Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.


"Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my whole will. All that I have and am you have given me; I return it and surrender it to be governed entirely by your will. Your grace and love are wealth enough for me; grant me these, and I will ask for nothing more. Amen."

Suscipe of St. Ignatius Loyola (July 31)

Islam, Reformation, and Philosophy

I don't really follow blogs - creating an irony in that I have decided to start writing one. But I do periodically check in on the Washington Post's comments boards for interesting tidbits. Here's one I'ld like to share:

In it, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and a Protestant, argues briefly that what Islam needs is a Protestant Reformation of its own. One Mr. Chase makes a briefer argument against him, in effect saying (1) there is no superstructure or hierarchy to reform against; and (2) the Islamic equivalent to a Reformation has already happened.

I decided to chime in and expand upon Mr. Chase's second point by looking at the philosophical underpinnings of the Reformation, and how those underpinnings are already in place in Islam, but have played out in a way that makes the Middle East a sort of photographic-negative from Europe. I have copied my argument below.

One of Martin Luther's fundamental gripes against the Catholic Church was its use of Greek
philosophy to structure its understanding of the Christian Gospel. That is at the heart of his idea of "Sola Scriptura" demand: don't try to 'figure out' all this stuff - just read the Bible and do what it says, he insisted. The corollary was that religion did not "fit in" with the rest of reality as an integrated whole, but rather was a separate thing, a separate reality. Thus Luther's interpretation of the command to render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. The secular sphere and the religious had, in Luther's thinking, no real interaction (let alone integration). This disconnection is why Protestantism and secularism get along so nicely - each is content to let the other do its own thing without trying to connect between the two.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has always insisted that there is just one reality, one universe, and that its different facets have ordered relationships with each other. The most important facets of reality are those that pertain to eternal destiny, it argues, which are the same facets about which the Church speaks. Thus the Church takes for itself a sort of overarching supervisory position: not in charge of anything in particular, except religious life, but with a certain oversight of everything in general, even things like politics and scientific research. Naturally, politicians and scientists chafe at this ordering, and prefer a separation. A secularization, made possible by the Protestant Reformation, is what they looked for.

The problem with a Muslim Reformation is that it has already happened, and failed. In the 11th and 12th centuries AD, Islam saw its philosophical hayday. Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Ibn Farabi among a host of others labored to integrate their Koranic religious convictions with systematic thought in a way that could give a "big picture" of the whole world, sustain scientific discoveries, and help address questions not obviously answered in the Koran. They were in pursuit of the same project that the Catholic Scholastic philosophers (Thomas Aquinas, et al.) undertook about a century later (and mostly in light of the progress made by the Muslim philosophers first!). It was the same project that Martin Luther rejected in Catholic Europe. In Muslim Persia the project was torn down by Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, a theologian and cleric, like Luther, who was convinced that thinking about religion and faith somehow undid them. He wrote oodles of volumes, but his most significant is also one of his latest. It is most significant because it is a reversal of the earlier. "The Incoherence of the Philosophers" is a proposal of epistemological skepticism that would make Descartes or Hume blush. It denies any real ability to know anything outside of one's own mind, cutting off the subjective from the objective, the religious from the material universe.

So if this division of religious from secular has occured in both the Western world (in the 16-17th centuries) and in the Muslim world (in the 12th-13th centuries), why they both look so different from each other?

Simply put, the West has tended toward interest in the material and thus become more secular, while the Muslim world has tended toward interest in the religious and thus become more 'fundamentalist'. It was the same basic philosophical thrust to separate religion and the secular from each other that has allowed each to become unbalanced. If we separate the two so completely, we are left to chose between (on the one hand) a secularized scientism with no room for human values and transcendence, without wonder and awe; and (on the other hand) a detached religiosity with no room for inquiry or reasonability, nothing to prevent it from becoming unhinged in its own little mental universe, nothing to prevent it from becoming fanatical.

The two worlds we have thus face face each other in gaping incomprehension, each thinking of the other, "How can you be so obtuse?"

What is needed in both the Western world and in the Muslim world is a philosophical understanding in which there is one reality, and each thing has its proper place and can be understood analytically (in its parts and in itself) and comprehensively (as part of the bigger picture) - so that science is not closed to the transcendent and religion is not hostile to reason and thought. What is emphatically NOT needed in either the Western world or the Muslim world is a new Reformation, a new division of this-world from that-world. We've had quite enough of that already. Maybe, what is really needed is a new scholasticism.

