confused!” Panics.

Me, Employing Attention Procedure: “Everyone back to me please in 3… 2… 1… slant. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen. I know these directions are a little bit different than usual. Please just copy down the unit title and the objective. Do not worry about the date or the number.”

Student 5: “But…!”

Me: Shakes head, hand to lips, indicating that now is not the time for questions.

Student 1: Raises hand.

Me: Shakes head again, indicating that now is not the time for questions.

Class: Finally begins to write down Unit Title and Unit Objective. Some hands still flutter into the air. Ms. Shea shakes her head, points at the smart board, and considers whether or not she should get a new job.

(Shea, “Classroom Struggles” vol. 358)

You get the idea.

Basically, by the time we got around to discussing Edith Hamilton’s definition of myth, after going to the library and checking out our books, we only had a few minutes left in class. I was feeling very frustrated and confused, because I was wondering what had possessed these kids today, and why they had forgotten every single procedure I had taught them and rehearsed with them over and over again at the beginning of the year.

Well, I guess we’ll just practice more on Monday.

As the Chaos drew to a close, one student in the back of the room raised his hand as the rest of his peers labored to finish writing down Hamilton’s definition of myth.

“Yes, Ryan?” I said.

“So, Ms. Shea. I don’t mean to be contrary or anything, but I’m just wondering.”

“Go ahead, Ryan,” I said, hopeful that possibly some real thinking had been provoked by this debacle of a lesson.

“We’re saying that all myths – like the Greek gods and stuff – are ways to explain mysteries in nature. But we know that the Greek gods aren’t real. So… um… how do we know that Christianity isn’t just another myth?”

My 6th hour class, being what it is, let out a loud and scandalized “Ohhhhhhhh!”

I smiled, trying to hide my inner panic. It was a great question. Ryan actually had done some real thinking, and I was proud of him. But the bell was about to ring. There was so much to say. I mean, people have written books on that very question. But there was no time.

“Everyone,” I said, “Let’s give snaps to Ryan for asking a great question. Ryan -” I looked at him directly, as the class applauded him, “- that is a wonderful question and I’m so glad you asked. We will be tackling that question during this unit. Make sure you bring it up again on Monday.”

Another hand shot up in the air, this time from our village atheist. Let’s call him Thomas.

Encouraged by Ryan’s success, he asked innocently, “So, Ms. Shea, since now we know all those other myths have been proven false, won’t there be a time in the future when our science and our Christianity is proven false?”

My 6th hour, being what it is, delightedly chanted “Ohhhhhhhhh!” and “You can’t say that Thomas!” and “He’s so right!” and “Shhhhh! What’s she gonna say?”

“Everybody, back to me please in 3, 2, and 1… Thank you.” A hush fell on the room. All eyes were on me.

I glanced at the clock. The second hand had almost reached twelve.

“Thomas, you have asked a very good question too. We have to confront these questions in this unit…”

The bell rang.

Too late.

The thing is, Ryan’s question would take volumes to answer. And I am afraid that if I tried to answer it in front of that class (who, you remember, struggles with copying down unit titles), I would only confuse most of them more. But if I do not address the question at all with them, those that bother to think about it might believe there is no answer, or that I don’t care to give it, or whatever.

Thomas’ question comes from a slightly different place and more likely demonstrates more misunderstandings than it generates. Still, it should be addressed fairly.

I feel like handing Ryan a copy of At the Origin of the Christian Claim by Father Guissani and giving Thomas Mere Christianity by Lewis.

Ironically, both of these books are far above their reading levels right now.

But I guess I have planned to teach them reading strategies during this unit…

Eliade, as quoted by Guisanni, says, “In the archaic world the myth alone is real. It tells of manifestations of the only indubitable reality – the sacred” (Guissani, At the Origins of the Christian Claim 23).

Julien Ries, quoted in the same book, observes that “A myth is a story which is true, sacred, and exemplary, which has a specific meaning and which entails repetition[…]” (Ibid).

C. S. Lewis says, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The Old Myth of the dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history” (“Myth Become Fact”).

And further:

Christians also need to be reminded . . . that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. . . . We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic . . . shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight . . . (Ibid, 67)

carav10
“Doubting Thomas” by Caravaggio

 

“Who is Christianity?”

