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.

Happy Birthday, Humanae

Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical on the regulation of births, had the 40th anniversary of its release today. Here are some excerpts and a link to the document:

1. The most serious duty of transmitting human life, for which married persons are the free and responsible collaborators of God the Creator, has always been a source of great joys to them, even if sometimes accompanied by not a few difficulties and by distress.

At all times the fulfillment of this duty has posed grave problems to the conscience of married persons, but, with the recent evolution of society, changes have taken place that give rise to new questions which the Church could not ignore, having to do with a matter which so closely touches upon the life and happiness of men.

2. The changes which have taken place are in fact noteworthy and of varied kinds. In the first place, there is the rapid demographic development. Fear is shown by many that world population is growing more rapidly than the available resources, with growing distress to many families and developing countries, so that the temptation for authorities to counter this danger with radical measures is great. Moreover, working and lodging conditions, as well as increased exigencies both in the economic field and in that of education, often make the proper education of a larger number of children difficult today. A change is also seen both in the manner of considering the person of woman and her place in society, and in the value to be attributed to conjugal love in marriage, and also in the appreciation to be made of the meaning of conjugal acts in relation to that love.

Finally and above all, man has made stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature, such that he tends to extend this domination to his own total being: to the body, to psychical life, to social life and even to the laws which regulate the transmission of life...

17. Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men -- especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point -- have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.

Let it be considered also that a dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies. Who could blame a government for applying to the solution of the problems of the community those means acknowledged to be licit for married couples in the solution of a family problem? Who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious? In such a way men, wishing to avoid individual, family, or social difficulties encountered in the observance of the divine law, would reach the point of placing at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy.

Consequently, if the mission of generating life is not to be exposed to the arbitrary will of men, one must necessarily recognize insurmountable limits to the possibility of man's domination over his own body and its functions; limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly surpass. And such limits cannot be determined otherwise than by the respect due to the integrity of the human organism and its functions, according to the principles recalled earlier, and also according to the correct understanding of the "principle of totality" illustrated by our predecessor Pope Pius XII...

18. It can be foreseen that this teaching will perhaps not be easily received by all: Too numerous are those voices -- amplified by the modern means of propaganda -- which are contrary to the voice of the Church. To tell the truth, the Church is not surprised to be made, like her divine Founder, a "sign of contradiction", yet she does not because of this cease to proclaim with humble firmness the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. Of such laws the Church was not the author, nor consequently can she be their arbiter; she is only their depositary and their interpreter, without ever being able to declare to be licit that which is not so by reason of its intimate and unchangeable opposition to the true good of man.

In defending conjugal morals in their integral wholeness, the Church knows that she contributes towards the establishment of a truly human civilization; she engages man not to abdicate from his own responsibility in order to rely on technical means; by that very fact she defends the dignity of man and wife. Faithful to both the teaching and the example of the Savior, she shows herself to be the sincere and disinterested friend of men, whom she wishes to help, even during their earthly sojourn, "to share as sons in the life of the living God, the Father of all men."

Thank you, Holy Father Paul. Sorry we didn't listen. Please pray we finally learn.

Read the entire encyclical at

Wendel Berry on Marriage

I've excerpted this passage from the Winter 2007 issue of Communio, that I'm just now getting to. The article is a reproduction of a lecture given by Anne Husted Burleigh on Wendel Berry's worldview, particularly as it relates to marriage's role in society. The language is abstract, so you have to use your own experiences to "fill in the blanks," so to speak. Enjoy!

The beauty of marriage is that by way of its fidelity and incarnation it moves people away from the egotism of abstraction and allows them to meet the world in all its concrete goodness. Married people dare not dally in abstractions and individualistic dreams about freedom from responsibility. The very nature of their life requires giving and sacrifice. It requires that they take and make their place, that they tend it and send down roots in the place of their giving. Rootlessnesss and family life do not mix; but permanence, place, and family life do. Marriage does not unfold in thin air; rather it requires the protection of a particular incarnated place in which to thrive.
The concrete, particular, enfleshed, daily reality of marriage and family life, embedded in love and work and sacrifice and lived out in a particular place, reveals what the Incarnation of God's Word - that is, God himself enfleshed and dwelling among us as a man - means to the world. It means that the created world is suffused with God's imprint. The invisible is present in the visible. The work of God's hand, the things of the earth, are valuable and indeed sacred. The material world is good. It is blessed, a theme that Berry repeats over and over. A man, a woman, a child, soil, grass, books, barns, fields are good. Things - concrete, touchable, knowable, mysterious things - are good, and they are a gift. They are given to us to love, to care for, to reverence. Even though we may make a mess of things, we do not destroy the goodness that pervades the things of this world. In one of his poems Berry writes,

