Strange Notions (the place to be online for Catholic-Atheist dialogue) is running a super series on how Catholics approach Sacred Scripture. I’ve written on this briefly before, but if you want more detail but not a whole book, Mark Shea is your man. Continue reading
For your amusement this Friday morning, I present this clever comic [a man who uses a puppet called “Randy” to great effect] on queue rage. We’ve all been there. Don’t deny it. Continue reading
Hellooooo, my dearest readers!!! I have missed the blogging world very much. We have just finished moving house, and moving eight people’s worth of stuff in two weeks is no mean feat, let me tell you. However, exhausted as I am, we are home, and I am once again at leisure to write down a thought or two.
First of all, I must share with you this gem from Neal Obstat. It is one of the most beautiful encapsulations of seeking holiness in everyday life, the very heart and soul of what Opus Dei is all about. Continue reading
Three questions on the Reformation and its purpose. If you’re Protestant, you qualify to answer them. So please go do so!
When I saw this detailed array of lists I was rather amused and one of the first things I said was, ‘Why don’t you just go out and buy these things instead of waiting for someone to give them to you’? It dawned on me soon after that my comment said more about my general outlook than Jane’s lists. I realised that the reason I don’t really have a wish list is because if I had wanted a book or a DVD or a paper trimmer I would just go and buy it at that moment – and I mean at that moment – Jane will tell you how I can have an item searched for and purchased via the ebay app before she’s even finished talking about how much she likes it.
The reason Jane tells me she keeps a wish list is because it helps her separate what she actually needs from what she actually wants. I think I have realised then that a properly kept wish list is actually a subliminal sign of patience, it is a list that demonstrates a person’s ability to exist without the ever growing amount of ‘stuff’ that we all seem to compile.
Definitely going to try to live this!
The following gem is from Mercatornet. You should really read the whole thing.
Deep in the human heart is the desire to be together with people that we love. Human happiness is always a shared happiness: shared especially with a small number of people. For most of us a fulfilled life will only be found in walking its hills and valleys in communion with family, and a few friends.
We don’t need the latest study to show us that we are losing the ability to live in communion, even with those closest to us. And not only does this problem start in our homes, it grows there. Home—the very word should resonate with feelings of warmth, belonging, togetherness. It should be the most reliable place of real personal intimacy, the surest antidote to the great bane of human existence: loneliness. But more and more, it is not.
Perhaps the central reason that we are not really living-together in our homes is that we are hardly living there at all. For starters, most of us spend very few hours of the day within, or near, our homes. But even more to the point, how do we spend those hours that we are at home?
If Aristotle is correct that the truest human intimacy takes place in good conversation, then here we have a prism through which to consider our customs of home life, beginning with meal times. Though cows usually feed in the vicinity of other cows, they are not particular about eating together. Household meals, on the other hand, can be configured to be regular occasions for communion between family members. But given the various pressures on home life today, such a configuration will need to be a conscious object of intention. Otherwise our meal practices might tend toward the bovine.
Outside of meal times there are two other main household contexts that can be suited to rational and personal communion: work and leisure. But both of these have been largely removed to venues outside the home, while what is left behind has taken forms less conducive to communion.
Households were once the primary locus of human work. Much of what was needed for human life was produced, as well as consumed, therein. Even after the industrial revolution removed much production from the home, traditional “home arts” retained a significant place in household life for a number of generations. Yet the last couple of generations have seen a notable drop of even these activities. The art of cooking seems more associated with dining out, or edgy parties with peers, than with keeping a family well fed, around a table spread and seasoned with love. The arts of growing and preserving foods, while certainly not dead, are far from commonplace. The same can be said of home carpentry, sewing, knitting and the like.
Apart from other negative consequences of the demise of these arts, our home life suffers the loss of a natural context of human presence, of being-together in a meaningful way. Indeed, not only does such work provide the satisfaction of communal achievement and shared competency, it also often allows for regular, sustained conversation. Who would not start to speak with a fellow potato-peeler, or sander of wood? The repetitive yet varied and fruitful work of such arts is one of the great hidden treasures of a way of life that for many of us can only be had by re-discovering what has been lost.
If one were to judge by the sales of flat-screen TVs and the like, it might seem that the life of leisure is alive and well in the home. But Aristotle distinguishes leisure and amusement. In a rather remarkable line, he reflects: “It would, indeed, be strange if the end (goal) were amusement, and one were to take trouble and suffer hardship all one’s life in order to amuse oneself.” Amusement—of which what we call entertainment is surely a kind—has a place in the home. It serves work by providing a break, a necessary relaxation. But such is no replacement for leisure, which is a time of richer activities.
Leisure time in Aristotle’s sense, while indeed relaxing, is much more than relaxation. Its activities are rich in meaning, and consequently have an unmatched power to unite the people that engage in them. A group reflection upon blessings received; the reading or performance of a drama; stories of family history or great heroes; music appreciation; common prayer. Here a family community is especially alive, present to one another in a unique way.
Salt gives seasoning to food. But good conversation, especially that occasioned by the rich and regular activities of the home, does more than give seasoning to life. It is the beating heart of a real communion of persons, of a happy life-together with those we love.