First week of school: check.

I was so tired today that I gave in to exhaustion and went to bed at 7:30.

7:30!

And then, three hours later, I woke up and started thinking about my week. It’s keeping me awake and I thought I’d write it out, because sometimes that helps.

So this was the bell work I posted for all my kids today:

Slide2

We were finishing up our lesson on Growth and Fixed Mindsets, which I use at the beginning of the year to set the tone of the class and help the kids think about themselves and their learning in new ways. We then reference it and reflect on it throughout the rest of the year.

Our new (and awesome) principal has been encouraging us to incorporate a “Faith Connection” into our lessons more explicitly and purposefully, and so this bell work was my attempt this week as a way to wrap things up right before they took their quiz on Mindsets.

I guess I knew ahead of time that the phrase “human dignity” might cause some issues for some of the kids. And, indeed, throughout the day different students raised their hands to ask me what the phrase meant. So I was already kind of breaking the cardinal rule of bell work: that it should be straight-forward enough that all students can do it without extra direction from the teacher. (This does not mean bell work cannot be rigorous, but that it’s not usually the best place to introduce new words or phrases.) So I anticipated the issue by encouraging students to raise their hands if they were confused or had any questions.

But during my first class of the day, one of my new foreign exchange students from Korea came bustling into the room a solid minute after the tardy bell rang.

The rest of the class looked up, but having been pretty well trained by now to understand that bell work was silent work time,  they got on with their writing without commenting. She excused herself and asked me anxiously if this meant she was going to receive a detention (since she had been tardy earlier this week as well), and I said yes. She accepted that consequence with grace, sat down, and began to work.

A moment later her hand went up and she called my name again: “Excuse me, Mrs. Ms. Shea?” (I have not corrected her yet on how to say my name, but I need to next week.)

I went over to her desk and knelt beside her, encouraging her to lower her voice by whispering her name.

She looked up at the projector screen, her eyes wide. “Mrs. Ms. Shea,” she whispered, loudly. “Who is ‘Christianity’?”

I felt many eyes look up from papers around the room and fix themselves on me.

Who is Christianity?

I looked up at the projector screen briefly, confused by her confusion. I swallowed and whispered, “Christianity is a religion.”

“Oh!” she nodded, but not comprehending.

“Do you have a religion at your home? A faith you believe in?” I was still whispering, and relieved that the other students seem to have reluctantly returned to their writing.

“No,” she said, smiling. “No religion!”

I looked up at the projector screen again, the incomprehensible word looking more incomprehensible by the second.

“That’s okay,” I said, grasping for words and speaking slowly–as much as for my sake as for hers. “Christianity is a religion… a belief, we have here at this school.  A big part of it is being loving to others… being good to others.” I searched her face for comprehension, and saw some of my words made sense. “For now, I want you to answer the question this way: How does ‘Growth Mindset’ relate to being a good person?”

“Oh, yes! Yes! Thank you, Mrs. Ms. Shea.”

I stood up and stretched bell work time by an extra minute so she could jot something down. I glanced at two of the other foreign exchange students in the class and wondered if they had had the same question, but had been too nervous to ask me.

Who is Christianity?

“Christianity” is a proper noun. She saw the capital letter. She thought it was a person’s name.

Who is Christianity?

She was right. It is a person. Jesus is Christianity.

And John the Baptist, too, whose memorial of martyrdom is today. And Edith Stein and Saint Kateri and Saint Paul, the apostles, and John Paul II, and the old gentleman at the Senior Support Center, and the Gentiles, and the Jews, and the Iraqis being brutally persecuted right now, and the religious sisters, my students, my family… a thousand faces flashed through my mind.

Who is Christianity?

But how could I explain all of that in a matter of seconds? I had not even mentioned His name to her. I had said, “It is a religion.” And suddenly it seemed small wonder to me that either she had not heard the word “religion” before or that she had, but only in some remote context like, “Some people on the other side of the world have ‘religions'”… along with political parties and horoscopes and economies and special holidays and other vague things that people in other countries “have.”

Who is Christianity?

I had only a few seconds to contemplate my clumsy answer before the timer went off and it was time to start class.

“Pens and pencils down please,” I said automatically. “It’s okay if you are not 100% finished with your bell work… Please stand for prayer.”

