Friday, January 30, 2009

Why do you have Faith in the Church?

Fixed two broken links to Kepha

When I've allowed myself the time to visit with Mormon (Later Day Saints) missionaries part of their approach is always "Read the 'Book of Mormon' and you will know the truth of it in your heart." I usually don't get much further than that with them, because I launch into "the truth is just what I feel?" etc.. I firmly reject the idea that I personally have the ability to figure out what is, or isn't true based on how I feel. I also do not believe that I am, or ever will be spiritual enough for God to infuse me with His spirit so I can interpret scriptures and know the truth. I believe that my faith in God, in Jesus, in the Resurection, the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility is not and can not be based only on my personal feeling.

Unfortunately I have been reading too many blogs. There are a lot of people out there who are trying to figure out the Truth about the Catholic Church. On Fides Quaerens Intellectum one of the contributors is a Catholic Theology student trying to find a rational foundation for his faith - right now it looks very possible he could lose his faith. Kepha's blog contains a pile of incredibly useful arguments and debates between Theology students from diverse view points. On another blog Almost There Stacey is a non-Catholic, married to a Catholic who is drawing close to the faith, although not at the high altitude level of Kepha and his bunch, Stacey is struggling with the same discussions. Yet another blogger the InternetMonk is a Southern Baptist Minister whose wife is in RCIA. IMonk is not going to become Catholic, but he has spent much of the last year struggling with similar questions to Kepha and Stacey.

Following all of these stories over the last year has forced me to examine my own faith. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not doubting my faith, or going anywhere. My interest is in understanding why some very intelligent and relatively open minded people fail to find faith in the Catholic Church, and why some well informed people lose their faith. Also, I examine and try to understand what it was that tipped the scales for me. I'd like to be able to tip the scales for someone else.

When I look back on my own 'conversion' to orthodox Catholicism I find that I am pretty similar to Stacey and Kepha. I read and studied about all the claims and teachings of the Church. I started out inclined to listen to the dissenters, but eventually became convinced by the defenders of the faith. I became convinced, and am even more convinced now, of the truth of the Catholic Church. But has my conviction grown out of the irrefutable superiority of the Catholic position? No, it hasn't. My faith rests on something less, and at the same time something more than logic and scholarship.

I am not a skilled or well informed Theologian and I am not particularly inclined to extremely systematic research. Kepha and IMonk provide very thorough, and sophisticated debates. One thing is clear to me, there is no argument for the Catholic Church that can overcome every objection. A key quote from a post on Kepha's blog:

Catholics, not excluding learned ones, are far more disposed to seek modern consensus as a sign of primitive authenticity, than they are to seek in primitive authenticity a ground for modern consensus. This will appear as either a vicious circle or a begging of the question unless it be viewed in the full light of all that the Church means to the Catholic, a light that is neither wholly nor principally the light of natural reason. Thus Newman in 1837: “How hopeless then it is to contend with Romanists, as if they practically agreed with us as to the foundation of faith, however much they pretend to it! Ours is Antiquity, theirs the existing Church.” And thus Newman in 1874: “For myself, I would simply confess that no doctrine of the Church can be rigorously proved by historical evidence: but at the same time that no doctrine can be simply disproved by it.”

The context of that quote is towards the end of a long, deep discussion of the dogma of the Assumption and the application and understanding of Newman's theory of doctrinal development. Soon after Kepha expressed his frustration with the logical foundation of the Church's claims in this dialogue demonstrating what is referred to as "Catholic Presuppositionalism":

  • Rome: I’m the one true Church.
  • Paul: How do I know this?
  • Rome: Because I’m telling you.
  • Paul: You realize that Orthodoxy claim this as well?
  • Rome: Yes, but they’re not.
  • Paul: How do I know that?
  • Rome: Because I’m telling you.
  • [Paul begins looking through some books.]
  • Rome: What are you doing??
  • Paul: You apparently think much of yourself, so I’m searching and testing your claims according to the Tradition.
  • Rome: That’s a rationalist approach! You can’t expect there to be proof for my claims.
  • Paul: Are you saying there is no proof?
  • Rome: I am the proof!
  • Paul: I understand you believe that, and that is why I want to see what others have said about you, as well as what you have previously said about yourself.
  • Rome: You tacitly assume that the content of Tradition can be fully and reliably identified independently of what I tell you.

Similar issues arise in both of the other blogs I have mentioned. The number of times IMonk has accused me and other Catholic commentors of "presupposition" lead to a series of inside jokes.

After all this, I am forced to admit that my belief in the Fullness of the Truth proclaimed by the Catholic Church is based on more than mere logic. My faith is not weakened in the least, but I have to ask "Am I Catholic only because it FEELS true to me?"

