Saturday, March 31, 2007

Quote: Walter Bruggeman

We all have a hunger for certitude, and the problem is that the Gospel is not about certitude, it's about fidelity. So what we all want to do if we can is immediately transpose fidelity into certitude, because fidelity is a relational category and certitude is flat, mechanical category. So we have to acknowledge our thirst for certitude and then recognize that if you had all the certitudes in the world it would not make the quality of your life any better because what we must have is fidelity.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Noticing the signs

Continuing with comments and reflections on part of a paper by Vatican Observatory astrophysicist Fr. Bill Stoeger SJ, one gets to the question implied at the end of the previous post: if we have to understand the dynamic nature of creation, including evolution, to better understand ourselves and God, then just what can we learn? Fr. Stoeger points us to our need to learn to look at nature as Christians:

Secondly, evolution forces us, therefore, to take the immanence of God in Nature, in creation, in our lives very seriously. God is present and active – in many different and wonderful ways – in all that is going on. Sometimes we tend to think of God’s creative action only in special events of intervention – miracles. But this is a very distorted and constricted view of God’s action. St. Ignatius Loyola, in his “Contemplation for Obtaining Divine Love,” at the end of his Spiritual Exercises, asks us to consider how all the wonderful things around us – including ourselves – the gifts of creation and the gifts of redemption – are expressions of God’s great love for us. After asking us to express our love for God in return in complete commitment, Ignatius goes on to ask us to consider that God is present in all his gifts – not only does God give us gifts as signs of God’s care and love, but God give us God’s self in the gifts. Next, Ignatius goes even further, asking us to reflect on the fact that God is not only present in all that God has created and bestowed but that God is working and struggling for us out of love in all things. It is clear that the first stage of the “Contemplatio” refers to creation, the second stage reflects the profound impact of the Incarnation on all reality, and the third stage sees the immanence of God in terms of vulnerability, struggle and suffering of Christ – of God – in creation. This is the deeply Christian perspective the natural sciences and all the processes they reveal to us reinforce.
My rather beat up copy of God in the Dock is not handy -- I had it at work and it got packed up with all my professional books -- but I remember one essay by C. S. Lewis from that collection on the nature of miracles. He pointed out that God has a particular style, that most of what we term miracles are God doing quickly and obviously in one place, as a sign, just what he is doing less obviously throughout His creation. When at Cana, Jesus turned water into wine, He was only doing in an instant what grape vines and yeast will do over months if given the chance. It was a sign pointing to just who was behind the natural process of growth and fermentation, and that it was a gift from God to us.

The point is that signs are for following -- what is important is what they lead us to. We cannot remain enamored of the little miracles, because they are flashy and catch our eyes, to the detriment of the greater reality that they point to. Let us use our senses fully in learning from the created world, so that we are better prepared to understand those things beyond our senses, beyond that which is created.

In the next paragraph, Fr. Stoeger moves from immanence in nature to the transcendence of God.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Quote: Eric Hoffer

The Paleolithic hunters who painted the unsurpassed animal murals on the ceiling of the cave at Altamira had only rudimentary tools. Art is older than production for use, and play older than work. Man was shaped less by what he had to do than by what he did in playful moments. It is the child in man that is the source of his uniqueness and creativeness, and the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Major complaint

I have developed a major dislike of one feature of the new version of Blogger, one that may force me to edit offline, which is simply not all that convenient. This morning was the third time in a week that I got an error message involving a security token issue when trying to save or publish a post, each time losing some hard work. When I tried to return to the previous screen, which before would often take me right back to the work I was editing, it now goes back to an earlier draft, losing any later work. Some people find it easy to write -- I do not. It is often a fight and having to fight the software as well makes it worse.

I'm a software person, and this is a serious usability bitch on my part. Google now owns Blogger, and one part of this change was to move to Google's servers. Google's own AJAX based applications have easier save and autosave features that work much better than this. While they were doing everything else, why not include some of those features. Text editing is text editing -- I have a hard time believing that this is something that Gmail can handle neatly while Blogger cannot.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Details, Details

Well, I managed to set up the format while dropping the Creative Commons license, which has now been fixed. I managed to briefly meet Larry Lessig a couple of years ago at Bloggercon, and think that the CC scheme one of the most useful and innovative efforts in the past decade and a key part of keeping the web open and accessible. It is good stuff indeed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

God and Nature

I've been reflecting a lot lately on how our understanding of the natural world as Christians affects how we see many things, including issues such as global climate change. I recently ran across the text of a talk given in Australia in 2005, Our Intimate Links with the Universe and Nature: The View from Cosmology and Astrobiology by Fr. Bill Stoeger SJ of the Vatican Observatory. I would like to post some substantial chunks of section 6: "Key Features of the Universe – Connections with Christ and with Us" with some surrounding comments and own reflections on this.

