Rejoice in the present

21 01 2009


You asked me yesterday to transcribe for you that maxim of mine that is inscribed around the walls of the Academy. Receive it: “All things are directed from goodness to goodness. Rejoice in the present; set no value on property, seek no honors. Avoid excess; avoid activity. Rejoice in the present.”

-Marsilio Ficino, found in Meditations on the Soul

Marriage as a Non-Vocation

20 01 2009


From the Unam Sanctam Catholicam blog

But I want to stress this: the “discernment” came when you decided whether or not to be married at all. That is because, of course, there used to be a great emphasis on the superiority of the celibate state. However, nowadays, pop-Catholic culture would have everybody spend as much time discerning their spouse as they would the question of whether or not to remain celibate. This is because in the past 40 years, marriage has been stressed more and more as a “vocation,” or a calling. This has always been admitted, but the emphasis was different before. In the past, there was those called to virginity, and then there was everybody else. Nobody spoke of being “called” to marriage – marriage was referred to, with virginity, as a “state in life”; i.e., a state that you may find yourself in, not necessarily some heavenly calling. Obviously God has a will for everybody, and you are fulfilling that will to the extent that you conform to God’s design for your life. Therefore, God has a will or a call as to what career I should pursue in life, for example. But people don’t usually refer to their jobs as “callings” in the religious sense. God has a will for everything we do, but we don’t always apply the words “calling” and “vocation” to them. I think in the modern Church, because of the drastic decline in consecrated virginity, people are over-anxious to apply the terms “vocation,” “discernment” and “calling” to other endeavors besides consecrated virginity, in an attempt to make it seem like everybody is still seeking God’s will even though there are a drastic reduction in vocations. God, however, has not stopped calling people – but people have stopped listening.

Read the rest here

La manda

20 01 2009


From the Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasti Me blog:

One thing I’ve noticed about the many flagellants and penitents who crowd the streets of Manila and its neighboring provinces during the Lenten season — and more specifically, Holy Week — is that they view their panata (i.e., religious vow) almost as a moral obligation. Failure to fulfill the panata almost always means bad luck and sparse blessings for the year ahead. Thus, the men and women who vow to ‘serve’ the Lord in some way or another are, in a way, paying a debt. But deeper than this goes the concept of utang na loob. One thing that always impressed me with the character of the penitents is that very few of them, if any, have a victim complex. They go about their rituals and penitence of their complete and utter accord, knowing full well the the dangers of the activities they are about to enter… Contrary to popular opinion, the Philippine concept of penitence is not confined exclusively to crucifixion and flagellation (although these are probably the most prevalent, especially the latter). There is the tinunggong of Laguna, where boys as young as ten roll sideways on the barren ground on the way to church; another province has a peculiar tradition of macho men donning grass skirts and headdresses, thereby humiliating themselves by dressing up as women.

What is described in this post is the Filipino version of what in Mexico is known as a manda. In traditional Spanish Catholicism, one does not merely pray to God expecting that God is going to give you what you need just because you ask. People even now in these places make vows that have consequences. Not only does one promise that one will do something if the request is obtained, but one choses to suffer the consequences of not “paying the price” of the favor. Jesus, the Virgin, or the saint have a right to “get even”. The “name it, claim it” attitude is about as far from this idea as the night is from the day.

Most “good Catholics” would be shocked and horrified by such a mentality, but I have never been able to discern any difference between their critique and what Bonhoeffer calls, “cheap grace”. All of that Hans Urs Von Balthasar, post-Vatican II treatment of God as the all-merciful pushover in Heaven seems to be dangerously close to thinking of God like Casper the Friendly Ghost. People in Mexico and the Philippines, those bad, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, non-church going Catholics seem to be treating God as if He were a real person. I have yet to see an American Catholic crawl into a church on his knees. We seem to treat God like the ultimate sugar daddy in the sky.

Much of what passes for Faith in the modern world appears to me to be the castrating of real religion with the shiny tools of systematic theology. I am immensely skeptical of it.

On cultural education

19 01 2009

Above: the finale of Maurice Bejart’s version of Le Sacre du Printemps

I have been commenting to AG about one of the greatest cultural travesties that I have witnessed lately. With the rise of the MP3 player and other gadgets, my listening to the local classical music radio station, KDFC, is limited to when I am driving. The brief times I do listen, however, I have noticed that they have started to play music from the film scores of recent box office hits. (The last piece I heard was some symphonic suite from Pirates of the Caribbean.) Normally, I am not that disturbed by the general cheapening of the cultural discourse in this country. Part of me, however, found this musical selection completely unacceptable. You have 800 years of continuous musical development in the Western world, from St. Hildegard von Bingen to Osvaldo Golijov, and you are going to play film music from Star Wars? Sorry, the whole idea is repugnant to me.
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Corrido de la Muerte

16 01 2009

“Ven, dame un beso, Pelona…”

Es muy padre este corrido.

