15 June 2013

Is Math Real?

There is an on-going debate about the ontological status of math. 

And why not? We wonder about the ontological status of all sorts of. . .things?  (Well, that begs the question. . .)

Anyway, the Realist-Antirealist debate is not limited to math. Physicists ask about the ontological status of theoretical objects all the time.  Can you say "quarks"? 

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14 June 2013

The soul of godly behavior

10th Week OT (F) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic, NOLA 

Though we have just heard the Gospel read aloud, it might be difficult for us to hear the Good News. All this talk of adultery, divorce, cutting off body parts, and getting thrown into Gehenna beg the question: what's so good about this Good News? If yesterday's and today's readings from Matthew were our only glimpse of Jesus, we could easily come away believing that our Lord is a sadistic busy-body bent on making our lives a scrupulous misery. Fortunately, we interpret scripture as a whole, within the whole of God's plan for our salvation and not just in slogan-size pieces. Jesus is doing more here than repeating the text of divine legislation. What's good about this evening's gospel is that our Lord is showing us the spirit of the Law. He's revealing to us the soul of godly behavior. It's one thing to act in a particularly godly way; it's quite another to act this way out of a godly motivation. Over time, it's how we think and feel about our behavior, how we come to decide to be godly people that will mark us as followers of Christ. 

True, as people who hope to follow Christ faithfully, we are obligated to imitate our Lord, but we must be more than good mimics of Jesus, holy mimes. There's no doubt that imitating Christ's behavior is vital to holiness, but physical imitation alone does little more than make us good actors not good Christians. To be a good Christian requires me to motivate my bodily actions with nothing other than a deeply-held desire to give glory to God. I can be secondarily motivated by compassion for the homeless, pity for the sick, sympathy for those in jail, but the motive that matters most is my desire to share in and share out that portion of God's glory that He shines into me. The reason that giving glory to God matters most is simple: my compassion, my pity, my sympathy too easily become mine alone and my motives can quickly turn selfish. Even though I am only able to be compassionate b/c God has shown me compassion, the human tendency to ego-boosting makes it almost impossible for me not to make my good works All About Me. So, to avoid making myself into my own idol, I do the good work I have vowed to do, but I do it only b/c I desire that God's Word, His glory, His mercy be better known to the world. 

When Jesus tells us that our motives for murder, adultery, divorce matter more than the behaviors themselves, he's not telling us that the behaviors are somehow OK. He's telling us that in the long-run, for the long-term benefit our souls, it's most important that we pay attention to why we behave as we do. A murderer who murders out of imitation is in much less danger of spiritual suicide than a alms-giver who gives out of his need for public attention. Why? Because the murderer can be shown that he is doing evil and brought to repentance, while the selfish alms-giver truly believes that b/c she is doing good her motives don't matter. To the world, her motives don't matter. To those who receive her alms, her motives don't matter. But to Christ—who loves her—her motives matter a great deal. It's the condition of her immortal soul that worries the Lord. So, he tells us all that it is better to rip out our eyes than it is to use that eye in a lustful way. Why? Because one act of adultery is far easier to repent of than a lifetime of using one's eyes to indulge a lusting heart. Here's the Good News: we are dead to sin. Paul says it perfectly: “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. I would add that we are tempted, but not taken. There is no need for us to pluck anything out or to lop anything off. Lust, pride, envy, greed, all the deadly sins are deadly to us only if we ponder on them and deliberately choose to indulge in them. Therefore, choose to hear the Lord and bring your soul to godly behavior. 
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A "Black Pope" in white

For our Lefty Catholic Friends who've been singing hymns of ecclesial democracy and dancing in the new winds of theological reform. . .Sorry, folks, but our Holy Father is not dancing with you. . .

[. . .]

Bergoglio is also a Jesuit, and by now his actions have made it clear that he intends to apply to the papacy the methods of governance typical of the Society of Jesus, where the superior general, nicknamed the “black pope,” has practically absolute power.

His reticence in attributing to himself the name of pope and his preference for calling himself as bishop of Rome have made champions of the democratization of the Church rejoice.

But theirs is a blunder. When Francis, on April 13, appointed eight cardinals “to advise him in the governance of the universal Church and to study a project for the revision of the Roman curia,” he selected them according to his own judgment.

