Arch-Conservatives and Whoopi Together


Boy am I out-of-it. Did you know that they made a movie about Dr. King’s speech? Apparently, it is really good, won an Oscar, and stars someone named Colin Firth, who I don’t think is even black.

But I am not completely out of it. I do know that last week Whoopi Goldberg opined on the subject of Governor Cuomo of New York receiving Holy Communion.

But look. This is a golden opportunity for a metaphysical analysis of a moral choice.

For obvious reasons, I will approach it here from the point-of-view of the person giving out Holy Communion.

Crucial point #1: Whenever moral evil of any kind presents itself, perhaps the first question a person should ask himself is, “Whose conscience is this going to be on?”

Aha! We have found the Original Metaphysical Principle for morals: I am morally responsible only for those acts or omissions which are imputable to me.

(In my limited experience with helping people exercise moral discernment, the clarification of who is morally responsible resolves the matter 95% of the time.)

Let’s apply this to the matter at hand. If I am giving out Holy Communion, there are various ways I could do evil. Interiorly, I could doubt the Real Presence or fail to adore the Lord in the sacrament. I could let my mind wander. If I weren’t a priest, I could absurdly think of what I am doing as “my” ministry, rather than as a simple act of charity to help Father in the interest of time or convenience. I could vainly focus on myself instead of trying to disappear behind Christ.

Exteriorly, I could imprudently misjudge my physical or psychological capacity to perform this ministry. I could be negligent in my handling of the vessels. Probably the gravest evil I could do—short of intentionally desecrating the sacrament—would be to act out of human respect in giving out communion. It pretty much goes without saying that the duty of a minister of Holy Communion is to minister the sacrament to those who approach to receive it, no matter who they are, what they look like, how they smell, how they are dressed, etc.

Continue reading “Arch-Conservatives and Whoopi Together”

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Jimmer!

This morning I found myself in a church where I had been precisely once before–in 1994. Back then I was a 24-year-old nitwit, as opposed to the 40-year-old nitwit I am now.

Being back in this place, I realized: By the grace of God, I managed to spend most of my twenties praying. Then I realized: Dude, you pretty much spent your thirties praying, too.

So I may be a nitwit. But at least I have this going for me.

AND I know God loves me, because: Last year the Hoyas beat Duke. This year the Hoyas don’t even play Duke (except maybe in the NCAA tournament). But this year, the Hokies beat Duke!

Tech beating the little blueys was not the victory of the day yesterday, however. The victory of the day was Brigham Young marching into southern California, confronting an arena full of losers dressed-up as Mormon missionaries in mockery, and proceeding to whup San Diego State’s butt.

…Listen, I don’t mean to pester you. But we really have to deal with the metaphysics of morality. We have not begun to scratch the surface.

So far we have: the existence of God and religion. There is a moral law revealed by God, the Ten Commandments. We will face judgment and will either be punished or pitied. Faith is the foundation of morals.

But this is clearly not the whole story. There are non-believers with impeccable morals. Also, the Ten Commandments do not apply themselves to particular cases. One person may have a duty to act in one way, and another person in a different way, under identical circumstances.

And there is more: Don’t we perceive our options according to our habits? The question of whether or not to spend $2.50 for a cup of coffee is an altogether different question for someone who does so regularly versus someone who does not.

If we are going to be judged–and we are–then what are we going to be judged ON? Understanding how the Olympic judges score gymnastic routines is hard enough. What exactly are their criteria? But what about the all-knowing divine Judge? What are HIS?

Chime in, people.

Franciscan Principles

Can we beat Syracuse without Chris Wright? We have Hollis Thompson. What is there to worry about?

…Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

…Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

I think we would have to say that—after our Blessed Mother—the most beloved saint of all time is Francis of Assisi.

While he was on earth, St. Francis loved the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. He loved the Church and the sacraments. He loved music and poetry. He loved his fellow man. He loved the Word of God. He loved the world because God made it, and He loved God for being infinitely greater than anything in the world.

St. Francis had a deep, complicated, and maddeningly unpredictable personality. But we love him most of all because his fundamental principles were simple.

