Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Years!

And if anyone says anything about Holy Days, I'll kill them.


In what ways is God like and unlike the imaginary number?

I had this thought, today, contemplating the Eastern essence/existences/energies distinction (which I consider quite useful and correct), and the notion that God in His incomprehensible essence (ousia) is beyond all categories and dualities, even the being/non-being duality (From what I understand, the Orthodox would emphasize that it is only in His hypostases that God can be said to "exist," while the essence is "hyperbeing".) Of course, the West would formulate this by saying that "to be" is God's essence, also not incorrect, and also essentially apophatic; equivalent to saying nothing more than "God is God" basically.

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Crazy" versus "Mainstream"

One thing that can be incredibly frustrating for me is the notion of the "mainstream" and the sense that, if ideas are outside it, they can simply be laughed at or dismissed, very often as "crazy."

This, I think, is especially a problem for those on the Right as opposed to on the Left. Though I'd like to think I avoid easy placement into either of those categories, my "default" attitude or narrative definitely tends towards the conservative. I am a traditionalist after all, and think an optimistic view of historical progressivism is incredibly naive; we do not "know better now" on human/moral/spiritual questions, not at all.

Either way, I think this problem is bigger for the Right perhaps because the common progressivist narrative means that the Leftists can be seen as edgy "revolutionaries" whose ideas have never really been tried, who may be "proven right" in the future like their progressive-banner-carrying fore-bearers, whereas those voicing more traditional opinions are seen as advocating something that was "tried and found wanting" (even though, in reality, they were never really tried, or else there is no real evidence that the "failure" in the past was anything more than a contingency in certain historical circumstances that may no longer exist...)

However, there are a lot of crazy ideas out there (and just as many in the mainstream as outside of it!) If sanity is defined by normativity, we've got a huge problem, because today's normativity sucks. And yet, unfortunately, a division of the world into "fringe" versus "mainstream" opinions has a tendency to marginalize even legitimate ideas by constructing them as hand-in-hand with truly absurd ones.

I've worried before about this sort of "martyrdom of ridicule" affecting Catholics, even my own friends. No longer does the threat of violence deter people from the faith (because we have a narrative where overt persecution like that, at least, is heroic and noble), but rather what deters people most seems to be a sort of incredibly powerful social shaming or intellectual bullying that causes most people to want to conform to what is "mainstream" in opinion; a smugly patronizing toleration can in this way be more undermining than active oppression. And many of those who do reject this conformity are then of a pathologically oppositional bent, are disgruntled "outsiders" who have an attitude of defiance towards the world, and axe to grind with society, and their neuroses in this regard can then be used to discredit any ideas associated with them in a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I myself know I need to watch out for this).

For example, I recently attended a meeting of the Pilgrims of St. Michael (the "White Berets" who publish the Michael Journal) in Toronto. Now, if you've been a consistent reader of this blog, you will know that I'm a big supporter of the Social Credit monetary reform proposals, and think they make sense of a financial system that has become an obfuscated game detached from reality. I think some common sense (and adherence to the social teachings of the Church on things like usury) would help establish a more economically just and equal world through the elimination of debt-money, etc, which also would have a profound effect on the very way people viewed their relation to labor and material goods (and the meaning of life in general).

So I went to this meeting expecting to hear a lot of solid stuff about monetary and banking reform and getting the word out about the social credit proposals. Instead I go and it's clearly a lot of crack-pots all pushing conspiracy theories in long-winded ramblings, touching here and there on how the bankers are abusing the system through exploitationist financial wizardry, but otherwise sounding totally bonkers. It would have been fascinating and hilarious if it didn't get so tediously boring after the first hour.

Luckily, I'm enough of a rational being to realize that association with kooks doesn't suddenly legitimatize an idea. I'm absolutely still convinced, on its own merits, that Social Credit is basically common sense, and that there is no reason to dismiss the idea of changing the current financial system just because it is the status quo supported by the "serious" men in suits (duh! They benefit from it!) and the smug "academic" economists of the pro-capitalist-apologia camp (who seem to believe that just because they can explain with complex mathematical models how the current system works, that this for some reason means it is the way the system should work.)

However, for many people, the sort of nuttiness I witnessed would cause them to throw out the baby with the bathwater and immediately dismiss the ideas about monetary reform. Mind you, I'm not saying there aren't connections between the corrupt, usurious financial system we currently have, the military-industrial complex and wars, and the networks of power among corporations, politicians, and the media. There clearly are, but I think the connections are much more the accumulation of the rotten effects of self-interest and greed playing out sociologically and geopolitically, and don't require any sort of particularly organized or "deliberate" conspiracy. In fact, I think it is the emergence of these evil structures from so many disparate and even competing interests that makes the whole situation even more terrifying; Satan's army has always been divided against itself, has always wrought destruction through its own Babel-chaos rather than through organized evil.

Nevertheless, it is extremely concerning how good ideas can be "tainted," as it were, by their contingent association together with other ideas that may be, actually, entirely unrelated. I've heard people who see, for example, that Republican conservatives in the US both are against abortion and deny global warming and evolution...use the obviously idiotic latter positions to conclude that the former pro-life position is idiotic (because only obvious idiots, meaning those who deny global warming and evolution, seem to hold it).

Likewise, I fear that the crediteers themselves are probably Social Credit's own worse enemy (the same, of course, can be said for trads and traditionalism) because of how they discredit (a nice little pun there) the whole thing through their other crazy ideas. And this, of course, serves the interest of the "mainstream" status-quo powers-that-be, who have an interest in marginalizing good ideas which threaten them, who prefer to neuter us with that "martyrdom of ridicule" rather than actively persecute.

To sum things up, I found a good quote explaining this phenomenon in a recent article about the Republican primary candidate Ron Paul (of whom I am a rather strong supporter, inasmuch as I do feel I have a duty to not simply withdraw from politics entirely, even as imperfect as all candidates will always be) and the recent attempts to discredit him, to delegitimatize him through ridicule or classification as "fringe" or "a kook" (because the attempts to simply dismiss him through a patronizing tactic of merely ignoring him failed) based on some old newsletters of his:

So why were Ron Paul or his ghostwriters engaged in racism and conspiracy theories? And why did Ron Paul allow this?

The first answer is simply that marginal causes attract marginal people.

The Gold Standard and non-interventionism have long been pushed to the fringe of our politics, and ambitious people tend to dive into the mainstream. That means that some of the 'talent' that marginalized ideas attract will be odd and unstable.

There are two strategies for dealing with this problem. You purge your movement of cranks to preserve credibility and risk alienating a chunk of supporters. Or you let everyone in your movement fly their freak flag and live with the consequences. Ron Paul, being a libertarian, has always done the latter.

I think this is a huge problem. Today, talented people (driven by ambition) dive into what is "mainstream" or socially acceptable or popular, taking sides within narrowly defined pre-packaged ideological platforms (of liberal or conservative, usually), in this culture war of identity politics...rather than actually considering each idea on its own merit or trying to form a consistent philosophy from foundational axioms and logic. Even the politicians who portray themselves a "outsiders" or "mavericks"...are always actually entirely "mainstream."

And when most of your intelligent people "sell out" (sell their souls, really) in this manner to the "mainstream," when most of the people in power are more concerned with conforming to media-mass-marketed ideologies (that are conveniently self-serving)...then your society is stuck in a mire that only a radical revolt against this malaise could overthrow. But radicals, by the very fact of being willing to stand up and say the emperor is naked on one thing...also often tend to be the sort of people who take oppositional or non-conformist stances on a lot of things (even though in most other cases that is unnecessary). This is the problem of freakiness.

It takes a radical, someone unconcerned with being "normal" or holding socially acceptable positions, to overthrow the status quo, or at least to stand against it consistently with a voice that can gradually influence the "mainstream" horizons to expand to include it or drift in its direction. Indeed, it often takes a sort of freak. But most of the sort of people willing to be radicals, willing to take a freakish stand on one thing...are, correlated with that, crazy in general (and not merely "crazy like a fox"). And hence a difficult catch-22.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Good For Bishop Johan Bonny!

