29 December 2008

Various and Sundry Engagements With Matters of Enlightenment

A few hours of desultory reading on the web can either be fuel for contemplation or a complete waste of time that calls into question one's character and sanity. Happily, this morning can be declared the former.

First Things has been on a roll with the daily article of late. R.R. Reno discusses some thoughts on how scientific discoveries are received by ordinary people, and sheds a tear of compassion for the well-funded, highly educated army of researchers whose labors do little to influence public opinion on matters that touch on basic human experience. The matter in question? Brain science, and the conviction among researchers that impending discoveries will put the last nail in the coffin of freedom (and hence moral responsibility). A recent study from the University of Utah suggests that regardless of the scientific consensus, certain basic convictions just won't be eradicated. Reno does a fine job of reining in our view that science has the last word on the humanum.
When a scientist reports that action x can occur if and only if there is an antecedent brain state y, which in turn requires brain state z, then he is identifying y and z as necessary condition for and not the causes of x. We all know that what counts as a free choice is not a mental moment suspended in ether, unconnected and uninfluenced by emotions, habits, and intuitions. The ability of science to explain and illuminate the webs of interconnection does not dislodge our deeper intuition that our deeply embedded, highly influenced, and profoundly physical mental lives are somehow genuinely our own—and somehow our responsibility to discipline and cultivate.

Reno's appraisal of the general reluctance to swallow massively counterintuitive scientific claims sits well with the perspectives of another FT contributor (and a favorite author of mine) Stephen Barr. I plowed through his Modern Physics and Ancient Faith on the exercise bike this summer, which I highly recommend to enthusiasts in the field of the philosophy of science. Dabblers might be more suited to print out an article that presents the thesis of the book in summary form, entitled "Retelling the Story of Science", and park themselves in an easy chair on a winter morning with a cup of hot coffee and a pencil. In it, Barr nails down five areas of scientific progress that have actually undermined the Enlightenment aspirations to eradicate religious perspectives on the world. The fourth and fifth these areas of discovery touch on the issues outlined by Reno above, but in a very different light. Barr takes up the favorite activity of ideological materialism, "debunking myths," and turns it back on its practitioners:

Here the scientist debunks himself. Here all the grand intellectual adventure of science ends with the statement that there is no intellectual adventure. For the mind of man has looked into itself and seen nothing there except complex chemistry, nerve impulses, and synapses firing. That, at least, is what the materialist tells us that science has seen. However, the story is really not so simple. Here again the plot has twisted. Two of the greatest discoveries of the twentieth century cast considerable doubt upon, and some would say refute, the contention that the mind of man can be explained as a mere biochemical machine.

What might those discoveries be? Read the article and find out.

On a note related to some thoughts on relativism earlier, I came across this interesting video of Penn Gillette's reaction to the gift of a Bible from one of his fans after a show (link via Creative Minority Report). A short encounter with a genuinely good Christian man had an obviously powerful effect upon him.

What is most interesting is the way he countextualized the simple gift of a small Gideon Bible. "How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible, and not tell them that?" Contra the popular conception of evangelism as judgment and condemnation, this self-proclaimed atheist accepted what this man was offering: the gift of God's love, despite the personal discomfort making such an offer would probably bring him. That offer worked on a level more profoundly than the merely intellectual:
I know there's no God, and one polite person living his life well doesn't change that. But I'll tell you, he was a very, very, very good man.
We have here something akin to what made Christianity such a popular religion in the first place. Benedict has said that
the conversion of the ancient world to Christianity was not the result of any planned activity on the part of the Church but the fruit of the proof of the faith as it became visible in the life of Christians and of the community of the Church … The Church’s community of life invited people to share in this life in which was revealed the truth from which this kind of life arose. On the other hand the apostasy of the modern age rests on the disappearance of the verification of faith in the life of Christians. In this is to be seen the great responsibility of Christians today. They should be reference points of faith as people who know about God, should in their lives demonstrate faith as truth, and should thus become signposts for others.

We have, in this short, unpolished video, an account of just what effect a life lived in fidelity to truth can have on unbelievers.

Perhaps it also gives the lie to a common saying that, in my opinion, is much abused: preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words. A true statement in itself, but perhaps it's necessary more often than we've led ourselves to believe.

