Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blindness And Sight

Armies of mystics could get lost in the spiritual metaphor of a blind man receiving sight from Jesus. I tend to see all of it in terms of God's gradually unfolding plan of covenant love. It goes together, of course. The better disposed we are toward God, the more we can participate, and help others to participate, in the plan of redemption and salvation.

I have always loved the creative tension of knowing that the other blind man (from John 9) didn't do anything personally to "deserve" the misfortune, and yet, we know that original sin is ultimately the cause of this, and other miseries.

There is no way that I am fully entering in to the mystery of that covenant love in Christ, but it unlocks the secret of suffering. No earthly misfortune can touch the glory we are to see in Christ! If faith gives you the eyes to see that, just take a moment to reflect on that.

My friend Jason Mraz (OK, I met him one time) sings in his first hit "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)" about a friend stricken with cancer, "And what kind of God would serve this?" It's a legitimate question, not easily brushed aside, especially in terms of its emotional resonance. Still, I would have to answer, "Love, who wills us to be with Him, to share in unfathomable joy." If Steph Curry or Kevin Durant knows that shooting 5000 free throws and running 6 miles in a day will win an NBA championship, they'll do it without a second's hesitation. And that's a glory, however great, that no one will remember, in a few weeks or months' time. What kind of glory compares to the tragedy of this life? I'll bet you never turned it around like that. In the darkest valleys, no one does. It's still true, and it's still a question worth turning around.

St. Paul in fact says the suffering isn't worth comparing to the glory. That raises the stakes even higher. But trust me, friends: Jesus has the cards.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Regular Day On The Path To Glory

I won't say I was completely distracted during Mass, but I think I'll be working this one off. I had a fleeting moment of intense joy, thinking about Pope Gregory VII, and Jesus. Maybe we won't know that we are saints until the testing comes.

And during the Angelus, I was keenly desirous of Our Lady's intercession. That is as good a time as any, I suppose.

If my days are filled with these pleasant mercies, I won't protest.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bread Of Life, Revisited

I think it's fair to spend time on verses 52-58 when reading John 6, especially when faced with doubt about our Eucharistic faith. Yet let us never forget that we are dealing with Jesus. There is nothing contradictory about adoring Him in the Eucharist, and believing totally that He's our Savior, who died for us, and rose again to bring us to the Father. To whom else shall we go?

I don't understand "cultural" Catholicism. I suppose I don't understand the nominal practice of any religion. Religion pertains to the most important questions a person will ever ask. Do people just think "church" is the time a couple times a year when we wear nice clothes and try not to smile? Am I the only person who thinks that's weird and stupid? I would rather watch the Packers, and I don't even like the Packers.

If this is all true, though, everything changes. We start worrying less about impressing, and more about imploring mercy.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Necessary For Salvation?

Are the sacraments necessary for salvation? The Catechism says yes. St. Thomas (or in this case, one of his students) agrees. It seems to me that the first two objections encapsulate what would become the Protestant objections to the sacramental system.

The first objection is that receiving the sacraments requires bodily effort, and we know that striving profits little. The Thomist says that would be true on the natural level, but not the supernatural level.

The second objection is that the grace from the Passion is sufficient in an unmediated way. That is, "Why have this other thing as necessary, when the most important thing has already been done?" The Thomist says that man needs the grace that the sacraments offer.

 (We'll just call the writer "The Thomist.") The Thomist says that sacraments are spiritual, in their signification, and in their causality. (Reply to Objection 1.) It seems clear that one could consider them useful but not necessary if their purpose were signification alone. It also appears, based on the reply to Objection 3, that The Thomist doesn't see a conflict between the sufficient cause, (the Passion) and the sacraments, because the sacraments are the means by which the Passion is applied to people. You might be able to re-phrase Objection 3 as a question: "Can two necessary causes exist, even if one cause depends on the other cause?"