Rorate Caeli threw a hissy-fit today over this completely innocuous quote by a Belgian bishop:
I fully understand it. The Church can not avoid the debate about the criteria for ordination. Personally, I strongly believe in the value of the unmarried priesthood and a full availability for Christ and the Church community. But I also think that the ordination of a number of married men or deacons to the priesthood can be an enrichment for the Church. In the eastern Catholic Churches married priests are more the rule than the exception. That fact is therefore not unfamiliar for the Catholic Church. The ordination of women to priests is theologically far more difficult. In the west that concern is present in broad layers of society, but worldwide the support is extremely small. But I do think that there needs to be more discussion about the place and role of the woman in the Church. Women must be allowed to take on responsible duties in the Church, on all levels.
Okay, so he didn't say "theologically impossible," but only said "far more difficult." He also seems to suggest some notion that level of "support" somehow matters in whether we do it (and if the support did materialize worldwide, is he saying we then could do it? Ordination of women to the priesthood is impossible regardless of support level).

Still, the statement is in-itself entirely non-controversial, and I'm glad bishops are starting to say stuff like this. I think you have to say it when the average age of priests in your diocese is 75-80! Either the criteria for ordination must be loosened, or you collapse institutionally!

The fact that Rorate Caeli keeps acting like suggesting married priests is heresy and lumps it with other forms of actual dissent...means they're flying their crazy flag again. I did however find interesting the comment from the user Gabriel regarding the priesthood in the East:

For the record, I don't support the current movement to allow married priests within the Latin Rite. With that said, I sense more than a bit of derision toward the Bishop's choice to reference the unbroken tradition of the Christian East to allow married priests and deacons so long as the marriage occurs prior to ordination. (There are some variants even within the East. For instance, the Slavic Churches generally don't allow elevation to the Subdiaconate until marriage.)

Even so, there's room for some nuance here. For centuries, priests in the East (and I am referencing the Orthodox specifically, though this generally applies to Eastern Catholics as well) functioned as civil servants, serving the Liturgy once-a-week (and on some feast days) and performing baptisms, funerals, etc. Spiritual guidance was largely left to the monasteries and many monastics heard confessions more regularly than parish priests (secular clergy). Most secular clergy held what we would call "second jobs," either teaching or, in rural areas, tending to farming in order to support their families. The concept of a "full-time priest," which most Catholics take for granted, was simply not the case unless one lived in a major urban center or had a monastery near the village. Even in the U.S. today, most Orthodox parishes are open on Sundays (and maybe Saturday night for Vespers) and that's it. Most missions have a difficult time supporting priests because it means supporting their families as well. Moreover, the common assertion made by Orthodox (and some Eastern Catholics) that a married priesthood is superior because the priest can better relate to his flock strikes me as dubious. Yes, that may be true in some instances, but there are plenty of terrible married clergy in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.

I would also add that married priesthood in Orthodoxy (I can't speak on this in Catholicism) has some other downsides which few comment on. There is a longstanding joke within Orthodoxy, particularly in America, of the nervous seminarian praying his bishop won't ordain him before he can lock-down a bride (which isn't as easy as you'd think, given what the future will look like). There's also a tendency in Orthodoxy to treat the priesthood as a jacket you put on and take off, similarly to a pastorate at a Protestant church. This is reinforced, intentionally or not, by the fact that defrocking is a far simpler process in the East than the West; people quit being Orthodox priests all of the time, and there are no repercussions for it.
I, of course, have often suggested the notion that a married priesthood, as well as a part-time volunteer priesthood (ala the permanent diaconate), are absolutely essential at this point in history if we're going to save the Church from demographic collapse. I also think defrocking should be much easier, and that we must eliminate this idea that a priest can never be "fired" (to the point that some dioceses even give a sort of "alimony" to laicized priests, even as they are shamed and banned from all public service in the church), which protectionism was clearly a huge factor in the abuse crisis. The Orthodox get many things right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two Years

Today is the two-year anniversary of this blog. This second year has had only half as many posts as the first (still quite a lot!) and things are definitely slowing down (though I do have a whole backlog of post ideas I hope to get around to now that the Christmas rush is over and life is settling into a more regular routine), but truly I can say that this experience has changed the course of my life in some extremely concrete ways, especially as regards the relationships I've formed through networking with readers. My message, looking back, is pretty much the same as last year really, so I won't repeat; beyond that, I'm praying for all my readers, and please pray for me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two Important Statements

The New Liturgical Movement today has two letters posted that I consider very important in their implications and in what they indicate about the current atmosphere or direction in the Church.

The first was the rather incredible statement from Cardinal Ranjith saying:
It is my firm conviction that the Vetus Ordo represents to a great extent and in the most fulfilling way that mystical and transcendent call to an encounter with God in the liturgy. Hence the time has come for us to not only renew through radical changes the content of the new Liturgy, but also to encourage more and more a return of the Vetus Ordo, as a way for a true renewal of the Church [...] the time has come for us to be courageous in working for a true reform of the reform and also a return to the true liturgy of the Church, which had developed over its bi-millenial history in a continuous flow.
This is rather astounding, it seems to me. We have a Cardinal calling for the new liturgy to be radically changed (in content, which is to say in the text and rubrics itself, and not merely in the ars celebrandi, as so much of the useless "reform of the reform" idea has focused on before).

But, more than that, he's also essentially saying that the old liturgy is better, more fulfilling, that the "time has come" to basically go back to it, and that it is actually the "true" liturgy of the church (the Latin church, at least; I have my own mixed feelings about a Cardinal from Sri Lanka pushing Tridentinism rather than that region of the world using traditional Indo-Syrian liturgies as would seem appropriate...but that's another gripe for another day).

This is a rather strong statement to be coming from a Cardinal!

The other was this letter from the Institute of the Good Shepherd that outlines their own self-defined role (approved by the Church) as offering "constructive critique" of the modern status quo in the Church (both liturgically and doctrinally), yet in full and regular communion. I once coined a similar idea, "His Holiness's loyal opposition," of which this reminded me.

I've discussed before, in regards to the question of Vatican II and continuity, that if there is to be any reconciliation on these matters (and of the Church with Her own history and tradition) an attitude along the lines of "this is a prudential question, Catholics are free to debate this" is going to be key (on questions such as Church-State relations, institutional diplomacy with other confessions, pastoral approach, theological style, etc). This attitude of the Institut du Bon Pasteur seems like an example of that, a positive development.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Magic School Bus, Dolly Parton, Recycling, and One of My (Sort of) Favorite Christmas Songs...

I couldn't find just this clip online, so I had to make a video with only a still image, but the whole holiday special is now available here.

Internal Dialogue

Often I come up with post ideas in the form of hypothetical conversations I have. I don't know if anyone else does this (I assume some people do), but my internal life has increasingly become, from my childhood self-speaking imaginary, more and more a dialogue, usually with a few important figures in my life whose voices I have internalized and with whom I (in my mind) have "practice" discussions.

I also vaguely imagine myself speaking to St. Thomas Aquinas quite a lot, but oddly not in theological type discussions (as I assume we already agree there); rather, my "conversations" with St. Thomas usually involves "explaining" various aspects of the modern world (technological, political, social, artistic, philosophical, scientific, etc) that a medieval would find baffling.

I'm sure this is really about reconciling, for myself, these developments (which can seem so discontinuous with ideas of an organic human "default" imagined as medievalesque) in some sort of rational contextualization to prove, to myself, that we're still living in the same civilization, the same humanity, the same reality. That, ultimately, the same human (and, of course, Christian) Reason, of which Aquinas (in the Summa) in some sense symbolizes the supreme historical voice (in my imagination at least)...can still accommodate all of it. That the basic framework or paradigm, while it may need to be "expanded," does not need to be "overthrown."

