Ron Moffat: February 2006 Archives

Of Interest


From Lee Podles over at Mere Comments:

Nineteen priests in Canada have signed a public letter disagreeing with Catholic teaching on homosexuality, especially with the new Vatican directive on admission of homosexuals to the seminary and with the paper the Canadian bishops' conference has issued opposing gay marriage, according to La Presse.

The bishop concerned won't consider disciplining these confused gentlemen; preferring silence, I presume. That makes the last paragraph of this post especially interesting:

The Vatican appoints bishops who have non-confrontational personalities, and then is surprised when they will not confront problems, and instead pretend the problems do not exist.

All I can say is, if these guys don't want to be Catholic, why don't they go join the UU's?

On an entirely different note, these March weather proverbs from the Old Farmers Almanac

So many mists in March we see,
So many frosts in May will be.
A peck of March dust is worth a king's ransom.

The March sun lets snow stand on a stone.

Better to be bitten by a snake than to feel the sun in March.

In March much snow,
To plants and trees much woe.

Lenten Preparation


As I have said many times before, I have the attention span of a gnat. I can become interested in a topic and spend some time studying a topic and then something else comes up and I get interested in that and forget about the first thing, then a new idea comes to my attention and, well you get the idea. Part of the problem is that, I usually work more than a 40 hour week, and time off is in short supply, and there are so many things I like to do. And, too, I am still plugging away at the mystery novel, and that takes a good deal of time. Whatever the reason, the lack of focus has, for sure, been apparent here, because my posting, when I bother to post, has been of a wide variety of type and subject.

I was thinking about this and wondering what I would do to change it. Then, it ocurred to me that, at least some things I like to write about are not things that would attract a wide audience, or even be of much interest, to many others. Then, (I had a bit of free time today and really allowed my mind to rove), then, I thought, well, what am I most interested in?

I decided to try a little experiment to find out, so I bought a three pack of Moleskine softcover notebooks and decided to devote one to a daily listing of things that catch my attention during the day. If I can manage to be faithful to the practice this might be a dandy Lenten penance, with the added benefit that I might discern a predominant pattern and try to focus on that for the blog. First thing I did in my new notebook was try a preliminary list of things I really find interesting. Here it is, items listed not necessary in the order of importance.

1. Catholic Apologetics:
2. Poetry (a newly developing area of reading):
3. The relationship between science and religion (notice I said “relationship” and not “tension”);
4. Darwinism (evolutionary) vs. Intelligent Design (I’m afraid I come down on the ID side);
5. American history:

a. Colonial period
b. WW II military
c. Early National, through Jackson

6. Reformation history;
7. Moral theology, especially the virtues;
8. Mystery writing;
9. Monasticism, especially the Desert Fathers;
10. The Church.

As for my first entries in my new notebook, I came across three or four items on the web today.

First, there was a Zenit story about a statement Benedict XV made on Lenten penance today, a portion of which read:

Benedict XVI says that Lent is not a "heavy obligation" but rather a time of renewal for those who have found in Jesus the meaning of life.

The Pope spoke of preparing for Easter to the thousands gathered today in St. Peter's Square to pray the midday Angelus. The Holy Father commented on Mark 2:18-20, from the day's liturgy, in which Christ explains why his apostles did not fast.

They "cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them," the Pope said, quoting Christ, "they will fast when the bridegroom is taken from them."

With these words, Christ revealed "his identity of Messiah, Israel's bridegroom, who came for the betrothal with his people," explained Benedict XVI.

"Those who recognize and welcome him are celebrating. However, he will have to be rejected and killed precisely by his own: At that moment, during his Passion and death, the hour will come of mourning and fasting," explained the Bishop of Rome, showing out the meaning of Lent.

"As a whole, it constitutes a great memorial of the Lord's passion, in preparation for the Easter resurrection," he continued. "During this period the 'Alleluia' is not sung and we are invited to practice appropriate forms of penitential denial."

The Lenten season "must not be faced with an 'old' spirit, as if it were a heavy and tedious obligation, but with the new spirit of the one who has found in Jesus and his paschal mystery the meaning of life, and feels that everything must make reference to him," the Pope exhorted.

Closely related to this was two posts coming from Steven at Flos Carmeli, here and here. The first was a short note in which he pointed out that, instead of trying to decide what we need or want to give up for Lent, a better approach would be to pray and ask God what He would like us to do. Wonderful, and very obvious idea. Why didn’t I think of that?

The other was a caution not to get discouraged if your fail in your chosen Lenten penance, simply because you will fail. The thing to do is just pick up and start again. Again, a very simple, and useful reminder.

The thing about all three of these items is that they correspond to the pattern of spiritual advice that would come from any advisor coming from the heart of the church – their advice is steeped in Wisdom. These ideas are very wise and very practical; they meet us where we are and point us, simply, in the right direction.