We can see that the true conflict at the Reformation concerned the freedom of the will. If man's will is not free in the sense of bondage due to sin, then the sacramental system, thwarted only in God's saving intent by a bad will, would seem like a cruel joke. One also gets around the problem of the will by suggesting that the elect have already previously been made alive. You could argue therefore that the sacraments would fulfill their function as signs of God's salvation already wrought, and that is  precisely what Reformed Protestants argue. The question is whether it is reasonable to believe that man's will is in bondage.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I'm Willing To Take 4 Years Of Clinton

Sorry to disappoint some of you. There is no meaning behind the word "conservative" any more. Better said, there are no concrete solutions behind it. We have been defined by what--or whom--we hate. And the party of Abraham Lincoln is lining up behind an intellectual midget, and worse, the most morally vacuous and repugnant person I have seen in my entire life. Absolutely, Hillary is better, for what that's worth, and it's not much. Nevertheless, it must be said. A few judges people like--even ones I'd like--are not going to make me forget what's happened here. Hillary Clinton belongs in federal prison, and she's still the better choice. That's what you did, angry white men. That's what you did, and I won't let you off the hook for it.

Don't talk to me about abortion. If you're not out there on the sidewalks and in the pregnancy resource centers, (or some equivalent level of engagement) you don't get to tell me about the duty to hold my nose, and... I have been doing that my whole life, and it gets me nothing. And this time, so much worse than nothing. Sorry, I'm done with GOP "bargains".

I believe in limited government. I believe in letting people make their own choices, and generally living how they want to live. But I also believe that not everyone gets a fair shake out of the gate, in human terms. The government's main job is actually to make sure that those misfortunes don't define people before they start. It's happening all the time. And some of us let it happen, because we have an abiding fear of superficial comparisons to dead socialist empires.

If you press me, I will tell you that I want to maintain the social safety net, and perhaps even expand it. This is not because I don't believe in hard work, or family, or the market economy. It's because we have forgotten about the dignity of every human person, in our zeal to distance ourselves from failed leftist social experiments. A woman working 3 jobs in New Jersey dies from her own car exhaust, because she doesn't have time or money to sleep in her own bed. You may not agree with whatever particular solution I come up with in response, but I know that shouldn't be happening in America, and so do you.

If America were being America, we wouldn't be arguing about who's lives matter the most; we'd be working to value them all, and finding solutions. At the moment, some segment of the voting public doesn't care about solutions, but they will. I have faith in our people, even now. It is disheartening that at the very moment we need to come together, we're breaking apart, or so it seems.

I do know that nothing Hillary Clinton could do or would do truly scares me. Democratic leaders today exist to defend abortion at all costs. Nothing new there. Once I came to accept that everything President Obama does proceeds from the prevailing Democratic worldview in the main, I got less angry, actually. And he is truly, I think, a nice, well-meaning person. But he's a product of his political culture, one as damaged by our post-Christian society as the Right has been.

I think this election is generational, more than anything. I want to hope that President Clinton's personal flaws will not overwhelm her and us, and my generation can pick up the banner after that.

There is something fundamentally conservative about reforming our justice system, starting with the abolition of the death penalty and its apparatus. The fact that it's "liberal" to advocate for that today is a good example of what's wrong with "conservatism."

I think it's fundamentally conservative to tirelessly work for peace, to identify the principles and conditions under which military force will, and will not be used. It's conservative to strengthen cooperative organizations like the United Nations, especially for the sake of peace among nations. It is indeed true that a certain anti-human ethics is being forced on other nations in a kind of new colonialism under those auspices. It is also true that Americans don't abandon good ideas and things, just because they are misused.

I'm sitting this election out, at the presidential level. When in doubt, do not act, as the wise ethicists might say. The leaders we need will be those with passion, but temperance. They will need selflessness, a willingness to lose for the right reasons, instead of winning for the wrong ones. They need to govern with a long view, without regard to their own political fortunes. Where are the heroes, the icons, of this generation?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Living Vicariously

I am a total bro. By that I mean that in some ways, I am a stereotype: I love sports, I love Tom Cruise, (especially between the years of 1986-1992) and I don't need an invitation to eat steak. And I guess that the very idea of sports, and men talking about it, is upsetting to some people. They could after all be talking about whatever is in The Atlantic, or on NPR right now. Non-bros satirize things; they talk ironically; they drink craft beer. I drink Budweiser, for 2 reasons: I don't like taste explorations in food or drink, and the Busch family owned the Cardinals for who knows how long. Done, and done.