Now, all these sorts of internal discussions (about topics both lofty and mundane, sacred and profane) are not nearly as rich as actually talking to the real human beings, of course. Really, this small "cast of characters" serve as little more than Socratic interlocutors who agree with me or ask questions or raise the objections I anticipate, but their main point is just to help me consider how I'd present an argument to this or that person or type of person (the "type" the specific person represents to me) in a manner that assumes the common ground or set or presumptions or experiences we already share based on our relationship.

This helps me flesh out ideas, and it also allows me to "rehearse" potential conversations in real life (often with those people themselves) and to prepare a script I can use in actual conversation. Or, rather than a script, it's more like a whole tool-box or repertoire of pre-prepared ideas or structures or anecdotes or analogies or particular turns of phrase I can deploy in conversation or debate in a dynamic fashion.

And, indeed, very often these internal conversations are continuations, in a l'esprit de l'escalier sort of way, of conversations I had in real life, sometimes recently, sometimes from months and months prior. As I implied above, only real conversations with real human beings are ever truly "generative" for me creatively (you will notice that many of my posts here start with "I was having a discussion the other day...") There are some pretty famous movies that are just conversations like this, that capture the energy and dynamism when two people really "click" conversationally, but there is nothing comparable to actually being an active and integral participant in mind speaking to mind and heart speaking to heart; this is Trinitarian relationality at its best.

And yet, of course, it does not end with the conversation itself in this life. Rather, the conversation brings up a variety of arguments and ideas and threads that usually are not (and, for time constraints, cannot be) resolved in the original conversation itself, but which ferment and continue playing out in my head for days or weeks afterward, but definitely set in motion and "fueled by" the original conversation (and sometimes by follow-up conversations).

Sometimes the direction these takes is quite surprising, and sometimes this involves the input of several unrelated conversations, with different people, juxtaposed over the course of days leading to an even richer coalescing of ideas in my mind. Just recently, combined with the enthusiasm from some positive emotional factors, one of these "brainstorms" has been occurring, which has "activated" an energized a variety of previous conversations and ideas, and this has spawned a variety of ideas for posts that I'd like to write if I find the time.

For now, though, Merry Christmas to all, especially those of you in my life with whom dialogue has been so productive, and the synergy so creative and transformative.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Our Lady's Virginity In Partu

The New Theological Movement has a post on the Virgin Birth which lays out the orthodox dogma and then goes on to interpret it in the traditional pious manner (ie, in the most extraordinarily miraculous and literal way), but some interesting points have been raised in the comments thread.

I wrote a reply there which I'll re-post (and maybe expand on a bit) here. These are just thoughts and musings, really, I don't have any firm claims or conclusions on any of this yet really, and if I slip into anything heretical sounding it is unintentional. I am, however, quite frank in my physiological descriptions, so be warned if you are squeamish or think such biologizing of Our Lady is indelicate. Anyway, my thoughts:

The virginity "in partu" is certainly dogmatic.

I do wonder, however, how much of the specific theories or implications about what "virginity in partu" concretely means...are dogmatic.

That (to use the frank biological terms) Mary's hymen was not ruptured, at least, seems unquestionable. If the dogma of her virginity in partu is to have any meaningfulness to it rather than just being an empty tautology, that seems to be the bare minimum.

As Cardinal Ratzinger himself once said, "The cavalier divorce of 'biology' and theology omits precisely man from consideration; it becomes a self-contradiction insofar as the initial, essential point of the whole matter lies precisely in the affirmation that in all that concerns man the biological is also human and especially in what concerns the divinely-human nothing is 'merely biological.' Banishment of the corporeal, or sexual, into pure biology, all the talk about the 'merely biological,' is consequently the exact opposite of what faith intends. For faith tells us of the spirituality of the biological as well as the corporeality of the spiritual and divine. On this point the choice is between all or nothing. The attempt to preserve a spiritual, distilled remainder after the biological element has been eliminated denies the very spiritual reality which is the principal concern of the faith in the God become flesh."

So, clearly, for Mary to be a real "sign" or signifier...we have to be talking about physiological and not just moral virginity. The outward sign must signify the inward reality in our Sacramental understanding of the world and our typological system.

However, I'm tempted to wonder just how much is necessarily implied beyond that.

Indeed, the way the Fathers and Theologians (and even the post on NTM) sounds sometimes like these men didn't or don't have a terribly good understanding of the female anatomy...

For example, physiologically speaking, the hymen and the cervix are two different things. Saying that Mary's hymen was not ruptured and that her "womb was not opened"...are two very separate physiological claims.

The womb is always "open" a bit before pregnancy, that's how menstruation happens (though this interesting article, from which I got the Ratzinger quote, explores that very question about Our Lady under the appropriate title "Where Angels Fear to Tread"). And certainly, while there is an understandable symbolic connection between physiological virginity, in the sense of an intact hymen, and moral virginity (ie, though one can happen without the other, first penetration and rupturing of the hymen often coincide)...there is no immediate connection between the stretching of the cervix and lack of sexual intercourse (it is not the "closure" of the womb, the uterus, which is immediately affected by sexual experience, but only of the vagina).

[All this also brings up the question, as an aside, of just what constitutes even "moral virginity." The Catholic Encyclopedia, following Aquinas in the Summa, defines it as, "the absence, in the past and in the present, of all complete and voluntary delectation, whether from lust or from the lawful use of marriage; and the formal element, that is the firm resolution to abstain forever from sexual pleasure." It should be noted that, strictly speaking, under such a definition any willful sexual pleasure, not merely intercourse but even just solo masturbation, would forfeit the aureole; as Aquinas says, "whether copulation takes place or not." This may disturb some of you accustomed to the "pop cultural" definitions of virginity which (at their most "technical") refer only to penetration or (at their broadest) only to genital interaction with another person. Then again, this "theological" definition also thankfully sees women who are raped as still potential moral virgins and it is, of course, only a total lack of any willful venereal pleasure which makes sense as an internally consistent moral category.]

Either way, there are some strange questions raised if we insist that her womb, her uterus itself (and not merely the seal of her virginity, ie, the hymen) remained "closed" afterward. Do we mean the mucus plug (which only would have developed with pregnancy in the first place) never released (ie, water breaking)? And then what happened to the umbilicus, the placenta, or the fluid of the amniotic sac? Did they all pass out miraculously too? I will add for consideration this interesting tidbit: I've heard that the Lateran at one point in history claimed to have the after-birth and umbilicus of Christ as a relic preserved as some sort of gelatinous mass in a vat of oil.

Furthermore, passing through "like light through glass" doesn't necessarily seem the only way to preserve the virginity in partu. For example, the hymen could have miraculously stretched (like bubble gum or something) only to "snap back into place" after the infant Jesus passed through; the hymen is already perforated (for menses to pass out) anyway, there's already an opening or openings. And so a "stretching" theory, for example, would not necessarily exclude pain. And yet would be another possible way to imagine virginity, even physiologically, being preserved in partu; the dogma requires us to believe it was preserved somehow, it does not require us to believe it was preserved by Christ passing out in the manner of a subtle body (ie, the "beaming down like Star Trek" theory).

Which does bring up Revelations. Yes, as one might point out, the Woman of Revelations crying out in labor pains is Ecclesia in the pains of persecution, of birthing Christ into the World. But the thing about our typological system is that it is wonderfully coherent. If we can say something of the Church, we can almost always say it of Mary. If the Church has "birthing pains" parallel to Her suffering at the foot of Her Bridegroom's Cross throughout history...there is something potentially fitting about the idea that the Virgin Mary (as Type of the Church) would have "played out" this same symbolism (even while remaining a virgin like the Church).

