Ron Moffat: October 2003 Archives

Hazardous Conduct

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WARNING: HEALTH HAZARD IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

The about to be consecrated bishop of New Hampshire (ECUSA) says he would be surprised if God were to want to stop him now. According to the AP:

"The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, bishop-elect of the Diocese of New Hampshire, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he's been praying for years about becoming a bishop. He feels strongly that God wants him to go through with his consecration on Nov. 2.

"God and I have been about this for quite a while now and I would be really surprised if God were to want me to stop now," he said."

A note of caution to those of you living in the state of New Hampshire: I wouldn't stand within, say, a 5 foot radius of the good bishop anytime in the next 3 weeks or so, just in case God changes his mind.

The Mountains

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This is the first in an infrequent series of 7 Habitus readers challenges.

Now that winter is approaching, many of us in Colorado are planning on spending some time in the mountains in the coming months. Assume you are up in a mountain cabin when an unexpected blizzard sweeps through the area. You are snowed in for the next few days, possibly a week. You have plenty of provisions in the cabin, lots of fire wood and electrical power has not been lost, in short, survival is not an issue. Passing the time is.

List three books that you would hope you packed and had available during your week in the mountains.

The Florida Governor Acts

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Good news from Florida and the Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Invoking a law rushed through the Legislature earlier in the day, Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday ordered a feeding tube reinserted into a brain-damaged woman at the center of one of the nation's longest and most bitter right-to-die battles.

The bill was designed to save the life of Terri Schiavo, whose parents have fought to keep her alive. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, says she would rather die.

The Senate voted 23-15 for the legislation, and the House passed the final version 73-24 only minutes later. Bush signed it into law and issued the order just more than an hour later.

Schiavo's feeding tube was removed last Wednesday. Doctors have said the 39-year-old woman will die within a week to 10 days without food and water.

After the Senate's vote, a cheer went up among about 80 protesters outside Terri Schiavo's hospice in Pinellas Park.

"We are just ecstatic," Bob Schindler said after Bush told him he would issue the order that will keep his daughter alive. "It's restored my belief in God."

George Felos, a lawyer for Michael Schiavo, took steps to stop Bush even before the governor received the bill. He filed a request for an injunction if Bush issued an order. Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer denied it on technical grounds, but said Felos could refile the request.

Schism

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For the last two or three weeks I have been reading The Midwest Conservative Journal (now at a new address) with interest. The blog is an interesting chronical of one person's journey through the upheaval in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA). It reminds me of my own journey from the Presbyterian Church (aptly the PCUSA) and the difficulties that ultimately brought me to the Church.

Make no mistake, this schism is not a good thing for the Body of Christ and I hope we will all keep the situation in our prayers. It appears the author of the MCJ has left his church as a result of the shenanigans and is in something of a state of limbo as far as Church affiliation is concerned. I share that experience and hope the situation will be resolved soon. I am reminded of the gratitude I feel that my journey into the Catholic Church was a relatively easy one, there may be many who leave the ECUSA who lose their faith entirely as a result of this situation. I hope this is not the case, but it may well be. All the more reason to keep them all in our prayers.

A New Blog Author

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A brief annoucement.

The 7 Habitus has a new addition - Andrew Barga has agreed to join me as co-author of this corner of the blogworld.

Andrew is a seminarian for the Diocese of Boise and is interested in writing commentaries on religious news items he finds interesting. He also enjoys literature and will off exposition and critique of various works, religious, poetical, etc.

I hope you will welcome Andrew in the coming days and weeks, I am looking forward to his contributions here.

Paz y bien

St. Teresa of Jesus

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A most blessed feast day to all of our Carmelite brothers and sisters at St. Blogs and around the world.

Merton and Yancy

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My wife picked up my copy of The Ascent to Truth and has taken possession of it. In self defense and taking a hint from Steven Bogners, I began to read Merton's Contemplative Prayer, his last book, which was published a year or so after he died. It has been an eye opener. The Ascent to Truth is one of Merton's earliest books and seems to me to be the writing of a thoroughly orthodox, faithful, Catholic monk. To my surprise, so does Contemplative Prayer.