Now I'd like my friends in the Blogosphere (all three of them?) to answer that question also That means you too Jason.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs?

I am one who looks for signs. Signs that I am on the right track; that I am following God's will. Actually, that's a distortion. When I am paying attention to signs, I am actually projecting that God will make this endeavor (whatever it is) succeed.

When I was just out of college, and looking for that first job, I was out shopping resumes, praying before going into each business. When one delivery went well, it was tempting to see a divine plan in me getting that job. When it was followed by a great interviews I again wanted to project - "this is a sign, it's God's will. I'm going to get that job."

When I do that sort of thing, I am making a mistake. What I am doing has nothing to do with God's will. It might well be that it was a special part of God's plan that I have a good interview, but that just might be it. Maybe I needed the confidence boost for the next interview, or maybe I just needed the practice. It is presumption for me to try to anticipate where God is going to lead me, especially when I always choose to anticipate the 'good' outcome, not the one that looks hardest or the possibilities that aren't very attractive.

The solution is that I have to constantly pray to accept God's will, what ever it may be. I particularly must pray to accept, and even be grateful for the 'undesirable' outcome. Then I can focus on just doing those thing in front of me, regardless of what might come of some event.

I got a lot of practice with this when I met my wife. There was a lot of uncertainty. Geographically in particular, and also urban vs. rural we were far, far apart. It was so tempting to believe that I knew God's will, because it seemed so obvious - all the signs were there. The truth was that I was having the opportunity to learn about having a healthy relationship. Every time I called her, or saw here I had to pray: "God, help me to serve her and support her. God help me to learn about a healthy relationship. Thy will be done." It turned out that we did get married. The prayer still comes in handy at times.

That's what I have to do with this Blogging deal. I got a little attention and positive feedback for a Blog post. It's tempting to think that God's will must be for me to become a great blogger, and a mini-celebrity. I have to remember that I can't know what God has planned for me or anyone else. I can't know what God's purpose might be in my Blogging. God might be indifferent, Blogging doesn't have much of anything to do with the work he has in store for me. Maybe God just used that one post to help one person, and now its done, move on.

Prayer: God, help me to serve You and Your people with my blogging. Help me to learn about You, and help me to practice my writing. Thy will be done."

THE FACT THAT I THINK that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

So today I Blog...Tomorrow I plan to blog

A Brief Review and Intro to Twitter

I've been doing Twitter for about 3 weeks now. I like it. What's it good for? Connecting with people I'd otherwise never connect with.


Col. Potter: Cigar Radar?

Radar: No Sir, My Ma says they're habit forming.

Col. Potter: I've been smoking 3 cigars a day for 40 years and I've never developed a habit.

Radar, taking a cigar: That's good to know Sir.

In that vein: I've been Tweeting 6 hours a day for the past month, and I haven't gotten addicted yet.

5 Steps to start Tweeting: 1) sign up, 2)log in 3)look for the Twitter T symbol on some of your favorite sites and click on it, 4)Tweet me @GNW_Paul, 5)hangout

My wife helped me come up with this analogy to compare Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is like a formal banquet with assigned seating at tables; you have to know somebody at the table to but into, or listen in on the conversation. Twitter is like a giant cocktail party where you can overhear multiple conversations and butt into at will; the problem is filtering out and focusing on any particular conversation. In a sense, Twitter is like a giant ChatRoom, except that you can follow the same people over a long time, and you can go back and see what they said, unless they restrict access. Also, in Twitter it is very easy to post links to blogs, or websites or videos or pictures to enrich the conversation.

The heart of Twitter is "everybody." When you set your filter to "everybody" you see every public post that is being posted on Twitter, by anybody, to anybody and about anything. Anyone can drop in on any conversation. I haven't spent much time following "everybody," but I have watched a few times just looking for something interesting.

You don't probably want to 'listen' to everybody, so there are two ways to filter out something you want to pay attention to. The main way of filtering is to find some people you know, or who share similar interests, and then "follow" them. When you "follow" somebody, you see every Tweet they post. If you were following one person, you would see only the Tweets from that one person on your home page at Twitter. However, if that person is having a conversation, you only see one side of the conversation. You can "follow" the person on the other end of the conversation, and then you can see the whole thing. The more people you follow, the more Tweets you see, and the more conversations you see, and sometimes it can get hard to follow who is taking to whom, about what. But somehow, it seems to work out!

So part of Tweeting is following. The other part is getting followed so that people are listening to you. There are 'entrepreneurs' out there who are somehow trying to make money by get 10,000 followers. There are spammers. And there are egomaniacs that somehow thing 5,000 followers will cover up their feelings of inadequacy. There are also some real, important people like Sen. Patrick Leahy, who naturally have 10,000 or more followers.

