Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Next Step — Blogging Under Obedience?

Devin Rose on The Journey Home. (Image: EWTN.)
After a month and a half of working on other projects, I seem to have gotten my blogging mojo back. (Of course, this means the other projects have gone back to the back burner.) However, as much as I kvetch about the culture-warrior role I’ve been stuck in for lo these eight years — more, if you count my long-lost-and-best-forgotten first blog — I keep returning to politics, every once in a while mentioning God or the Catholic Church to remind myself and others that I am a Catholic writer. Fortunately, über-apologist Devin Rose recently wrote a post on obedience which is not only worthy of comment but isn’t about politics (well, it’s not directly about politics).

“Demand I Do Something!”

Says Devin:

I recently finished Rod Dreher’s book on life lessons from Dante’s Divine Comedy, and one fascinating part of his story was his interaction with his Eastern Orthodox priest.

Dreher left Catholicism and became Orthodox in response to the priestly sexual abuse scandal. His local priest at their small Orthodox church is also a convert to Orthodoxy, and this priest became Dreher’s spiritual director, confessor, and pastor.

Well, we have that in the Catholic Church, too, but what’s different is the level of pastoral care that his priest could give him. Dreher’s priest put him under obedience to pray 500 Jesus prayers each day.

Now think about that: has a Catholic priest ever put you under obedience to do any spiritual discipline, beyond a few Hail Marys for a penance after Confession? I’ve never experienced that, nor even heard of it happening.

One Catholic friend of mine has actually begged his priest to put him under obedience! “Please, as pastor of my soul, demand I do something!”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Catholic Stand: Political Control and the Freedom of Weakness

There’s a certain freedom in powerlessness, the loss of control. Recently, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote that the “astonishing flaws” of both major candidates was “depressing and liberating at the same time. Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become. Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps.”

Control of Our Lives

It’s liberating when you realize that, no matter what you do, the results will be the same. You don’t always have the luxury of knowing that your action will have only minimal effect on the outcome. It’s like a message from God: “Dude, I got this. You go do the right thing, and let Me handle the rest.”

Have you ever just sat and thought about all the ways in which your life is affected, impacted, changed for better or worse, by people whom you will most likely never meet and over whom you have no control or even influence? I’m sure commercials promising you security from identity theft and credit-card fraud have got you to thinking, now and again, how your financial security is tied up in a network of computers over which faceless strangers must keep perpetual watch against other faceless, more malicious strangers. Think of the people in the security agencies and defense services laboring 24/7 to prevent a terrorist attack from occurring or a war from breaking out.

Something so simple and quotidian as filling your gas tank doesn’t just involve you and the pump. It involves hundreds of people in a number of industries moving the original oil from the well to the refinery to the distributor, as well as making the pumps, the tanks, the trucks, the pipes, and the car you’re putting it in. And as you’re cruising down the six-lane expressway, do you think about all the people who labored for months to expand the original two-lane blacktop highway while you suffered delays and jams in frustration? Whatever made you think you were independent? Whatever made you think you had complete control of your life?

Usain Bolt hits the gym every day for 90-minute workouts to develop explosiveness and build stability while staying lean. He controls when he shows up at the gym, how rigorously he follows his workout routine, and what he eats. He can’t control the possible rise of another runner even faster than him, or the potential for career-ending injury, or the slow wear of entropy that will eventually subtract from his speed. Why worry about these things, when worrying about them won’t prevent them from happening?

“Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ask Tony: Forgiveness and Sincerity—UPDATED

Hypothetical situation: A friend, loved one, coworker, or acquaintance has a certain behavioral trait, one that is objectively sinful and hurtful. At times, you are the one s/he hurts. Every time s/he hurts you, s/he apologizes. After n apologies and n +1 times being hurt, though, don’t you have a right to feel his/her apologies are insincere? Shouldn’t the behavior have been corrected by then if s/he really meant it? In sum, aren’t you justified in refusing to forgive, or making your forgiveness contingent upon some material act?

Seventy Times Seven

There are only two passages in the New Testament where a finite number is connected with forgiveness. The first occurs in Matthew 18:21-22:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Jesus then follows this injunction with the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (vv. 23-35). The “seventy times seven”, of course, is hyperbole meaning that we forgive as often as asked: “... and if [your brother] sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:4). However, you don’t have to wait to be asked forgiveness in order to grant it.

As for sincerity — nope. Don’t find it connected to forgiveness of others anywhere in the NT. It’s not a condition. Nor do you find any passage that allows you to make forgiveness conditional. Catholics have done penitential acts over the centuries. However, those acts were reparative; that is, they were ordered towards repairing the relationship between the person and God, and not as a condition of His forgiveness. Making your forgiveness contingent upon fulfilling a material condition as “proof” of sincerity is spiritual extortion.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Euthyphro the Burglar; or, A Criminal Dilemma

One night, as I arrived home from my Knights of Columbus council meeting, I noticed that my front door was ajar, and that there was a shadow moving past the curtains on the living room window. A burglary, I thought, more angry than scared. So I called 911, retrieved my Sig Sauer from my glove box, got out of my car as quietly as possible, and crept inside.[*]

As I tiptoed into the living room, the burglar was bending over to pick up the television set from the entertainment center. “Stop!” I commanded, pointing the Sig at him. “Put it down slowly, then stand up with your hands in the air. The cops are coming; you’re going to go to jail for burglary.”

The burglar did as I told him. To my surprise, though, he asked, “Is burglary wrong because the law says so, or does the law say so because burglary is wrong?”

Puzzled, I asked, “What does it matter?”

“Well,” he responded, “if Texas law says so because burglary is wrong, then the State of Texas doesn’t really define burglary.”

I shrugged. “That’s a trivial objection, because Texas enacted the definition in its laws, and you’re still subject to Texas law. But what if I say burglary is wrong because Texas law says so?”

The burglar smirked — or, at least, I think he smirked; it was difficult to tell through his pantyhose mask in the dim light. “In the first place, if it’s wrong only because the law says so, then ‘wrong things are against the law’ is merely a tautology, and says nothing significant about wrongness.”