I had it in my mind, after four or five years of reading nothing by Merton, that towards the end of his life he had lost his way and gotten lost in eastern meditation techniques. I have to say this idea was almost subconscious with me but present in my mind, nonetheless. It was a bit of an eye-opener when both Steven Riddle and Steven Bogners suggested that this was the case. Two things have become apparent to me in my reading in both The Ascent to Truth and Contemplative Prayer -- Merton did not lose his faith and he did not understand contemplative prayer as something brought on by technique. He clearly views contemplative prayer as something infused by God, a gift of His grace. To quote just one short passage from Contemplative Prayer:

"From these texts we see that in meditation we should not look for a "method" or "system," but cultivate an "attitude," and "outlook": faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, joy. All these finally permeate our being with love in so far as our living faith tells us we are in the presence of God, that we live in Christ, that in the Spirit of God we "see" God as our Father without "seeing." We know him in "unknowing." Faith is the bond that unites us to him in the Spirit who gives us light and love."

Something in the way of corroboration of this is provided in an article which T. S. O’Rama referred me to in his comment on my last Merton post. The article was published in Touchstone Magazine and compares three books, all published around 1950, one by J. d. Salinger, one by Jack Kerouac and one by Thomas Merton, Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, and The Seven Storey Mountain, respectively. The article examines the fact that with a few years of each other 3 American writers published books with a religious perspective dealing with the subject of detachment. The author points out that while all three wrote on the same subject, each came from a different religious perspective, Salinger from the Hindu, Kerouac from the Buddhist, and Merton, of course, from the Catholic tradition. He also points out that each was a flawed human being in his own way.

The thing that comes out clearly from my reading of this article is that, while all three wrote on the idea of detachment, Merton was the one who got it right, his orthodox Catholicism lead him to take the proper approach to both his life and his topic. While Merton may have been a flawed individual – rebellious, contemptuous of his abbot and fellow monks, prone to drinking in his later years, he was not nearly as flawed as were the other two; they turned out to be kooks. For all his difficulties, Merton was still able, at the end of his life, to write a book on contemplative prayer like one he wrote 15 years earlier, a book that remained as true as he could make it to Church teaching and Tradition. As for Salinger, his is still (I think) holed up somewhere in New England as completely cut off from the world as he can get. Kerouac died at the age of 47 of hemorrhaging of the esophagus, his mind most likely burned out from continuous drug usage. Merton's faith, however, seems to be the one constant in his life, the one thing he got right.

The lesson from the article is that faith, Christian faith, does matter. For Merton, it allowed him to have a far better perspective on reality, on life, than either Salinger or Kerouac ended up having. Merton's faith allowed him to understand that detachment is not withdrawal from the world, it is an opening out to God and this understanding makes a world of difference in our lives. One path leads to nothing but denial, and ultimately to nothing, the other leads to eternal joy, a sharing in God's eternal life.


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Yancy
Steven R has pointed out that my last comment on Yancy was harsh and perhaps unjustified. I agree and would like to clarify what I was trying to say. I will return to my original evaluation that the problem with Yancy, and it is a fundamental problem not only with him but most Protestant writers, is that he does not have a proper understanding of the Church. I don't mean that he is anti-Catholic necessarily. I mean he does not clearly understand the nature of what the Church is.

However, more on Yancy in another post.

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One Housekeeping item:

I have been giving some thought to either inviting two or three other bloggers to join me here at the 7 Habitus or else starting a new blog with two or three others. It is clear to me that I am unable to maintain a volume of doing posts every day, or even every other day, and that it might be more efficient for a couple of us to combine forces.

