Why do apples fall?

My last post explored Dr. Baxter’s ingenious quiz, “How Much of a Modernist Are You?”  I would like to delve deeper into the questions raised by Dr. Baxter (and ultimately Charles Taylor) by attempting my own answer of Question 4:

Why does an apple fall to the ground when it detaches from the stem?

  1. The laws of physics teach us that all objects fall to the ground according to gravity.
  2. Gravity, of course, but behind the working of nature we can perceive the “hand” of God, which I mean metaphorically.
  3. The apple longs to return its native place, because the whole universe is infused with desire. Ultimately, the world longs to imitate, to the extent it can, Eternity.

Continue reading “Why do apples fall?”

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Are you a modernist? Take the quiz.

My colleague and friend Dr. Jason Baxter has published a delightful quiz at The Imaginative Conservative to show us how thoroughgoingly modern we all are.  He takes his cue from Dr. Charles Taylor, whose gigantic book on the modern age argues that we live in a “disenchanted” world—all us inhabitants of the North Atlantic region, inevitably, without any choice in the matter.  While our medieval forbears lived in a sacred and magical cosmos, we live in an autonomous, scientific universe. Continue reading “Are you a modernist? Take the quiz.”

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The Life of Moses

This past week, I took part in the continual feast that was the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought.  All us profs were asked to bring a side, so my contribution was a lecture on “The Life of Moses.”

Moses_Lecture
Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College

In just under an hour, I recounted the story of Moses in a way that not only pulls his “biography” together but also provides a key to the story of the Exodus.  You can download the lecture here, or listen using this audio player (you can’t see the audio player while viewing this post in your e-mail):

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What is emotional “processing”?

I have been thinking about the notion of “emotional processing,” as in when someone says that he needs to “process what happened.” Does this phrase have a clear meaning, or is it a fuzzy phrase used to escape clear thinking? I think it does have a clear meaning, and what follows is my attempt to unfold it. I am not a psychiatrist, and I don’t intend this blog post as a contribution to the psychiatric profession. This is just an exploration of a word.

To “process” something means to take something that is not immediately usable and change it into something more immediately usable. This is how we “process” meat or vegetables, for example. So to “process” an experience would mean to take the raw experience and turn it into something that is more useful in life. Experiences need to be processed both intellectually and emotionally: intellectually, we need to get practical wisdom from our experiences, while emotionally we need to calibrate our desires and fears. Continue reading “What is emotional “processing”?”

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The Structural Demands of Subsidiarity

One of the pleasures of teaching in a comprehensive theology program is that I often have to teach outside of my zones of specialization.  This spring I taught a senior-level course with lots of Catholic Social Teaching, a topic that somehow never came up in all my years of theological training.  It was only my second time to teach the course, so in many ways I was learning along with my students.

This time around, I saw more clearly the many implications of the famous “principle of subsidiarity,” classically defined in Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno:

Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

Here’s another formulation from John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus:

A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

Reading through this time, I saw how this principle needs to shape the activities of all kinds of governing bodies.  It could reshape our debates about education, health care, and welfare, just to name a few.

But I also saw—and this was new to me—that this principle can be used to critique not only the activities of governing bodies but even their structure.  Most generally put, governing bodies should be set up such that the principle of subsidiarity could be put into practice.

To take one particular case: if a higher governing body has no function that could not be performed by a lower body, then that higher governing body should not exist.

For example, I serve on the Board of Directors for my local food bank.  The Board carries out functions that no lower group or individual can perform.  But suppose there were erected another group whose sole function was to have authority over the actions of the Board.  We’ll call this higher group the Board Oversight And Review Dictatorship (BOARD).  Every time the Board wanted to approve a budget, it would have its decision reviewed by the BOARD.  Every time the Board wanted to change a policy, it would have to appeal to the BOARD.

This arrangement is mechanically possible, but its existence would be “a disturbance of right order.”  The BOARD would take function away from the Board to no purpose, since the Board can function quite well on its own.

One reason the BOARD would fall into this difficulty is that it would not be a “community of a greater and higher order.”  It would be “higher” in the sense that it had authority, but it would not be “greater”:  its duties would not extend to any wider field than those of the original Board.  If there were several food banks in a league, then it might make sense to have one governing body of the league that had authority over the lesser governing boards of the individual food banks.  But where there is only one food bank, and that one a small organization where everyone can sit in one room, it would be strange to institute another governing body over the Board.

Does this kind of mistake ever happen in real life?  Believe it or not, I think it does.  But I would rather use my imaginary example, because my interest right now is in the principle more than its application to this or that situation.