As a newcomer, getting a few follows is a good thing, because it would be nice to think that somewhat might actually read your tweets. If you follow someone with a common interest who doesn't have more than 200 followers, they will usually follow you back, then you have someone following. Post some tweets. Say something interesting, post a good link, comment on someone else's tweet, and you will build some followers. A good way to expand your network is to check who is following the people you are following, and follow some of those people.

The other way to filter is by groups. I don't totally understand groups, but there is a search page (Not linked or tabbed off your main Twitter page) which you can use to search for any topic. Groups use special tags preceded by the hash (or number) symbol like #catholic #prolife #TCOT (Top Conservatives On Twitter) #24 (the show) etc. You can use these tags to find information, people to follow, and to make your own Tweets show up to people who might be looking for them.

If you sign up for Twitter, and type @GNW_Paul and a message of introduction, I'll do what I can to hook you up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

WOW! Thanks! Thank you Jesus!

I'd like to get something up tonight. I've been working on a substantial post, but it isn't coming together - needs more prayer as much as anything. I didn't put enough time into prayer today. The kind of posts I want to write must come from a place firmly rooted in prayer and focused on Jesus Christ through our Blessed Mother. I'm just not there today.

I am a little overwhelmed by the success of the first segment of my conversion story. I Tweeted about it on Twitter at about 2:00 AM. I thought maybe 5 or 10 of my followers on Twitter might take the time to read it. I don't have access to stats on this blog (yet), but I'm comfortable in assuming it was at least an order of magnitude greater than 10. Thanks especially to Jeff Miller for featuring it on the Curt Jester. Thanks also to Toby Danna for giving me a Premio Dardos award. Thanks to the people who have followed and commented.

I also want to mention my very good friend Jason, who unknowingly followed the link from The Curt Jester and recognized my story! For now, I'll stay with not revealing my last name or exact location, but please know that its not because I'm not being honest!

I've been fantasizing about starting a variety of Blogs for at least 5 years. I tend to be obsessive compulsive, and a perfectionist, and grandiose so it has never happened because I want to design my own site, host it, make it great and I plan to do it all by myself. That's two more defects of character - self sufficiency and difficulty appraising how much work is involved.

Two weeks or so ago, my friend George who was raised Episcopalian, turned nondenominational Evangelical and now is praying the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy and exploring Catholicism got me talking about Bl. Charles de Foucauld on a phone call. I wanted to give him some information, and on a whim decided to make a blog, and write a post, just to accomplish that (obsessive compulsive). I didn't bother to make it too pretty and mainly copied and pasted from a couple of sources.

Now I had a Blog! A few days later, I had something on my mind and wrote a post about it and Tweeted it. Last Thursday night I read Adoro's post on her first debate defending the pro-life position and was inspired to finally start writing my conversion story. I'd been thinking about it for a week, since reading an installment of Proud Catholic Daughter's conversion story.

I have some ideas for further posts. As I said I'm working on one dealing with conversion in the sense of spiritual healing and spiritual growth. A particular focus will be on how each person's journey is going to be different, and that we need to be cautious in expecting sudden and dramatic spiritual experiences for ourselves, or if we have experienced one ourselves, expecting other to have one too.

One of the dreams I have for this Blog is to develop a place where there is dialogue. My model for this is a Blog called the Internetmonk, by an Evangelical SBC minister, whose wife is converting to Catholicism. I made my first ever comments on a Blog trying to answer IMonks questions and debating with a variety of non-Catholic viewpoints. There have been a very lively series of discussions, and it is not uncommon to get 100 comments on a topic.

Thanks again, and God Bless. Pray for me that I follow God's will in this and all my endeavors. One of the hardest things about trying to follow God's will, is accepting God's purpose in a particular event might be very different from what I want to think. That will be tomorrow's post!!!

I'll be praying for all who have visited this Blog.