The guidelines I would propose for, say, a new blog, would be as follows:

1. Authors would have to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.

2. Topics would be of a practical and spiritual nature, dealing with the role of an orthodox Catholic in todays society and also looking a the Tradition of the Church through the ages.

3. No posts of a partisan political nature; there's enough of that on the web already.

I'm not sure if I will follow through on this or not, however, if it strikes your fancy, please send me an email.

Homosexual Unions

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Andrew Sullivan asks in today's Wall Street Journal "If homosexuality is now legal, why can't homosexuals marry?"

The answer is two-fold. First, the issue here is not the legal status of a homosexual, the question is the legal definition of marriage. As long as marriage is defined as the union between one man and one woman, homosexuals will not qualify for marriage.

Second, Sullivan is making the mistake of assuming that just because something has been determined by a court to be legal, that it can then be considered moral. A growing number of Americans are coming to agree with the Church that homosexual unions are gravely immoral and do not merit the formal recognition (and reward) by society that the state of marriage confers.

Some Blog Housekeeping Items

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I’ve been a bit slow in posting lately for a couple of reasons. The first, of course, was the viral infection of my trusty old laptop. Another is that I’ve been working on several projects at work and putting in some extra hours. This has, for some reason, worn me out more than normal and I haven’t had a lot of energy to spend doing posts. It is to be hoped that this extra work will be over by the end of next week and things can get back to normal. I have many things I would like to cover in the next few days. Among them, I notice that Steven did a post offering some interesting thoughts on my comments on Merton and a couple of folks have also provided comments and I would like to respond to these. Also, Steven noted that my comment on Yancy was harsher than normal and that is true, I wrote that comment quickly, when I was tired, and would like to reword it to be a bit fairer.

I have another reason for not doing a lot of posts lately – I have, as previously noted, been given pause by a couple of the new blogs here at St. Blog’s Parish. There are two or three new arrivals (see list below) that hold a lot of promise. These blogs take a more pronounced turn to items of spiritual interest. Posts on these sites have caused me to rethink, sort of, what I have been doing here at The 7 Habitus. I realize I would like to change direction a bit, or to put it more accurately, refocus on my original intent in doing this blog – to try to explore what it means to be Catholic in today’s world.

What I mean is this. When one joins the Catholic Church one is not doing something akin to joining, say, a Presbyterian Church. When one joins a Protestant church it is an act similar to assuming membership is almost any other type of club or organization (not the same, but similar), one professes to believe the same thing as those in the church (which may or may not really be true), perhaps one assumes certain financial obligations and other obligations of membership and then goes on ones way. It may be a significant event in a person’s life or it may turn out to be meaningless. The reason for this is that, for the Protestant, the church membership he assumes is not a central element in his faith, his “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is the central reality for him, along with whatever truth he can glean from his reading of Scripture. (Note: I always provide a caveat when I try to explain an area of Protestant belief: this is not universally true of all Protestants, there is no one Protestant understanding of any aspect of Christian dogma. This caveat holds true for my comments on the Protestant understanding of the Church above.)

This is not the case for the Catholic. In joining the Church, one becomes Catholic; there is such a thing as being Catholic. Joining the Church affects, in a very real way, what one is. Being Catholic, ideally, affects the way one lives out ones life; what we believe is reflected in what we do. Thomas Howard caught this truth when he titled a book he wrote a few years ago On Being Catholic. We are not members of the Church as much as we are Catholic. As Thomas Merton wrote: “We must know the truth, and we must love the truth we know, and we must act according to the measure of our love.” (italics in original) We act on the basis of what we know to be true. That is the goal I wish to achieve here: to try to explore, at least in my own mind, how that is done in a society that is no longer Christian but nihilist. I want to try to explore the “why” question, rather than the “who, what, where, when, how” questions. I think that, instead of doing this lately I have taken more of an apologetic approach, not that this is inappropriate to what I wanted to do, but it is not all I wanted to do. So, I hope you will see a bit of a different focus here over the next weeks and months.

