Monday, July 30, 2007

I'm moving!

Next time I write I'll be living in my NEW HOME. Woo.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Linux, *Shudder*

On a whim, I installed Kubuntu 7.04 on my Averatec 3250 laptop. I had read a lot of comments to the effect that it was a fabulous alternative to Windows Vista, and that all of those silly anti-Linux criticisms were utterly baseless (baseless I say!) in view of the great strides Ubuntu had made toward user-friendliness.

I will confess that my first reaction to Kubuntu, once it was rather quickly installed and running on my laptop, was one of awe and delight. XP Pro had atrophied to a crawl in spite of my legendary skills in spywayre/virus/temp/startup removal, registry cleanup, chkdisk'ing, and defragging. Kubuntu was, in contrast, an absolute champion of performance. Everything was so unbelievably responsive. I smiled at the "bouncy thingies" that appeared by my pointer every time I loaded a program.

But then I noticed that my wireless card wasn't working.

And not only was it not working; it's not-working-ness was unrelated to the Linux pro's usual refain: "It's the manufacturer's fault for not giving us good drivers." No, in fact, there were plenty of Linux drivers for my laptop's RaLink1500 wireless card; indeed, previous users of Ubuntu had reported lots of success. There's the rub: something is wrong with version 7.04. The Feisty Fawn is Foiled.

Now, the fact wrestling with this took a day and a half and a half-dozen failed attempts to fix the problems (all of which, I assure you, gave me a much unwanted crash course in the musty wilderness of the Linux command-line interface), by itself, might not have deterred me. But a number of other things did, in fact, persuade me to kick the dust off my feet and run back to Mother Microsoft.
  • I looked in vain amid the online documents, the forums, and the glitch reports for the so-called "community" that enthusiasts assured me would be my friendly, free support group. What I found was the same elitist ghetto that was firmly entrenched when I had tried Linux a few years ago. Explain terminology that might be unfamiliar to a Windows user? UNTHINKABLE! Sink or swim you Microsoft maggot. We all got here by sweat and blood and by golly, you're going to do the same!
  • I expect Linux to be different and thus just a little uncomfortable. I understand that it would be unfair to blame all of my troubles on objective defects in the operating system. But that argument can only be taken so far. I mean, come on now, just look at the directory tree in the file explorer. How opaque can you get? Where the heck are the executables? In Windows, they're in a folder called "Program Files." Who knew?
  • As ironic as it is, the way Linux is built, Ubuntu does new users a disservice by trying to hide the command line as much as possible. Why? Because the command line will always be there. There's no avoiding it. Better to make sure that everybody knows this fact going in, and equipping them with the tools to navigate it, than to make disingenuous "just-like-Windows!" promises that can't be kept. When I go into Kubuntu, and get stuck with a problem that needs the command line, and my only help are the Klingon speaking experts on the Web, you know where that leaves me? In a word, PWND.
As an aside, it was after using Kubuntu's disk burning software that my laptop's DVD-RW drive breathed its last and gave up its spirit. Maybe I shouldn't blame the death of my optical drive on Linux, but I do anyway.

So, with some sadness, I wipe my laptop's hard drive clean and fitfully reinstall Windows XP Home (I copied the disk onto a bootable 2GB USB flash drive). I still scrub away the remnants of the GRUB bootloader even after a reformat (irritating). So long, Linux. Let me know when you're not a ghetto anymore.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

On Hobby Horses, Fr. Denis's and my own.

There are certain kinds of people, whether because of their temperament or hobby or career, will have their opinions and priorities known by those in their sphere of influence. Priests almost always fall into this category, and I am reminded of a proverb I heard years ago at Louvain: "Every priest preaches only one homily." This may certainly be true of those priests (and other opinionated people) who have allowed themselves to drift off into the remote and narrow distributaries of the river of human thought. Giving up on the hard work of study, they forget the inconvenient complexities of truth and instead are content to drum up a simple, catchy beat that excites the lowest common denominator and provides modest successes of influence within a restricted province. Here we have our Ann Coulters and our James Carrolls, caught up in tiny creeks and bogs, far away from the river whose tributary is ancient, forgotten truths and whose momentum is difficult questions. By their very immobility, those caught in the tiny veins are able to make familiar friends with those on the shore.

