Saturday, April 28, 2007

Getting the East

Weigel on the hullabaloo over on Mt. Athos against Pope B16's overtures to the East:
The truth of the matter is that, outside historically Orthodox countries and certain ethnic communities, the thought of how one stands vis-à-vis the Patriarch of Constantinople simply doesn't enter Catholic heads. Perhaps that's a problem, but it's nowhere near as great an obstacle to ecumenical progress as the conviction in some Orthodox quarters that non-communion with Rome is a defining characteristic of what it means to be "Orthodox."
Unfortunately, this only reinforces the East's view of Catholics as ecclesiologically clueless. Quite simply, the Athonite monks are not anti-Rome per se, and they certainly are not defined by their anti-Romanism the way Protestants as a whole are. In fact there's still a palpable nostalgic affection for the "true Rome" of the Fathers that's mixed in with the healthy bile some Athonites are coughing up. Today Rome does symbolize all that is "heretical" in Western Catholicism, and it's the heresies that get them in a tizzy. But it's always simpler and more self-congratulatory to paint the Orthodox as an older, prettier version of Protestantism when it's not. It's also convenient because it shifts all the burden of change on the East which now has to to "loosen up" or "get over" their irrationally anti-Roman prejudices if Ut Unum Sint is to become a reality.

I care about this only because I hate it when Protestants misconstrue Catholic intentions and beliefs in general, as well as on the ecumenism issue, eg. "intercommunion." So to see Catholics carry on with the same methods of rhetorical misrepresentation towards the Orthodox is particularly disappointing, especially when it comes from "orthodox" Catholic commentators like Weigel who should know better.

And Earth to Catholics: the "Two Lungs" metaphor has worn itself out into some "can't we all just get along?" ethic, pace JPII. I really don't think he intended it to be mindlessly and casually plugged into every conversation on RC-EO relations. Catholics can get so attached to the lace -- the frilly turn of phrase uttered by a pope which when taken out of context becomes its own substitute for substance.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Rhetoric matters

I love Disputations because he understands the importance of rhetoric in our doctrinal and intellectual formation -- how the specific words we use say so much about who we really are and who we are becoming through those words. It’s also why I give Obama some credit for raising the bar on political rhetoric far more than most other candidates (the fact that he throws the bar away when it comes to life issues is a fatal contradiction). Mark Shea makes a nice reference to Disputations’ rhetorical appreciation:
Too many gripes to answer so I will just focus on a couple. One guy writes:
I guess I find it strange that you and Tom, among others, are so intent on dismissing the concerns of many good Catholics, and, it seems, those of the pope himself.
Tom makes a pretty good reply here:
This manages to pack many of the worst traits of discussions on the Mass into a single sentence. There's overstatement (two posts in two months is "so intent"), victimhood("dismissing the concerns," how boorish), moral posturing ("many good Catholics"), and implied charges of dissent ("dismissing...the pope himself"), all wrapped up in an obstinate inability ("I guess I find it strange") to accept that lack of interest does not imply a judgment against those who are interested.
Just a brilliant fisking of the subtle, corrupting, and self-serving uses of language even among those of us with ostensibly "good intentions" and "right teaching." It really isn't enough to know and crusade for the Truth. The call to "speak the truth in love" is not just some sentimental exhortation, not just an appeal to courtesy or politeness, but a rhetorical insight. Apart from love (which is also an intellectual virtue), our rhetoric can and will consume us and obstruct our participation in the Truth. I am guilty as charged.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Progressives & Orthodoxy

Great piece in the CSM by a Muslim who refuses to accept the "moderate Muslim" label and surrender the "orthodoxy" label to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Juxtapose that insight next to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, RFK daughter and former Lt. Gov. of MD who's joined the Catholics-Misrepresenting-Catholicism industry. Heard her on C-Span the other night chanting the banal litanies of "progressive Christianity." If she had half a brain about ancient religions, she'd understand with Ms. Khalid that if you don't confront the primacy of orthodoxy, your hemming and hawing is just boring dinner theater.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ruthie and the Catholic Five

What a great touring name. Unfortunately, SCOTUS doesn't tour anymore. So what does it mean that all five of the Catholic justices on the Supreme Court upheld a federal law prohibiting a very narrowly defined abortion procedure? The Philadelphia Inquirer and Rosie O'Donnell seem to be of one mind on this one:

We who are proud of the Catholic intellectual tradition would like to give it some credit, but that puts us in a bind, doesn't it? We don't want to say that the Catholic Five voted strictly out of some fideistic (or what most Americans equate with "religious") impulse -- mostly because Catholicism rejects fideism's partitioning of faith and reason. But neither do we want to say that being Catholic had nothing to do with their adjudication of a morally loaded and complex issue.