Has anyone ever known a Franciscan? Franciscans wear brown robes with white ropes as belts. Franciscans accomplish many different works: They pray, teach, help the poor, help parishes; they operate many different enterprises. But their fundamental principles are simple. ‘I don’t need money, because God provides. I don’t need a family, because I already have one.  God and everybody is my family.’

Well, looky here! Look at the words of the Sermon on the Mount that we just heard! Your heavenly Father knows that you need food and clothing. Your heavenly Father provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, who neither sew nor reap nor toil or spin.

God is our Father, and we are all brothers and sisters. These aren’t just the fundamental principles for Franciscans. They are the fundamental principles for Christians.

But here’s a question. It is the perennial question about the Sermon on the Mount and about St. Francis and his followers, whom everybody loves from a respectful distance. The question is this: It all sounds beautiful, but is it really practical? Can I live by these principles when I go to buy a car? Can I live by these principles when I need a paycheck, and it’s a hard, cold world out there?

How about if we put the question in another way: Would St. Francis be so lovable if he were a flighty, impractical, irresponsible dreamer? For that matter, could we revere our Lord Jesus as the ultimate law of every human life if He were just an ineffectual waif who painted castles in the sky?

To follow the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount does not make a person impractical. Quite the contrary. The Sermon on the Mount helps us to focus on the fundamental reality of life. And the fundamental reality is: God is our Father, and we are all brothers and sisters.

God is my Father. Fathers show their love by entrusting their children with limited responsibilities. When I was a child, I did not understand anything about the mortgage on our house that my father and mother were working to pay off. But I did know that when I came home from school, I had to sit down and do my homework, and that when dinner was over, I had to do the dishes.

Likewise now. I do not understand how it is that my Father in heaven makes the sun come up; I do not understand how He organizes things so that all I have to do to get food is go to Kroger’s. I do not understand how my car works, or the refrigerator in my kitchen, even though I couldn’t live without either of them. But I do understand that it is my responsibility to try to do my best and be a decent priest. My Father loves me enough to provide everything, including even a little area of responsibility for me to control.

Everyone is my brother or sister. We are all in this together. I owe everyone my love and respect. Meeting St. Francis changed people’s lives because he treated everyone he met as if he or she were a king or queen.

But St. Francis was never anyone’s doormat. He could respect others so gently because he respected himself for the child of God that he knew himself to be.

The Lord Jesus let Himself be spat on, crowned with thorns, and executed like a criminal for our salvation. But He never tolerated the slightest disrespect for His divine mission. He repeatedly castigated even His closest friends for insulting Him by trying to make Him out to be less than He is. They wanted a new petty despot for an obscure Roman province. But Christ is the divine King of the Universe, and everything He said and did and suffered bore witness to the indescribable grandeur of Who He is.

‘Everybody is my brother and sister’ does not mean that I let one of my brothers abuse me. If a brother tries to wrong me, it is my duty as a brother to stand up for myself honestly so that we can find our way together to what is true and just.

So let’s all try to be good Franciscans. Or rather, let’s all be good Christians. God is our Father. We are all brothers and sisters.

Miscellaneous Fantasias

Did you know that Mily Balakirev composed brief fantasias to precede each of the five acts of King Lear?

Never heard of Mily Balakirev? Me neither, until yesterday. He was a mentor to Tchaichovsky, a partisan of the Russian nation, a hard-working nineteenth-century musician.

A music lover can download the King Lear suite on iTunes. (They refer to him as “Balakirew.” These pieces are on the same CD as some works of a 20th-century Armenian composer, but iTunes amazingly allows you to download just the Balakirew material for $4.95.) The music was performed by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, I believe in the 1990’s.

Listening provokes many reflections…

Was Balakirev just mailing this in, or does the largely sanguine aura of the music express a profound insight into the play? Yes, King Lear is a bitter tragedy, an enormously ugly exploration of the worst that “whoremaster man” can display of his “goatish disposition.”

But beauty emerges: the divine loveliness of pity. The King and Gloucester teach us how to look at human weakness without judgment or contempt. Maybe Balakirev intended his music to bring this aspect of the play to the fore.