Furthermore, the No Birth Pains idea seems to involve a notion of the Immaculate Conception that is perhaps an over-extension. Mary was conceived already a state of sanctifying grace, in original justice...but that didn't mean she had the Preternatural Gifts restored. Arbitrarily granting her some but not all of them on account of her sinlessness strikes me as, well, arbitrary (I even have questions about just what her freedom from concupiscence would have meant; I'm not convinced it necessarily meant the Preternatural Gift of Integrity...

Then again, maybe it was just because Christ did not want to hurt His Mother, or as merely a miraculous sign (though, for whom? Who would have possibly seen the state of Our Lady's cervix!?) along the lines that Aquinas, I believe, suggests that Christ took on each of the four features of a glorified body (impassibility, clarity, subtlety, and agility) during various miracles even before His Resurrection in glory.

So I'm not saying the traditional very extraordinary interpretation isn't possible or correct. I just don't know if the bare minimum of the dogma itself requires it. One would not seem to be a heretic (though, perhaps, guilty of something like "offense to pious ears") if one proposed any of the alternatives I mention above, as long as one held that the hymen itself remained unruptured somehow. I think there is at least room for discussion and debate when it comes to the "minimalist" vs "maximalist" interpretations of this dogma.

Our Lady remained even a physiological virgin in the miraculous birth of Christ, to be sure, but just how, by what method this was accomplished, or how much it implies for what specifically and concretely went on behind the "cloister wall" of the hymen (ie, in terms of the dilation of the cervix, or stretching of the birth canal, or bleeding and fluids, or the afterbirth)...I do not think are within the scope of the Revealed dogma itself. And so, I would also point out, that any teaching about lacking birthing pains would necessarily be a separate article of faith, as a lack of pain is not intrinsically required by either the idea of in partu virginity or the Immaculate Conception.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Old News Apparently, But So Funny

I'd never seen it, though many of you apparently already will have. From here:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

700th Post

That last one was my 700th. This is my 701st. I'm not sure I have 100 more in me, honestly. But a few people have suggested somehow compiling my best posts into a book. I'd need an editor for that to cut my rambling style down. I guess the "good" posts are the substantive ones I've listed in the Index in the side-bar (having weeded out mere article recommendations, humor, and personal esoterica). Things are definitely slowing down here, though. I have a rather lengthy list of ideas I still want to flesh out, but real life takes precedence now, I can't waste so much time online anymore right now. But I'm not going away either. I hope all is well with everyone during this season.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On Apostates: Dogs Returning To Their Vomit

I'd never read 2 Peter before. It's only three chapters, but I found the second particularly powerful regarding the especially odious damnation of those contemptibles who, having been saved for a moment, return to their old ways. People who think of the New Testament as full of love rather than fire and brimstone should take heed:

[6] And reducing the cities of the Sodomites, and of the Gomorrhites, into ashes, condemned them to be overthrown, making them an example to those that should after act wickedly. [7] And delivered just Lot, oppressed by the injustice and lewd conversation of the wicked. [8] For in sight and hearing he was just: dwelling among them, who from day to day vexed the just soul with unjust works. [9] The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly from temptation, but to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be tormented. [10] And especially them who walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government, audacious, self willed, they fear not to bring in sects, blaspheming. [11] Whereas angels who are greater in strength and power, bring not against themselves a railing judgment. [12] But these men, as irrational beasts, naturally tending to the snare and to destruction, blaspheming those things which they know not, shall perish in their corruption, [13] Receiving the reward of their injustice, counting for a pleasure the delights of a day: stains and spots, sporting themselves to excess, rioting in their feasts with you: [14] Having eyes full of adultery and of sin that ceaseth not: alluring unstable souls, having their heart exercised with covetousness, children of malediction: [15] Leaving the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam of Bosor, who loved the wages of iniquity, [16] but had a check of his madness, the dumb beast used to the yoke, which speaking with man's voice, forbade the folly of the prophet. [17] These are fountains without water, and clouds tossed with whirlwinds, to whom the mist of darkness is reserved. [18] For, speaking proud words of vanity, they allure by the desires of fleshly riotousness, those who for a little while escape, such as converse in error: [19] Promising them liberty, whereas they themselves are the slaves of corruption. For by whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is the slave. [20] For if, flying from the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they be again entangled in them and overcome: their latter state is become unto them worse than the former. [21] For it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than after they have known it, to turn back from that holy commandment which was delivered to them. [22] For, that of the true proverb has happened to them: The dog is returned to his vomit: and, The sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.

Traditional Lectio Cycle

I was actually very glad today to see (the usually crazy) Rorate Caeli point this out:

Now, since what I want to do is read all of Scripture (yes, I am rather obsessive about continuity and completeness), I have decided to follow the order prescribed in the Breviary only in broad outline. So rather than reading exactly that which is prescribed in the Divine Office, I am going to read every book of the Bible at the time in which the Divine Office prescribes selections from that book.
I'm so happy Rorate posted this as I've been thinking of making something like this myself a lot lately, so this is very helpful and a good reminder.

Now, I'd alter it to fit my own tastes/needs. Specifically, I'd like to keep a "three lesson" structure every day, the premise or conceit being that someday the actual liturgical lectionary for Matins and Mass could have a "long form" that included all of it (with the Old Testament/Prophecy lesson at Mass being usually simply the "most important" selection of what would be included more fully/comprehensively at Matins). But this certainly provides a good general outline of how the books are distributed traditionally throughout the year.

In my lectionary/lectio dreams, since Epistles are read at Mass (and that 1967 Ferial Lectionary gives room for a much greater selection in that regard), I would probably be inclined (in my own "ideal" lectionary having three lessons at Mass) to replace at Matins the parts of the year where that hour has New Testament readings with more Old Testament readings (and to move those Epistle readings to [daily] Mass); this might allow one to "spread out" the Old Testament books (especially of the Pentateuch) a bit more. I'm also not too terribly concerned about how the Psalms are integrated into this because those are being prayed weekly in the Divine Office anyway (though he makes an interesting point about wanting to read the Psalms as a book "in order" that I do have to consider).

Still, for anyone looking for a lectio cycle with only one selection each day (rather than a Prophecy, Epistle, and Gospel as I'd prefer; the latter two selections probably being quite short)...this is a very good arrangement, I think. Although, as I just said above, I'd be inclined to make Matins exclusively Old Testament by adding the Epistles from those parts of the year to [ferial] Mass instead...the fact that they do have a traditional place in the yearly Matins cycle (even if that cycle is a sort of skeletal remnant pointing to a much greater ancient fullness) does at least then help to give them a "place" in any one-selection (as opposed to three-selection) lectio schema for the year which is attempting to base itself on a traditional liturgical cycle (and I then I think then suggesting the Gospels for Easter Week makes sense.)

I don't know when I'll get around to completing my own expanded/"long form" lectionary proposal (which would, to my liturgically-oriented mind, inevitably function as my "private" three-selection lectio cycle too, to the point that I might just read the expanded Old Testament lesson [divided in three of course] when praying Matins rather than the tiny "representative" snippets it actually gives), but maybe soon I will do a post compiling the various charts I've made of these liturgical things; I have "hidden" links to the files in various old posts of mine, but it would be convenient for people to have them in one place and explicitly labelled, I suppose...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What If: Gift Money

When you buy something at Canadian Tire, you get some "Canadian Tire Money," which is basically a small reimbursement to try to promote customer loyalty. I've never bothered to save mine to use later (it's usually only a few cents), I just put it in the big bin they have at the door for donating it to some cause instead. This caused me to have a weird thought on the subway the other day: what if money (or a certain proportion of our money) could not be spent on ourselves, but could only be donated to a cause of choice?

What if, instead of an economy where we used the money we earn to purchase goods and services that we want, that by the very exchange of the money transfers possession of those things to us in a quid pro quo...instead we had an economy where our money (whether wages for labor, or profit from owning a share of the capital, or rent from land, or something else like the Social Dividend) could only be donated to various "causes" which then produced their corresponding goods to be freely distributed.