27 December 2008

Some Light Holiday Reading

Nothing says "Christmas" to me like a short essay on Jewish perspectives on marriage vis-a-vis the polymorphous ancient pagan practices. For your enjoyment.

Especially my classmates in Special Moral II.

On an unrelated note, I snagged a webcam for my folks for Christmas so if you're up for it, look me up on Skype.

A blessed Christmas season to you all!

11 December 2008

In Case You Thought That's All There Is To Say

The way multicultural-speak has completely saturated reflection on globalization, you'd think the only path to maturity as a human person within the body of Christ was coming to grips with the encounter of world cultures. And you'd be right, as long as you were aware it was a necessary but insufficient dimension of the process of purification that constitutes this life.

What I mean is that there is another equally important discipline to be held in tension with stretching oneself to swallow the broadness of the world. There is more to life in cultivating a vastness to the point of containing contradictory multitudes, as Whitman did. We must never lose sight of the wonder of living, in all its humbleness and unremarkability. The great "apostle" of this way of life is none other than the great Chesterton, who in his reverence for "beef, noise, the Church, vulgarity, and beer" offers an "alternative lifestyle" to the continent-hoppers.

I was reminded of this by a few casual remarks made during our multicultural presentation (referenced in the previous post) with regard to Rudyard Kipling, that author of such wide and varied influence absorbed by way of British colonization. Chesterton points this out in his introduction to a series of essays known as Tremendous Trifles, and in prophetic counterpoint to the globalization that we now experience, set up a sign of contradiction: a portly, golden-mouthed Renaissance man who saw no reason to set out beyond the confines of his own particularity. That is, he saw the antithesis to Kipling in no one other than himself.

Apart from pointing out the great value of paying attention to literature and the mutual influence it exerts and receives from culture, Chesterton points out to us from a vantage point nearly a century away certain broad features of our own time we fail to discern for our proximity to them.

I give you the pleasure of reading the (short) essay for yourself.

Once upon a time there were two little boys who lived chiefly in the front garden, because their villa was a model one. The front garden was about the same size as the dinner table; it consisted of four strips of gravel, a square of turf with some mysterious pieces of cork standing up in the middle and one flower bed with a row of red daisies. One morning while they were at play in these romantic grounds, a passing individual, probably the milkman, leaned over the railing and engaged them in philosophical conversation. The boys, whom we will call Paul and Peter, were at least sharply interested in his remarks. For the milkman (who was, I need say, a fairy) did his duty in that state of life by offering them in the regulation manner anything that they chose to ask for. And Paul closed with the offer with a business-like abruptness, explaining that he had long wished to be a giant that he might stride across continents and oceans and visit Niagara or the Himalayas in an afternoon dinner stroll. The milkman producing a wand from his breast pocket, waved it in a hurried and perfunctory manner; and in an instant the model villa with its front garden was like a tiny doll's house at Paul's colossal feet. He went striding away with his head above the clouds to visit Niagara and the Himalayas.
But when he came to the Himalayas, he found they were quite small and silly-looking, like the little cork rockery in the garden; and when he found Niagara it was no bigger than the tap turned on in the bathroom. He wandered round the world for several minutes trying to find something really large and finding everything small, till in sheer boredom he lay down on four or five prairies and fell asleep. Unfortunately his head was just outside the hut of an intellectual backwoodsman who came out of it at that moment with an axe in one hand and a book of Neo-Catholic Philosophy in the other. The man looked at the book and then at the giant, and then at the book again. And in the book it said, "It can be maintained that the evil of pride consists in being out of proportion to the universe." So the backwoodsman put down his book, took his axe and, working eight hours a day for about a week, cut the giant's head off; and there was an end of him.

Such is the severe yet salutary history of Paul. But Peter, oddly enough, made exactly the opposite request; he said he had long wished to be a pigmy about half an inch high; and of course he immediately became one. When the transformation was over he found himself in the midst of an immense plain, covered with a tall green jungle and above which, at intervals, rose strange trees each with a head like the sun in symbolic pictures, with gigantic rays of silver and a huge heart of gold. Toward the middle of this prairie stood up a mountain of such romantic and impossible shape, yet of such stony height and dominance, that it looked like some incident of the end of the world. And far away on the faint horizon he could see the line of another forest, taller and yet more mystical, of a terrible crimson colour, like a forest on fire for ever. He set out on his adventures across that coloured plain; and he has not come to the end of it yet.