Who Will Grant Me, Lord?

Who will grant me, Lord, to find You only, and open all my heart to You, and have You as my heart's desire, so that no man may deceive me, nor any creature move me or draw me back, but that You alone speak to me, and I to you, as a lover is wont to speak to his beloved, and a friend to his beloved friend? This is what I pray for, this is what I desire, that I may be joined wholly to You and that I may withdraw my heart from all created things, and that through Holy Communion and the frequent offering of Mass I may savor and taste eternal things. O Lord God, when shall I be made one with You and wholly melted into Your love, so that I may wholly forget myself? Be in me, and may I be in You, and grant that we may always so abide, always together in one.

From Thomas a Kempis', The Imitation of Christ, IV.13

Can You Drink the Cup of Which I Am to Drink?

St. James the Greater, Apostle (July 25)

When James and John and their mother petitioned Jesus for the best spot in the Kingdom, they weren't entirely off-base. After all, it was James and John that Jesus took, together with Simon Peter, to see Him transfigured in glory. Later, it was the same trio that saw Him weep in garden the night of his betrayal. That the three had special, privileged access to the our Lord's heart is unquestionable. Our Lord's response must have left them questioning though. They were probably envisioning a banquet chalice when He responded, "You will drink my cup," (Mt 20:23). How confusing when His next breath confessed that it wasn't for Him to hand out positions in His Kingdom.

That's because the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of service, and its King, first and foremost, "came to serve and not to be served," (Mt 20:28). The service He came to give, the love over which there is no greater love (Jn 15:13), was "to give his life as a ransom for many," (Mt 20:28). That self-sacrifice was His cup, and if we are to witness to Christ and His Kingdom, that must be ours as well. That is what James, John, and their mother did not get - not yet. But they would.

Herod, vexed by the preaching of the first Bishop of Jerusalem, had the bishop's head cut off with a sword (Acts 12:1-2); thus St. James the Greater became the first of the Lord's Apostles to drink of his Master's cup. Even before then, at least as early as the martyrdom of Deacon St. Stephen (Acts 7:59), St. James had to see the writing on the wall: stand for Christ and oppose the powers of this world, and you will pay a price. The beautiful first reading at Mass for the Feast of St. James the Greater comes from St. Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians. In the reading he writes that we are "always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our weakness," (2 Cor 4:10). St. Paul writes that "we are persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed," (2 Cor 4:9). "The one who raised Jesus will raise us also with Jesus," (2 Cor 4:14) he asserts. St. James probably never read St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians, but he was certainly knew the message that is at their heart. In his letter St. James writes, "Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him," (Jas 1:12). Let us who are earthen vessels by our prayerful and self-sacrificing witness reveal God's surpassing power (2 Cor 4:7).

St. James the Greater, pray for us!

A Nice Prayer

O Mary, you are our beacon amidst the dangers of this life. Enlighten my mind, open my heart, and curb my will, so that I may steer a safe course until I reach the eternal harbor. Amen.

Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us.

What I Saw in Montreal

This past half-week, my boss took me with his family and some other families to Quebec on pilgrimage. St. Joseph's Oratory sits on Montreal's highest point, where just a century ago nothing but trees stood. It is well lit up at night, and is thus an apt symbol for its own situation.

Into the mid-1960s, Quebec was Catholic. Ninety-five percent baptized, and over three fourths of the baptized sat in their places in the pews of their local parish church every Sunday. Now, eighty percent are baptized, and less than three percent (!) attend Mass regularly, a seminarian for the archdiocese told me. Since the Silent Revolution of 1968 emptied Quebec's parish churches in the course of a few months, Quebec has joined most of the West in its slide into the dark night of inhumanity euphemistically called "human secularism." Still, high above the city in its dark night shines St. Joseph's Oratory, well-lit in the darkness. And there is something amazing about it. That church, at least, is not empty. In fact, it is rather well visited.

