Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

23 January 2015

Rabbit? Run!

The latest papal obiter dictum (read: leaving on a jet plane) concerned his contention that good Catholics do not have to " rabbits" when it comes to family size.

It may be accurate, though picayune, to insist that Pope Francis did not say, *breed* like rabbits, as the phrase typically is attested. Be...breed...whatever.

This post of Dr. Gregory Popčak is informative, especially his reference to paragraph 50 of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes.

One segment of the citation clears up this breeding problem (emphases mine): their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel.
Before reading the Popčak piece, I recalled a phrase that I picked up at some point in the seminary: humano modo. Context? Glad you asked:
Can. 1061 §1. A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion [humano modo] a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh. {source}
A "human manner"--a manner suitable to free and rational creatures who are "now called children of God, for that is what we are" (1 Jn 3:1). A human manner presumes a total investment of self that is permanent, exclusive, and open to new life. A human manner is not "arbitrary" and casual, fit for public display and risible observation.

Can rabbits marry each other--or dogs, cats, gerbils, or even the most intelligent orangutans? Does a total investment of self that is permanent, exclusive, and open to new life ("openness" being a uniquely human possibility) even occur to rabbits, or any of the other animals? The sexual expression of rabbits and other animals is instinctual, not free and rational.

Now maybe scientists and others have observed in animals some approximation to human love. Every concern for the other as other certainly participates in, derives from, divine love--and cannot  otherwise exist. But we are not animals; and Pope Francis is reminding us that the Catholic Church wants responsible parents who must decide wisely and generously how they will cooperate with God's gift of generation. Indiscriminate copulation, devoid of devotion, will not suffice.

Maybe I'm a "speciesist" by insisting that, however tender we may deem it to be, the procreation and rearing of animals is different from human love both in degree and in kind. Maybe my take doesn't catch the spirit of the Holy Father's words any more than the rereading by any author in the mainstream media (or even this article), but I offer it nonetheless.

11 January 2015

The Tonight Show and The Baptism of the Lord

While Johnny Carson may remain for many the all-time favorite host of The Tonight Show, I am also fond of the newest host, Jimmy Fallon. He has a whimsical, self-effacing wit, and embraces technology in his skits. He fits in with the younger generation [although, after the first Mass, an older woman came up to me, put her arm on my shoulder, and said, "I like Jimmy Fallon, too" and walked along--which made the day]. Whatever shoes he's had to fill, he seems content to be himself.
Just the other night Jimmy was interviewing actress Nicole Kidman. He recalled that they had met ten years before. On that occasion, a friend of Jimmy called him to say that he wanted to bring Nicole Kidman by his apartment.

Jimmy later realized, and Nicole affirmed, that it was a set-up date, and he’d given her a rather bland reception: playing video games, not talking much. Nicole then revealed that she had been romantically interested in Jimmy, but he was clueless about it! Imagine: he could have been Mr. Nicole Kidman—if he wasn’t so—aargh! The whole interview unraveled rather humorously after that admission, but they took it in stride. Although the awkwardness of the past could not be erased or redone, the interview opened the door to a new perspective in friendship.

Many times in life we recognize a choice before us, and many times there doesn’t seem to be a choice. In that instant when Jimmy realized the opportunity he’d missed, the audience also could see the present outcome, where both are happily married with children.

After watching the interview I wondered whether there were any times I was simply unaware of others’ intentions about me, and how things might have been different, especially if I had handled them better. But that practice is a kind of spiritual and emotional quicksand. My thoughts needed to turn to a more productive and worthwhile theme: the mysterious workings of God’s Providence, which aims to reinforce within each of us our fundamental identity as God’s beloved son or daughter.

That’s what Baptism does for us: makes us children of God, heirs of heaven, temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. It frees us from the Original Sin and, in the case of adults, from any personal sins we have committed. Baptism confers upon us a new identity and a new mission, leaving behind the way that leads to death. Though, like Jimmy with Nicole, we may be unaware of God’s loving intentions for us, through Baptism He inaugurates for us the strange and wonderful journey that is discipleship, where, though we participate freely, there is always Another Hand at work.

Along our life’s course we will stray, we will miss the mark, we will sin. Not just instances of wry regret like the way that Jimmy Fallon initially regarded Nicole Kidman, but snubs of the most meaningful relationships of our lives: intentional choices against God’s commandments to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. But no sinful choice that we ever make will erase our splendid identity as God’s beloved, made for communion with Him. That’s not to say that we can’t reject that communion or don’t need to repair it; but, even if we rejected it completely, we’d still have been made for it, which would add all the more to the frustration that is hell.