Such is the story of Peter and Paul, which contains all the highest qualities of a modern fairy tale, including that of being wholly unfit for children; and indeed the motive with which I have introduced it is not childish, but rather full of subtlety and reaction. It is in fact the almost desperate motive of excusing or palliating the pages that follow. Peter and Paul are the two primary influences upon European literature to-day; and I may be permitted to put my own preference in its most favourable shape, even if I can only do it by what little girls call telling a story.

I need scarcely say that I am the pigmy. The only excuse for the scraps that follow is that they show what can be achieved with a commonplace existence and the sacred spectacles of exaggeration. The other great literary theory, that which is roughly represented in England by Mr. Rudyard Kipling, is that we moderns are to regain the primal zest by sprawling all over the world growing used to travel and geographical variety, being at home everywhere, that is being at home nowhere. Let it be granted that a man in a frock coat is a heartrending sight; and the two alternative methods still remain. Mr. Kipling's school advises us to go to Central Africa in order to find a man without a frock coat. The school to which I belong suggests that we should stare steadily at the man until we see the man inside the frock coat. If we stare at him long enough he may even be moved to take off his coat to us; and that is a far greater compliment than his taking off his hat. In other words, we may, by fixing our attention almost fiercely on the facts actually before us, force them to turn into adventures; force them to give up their meaning and fulfil their mysterious purpose. The purpose of the Kipling literature is to show how many extraordinary things a man may see if he is active and strides from continent to continent like the giant in my tale. But the object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing. For this purpose I have taken the laziest person of my acquaintance, that is myself; and made an idle diary of such odd things as I have fallen over by accident, in walking in a very limited area at a very indolent pace. If anyone says that these are very small affairs talked about in very big language, I can only gracefully compliment him upon seeing the joke. If anyone says that I am making mountains out of molehills, I confess with pride that it is so. I can imagine no more successful and productive form of manufacture than that of making mountains out of molehills. But I would add this not unimportant fact, that molehills are mountains; one has only to become a pigmy like Peter to discover that.

I have my doubts about all this real value in mountaineering, in getting to the top of everything and overlooking everything. Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth. But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness, but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet. It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level and have no need of that celebrated Alpine guide. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help; but I will not lift up my carcass to the hills, unless it is absolutely necessary. Everything is in an attitude of mind; and at this moment I am in a comfortable attitude. I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.

07 December 2008

Multiculturalism at its Worst and Best

This past Friday, the seminary took a break from classes to explore questions of Church and culture in a seminar on the multicultural setting of ministry. Many issues were raised that are of profound importance to the Church’s self-understanding and therefore to her relationship with the cultures in which she finds herself. I raised a number of questions with the rector during a brief conversation, and he made it clear that what was presented was not being proposed as an ideal for us, but a perspective that was to be critically evaluated and reflected upon. What follows is my attempt to do both.

Our presenter raised a number of very important points, but I will confine myself to a more abstract critique of the overall flow of his perspective. This perspective can be outlined as a description of the possibilities for interaction between cultures in an age of globalization, and a claim for which of those possibilities is the best one.

First, though, we have to pin down how the word “culture” was being used in our seminar. (A grasp of this is crucial for the full weight of my critique to be felt.) As it was discussed, culture is the man-made component of the external world in which human beings live. There are four dimensions in which each culture manifests its own proper characteristics, the first being its material aspect: artifacts and architecture are prime examples of this. Certain social institutions arise from culture, including family, government, trade, and explanations of the whole (such as religion or philosophy). It also includes the symbols assembled in language, stories, rituals, or writing. Finally, culture places emphasis on certain values, spoken or unspoken, good or bad, and exerts influence on society by holding them up as worthy of imitation either in the abstract or in concrete particulars. Being of human origin, all cultures are inherently limited and therefore biased (so it is said) in their grasp of ultimate values and realities. In other words, no one culture (religious or otherwise) has a stranglehold on reality; all cultures must collectively approach one another to gain mutual insight and approach the ultimate. While the Gospel transcends any one culture, there is always a danger that one dominant culture will insert its own bias into the Gospel and thereby place itself in a position of inherent superiority over all others.