Monday, January 26, 2009

What you might want to know if you are thinking of following me on Twitter

{note: I've revised this a little. I'm not too proud of how strident, and uncharitable it sounded after I read it a few days later. I toned it down.} If you are thinking about following me on Twitter, Great. Here is a little about me. I care about having people follow me who are interested in what I am saying, or the same people I am listening to.  I don't care if I have 20 or 20,000 followers if they are just following me to boost numbers - don't we ever learn about bubbles people!  I generally follow if you look like a real person.  The more followers you have, the less likely I am to follow you, unless you particularly interest me.  You'll notice that my profile includes #TCOT #Catholic #Prolife. You will also notice that my Bio says "politically eclectic," if you aren't sure what eclectic means, look it up. Eclectic is not a synonym for conservative. I have varied views, I voted third party 6 presidential elections in a row. I have tended more conservative over the years. I am not, and probably never will be ideologically committed. I have some views that are very inline with the current GOP conservative ideology:
  • I am unequivocally prolife - no exceptions except to save the Mother's life
  • I am pro traditional marriage
  • I am pro family values especially interested in the media
  • I am moderately pro Gun
  • I support concealed carry
  • I generally find merit in arguments for small government 
  • I am opposed to the far left in general
I have some views that most people would classify as liberal.  I have some views that are so far out there that neither party will touch them.  I don't intend to spend most of my time Tweeting about politics.  I am more interested in pro-life and the Catholic Faith.  However, I am interested in politics.  I find the #TCOT movement very interesting.  I am intrested in following what you all are talking about, what the ideas are, and at times throwing out my 2 cents.  I've already noticed that followers drop off immediatly after I post anything that doesn't conform to the 'conservative' ideology.  Fine.  To those of you who are actually mover's and shakers out there, I'd reccommend you listen to me a little.  Not because I actually know anything, but because there are a lot of voters out there who call themselves conservative that aren't lock step, and there's a lot of independents that are eclectic like me.  If you want to sit in a closed chat room and agree with each other about pure conservatism, go ahead, but my opinion is that you're more likely to win elections if you know how to talk to people in the middle. I don't think conservative group think and conformed conservative ideology will help you much in 2010 or 2012 unless the Democrats have as many PR disasters as we've seen the past 8 years 

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Catholic Journey - Episode 1 - Please God, Please Don't Make Me Be an Abortion Protester

Prolouge: Although I am a cradle Catholic, and have never completely lapsed, I have a 'conversion' story that isn't over yet. My relationship with God, Jesus, The Holy Ghost, Mary and the Catholic Church has been quite a Journey. Along the way, I've been associated, at least briefly, with everything from outright Sedi Vacantists (The Chair is empty - code for Pius the XII was the last Pope and the followers are somehow not actually Popes, and the chair is vacant) and SSPX (Society of Saint Pius the X- a semi-schismatic group who's Bishops have been excommunicated; devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass and pretty much rejecting Vatican II) to Rainbow Masses with Archbishop Hunthausan in Seattle. Latin, charismatic, liturgical dance, Gregorian chant, ...I've pretty much been part of it all. Most of my associations with the most extremes 'traditional' and 'progressive' have been brief.

My Journey on Abortion

I don't really recall thinking about abortion before my first year of college at Seattle University (A 'progressive' Jesuit Catholic College). My family was outspokenly, solidly and very actively Democratic on my Dads side and I was strongly influenced in that direction. My Mom's family were old fashioned John Birch Society conservatives. Although I loved my Mom's family when it came to politics, I thought they were just a bunch of bigoted, ignorant farmers. Democrats were clearly the educated, enlightened and 'right' voters, party and ideals. So, I don't recall anything in my formative years that exposed me to pro-life views. I don't recall ever discussing it in Church or CCD. I grew up in the 'larger' cities of Montana, and classmates were generally from conservative families. I remember in 1980 in the 8th grade being the only kid that would speak up for President Carter. So, maybe I picked up something by osmosis or there are things I don't recall.

When I arrived at Seattle U, my abortion opinion was to my memory a blank slate. Shortly after school started I met a girl at a party and began a sexual relationship with her. After 'getting to know each other' for about three days, she asked me what I thought of abortion. Honestly, I don't know where my answer, or anything that followed came from (except maybe Divine Grace. After some thought (seconds?) I said "Abortion is wrong, its killing, its a sin." DD was not content to leave it at that, she pursued the question. Should it be legal? Is someone who had an abortion an evil person? I said something about it should be legal, because I can't impose my religion on someone else (I must of listened to something somewhere). Keying in that this was more than a casual conversation, or even more than a polite exploration of the issue, I answered more carefully on that last question. I said something about people making mistakes, and forgiveness and repentance.

It turned out that she had aborted her baby only a few months before. She hadn't told her parents, or her Catholic all girls high school friends. The only one who knew was the father, who had paid for it, but who had been away at college. By this time (less than a week after I met her) we were doing the dorm room shuffle: I moved in to her room, her roommate moved in with her boyfriend, who's roommate was 'living' with his girlfriend off campus. I had already learned that every night, between 3:30 and 4:00 DD would have incredibly intense nightmares, and would seem possessed (truly and apt description) and demand to be held. It would take half an hour to calm her down. It was a couple weeks before she told me the night mares were about babies and children. Over the following few weeks I learned a lot about Post Abortion Syndrome, although I didn't realize what I'd learned until years later.