But even well within the undulating river of thought, i.e. those whose who have been trained to fear all modes of intellectual suicide (a sin equally accessible to those of liberal or conservative bent), the adage is still quite true: every priest preaches just one homily. Everyone "specializes"; everyone has a distinct notion of just what is wrong with the world and what needs to be done/taught/changed. I know I am sloppily mixing analogies here, I'm sorry.

Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB, now sub-prior at St. Meinrad Archabbey and a double-Ph.D. in systematic theology, has one of the most complicated and non-axiomatic minds I have encountered (and he would hate that I am talking him up like this). Yet this does not mean that his speaking (liturgical, academic, or private) is an exercise in sheer variety. Now an interpretation of one of Flannery O'Connor's short stories, now an exhortation on the importance of self improvement, now a tirade on the dangers of modern rootlessness, now a statement that John Henry Newman is modernity's most important theologian, Fr. Denis's judgments have a daunting range but a discernible union.

I spent a relatively short time with him, but I could probably guess at themes that are among, if not certainly, his most favorite. I don't think he would balk too much at a description of himself as a champion of unpretentious and democratic faith as against the arrogance of the university; though behind this is an equally potent defense of reason in the service of Truth as against any anti-intellectualism in the service of peripheral goods (he is nothing if not an anti-sentimentalist).

Fr. Denis, I know, has a particular concern for the liturgy in all of its ritual and strangeness; in his words, "Relevance is the death of liturgy," and "The liturgy is supposed to be anachronistic," and "The liturgy should be somewhat theatrical". I was not surprised in the least to learn that he recently was granted faculties to celebrate the Divine Liturgy according to the Melkite rite, and I was not surprised in particular that he would seek those faculties rather than receive training in the Missal of John XXIII. Why? Knowing him I would guess his primary reasons are theological, not political. But I also know that Fr. Denis is keen on avoiding the easy solutions to difficult problems as presented by many conservative Catholics.

If I were looking for a common thread among these and other favorite themes of Fr. Denis, I might suggest something like the following. That in the Catholic Church is a power unique to it by virtue of the the Holy Spirit and its providentially guided history. And this power is a great many things, but one of those things is an as-yet largely untapped power to enrich and transform the individual. This is a power to turn a person from a sheep of the world--the "hired man"--into a man or woman of culture, of virtue, of good works, and of saving faith. And that this power is equally accessible to every individual irrespective of natural gifts. However, it is not commonly sought, and worse, it is not commonly offered by those to whom it has been entrusted.

I haven't even begun to skim the surface (and if this gets back to you, Father, my apologies in advance if I have given you unwanted or inaccurate publicity).

I don't pretend to have the breadth of learning or thinking that Fr. Dennis does, but I do try to plod along with what I do have. My hobby horses are well known from this blog (when I finish categorizing my posts, someday, they will be available for all to see in the category index). I might outline them as follows...