We stood up, faced the Crucifix on the wall, and made the sign of the Cross.

 

 

Work and Leisure

1. Work (or the Lack Thereof)

I was really moved by this article by Peter Greene called “The Hard Part”:

They never tell you in teacher school, and it’s rarely discussed elsewhere. It is never, ever portrayed in movies and tv shows about teaching. Teachers rarely bring it up around non-teachers for fear it will make us look weak or inadequate.

[…]

The hard part of teaching is coming to grips with this:

There is never enough.

There is never enough time. There are never enough resources. There is never enough you.

(Greene, “The Hard Part”)

Go read it if you are a teacher or a student or have ever been either.

Really, anyone who has struggled with that frantic sense of “never enough” will sympathize.

Greene does a lovely job of describing the “never enough” that many teachers struggle with – but he does so in a way that does not descend into complaining. Instead, he indirectly shares his love for his students and his work. Ora et labora.

But I especially appreciated this:

As a teacher, you can see what a perfect job in your classroom would look like. You know all the assignments you should be giving. You know all the feedback you should be providing your students. You know all the individual crafting that should provide for each individual’s instruction. You know all the material you should be covering. You know all the ways in which, when the teachable moment emerges (unannounced as always), you can greet it with a smile and drop everything to make it grow and blossom.

You know all this, but you can also do the math. 110 papers about the view of death in American Romantic writing times 15 minutes to respond with thoughtful written comments equals — wait! what?! That CAN’T be right!

(Ibid)

Yeah. Do that math.

Although this past year of teaching was far easier than the previous ones (and they tell me they do get easier), I frequently woke up having had nightmares about failed lessons and crazy students and not knowing where my next class was and losing the essays and ruining students’ chances at college and NO MANAGEMENT. NONE.

It’s summer vacation, and I just had another bad dream two nights ago. It was the one where the bell had already rung and I couldn’t find my classroom and for some reason I had no idea what I was supposed to teach.

So basically it was really nice to wake up. Summer vacation is a gift.

But, well… it’s kind of boring.

sherlock-bored
source: badbooksgoodtimes.com

Seriously though. I miss being in the classroom. I miss scanning the desks and faces constantly to make sure all is well. I miss teasing them. I miss being teased. I miss trying to get someone to really wrestle with an idea and not take the easy way out. I miss my student Vincent* waving at me in the hallway every 7th period as he attempts to spend as much little time in the class down the hall, and I miss telling him to get back to class.

And then I thought to myself: what do you want?

Um, a perfect medium of being busy and productive but not stressed out. Ever.

Dream on, Jess.
Dream on, Jess.

Okay, not very likely to happen.

But there’s something amiss here. Why must I be busy but not too busy? Why must I be busy at all? Why are so many people — so many of my friends and acquaintances — happier being busy? Why do we dread “down-time”? Why are we confused about what to do with unstructured hours?

Why is it hard to rest sometimes?

2. Leisure (or the Lack Thereof)

In Leisure: The Basis of Culture Josef Pieper argues the following:

Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves. We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence.

Isn’t that true?

I have friends who love making to-do lists. Sometimes this group also includes me. We all know how good it feels to cross something off of those lists.

When someone asks you, “So what did you do this weekend?” don’t you feel a little ashamed if the first response (promptly suppressed) that pops into your head is “well… nothing?”

 

How many times have I heard: “Well, at least I did something productive today!”

How many times have I said those words myself?

Why?

Pieper says we are “trying to justify our existence” by our work. But we will never rest until we are really “one with ourselves.”

Even Greene’s article suggests this lack-of-oneness:

But every day is still educational triage. You will pick and choose your battles, and you will always be at best bothered, at worst haunted, by the things you know you should have done but didn’t. (Greene)

In teaching, specifically, one is constantly  striving after perfection when perfection isn’t ever possible. Do you throw up your hands and give in? Do you keep your nose to the grindstone? It’s like that really annoying Zeno’s Paradox I learned in math class about how if you walk halfway across a room, and then walk half that distance, and then half that distance, and on and on… you will always be moving closer to the wall but you will never actually reach it.

Teaching is kind of like that. The better you get, the more you notice the distance left between you and the wall.

Hm. Teaching and work and leisure. Education and work and leisure.