DD was an exceptionally smart, and extremely beautiful girl and sophisticated as well. She had money and style. Most of the time she projected the epitome of confidence and capability. But I soon learned that she was extremely vulnerable, and needy. Over a few short weeks she demanded more and more of me emotionally, yet at the same time she held be at a distance. Sometimes she needed me to literally hold her hand to do the simplest, mundane things - like walk a few blocks to work - and other times she would send me off to party with my friends and disappear for hours, or even more than a day. We were college freshmen, and drinking and partying was part of the life, and I was certainly one of the champions, but I began to be concerned about DD.

Finally, I realized a few things. First, DD was using drugs. Second, DD was 'seeing'her ex, the father of her baby. Third, DD was using drugs. Fourth, that DD wasn't just careless about 'protection' but that she really seemed to be totally reckless - if things kept going she was going to be pregnant, and I'd be the father. The last three things took me a decade or so to digest, but DD was using me to act out sexually in dangerous (adventurous) ways, she was self destructive, and she at some level was trying to get pregnant. I suddenly realized that I wasn't prepared to be a Daddy, I couldn't participate in an abortion, and I couldn't handle what I'd gotten myself into. I threw in the towel, literally. For a long time I felt very guilty about just how that ended, but I now realize something inside me knew what needed to be done, and I did the best I could. (As a reaction to that, I began making plans for the seminary - clearly a less than perfect candidate - that led me to Rainbow Masses at St. James Cathedral but that will be another chapter)

I still didn't have any knowledge of pro-life positions and logic. I still held conflicting opinions that I seem to have just plucked from NewsWeek. I didn't have a clue that something called "Post Abortion Syndrom" existed. But I knew from experience that abortion is ugly and it isn't good, and abortion isn't good for women. That didn't quite make me pro-life, but it was a start.

Skimming over the next eight years. I walked out of that adamantly against abortion for me, my child, my girlfriend, or my sister but followed my cultural cues that for anyone outside of that, it's their own business, law of the land, etc. It wasn't enough to change me heart or my actions. I had three more sexual relationships outside of marriage over the next 6 years. One was on and off over 3 years with a woman who was initially married. There were at least two pregnancy scares during that one, as far as I know she never was pregnant but in hindsight I don't know, she knew I would oppose abortion. In the midst of one of the 'off' periods in that relationship, I had a brief relationship with another girl who did get pregnant (contraceptive failure). I have a 19 year old son as a result (that will be another installment). Fortunately, I was very supportive of birth and the mother was not inclined towards abortion, unfortunately I didn't follow through and stand by my child or his mother until a few years later. After both of these relationships had been over for a couple of years, I entered into another sexual relationship with a young woman. At this point I already had one child that I wasn't being a Dad to, I knew what it felt like to look at 18 years of responsibility.

CB and I had a pregnancy scare, we experienced a contraception failure. This woman was an adamant and vocal feminist and involved with Wicca. There was no way she was going to have a baby. To my great shame, I was very fearful of the prospect of another child. I still really opposed abortion, but I didn't see the morning after pill as an abortion. I made plans with CB to drive to Canada the next day to obtain the morning after pill. Fortunately, her period arrived before we left. However, I was that close to materially cooperating in obtaining an abortion.

Within a few days of this, my grandfather passed away, somewhat suddenly. At the Rosary vigil Our Lady grabbed me by the heart and she wouldn't let go, even though I tried to run. (during the intervening 3 years I had been drifting around 'progressive' parishes, exploring Tibetan Buddhism, and regularly visiting a Shaman, and participating in Native American Sweat Lodges as well as checking out Episcopalian Churches) With no conscious understanding of my motivation, I stopped spending nights with CB, and went back to my apartment. When Sunday came, I was at Mass. I began avoiding CB. Finally she called me out, and I incoherently explained that I just couldn't continue, that I'd started going back to Church, and that I was thinking about becoming a priest. That was enough for her, she never wanted to have anything to do with me after that.

Still, I wasn't pro-life. I was in more or less the same place with respect to Abortion. I had learned one thing. IF I DON"T WANT A BABY, I CAN'T HAVE SEX. and If I have sex, I better have enough respect for the woman to want her to be the mother of my child and want to share that responsibility. Apparently I always learn best from personal experience.

Over the next two years I really made an effort to grow as a Catholic, and committed myself to being Catholic. I also committed myself to chastity which in practice at least meant that I stayed out of relationships for 3 years. I drank my last beer in April of 1993.