The bulk of Fr. Stoeger's talk reviewed the history of Creation, from the big bang, through the evolution of the physical universe, to chemical and biological evolution on Earth. Starting with a discussion of the close links between science, ethics, faith and praxis, he then tells the long story of creation, pointing out not only the deep interconnectedness of all created things, but also the characteristics of nature and the cosmos that reflect God's own priorities for his creation.

In reflecting on the connections between God, his creation and us, Fr. Stoeger starts off by looking at just how God meant nature to operate:

First, and perhaps foremost, theological reflection on the details and intricacies of cosmic and biological evolution drives us to a much more profound appreciation for what Howard Van Till refers to as the functional and formational integrity of creation, and for God’s reverent, pervasive but subtle relationship with God’s creatures and with the universe itself. God has gifted Nature and the universe with inner dynamisms and capacities which enable it not only to function with relative autonomy but also to develop and give birth to new or more complex entities and organisms as time passes, and as the universe cools and expands. There is evidently no need for God to step in and effect key transitions directly. Nature itself has been given the capabilities of doing that! This, of course, does not mean that God is uninvolved, or distant from what happens. God is present and active through all the regularities, processes and relationships which function. God is their source and origin and holds them in existence, continuing to create through them. God did not create the universe with deficiencies, or with impairments, which would necessitate God’s special direct intervention in the creative process.
This is pretty straightforward theologically -- see paragraphs 299-302 of the Catechism.

Three thoughts:
  • God's creation is good and ordered -- it constantly reflects His purpose and providence.

  • Change and evolution are built into design -- we have to understand evolution to understand the dynamism of that design.

  • Science is not only useful, but knowledge that can be good in itself, helping us better know nature, ourselves, and God.
In the next paragraph, Fr. Stoeger invites us to a deeper examination of evolution as a sign of God's immanence in nature.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Quote: Andy Goodliff

. . . I'm not interested in reading the bible as if it were a text book or an instruction manual. Let's stop pretending we all know how to read the bible. The bible is not a book to be studied. The bible is not a book that can be mastered. The great tragedy of the bible study is it has made the bible dull and boring. The great worry of the bible study is we've turned the bible into a weapon against those who interpret it differently. The bible study has created as many infallible popes as there are Christians, all who believe that they are right because their bible says this or that. The bible is a book to be wrestled with. The bible is a dangerous, world-changing, life-altering text that is out to transform the reader. The bible wants to shape our imagination to the tune of Christ. We might set out to read the bible but it ends up reading us. We need to create regular space for the bible to breathe, for it to live among us, before us, within us. The bible story is not a story to study but to indwell. When reading the bible we need to open ears and close mouths. The bible is always fresh and never stale. The bible does not put God or truth into neat statements. The bible is not God's prison. The bible is God's Word always breaking into our world. The bible is God's gift to the church; not to the individual Christian.

from Baptist youth pastor Andy Goodliff's blog post on bible study and scripture reading

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Work in Progress

Well, as all two of my regular readers may notice, the appearance of the blog here has changed. I just managed to convert this site to the new Blogger version, with a modified template that fully supports all the new features.

Things that did not make the move included the blockquote formatting and the special print formatting. Both are on my primary list to fix here along with generall formatting changes. Also, look for the blogroll on the right to change a bit -- perhaps even largely disappear. I will also change the widgets for site history and site links a bit.

Just a bit more gardening to do.

Update: Blockquote formatting done.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Quote: Dietrich Bonhoeffer


It is wiser to be pessimistic; it is a way of avoiding dissappointment and ridicule, and so wise people condemn optimism. The essence of optimism is not its view of the present, but the fact that it is the inspiration of life, and hope when others give in; it enables a man to hold his head high when everything seems to be going wrong; it gives him strength to sustain reverses and yet to claim the future for himself instead of abandoning it to his opponent. It is true that there is a silly, cowardly kind of optimism, which we must condemn. But the optimism that is will for the future should never be despised, even if it is proved wrong a hundred times; it is health and vitality, and the sick man has no business to impugn it. There are people who regard it as frivolous, and some Christians think it impious for anyone to hope and prepare for a better earthly future. they think that the meaning of present events is chaos, disorder, and catastrophe; and in resignation or pious escapism they surrender all responsibility for reconstruction and for future generations. It may be that the day of judgement will dawn tomorrow; and in that case, though not before, we shall gladly stop working for a better future.