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

It strikes me that Berry's thoughts on marriage, as Burleigh summarizes them, only really apply to a marriage open to life. Those married couples who, together, are only intent on pursuing self-actualization have yet to escape the trap of self. Abstractions can leave us trapped in the self because, as ideas in the mind, they are nearly infinitely manipulable. We can play all kinds of games with them to get what we want, or get out of what we don't like. It's harder to do that with the concrete reality of a crying six month old boy who's got poopy diapers in the middle of the night.

The Ankle, Unbroken

Yesterday, I ran the same workout as last Wednesday, only this time, I didn't pray that Jesus would break my ankle. Instead, I just focused on finishing strong. There's some progress there, I think.

Personality Map

Ok, so one of my roommates, Kaz, and I go back and forth about the usefulness of different personality inventories. I think he would agree that I tend to be the more skeptical of us. Beyond that, he tends to favor the broader categories of the Four Temperament typing, whereas I tend to go for the more fine-tuned Myer-Briggs personality typing. He seems to think the tests more directly useful for revealing something of your personality to yourself; I tend to think they produce lists of adjectives which may apply, or not, and which you can use to do something of a self-inventory. Anyhow, today I stumbled upon and took this one while running some tests at work that left me a little downtime. It's called your Personal DNA and it produces a nice quilt-like map, or else a kind of thermometer-on-LSD, either of which graphically describes your personality. Another cool feature is that your friends can describe you and then you can see their opinions of you, and they can see your opinion of yourself. I've put my "personality map" on the righthand sidebar of this page. It's kinda fun, and kinda revealing, and kinda obtuse - like me, and probably like a lot of my friends. No offense, guys.

Coincidentally, I am not sure which label this post should go under, so I just threw down a bunch that didn't seem entirely unrelated.

Remote Control America

My cool liberal agnostic coworker and I had a conversation this morning that distills something like this:

I told him how an acquaintance once told me that his life was very complicated, and consequently that he wanted his religion to be very simple, and that was why he was an Evangelical rather than a Catholic. I replied immediately that because I wanted my religious philosophy to be able to address my complicated life, I had to expect a certain degree of complexity in it.

My coworker, upon hearing this little anecdote said that he sensed America's pragmatism has veered into a sort of simplemindedness. It is as if we have started off by saying that we must keep our eye on the bottom-line; after a while, we began to say that the bottom-line was the most important thing; then we got to saying that the bottom-line was the only thing. Now at last we come to the point where we can't be bothered to do the math, but want the bottom-line read to us.

This pragmatism, perhaps after combination with a sense of entitlement, or with the sloth-induced stupor brought on by excess national wealth, seems to have degraded into a certain intellectual laziness. My thought is that this interior movement is articulated most frequently in the whine, "Can't you just pass me the remote control?" It makes you wonder how easy we must be to manipulate and gently control as long our first concern is not having to get up off the couch. If that doesn't work, a powerful dose of distractions, busyness, and nebulous fears should do the trick.

Question from the Late JPII

"But I ask you, is it better to be resigned to a life

without ideals, or rather to seek truth, goodness, justice,

working for a world that reflects the beauty of God,

even at the cost of facing the trials it may involve?"

- Servant of God, John Paul II (pp 1978-2005)

Two Thousand Years and Still True as Ever...

Q: Who made me?
A: God made me.

Q: Why did God make me?
A: God made me to know, love, and serve Him in this life and to be happy be happy with Him forever in the next.

Break My Ankle

Ok, so yesterday I had my own little minor victory. All the circumstances were perfect for me to call it off. Once I got going, I had (kinda) legit reasons for bailing out. But I didn't. I ran my first speed workout in a long, long time - since college, I think.