  • I am brash enough to believe that I know what liberalism truly is, and that as a philosophy--to say nothing of those who materially accept some of its doctrines--it is profoundly evil. The values that liberals proclaim are certainly good and must be defended. However liberalism is a modification of the virtue of mercy that, as a logical consequence, eventually terminates in its opposite. Liberalism is different from mercy and liberality not in degree but in kind. It is a personal mission of mine to name the devil that oppresses modernity in order to assist in its proper exorcism.
  • It is also my firm belief that perhaps the saddest symptom of the above oppression is the truncation of human possibility both on the level of the individual and civilization. Very broadly we might call this the "dumbing down" of civilization, but specifically my focus is on the deletion of the virtue of religion--a natural virtue connected to the cardinal virtue of justice. We have so completely removed the virtue of religion from public consciousness that we have even removed it from our Catholic worship. We have absolutely forgotten the sense that the worthiness of the liturgy depends upon nothing so much as our consciousness of our own unworthiness before God the Father. These are the terms I have chosen to phrase the same problem Fr. Denis refers to when he says, "Relevance is the death of liturgy." It is partly my attempt to answer the question of why this is so--because relevance is a criterion by which the movement of God must first be validated by my prior preferences. Beyond this, I believe that the issue of our rootlessness/culturelessness and the death of the virtue of religion are cyclically connected. I believe that culture is to a great degree recovered and built when an individual rediscovers the virtue of religion (and the passion of awe)--such is the phenomena of the clamor for the old rite of the Mass. Yet the recovery of culture, history, and ancestry fills out religiosity, not only by connecting today's youth with their religious forebears, grandparents and great grandparents; but by filling our modern religiosity with the Communion of Saints, with the music and the stories and the traditions of the past. This does not drag us backwards but precisely gives us a platform from which to leap.
  • In the main, I do think in terms of a cosmic struggle. It is a struggle which has already been won, but in which nevertheless we are players in the pages of an unfolding revelation (how is that for sloppily mixing analogies?)
  • I don't think I've adequately covered things here. Big surprise. And now I am exhausted. Oh well. Maybe something will get something from this. Good night, happy Sunday!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"On the Jewishness of the Roman Rite"

Brilliant article by Nicholas Frankovich in the First Things blog. One paragraph particularly caught my attention:

You might think that, while Reform [i.e. liberal] Catholics were on the subject of Catholic liturgy and Judaism, they would ask what happened to the Church’s observance of the event that most vividly marks Jesus as Jewish. The establishment of the 1970 missal as normative was accompanied by a certain curious change in the liturgical calendar: The Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, on January 1, eight days after the celebration of his birth, wasn’t just moved. It was eliminated.

Take that, you anti-semitic liberals. (*Sigh*, has this really become a game of "who hates Jews more?")

EDIT: Oops, I had forgotten to link to the article.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

New Computer Questions...

I would like a new computer. That is honestly the strongest justification I can make for one; I can't really say I need a new computer. I suppose that if I was truly responsible and mature I would end this post at: "I don't really need one."

New Computer Questions, Part Deux

Haha, had you there, didn't I?

Actually, I could really use a new computer. And more than a new computer, I could really use a good Tablet PC. With a good tablet, I can manage grades in Excel from the classroom, use a projector instead of a physical whiteboard, do quick research at the local university library with OneNote, blah blah blah rationalize rationalize.

Or I could blow $1500 on a sweet gaming PC with an ATI X9150XT graphics card and LCD HDTV that scoffs at modern games and replaces the TV, providing a nice feature for guests as well as a roomy screen for doing writing and research on multiple visible windows.

Yah yah, ok. Buying a gaming PC would be the biggest mistake I could make.

Comment that I made in ""

If only every individual in the United States received a healthy dose of post-modernism in their secondary school education. That way, maybe, nobody would any longer think of the word “news” in terms of information in any way divorced from a particular ideology. How less distressing bad religion reporting would be, if everyone on the street already understood that newspapers are only this: a collection of all of the things one group of people writes about other groups of people.

I’m not saying that there is no such thing as the objectivity of the press, and obviously, doesn’t believe that either (such would negate the need for this blog’s existence).

But if only the average reader *started with* the presumption that every news story was a covert, heavy-handed ideological tract, and *then* sought the genuine nuggets of truth hiding within (rather than the reverse order of operations). Ah, then wouldn’t religious people have that much less to worry about?

The Heart

The heart is the world's only container whose capacity is directly proportional to the size of the things that are in it.

OK, ok, it's Hallmark Cardish. I don't care.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Prayer and faith

I have difficulty praying. That's not the first time I've mentioned it here, but I'll say it again: it's a real struggle. When my cell phone beeps at me, reminding me to pray, every time it beeps it reminds me of how far prayer is from my mind (and my agenda) at each of those moments. I pray daily, but not regularly; and the most valuable and beautiful kind of prayer--prayer at moments I feel least like praying--are precisely the ones that are absent. Conspicuously so. I fear I have been without a spiritual director for too long--not that I was any kind of spiritual athlete when I had one in the seminary. But I've tried to do it myself and I am a failure; "we do not know how to pray as we ought." "Lord, teach us how to pray."