In our age, technology has made it easier for people of different cultural backgrounds to encounter one another than in any prior age. Broadly speaking, the types of encounters can be placed on a spectrum. On the one end is monocultural interaction. This is simply the presence of one culture whose members are mostly homogeneous and unaware or uninterested in the existence of other ways of being in the world. By nature, most of us are comfortable in this situation and seek to reestablish it when equilibrium is disturbed by the arrival of persons of a different culture. Next on the line is the bicultural, signifying the ability of persons to effectively live within two cultural settings without the difficulties of transition between them. Moving along further across the spectrum, the multicultural world is one in which many cultures exist side by side without any real interaction, in which each culture bumps up against the others but retains its own integrity. A cross-cultural interaction is one in which members of one culture insert themselves into another while doing no violence to it, operating within its own proper dimensions. Finally, on the other end of the spectrum is an intercultural encounter in which people of many cultures do not merely coexist but actively interact, seeking to understand one another’s cultural setting through dialogue, clarifications, common projects, and tolerance of ambiguity, pluralism, and mistakes.

So far, so good. It can be safely acknowledged that this last kind of interaction is something the Church can hold up as desirable; being the sacrament of unity between God and men, it follows that her mission requires her to set aside coercion and violence while re-establishing harmony within humanity as a sign of the ingression of the kingdom into our historical existence.

Yet there is reason for caution here. By viewing the intertultural ideal through the lens of the four cultural elements listed above, it becomes clear that this ideal is itself a sort of culture with its own artifacts, institutions, symbols, and values. In this respect, the spectrum I outlined above bends back on itself to form a circle or an ascending spiral in which intercultural symbols and values become established as the elements of an over-arching meta-culture that exerts its own influence on the colliding cultures and subcultures within it while resisting any influences that oppose.

We must recall at this point that, being products of human activity, cultures are inherently biased; this is no less true, then, of our ideal of interculturalism. To the degree that interculturalism imposes its values, symbols, and institutions on its constituent cultures and subcultures, and is not open to other perspectives, it is guilty of the same absolutism it is meant to ward off. Anyone with eyes to see is very familiar with this imperialist enforcement of cultural (and by extension, religious) relativism. The prevailing winds of our media and higher educational system reek of such dogma—the turgid and tiresome political correctness, the obligatory endowed chair of religious studies held by an agnostic, the at once prolific and banal prophets who sermonize on the glories of diversity while failing to catch through the sea of fluttering rainbow flags the ironic smiles on the faces of “fundamentalist partisans” shifting from foot to foot in the wings. It is precisely this ideology that a certain Joseph Ratzinger named the “dictatorship of relativism” in his opening homily to the conclave which elected him pope, and this dictatorship is itself an institutional artifact of the Culture of Death.

The reason why we as Christians must qualify our assent to the intercultural ideal, then, is that there a real possibility that the values, symbols, and institutions of this ideal be derived from attitudes and philosophies antithetical to the Gospel. We can see the results of a premature and naïve embrace of the ideal in those once great missionary orders that now confine themselves to teaching missiology instead.

Yet if this possibility exists, then there is also the possibility that the intercultural ideal be informed by the Gospel and hospitable to it. This possibility echoes out from among the “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” standing before the Lamb and the throne, crying out in a loud voice, “salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb” (Rev 7:9-10). The “stepping-out-of-oneself” which is so necessary for true intercultural harmony is a discipline integral to the giving of oneself that is humanity’s highest calling. Indeed, it is “law of the gift” that John Paul the Great so tirelessly preached, inspiring in the flock the paramount desire for the civilization of love that called upon each person—no matter how great or small in the estimation of the world—to discover herself through a sincere gift of herself (Letter to Families, 14). Yet this is not to be achieved through the de-mythologization of religion and the bracketing of our own very concrete origins in the person of Jesus, but through standing firmly upon those origins as upon rock. For the one who sees him “sees the Father” (Jn 14:9), and in him “the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). We ought not kid ourselves about the possibility of achieving for ourselves what is first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit.