The same seminarian told me that since colonial times under the English, the French Catholic Church in Quebec had been charged with running many social services. Up until 1968, when such services were taken over by the state, the Church had run almost all of Quebec's hospitals, schools, orphanages, unemployment relief, and so on. The Church was, in many ways, coterminus with organized life of society. Those functions were taken over by the state at precisely the same time that the sexual revolution began making real inroads into Quebec; this was also the same time that liturgical "reform" radically altered everything believed sacred in the life of those people. For the most part, they were not especially educated in the faith, either. All those changes crashed upon them at once, and it was too much: the Perfect Storm against their faith. Over the course of a few months, almost everyone asked themselves, "What are we doing here?" and without protesting or shouting or demanding changes, simply stopped going to church.

As far as I can tell, it is not Quebecois that fill St. Joseph's either. They were there, to judge by the license plates in the parking lots. But most of the visitors were from other provinces in Canada, from all over the U.S. and even Mexico, and many groups speaking Asian and European languages had clearly flown in. The visitors' motives appeared to range from idle curiosity and tourism to pilgrimage and prayer. Some snapped photos while others clicked rosary beads. I did both. For whatever their reasons, visitors to the Oratory seem to remember something that the Quebecois have forgotten; perhaps they are looking for something that the Quebecois do not realize they have lost. Maybe the Quebecois do realize they have lost it, only they do not know where to look. One of the tour guides told us that formerly, one had to be very devout to work at the Oratory. That is no longer the case, he told us, because there are not enough of such people left in Montreal.

St. Joseph's Oratory was started by an almost illiterate, poor, lay brother in the Congregation of the Holy Cross during the First World War. Brother Andre Bessette will very likely be canonized by Mother Church before too long (in Church years, of course). The little brother had a big devotion to St. Joseph, and also was renowned for his deep humility and sanctity. Even in his own day he was famous, owing to the miracles he worked. He always gave credit to St. Joseph, and only intensified his devotion to that great little man. When people were healed, he asked them to leave some sign, to encourage the faith of others who came to speak with him, to ask his prayers, or to seek healing. Many left crutches, and to this day, there are warehouses full of them at the site. Thousands of crutches, old and new, are left hanging on racks all around
the place. Most of the crutches seem to me to be old, though, dating to Blessed Andre's time.

The Church in Quebec needs to take real stock of her practical situation. Practically speaking, she is dead there. But this has happened before, elsewhere - in fact, in many places. Christians know that dead things can come back to life. When the Church in Quebec focuses again on sanctity above all else, and begins to pray as earnestly as Brother Andre did, then perhaps her parishes will begin to shine. Mass-goers and coreligionists will love each other and call each other brother and sister again, as our little pilgrimage group did. Mother Church will have something to offer her children again: love and healing - antidotes and innoculations against the deadly sicknesses related to secular humanism. If the light has been snuffed out in Montreal, perhaps it will be re-ignited by tourists' curiosity and pilgrims' prayers. Perhaps it has already begun. The 49th International Eucharistic Congress is to be set in Montreal in 2008. We shall see.

Decision and Discernment

Today's readings (Tues after XV Sun of O.T., cycle C1; Ex 2:1-15; Ps 69; Mt 11:20-24) seemed to have little in common as I reflected upon them before Mass this morning. The priest preached primarily about the Gospel reading, in which Jesus warns Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum about their lack of response to his miracles and preaching. "Woe to you..." sure isn't something to wake up to on a Tuesday morning. Father said that the sin of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum was indifference. Jesus had come through, healed the sick, cast out demons, and preached, and they all flocked to him, listened attentively for a few minutes, and then changed the channel, so to speak. "The Gospel? Oh, right. I heard that last week, didn't I?" You can almost hear them asking, "What else is on?"

If the Gospel does not affect the way we see, think, feel, and act in concrete ways, we must wonder if we have heard it. If we have heard it, and even been convinced of it on some level, but then not given ourselves over to it, not even changed, not even a little... "Woe to you!" The Gospel is meant to be like the red- and blue-lensed 3-D glasses you put on for a 3-D movie. The whole world never quite makes sense, just like the movie is all out-of-whack, until the lenses go
on. Then, like with those lenses, the Gospel message of the Cross and Resurrection makes everything come alive and it changes our whole perspective on everything. How we see things will change the way we think and feel, how we think and feel changes the way we act. If we are acting the same, then something has gone wrong in the process. It is possible that deep down inside Jesus is just a hobby for us, something we do for an hour a week on Sunday, but that isn't very interesting beyond that. "Woe to you!" For the Gospel to gain traction in our life, we must make a decision to do things differently.