What is leisure, anyway?

Pieper says:

Leisure is a form of that stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear. […] Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion — in the real. (Pieper, 31)

Another paradox, of course, is that you can’t really “work on” being better at leisure. Or perhaps it’s not a paradox but a full contradiction. You cannot “work at” leisure, because if you are working, then you are not at leisure. Leisure, according to Pieper, seems to be more something that happens to you than something you yourself bring about. It is a gift.

One last, very interesting thought:

For, when we consider the foundations of Western European culture (is it, perhaps, too rash to assume that our re-building will in fact be carried out in a “Western” spirit? Indeed, this and no other is the very assumption that is at issue today), one of these foundations is leisure. We can read it in the first chapter of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. And the very history of the meaning of the word bears a similar message. The Greek word for leisure (σχολή) is the origin of Latin scola, German Schule, English school. The names for the institutions of education and learning mean “leisure.” (Pieper, 3-4)

Yes, that’s right.

The word for leisure is where we get the word for school.

 

Catholicism and Censorship Part I

Q: Why is it that when I am on vacation and have more time to write, I don’t write at all?

A 1: When I’m teaching, I’m thinking. When I’m thinking, I usually have something to say about it eventually.

A 2: I thrive on being busy / I have not mastered the art of leisure.

censorship-1
source: amoeba.com

Well, here goes. One thing I have been planning to write about for a long time is censorship.

Also known as: which books are appropriate to teach in Catholic schools? How do we determine “appropriateness”?

This question came to my attention this past year when a parent strongly objected to teaching Homer’s Iliad in another teacher’s class because of some “vulgar language” contained in the translation.

As in, the parent demanded that The Iliad be taken completely off the reading list.

My guess is that this request came from ignorance and fear than rational concern, but it certainly got me thinking again.

The question had arisen earlier as well during my job interview. I was asked which books I would be unwilling to teach in a Catholic school, and was strongly pushed toward excluding anything by Toni Morrison.

I am no fan of Morrison, but quite honestly, if I were asked to teach one of her books, I would not have any moral qualms doing so.

Here is my abbreviated answer, in which I replied in as measured a tone as I could muster:

“Well, my usual approach is to be unafraid of controversial literature. I believe all works can be studied with a Catholic perspective, even if the work itself challenges Church teaching. Especially at the high school level, students are being bombarded constantly by anti-Christian propaganda. Sheltering them from this is very unwise. It would be far better to teach them how to encounter and wrestle with such texts.”

This of course is not to say that ALL texts are appropriate for secondary school.

This is also not to say that all texts merit serious reading at all. There is plenty of trash out there that we can rule out.

The real question arises, I believe, when you are confronted with a work of literary merit that rather obstinately challenges Church teaching or, worse, advocates an anti-Catholic worldview.

It’s difficult (and, I believe, rather unhelpful)  to talk about this question too abstractly. So, what books do you think are especially relevant to this question in terms of the Catholic high school classroom?

 

 

Loving the Bride of Christ

2011043216catherine_of_siena_1_inside
source: catholic.org

This article by Carl E. Olsen puts a lot of things into perspective.

There are so many people on both “sides” of the aisle who have abandoned the Church for one reason or another. Or they try to make the Church be something she is not. They deny everything before Vatican 2, or they deny everything including and after Vatican 2, or they take this teaching and leave the other one out, or they take one pope and leave another one out…

I think we all have this temptation sometimes.

Catherine of Siena is a wonderful example of someone who loved the Church despite it’s sinfulness and was faithful to Christ. And even toward her attitude toward the Church was humble and loving.

And people, she lived in WAY worse times than we do now:

Catherine lived during a time of pessimism and cynicism. Barbara Tuchman, in her historical narrative A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, described the period as “a time of turmoil, diminished expectations, loss of confidence in institutions, and feelings of helplessness at forces beyond human control.” The popes lived in exile in Avignon between 1309 and 1377, only returning to Rome after Catherine went personally to the papal court and pleaded with Gregory XI. Monasteries and convents in Europe were decimated by the Plague, and in order to re-populate them unsuitable candidates were often accepted. The secular literature at the time described clerical celibacy as a joke. By the time Catherine died in 1380, the Church was in schism with the election of an anti-pope, Clement VII. (“Lessons   from St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor and Daughter of the Church”)