The last item is that, while I had some time to kill after work today, I picked up a book by Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way. I think I might use this for my Lenten reading.

Anyway, that’s a brief run down of my first day’s listing of items of interest. I don’t know if I’ll post this everyday, I will do my best to keep the notebook current. I guess we’ll see how this goes.

Devotional Blogs, II


I've been thinking about the topic of Catholic devotional blogs and one question that comes to mind is, just what is a devotional blog? One reason the question arises is the difference between the blogs nominated in that category in this year's Catholic Blog Awards.

I suppose a piece of devotional writing is meant to inspire and encourage us in our faith, and all the blogs nominated certainly do that. Then I got to thinking about faith.

The Catechism has this to say in paragraph 158:

"Faith seeks understanding": it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love. The grace of faith opens "the eyes of your hearts" to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation: that is, of the totality of God's plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the center of the revealed mystery. "The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood." In the words of St. Augustine, "I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe."

Many people think that faith is opposed to reason, or at least independent of reason. After all, faith is the acceptance of something we can't "know" with certainty is true. When I say we can't know that faith is true, I mean our understanding of God's plan of salvation is based on the fact that our knowledge of that plan comes from a highly reliable source. It is not something we can go into a lab to prove, or send a spacecraft out into the universe to measure. We can know that there is a God just by examining the world around us, but we can't know that he is infinite, eternal, all Good and that he sent His Son to die for us on the cross except that He tells us so -- and we take Him at His Word.

So faith is a virtue, a habitus, because it is, at bottom something we do. It is an active thing, not a passive thing; it seeks understanding. Yet, it can never achieve understanding. Faith can only take us so far, then grace must take over; this same idea, by the way, is true of all the virtues, we have to do our part so that we can be open to the grace that proceeds from the Holy Spirit. And the more we are open to the Spirit, the more we wish to learn, the more we grow in that virtue, whether faith, or prudence or hope or charity.

I guess it could be said that knowledge is the foundation of our interior lives; it is devotional. After all, if we are to seek the Kingdom of God, we should have a decent idea of exactly what the Kingdom of God is. I remember a press conference during the siege at Waco when officials were discussing David Koresh’s obsession with the book of Revelation. When he asked for questions at the end of his brief, one of the first ones asked was, “Where exactly do we find this book of Revelation?” Now, that is ignorance of faith; it also shows an absence of devotion in that reporter's life.

Perhaps, then, there is a sense in which every Catholic blog could or should be a devotional blog. Certainly every Catholic blog should be an attempt to offer a reason why we believe as we do. In doing so, they can help others grow in both knowledge and faith. Who knows, we might even reach people in our secular culture who had never previously considered the idea that there might be a God, much less that it makes sense to believe in Him.

The possibilities are endless, no eternal.

Devotional Blogs


Steven has an interesting post on the recent Catholic Blog Award voting; he noticed a trend that had escaped me. It seems the fewest votes cast was in the "Most Devotional" category, in which there were several highly worthly nominees.

One reason for this is that, perhaps, of necessity, a devotional blog must deal with The Permanent Things. That is, I think most popular blogs tend to devote their attention to things new and current. There is a good reason for this, most people in this day and age, like to have their "ears tickled" as St. Paul says. I've been stumped over this myself, it seems nearly impossible to come up with a topic for a post that hasn't been dealt with at least a hundred times in any one day. The things written about on a devotional blog are, of necessity, not news.

But that's the point, that the blogs nominated, i.e., the best of Catholic devotional blogs, can't be new and interesting, they are old and interesting. They keep us in touch with the past, and that's not all bad.

Steven is on a campaign to increase the voting in next year's CBA awards in "The Most Devotional" category. Count me in.

Blessed is he . . .


Mark Twain was once asked by a reporter something about understanding the Bible. Twain’s response is famous, “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts I do understand.”

I have to say, as I get older, I feel like I have a better understanding for what Twain meant; the key points in Scripture are sometimes painfully clear. Still, there’s a good deal I do puzzle over and feel that I may never understand and I wonder if maybe I should.

For example, there’s the verse in Psalm 1 that says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, no stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” It’s that last phrase that gets me every time. What does it mean, “nor sits in the seat of scoffers?” What does sitting have to do with being blessed? And who exactly is a “scoffer” and why would scoffing at something remove a person from the possibility of finding happiness, from being “blessed?”

I was thinking about this yesterday and I did have an idea.

Maybe when it says not to “sit in the seat of scoffers” not to put oneself into their shoes – don’t be one. But still, what exactly does that mean? As I thought about it, it came to me that perhaps “scoffers” is a word for those people who don’t respect anyone or anything. Maybe a “scoffer” is someone who thinks only of himself and thinks everyone else is inferior to him and his exalted intelligence, or skill, or spirituality. It could be that a “scoffer” has no idea of what is really important and seeks only his own pleasure or gratification.