This city's excessively laid-back priests would give me a grand old pat on the back just for being concerned about it. But I think one should not necessarily look to one's confessor for encouragement toward holiness. Confessors are there to be reservoirs of God's forgiveness and the sacrament of his absolution; this is a gift given them via their Ordination, and not earned. In other words, any knucklehead can absolve. But to be a voice outside of myself, a serious agent of discipline to a spoiled youth, someone who sees "holiness" not as a churchy word descriptive only of natural virtues, but an irreducibly unique, salvific, visible, active love of God and in God--that is no ordinary confessor, and it is not a "spiritual director" in the perfunctory sense. It is a Spiritual. Director. I wonder if men like that exist anymore. I hope so.
The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains presumptuous. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share in the disposition of a humble heart: "Apart from me, you can do nothing." - CCC 2732
My friend Brother Thomas has a whole category of posts on his blog dedicated to "struggling with doubt." Yet he has consecrated his very life to Christ; he may well do so in a startling and permanent way, if the Lord leads him to make solemn profession in a couple of years. What I find odd in my own circumstance is that my own doubt has never taken quite the same shape as that of Brother Thomas's; if his has been intellectual, mine has been practical. My own mind is a kind of idealistic cathedral, but it's also largely an uncrowded tourist attraction; it is the Lateran at Rome. Maybe the things that have bothered him haven't bothered me in the same way--for example, reading a few too many articles from No big deal; there I can see the gloomy shadows of positive atheism for what they are: paper thin, scarcely a breath of wind.

But it isn't gloomy shadows that haunt me; it is worldly delights. The turning away from the Creator to the creature, the primordial sin, dogs me and feels so heavy around my arms and legs. To be drowning in things while I gasp for the air of the cathedral, even while I sometimes see it becoming more and more shadow-like itself--what an ignoble destiny! I am afraid that, unless I be helped in a radical way, I will constantly be in danger of going to the 8th circle with the hypocrites; a deep circle, precisely because they held something so good before they spoiled it.

I am concerned, yes, but not sad. God is strong, and he asks for so little--only that I am persistent in my love for him and that I turn back to him wholly when I realize I have done wrong. Please, Lord, burn my heart, rip my chains, kill my lust, even if it kills me. Only have mercy on me in my weakness.

Little "everyone is a mystery" disclaimer: I understand that the distinction I draw between Brother Thomas's battles and my own is simplistic and crude; I hope caricatures can be forgiven, if I have written anything fruitful here. In any case, nobody who lives long enough is a stranger to any kind of temptation.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"But Father, if you stop the 'Folk Mass', George the guitarist won't have anything to do anymore."

Not so, my little moppets, not so... (all right so my consternation with fake instruments continues... but is this not intriguing?)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Is something about to happen?

I don't know. It seems as though there is a spectre haunting the news lately. Lots of charges against Pope Benedict in the news, lots of anger against the Catholic Church in the polls (admittedly, on liberal, "mainstream" news sources). Between the motu propio and the document reaffirming that the Catholic Church is the church founded by Christ, the sharp clarity of "distinguishing what is Catholic" has an almost unbearable brightness.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

On Being Catholic

Peter Laurie wrote a little piece that I appreciated in something called "The Nation Newspaper" (I don't know what its pedigree is, but it's the news media, so who really cares when it comes to religion writing).

I liked Laurie's piece because it forms a nice example of apologetics of liberal Catholicism. I liked it in particular because such apologetics usually have two main features: a heartfelt, honest expression of self, and a bitter screed against the evils of the 'premodern' elements of Catholic tradition. And Laurie's piece is content to focus on the former.
The wonderful paradox of Catholicism is the eternal tension between orthodoxy and dissent. I live that paradox, filled as I am with certainty constantly beset by doubt.
Laurie is not really an innovator when it comes to seeking a public answer to the question: "If you dissent from the Catholic Church, why not just join a church that agrees with you?" I admit there is a certain temptation to wish that liberal Catholics would all do just that, clergy and laity alike; but that temptation really doesn't stem from charity and is probably at least a venial sin.