During this time I began to try and study and understand Catholicism. I found "Seeds of Contemplation" by Thomas Merton by 'accident' in the college library. I discovered the full set of the Catholic Encyclopedia. I read a biography of Dorothy Day. And, I began following debates on alt. I couldn't understand why we couldn't have married priests, women priests, gay priests, gay marriage, or contraception. I was OK on abortion though, at least for Catholics.

For months I followed those arguments. There were about 10 orthodox participants who were regular. There were maybe 5 dissident participants who were consistent. Over time I realized that every other week or so, one or two 'newbies' would subscribe to and come out shouting how backwards the Church was. The newbies and the regular dissidents would start trotting out the arguments and the defenders of the faith would start quoting the documents, and the dissidents would start quoting parts of Vatican II and Hans Kung and disputing what was Ex Cathedra and what wasn't and it would go on and on for four or five days. So little has changed.

I was always rooting for the dissidents. As I read, and as I consulted the Catholic Encyclopedia and whatever (very meager) resources I could lay my hands on, I began to see a few things. The defenders always had tighter logic, and they were always patient. The dissidents seemed like they had a lot of ammo, but they always seemed to end up grasping at straws in the end, and they were most often very rude. I wasn't convinced, but I was getting a little desperate.

At the same time, I was attending daily Mass, had started praying the Rosary Daily, started going to Bible studies. But Most Importantly, I began to pray: "God Increase my Faith." The one prayer that I believe God will always answer positively. I fell in with the Madjougorie crowd, and got acquainted with some traditionalists. I went to confession with a visiting Monsignor who wore a Cassock and hammered me on pornography. As a result I began going to weekly confession.

I was attending a very 'progressive' (actually that's being polite, it was a dissident) Church. A college parish. The Priest was nice, but seemed annoyed by my frequent requests for appointments for confession. I was attending RCIA to learn about the Church although I was already confirmed (a product of excellent 1970's CCD). A couple who were in the same department at the University was converting - scientists and atheists becoming Catholic. The subject of contraception came up, and the Priest just waved it off. "All you have to do, is follow your own conscience." Nothing about studying, praying , trying to understand, properly forming your conscience or anything. Even the dissidents on would admit that you needed to actually read Humane Vitae, and pray about it - at a minimum.

I was absolutely shocked and appalled. I still feel sorry for that poor couple and wonder what ever happened. That was the turning point in a sense; at least one of the big ones. I could never really trust the dissidents after that, because in practice in the pews, it turned into a bunch of HoKum.

In the next year or so, the news began to filter out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be released in English - someday. It turned out to be long delayed. It might be hard to imagine, but back in the stone age days of usenet, we didn't have Humane Vitae on line! I was in a small, mostly protestant town that didn't have a Catholic book store. I'd never even seen one single papal encyclical! The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia was my only semi-decent source and it was 75 years out of date.

In 1994 I met the woman who would become my wife and practiced chastity (very difficult); I bought a copy of Humane Vitae at Kaufers Catholic Bookstore in Spokane, WA, and EJ gave me a copy of the newly released Catechism of the Catholic Church for Christmas. We spent the weekend before Christmas at a romantic lodge on Willowa Lake high up in the mountains of eastern Oregon, sitting beside the fire, watching the snow pile up, and reading, studying, reading, praying and being absolutely blown away.

It Made SENSE. Catholic teaching on human sexuality and contraception and marriage and family made SENSE. About a year later, I was still chastely courting EJ and a small announcement appeared in the weekly newsletter of the Catholic Hospital where she worked. DR. and Dr. Billings were going to give a workshop for physicians on Natural Family Planning. Although designed for professionals, the workshop was open to all staff. We went. EJ asked, "You don't really think we might try to do this?" I said, "We have to at least learn about it, and then pray about it." Four hours later, we both walked out of there 100% committed to NFP, and feeling robbed, cheated and lied to by the media, the culture and most of our authority figures.

By this time, I would say in hindsight, I was pro-life. But .. But .. But. I believed in pro-life, but I wasn't engaged. Back in the dissident parish daily Mass days, there had been one guy. One Guy from my Physic Department who usually attended daily mass at the more traditional church, but sometimes, could only make it to the dissident Mass. This guy was such a wacko! Even though we all sat on couches, and everyone, including the Priest sat through the whole service on this circular sectional in the Fireside room, and used the coffee table as an alter. This wacko insisted on kneeling on the FLOOR, without a kneeler. And even worse, he was an abortion protester. He kept getting arrested, and about every other week, there he was on the front page of the Daily Comical, getting drug off to jail. This guy would even drive to Billings, or Missoula, or Salt Lake just to stand out in front of an abortion clinic, or chain himself to the door and get arrested. What a WACKO.