The Catholic intellect is oriented to the virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Now one doesn't have to be Catholic to exercise these virtues, but we need all the help we can get. So was it just a coincidence that the Catholic Five overturned all those lower courts in conformity with Reason and their church's opposition to abortion? No. But did they decide simply because their "sect" is opposed to abortion? No. Will most Americans (educated or not) be capable of appreciating this distinction? No. Rosie's methane-enhanced thoughts on Catholicism have already been given the imprimatur of mainstream academia.

But I suppose I should stop calling them the Catholic Five. Aww, shucks.

UPDATE: Rick Garnett's got his own fisking of the cartoon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Worst Massacre?

Now I'm not Native-American or descended from colonizers, but I do think we ought to jiggle our national memory a little harder and try on a little reverent humility before we throw around pronouncements that the Virginia Tech shooting is the greatest massacre in American history.

What is it about us that we need a superlative to give anything innately horrific the time of day? The media response shows how so much of this is just more infotainment.

"Really? A massacre? Hmmm, but does it fit in a Top 5 category? No? Oh, not very original, is it then?"

Friday, April 06, 2007

Why Holy Thursday?

A good friend asked me Tues night how I would summarize to evangelical friends what the all fuss is about in Holy Thursday Mass, or the Celebration of the Institution of the Eucharist. It got me thinking.

What Holy Thursday does (and Good Friday & Easter Vigil do not) is draws us into those precious moments at the deathbed of a beloved spouse. It’s about remembering, not the death itself, but the dying. The Church, together with all the angels and saints of ages past, remembers that last night with her Spouse – the last meal, the foot-washing, the new commandment, the offering of His Body and Blood, the mounting anxiety of the disciples, the words of comfort spoken, the betrayal, the agony in the Garden, the arrest, the trial before the Sanhedrin, the deposition by Pilate and Herod, the torture, the mockery, the abandonment, the denials, the despair. It’s just not enough to read about it from a book, even if it’s the Bible; it’s not enough to just have a little service on Good Friday that summarily assumes what happened the night before. We have to relive that Thursday if we are to understand the Cross.

Christ is the dying spouse and the Church is the surviving spouse at his bedside. She knows he’s about to undergo excruciating pain and imminent death and they’re trying to make the most of those last few moments together, saying what needs to be said, the most important things. Yet the littlest things about that time together become eternally etched in her memory. Even in these moments, the surviving spouse is filled with mixed feelings – anger, fatigue, confusion, skepticism, hopelessness. And though she loves him, she still cheats on him in her despair. She knows she is with him, but not really, and it kills her.

Then the husband gives her a special token to always remember him by. Except this gift is a part of himself and in a mysterious way, it contains everything he stands for, everything about their unbreakable union, everything he is and has done, including his suffering and death. And she realizes afterwards that the whole dying experience and the Gift will save her life, which in turn really is HIS life living on in hers. Somehow, his suffering and death reconnects every loose thread in her life and gives it force and nerve. He not only lives on through the children she bore with him, but by the way she mothers them and the way the family remembers him and acts in his memory, he lives on forever.

The Institution of the Eucharist is all about that priceless gift of himself that the husband gives the wife in his last dying moments with her. It’s not just a material token of a past event, because his dying and his death live on forever.

And I think this is where many Evangelicals part ways – they tend to believe that the dying and death is the bad morbid part that the Resurrection sheds, whereas the Catholic & Orthodox insist that Christ’s death is His triumph, His glory, His crown, and not just a smaller crown next to the big kahuna Resurrection crown. The Cross is the one crown. The Resurrection is a proclamation and an extension of that triumph into eternity. It doesn’t undo, soften, or mitigate the Cross, but intensifies it.

Having no Holy Thursday is like telling the wife to just forget the painful past and move on. But to do that is to forget the Gift. And to forget the Gift is to forget Him.