December means one thing for many of us: Christmas. Every year we celebrate the birth of Our Lord, who was very God made flesh in the womb of Mary. This month is also the month of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, another miracle of life! So we’d love to know: how does the Sacred Heart help you treasure life and understand the horror of abortion? Does the Sacred Heart have a special role to play in the Pro-Life movement?
Go to Catholic Cravings for more posts! (Previously this was hosted on a separate blog, but this month it’s moving to CC.)
I apologise, this post is MAMMOTH. For your convenience, I’ll put a summary here at the top, and if your interest is piqued, feel free to continue.
1. By some miracle of nature, a mother and child are bonded very, very closely.
2. Thus, Jesus and Mary share a unique, intimate bond.
3. God’s presence in the Old Testament is dangerous for those who sin (ie, everyone)
4. Jesus’ presence in the New Testament is not dangerous.
5. There is a hierarchy of being, with physical stuff the “lowest” level.
6. Paradoxically, the fact that Jesus took on this “lowest” level of being is the very thing that makes it greater than God’s Old Testament presence, since it is of like nature to us, and therefore not life-threatening to us limited human beings.
7. Jesus’ own nature, however, had to be perfect, ie, sinless, lest he obliterate Himself.
8. The intimate union of Jesus and Mary made it necessary that Mary share in this sinlessness.
9. Hence, the Immaculate Conception!
10. Hence, abortion, as a rejection of motherhood, is a tacit rejection of the true motherhood of Mary.
The bond between a mother and her child is extremely close, both emotionally and physically. Physically, although they are separate organisms, the unborn child is united to his mother through the placenta, through which he receives his oxygen and nutrients, as his blood passes through it, from his mother’s blood. What is interesting though, is that it seems that there is often a cross-over of cells. Women have been found to have male cells in their blood and their brains, with one means of their arriving there being through pregnancy.
What implications does this have for thinking about Our Blessed Mother? Namely, that is it highly likely that at least one of the two situations occurred: that some of Our Lord’s cells persisted in His Mother’s body, or that some of her cells persisted in His. This renders them permanently inseparable.
Ok, now maybe this doesn’t really sound like a big deal. But, consider this:
God’s Presence in the Old Testament:
Time and time again we see in the Old Testament that unworthily entering God’s presence, violating His holiness, or coming into direct contact with His holiness in some way, without being in the appropriate state or given permission, all result in the same concrete consequence, or that consequence is threatened: death.
Some examples to illustrate:
-  And you shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, `Take heed that you do not go up into the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death
-  When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any one else comes near, he shall be put to death.
-  Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me; take heed to yourself; never see my face again; for in the day you see my face you shall die.”
-  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.
-  And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.
-  but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden,
-  but they shall not go in to look upon the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.
 Now Nadab and Abi’hu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, and put fire in it, and laid incense on it, and offered unholy fire before the LORD, such as he had not commanded them.
 And fire came forth from the presence of the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
The point? God’s holy presence is life-giving for those who enter it worthily (ie, for those who are clean), and life-endangering for those who enter who are unclean. (I have some more detail on this in an essay I wrote on Leviticus.) Even more, no matter how clean one is, even Moses couldn’t see God face to face without dying. There is something overpoweringly awesome about God’s holiness that is too much for us to bear.
The role of sin in all this:
Sin is the thing that makes a man unclean. There are various other things in the Old Law that we would no longer consider sins but that God ordered for a variety of reasons, and so to disobey His orders in those things rendered them also sins. This was why, in the sacrificial liturgy of the temple, sacrifices of repentance and forgiveness were carried out first, before one could enter God’s presence to eat the holy sacrificial meal with God, so that one would be forgiven of their sin and made clean, and therefore able to safely enter God’s holy presence.
What does this have to do with Mary?
Well, let’s think about this “dangerous” aspect of God for a bit. As we know, God the Son became man, and dwelt among us. Clearly, Jesus walked around among people, and since He spent a lot of time among sinners, and in fact, everyone is a sinner, surely people should have been dropping like flies? And yet instead, we see Jesus touching people, people coming into physical contact with the Lord, and being healed, physically and spiritually. What’s up with that?
Be warned, I’ve never actually heard a clear-cut answer on this, but here’s my theory. Hopefully I avoid heresy. If you find any, please do let me know. 🙂
A Hierarchy of Being:
We tend to think of physical stuff being more really real than the spiritual realm. Many philosophers have actually thought otherwise. Plato, for example, thought that the world of the Forms or Ideas, in which all physical things were participating, was what was really real and true.
Whenever I’ve heard this in the past, I’ve not really understood why they would think this. How on earth could one come to the conclusion that the stuff we can’t see is even more real than the tangible world we live in, can see, touch, taste, smell and hear? But recently I’ve begun to get glimpses of how one might think this. I don’t know if I can really articulate it. I guess it mainly stems from observing the sacraments in actions, and trying to fathom the amazing spiritual riches of grace bestowed on us in them, through what seem to be, by comparison, these seemingly simple, and almost fragile actions, words and substances.