The first reading is a classic example of a bad decision. Moses had come to realize that he was a Hebrew, and was furious to see one mistreated. Highly placed in Egyptian society, he might have acted differently. Acting out of his anger at injustice, or self-hatred for his luxury while his countrymen languished, Moses acted rashly and took blood upon his hands. Far from winning the trust of his countrymen, it earned him a reputation as a hotheaded and spoiled murderer. When we begin to make decisions in light of the Gospel, firstly by rejecting sin, we get to know ourselves better and see how many of even our good actions are tainted by mixed and impure motives. It is not so much the choices we make that needs to change; what needs to change is us. The whole person. On the deepest level, we have to learn to stop doing our own will and pleasing our own desires, and start seeking after God and his will. "Be it done unto me according to Thy will," (Lk 1:38) we must say with the Blessed Virgin. We must learn from the Scriptures and the Living Tradition of which they are a part what is the will of God in general, the way he thinks and acts, and the way he wants us to think and act. Then it becomes a matter of learning to listen in prayer and discern from among the particular distractions, voices, ideas, and plans which ones are of God.

Sandpaper Friends to Make a Fitting Temple

"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" (1 Cor 3:16) St. Paul asks the Christians of Corinth. Every time we receive Holy Communion, of course, we receive the Body and Blood of our Blessed Lord. Because the Three cannot be divided, Father and Spirit come into our souls as well: we become living tabernacles, living temples of the Living and Triune God.

But there's a problem: "Lord,... I am not worthy to have you come under my roof," (Luke 7:6) the Centurion said to Jesus. True enough. And yet, by the sheerest grace, the same God that made the fallen universe enters into it; the same God that made the sinner enters into him. We cannot earn the privilege of having God come into our home, our heart. But we can at least do our best to spruce the place up when he comes for a visit. To make my point more strongly, Paul says that by our baptism we are joined, as parts, into a single body of Christ, and that therefore we leave behind our sin, put on Christ, and mature into a new creation. The shanty of our soul cannot simply be spruced up - it must be made into a temple.

Ok. That's hard. Building a temple takes a lot of work - teamwork. This teamwork is one of the reasons why God made the Church. It's probably one of the reasons that God made Eve. Even without sin, Adam would still need to grow up, and that could only happen with the help of others to rub him the wrong way. Sometimes, even those we love the most rub us the wrong way, and present us with opportunities to grow in charity, to grow into temples of the Holy Spirit. I once heard such people called "sandpaper personalities." But a sandpaper personality needn't be someone we don't like or that annoys us. In fact, because of the odd perversity that comes to us through original sin, sometimes the people we like the most can irritate us the most. Maybe it is because of our affection for them, our felt closeness to them, that they can get so close that they even get under our skin. Things we would easily forgive in a stranger with whom we had little interaction can become real trials between closer friends: poor table manners, blabbing harmless but personal information, overly frequent and unreciprocated favors, etc.

The sanding is an essential process though, because it makes the visible surfaces smoother and more beautiful, and the hidden surfaces fit together better. Without the little day-to-day sanding, we are likely to end up all ugly and out of joint when big difficulties come along. I am currently searching for good responses to the sanding that other people provide us.

Right now, here's my best policy about it:
(1) See what's being rubbed the wrong way, and whether it needs to be rubbed off all the way;
(2) offer up the irritation and ask God to bring me by means of it to perfection;
(3) remember that if the person is bothersome right now, still we will all benefit only if we make a decision to continue loving each other.

Maybe next time one of my sandpaper friends rubs me the wrong way, I'll smile, thank them, and tell them how smooth they make me feel, and hope I can return the favor some day.

Nice Scripture Verse to Hold in Your Heart

"You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you..." Isaiah 43:4. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to His people, Israel, and thus to each one of us.

Work and Prayer

St. Benedict of Nursia, Abbot (July 11)

The Rule of life that St. Benedict developed for the monks who placed themselves in his care still lasts today as one of Christianity's finest achievements.

Its hallmark is something that many of us crave and lack: balance. In his rule everything has its time and place, and each thing is kept in its proper relation to all the other things. Though it was developed for a monastery, its underlying concern for balance makes it applicable in a special way to people living in the day-to-day world. It's our sort of life that is especially prone to imbalance and disharmony. With adaptation, the rule will help anyone to be a better disciple of Christ. For example, the fifth of the seventy three brief chapters is on obedience. It discusses the virtues of swift and willing obedience over grudging compliance to one's superiors. Those of us outside a cloister haven't got superiors... or have we? I am not under vows, but I am under a contract to a boss. It's not the same thing, but in a day-to-day way, it's not so difference. A homemaker might not have a visible boss, but she has got visible duties that she can either carry out decisively or lackadaisically.