And then I thought, and this is one time something in the Bible that I don’t understand bothered me, it’s easy to be a scoffer, to take things for granted, the really important things, and to refuse to be grateful for God’s gifts. Even simple things get ignored, or never noticed; a sunset, or a good breakfast, or a good night’s sleep. Maybe it means not appreciating the fact that we wake up every morning and have jobs to go to and friends to meet and talk to over a cup of coffee. Hell, maybe it means even taking the coffee for granted. I know I do that all the time.

It may be that David, in Psalm 1, is calling us to remind ourselves to be grateful for all of God’s gifts, and to try to remind ourselves to do that everyday. I don’t know if I’m on track, but I’m going to give it a try.

The Permanent Things


As I have said before, I’ve been working on writing a mystery. One of my characters in the book (which I hope might become a series) is a historian who is working on “the definitive biography of John Quincy Adams, JQA, who may have been the most brilliant man ever to serve as President of the Republic.” I chose JQA as an ongoing topic in the book/series more or less as a joke, but as I’ve begun doing research on the man, I’m coming to a greater respect and almost awe of our sixth president.

For example, JQA wrote this letter to his son, Charles Francis Adams, a few months before his death. (The letter is, of course, hand written and the old man’s hand became more unsteady and he got to the end of this brief letter and, therefore, a bit harder to read.):

Jan 1 1848

My Dear Son;

On this commencement of a new year, my thoughts intensely turn to you, to the partner of your life, to your children, and to the Giver of all good, in thanksgiving for all the blessings which you have been, and still are to me, and in fervent supplication for the favors of divine Providence upon you – one and all –Especially that you may be sustained in your incorruptible integrity through all the tasks which may be reserved for you upon earth, and that whatever may be their outcome here, of which I abate not a jot of heart and hope, you will at least be [illegible] of the approbation of your maker.

A stout heart, and clear conscience, and never despair,

Your affectionate father,

John Quincy Adams

It’s hard to imagine one of our political leaders today writing such a letter. One point that comes out of this, though, and one I think I had anticipated, is that the fathers of our country had a very different view of the meaning of the idea of the state and of political life than we do today.

I think it is clear from the recent hearings to confirm Justice Alito, that politics today is mostly viewed as a contest for personal and party advantage. A couple of days after Judge Alito’s wife walked out of the Senate Chamber in tears, one of the Democratic senators commented to the press that “We would have won Wednesday if it hadn’t been for that . . .” It’s clear that to this man the hearings to determine the fitness of a man to serve of the supreme court were not about the constitutional duty of the Senate to “advise and consent,” but rather about how the hearings played out in the press. At least for this senator, service to the country is viewed in terms of personal gain or loss and not much more.

This clearly is not how JQA viewed his own life of public service. Russell Kirk explains how JQA might look upon public service in his book The Conservative Mind when he offers this definition of conservatism:

As a working premise, nevertheless, one can observe here, that the essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity. Conservatives respect the wisdom of their ancestors . . . they are dubious of wholesale alteration. They think society is a spiritual reality, possessing an eternal life but a delicate constitution; it cannot be scrapped and recast as if it were a machine.

He goes on to list some of the key traits of a conservative, the first of which reads in part:

Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems are, at bottom, religious and moral problems. A narrow rationality, what Coleridge called the Understanding, cannot of itself satisfy human needs.”

“Political problems are, at bottom, religious and moral problems.” I think JQA would have agreed with that statement. Were he alive today, John Quincy would understand the root causes of the mess we find ourselves in right now, both in the US and in Europe. He would say our problems arise precisely because we are trying to exclude any belief in a transcendent order from our political conduct. He would say that the two realms cannot be separated so easily.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to change the current public understanding of such issues as “the separation of Church and State,” abortion “rights” and personal responsibility. One thing that I have changed my mind about is becoming active in the issues affecting my own city and state. I have thought for some time that the last thing I wanted to be involved in was politics; but I believe that idea is wrong. I am beginning to think it important to know who is running for office, Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian, and to support those who are committed to the same issues I am. Even local elections can have a huge impact on national issues.

I am posting this entry on another blog I have started called “The Permanent Things” and, as I do more research into the early history of the Republic, I may make further posts there rather than on “The 7 Habitus.” It seems, and perhaps I’m contradicting myself, that the topic of history and politics may not be quite suitable for a “Catholic” blog. For the time being, I’ll post on these topics in both places, but will try to keep them separate as time goes on.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Ron Moffat in February 2006.

Ron Moffat: January 2006 is the previous archive.

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