I have not read much of her writings (or, more accurately, dictations) but I’ve been convinced. I need to read her. I think she will help me be a better Christian:

Among various causes of the Church’s sinfulness, Catherine identifies one in particular: a love for the “outer rind” instead of the marrow, i.e., a preoccupation with surface instead of inner realities. Learned people, particularly the clergy, may know much about God, the Church, and Scripture, and yet not be in a love-union with God. The eternal Father tells her that such people “neither see nor understand anything but the outer crust, the letter of Scripture. They receive it without relish” and “approach this Bride [the Church] merely for her outer shell, that is, for her temporal substance, while she is quite empty of any who seek her marrow.” (Ibid)

Whoah.

Pope Saint John XXIII and Pope Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

I think Flannery O’Connor is a kindred spirit of Catherine’s (and in my own private, unofficial and utterly ad cathedram opinion) also a saint. They are soul sisters:

“…the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it. ”  (Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being)

 

Holy Thursday

Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown
“Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet,” by Ford Madox Brown

 

Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (“Ei tauta oidate, makarioi este, ean poiēte auta.”)

[…]

Whenever I hear this reading proclaimed on Holy Thursday, I never fail to think how different Christian churches would be if, in addition to our weekly celebrations of the Eucharist we celebrated the Footwashing. It may sound crazy, and it would be terribly complicated to arrange every Sunday—all those basins of waters and towels and shoes and socks! 

But imagine the symbolism if every week the presider laid aside his vestments and got down on his hands and knees to scrub the feet of his parishioners. What a reminder it would be to all of us—priests included—that this is what Christ asked us to do in addition to the celebration of the Eucharist. After all, what he says about the Eucharist, “Do this in memory of me” at the Last Supper in the Synoptics, he also says about the footwashing in John: “If you know these things, are you blessed if you do them.” 

Seen every Sunday, over and over, the washing of the feet might help us see how power is more intimately linked to service. (Fr. James Martin, SJ, Jesus: A Pilgrimage 

PopeFrancis-washing-feet-young-people-
via Catholic News Agency

Stuff You Should Read

1. My friend Joseph has a really great new post, written in the dialectic style of Thomas Aquinas. He asks “Should one read the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas?”

  1. It might seem that one should not put a work by Thomas Aquinas on one’s Fundamentals list. For many philosophers might be considered more fundamental than Thomas, for example, Descartes, Kant, or Hegel. For Bertrand Russell writes, “I cannot, therefore, feel that he deserves to be put on a level with the best philosophers either of Greece or of modern times. (Simmons)

Okay, before you freak out, remember how Thomas always structures his arguments in the Summa.

Go read the whole thing here. It’s awesome: “‘Questions on God’: Why?” at Ironical Coincidings

NOAH2. I haven’t seen the new Noah movie, but this guy has and he wrote a really fascinating article about it: “Sympathy for the Devil” by Dr. Brian Mattson.

Okay, for the most part this movie seems to be controversial because it doesn’t strictly “follow the Bible”… which seems a rather naive thing to complain about. The story of Noah has been told by (an amazing!) number of cultures with a lot of different variations throughout history.

Anyway, Mattson argues that people are getting all wired up about the wrong thing. They are actually missing the underlying philosophy that informs the movie: Gnosticism. (Which, by the way, nearly tore the Church apart in the 2nd century. It’s the heresy that never dies.) I love it when people write about Gnosticism and really see it’s pervasive influence in modern society, because I reassures me that there are people who aren’t fooled by it. If you don’t know what Gnosticism is, you should definitely go read this article.

A taste:

Except that when Gnostics speak about “The Creator” they are not talking about God. Oh, here in an affluent world living off the fruits of Christendom the term “Creator” generally denotes the true and living God. But here’s a little “Gnosticism 101” for you: the Creator of the material world is an ignorant, arrogant, jealous, exclusive, violent, low-level, bastard son of a low level deity. He’s responsible for creating the “unspiritual” world of flesh and matter, and he himself is so ignorant of the spiritual world he fancies himself the “only God” and demands absolute obedience. They generally call him “Yahweh.” (Mattson, “Sympathy for the Devil”)

3. Okay, contra #2, here’s a really good reply to Mattson’s argument. Since I haven’t seen the movie myself, I am not sure what side I’m on– but you can read and decide for yourself.