And when that Priest said "just follow your conscience" and I prayed for an increase in faith,. When I knelt in that chapel and said "God, I'm going to trust you, and your Church. I don't get it, but I'm just going to trust you." I also prayed, "But please God, please, don't make me an abortion protester." A few years later, when I read the Catechism with the woman God made for me, I prayed, "Thank you God, for teaching me, for giving me faith, for the Church and for John Paul II." I also prayed, "but please God, Please don't make me be an abortion protester." And when I walked out of that NFP workshop and went home to say my prayers, I thanked God for teaching me, and giving me faith, and I added, "but Please, Please Please God, don't make me be an abortion protester."

About a year later, I had married my wife. We were practicing NFP. I was free during the mornings and enjoying getting back into daily mass. I drove up to St. Joseph's at 8:45 and pulled into a spot next to the Grand Knights truck. I saw the "Stop Abortion Now" signs in the back. I said to myself, "that's good those people are going to pray the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood". At 9:45 after Mass, I got in my truck and I saw the signs, and I thought, "that's good, those people are going down to pray the Rosary at Planned Parenthood. I'm glad they do that." At 10:00 I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating cereal, and reading the paper, and I thought, "those people are down there praying the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood." Then a thought that didn't really belong to me: "what are you doing?" I ignored it, but it came back: "What are you doing, they're praying the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood. What are you doing?"

At 10:10 a very uncomfortable newbie was holding a sign, standing in the cold, praying the second decade of the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood. This week I rode heard on three beautiful children to two pro-life rallies, and they are totally comfortable praying the Rosary out in front of Planned Parenthood.

Praise be to God!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Kind of Catholics Are We?

Conservative, Liberal, Traditional, devout, cafeteria, dissident, ... There seem to be plenty of labels. None of them seem to communicate who the people I know are as Catholics. A few years ago I was meeting with the veteran priest newly assigned to my parish. Fr. Clay Meyer was a very erudite academic. Observing his art collection and library I thoughtlessly asked if he was conservative, he was not impressed with my question. His firm answer was that he was Catholic (period). To his thinking he explained, labels were not helpful.

A recent article by David R. Carlin on InsideCatholic and the dialogue in the com-boxs below seem to demonstrate some of the limitations of our labels. Todd, an experienced voice in these debates (read the posts through the 40's) heads up the "liberal-Catholic" defense against Carlin's allegation that liberal-Catholics have:

  • de-emphasized Catholicism's supernaturalistic elements (for secularism is resolutely naturalistic);
  • amended Catholicism's super-strict sexual morality (for secularism is sexually permissive);
  • stressed the social-justice aspects of Catholic morality (for secularism is a great believer in a form of social justice);
  • embraced, albeit while misunderstanding, Catholicism's teaching about the ultimate authority of conscience (for secularism strongly believes in something it calls "conscience"); and
  • rejected the notion that the leaders of the Church (i.e., popes and bishops) are entitled to teach with authority (for secularism is strongly anti-authoritarian).
When you make these amendments to Catholicism, you get Catholic liberalism, a religion strikingly different from historical Catholicism; a religion, moreover, that is moving on a slippery slope toward outright atheism.
Todd in particular, and others raise some substantive points, but much of the com-box chatter revolves around the labels and what they mean. It is clear that Carlin is using liberal as a shorthand for a particular group of activists within (or on the fringe, or on the cutting edge) the Church. The near equivocation between liberal-Catholicism and secularism makes matters worse.

Actually, using secular terms like liberal and conservative to define Catholic viewpoints is part of the confusion. I'd say it is just as difficult for 'conservative' Catholics to filter secular thinking out as it is for 'liberal' Catholics.

What am I? I am a Catholic and I have really grown to dislike labels. Every label covers up as much information as it provides and carries all sorts of assumptions. My faith as a Catholic is a journey, and I have been down some roads through all of these territories.

I think it would be more helpful to identify with Saints, devotions, prayers, and books fill our Catholic lives. Even the absence of most or all of these communicates volumes about what kind of Catholic one might be.

I'll go: I am a Slave of Mary (St. Louis Marie de Montfort) St. Jude, St. Francis, Charles de Foucauld, St. Michael, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, St. Therese. Devotions: Our Lady of Sorrows, the Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass. Books: The Imitation of Christ, The Cloud of Unknowing. Authors and Noted: Jacques Martain, Dorothy Day, Peter Marin, James Schall, Scott Hahn, Ralph Martin, Sr. Ann Shields.