But there are, in fact, two questions that conservative Catholics have for liberals: the more common "why not join another another church?" and the rarer, "why not embrace the Spirit-inspired teachings of the Catholic Church?" The implicit modernity that lurks inside the souls of even us conservatives makes the first question is easier to ask than the second. We don't really believe that a liberal Catholic would--or even could--change his beliefs any more than we would change ours. If there is a cognitive dissonance that bothers us about liberal Catholics, we take the more prudential path toward resolution: inviting them to part company with us.

Perhaps that sometimes happens; liberals get fed up and leave, perhaps more often than they stay anonymously, or worse, become agents to "change the Church from the inside." But I really doubt that the invitation to leave is necessarily more effective than the invitation to convert would be if more Pope-believing Catholics had the cojones to ask it. And the reason I say that because the option to convert has an entirely different foundation than the option to stay, or leave the Church. The latter can be justified or argued based on comparing a series of pros and cons; authors like Peter Laurie and Gary Willis (Why I am a Catholic) and Fr. Andrew Greeley (The Catholic Imagination) can explain their continued loyalty by giving you a list of things they like. But the former, the option to convert, has one and only one foundation.

My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you; as you departed you laughed at them. They were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and neither can I. But think, my son, perhaps it is true. -M. Buber, quoted by Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, p. 46.
Perhaps I am taking this quote out of context; after all, Buber and Ratzinger are both addressing atheism, and I am only addressing the matter of Catholics who disagree on points they themselves consider small, even niggling. But I don't believe so. Liberalism is a kind of atheism; it is an atheism of the Church, it is the belief that God is absent from doctrine and that the Magisterium is not really the sacramental Head of the Body of Christ. And so to move from being a dissenting Catholic to an orthodox one I believe truly is a conversion; one more ultimate and radical, even, than Laurie's own conversion from atheism to liberal Catholicism. To be orthodox; to give up, finally, one's cherished right to disagree, and to see the formation of opinions to be itself within the realm moral culpability, is something that hangs on Faith, more than argument.

The only argument that some people would need, but perhaps are not receiving is: "Maybe it is true." Time, perhaps, to stop asking liberal Catholics to leave the Church.

Now I've already revealed a little bit of an extreme opinion. Yes I do believe that dissenting Catholics and orthodox Catholics are doing two essentially different things, different in kind and not just in degree. - a Catholic online dating service I confess to making use of since leaving the seminary - asks its new members to answer whether they believe seven 'controversial' doctrines. This allows members to find people of like values, if indeed this is important for them. A search criterion allows members to find matches that agree with "all", "most", or "some" doctrines.

What goes under the radar of most people is that there is potentially a world of difference between someone who follows "all" the teachings vs. someone who disagrees with even one. And that difference likely lies in the answer to the $64,000 inquiry, "why are you a Catholic?"

It is perfectly understandable that, given the cultural atmosphere, certain dissenting Catholics would feel the need to defend their association with the Catholic faith; a sort of apologia pro vita mea, albeit one whose most basic principles are different than Newman's classic. One shouldn't expect the answer to speak of salvation, for example. But we might expect a lovely litany of the natural goods of the Church.

Many things attracted me to Catholicism: its long history of intellectual and spiritual achievement; its spirited defence of the dignity and sanctity of life; its preferential option for the poor and vulnerable; and its rich liturgical culture.

I also liked that it's a church of sinners for sinners. It's not a church of the "elect" or of the "saved". Every day your relationship to God through Jesus begins anew.

It's also a church in the world and for the world, especially since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Catholics tend to be "worldly" in the best sense.

This Catholic outlook was beautifully summed up by Pope John XXIII in his opening address to Vatican II when, dismissing the Curial voices of gloom and doom who saw nothing but evil in the world, he urged the church to engage with the modern world, not in a spirit of condemnation, but in a spirit of compassion and joy.