Recommended reading and works referenced in this essay:

Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily to the conclave
“Relativism: The Central Problem for Faith Today”
(PDF), an address given by Cardinal Ratzinger during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops' Conferences of Latin America, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May 1996. A very perceptive diagnosis of the conflict as it now stands, though light on solutions (as indicated by the title). You may disagree with Benedict but there’s few who can cast the conflict in such an illuminating posture. I would suggest this specifically to those who attended our seminar this past week.
John Paul II’s Letter to Families

04 December 2008

Flannery Gets You Somewhere

Just a couple of weeks ago one of my fellow seminarians (a deacon) mentioned he would be preaching at an all-school Mass for one of our diocesan high schools. Without any specific reason, I was reminded of a letter I'd read a few years ago written by Flannery O'Connor to a young man in college. He had written her regarding his struggle with faith occasioned by his university studies. (She mentioned in a letter to a friend that "he has the unlikely name of Alfred D. Corn III and if he weren't so typical I'd say he had invented the name and himself too.") Just the other night I came across the letter again, and I was pleased at just how fresh and timely Flannery's words are.

You might know of someone that could benefit from this sage advice. I sure can. Here it is, in full.

30 May 1962

Dear Mr. Corn,

I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith; or at least it can belong to faith if faith is still valuable to you, and it must be or you would not have written me about this.

I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief. This may be the case always and not just in the 20th century. Peter said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.

As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas, or rather pieces of ideas, new frames of reference, an activation of the intellectual life which is only the beginning, but which is already running ahead of your lived experience. After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith because you feel you can’t believe. About the only way we know whether we believe or not is by what we do, and I think from your letter that you will not take the path of least resistance in this matter and simply decide that you have lost your faith and that there is nothing you can do about it.

One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college is usually a shrinking of the imaginative life. This sounds like a paradox, but I have often found it to be true. Students get so bound up with difficulties such as reconciling the clashing of so many different faiths such as Buddhism, Mohamedanism, etc. that they cease to look for God in other ways. Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. Bridges was an agnostic. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, “Give alms.” He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for the divine image in human beings). Don’s get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that you fail to look for God in this way.

The intellectual difficulties have to be met, however, and you will be meeting them for the rest of your life. When you get a reasonable hold on one, another will come to take its place. At one time, the clash of the different world religions was a difficulty for me. Where you have absolute solutions, however, you have no need of faith. Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge. The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer is because I have got, over the years, a sense of the immense sweep of creation, of the evolutionary process in everything, of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be to be the God of heaven and earth. You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories. I might suggest that you look into some of the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (THE PHENOMENON OF MAN et al.) He was a paleontologist—helped to discover Pekin man—and also a man of God. I don’t suggest you go to him for answers but for different questions, for that stretching of the imagination that you need to make you a skeptic in the face of much that you are learning, much of which is new and shocking but which when boiled down becomes less so and takes its place in the general scheme of things. What kept me a skeptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.

If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few it is a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your business to read one that presents the other side of the picture; if one isn’t satisfactory read others. Don’t think that you have to abandon reason to be a Christian. A book that might help you is THE UNITY OF PHILOSOPHICAL EXPERIENCE by Etienne Gilson. Another is Newman’s THE GRAMMAR OF ASSENT. To find out about faith, you have to go to the people who have it and you have to go to the most intelligent ones if you are going to stand up intellectually to agnostics and the general run of pagans that you are going to find in the majority of people around you. Much of the criticism of belief that you find today comes from people who are judging it from the standpoint of another and narrower discipline. The Biblical criticism of the 19th century, for instance, was the product of historical disciplines. It has been entirely revamped in the 20th century by applying broader criteria to it, and those people who lost their faith in the 19th century because of it, could better have hung on in blind trust.

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian skepticism. It will keep you free—not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you.

[From the Library of America edition of her Complete Works, p1163]

For anyone interested in her work, I would highly suggest cruising over to The Morning Oil to pick up audiofiles of the author delivering one of her lectures, and reading one of her own most famous stories, "A Good Man is Hard to Find." These are very difficult to come by so I'd grab the chance while you've got it!

01 December 2008

In Her Passivity's Service

Vacations destroy me.