There's a lot more, but that provides a general flavor. I am just plain Catholic and I'll take ALL of it. God, through the sacrafice of your Son Jesus Christ, change our hearts that we may be ONE.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blessed Charles de Foucauld and the Prayer of Abandonment

Charles de Foucauld is a somewhat less well known figure in the Church. He has not been canonized a saint yet. I find him interesting because of his squandered youth. He is also informally considered a patron of failures, because he was a failure in everything during his lifetime. I stumbled upon his Prayer of Abandonment probably 20 years ago, and have been a devotee ever since.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures - I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

A quick excerpt of his biography:

  • Born Sept. 15, 1858 in Strasburg (France), into an aristocratic family, whose motto is "Never back". He receives baptism at the time of his birth.
  • Charles had one sister, Marie, 3 years younger than him.
  • His parents die, in close succession, in 1864. This remained a deep wound for Charles.
  • The orphans were put into the care of their maternal grandfather, Colonel de Morlet, who is a kind but weak man.
  • After the Franco-German war of 1870, France lost Alsace and Lorraine. The family moved from Strasburg to Nancy, and chose to remain French.
  • He attended secondary school in Nancy, then in Paris, with the Jesuits where he obtained his baccalaureate and began preparing for Saint-Cyr (a military school). He was dismissed before the end of the year on the grounds of laziness and unruly behaviour. By his own account, he lost his faith at age 16, on finishing high school.
  • 1876: He entered Saint-Cyr.
  • 1878: His grandfather died in February, leaving him heir to a considerable Fortune, which he squandered. He entered the Saumur Cavalry School in October, and finished as 87th out of a class of 87, in 1879.
  • At school, he led a riotous life, indulging in unruly and eccentric behaviour (leaving his post while on sentinel duty, dressing up as a beggar). He drew and read a lot to improve his education.
  • 1879: While stationed in Pont-à-Mousson, he continued to squander his wealth, led the high life, and was seen with a woman of ill-repute, Mimi.
  • 1880: His regiment was sent to Algeria. He took Mimi with him, passing her off as his wife. When the fraud was discovered, the army ordered him to send her back. Charles refuses, preferring to be suspended and removed from duty. He went home to France and settled in Evian.
  • 1881: Hearing that his regiment was involved in dangerous action in Tunisia, he abandoned Mimi, asked to be reinstated, and joined a new regiment in the south Oran area.
  • For the next 8 months, he proved to be an excellent officer, praised by his superiors as well as by the lower ranks.
  • 1882: Fascinated by Northern Africa, he resigned from the Army and settled in Algiers in order to prepare for an exploration of Morocco. He learned Arabic and Hebrew.
  • June 1883 - May 1884: He travelled across Morocco secretly, disguised as a Rabbi, under the guidance of Rabbi Mardochee. His life was in danger on several occasions. He was impressed by the faith and religious devotion of the Moslems.
  • 1884: Charles thought of marrying while in Algiers, but he broke off the relationship because his family disapproved of the marriage.
  • 1885: He was awarded the gold medal of the French Geographical Society for his reconnaissance of Morocco.
  • 1885-1886: He travelled to the oases of Southern Algeria and Tunisia.
  • 1886: He went home to France, and wrote "An exploration of Morocco".
  • He led an austere, ascetic life.
  • He questioned himself on the inner life and spirituality. He went into churches, without any faith, and repeated this strange prayer: "My God, if you exist, let me know you".
He experienced a conversion, and I'll copy from Wikipedia for the summary of his religious life and its conclusion.
1890 he joined the Trappist order, but left in 1897 to follow an as yet undefined religious vocation.He went to the Holy Land and became a gardener for a group of nuns. It was then suggested to him that he be ordained. He returned to Algeria and lived a virtually eremetical life. He first settled in Beni Abbes, near the Moroccan border, building a small hermitage for ‘adoration and hospitality’, which soon became the ‘Fraternity’. For Charles wished to be, and was seen to be, a “brother” to each and every visitor, whatever their religion, ethnic origin or social status. Later he moved to be with the Touareg people, in Tamanghasset in southern Algeria. This region is the central part of the Sahara with the Ahaggar Mountains(the Hoggar) immediately west of there. Charles used the highest point, the Assekrem, as a place of retreat. Living close to the Touareg, and sharing their life and hardships, he made a ten-year study of their language and cultural traditions. He learned the language and worked on a dictionary and grammar. His dictionary manuscript was published posthumously in 4 volumes and has become known among Berberologues for its rich and apt descriptions. He formulated the idea of founding a new religious order, which only became a reality after his death, under the name of the Little Brothers of Jesus.

He was shot to death by passing arab rebels December 1, 1916 outside his Tamanrasset compound against the general background of uprising against the French colonial power and the world war. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 13, and is considered a martyr of the Church.

One more link: More Biography