This would be equivalent to using our money as a sort of impersonal "vote" about what should be produced by society (with no guarantee that we ourselves would be a beneficiary of what was produced unless the overall proportions of the distribution worked out that way.)

In other words, where we gave our money to various firms based on what we wanted to see produced (but without that vote, in fact, giving we ourselves a title to those things). Perhaps, once the votes about what should be produced are in, the totals are then distributed equally or something like that.

I'm not proposing this as a workable economic system necessarily, don't get me wrong (though I don't think this idea would necessarily conflict with my support of the Social Credit monentary reforms). In fact, it is unclear what incentive people would have to work any more than anyone else in this system (unless somehow the various producers considered how "generous" you were when determining your allotment).

But I did have to think that, in such a system where we were voting on what we wanted society to produce generally without bootstrapping our vote to our own obtaining of those goods...probably a lot more production capacity would shift onto necessities of life rather than superfluous consumerist goods.

Now, classical economists would probably tell us this system (even if people did have an incentive to earn more) would be incredibly inefficient because, they'd say, supply should be dictated by demand. And yet, wouldn't this be a way of expressing a different, and more altruistic, form of "demand"? Specifically, it would force us to consider what we want to be produced in general as opposed to just for ourselves. It would render the expression of our economic desire communitarian rather than individualist.

When you have money to spend on yourself, you might buy some ridiculous big-screen TV. But if you could only donate your money, essentially voting on what society should produce without any guarantee of obtaining one yourself, would you vote for "big screen TVs"?? Or would you, more likely, vote for necessities like food and productive "humanitarian" things? Wouldn't you probably in such a situation put a little more of the total into, say, food production "just to be safe" to make sure society produced enough (for you and others)?

In a sense, spending is a "vote" in the free market for what should be produced. But it's a vote we're also "bribed" for because by making it we, in fact, are given the good. "Vote for resources to be allocated to our production and we'll give you a cut in the form of the very good produced!"

But if we all had money (or at least some money) that didn't work that way, that we couldn't spend on ourselves but could only "donate" (in order to produce goods which could then only be freely distributed according to some system), I tend to think the causes we'd donate to (equivalent to saying: the forms of production we'd "vote" for) would be very different than the ones we choose when we're spending on ourselves.

This sort of reminded me about the idea of a "gift economy" (albeit in a more complex, and impersonal, institutionalized form) that does not have quid pro quo.

Just a weird little thought I had.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Very Relevant Quote

Thanks to Vox Nova for this quote from Thomas Merton, which strikes me as very relevant given that I know people who (in the mauvaise foi sort of way) reject their own (and others) spiritual (and even just psycho-emotional) agency through this sort of viewing themselves as inevitable products of modernity, as if that somehow constitutes an excuse for the rot within them:

So now [about to enter Columbia as an undergraduate, after two failed years at Cambridge], when the time came for me to take spiritual stock of myself, it was natural that I should do so by projecting my whole spiritual condition into the sphere of economic history and the class-struggle. In other words, the conclusion I came to was that it was not so much I myself that was to blame for my unhappiness, but the society in which I lived.

I considered the person that I now was, the person that I had been at Cambridge, and that I had made of myself, and I saw clearly enough that I was the product of my times, my society, and my class. I was something that had been spawned by the selfishness and irresponsibility of the materialistic century in which I lived. However, what I did not see was that my own age and class only had an accidental part to play in this. They gave my egoism and pride and my other sins a peculiar character of weak and supercilious flippancy proper to this particular century: but that was only on the surface. Underneath, it was the same old story of greed and lust and self-love, of the three concupiscences bred in the rich, rotted undergrowth of what is technically called ‘the world,’ in every age, in every class. [From part one, chapter four, "Children of the Marketplace," p. 147 of the Harvest Books edition, 1999]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Organic Development?

A friend send me this interesting article about a parish in full communion with the Church that has apparently been doing its own sort of improv vernacular liturgy since before Vatican II, and thus has been using an English translation similar to the new new one for longer than the old new one was even around in the first place:

But for one Mass at Corpus Christi, the parish church of Columbia University, little if anything is expected to change. That is because this small church, with its intellectual history and fierce stubborn streak, never fully adopted the more modern version of the Mass that the church’s hierarchy is now ordering replaced.

For example, starting this weekend, all parishes will be saying, “And with your spirit,” as Corpus Christi’s has been saying for decades. And where there are small differences between the new translation and Corpus Christi’s version, which stems from the 1960s, Corpus Christi is expecting to stay with its own words.

“There are a lot of us who feel that the last 35 years of translation has been very banal and pedestrian, and the way that one wants to address God in a liturgy should not be pedestrian,” said Brenda Fairaday, a parishioner here since the 1970s and an ardent defender of the church’s liturgy. The new translation, she said, “is better,” but at times reads as if it was translated by a nonnative English speaker: “It needs severe editing,” she said.

How Corpus Christi has managed to do its own thing in a church that insists, as a general rule, on uniformity in the Mass is steeped in local lore. But most agree it began with the progressive priest who built the current church in the 1930s, the Rev. George Barry Ford, who is perhaps best known for inspiring Thomas Merton, the renowned 20th-century Catholic mystic and writer, to convert to Catholicism when he was a Columbia student.

Long before the Vatican permitted Mass in the vernacular, Father Ford would station a priest in the pews to translate the mass into English as the main priest performed the sacred rites in Latin, parishioners said. The congregation would respond to parts of the Mass in English, highly unusual for the time.

“Elements of our Mass, when we started doing it here, were very progressive at the time,” said Bill Derby, a eucharistic minister at the church. “Then we kept doing them when the tide changed and became way more modern. And now they are going back to what we have been doing all along.

In the 1960s, the parish priest was Msgr. Myles M. Bourke, a liturgist who directed the first English translation of the New American Bible. Informed by his own work, he solidified the mix of Gregorian chant, classical hymns and English-language liturgy that is still in use. The well-worn 1966 hymnals in the pews contain a translation of the Mass close to the one that Rome is unveiling.

In recent years, Corpus Christi’s current pastor, the Rev. Raymond M. Rafferty, switched most of the Masses to the modern, accepted translation, in part, he said, because “I found there was a cacophony at the Masses: some were saying the old and some the new.” But he maintained the traditions of the parish in the 11:15 a.m. Mass on Sundays.

“With the type of music that we do, it fit with the music,” Father Rafferty said. Many chants come from a 1978 Latin text, Liber Cantualis, and they also add some contemporary commissioned pieces. “It’s quite amazing how well the congregation can do these hymns,” he said.

There have been attempts over the years to steer the liturgy more in line with “downtown,” meaning the seat of the archdiocese, at St. Patrick’s, Mr. Derby said. (“Ain’t going to happen,” said Kathy Darling, a Corpus Christi parishioner since 1971.) But in the end, Mr. Derby said, the parishioners say what is in their hearts.

The Rev. Daniel J. Merz, associate director of the secretariat of Divine Worship at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is in charge of putting the new liturgy in place, was surprised this week to hear of the small parish church that was already saying some of it.

“Sometimes,” he said, “it’s more important to have peace in the church than uniformity.”

I wonder if the fact that the books for this idiosyncratic liturgy of theirs apparently come from before the Novus Ordo means that their liturgy is basically a translation of the Old Rite (or at least the 1965 version) into the vernacular? Given that the New Rite wasn't around yet, it must have been like that at some point, even if they Novus Ordo-ized (while keeping their traditional translation) later.

I'm going to look into that, actually, contact them. It would be a huge deal/precedent (even if they are saying "and with your spirit" instead of "and with
thy spirit" and the guy was a translator of the *shudder* NAB.) Either way, it's a fascinating case of local liturgical development shirking hyper-centralization that sounds like it didn't turn out as a complete disaster. The Western Rite Orthodox would be proud.