Another underlying concern of the Rule that makes it eminently suited for people in the "real world" is that it is very practical. In chapter 34, it considers whether all are to receive the same portions of food. It answers that no distinction should be made among persons by rank, but only by need, such as sickness. It gives the very practical spiritual advice that those who receive less should be grateful for not being ill and not needing more, while those who receive more should let it be a sign of their weakness and thus humble them rather than make them arrogant.

The whole arrangement of practical balance is intended to create an interior life that is conducive to productivity and peace, prayer and praise of God. Those of us who don't have monastery walls to protect us from the slings and arrows of the world all the more need an interior life that will fortify us. For that purpose, I can think of no better reading than the Rule of St. Benedict. Take a minute and look it up at God bless.

Love of Liturgy and Liturgy of Love

Many people had been waiting, with either great hope or great anxiety, the document that was finally issued by the Holy Father last Saturday. Summorum Pontificum greatly relaxed, effective September 14, the restrictions that have for some time been in place on the use of the Tridentine liturgy. The Tridentine liturgy is often mistakenly refered to as the Latin Mass, but that is a misnomer. The New Order of the Mass (called the Mass of Paul VI) was also written in Latin, as most international church documents are. In 1963 the Second Vatican Council had given permission for certain parts of the Mass to be translated into the spoken language of the local congregation. Directives issued together with and after the two revisions of the Mass of Paul VI (in 1969 and 1971) expanded that permission. Those directives were carried out with respect to the Mass of Paul VI, but not with respect to the Tridentine Mass since it had either fallen out of use or was supressed.

In their more notable features, the Tridentine Mass and the Mass of Paul VI are not necessarily very different at all. The Tridentine Mass must be conducted in Latin; the New Order can be conducted in vernacular languages, but could always be conducted in Latin by any priest. The Tridentine Mass is generally conducted with the priest at the head of the people, facing the altar of God together with them. Yet, it need not be so - in St. Peter's Basilica itself, right in the heart of Catholicism, the Tridentine Mass was conducted with the priest facing the people because of architectural concerns. The New Order is generally conducted with the priest facing the people, usually out of pastoral concerns. Nonetheless a priest has always been permitted to conduct it facing the altar, particularly if architectural concerns require. Most importantly, both the Tridentine and the New Order contain the same basic actions, in the same basic order. The Word of God is proclaimed, and the Creed recited as a response of faith. Bread and wine are brought to the altar, where the priest by the power of the Holy Spirit transubstantiates them into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. In this event, the One Sacrifice of Calvary is made manifest anew, and the priest and people receive communion in that Sacrifice.
The formal differences between Tridentine Mass and the Mass of Paul VI are mostly matters of overall style. The Tridentine Mass tends toward the elegant flourish, whereas the Mass of Paul VI tends toward "noble simplicity." Prayers are sometimes said in different places, or even different numbers of times, or minor ones may be omitted, and so on.

It is a beautiful thing that there are so many people in the Church anxious to celebrate the Tridentine liturgy again. It is for us a symbol of reverence, prayerfulness, and transcendence. Many times we witness sloppiness or laziness at celebrations of the New Order of the Mass. It can be easy to forget that there were many occasions of such abuse at Mass before 1963, too. My great hope is that when mainstream Catholics walk into church one day and unexpectedly bump into a Tridentine liturgy, they will have an understanding for what is going on because of their experience with the vernacular liturgy. When they return to their more accustomed vernacular liturgy, it can be hoped that they will appreciate it more, too: its depth and mystery, often overlooked because of the New Mass's easy approachability. These two liturgies are really only two usages of, ways of doing, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We can hope that with this understanding the Catholic Church, so full of every sort of diversity, will be enriched in a yet fuller way. The liturgy, Christ's saving work in our midst, is the undivided source of our love and unity with each other as baptized Christians. God forbid that having two liturgical usages at our disposal to celebrate the One Sacrifice of Jesus Christ should become a source of division.