The first fantasia, to precede the play’s opening scene, reminded me of just how stupendous that scene is. Don’t quote me, but I believe it is the Bard’s longest. As I think I once mentioned before, more happens in the opening scene of King Lear than has happened in many of the centuries of human history.

…Anyway, I am boring the living daylights out of you. Interested in what will happen next week on Wall Street? Click here. You will never see a more dashing or well-informed New York journalist. The man has a familiar-sounding voice…

…Speaking of all things Shakespeare: I am sure you know that the obscure Henry VI trilogy recounts the “War of the Roses.” These plays are rarely performed; the intricate history is even more rarely grasped.

If you were a Shakespeare troupe undertaking to perform Henry VI, Part 3, would you open the action by slowly unfurling a long banner which is emblazoned with a summary of the first two plays, while playing the Darth Vader theme in the background? Would you title the summary “Rose Wars, Episode III”?

If so, you would have done what the American Shakespeare Center did last night at the opening performance of their short-running rendition of this obscure play. It was the beginning of an enchanting two hours. These players do better with a shoestring budget than the so-called big boys in downtown Washington do with their wasted millions. Long live the American Shakespeare Center!

After He Was Pierced with Arrows

…St. Sebastian recovered. He was tended by Irene. Only later, after he publicly reproached the Emperor Diocletian for mistreating Christians, was St. Sebastian finally martyred by a brutal beating.

Hendrick ter Brugghen, a disciple of Caravaggio, painted this lovely depiction of Irene removing St. Sebastian’s arrows. I for one, philistine that I am, never heard of ter Brugghen before now. But, my gosh. On display at the National Gallery until May 15

Favorite Subjects

Okay, fair enough. I have more than one favorite subject. One is St. Polycarp. Another is fist-fights involving clergymen.

St. Polycarp wrote a letter to the Philippians. He gave props to St. Paul. But St. Polycarp added a few edifying words of his own, including:

Serve the Lord in fear and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and have believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory, and a throne at His right hand…He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead. His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved…Faith is the mother of us all.

…So to return to the metaphysics of morals: Can we deny that the fundamental foundation of morality is faith?

We do not know God. That is, we know that He exists, but we do not know Him as He is. We cannot see that He watches our every move.

Rather, we believe that we will be judged for our actions by the omnipotent Creator. Because we believe what Christ has revealed, we want to please Him.

I appreciate all the responses on this subject so far. Any thoughts on this?

…P.G. Wodehouse is the funniest writer of all time. Only he could successfully narrate a priestly fist-fight, involving Bertie Wooster’s old college chum, the Rev. H.P. “Stinker” Pinker, who intervenes to save Gussie Fink-Nottle from the hands of Roderick Spode:

…It was not, as I was saying when I interrupted myself, pusillanimity that held him back. Under normal conditions lions could have taken his correspondence course, and had he encountered Spode on the football field, he would have had no hesitation in springing at his neck and twisting it into a lover’s knot. The trouble was that he was a curate, and the brass hats of the Church look askance at curates who swat parishioners. Sock your flock, and you’re sunk. So now he shrank from intervening, and when he did intervene, it was merely with a soft word that’s supposed to turn away wrath.

“I say, you know, what?” he said.

I could have told him he was approaching the thing from the wrong angle. When a gorilla like Spode is letting his angry passions rise, there is little or no percentage in the mild remonstrance. Seeming to realize this, he advanced to where the blighter was now, or so it appeared, trying to strangle Gussie and laid a hand on his shoulder. Then, seeing that this, too, achieved no solid results, he pulled. There was a rending sound, and the clutching hand relaxed its grip.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried detaching a snow leopard of the Himalayas from its prey — probably not, as most people don’t find themselves out that way much — but if you did, you would feel fairly safe in budgeting for a show of annoyance on the animal’s part. It was the same with Spode. Incensed at what I suppose seemed to him this unwarrantable interference with his aims and objects, he hit Stinker on the nose, and all the doubts that had been bothering that man of God vanished in a flash.

I should imagine that if there’s one thing that makes a fellow forget that he’s in holy orders, it’s a crisp punch on the beezer. A moment before, Stinker had been all concern about the disapproval of his superiors in the cloth, but now, as I read his mind, he was saying to himself, “To hell with my superiors in the cloth,” or however a curate would put it; “Let them eat cake.”