The last days of classes fill up with exams and papers, but I always insist on turning them in on Friday so as not to allow them to eat into my time off. Getting this done is complicated by my tendency to occupy myself with plannning out the use of two weeks of pristine, unclaimed, most delectable time. Each day leading up to the break sees an increase in the books I am going to read, the poetry I am going to memorize, the people I am going to visit, the hunting I am going to do, the days I am going to spend in silent meditation, and the number of languages I am going to learn.

This all goes well until about three or four days into the break, when I flip on the TV set for the first time. Never mind the Netflix queue of 104 films I've been hankering to devour for months and months; now, Live Free or Die Hard is on, and I'm watching it, though it's not crossed my mind once as something I wanted to enjoy. I stay up way too late and sleep in, burning up the morning between chapters of Horatio Hornblower and nursing that semiconscious state of interminably pleasurable awareness of how I'm-awake-but-I-don't-have-to-be. I get up for lunch with high hopes for the afternoon, and shake off the guilty pleasure of lassitude that hangs about me as best I can. I deserved it, anyway. This vacation. A few hours of goal-driven achievement, then a quick break with some novelties on the Discovery Channel. It's clearly starting all over again, I can see it coming, but I'm on vacation, dangit! Relax a bit! You can't be thinking all the time! (So true, but such a lie.) Soon it's dinnertime, and there's no sense in starting anything after supper. More languor, more dissipation, more distraction. Prayer becomes less and less of a merciful release and more and more of a burden. The breviary gets put off until later and later in the evening. Praying no longer animates the day but lays it down to sleep. Soon, I'm so frustrated with myself that I escape from being alone with myself or with God into more distraction, and then it all just comes crashing down.

To be honest, the only thing that keeps me coming back to visit my folks is the conversations we have over the dinner table. Time and time again, they are the sole redeeming moments of days on end (though I will admit to coming across some pretty sweet stuff on Time Warp last week). If it weren't for that, I'd be long gone. LONG GONE.

Yet tonight, at the rector's address to the whole community, it struck me that my experience on this past vacation (and nearly every vacation) isn't so useless. Admittedly, a little wasted vacation time helps to pull back the protective cloak of self-importance I wrap around this process of preparation. But as scrupulous or neurotic as my compunction about prayer and sleeping in and television viewing taken singly might seem, they are in common powerfully oppossed to the sense of purpose and progress that is present when I'm engaged in the formation process in the seminary. They are the wobble and yaw of the rocket that's exhausted its fuel before reaching orbit. Yet the unwillingness to confront personal weakness and let it BE in the sight of God, choosing rather to fly into various diversions (the very definition of sloth), itself is a powerful experience of what I would imagine many people live on a day to day basis.

Obviously this is not something I would restrict to the category of "people without faith". I would not classify myself as such a person. I believe this is a common experience not because I have a low opinion of people but because it's so easy. The challenges to living a serene, integral, and recollected life are legion, and almost nobody would ever chastise us for our complaints of busyness and frenetic activity. They are more likely to sympathize. Yet deep down, we know better, and we are begging for someone to tell us so.

A recent homily on the season of Advent by the vocation director of my diocese spoke powerfully into this personal situation, and managed to remind me that as usual, I've got it all wrong.
You and I are probably too timid to blame God for our exile, for our long-suffering inability to make ourselves into what we want to be. We instead blame ourselves, and ask God to keep his distance and to give us more time to tinker with our self-improvement projects . . . .

Advent is the time for us to stop asking God to leave us alone as long as possible so that we can mold ourselves before having to turn in the final product for judgment at an unspecified date . . . It is futile to pray that God will give us all the time we need. Rather, we are to expect that God is coming now, so now is the time to beg God Himself to mold us into what we are supposed to be, according to His will. Most of us are too timid to blame God for our exile. We are too self-centered to ask God for less time instead of for more.

If some of that language bothers you, thank God.

After a Brief Hiatus, the Beatings Will Continue

My trusty laptop, faithful servant these many years, has finally gone on the fritz, and I'll be trolling for a nice deal on a new computer. In the meanwhile, this quarter's class lineup has some real promise and will hopefully start sparking some juicy thoughts worthy of sharing.

Check back soon ...