E.g. I recently attended my first ordination, as one of the Franciscan friars at my parish was ordained deacon. There were many beautiful prayers and rituals surrounding the ordination itself, with the actual ordination a simple, silent moment in which the Bishop laid his hands on the friar’s head. Before that moment, he was an ordinary person. After that moment, his soul had taken on a different character, invested with the first level of Holy Orders, able to participate in Christ’s ministry in a special way. Incredible!
I also just finished reading The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone, a truly phenomenal book about the life of Michelangelo. What was interesting was looking at the corruption present in the Church of the time so clearly on display, and the extent of it, and wondering how it was possible that the sanctity of the Church survived at all. Where were the successors of the Apostles? It is truly a miracle that this tenuous Apostolic Succession was maintained through Michelangelo’s time, indeed through the whole of the Church’s 2000 years, to survive to today, still bringing us perfectly valid sacraments.
Or as a final example, think about the Eucharist. The priest says some words, and Calvary comes to our altars. There are no words for how incredible this fact is. And yet all that’s involved are some simple words, and humble bread and wine. WHAT EVEN?!
Thus, I think I understand a little better that spiritual realities are where it’s really at, that they’re so much more intensely real than the physical, which is mere shadows by contrast. I leave you with St Paul:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
(1 Cor. 13:12)
So, to summarise: there is a hierarchy of being, with God as existence itself, followed by the spiritual realm, and finally the physical being the “lowest” form of being.
Back to Jesus. Actually, back to the Old Testament. God’s presence in the temple, of what sort was it? I think I would propose that it was primarily a localised and intense spiritual one, physically manifested in various ways. So physical things happened around His presence, but were not inherently united to it, in the same way as in the Incarnation. Otherwise, the Incarnation would not have been so completely unique and unthinkable, that God could be in physical form. The times God appears in the Old Testament, whether in a cloud, or a gentle breeze, or in thunder, lightning and earthquakes, these I think are meant to announce, herald or indicate His holy presence, but do not in themselves constitute His presence, in the same that encountering the person of Christ is an encounter with God.
Perhaps you have spotted the same problem that I just noticed… if that’s so, then according to the hierarchy of being I just mentioned, wouldn’t that mean that the Old Testament appearances of God were “more real”, or greater, than Jesus’ coming? Hmmm. I think perhaps in some ways this could be true. By this I mean that God became man so that He could save us, and so that we could approach Him safely. Since it is not possible to see God “Face to face” in the Old Testament, but it is possible with Christ, it is paradoxically true that in humbling Himself to take on our poor flesh, which is “lower” than the spiritual manifestation, it is precisely in that humble state that we are able to encounter Him fully. It is God stooping down to our level, making Himself available to us, according the limits of our human nature.
We’re getting there! Well done if you’re still with me.
So, to return to the question posed above: how can people be touching Jesus, or even near Him, and live to tell the tale? The answer, I think, is that He has taken on human flesh, which is what we are also made of, “hiding” or veiling in a certain sense His Divinity, so that we can be near Him safely.
Now, what of His own humanity? Obviously this would have to be pretty special, if a Divine Person is to be united to it. Keep in mind the role of sin I mentioned above. It is one thing for a fallen, sinful person to touch Jesus, but quite another for the very human nature that God the Son will be united to to be sinful. Thus, rightly, the Church has always understood Jesus to be sinless, and, overall, Perfect Man. [Thought experiment: If Jesus had ever sinned, would He have self-destructed?? Hence the impossibility!]
FINALLY, we get back to Mary. Recall my first brief comments on motherhood, the inseparability, the profound unity, of a mother and child. Apply this to Jesus and His Mother. If such a unity is inherent to motherhood, and if Jesus’ own human nature had to be sinless, surely we must thereby conclude that hers also must be sinless? And thus we arrive at the Immaculate Conception, that great feast day we celebrate on Monday.
The Ark of the New Covenant:
I think this makes even more sense if we consider Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. Shameless Popery has a super article on that here. If people could die just from touching the Ark of the Covenant, which was merely the vessel for God’s presence, then how much more should the New Covenant Ark, who is a person, be unable to defile herself by sin?
The Sacred Heart and Abortion:
Since this is the actual topic of this month’s link-up, I should stop digressing and talk about this a bit. Notice how I worked my way from motherhood in general, to understanding the relationship between Christ and His Mother? I think this points to an important truth: it is only by having an authentic understanding of motherhood that we are able to understand the mysteries of Christ and Mary. If we imagine the little Sacred Heart of Our Lord, beating away inside His Mother, being nourished by her, and possibly taking on part of her, as she possibly took on part of Him (possibly even in her own Immaculate Heart (see the article linked at the beginning)), this beautiful thought can only come about if we understand and treasure the gift of motherhood, the gift of all children. Abortion is a symptom of a flawed understanding of motherhood, and while we hold onto that flawed idea, we cannot grasp the importance of Mary.
It’s a tenuous Sacred Heart link, but no matter! Let me know your thoughts, if you made it this far. 😉
And don’t forget to check out other people’s (surely better, and more on-topic) posts on the Sacred Heart!