Lilies and Blood

St. Maria Goretti, virgin martyr (July 6)
The Gospel from today's Mass was St. Matthew's account of his own calling by our Blessed Lord (Mt 9:9-13). In the reading, while Jesus is at Matthew's house for dinner with all of Matthew's smarmy, not-our-type-of-people, tax collector and sinner friends. The Pharisees become disturbed and ask Jesus' disciples why their master eats with such people.

Maria Goretti, born to a hardworking and prosperous peasant family was neither a despicable sinner as St. Matthew had been, nor a self-righteous goody-goody. In fact, while her piety was noted by all the neighbors, she strove to keep it private as a gift just for Jesus. She was also noted for her modesty without being showy about it. And she was noticed by a young man at least as despicable as St. Matthew before his conversion. Her older, teenage neighbor Alessandro Serenelli had for some time exposed himself to pornography and lewd romances. As Maria matured, he took notice of her and began making advances upon her. She always politely and firmly rejected his overtures. On July 5, 1902, finding her alone sewing with only her baby sister nearby asleep, Alessandro propositioned her a final time. When she rejected him again, he tried to force himself upon her and choked her. When she told him that she would never comply, he became enraged and stabbed her 14 times. Her mother and Serenelli's father discovered her shortly later and took her to a nearby hospital. After undergoing unsuccessful surgery without anesthesia, she expressed her forgiveness of her murderer as she died, stated that she deeply hoped he would join her one day in heaven. She died on July 6, 1902.

After three years in prison, Alessandro was still unrepentant and refused to communicate with the world. Maria, however, took the initiative and appeared to him in his cell in a dream as Jesus visited Matthew's outcast friends on their own turf. In the dream, she gave him a white lily, symbol of purity, for each of the stab wounds he had inflicted upon her. He awoke a changed man, competely repentant. His conversion was as rapid and complete as St. Matthew's had been. Upon his release from prison some years later, Alessandro begged Maria's mother for forgiveness. She forgave him, and the next day they each confessed and then received Holy Communion at Mass, side by side. In 1950, he sat beside her at the canonization Mass for her daughter.

We must be very careful not to assign people permanently to some category or another in our mind: he's a thief, she's a tramp, he's good for nothing. Doing so implicitly denies the power of the Holy Spirit to move people's hearts and transform them according to God's good will. Such rigid judgment of persons also closes us off to Jesus' Sacred Heart. His Heart always reaches out to others in whatever way is possible. His Heart seeks only the good of others. His Heart even sheds its blood for those who harm it.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

Liberty in the Land We Love

4 July 2007 - Independence Day

At the Independence Day morning Mass at my parish yesterday, the priest preached about the true nature of liberty. I'd like to share a brief summary of his thinking.

Liberty, he said, is the ability to choose. Our culture mistakenly thinks the ability to choose somehow places the choice in a moral vacuum. That is, because a person is able to choose been option A and option B, the two options must be equally good in moral terms. While this line of thought is true enough when considering which iPod to buy, in moral questions it is not necessarily the case. Some choices are wrong in themselves. Others are not necessarily wrong, but might be less good than better options also available. Do we have an obligation then, always to use our freedom to choose the best good?

Well, he reasoned, we were made for the greatest good, for the greatest happiness. Choosing anything else, that we know to be a lesser good, can never be the right choice for us. In fact, doing so creates a rift within us. The rift that opens is between our conscience, which indicated the best good, and our appetites and passions, to which we surrendered to choose a lesser good. Our conscience, without being linked to our powerful passions, gradually becomes weaker. Our passions, without the governance of our conscience, gradually become more unruly and uncontrollable. Eventually, we will become enslaved to them and have no other choice but to comply with whatever they dictate to us.

St. Augustine writes, "Though a man be a slave, if he be virtuous he is free. And though he be a king, he is a slave to as many masters as he has vices." He might very well have been describing many in our modern society. So many in our culture are unable to control spending habits or are addicted to a range of substances and activities "to take our mind off things." We frequently overeat even at great financial expense and detriment to health. We are absorbed by a false personalization in the "personalized" world of electronic gadgets and anonymous internet relationships, even to the point of neglecting real relationships. We yet somehow think of ourselves as free.