“Is Darren Aronofsky’s Noah Gnostic?” at I’ve Seen That Movie Too

A taste:

So while I am convinced that Kabbalistic texts and ideas had some influence on Noah, I am considerably less convinced of the Mattson’s central thesis, which is that a specifically Gnostic ideology undergirds Aronofsky’s Noah. Mattson makes a significant error in conflating Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism—and Gnosticism, which are separate belief structures and have divergent attitudes towards creation. The Demiurge of Gnosticism, the evil deity who creates the world, is not a central tenet of Kabbalistic belief, and so Kabbalah does not view creation as intrinsically evil, even if it understands that it is broken.

Although I agree it is unwise to “conflate” philosophies/religions, I think it’s pretty clear that Kabbalah is a (devoted) child of Gnosticism. The fact that the Demiurge “is not a central tenet” of Kabbalah seems more due to the fact that Kabbalah (especially in it’s modern manifestations) is not very interested in God or the gods period. It’s more of a self-improvement, self-enlightenment belief system than anything else, which is probably why the atheist Aronofsky seems so favorably disposed toward it in the first place.

4. April Fools Day is always fun at the University of Dallas, especially with our yearly University News April Fools Edition.

So good, although maybe only people who went to small Catholic liberal arts colleges will appreciate it.

And people who watch “The Bachelor.”

“UD to Host New Television Spinoff of ‘The Bachelor'” by Krista Shaw

When approached about their decision to bring “Ring by Spring” to UD, TV producers stated that they were drawn by UD’s unnaturally high marriage rate.

President Keefe -Photo by Rebecca Rosen

“With 32 engaged couples in the senior class alone, we can see that the environment encourages true love as much as we do,” said one producer. “We were also impressed by the scenery UD offers. The new bridge over Madonna Pond could be the location of a beautiful first date, and the Cap Bar patio, overlooking Carpenter, is an especially romantic site.”

SO GOOD.

5. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, leader of my home Archdiocese of Boston, recently celebrated a very beautiful Mass on the U. S. / Mexico border.

I think the actions of the USCCB really reflect the heart of Christ here.

Please go look at the beautiful pictures and read more about it over at America’s Voice. Immigration is a complex issue, and I do not mean to oversimplify it.

But really.

Exodus 22:21 “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

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Flannery’s Birthday and the Annunciation

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source: mbird.com

I would be remiss if I did not blog on Flannery O’Connor’s birthday.

I have always liked the fact that March 25th is also the Feast of the Annunciation – the day that God became “incarnate of the Virgin Mary,” according to the Creed.

It seems very fitting that Mary Flannery (yep, Mary is her first name, Flannery her second and later her published name) should have been born on this feast day. The Incarnation seems to be the central concern of all of her works. She says:

The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.

Well, in some sense, that location is the Virgin Mary. That’s where “time and place and eternity” met for the first time.

In Flannery’s fiction, that location is usually a bizarrely violent moment of grace: like the murder of the grandmother and her whole family, the drowning / baptism of the little boy, the woman gored in the heart by a runaway bull… the list goes on.

Some pious Catholics are scandalized by Flannery’s writing, and they often cite the absurdity and violence in her works as their reasons.

Maybe they’re forgetting that, in the original Incarnation, when God first entered temporality, there were all sorts of violence afoot. Herod’s slaughter of hundreds of little baby boys comes to mind.

And even Simeon’s prophecy to Mary– as he held her beloved child in his arms — is predominantly concerned with violence: “A sword will piece your own soul too” (Lk 2:25).

And I don’t think we need to cite the crucifixion.

Flannery’s response is that the earthly response to grace is usually a violent one, and that “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

As beautiful as the Feast of the Annunciation is, it’s important to remember Who was being Announced. The Incarnation of God was something wholly unexpected and ridiculous. And when people finally began to understand what He was saying, they killed Him, because in a way it was the typical human response to divine grace.

Flannery O’Connor shows the Incarnation over and over in her stories.

And like Mary brought grace into the world, Flannery brings grace into her fiction.

(She would probably scoff at that last sentence and censure me for impiety and exaggeration.)