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Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Morning Offering

I have tried recently to be more conscientious about this. I have many friends who do this, and they tape the prayer to their bathroom mirror, or something similar. But you know me: I don't plan things; I don't think I've done a single thing that has become lifeless. I suppose that's the danger as a Catholic; to me, that is only theoretical.

Predictably, I use my own words. It's pretty close to what you might find written down. And most of them--if not all--reference Jesus as he is offered to us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I can tell you right now with no hesitation or feigned piety, that it fills my heart with joy just to say those words. It fills my heart with joy just to think about what they mean. As he said in John 6, "the bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." In essence, Jesus is offering himself for the life of the world. We often talk about what we will do to evangelize the world, and we should. But we must understand that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the work that Jesus does to evangelize the world. In another place, he says, "and after I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself."

If that doesn't make you want to be near the altar, I can't help you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Things I Forgot To Say (Changed My Mind)

I got a little bogged down when trying to elaborate why I didn't think the Reformed notion of the visible church cohered with their notion of the invisible Church. Namely, there is no necessary connection between my visible community, and the universal Church. The discrete visible communities of Christians which are the visible outposts containing those among the saved, have nothing to do with each other. There is nothing which unites a Reformed believer and a Methodist, unless it is something revealed prior to the existence of those discrete communities. The supposed unity between them, and between all those who emerged from the Protestant Reformation, is a pretense, and an ad hoc fabrication. Those orthodox believers within those communities who wish to preserve dogma may express passionate concern about that goal, but their own profound disagreements with one another puts the lie to the claim that the hermeneutical methodology of Sola Scriptura can produce the clarity always sought, in contrast to the dominant theology and practice of the Catholic Church at the time.

What is the mechanism by which what is most important in the preservation of the faith once delivered is maintained? No visible ecclesial body in the Protestant interpretive paradigm is ever empowered to proclaim infallibly what ought to be believed. In that situation, what is the purpose therefore, of those visible bodies? And since the Christian people in those communities live in those visible spaces, since they worship as a visible community, since they live and pray together as a visible community, then the determinations of dogma have to be made within those visible communities. What are you supposed to do, if you cannot get a final, definitive answer on any matter of faith and morals? More to the point, the most relevant aspect of those deliberations is that they have an origin in God Himself; humanity in whole or in part cannot rest their eternal souls in any merely human thing. Infallibility therefore is the mark of definitive divine proclamation of the truth about the cosmos, and humanity's place within it. Considered in general, I should not even contemplate submission to any authority on any spiritual matter--that is, pertaining to the eternal--unless it is at least situationally infallible.

The appeal to the Holy Spirit in the Protestant interpretive paradigm relies on Sola Scriptura, and depends upon a robust notion of the perspicuity of Scripture. Because the Holy Spirit is God, whatever faults in the process exist must be the fault of the human beings. The inability to agree on grave matters of faith is usually ascribed to some moral or spiritual failure of the other participant. Each participant believes that the Holy Spirit has led him or her to the correct interpretation of any passage of Scripture. But how would any one of them know? And, most provocatively, how does anyone actually know that Scripture is meant to settle all questions of faith and morals? It does not appear that the earlier ancient Christians used the Scripture in this way. Therefore, even if we could overcome these interpretive challenges, whilst also knowing that our conclusions have been safeguarded by God, we have the balance of Christian history standing against both the methodology we are using, and the conclusions we reach by means of that methodology.

This of itself is not a problem; we could simply send all Christians who lived prior to the Reformation in our judgment to the fires of hell, for not believing the true and correct doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ. Most people don't want to do this; most people arguing against the claims of the Roman Catholic Church nevertheless want to claim large numbers of those luminaries of the first millennium as their own. But frankly, why do we believe that we have been deputized to make such determinations? And again, by what means will we distinguish a merely human opinion from that which is sanctioned by God? I return once again to my axiom: "One cannot be both the arbiter of divine revelation, and a humble receiver of it at the same time." It has always been curious that the Holy Spirit has been invoked so assuredly when individuals are in contention, while interpreting Scripture ostensibly for themselves. And yet somehow, it is believed that the Holy Spirit cannot guide the visible authorities and structures of the Church from which we all have come. If the God of the Bible is the God of faithfulness, could he not preserve and protect the dogma of His visible Church?

It is not my purpose to make that case today, or to prove it, but I note with a morbid fascination that I hadn't even thought of it until I really began to examine the claims of the Catholic Church to be the Church that Christ founded. It is inconsistent to believe that God protects me as an individual interpreter of Scripture, but not whoever I happen to be arguing with, and certainly not the Catholic Church, even though the persistent seeker will discover that the ancient faith would not be known to us without the authority of the Catholic Church.

Checking In On "Changed My Mind With Luke T Harrington" (Ian Barrs)

This is a cool new podcast that my friend Luke T. Harrington started. He wants to interview people that have changed their minds on something big. He said something about wanting the show to be 5% information and 95% therapy for him. I'm still trying to figure out how it's going to be therapy for him!

Ian Barrs is also a friend of mine, though we haven't met in person yet. Gotta love the Internet yet again. I don't know many British expatriate types, who moved to America, dabbled in politics, and are now literally making themselves useful on local Christian radio, hoping to talk fruitfully about issues of concern to that audience and beyond. Suffice to say, Ian is an interesting guy.

I will also very shortly have my own interview episode appear from the show, so that should be exciting. I had loads of fun doing it. Luke is a talented and generous presenter and host, a good interviewer. I think I kinda steamrolled him personally, but hopefully it will be okay. Anyway, I wanted to share some thoughts about Ian's episode.