I've been meaning to do a post on the possibilities of organic development and how a more "hands-off" approach from the Vatican could be prevented from collapsing into total liturgical decadence, trying to find the happy medium between legitimate innovation and adaptation on the one hand and "abuse" that devolves into kumbayah clown Masses and giant puppets on the other (which reminds me: I actually attended a Reggae Mass last night, lol. Not as bad as you might think but, then, my musical tastes and liturgical wet dreams have already been made clear here, so perhaps I'm not entirely objective.)

Basically, I think "restarting" the idea of local tradition and organic development would have to involve an approach that weeded out the bad, but wasn't the sort of textual-positivist liturgical totalitarianism that the "say the black, do the red" crowd proposes; in other words, the governance on the matter would have become proscriptive, not prescriptive. And the example of this parish has given me a lot to think about in that regard.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Holy Dark...

"...was moving too, and every breath we drew was..."

Artificial lighting always impinges upon my sense of the Sacred. Of course, this is "merely" emotionalism, sensualism, aestheticism, what-have-you. Nevertheless, the Sacred in liturgy is in some part emotional, an "altered state of consciousness" induced which touches the very core of our being, and this is why Beauty in liturgy and church architecture is so important.

My most nostalgic memories of "the sacred" in my childhood, before I was really personally religious, were of the deep dark-blue stained glass in my home parish on hot summer mornings when the church was all dark and silent inside. I don't know why I was there, something for religious education ("CCD") perhaps. Also dressing up and going to Mass Easter morning (when Easter fell late enough for the Spring weather to be nice), and they had an "overflow" Mass in the school gym, but the gym's big windows meant the only light they needed was that of the Easter morn. And they'd at least use the "O Filii et Filiae" melody for the Alleluia (..."hallelujah.")

On the other hand, one of the most annoying memories I had was when the power went out at church one Sunday morning (in the Summer!) and they were rushing around to get a generator and to get at least some lights on, as if Mass couldn't proceed without them. I also remember some friends and I being a bit obnoxious giving a hard time to a priest friend during my undergrad about relying on the big overhead lights in our little chapel for the morning Low Masses we served even though the room has literally a whole wall of full length windows.

One of the things the trads are always pushing about the old liturgy is the opportunity for "sacred silence." Of course, they then totally subvert this by "singing over" or playing organ motets over all the inaudible parts as if a little silent respite were the worst thing in the world that could happen. And of course, the Novus Ordo's attempt to reclaim sacred silence (which is not "built into" it) is when that awkward thing happens some places where everyone just sits for a token 20 seconds after one of the lessons to "meditate" on it (even though I'm usually using the time to think about cartoons from the 1990's, which were awesome, or trying to discretely find some eye-candy among the younger congregants).

Oh, and the white-noise of heaters or air-conditioners doesn't help. And if you've got the buzzing of fluorescent lights, that's a double-whammy of profaneness inserted into what's supposed to be sacred space and sacred time. And, while I'm on this "cascading criticism" (a term my dad taught me): wall-to-wall carpeting in churches is vulgar and stupid too; I'm supposed to hear footsteps echoing, dammit!

Is all the artificial lighting so that we can all read along in our missalettes? Wasn't the whole point of putting in English so that we wouldn't have to have our noses buried in books?!?

As I've been attending the daily morning Mass at the Cathedral here lately, I'm happy that it's better than most places inasmuch as it's a big space and the lights are high above and hidden in yellow-glass "lanterns" that make them vaguely less intrusive. Still, I wish churches, especially when there is that beautiful, calming, Sacred morning light of the dawn golden-hour streaming in...would just turn off the lights. There is something so amazing about a darker room naturally lit when it's bright outside, something a bit drowsy, but definitely something Sacred.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This Made Me Cry A Little

I saw this a few months ago, it's so true. My own evolution around the teenage years wasn't exactly like this, but the progression idea is certainly spot-on, especially in terms of where it ends up:

An unconventional source for something so genuinely touching.

The Ordering of the Ordinary

I'm currently reading (though stalling in progress) The Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor, a book that I've had on my to-do list for a year and a half now.

I'm really only at the beginning. Frankly, he's taking quite a long time to say a lot of things I already knew and believed. But maybe the sort of "philosophers" who infest our universities today, poisoned with their modern arrogance, take a lot more words to convince, and maybe they're his real intended audience. But, basically, the main point I've gathered so far is that because The Good is only definable relative to human subjectivity, that any attempt to construct an "objective" philosophy of it is incoherent.

This is something I've just always assumed. Specifically, as Catholic Encyclopedia points out, we can only define the good circularly with reference to desire and vice versa; the good is that quality which moves the Will, like magnetism is that which moves a magnet. This is something I discussed on a Vox Nova thread a few months ago and plan to eventually come back on this blog regarding eudemonism and the natural law (which the poster seemed to have some fundamental misunderstandings about).

To me, consciousness clearly must be a "structural" feature of any picture of the universe we have, and the only perspective we can have it from. This was always just intuitive to me since I was a child. I think pure materialism is a delusion that involves defining ones own conscious subjectivity out of existence; it is solipsism, not pure materialism, that is the much more "likely" philosophical extreme for me. After all, all the external matter could all just be a "dream" in my own consciousness, "illusory" sense impressions, whereas my consciousness itself is immediately apparent to me as real (in the only possible definition of "real" I could formulate; something else I've written about before and maybe will come back to again on this blog).

Taylor specifically seems to be framing this truth in the form of an argument that notions of identity don't even make sense without notions of relative valuation, and so that to try to apply an "objective" account onto the realm of human behavior or meaning (and this latter, especially, is the only real job philosophy has) like we do with the material basically a category error, as human beings exist as subjects who do make subjective valuations, but these are no less "real" for the fact of their subjectivity, and any account of moral questions cannot simply dismiss this in a naturalistic way.

Perhaps I just didn't realize how decadent the state of modern philosophy was, as to me all these things go without saying and I find that having to make these points through meticulously revealing the internal contradictions in the naturalistic paradigm to be rather plodding. But then, I am in some sense (it seems so far) a choir being preached to.

Another point he keeps hinting at (and which I'm sure is explicated later) is about the "affirmation of ordinary life" as a feature of modernity. This is a defining feature of the secularity characteristic of our age (secularity, not secularism; secularity in the sense of "in the world," secularity in the sense that diocesan priests are "secular," or at least should be.) In the medieval past, people understood the monastic life of contemplation, religious consecration, and constant prayer and worship to be the clear "standard," whereas today there is a sense that "the good life" is to be found (or, at least, can be found) in the ordinary life of work and family, of production and reproduction. Whether this takes the form of "the American dream" or of Jeffersonian agrarian fantasies or romanticization of the working class (or the "peasants.")

The observation of this contrast is clearly true. But what should it mean for us? I'll be interested to see what Taylor says as I keep reading, but right now I would like to just sort of share some of my own thoughts on the question of "ordinary life" vs. "extraordinary life" (say, of religious consecration or monastic contemplation, etc), and what an affirmation of ordinary life implies (and doesn't imply) philosophically and morally.

It has been noted often before that Christianity, by its very nature, contains something like the seeds of humanism. It is, after all, the story of God becoming Man. However, does this necessarily lead to something like Nietzsche's "death of God"? Does, like Žižek says, Christianity need to abandon real faith, is it "possible today to redeem this core of Christianity only in the gesture of abandoning the shell of institutional organization (and, even more so, its explicit religious experience). The gap here is irreducible: either one drops the religious form, or one maintains the form but loses the essence. That is the ultimate heroic gesture that awaits Christianity: in order to save its treasure, it has to sacrifice itself—like Christ, who had to die so that Christianity could emerge."