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God in the Tomb

For most Catholics, Holy Saturday is a kind of blank.  Since there is no liturgy for Saturday itself, we don’t hear homilies explaining it.  Good Friday drives home the passion, and Easter booms with the resurrection, but Holy Saturday has no one to preach it.

And yet the Catechism says startling things about Holy Saturday.  In this post I’ll focus on just one aspect:  Christ’s stay in the tomb.  Here’s what the Catechism says (paragraph 626), echoing an ancient and consistent tradition:

Since the “Author of life” who was killed is the same “living one [who has] risen”, the divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death:

By the fact that at Christ’s death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word.

To put that in plain English, we all know that when we walk by Grandpa’s casket, the corpse in the casket is not Grandpa anymore—not really.  But when Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus’ corpse in the tomb, that corpse was not a man but it was still Jesus—really and truly. Continue reading “God in the Tomb”

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Triduum Screensaver

Last year, I came across St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Passion Clock,” a set of meditations for each hour beginning Holy Thursday and ending Easter morning.  It’s a way of entering into the events of the Gospel.

Handily, Sharyn over on this blog collected public domain artwork to go with each of the meditations.  So my son David and I collaborated to create a Windows screensaver that would display the appropriate artwork and meditation for each hour of the Triduum.  It was pretty neat to wander by at a random point on Good Friday and see a picture of what was happening, Gospel-wise, at that hour.

This year, David updated and improved the screen saver, and with Sharyn’s permission we have decided to make it available to everyone.  Go here to see the artwork and text that will appear.  If you are so inclined, you can get view the source code for the screensaver here.  Or you can just download the screensaver here.  Right-click on the downloaded file and choose “install.”

Sorry, it’s just for Windows.  The system may squawk at you because we didn’t pay the buckos and go through the process to get an official certification, but we’ve run it on our own computers just fine.  Windows 10 will give you a dire warning with no apparent option to install, but if you click on “more information” or whatever then the option appears.

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Reading the magisterium

Although I have not blogged in a while, I have been thinking and creating. While teaching the senior “Life in Christ” course, which requires reading lots of encyclicals, I offered students a series of mini-lectures on the art of reading magisterial texts.  I recorded all the lectures and I hope eventually to turn them into a slender book.

Meanwhile, check out the Wyoming Catholic College podcast featuring yours truly, titled “The Pope, Authority, and Religious Assent”. That will give you a feel for the project.

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The actual status of the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism or The Most Horrible Translation You’ll See This Week

I have puzzled for years over this liturgical note on page 575 of the current English Breviary volume, right after Evening Prayer II for Epiphany:

Where the solemnity of Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday between January 2 and January 8, on the days following the Epiphany, the proper parts are taken from below, unless January 7 or 8 occurs on Sunday in which case Ordinary Time begins on the following day, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord being omitted.

That would mean that this coming Monday is not the Baptism of the Lord.  A sad thought!  The strange thing is, the Roman Missal explicitly says that this coming Monday is the Baptism of the Lord, which feast is never omitted.  Hmmm.  Why do the Breviary and the Roman Missal conflict?

This year, it finally occurred to me to check the editio typica of the Breviary.  Here’s a wooden translation of the Latin:

In regions where the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord is celebrated on a Sunday that occurs anywhere from January 2 through January 8, on the following days the proper parts are taken again from below, 494, unless the Sunday occurs on January 7 or 8, in which case the Office of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following day as indicated 537-550, with the psalms for the middle hour being taken from Day II of Week I with the antiphons of the feast; the shorter reading, verse and prayer are likewise taken from the feast; but for Compline the psalms are for Day II.  The Day III following ordinary time begins, vol. III.

No conflict.  How on earth our English “translation” came up with that gaff, I’ll never know.  But it was the late sixties / early seventies, so one must make allowances.

UPDATE:  A friend suggested I look at what year the Latin was published.  In fact, the English translation was prepared in 1975 while the Latin edition I have was published in 1985.  Very probably the Latin text of this rubric changed and the English was never updated.

Time to get crackin’ on that updated translation!

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Everything but my own blog

Although I have not written much lately, I have posted a few things for the Aquinas Institute on their blog.  Most recently I put up something about Advent–read it while it’s relevant!

Otherwise, I have done technical grunt work for a local food bank.  My son and I built their website, and this week we had to move the entire site to a new web host as part of our effort to enable online donations.  Right now we’re waiting for the SSL Certificate to come through, so your browser may or may not claim that the site is “unsafe”.  It’s harmless:  we don’t actually know how to hurt you.

In the evenings, I read bits from The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, by Charles Peguy.  It makes me want to write again.  Maybe someday soon.

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