Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Round up: recent readings of interest - updated 9/19

Deacons are for proclaiming the Word of God, in word and in deed.  But we don't do that on our own, like liturgical Lone Rangers; we proclaim only in communion with our shepherd, apart from communion with whom we have no ministry, no mission.

Here's Pope Benedict proclaiming the Gospel during his recent apostolic visit to Lebanon. Text of all twelve of his addresses from this journey are at the link.
(Pope Benedict and Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch in the Basilica of St. Paul, Harissa; Reuters photo, from the link above)

Here's Archbishop Chaput proclaiming the Gospel in a more quotidian but still compelling fashion:
     Selfishness dressed up as individual freedom has always been part of American life.  But now it infects the whole fabric of consumer society.  American life is becoming a cycle of manufactured appetites, illusions and licenses that turns people in on themselves and away from each other. As communities of common belief and action dissolve, the state fills in the void they leave.  And that suits a lot of us just fine, because if the government takes responsibility for the poor, we don’t have to. 
     I’m using a broad brush here, obviously.  In Catholic social thought, government has a legitimate role – sometimes a really crucial role -- in addressing social problems that are too big and too serious to be handled by anyone else.  But Jesus didn’t bless higher taxes, deficit spending and more food stamps, any more than he endorsed the free market.
     The way we lead our public lives needs to embody what the Catholic faith teaches -- not what our personalized edition of Christianity feels comfortable with, but the real thing; the full package; what the Church actually holds to be true.  In other words, we need to be Catholics first and political creatures second. (emphasis in original)

Here's an interesting reflection from Anthony Esolen on subsidiarity and the way it's being consistently misrepresented in politics:
     The welfare state is a soft prison, a system of induced incapacity, to the benefit of the wardens.  It works in concert with public schools, another vast network of compulsions, whose existence is predicated on the assumption that learning, in children, is unnatural, so that only “experts” can fathom the mystery, and so that “good” parents will act as trusties, submitting to the authority and enforcing its often ridiculous and pernicious commands.  The next network of control is an infantilizing media, persuading people that they are stupid or fat or ugly, that they live in a shack, that they wear rags, that they need what the hawkers provide.  The last element is a diseased and counterfeit individualism: the promotion of selfishness and of vices that make true self-reliance, and therefore true community, impossible.

And, tangentially, here's part I of a very interesting apologetic piece on the Deuterocanon (the books of the Bible Catholics keep and Protestants reject).

Update, 9/19 - Here's Part II of the same apologetic piece.

And, even more tangentially, for a bonus, here's the free on-line quarterly journal, "Church Life," from the Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame - where, for the moment, a significant portion of the University's Catholicity is being consistently expressed (link to Vol 3, vols 1 and 2 available there also).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 anniversary reflections

Fr. Robert Barron had an excellent reflection a year ago, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, on righteous anger, charity, forgiveness, and redemption:

He strongly makes the point here that the main difference between righteous anger and sinful anger is its connection with charity.  Anger at injustice, that compels more strongly the willing of the good of the other, is righteous anger, of the sort (as he points out) that the Bible ascribes to God.  But anger at injustice that clings to the harm done leads rather to some sort of vengeance, than to forgiveness.

One of the further things this distinction entails is a purification of memory.  As we know from our experience, we retain the memory of sin, both as sinner and as sinned-against, even after sacramental confession.  These memories can be powerful, and can affect our charity, often for ill.  It's very easy, in fact, to cling to the memory of the harm done, and to allow that memory to tempt us back into sin.  Often, when the sin is our own, we move from the memory back into the same sin, seeking even despite our (struggling) will and (incomplete) desire for God the fleeting sweetness of sin's illicit pleasure. 

But it's also too often true, when we have been harmed by sin, that, as we remember the harm done, we are tempted against charity to desire a comparable harm to the one who harmed us (or, perhaps, to a substitute "them").  In short, as Fr. Barron says, we desire vengeance, not justice.  Vengeance is so much easier than justice, both because vengeance doesn't require me also to change, the way justice does; and also because vengeance contains that same illicit sweetness of sin. 

I believe this is in fact extremely common.  Most of the time, it leads us to petty and instant vengeance, like yelling at a child who's disobeyed or dropped their dinner on the floor, or like cursing the driver who's just cut us off.  Most of the time, we recognize both that further acts of vengeance would be themselves a completely unjust escalation of the original harm, and that we don't truly desire that kind of harm to the other.  Clearly, this is good, in the sense that we are resisting the temptation to greater sin, even if we are giving in to the temptation to the lesser sin.

But that's precisely the issue, for those who belong to Jesus Christ.  If we thus justify at a personal level the lesser sin of "verbal vengeance," we cultivate the habit of anger separated from justice and charity, and we put ourselves in a very poor spiritual position.  We reflect very poorly the beatitude of meekness (the absence of anger, if not from our reaction to injustice, as we've seen, then at least from our motive in responding).  Socially, we slowly escalate the level of "verbal vengeance" that is acceptable, and therefore that is necessary to portray.  The more socially necessary it is to speak violently, the more abused and dominated are those who cannot do so (convincingly).  At some point, this tips from verbal to physical actions, and the cycle of domination continues apace.  This aptly describes our culture, in fact, and represents a key measure of the marginalization of our Christian heritage.

Thus, as followers of Christ, we need to practice a purification of our memory.  This can be part of our regular examination of conscience.  If we cultivate in the memory of the daily, petty harms inflicted on us the habit of letting righteous anger move to charity, rather than to self-serving vengeance, then we might be capable of the same in remember the more significant harms.  Likewise, when we are the ones harming, if we cultivate a desire to seek forgiveness and redemption in the memory of the little things, we might be able to do so in the more significant.