After all, isn't the characteristic feature of our society compared to any past analogues that ours is a post-Christian society? That it is one who has seen Christianity's insights, cannibalized them perhaps, but ultimately is what we got something inherent in the values of Christianity from the start? Did or will the valuation of human life that began in the Christ story necessarily play out as man's self-actualization transcending God through escaping self-alienation in the Marxist sense? Was Christianity just "scaffolding" needed to get to a certain point of humanitarian development that now can be discarded?

I don't think so. And I highly doubt that's what Taylor himself is saying. The valuation of ordinary life is, I think, actually highly compatible with the Catholic vision which also recognizes the extraordinary life of the contemplative. This is one of the geniuses of the Catholic notion of The Good: that transcendent meaning is present, that the eschaton breaks into history and confers goodness and meaning here and now.

There was perhaps, mistakenly, a notion in the past something along the lines of "labor and getting married and having children...are only good inasmuch as they are means to an end; labor allows you to keep living so that you can praise God (and materially support those who do so more constantly). Having children is only good because they perpetuate the institutional church (some of your descendents may become priests or monks someday!)" There was perhaps an attitude among some (or, at least, some people misunderstood it that way) that ordinary life was purely functional, "merely" a means to an end (of contemplation). That life was "merely" a test or preparation for heaven with no value or meaning right now, with value or meaning constantly deferred to the Beatific Vision.

However, what this attitude (or, rather, this modern interpretation of past attitudes; I'm not convinced it ever really was the official stance in the past either) fails to understand is the Catholic notion of the value of being ordered or oriented towards the good. I've discussed this regarding NFP and sexual morality. I've also discussed it regarding the use of language and the question of lying.

You see, the real genius of the Catholic notion of morality is that meaning can be dependent on the Absolute, on the transcendent, and yet is also immanent, is here in this moment. Yes, sex (of the natural variety) is good "because of" procreation, that is the only reason that renders that desire intelligible. However, if it is good "because of" procreation, that also means it is good, period. It is ordered towards that goodness, but that ordering towards makes that goodness already inherent, internal to the nature of that act itself (whether it bears fruit or not, or even can). A couple doesn't need to wait for procreation to result (and, indeed, maybe it never even does, or they don't even want it to) for the act itself to be rendered good, as if it only happens "retroactively" in the light of the procreation. Rather, it's goodness with reference to procreation is not conferred externally like that, on account of some subsequent effect to which it was a cause, some subsequent end to which it was a means, but as something that is part of the very "internal logic" of the ordering of the act itself (whereas, you will note, other sorts of [unchaste] sexual acts can only "explain" themselves with reference to that natural act; they contain their own subversion or contradiction).

Many people will object that if a couple positively doesn't want children to result and deliberately takes advantage of natural infertility, there is no way it can tend morally towards procreation (though tend towards is all it has to do.) However, I think there are many examples that prove this untrue. For example, policemen or armies. A state or municipality can have these while still truly saying they don't ever want to use them. A policeman on a street corner, or army training exercises, are only intelligible with reference to crime or war, they only make sense as ordered towards those ends. And yet that doesn't mean a policeman or army is purposeless if there is no crime to stop currently or no war going on. Indeed we can, and usually should, hope there never is! Yet a person would be stupid to say that, for this reason, we should get rid of the police or army, or that a policeman skipping work is equivalent to him going to work in a quiet neighborhood where he knows he won't have to stop any criminals.

Or a hospital. Doctors (should) hope no one is ever sick or injured, and yet hospitals are ordered towards helping the sick and injured, and the doctors still go into work each day prepared to ("open to") helping the sick and injured, even while at the same time they should be hoping there is actually no one to help. As a friend suggested to me, "even when the ER is empty, nurses and docs need to be awake," they can't all go out for beers just because they hope (or even know for sure) that no one is coming. Or just even more simply: you don't run a red light even when you can clearly see there are no cars coming at 3AM, because that's not how Law works, civilization would fall apart if people lived like that. The lack of (or hope of lack of) explicitly fulfilling a purpose, or of actually realizing the Reason that renders something's existence intelligible, its end, does not mean they are not still ordered towards that end (if they do their job correctly), because "realization" is always eschatological. It's always just a "tendency" towards final meaning, the question is whether its "trajectory" is correct in orientation, whether it is connected back up to the transcendent chain of meaning internally (or whether it is curved in on itself and self-contradictory and unintelligible).

Or take language. Language only makes sense in a relational context (and this is something else I remember Taylor mentioning). A solitary creature would have no language, language is by nature communicative, the very concept of "meaning" makes no sense outside the concept of having someone else to receive and understand your words. Language would not have developed with people just speaking to themselves. And yet...we can write meaningful things that we never share with anyone else. I can write a poem and keep it a secret. And yet, my words have meaning because, as language, they are ordered towards communication. Communication is a good contained in the very internal logic of language, and thus even if I never share my poem with anyone, it may be rendered good and meaningful nevertheless, still by communication (even though that good is never externally actualized, nor even desired to be actualized, in this case!)

I think the same idea is essential to our understanding of an "affirmation of ordinary life" or of "Christian humanism" or whatever you want to call these notions. Certainly I think it would be a misunderstanding (both of Christianity and of Taylor) to see an affirmation of ordinary life as necessitating some sort of rejection of the extraordinary life, as saying that ordinary life is "better" than it, or that there is some imperative to be ordinary, secular, ("normal," mediocre, etc, as the case often turns out.) I don't think the message is "no one should be a monk anymore, I shouldn't consider that vocation, it's mere escapism" or that "suburban family life is the real highest calling" (which would be nothing more than bourgeosie capitalist propaganda ala "the apotheosis of the family.")

No, I don't think that's the point. I think the point is that things being ordered towards a good end (ordered, not disordered; the ends can't justify the means) means that they are good even without immediate or explicit reference to that end. I often quote the Catholic Encyclopedia article on gluttony on this point: "it must be noted that there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one's mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God."

Yes, there is a "chain of meaning" that connects eating back up to the Absolute and makes it good, something along the lines of: eating is ordered to nutrition, which keeps us alive, which allows us to continue living and praising God in soul and body, so that we can be saved and merit and someday get to heaven. However, as I said above, the statement "eating is good because..." implies that eating is good. Period. The "because" doesn't mean that the only thing of real value is at the end of the causal chain and that all the means on the way there are ultimately worthless in themselves, that meaning is "deferred" until we get to heaven, and that if we don't our eating during life was really just meaningless. No, the very nature of this "because" is that the Good at the end of the chain "shines back down upon" all the means on the way there; their ordering towards their Final End makes them, in some sense, also ends in themselves. The final end is contained not merely at the end of the chain when it is actually achieved but, like how the eschaton breaks into history, actually becomes immanent in each and every "step" on the way there.

And so, language is still meaningful as ordered towards truth-communicating even if you write something that you never intend to share with anyone else (as long as you don't disorder it by making it a lie). Natural marital sex is still meaningful, the desire and pleasure still intelligible, as ordered towards procreation even if the couple knows it will be infertile (as long as they don't disorder it by choosing an act without that natural significance). Labor is meaningful as ordered towards sustaining ones life for worship, yes, but that doesn't mean it is in itself meaningless fluff, a practicality that we need to "get through" so that we can "get to the real point of life" which is worship. No, indeed, the very ordering of ordinary life towards the extraordinary confers a meaning on it here and now, before we ever know if that outcome is ever realized! Yes, in some ways we toil (like God) for the whole week to make it to the Sabbath, but if we died in a bus crash on Thursday, that doesn't mean Monday-Wednesday were all just meaningless because we never actually made it to Sunday where the chain of meaning could terminate.

The post-modernists speak about how meaning is always "deferred," about the so called dictionary paradox (where you can only define a word with reference to other words which are then defined only with reference to other words) and yet we know this whole grand relational chain nevertheless does contain immediate meaning when a word is spoken, if only by the very fact of human consciousness perceiving its place in that semantic web. We have the question of "turtles all the way down." Meaning is deferred, and yet we understand here and now in the present!