Sure, I'm deeper than that. I'm actually curious about what's in The Atlantic right now. With regard to sports, though, it's pretty simple: Men want to feel useful, connected, and alive. The next time you are tempted to dismiss 2 guys talking about sports, don't. Aside from the ways the sport accomplishes those three things in its limited way, realize what else is taking place: they are studying each other. You can tell a lot about a guy by how he talks about sports, not whether he does. Seriously. If a man is critical and ungracious, it'll come out by how he reacts. Sidebar.

Anyway, we are especially keen on remaining alive, even if we don't consciously realize it most of the time. And I'm not even close to being morose about having a severe disability, but I absolutely know that my enjoyment of sports is a rebuke of the Fall and its miseries. My favorite athletes are the aging ones. All athletes fail, but aging athletes fail habitually. They struggle. They are no longer expected to do what they did before. But sometimes, they do. That's something I understand.

I am a catalogue of factoids and intriguing trivia, such as the fact that when the French Open tennis major tournament starts on Sunday, it will be the first time in 66 major tournaments that the field will not include Roger Federer. There are 4 major tournaments annually. I trust you can do the math.

And oh, what a joy it is to watch him! When I was trying to finish college, and beginning graduate school, Federer ruled men's tennis. It was the graceful savagery of total dominance in those days. I only regret I hadn't the time to take it in. Now, the grace is still there, but there is a hint of average human in there. He's not the favorite when he comes into the big matches. Of course not. Federer was reigning (along with Nadal) when Novak Djokovic was asking that one girl to the prom.

I find myself having a really intense emotional experience when I watch him now. C'mon, Roger! You can do this. You're the greatest ever. Just this one time, show them again. It's not about just him anymore. Surely we know that. He will walk away in a short time, spending most of his days with his lovely wife and wonderful children. None of this hardship is strictly necessary, in the grand scheme. But maybe just this one time, in a small way, let's soar. Finitude can wait.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

O Captain, My Captain

I was in a discussion today, and somebody basically made a meme--and it was for humor's sake--of that moment from Dead Poets' Society, after the boys stand on the desk and begin to recite the famous poem. Keating looks, and pauses, before saying, "thank you, boys," and departing. Anyway, it got everyone sort of wistful for Robin Williams, even though its usage had nothing whatsoever to do with him, or the film.

I realized that for me personally, he impacted me several times, and in several ways, and I had not acknowledged it or realized it until he died. Let's give ourselves a break on self-condemnation for so-called "celebrity worship," because for many of these people, to continue working and entertaining is their way of serving, and for us to continue watching is the way we thank them. No one plans on dying, for the most part, and we never think that perhaps the time to say thanks is growing short. That's how death is. Family, friends, neighbors, and these friends in art and artistry; in this respect, the outcome is the same.

I have a friend who walked out of the film, "What Dreams May Come." And from a Christian point of view, I understand that. It's not the most theologically precise movie you'll ever see. He's a little more logical and less sanguine than me, so fair enough. It nonetheless remains one of my favorite movies. There are moments where it rings so true emotionally and relationally actually, that I can't watch it. And overall, that's what Robin did: He left us with a series of moments that rang true from somewhere in our guts, so deep that "logic" seems like a vulgarity.

I probably won't watch "Good Will Hunting" ever again. And that is by no means a criticism. Art can get too real at times, and loving oneself means leaving whatever it is alone.

"Hook" is far and away my favorite Robin Williams film. If "generosity of spirit" fairly characterizes the man at all, that movie is a lasting monument to it. If I ever meet the great Spielberg, please keep me from slapping him. I read that he disavowed the film. I have no idea why. Then again, if you make great art, chances are it's bigger and greater than the hearts of those who make it.

There's an anniversary edition of the film, "The Princess Bride," deservedly regarded as a classic in its own right. As I am sure you know, Mandy Patinkin has a celebrated role in that film as "Inigo Montoya." In any case, you can see Mandy discussing his role, and what it means to him, and he just starts borderline weeping. As he tells you why, it becomes clear: I have been a part of something bigger and greater than my heart and my words can contain. People who want to do that, to experience it, and share it, those are my kind of people.