Letters and Papers from Prison

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sacrament of love

Various people are reacting to the release today of Sacramentum Caritatis but I have noted a little love note to those of us who hang out around prisons and jails.

Care for prisoners

59. The Church's spiritual tradition, basing itself on Christ's own words (cf. Mt 25:36), has designated the visiting of prisoners as one of the corporal works of mercy. Prisoners have a particular need to be visited personally by the Lord in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Experiencing the closeness of the ecclesial community, sharing in the Eucharist and receiving holy communion at this difficult and painful time can surely contribute to the quality of a prisoner's faith journey and to full social rehabilitation. Taking up the recommendation of the Synod, I ask Dioceses to do whatever is possible to ensure that sufficient pastoral resources are invested in the spiritual care of prisoners.
There are some basics to detention ministry -- the foundation being simple presence. But once you have managed to establish regular access, the priority is always to insure that prisoners can have as normal a sacramental life as practical under the circumstances. Security concerns can mandate all sorts of limitations and modifications, but just about any Cathlolic prisoner should have access to the Sacrament. You don't have to persuade prisoners of the importance of the Eucharist in their lives, they will tell you how important it is.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Still interpreting after all these years

Well, as promised, I will be posting summaries of some of the sessions I attended at the RE Congress this year, with some reflections of my own. I will be taking them in no particular order, and it may take some days to get through them all.

My Saturday morning session was Reading Them Again for the First Time: The Documents of Vatican II Today with Dr. Edward Hahnenberg from Xavier University in Cincinnati. He got a laugh from the hundred or so people there by pointing out that the title of the session might be more accurate if you left one word out -- again. Our task is to reclaim these documents for ourselves, documents that are largely unread by many Catholics, including people in ministry. We all tend to have read some particular passages, usually because they support some position we already hold. These are the most important texts produced by the Catholic Church in the past four centuries or so, and we need to know them as they really are.

Hahnenberg's basic point is "the spirit is in the letter", meaning that we have to learn how to read and understand the documents fully -- we need what is known as a hermeneutic -- a systematic approach to interpreting and understanding the work of the Council through these texts.

In constructing a hermeneutic of the Vatican II documents, Hahnenberg cited a favorite book of mine, Ormond Rush's Still Interpreting Vatican II: Some Hermeneutical Principles, defining three complementary approaches for interpretation:

  • of the readers (or "that was then, this is now"
  • of the writers (or "what were they thinking?")
  • and of the texts (or "how they say what they say").
There is no way in this space to do full justice either to everything either Hahnenberg or Rush is saying on this, but there are a few points I want to touch on.

Concerning readers, an important factor to remember in this is that many people not only have little if any memory of the Church before Vatican II, they have little memory of the Council itself or its immediate aftermath -- the post Vatican II church is the Catholic Church they know. Instead of comparing the Church before and after the Council, a comparison that may not be that relevant to some readers today, we might better compare the changes between the Council and our own time. For example, one important issue to examine is the nature of Catholic identity in a postmodern world, something we seem to have trouble with.

A hermeneutic of the writers involves trying to understand just what the council fathers were intending, based on the text, their own writings about the texts, and the history of the Council. Hahnenberg asserts that, just like any other historical text, these texts have to be examined from historical-critical point of view. He is concerned that specific texts are used ahistorically. (One of the better examples he gave concerned the famous chapter 31 of Lumen Gentium defining the laity, and how it should be interpreted. This post got delayed days as I worked that part up, so I split it off into a separate post which will go up in a couple of days.) Part of that is examining the "theological trajectory" of the Council, how certain topics became more important as the Council progressed, with a development of how the issues were handled from one document to another. (Most of the apparent differences between some of the documents, often referred to as the "tensions" between the documents, can be ascribed to this kind of trajectory.) The role of bishops is a good example of such development over the four years; the relationship with the world set out in the constitution Gaudium et Spes is another.