Ian changed his mind about gun control. He used to think much like other British people, that we Americans are crazy, and would stand to benefit from a similar regime of regulations as exists in the UK. He says he began to research it before he left Britain, and had already mostly changed his mind. I think that I agree with Ian more than I disagree, so I didn't anticipate changing my mind on this occasion.

The most persuasive part of Ian's argument centers around the consideration of judicious armed self-defense. He points out that in Britain right now, it is it illegal to carry anything that could plausibly be used in self-defense. To me, this is extreme; before I move to a consideration of firearms themselves, I think it unwise to preemptively and so strictly limit safety measures taken in self-defense. I think people should be allowed to carry pepper spray, knives, and definitely other non-lethal things, to be used in self-defense. It does seem to be some part of the notion of liberty to be able to act prudently in self-defense, or in defense of others.

As I am sure you know, the right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. I choose at this time to sidestep the question as to whether recent conservative jurisprudence has invented a more individual right than the framers intended. Suffice to say, I leave it as a matter of prudence for each individual citizen to calculate the wisdom and prudence of a handgun for self-defense, and rifles and pistols for hunting and target shooting. Guns are used judiciously and prudently all over the country every day without incident. Of course we know that mass shootings seem to happen with some frequency, and we know that social isolation plays a huge role in the lives of those who choose to commit such a heinous crime. I appreciated both men in their sensitivity toward this issue, noting that it would be good for the advocates of gun rights and the advocates of gun control to talk to one another, and to be more aware of the misfortunes and tragedies of those on the other side of the issue.

They also noted that the issue breaks down, as do many things today, along the familiar urban-rural divide which roughly sketches our politics. The use of a firearm in Montana is going to look different than the use of the same firearm in Chicago. I am absolutely in favor of city and state governments being able to impose whatever regulations those communities deem necessary for the safe exercise of this right. In my personal opinion, we have not reckoned well with mental health, and done what is necessary to prevent severe social isolation, which sometimes tends to lead to violence. Each person who contemplates exercising his or her right to bear arms must also contemplate the risk and danger of accidents, suicides, and the small but non-negligible risk that he or she will be killed with their own gun in the commission of a crime. I have no intention of telling anyone what to do, with respect to this right, but I am fully aware that people's experiences impact the way they think about the Second Amendment, and the right it articulates.

I am less inclined to support strict gun control in light of the recent high-profile incidents of police brutality and murder. Total trust in the police as the apparatus of the state seems particularly foolhardy. As a side note, I have the soul of a defense attorney, and I don't think that will ever leave me. This is not to say that I do not carry a great respect for good police, all the way up to the FBI. It is to say that unwavering trust in any human institution is probably unwise.

There seems to be room within Ian's position to argue for more regulation than we have now, for the use of firearms. I appreciated what he said about the United States having a unique culture that will probably disallow the kinds of regulations that exist in the United Kingdom. It is also prudent to recognize that no safety measures related to this particular right will succeed legislatively without the support of those who are advocates of gun rights. I myself do not believe that every advocate of the Second Amendment is careless or callous about the tragic outcomes that may come to pass involving firearms. I do not believe that anyone wants more dead innocent people in the streets. Abuse does not negate proper use. Therefore, it is for us to decide as citizens what those proper uses should be. Let us have our eyes open to the reality on every side of the impact of guns. It should be possible to come to agree on things that we can do better to keep ourselves safe. That is, safe from harm without, and safe from harm from within.

Both men come to us as listeners as fathers and husbands, and therefore, did talk about the responsibility to protect their families, which potentially could change the moral calculus of whether to accept being a victim of someone else's violence. It would be easy for me as a single person to say, "I won't fight back; do as you will", but if I were protecting someone--if I had the responsibility to protect someone else--I cannot so easily conclude that my best way forward is a heroic martyrdom. Whether that means I should use a firearm is debatable, but the questions do highlight the potential problems with a lazy pacifism.

I do also appreciate the existential questions that Luke asks at the end of each interview. What is identity? What is truth? How does one know one has found it? Is it possible to know truth? Even if the particular interview is not about these things--which mine is, sadly for you--it's interesting so far to hear what people say. Ian says he is not a philosopher, but it's almost like he stumbled into St. Thomas Aquinas, on his way to not being a philosopher. I had the thought that I wouldn't mind listening to him on other subjects, especially knowing that we seem to have a very similar worldview.

My interview--about going from a Protestant to a Catholic--should be up soon. I thought mine was a bunch of rambling nonsense, but hopefully Luke can make something out of it in the editing process. I do certainly wish Luke great success in this project, and his other ones. I wish the same for Ian as well.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

I pray for you often, though I hope you don’t need it by now. I’d definitely like to think you’d enjoy being here, talking with the adult me. I don’t know how much we are alike, but when I began to idolize Atticus Finch, I imagined that’s how you’d be, if we’d lost Mom instead of you.

There’s nothing permanent about death, so I say I “lost” you. You’re not gone, but you won’t be back here. I’m still here, so to me, you’re “lost”. I have done plenty of reckoning with the sorrow and a certain finality of death, so now is the time to concede nothing more.

I often say I miss you, and I do, but I feel closer to you now than I did while you were here. That’s the power of what is eternal, as I am sure you know. I do my best not to waste the moments of life, though I fail at that most days.

There is something indescribable about living, about being human. I feel sad for those people who don't see the point. Ultimately, Jesus and the Church. I'd have preached at you a bit, had you stayed away while here. I'm just being me, Dad.

Thank you, for everything.