But God the Son fully identified Himself with the human race by becoming man and submitting Himself to the baptismal waters. He knew and owned His identity as the Father’s Beloved and the Savior of mankind. Through Baptism He invites all to receive that dignity and to walk in that dignity each day. In view of that wise and loving plan, God will use even our sins and our missed chances for His glory and for the good of all. Though much of life may cause real and deserved shame, God allows us to participate in our redemption and renewal.

03 January 2015

Take Me To What?

I saw this song being featured on iTunes, but it wasn't until a friend tipped me off to it that I paid it any real attention. Irish singer Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who goes by Hozier, rocketed to fame with his hit "Take Me To Church."

Now my friend jokingly marketed it to me as a song advocating Mass attendance; but when I gave it a listen, and followed up with cursory research on the song and the artist, I experienced mixed admiration, irritation, and shame.

Admiration, because I like Hozier's warm and full voice. The song is growing on me, too. "Church" is a dramatic, almost maudlin ballad with its pulsating beat and haunting background voices. It's very serious. I wonder if he's the type of person who can enjoy a chuckle; and if not, I'd like to sit him down to a Three Stooges or Monty Python marathon and see how he does.

I admit, however, that it could just be the aura necessary for this piece. After all, we're not allowed to act up in church! But tell that to his funeral-mocking lover, whom he seems to admire for her humor.

Hozier was born in 1990, around when most of my high school students were born (I taught between 2004 and 2006). Since my days as a teacher I have begun to take note of "his generation," and of generations in general--their differences, the way that other generations perceive them, etc. I don't at all style myself a theorist on these matters, but that's never kept me from theorizing, yea, even with curmudgeonly notes.

Millennials and younger sense that they are living in a moral and doctrinal wasteland. At once they object to it and wallow in it, precisely in songs like this. Hasn't that been the way of artists, though? I have to give it to millennials. They've been holding up all right, given the circumstances of their age.

Irritation and shame are of a piece. The Church has proved for Hozier and many of his generation woefully insufficient, what with its allegedly homophobic and frigid teachings alongside its abusive and elusive representatives. Besides the dearth of sound modeling, there's also the drought of catechesis and devotion. Can we therefore blame him and his generation for turning to idols? Theirs isn't even a defection; they never really came to know the Way, the Truth, and Life at all! We've been fiddling while Rome's been burning.

Hozier alludes to a line of "New Atheist" Christopher Hitchens: "Born sick, but commanded to be well." If I understand this line (admittedly ignorant of its context), he posits a conflict between the Church's doctrine of original sin and her demanding moral teachings, especially with respect to the "pelvic issues" of the sixth and ninth commandments.

Hozier declares that his religion "has no absolutes," but he would fain fashion his lover (or how he feels about himself when he's with her) into an absolute. We've heard that contradiction before: "How can you say there is no absolute truth? Isn't that very statement an absolute?" One's own will or whim becomes the absolute, the standard. But worship we will--and the object of one's worship will, as he notes, "demand a sacrifice," even if it be one's own understanding and freedom.

He is right to say that there are "lots of starving faithful." While some of the Church's leaders were on their alleged "high horse," his generation has been starving for rich fare. Spare no doctrine! Spare no liturgical beauty! But only when mired in his brand of madness, free of "masters and kings" (oppressive hierarchy? oppressive everyone?) does he style himself "human" and "clean." It's hard to get any headway here, because madness consumes.

Our worshipper is not asking for pity. He is declaring his righteousness and piety before everyone. What more can be said? Yes, he is promoting the (hedonistic) worship of his "lover," a "goddess" who "demands a sacrifice." In the absence of the God of revelation, eros seems to be a trusted place to hang one's hat--trusted in the sense of typical, expected, and accessible.

Fulton Sheen and others spoke often of how we are hard-wired, geared by nature, to worship, to outpour ourselves. If the object of our worship is not God, then go with whoever or whatever else offers ecstasy, escape of oneself. But substitutes soon prove fatally flawed, and soon betray the sad fact that their slaves (dogs, he calls them!) are really worshipping the image of themselves that they see in the other. A human being is a fine wine that cannot be made into a reduction.

We have far to go with the evangelization of this generation. One place we can start is the sense of bleakness that people rightly experience amid the surfeit of earthly desires. Someone can satisfy!

This task, this responsibility, this mission--"Let it begin with me." How else will it continue?