Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Free-thought can never be progressive

One of my favorite bits from G.K. Chesterton (and which I've blogged about many times). From Ch. 8 of his work, The Ball and the Cross:

In the book, MacIan continues:
Christianity is always out of fashion because it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities. When Italy is mad on art the Church seems too Puritanical; when England is mad on Puritanism the Church seems too artistic. When you quarrel with us now you class us with kingship and despotism; but when you quarrelled with us first it was because we would not accept the divine despotism of Henry VIII. The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times; it is waiting till the last fad shall have seen its last summer. It keeps the key of a permanent virtue.
What does it take to pass the most common sense proposition in CA?

As of right now, Proposition 4, the parental notification law for minors seeking abortions, is failing with 47%, with 92% precincts in. This is the 2nd or 3rd time a parental notification law was struck down in California. It is by far the most common sense law you could have; most states voted in this restriction years ago. Minors need permission to be given aspirin at school, but an abortion, sure, why not. And Prop4 wasn't even asking for parental consent, just notification. Amazing. With all due respect for my California friends and family (especially those called to remain in the state to fight for life issues), for all the problems Texas has (e.g. a rabid death penalty), I have no regrets about leaving California. I look forward to raising my children anywhere but there.

In an awkward twist, it looks like California is approving Proposition 8, which will amend the state constitution to define and recognize marriage as between a man and a woman. But it boggles my mind how 8 could pass and yet 4 could fail.

In other news, Texans in my congressional district have given Tom Delay's former seat back to the Republicans after 2 years of occupation by a Democrat.
President Obama

Well, congratulations to President-Elect Obama on his historic win. The disaster left in the wake of the Bush Administration taught us a few lessons. And the McCain campaign certainly made some serious missteps during its campaign. I personally don't believe that choosing Sarah Palin was one of those missteps, but the campaign certainly mishandled her. I suspect we'll be seeing more of her. Nonetheless, while Obama may have taken a large swath of the electoral college, the popular vote reveals that the country is still very divided (52% vs 48%). And so he is faced with governing this divided nation, and he won't be able to do it with smooth rhetoric, messianic language, and radically liberal policies.

That said, my hope is in Christ, not in politicians. It is Christ who is the Lord of history, and He is the Victor. As JPII loved to remind us, "Be not afraid!" So let us pray for President Obama; Pray that he will have the strength to govern and to lead us abroad. Pray that he will have a change of heart when it comes to justice for the unborn; in particular, that he will abandon support for the hideous Freedom of Choice Act. And pray that he really can unite the country as he says he can. Lastly, pray that the Church in America be strengthened and emboldened to stand up for important issues, including life and marriage.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mmmm... Mulled Claret

John Farrell posts this scene from Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), one of my favorite flicks, in his series, "Great Scenes from Otherwise Appalling Films". It is indeed a great scene:

But I disagree with John about the movie. It isn't appalling! Together with Horror of Dracula and Brides of Dracula, this is the best of Hammer Horror! The priest is here portrayed as a strong man and hunter, sure in his convictions; and the characters are educated and yet adventurous (okay so they were stupid for being led into Dracula's Castle in the most improbable fashion, but still).
All Souls Day in Texas

At my parish, we had a very fine liturgy for All Souls Day, commemorated on a Sunday this year, complete with black and gold vestments (including the maniple)! Here are a couple photos (posted with permission):

The homily was also a very good exposition on the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory and the importance of praying for the dead, a practice that is both apostolic and ancient. One of my favorite articulations of the teaching is from Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI), book nine of the series on Dogmatic Theology. In it, our present pope describes purgatory as a process of purification that is fundamentally Christological:
Purgatory is not, as Tertullian thought, some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where one is forced to undergo punishments in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God, and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. Simply to look at people with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process. It does not replace grace by works, but allows the former to achieve its full victory precisely as grace. What actually saves is the full assent of faith. But in most of us, that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of the divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy.
And, of course, one of the best medieval and highly devotional articulations of purgatory, and my personal favorite, is St. Catherine of Genoa's Treatise on Purgatory. Here is an excerpt:
When with its inner sight the soul sees itself drawn by God with such loving fire, then it is melted by the heat of the glowing love for God, its most dear Lord, which it feels overflowing it. And it sees by the divine light that God does not cease from drawing it, nor from leading it, lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight, to its full perfection, doing this of His pure love. But the soul, being hindered by sin, cannot go whither God draws it; it cannot follow the uniting look with which He would draw it to Himself. Again the soul perceives the grievousness of being held back from seeing the divine light; the soul's instinct too, being drawn by that uniting look, craves to be unhindered. I say that it is the sight of these things which begets in the souls the pain they feel in Purgatory. Not that they make account of their pain; most great though it be, they deem it a far less evil than to find themselves going against the will of God, whom they clearly see to be on fire with extreme and pure love for them.
The point, of course, is that God is both just and merciful. As with our works, our purification is first and foremost a work of God's grace in us. I struggled with this intensely before I entered the Catechumenate. And then, as I reflected on all I had been taught about the Church as Christ's Body, and our unity in Him through baptism, and His conquering of death, it hit me. We exist in a spiritual communion with those who have preceded us in death into new life, which includes not only those who now adore God in Heaven, but those who, having died in God's grace, are being prepared in God's Holy Fire for that awesome experience.

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead... (2 Maccabees 12:46)
The Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Pope Benedict XVI traces the sign of the cross onto Stephen Hawking’s forehead last Friday (10/31/2008) at the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He also addressed its members gathered there. I am very grateful for our pope and for his brilliant expositions on the interplay between faith and science. Here is his address:
I am happy to greet you, the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, on the occasion of your Plenary Assembly, and I thank Professor Nicola Cabibbo for the words he has kindly addressed to me on your behalf.

In choosing the topic Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life, you seek to focus on an area of enquiry which elicits much interest. In fact, many of our contemporaries today wish to reflect upon the ultimate origin of beings, their cause and their end, and the meaning of human history and the universe.

In this context, questions concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.

To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).

To “evolve” literally means “to unroll a scroll”, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose “writing” and meaning, we “read” according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos. Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is “legible”. It has an inbuilt “mathematics”. The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” studying measurable phenomena but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, between structure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

The distinction between a simple living being and a spiritual being that is capax Dei, points to the existence of the intellective soul of a free transcendent subject. Thus the Magisterium of the Church has constantly affirmed that “every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not ‘produced’ by the parents – and also that it is immortal” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 366). This points to the distinctiveness of anthropology, and invites exploration of it by modern thought.

Distinguished Academicians, I wish to conclude by recalling the words addressed to you by my predecessor Pope John Paul II in November 2003: “scientific truth, which is itself a participation in divine Truth, can help philosophy and theology to understand ever more fully the human person and God’s Revelation about man, a Revelation that is completed and perfected in Jesus Christ. For this important mutual enrichment in the search for the truth and the benefit of mankind, I am, with the whole Church, profoundly grateful”.
Laudetur Iesus Christus!


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