[. . .]

In early October the eight will be gathered around the pope. They will deliver to him a sheaf of proposals. He will be the one to decide. Alone.

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Let the hammer fall!

Linked from New Advent:

"Watch closely, Catholic leaders: Australian Chief of Army demonstrates how you address sex abuse."

BAM!  Exactly right.  Kudos to the Chief for keeping his cool. I would not have been able to do.

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13 June 2013

We cannot do this on our own

10th Week OT (Th) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Our Holy Father caused a bit of a stir a few days ago when he reportedly told a group of visiting religious that some traditionalist Catholics tend toward the Pelagian heresy, while some progressive Catholics tend toward the heresy of Gnosticism. Just yesterday, we learned that we don't really know what he said, or even if he said anything at all. Regardless, just the report that the Holy Father may have mentioned these two heresies has been enough to reignite interest in both of these ancient yet enduring theological oddities. Very briefly, Gnosticism is the idea that we are saved by the acquisition of specific, secret knowledge—salvation by knowing. Pelagianism is the idea that, despite the Fall, we are still capable of choosing good over evil without God's help—salvation by works. When Jesus tells the disciples that their righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees, he's admitting that the Pharisee are righteous and that some part of being righteousness is about obeying the Law. However, to be a follower of Christ is to be surpassingly righteous, to excel in being something more than just a Law-abiding Christian. What is that Something More that we must master? And how do we begin to acquire it? 

The 5th century British monk, Pelagius, denied that Adam and Eve's disobedience tainted human nature with Original Sin. Beyond setting a bad example, the Fall had no real spiritual consequences, no lasting effect on whether or not we to be choose good or evil. Had Pelagius' views won the day instead of Augustine's, we would all be functional pagans with the Church's blessing. How so? Basically, ancient pagans believed that the gods directly interacted with mortals only rarely and usually by invitation only.* Sacrifices were performed not only to assuage divine anger but also to keep the gods from nosing around in one's business. Pelagius' views on the effects of the Fall leave Christians pretty much among their pagan neighbors as de facto pagans themselves: striving to be good while avoiding the notice of God, calling upon His help only when things become dire. Now, this particular idea—God only needs to make an appearance when I need Him—is indeed both ancient and new. How many of us are functional pagans when it comes to our daily interactions with the Divine? How many of us believe that righteousness is a state we ourselves work for by being Good Boys and Girls? 

Jesus wants the disciples (and us) to be Good Boys and Girls, but he wants our righteousness to surpass the merely Pelagian righteousness of the Law-abiding Pharisees. “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. . .” Jesus seems to saying here that anger is spiritually equivalent to murder. No. He's saying that both anger and murder will see us liable to judgment. Under the Law, only murder gets you in trouble. Under the New Covenant, anger—the motive for murder—can hurt you as well. In other words, contra Pelagius, it's not just our deeds that cause us spiritual damage, or grant us benefit. How we think, feel, and choose our deeds goes into the equation as well. If this is true, then we must look to God's grace constantly. Not just when we think we need Him, but every moment of every day, we must persistent in calling upon the Lord for His divine assistance, asking to receive from Him every good gift He has to give us. We can nothing good without Him, so the only way for us to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees is to turn our heart and minds toward Him; repent our sins, and take in His mercy with thanksgiving. We are not functional pagans. We cannot do this on our own. 

*I realize that the relationship btw ancient pagans and their gods was far more complicated than this, but generally speaking, what I've said here is true.

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12 June 2013

No, the Pope didn't say that. . .

Figures. . .

In response to media flurry, the Latin American Confederation of Men and Women Religious (CLAR) released a statement on June 11 claiming that the assertion of a gay lobby at the Vatican “cannot be attributed with certainty to the Holy Father.”

[. . .]

The same source claims that the Pope also said that “the reform of the Roman curia is something that almost all of us cardinals requested during the congregations previous to the conclave. I also did. I cannot personally make that reform, with these managerial issues... I am too unorganized; I have never been good at that. But the Cardinals of the committee will carry it out.”

[. . .]

Regarding the decision of “Reflexión y liberación” [a leftist Chilean paper] to publish the story, CLAR says that “in fact, no authorization was requested.” 