Examining the texts means we have to look at how something was said as well as what was said. A common complaint about these documents is that they are long and boring. The style of these documents is different from that of earlier councils -- a briefer and more legalistic style was more common. Hahnenberg said that a better way is to look at the style is to see that it is not so much long as it is invitational (his term) and not so much boring as intended to seek and support consensus. They are invitational in that they are constructed to, in a sense, start from the beginning and lead the reader step by step through the issues, ideas, and conclusions made by the council fathers. This is a style that has been continued in most papal documents since the Council, in particular, those of John Paul II. The Council fathers were also trying to seek consensus in drafting these works, which means that they often try to include some treatment of differing perspectives in some way, adding to the length and complexity. However, this effort succeeded -- most of the documents received nearly unanimous approval from the Council fathers.

Possibly the most notable occurrence at this session occurred after I left. I skipped the audience questions session to cut out for the vendor area. I picked up a copy of Hahneman's new book A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II in time to meet him in the author's signing area. At the line for Hahnenberg, someone was already waiting for him to arrive for book signings; we talked about how much we liked the session, and this other person said that (apparently) right after I left a Canadian bishop came up to the audience mike and praised Hahnenberg's approach. The bishop stated that he had attended the Council, and that Hahnenberg was presenting the Council as he remembered it. (I am not sure who this was, but I suspect it might have been this bishop.) To say the least, Hahnenberg was glowing when he arrived for the signings.

More on this, with some discussion of the book, in a future post.

Pushing tunes

I've fallen into a new habit lately -- searching through YouTube for music. Like everyone else, I've followed links to watch people putting Mentos into Diet Coke. It has just been over the past couple of weeks, though, that I have been creating my own favorites and playlists of music, that is often running in the background as I work online. There are some unique clips of both sacred and secular music out there and I just got the urge to start sharing some. Here's video of the Pat Metheny Group playing Last Train Home:

I may have more profound comments on future posts, besides simply that I like just about everything Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays record.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Last day at Congress

I did get back to my room much earlier last night -- I came back after Mass around 7 and just kicked back with a movie then got to bed relatively early (at least compared to the night before). I'm heading home up I-5 later today, and with any luck across LA I should be able to beat the 7 hours it took to get down here Thursday.

I have lots to post about, but little time at this point. Good sessions on the Vatican II documents and adult faith formation, both of which will get their own posts. One note now on the Mass last night. As has become my custom, I attended the contemplative Mass at the Hilton last night, with Fr. Liam Lawton celebrating and Fr. Cyprian Consiglio leading the music. It was sublime, one of the better worship experiences I have ever had. The best sign of that (that can be posted) is simple: There were easily 2,500 there (maybe more) and not one person left early.

To give you perspective, Congress is so large that it can be difficult to find a place to have dinner after Mass, especially on Saturday night. If you have a reservation, you make sure you get there on time, or go hungry. At that Mass last night, nobody cared about dinner or their schedules. This included the ten minutes of silent meditation after communion -- a room that large with that many people holding complete silence has its own sound.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Sorry about this brief post, but it was a late night last night, and I need to get to Congress early this morning. Good sessions yesterday, especially from Juan Melendez, who spent 17 years on Florida's death row before being exonerated, and an excellent presentation on the US Catholic Catechism for Adults from Dr. Tom Beaudoin of Santa Clara. I'll be posting some links and a summary of the session on the USCCA later. The African-American Mass last night was excellent, as usual, with Fr. J-Glenn Murray celbrating. The Taize prayer session was OK, but I really could have used the extra sleep. I may skip the night prayer session tonight.

Otherwise, no big happenings or news so far -- the bankruptcy filing for the Diocese of San Diego is still the big story around here. Today the schedule includes a review of the documents of Vatican II, adult spirituality, and praying the hours. More later.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

On the scene

Well, I made it.

It was not the worst drive ever, but it had its moments. The last couple of times I made it to Congress it was via New Camaldoli. This was the first time in years that I drove to Anaheim straight from Merced and making it across LA on I-5 has not improved at all.

After checking in I kicked back for an hour or so to recover from the ride, then went over to the Convention Center to pick up my program book and save time tomorrow morning. I'm going to need that time as most of my sessions this year are all over the place, usually all the way over by the intersection of Harbor and Convention Way. Tomorrow morning may be the best shot I get to check out some of the vendors.

My first session tomorrow is about the National Directory of Catechesis and adult education, followed by sessions on capital punishment and the new Adult Catechism. After that is Mass (I am not sure which one) followed by meeting someone for dinner, then a Taize prayer session late tomorrow evening. Busy day, which is normal at Congress. I'll report back tomorrow evening, unless I get a chance to post tomorrow.