"Free for what?" one just must ask. Free for what? To be happy? It all seems overwhelming to me - even as these vices play out in my own little life - until I remember something key. Our Lord told his apostles about all the horrible things that would seem to overwhelm the world, and then added, "I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world," Jn 16:33. If we look to a political or military solution for the world's problems, we might get something temporary and fading, as in the various peace accords between Israel and the Arab Palestinians. We might. But if we look to Christ, and cling to Him, then we will overcome with Him.

On a (much) happier note, the fireworks last night were beautiful against the navy-gray sky.

Let's love America and pray for her and work to improve her. Not because she is perfect, but because God has given us to her, and her to us.

Singles and the Contraceptive Mentality

Moral theologians and philosophers call an intention that is inherently part-and-parcel with an action its proximal intention. Proximal intentions are inseparable from their acts. It is possible deliberately to flip a light switch so that you can read, so that you can hide in the dark, so that you can cross through a room, and so on. Those reasons are ulterior, or distant. It is not possible deliberately to flip a light switch without intending to alter the state of the switch. Altering the switch's state is the proximal intention for turning it up or down. Proximal intention is always important in discerning the moral goodness or wickedness of an action, because it is always part of the action.

What's wrong with contraception, at its heart, is not necessarily the distant motivation for not begetting more children at present. The Church recognizes any number of reasons for wanting to delay having more children just right now. What's wrong with contraception is the mentality that necessarily goes with it. Whereas natural family planning works with the natural plan that God has crafted in order to influence the size of one's family, artificial contraception in effect says, "God's plan isn't fool-proof enough for me; He isn't to be trusted; I have a more secure way." It would be nonsensical to use artificial means rather than the natural means without presupposing that the artificial means are better than the ones God has provided. The more distant reason for regulating the size of one's family will almost certainly be corrupted by the motivation for preferring artificial to natural means. If one does not trust God with the means of family planning, how can one expect to trust God with the size of one's family, or for that matter, the purpose for having a family? The heart of "the contraceptive mentality" can be summarized, "God, your idea for us to have five children might be quite nice, but really, we'd rather not, because we'd like to have such-and-such instead, and to make sure you don't accidentally get your way, we are going to take cautionary measures."

Single people can fall into this mindset in analogous ways. I am not planning the number of children I will have, nor how to get them through college. I am not even married. But God does ask things of me, and sometimes I'd rather not give them, because, really I'd rather do such-and-such instead. "Spend time with this lonely person," God might whisper into my heart. "Right," I might respond in a cold, callous monotone, "but I'd rather go with my friends because they're much more interesting to me." I might hear a homily about tithing, especially relevant to those of us who have no children to demand sacrifice of us. I might respond, "Yes, but I have so little extra money, especially after buying my gadgets, coffee, eating out, movies, blue jeans, books, and all those other things I really, really need. I mean, it's not like they're starving people in the world, are there? I help out here or there. I've done my part. You've no right to expect more from me, God." Or I might not bother responding at all.

What's at the heart of what God wants for us is for us to be open to His will. That's because He
is smarter than us, and knows us better than we know ourselves, and He wants to make us happier than we can imagine. But when we are faced with two options: self-sacrifice and immediate gratification, it is very, very hard to select self-sacrifice in faith that God will provide all that we could ever need or want. The path of self-sacrifice - the long, rocky, narrow ascent to Calvary - is the path of Christ. The other path isn't necessarily evil, it's just broader and easier. But then we must remind ourselves about what our Blessed Lord said about the path to hell (Mt 7:13).

It's not that the path to holiness is long and miserable. It can be, at times, but most of the time isn't. In fact, the communion of a deep and heartfelt community of love is made possible by the willingness to give of ourselves to others, and to receive what they want to give us, rather than trying to take things for ourselves. The less we hold back, the more deep and intimate the communion will be among neighbors, friends, and brothers. Especially when the giving gets deep, we will need to dig deeper than we go, and so we will have to rely on God to provide what we need so that we can keep giving. That means that we will need to develop our communion with Him. So our communion with others becomes an occasion for growth in holiness.

As single people we must always be on the lookout for chances to give, to sacrifice, to love. Without being surrounded by nagging spouses and children, without braces and ballet lessons to pay for, we might find ourselves becoming more and more selfish. We might slip into a contraceptive mentality without ever even noticing. Where a married couple might use a barrier method to keep themselves safe from the risk of expanding their heart to make room for one more, we singles might accidentally build barriers because of the risk and so never expand our heart to make room for more than one.