“It is clear that, based on these facts, it cannot be attributed with certainty to the Holy Father, the specific expression contained in the text, but only in its general sense.”

[. . .]

Which means everything else reported about the conversation is probably false too. 

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Promise Fulfilled

NB. Here's today's excuse:  went to dinner with a friend last night and sat in the restaurant drinking iced tea for 2.5 hrs. . .so, at around 2.00am I finally drifted off to sleep. Woke up at 4.30am. Thus, the following Borrowed Homily from last year. . .mea culpa.

10th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

When first century Christians were first discovered by their pagan neighbors, they were described as Jewish sectarians. In fact, most of the earliest Jewish disciples of the Way understood themselves to be Jews who were following the Law and the Prophets by following Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah. Scattered throughout the Gospel accounts of Christ's public ministry, particularly his teaching, we read sentences like, “He said this/did this so that the scriptures might be fulfilled.” In the Creed, we declare that Jesus' birth, trial, death, and resurrection happened secúndum Scriptúras—“in accordance with the Scriptures,” meaning that he fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The intimate and indissoluble relationship between the Old and New Covenants is most clearly seen in the Last Supper. Jesus transforms the thanksgiving bread and wine of Passover into his body and blood for our Eucharist. He teaches us the most perfect means of returning to our Father, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” 

The Catechism presents a concise description of the relationship between the Old and New Testament, “[The OT] prophesies and [foreshadows] the work of liberation from sin which will be fulfilled in Christ: it provides the New Testament with images, 'types,' and symbols for expressing the life according to the Spirit. . .The Law of the Gospel 'fulfills,' refines, surpasses, and leads the Old Law to its perfection. In the Beatitudes, the New Law fulfills the divine promises by elevating and orienting them toward the 'kingdom of heaven'”(nos.1964-6). Yesterday, we read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus lays out a means for participating in God's beauty through acts of charity. When we embody His love and behave in a loving way toward others, we actively take part in Love Himself and achieve blessedness. The whole purpose of the Mosaic Law was to give God's chosen people a concrete means of acting in the world for their own good and the good of others. The Prophets were sent to preach and prophesy the spirit of the Law: as former slaves who were delivered from bondage by your God, do not think and treat others as slaves; think of and treat everyone as members of your family. 

Jesus fulfills this prophecy by successively transforming us from slaves of sin; to students of holiness; to friends of the Master; to brothers and sisters; and finally, into co-heirs of his Father's Kingdom! If we hope to take advantage of the most perfect means of returning to our Father, we must start by receiving His gift of mercy and throw off the chains of sin. Once freed from sin, we enroll in Christ's school of holiness to study the ways of charity and peace. When we have learned the basics of loving God, self, and neighbor, and how to live with one heart and mind, we begin to explore the love found in a friendship with God through Christ. Friends then become brothers and sisters through adoption into the family of God, and siblings become the inheritors of the treasuries of the heavenly household. This plan for returning to the Father has been the plan since the beginning. And none of it has changed. None of it has been abolished. Christ came not to abolish the plan but to fulfill it, to make it possible for us to start and finish our perfection through him, with him, and in him. Not only do we give God thanks and praise in this morning's Eucharist, we also take part in his sacrificial love for us. He surrenders himself to death so that we might be holy. Rise, then, from the death of sin and go be holy!

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11 June 2013

Pelagians and the Pantheists. . .oh my!

from Catholic Culture:

During his conversation with the CLAR representatives, the Pope reportedly said that he was troubled by two different currents within the Church: a Pelagian tendency, which he saw in some traditionalist groups, and Gnostic or pantheist trends that he had seen in some women’s religious communities. He also expressed concern that some religious orders have been unable to attract new vocations—perhaps suggesting that “the Holy Spirit does not want them to keep going.” 

I've encountered both the Pelagian and pantheist tendencies in my short time as a Dominican friar.

While working in Campus Ministry at U.D. I regularly bumped into students who believed that they had to work overtime to earn God's love.  My first few months in the pulpit were aimed directly at this heresy.

I've also met many pantheists among religious. It's a strange combo of progressive fascism, religious syncreticism, pop-psychology, and radical feminism, all neatly wrapped up in the trendy "New Universe Story" mythology.