It was a superb spectacle while it lasted, and I was able to understand what people meant when they spoke of the Church Militant…(Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, chapter 15)

…Also, all parents should definitely watch this important public service announcement:

Mosaics, etc.

The splendors of the city of Antioch on the Orontes River amazed the ancient world. Owing to the vagaries of history, very few relics of the city remain.

The Baltimore Museum of Art participated in an achaeological dig in Antioch in the 1930’s. They unearthed some mosaics. A few of them are displayed on the walls of the BMA courtyard, including the striding lion above.

Another heirloom of the lost city has been handed down to us in a different way, namely, by succession.

Some 1,974 years ago today, St. Peter assumed the oversight of the church where the name “Christian” was first uttered, and was seated on his ‘chair.’ After seven years in Antioch, Peter went to Rome, where he assumed the presidency of the church on January 18.

There is some dispute about these particular dates. Also, some of our separated Christian brethren in the East claim that their patriarchs are the true successors of St. Peter, occupying his Antiochene cathedra.

The “chair” of Peter is a magnificent synecdoche referring to the supreme pastoral office in the Church. May God grant its occupant, Pope Benedict XVI, health and long years. And may his many saintly predecessors intercede for us.

…Ten years ago today, I venerated St. Peter’s tomb alongside the newly created Cardinal, Theodore McCarrick! I served his Mass at the Altar off the Chair!

Foundations of Morality


Do you mind if we return to discussing the metaphysical foundation of morality?

Sounds strange and esoteric. But nothing is more important.

We have to make choices, and sometimes we have to choose between good and evil. Therefore, we are moral. We cannot escape being moral (or immoral).

Somehow, we have a way of framing moral questions for ourselves. When I walk into a CVS, a question may present itself to me: Should I pay for what I came to get, or should I try to steal it?

In fact, most of us probably do not regularly confront this question, because, by dint of habit, we don’t even think about stealing. But my point is this: There is a moral question involved in visiting a CVS–pay or steal?–and that question exists because of the metaphysics that underlie our moral scheme. In other words, we assume certain things in order to frame moral questions for ourselves.

Trying to understand the metaphysics of morality is especially important nowadays, I think, because very few people use clear language in making moral judgments. Most of the common English words for immoral behavior have practically passed out of the language. To give you an example: A poor soul once admitted, “I have been having trouble communicating with my girlfriend…We’ve been having truth issues…” Then he realized what he was saying. “I’m sorry, Father. I have been in P.R. too long. The truth is that I’m a f–ing liar.”

So, morals exist. The question before us is: How?

To make a brief start on this, I think our moral frameworks are based on our answers to some or all of the following questions:

1. Who am I? Who are we?

2. What do I want, what do I hate, and what am I afraid of?

3. What are my habits?

Okay, so let’s go ahead and spend the next lifetime getting honest answers out of ourselves to these questions. Then we can come back and discuss. I’ll let you go now, because you probably want to watch the NBA All-Star Game.

Seriously, though—the metaphysics of morality is my favorite subject, so I would love to hear what you have to say. And we will come back to this and hopefully make some headway towards understanding.

Red-Bull Martini?

When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well…

…Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

We believe that God became man. That is what we say every Sunday. “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven…and became man.”

God—Who is perfect, Who is holy, Who is just—became man. God took our human nature to Himself—our human nature which is imperfect, which is given to impurity, which is frequently unjust. God made a union of the infinitely perfect with the imperfectly limited.

How did He do it? It seems impossible. I mean, let’s take an example. Don’t tell anyone, but I like an old-fashioned martini. Ice cold gin. Twist of lemon zest. Perfect.

On the other hand, I know people who drink those cans of Red Bull. Yuck. Tastes like what they drain out of your engine when you take your car in for an oil change.

Now if I poured a can of Red Bull into my perfect martini…it would be terrible. I am not capable of uniting the perfect with the imperfect and coming up with something perfect. We human beings simply cannot pull off such a combination.

So how did God do it?

Continue reading “Red-Bull Martini?”