Likewise, if I became Pope someday, I might be inclined to see this as conferring "meaning," as it were, "back onto" the lives of my Polish peasant ancestors toiling away in the 18th century. However, the wonderful thing about the Christian message is this: I don't ever have to become Pope. Their lives, their having children, were meaningful even then as ordered towards descendents glorifying God. I think something of this notion is symbolized in the fact that St. Thérèse of Lisieux's parents are soon to be canonized. Both of them dreamed of entering religious life, but found married life instead and at first were "disappointed." However, their ordinary life went on to produce five nuns, one of whom is one of the greatest Saints of our times! And this reflects back on and "redeems" even this ordinary life. However, once again it must be emphasized: this is not "conditional" on a family producing a Saint. The meaning that the "openness" of ordinary life towards, say, producing Saints, gives it a meaning in the present, not merely after-the-fact if a Saint actually results.

Life is a preparation for heaven, yes. It is only heaven that gives life meaning. But, it gives meaning to each and every moment even in the here-and-n0w in an "internal" way. This is the genius of Christian eschatology. The Second Coming of Christ is an event at the end of time, yes, but this eschatological reality confers meaning at each and every moment to my life, which is why the Parousia is important spiritually for Christians of every age, why our spirituality must needs be Apocalyptic even if we are not the generation that will see the literal end of the world. I don't need to "wait" for the actual event to have its meaning, I have had meaning here and now with reference to the eschaton, the great chain still hangs on a "hook" even if that hook is in the future. (And, you will note, all this remains true even if fall into sin and die and go to Hell; my life up to that point still had real meaning with reference to God).

So is the contemplative life higher, or at least a more "immediate" fulfillment of the purpose of human life? Yes, there can be no doubt of that. However, this does not denigrate ordinary life, but elevates it, for ordinary life "basks in the glow" of heaven, or of the monastic life, etc, to which it is ordered.

I think this same dynamic is also seen in the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. We know that the Old contains the New in the manner of prophecy, in the manner of typology, etc. Everything in the Old Testament is really about Christ. But this isn't true only after Christ came. We have to assume it was "there all along" in the text. Maybe we only "see it" now, but the Old Testament was rightly revered and held meaningful by the Jews even before Christ came.

Even Christ's descent into hades to redeem the righteous of the Old Testament symbolizes something like this; they weren't just "scaffolding" to be discarded or dismissed once the building was built, as it were, once Christ came. No, rather, the "grounding" in Christ conferred meaning "back onto" their lives. In one sense this is "retroactive," but in another this "retroactivity" was already there in the Old Testament, the meaning was not "deferred" until Christ, but was there in the present (and yet still because of Him).

The danger, of course, is this: that we will forget the absolute that grounds our meaning. This is the threat that faces our age, the reduction of everything to essentially just masturbatory, as it were. Human life was recognized as valuable because of Christ and because of God. But being valuable "because" of something else, also means it is valuable, period. But then once we have the recognition of human life as valuable, period, modern man thinks we can just discard the God and Christ that made it valuable in the first place!

Sex is desirable and pleasurable because of the good of procreation, which means it is good, period. But then people think we can just discard the ordering towards procreation that was the whole reason for its goodness in the first place, the "foundation" which rendered its desire and pleasure intelligible. Language exists to communicate truth, and it remains meaningful even if you are not actually speaking to anyone; symbols carved in a rock remain "meaningful" even if no one is reading them at the moment. But then people use it to communicate lies!

Ordinary secular life is recognized as good because it is ordered towards heaven, and even in some sense towards worship and the contemplative life (whether in the form of descendents someday pursuing that, being able to support it materially with our donations, or just we ourselves making it to Mass again on Sunday, etc), which means, however, that it is good, period (ie, it's goodness does not depend on the "eschatological realization" of the promises it already inherently contains; it is good, because of that, even now, even before that, and thus even if it never happens). And yet, people think the fact that meaning is immanent, is here and now, means we can discard the transcendent, can ignore the eschaton that is the source of meaning. That since "such and such is good because..." means that "such and such is good" here and now, even before the realization of the "because" (and even, thus, if the "because" is never realized)...that we can just discard the "because," that it must be superfluous.

However, we have seen the results of that in our society. That becomes a philosophy of despair. Hope is good in the moment even before the thing hoped for is achieved. And if it is good in the moment, it is thus good, period; it's goodness in the moment cannot be "undone" just because the thing hoped for is never achieved. And yet, "hope" is only intelligible with reference to the thing hoped for. Hope is good because it is ordered toward that hoped for, and that means that it is unintelligible if we "pull the carpet out from under" it and remove the reference to the thing hoped for.

There is a common confusion (and I'm just repeating myself now) that might think that because hope is a good experience in the moment even prior to its fulfillment (and even if it is never fulfilled or we know it can never be fulfilled and yet choose to keep hoping as an end in itself; I think unrequited or unrequitable love is the example par excellence here) that this means that its fulfillment is accidental and thus can be discarded as unnecessary. But obviously, nothing could be farther from the truth. The very concept of hope, its "in itself" goodness in the nevertheless still dependent on its fulfillment, its ordering towards that fulfillment (whether that ever comes or not), because the concept of that fulfillment is already internal to the idea of hope itself, and thus the source even of its "in itself" goodness.

Some people will say the quest for the Holy Grail finds its meaning in the quest itself. That the nobility or adventure or relationships built along the journey are what it's all about, not the "destination." That the Holy Grail is just the "stone" in Stone Soup. And yet, there is no quest if you aren't questing for something, there would have been no stone soup without the stone! Even if it's something I know it is highly unlikely I'll ever find, like the last unicorn, an End like that is necessary for any sense of purposive action. Otherwise it's just wandering around. And, say what you will about wandering around, that certainly has a different dynamic than a quest ordered towards something, that has an end driving it. There can be nobility in a quest, even a failed or impossible quest. There is no nobility in wandering aimlessly.

And we can have an aim (or, rather, our wills can be "aimed") even when we hope not to actually reach the end, mind you. Like my "hospital" example above...take searching around a house for a burglar, for example. You come home, you think someone may be in the house, so you check every possible place a burglar might be, even while positively hoping you won't find someone, and even perhaps speaking loudly to scare him off (if he is there) before you reach him, or coming home only at those times of day when you know that no burglar will be there (even if he may have been there at some other time). And yet, the act of going through the search is clearly ordered towards something (finding a burglar), this action is intelligible and purposive to that end, even when you are hoping and trying NOT to find him. It is very different from just wandering around a house not actually looking (either randomly, or because you're too afraid of what you might find and so deliberately omit searching certain nooks or crannies).

The Absolute may never be reached in this life, and yet it is a sort of limit, it is asymptotic (to get mathematical).
Just because nothing in this world is truly infinite does not mean the concept of Infinity is not structurally important to mathematics; in fact, as it turns out, Infinity is necessary to make sense even of finite things once you start getting to calculus and beyond. God plays a similar role in the cosmos. Even if you think the meaning in the here and now is really "in the tension" of meaning being forever deferred, that tension is still held in place by the hook upon which everything hangs (even if it's a hook "out at infinity") and if you remove that anchoring "hook" (no matter how inaccessible it is)...the present tension of the rubber band in the here and now will "snap."

So let us never lose sight of this, about language, about sex, about hope, and about "ordinary life" in general. A society that removes the eschatological end towards which everything must be ordered, that "cuts the cord" on which all meaning hangs, out of some notion that "because life is good now, even before heaven, why do we need heaven?" or "things are meaningful now, even before terminating in the ever-deferred Absolute, so the Absolute itself must be unnecessary," is like saying "hope is good now, even before its fulfillment, so what's the point of positing a fulfillment?" And yet, of course, hope would not be hope without referencing a fulfillment, and certainly would not be good. And neither would life, ordinary or otherwise.