The difference btw the Pelagians and the Pantheists I've met is this:  the Pelagians were 18, 19, 20 year old college students who didn't know any better. . .the Pantheists were well-seasoned religious who knew exactly what they were doing.

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10 June 2013

Your reward will be great. . .

NB.  So, I'm sitting here at 5.45am, casually composing a homily for the 8.30am Mass at St. Dom's and then it hits me:  I have the 7.00am at OLR!  Thus, is my excuse for the homily below:

10th Week OT (M) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Way back when I was a religious skeptic and hipster agnostic, one of the most damning criticisms of the Christianity that I'd ever heard was that belief in an afterlife dangerously focused the hearts and minds of the poor and oppressed on some promised “pie in the sky,” causing them to meekly accept their poverty and oppression in exchange for a better life after death. So, when my Marxist-feminist professors railed against the economic injustices of capitalism and the subjugation of women under western patriarchy, I knew that traditional Christianity was an accomplice to these crimes against humanity. The Church's promise of paradise was nothing more than a means of keeping po'folks and women in their places here on earth. And there was no better explanation of this scheme than the one found in the Sermon on the Mount. The whole thing reeks of Be Meek, Be Humble, and Be Quiet Right Now and Sometime in the Way Distant Future You Will Be Rewarded for Not Demanding Your Rightful Place at the Table Among Your Betters. Nietzsche was absolutely correct. Christianity is a slave's religion, a fable for sheep. 

This line of criticism is not easy to dismiss. After all, Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. . .” After you have suffered persecution, trial, and death for his name's sake. Why can't our reward in heaven be great for just being who we are, for just being really nice to our neighbors and generous to our friends? It's good to know that the grieving will be comforted and that the clean of heart will see God and that the merciful will be shown mercy. . .but doesn't all that just mean that we'll be treated with the same dignity as everyone else? And, I'm sorry, but knowing that the prophets who came before us were persecuted is not all that reassuring. Misery might love company but given the misery involved, I'd like to request a different sort of company. Given the choice, I'd prefer to hang out with the Beautiful People: the wealthy, the well-educated, the talented; those who understand that being blessed is all about enjoying those blessings while they are still alive to enjoy them. All this talk of being blessed after I'm dead makes me wonder why anyone would buy into this system called “Christianity.” Why can't my reward be great right now? Why do I have to wait until I get to heaven, assuming such a place exists at all? 

Our lives here on earth aren't just about living in the spirit, living for heaven as if we have nothing to do while we're “down here.” If living in ignorance of the spiritual world is dangerous, so is living as if the material world doesn't matter. We are rational animals who thrive in both the spiritual and the material worlds. As a philosophy, only Christianity offers a way of living fully as both material beings and spiritual beings. The Sermon on the Mount isn't a sermon about suffering now so that we might rejoice later on. Jesus is teaching the crowd that suffering is a hard fact of our material lives. Living in the spirit of charity with our eyes firmly focused on the hope of the resurrection isn't an escape from suffering, it's the only way to make sense of an otherwise senseless burden. Our suffering now has a end, a divine purpose. And that purpose is to encourage us—in our suffering—to bring encouragement to others who suffer. Misery loves company, true. But the company of Christ who suffered for us can redeem misery in this life. Redeem it, not end it. B/c suffering is how we choose to experience and use our pain, our grief, our persecution. If we choose to suffer well for others, we are redeemed and those who suffer are comforted. So, yes, blessed are the poor, the grieving, and the merciful. For their reward is great both in heaven and here on earth. 
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09 June 2013

Young Atheists: Lessons for the Church?

A fascinating article in The Atlantic. . .the subtitle of the article reads: "When a Christian foundation interviewed college nonbelievers about how and why they left religion, surprising themes emerged." 

Here's one theme that should Shock and Awe Catholic pastors, DRE's, CYO chaplains, campus ministers, and RCIA teachers: 

The mission and message of their churches was vague
These students heard plenty of messages encouraging "social justice," community involvement, and "being good," but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: "The connection between Jesus and a person's life was not clear." This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again.

As our Holy Father, Francis recently preached: No Jesus, no Church.  You can't have the Church w/o Christ, or Christ w/o the Church.
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