I got to Gaithersburg High School late from the stress of work to discover that the track there was being resurfaced and is closed for the time being. Great. The clock was ticking before my next commitment. I stood by the fence around the perimeter of the track, calculating my options. Just hop the fence and run on what appeared to be raw asphault? Hmm... Then it came to me: Bohrer Park, right next to the high school - there's a pond there. After living in the Gaithersburg area for most of my life, I had noticed just a few weeks earlier that the pond has a walking path around it. Don't developers usually plan those things to be about 1/4 or 1/2 mile around, or maybe a mile - so people can use them for walking set distances, and so on? Like Gunner's Lake pond, by my sister's house - my pedometer says that it's almost exactly one mile around. I wonder...

Trotting over to the pond at Bohrer Park, I jogged around the perimeter path. The little gadget I run with marked the path at .26 miles - good enough for government work! But now time was really not on my side. "Maybe tomorrow I can run," I began to think. And then, "No. No good. It's now or never, Haber. Let's get on this thing!" Stretch good. The asphault walking path was hot to lay on while I stretched, but not too bad. I loosened up, checked my time sheet, and ran my first speed workout in about 10 years. It killed, and felt great all at once. I ran

1/2 mile warmup

3 x (1/4 mile hard + 1/4 recovery + 1/2 mile hard + 1/4 recovery).

1/4 mile cooldown

I am happy to report that I came in below my interval time for each of the hard stretches, though honestly I set them a bit high on the paperwork. Really, though, I worked the intervals hard enough that a thought, or rather a prayer, spontaneously came to my mind that hasn't in all these ten years. Without even intending to do so, I suddenly prayed in my mind,

"Lord Jesus, please break my ankle so I can end this stupid workout! What was I thinking?!"
If memory serves, that prayer was toward the end of the second set. Toward the end of the last set, my prayer shifted, "Holy Spirit, fill my lungs and fly my legs!"

Happily, the Lover of my soul knows what's best and gives me that rather than my felt desires. My ankle is intact, you will be happy to know. For me, it was gratifying just to feel me push myself that hard. Today my legs are tired, and a nice easy 3 mile run will be a welcome change. Again, running provides me with a felt, experienced metaphor for Christian living. We might want to bail out sometimes, but it's much better to pray for help instead.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Though it's only an optional memorial for the universal Church, I think today might be one of the patronal feastdays for the Carmelite orders. In any event, God bless you, Carmelites! Happy feastday!

Blessed Are You Who Mourn

I've been reading a very good life of St. Thomas More, James Monti's The King's Good Servant, But God's First. It is a critical collection of previous biographies and manuscripts, with any number of citations to the writings of St. Thomas More, especially of his correspondence with Erasmus of Rotterdam, a longtime friend of More's. The book does an excellent job of contextualizing the life of St. Thomas More, and of drawing reasonable inferences about the saint's habits and thought based on known premises and the saint's own writings. It also delves considerably into the spiritual life of the saint, and his manners and the conduct of his household. A very good read.

It is relevant under this title because it seems to me that St. Thomas More was one who mourned. Dietrich von Hildrand, in his very excellent book, Transformation in Christ, lays out some of the principle significances of mourning. Essentially, they boil down to feeling a sort of gap. The world, though redeemed by Christ, is still in process. There is a rift between what creation once was and will eventually be again (on the one hand), and (on the other) what it is now. We travel from Eden to Eternity, not as mere wanderers, but as exiles. We feel this most acutely at times of tragedy. "Right, mom's gone on to heaven. We'll see her soon. But I miss her now!" The response is perfectly reasonable. Soul and flesh were not meant to be torn asunder, nor were families, nor were friendships - such ripping apart is the result of sin, and we are right to be pained by it. We are blessed to be pained by them, to mourn our present condition, to weep in this valley of tears because doing so means that we are awake. To feel the tear means that we are conscious to reality. It is in this state of consciousness that we can have a real relationship with the Living God. It is aware of, and pained by, our wounds and the wounds of the world that we can go to the Divine Physician for healing.

The alternative is that taken by bleary-eyed optimists and addicts of all stripes: escape from reality. Rather than deal with the pain of reality, rather than unite themselves consciously with Christ Crucified for a fallen world, such folks dodge the present condition of the world and attempt to create their own substitute, either by a false attitude or giving themselves to the glamor (the word originally means illusion) of sin.