Hope is an exemplary Catholic virtue; hope that human beings can rise above all intrinsic weakness and external shackles to build a society conducive to human flourishing.

I've also experienced in my travels the marvellous diversity within unity of Catholicism: the wonder of a Creole Mass in Haiti; the beauty of indigenous Masses and unique devotions to Mary in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

I'm choosing to live in the apartment I've selected because of its lush, forested scenery, the kindness of its managers, the reasonable rent, and the ideal location. But given these criteria, and the ones listed by Laurie (and Willis, and Greeley), I could as scarcely expect everybody to live in the same apartment as they could expect everybody to become Catholic. A mountain of natural goods does not a reason to convert make. This is what von Balthasar would call "Aestheticism" - the attempt to, or belief that one has succeeded in "reaching" God by means of an accumulation of natural beauties. At best a naive romanticism; at worst a presumptuous idolatry.

And thus my radical thesis: one who belongs to a religion because of a series of reasons has not, in the main, converted. (Incidentally, I include here those who incidentally agree with the magisterium on all things, and yet see these agreements as the substance of their Catholic identity).

I sound like I'm channeling Kierkegaard here. I'm really not, but I would like to move on to the main reason I started writing.
For me, as for most Catholics, the church is not a club you join. Catholicism is as much a way of life as a religion, even for someone, like me, not born into it.

Hence, despite the numerous scandals and crises that have beset the church, most Catholics steadfastly remain.

Hence, going to church for most of us is rarely an expression of piety. It's just something that Catholics do. The casual dress of churchgoers shows that it's not something apart from our everyday life. The Eucharist is the core of our faith.

People who know me know I love to dissect, and this here is one juicy slab of beef. As always, the first question one must ask is, "What, precisely, do you mean when you utter these words, 'way of life', 'club', 'expression of piety', 'not something apart from our everyday life', and 'core of our faith'.'?

Perhaps Laurie is making the Reform Jewish distinction between "orthodoxy" and "orthopraxy"; Catholicism is the business of going to church in your shorts and sandals, not an indicator of your opinions. Or maybe he is distinguishing between a pietistic, compartmentalized, hypocritical, aloof, "churchy" atmosphere, and a Catholicism which is, I'm sure he would agree, "integrated" into daily life.

Far be it from me to disparage the exalting of the ordinary. Daily life is the rich soil of sanctification - just ask any Opus Dei member. Moreover, I've witnessed my share of self-righteous "churchiness" to know that this is, in fact, a legitimate concern and one that should be shared by orthodox Catholics as much as liberals.

But somewhere in all the above "I-like-being-Catholicness" is an off-key note. What exactly does Laurie mean when he says that Catholicism is not a club?

Of course, those are words I can get behind. Catholicism isn't a club; it is not a "free association of like-minded individuals" gathered for a common purpose, nor is it exclusive in any a priori sense. As Francis Cardinal George once told an ecumenical meeting of Christian leaders, "To be perfectly honest, I want you all to be Catholic;" the same words could be legitimately said by any Catholic to the whole world. The only thing the Catholic faith excludes is sin, while embracing sinners. (there is a very catchy T-shirt slogan floating about, "Fear Only God; Hate Only Sin"; gotta get me one of those).

Yet somehow I gather that Laurie means something other than all of this. The "club" that he is repudiating is not the club of the "free association of like-minded individuals"; indeed, what he describes as his reasons for being Catholic sounds keen on precisely such a religiosity. No, the aspect of "club" that Laurie here rejects is the fact that clubs logically imply a distinction between members and non-members.

And here we see what "being Catholic" for Laurie really means. It means doing Catholic things. Just as building things makes one a carpenter, and stealing things makes one a thief, being a Catholics means going to church; "just something people do." Here Laurie follows the canon of liberal Catholicism par excellence: what makes one a Catholic is experience.

Blagh. This thing has devolved into a mess as the night winds down. Sorry.