Esto muestra que la Muerte es una figura muy personal en la conciencia mexicana.

(This shows that Death is a very personal figure in Mexican consciousness. Note: “Pelona” means “bald woman”, a title for Death in Mexican folklore.)


Krishna and Me

15 01 2009

Part I: An Evening at the ISKCON temple in Berkeley

In Berkeley, there are certain sights that you just take for granted after having been here a while. One of them is the now famous naked guy of over ten years ago. There was an equally eccentric gentleman known as the “Pink Guy”, who got his name from the pink unitard and cape that he would wear as he rode through the street on a unicycle. The day I came back to Berkeley, I was in Moe’s Books examining the selection of Spanish Baroque literature when a rather scraggly gentleman walked up and down Telegraph Avenue screaming at the top of his lungs like a wild animal. It was as if he was saying, “welcome home”.
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Dvořák’s Te Deum

14 01 2009

The Archaeology of Ideas

13 01 2009


Taylor Marshall some time ago posted the following quote from a book on the Catholic theologian, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange:

To say that “all theologies are historically conditions artifacts of particular cultures” doesn’t really tell one something particularly significant: everything that one can point to is “historically conditioned.” For the Thomist school, when an idea came into existence and where it developed are not as interesting as its particular truth claims. The Thomist is always more interested in the truth or falsity of an idea than its historical pedigree. To identify where an idea appeared and when it was formulated, say the Thomists, does not help you evaluate its truth claims. To say otherwise is blatant chauvinism.
What Mr. Marshall seeks to oppose with this quote and his commentary on it is the “archaeology of ideas”, as the name of his post denotes. Those who have experience with the academia will know that such a title is an inverted hommage to the early work of French theorist Michel Foucault (pictured above), and more specifically to his book, Les mots et les choses, commonly translated in English as The Order of Things. It is in this book that Foucault studies the ideas of Descartes, the meditations of Ignatius Loyola, and the paintings by Velasquez to assert that our modern notion of man is an invention of recent centuries that may as well be wiped away, “like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea”.
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Lee Hamilton’s post on artificial contraception

12 01 2009


A must read from a gentleman whose thoughts deserve wider circulation. Here is an excerpt:

Yet even while acknowledging the fundamental truths upon which it is based, the new ideological tinge of this “Catholic natalism” sometimes makes me uneasy. Some of its manifestations strike me as a novel, unorthodox and peculiar flirtation with some sort of newfangled “Catholic eugenics”. The posters of young Catholic families, the strapping ‘Eddie Bauer’ dad smiling at perfect little baby while wholesome-but-hot mom gazes knowingly out at the viewer (or smiles down at “her two boys”), elicit an ambivalent reaction from me. The atomic families depicted are models of suburban bourgeois propriety and isolation – absent is the healthy cacophony and purposeful chaos of the traditional extended family. I’m referring to the grandparents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, black sheep and beloved strays who make up the natural family network in all human societies, and who have always shared in the labour of love that is the nourishing of life.

Read the rest here.

The Church in the Third World

10 01 2009


The common idea amongst orthodox Christians in the West now is that the Third World will be the salvation of Christianity. Many of us in the Catholic Church in this country have the privilege of being served by priests from developing countries in our parishes. It is well known that the only thing that is keeping the Anglican Communion from collapsing into a Gnostic sect is the presence of its churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And generally, Christians are amazed by the fervor of people embracing Christianity in places where the words of Christ are being heard for the first time. Few however think of why this is the case. Why is there so much enthusiasm for traditional Christianity in places that have not traditionally been Christian, and why is it dying in many places where Christianity is precisely what built civilization?

One of the more simplistic and edifying answers is of course, “grace”. The numbers do matter in this regard. Baptisms do bring masses of pagans out of the darkness and into the light of Christ. More people hearing His words and eating and drinking His body and blood mean more sanctifying grace and supernatural charity in the world. For this we must be thankful. But if it were just a numbers game, just an issue of theological forces at work, one can then ask what happened in post-war Europe, where the numbers were far greater, the fervor as deep in many places, and the doctrine impeccable. (I once met a priest who was ordained at the largest ordination ceremony ever at a Eucharistic congress in Barcelona in the 1950’s. 800 priests were ordained in one ceremony; so many it had to be done in the soccer stadium.) In spite of all this, the Church collapsed, and the numbers here as well don’t lie. Will the same happen in the developing world? And in how long? In my estimation, being a student of the developing world and social transformation, I would answer, “not long at all”.
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