St. Thomas More loved his family, his country, and his king. He had no ill will against any of them, despite how he was daily maligned for not going along with the crowd. At first commissioned by King Henry VIII to defend the Holy Faith and Holy Church, More gradually found his companions falling away. As the king's pleasure turned from the defense of the Church to hostility toward her, more and more laymen, government officials, and even bishops abandoned the cause. At last, St. Thomas More found himself almost alone. Even family members attempted to persuade him to acquiesce to the king's lusts. Months in the Tower of London, interrogations, and even betrayals left More saddened by life's bitter turns and weary with the world.

"I am, said I, the King's true faithful subject and daily beadsman and pray for his Highness and all his and all the realm. I do no­body harm, I say none harm, I think none harm, but wish everybody good. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith, I long not to live and I am dying already, and have since I came here been divers times in the case that I thought to die within one hour, and I thank our Lord I was never sorry for it, but rather sorry when I saw the pang past. And therefore my poor body is at the King's pleasure; would God my death might do him good." [Click here for Paul Scofield's performance of the speech in "A Man for All Seasons."]

It is important to note that More did not seek martyrdom, much less did he desire to die. Rather, he took very seriously the spiritual destruction going on all around him, and ultimately became aware of his inability to check it. So God prepared him with special graces for a special exit.

We must fight and resist sin at every turn. Firstly, we must combat it in ourselves. Secondly, we must love our neighbors and our enemies - otherwise we will only increase sin in the world. This part is harder than it sounds. Loving our family means protecting them. Loving our enemies may mean warning them of their sins and possibly provoking their rage. Thirdly, if combating our own sins and loving our neighbors and enemies has not exhausted us, we are in a position to combat sin in the world - actually to go on the spiritual warpath against it, rather than simply trying to keep it in check or at bay within our natural sphere of influence.

Mental, or Go Mental

In my spiritual reading, prayer, and in homilies lately, the importance of solid time spent in mental prayer has been reinforced to me.

Life is crazy. Our interior resources - mental and emotional - get tapped and drained easily. More easily than we suspect. How much more we could do if plugged into the source of all life. The sacraments are the seeds of the Life of Jesus Christ in us. These seeds need nurturance. Prayer nurtures them. This Life brings, among other things, peace, joy, and charity. Well worth twenty or thirty minutes in prayer a day. If we think to ourselves that we cannot possibly find time for twenty or thirty minutes of prayer each day, but we watch even ONE sitcom, we are kidding ourselves about what we really think is important. Let's check our priorities.

While the great spiritual masters have all taught about prayer, they have used different terminology. Historically, the Church has taught that there are three types of prayer:

(1) Verbal prayer: communication with God constructed primarily out of words, esp. pre-formulated words, like the Our Father or the words of the Liturgy;

(2) Mental prayer: communication with God that develops organically, and more spontaneously, and often using verbal prayer of one sort or another as its starting point; often called contemplative prayer by various spiritual traditions; it might start with quiet reflection on the words of the Scriptures, or upon the mysteries of the Rosary, etc; mental prayer is only possible to the extent that we are willing to change, as any authentic interpersonal interaction requires a willingness to be changed by the other; if we insist on sinning, that is, on avoiding God's will, we can expect that He will not reveal it to us; this sort of prayer is kinda like killing time chatting with Jesus;

(3) (Infused) Contemplative prayer: communication with God that whole transcends words, in which our hearts and minds are more perfectly united with His, and which we cannot attain for ourselves, but for which we can only cultivate a readiness, especially by dedicated and habitual mental (uninfused contemplative, in some traditions) prayer.

We shouldn't pooh-pooh verbal prayer because it is the prayer of children, and the prayer that Jesus taught us (the Our Father) is a verbal prayer. We are supposed to be spiritual children, and this starting point is the one He has given us.

We shouldn't strive for contemplative prayer because we cannot grasp or work for it. We must simply pray for the grace to hear and respond to God, and to build up gradually a life of mental prayer. If and when He chooses, He will infuse into us His heart and mind. But well before that, we can almost certainly expect that we shall be given glimpses of Him, and we shall be changed.

Enough of the prayer primer. I need to get work done, so I can get out of the office on time and make sure I get to chapel this evening and spend some time with Jesus. I think I'll need recharging.

Lots and a Little

So it's been over a week since I've posted anything. My apologies to those who feel the loss. Lol. Work has been overwhelmingly busy lately, and so I've had little time leftover for much else, computer-wise. I'll try to get something else up soon.