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A List of new blogs that have caught my attention recently:

A Lowly Pilgrim

Notes to Myself

Catholicism, spirituality and holiness

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I may, over the next few days, be offering some comments on my reading of Merton so I would like to offer another caution. I do not do well when I attempt to comment directly on things I read. For some reason it is common for me, when asked if I liked a book and if so why to be able to master little more than “Well, I dunno, I just kind of liked it.” I stand in awe of book reviewers. This trait seems to be hard wired in my mind. I hope to do better here, but bear with me in my weakness.

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Finally, I have let the Barrister make all the responses to the comments from Andy and Matt Moore. I hope, over the next day or so, to offer a couple of my own.

PRAYER FOR THE DAY

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(From Daily E-Pistle)

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me
here, ever this day be at my side to light and guard, to rule and
guide. Amen

New Blogs and Merton

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There are a couple of new blogs that have caught my attention recently. One, The Lowly Pilgrim, I have already done a brief post about. The other Catholicism, holiness, and spirituality is a new blog that also shows promise. The thing that caught my attention, even caught me by surprise, with both of these blogs is that they each prominently feature references to Thomas Merton. You might be asking why I find this surprising.

As I previously posted, Merton played a big role in my conversion. While I was in RCIA I read many of his books, especially The Seven Story Mountain, and continued such reading for a year or two after coming into the Church. Merton was one of the few Catholic authors I was familiar with; since I wanted to learn all I could about being Catholic he was the guy I turned to. However, as I came to better understand Church teaching, I became increasingly uncomfortable with Merton. The problem, of course, was his later writing dealing with Eastern spirituality. This fascination of his seemed impossible to me to reconcile with the idea that he was, after all, a Catholic priest. He seemed, toward the end of his life, to have been cut loose from his spiritual moorings. It also thought that, as a guy trying to be an orthodox Catholic, I should no longer bother with Fr. Louis Merton.

I had pretty much adhered to this resolution until just in the last couple of months when, browsing through my bookshelves, I came up my Merton books and I happened to pick up The Ascent to Truth. As I began to read the book I found that it was really a very good book and I also received an added bonus: I began for the first time, to gain some slight insight into the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Then, low and behold, I stumbled across two blogs in the same week that unashamedly feature, as I said, references to Thomas Merton. Could I possibly have been wrong about Merton? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The problem is, I'm not sure I understand Merton very well. What drove his enthusiasm with Zen and other Eastern spirituality? Was he somehow just caught up in the spirit of the '60s and being of an artistic bent couldn't help it? Did he ever renounce his Catholic faith (perhaps a better way to put it is, did he, in effect, abandon it?} In any case, what in the world got into him? Merton is a huge enigma to me, how can a man be a Catholic priest, a Trappist, and at the same time, seem to be so into the culture of his time? Did he really go wrong? I have not found a satisfactory biography of Merton and have never read much criticism about him that would provide an explanation. Perhaps some of you have greater insight into him than I do, any thoughts would be appreciated.

Re reading The Ascent to Truth, I am reminded that, a one time early in his life, Merton was surely a faithful Catholic. I was also reminded reading this book, what a really good writer he was, and there can be no doubt about that.

So, with the, I'm sure, unintended encouragement of my two new fellow bloggers I first am going to go back and re read The Ascent to Truth right through and then, perhaps read a few other of his books. This may be one time when I have been wrong to avoid an author.

P.S. A further note on Phillip Yancy. I do not recommend that any Catholic read any of his books. I believe that my initial impression of the trouble with his work was somewhat mistaken. I was under the impression that the difficulty is that his writing reflects a highly deficient understanding of the meaning of the Church. After reading the first few pages of Soul Survivor my wife pointed out that he seems to harbor some bitterness toward something that happened in his early church experience; this has also turned him into a bit of a PC type Christian -- the worse part is that the bitterness is what shows through in his writing.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Ron Moffat in October 2003.

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