Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa

Past Posts of Note
Substantative, in chronological order
The Sunday obligation and illness: question, research & my answer

Denial of personhood: Dei Filius & Terri Schiavo

On Modesty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Differing with Dulles 1 & 2 on pro-abort politicians

Mad About Manuals 1 & 2

Absinthe recherches early, required reading, 2, 3, 4.

First time at an abortuary

The Maundy

TPOTC impact & analysis and more

Contraception reflections 1, 2

Meiwes, propheta, übermensch

Headship Loggerheads 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Matrix: Revolutions

Matrix: Reloaded
1, 2 & 3

Terrorist Attack Preparations, and follow-ups 1 & 2 & 3


Casuistry of Drinking

Review of Auto Focus

Parish Review 1

The Power of Shame

Biblical Hermeneutics

Ayoob on Guns

Against the Ordination of Women

Two Cents on Braveheart


Thematic Meditations

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oldoligarch @yahoo.com

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Any e-mail I receive is fair game for publication, with comments, unless you explicitly say so beforehand.

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The author of the earlier question on Baptism conveys her disappointment with the tenor of their pre-Baptism classes, which raises a pastoral question about marginally-involved Catholics into which I have absolutely no insight:

... I'm skeptical. We're answering all of the questions, and that even after giving the rest of the folks there a good 3 or 4 minutes to think about them. I suspect everyone considers this a hoop to be jumped which is a shame since we really do take seriously
our responsibility to raise our child in the faith...

I wish I could get inside the head of many of the people -- several of my family members included -- who are marginally religious, if at all, and yet they want the standard course of sacraments for themselves and their children. Hypotheses are welcome.

I suppose it's an objectified / commodified view of religion. Most I know can be fairly called "bourgeios." I can image them thinking of the Catholic religion like an odd garden tool and thinking, "Well, I don't want to get TOO involved with it, but there is a marginal utility to at least HAVING IT AROUND..."

But I don't really know for certain. I sometimes give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they haven't had good catechesis, so they feel ashamed or "too far behind" to get "caught up," yet they want to provide "the basics" for themselves and/or their kids. Yet what explains the utter passivity and mild annoyance that typifies these pre-sacramanetal meetings? I've been to a few. Instead of the odor of sanctity and the fire of religious enthusiasm, most have the spark of wet dishrags and the dank smell of mildew. The major exception has been those RCIA classes I've been privileged to attend when I known someone who is converting. Totally different atmosphere entirely.

With weddings, it's a mess and I tend to be pricklier about getting invovled with any of them when I know it's a marginally observant Catholic. Some non-practicing Catholics (in which I include the twice-a-year crowd and all cafeteria-Catholics) just want the aesthetic and social "respectability" of a "Church wedding." In my mind, better to just skip the nuptials entirely and just announce your intention to rut 'n' shack "until boredom do you part" at an appropriately posh reception. I mean, come on, who's going to mock you? The Anglicans, Our Culture's Arbiter of Tasteful Religion? They're too busy endorsing their own bishops' shameless desire to bounce between boytoys.

So I don't know what to make of it. My consolation in those moments is the parable of the sower: Take hope and scatter your own love for the Church on all those who are in the program with you. Most of it will probably not result in anything at all. Offer it up. But you never know when you will plant the seed of authentic conversion in some tepid soul. If the Lord's got a use for you, he'll send the person your way, and you'll know it.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/24/2003 11:42:00 PM | link

Hello technology-impaired Googler looking for what is it mean 6V 800mA current. If you paid attention in physics, you'd know. It means you'll feel a mild tingling sensation when you put the conductor to your tongue. Try it. It's God's little ammeter in your mouth.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/22/2003 05:51:00 PM | link

Amtrak's website now allows you to check the arrival / departure status of its trains. No more waiting at the station! http://tickets.amtrak.com/Amtrak/trainstatus?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/22/2003 05:49:00 PM | link

Ah, thank you, Dominion VA power...that's much better. (Check out their outage map if you're in the VA / NC area.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/21/2003 03:10:00 AM | link

Zorak and I are fine. Cacciaguida and family are also fine.

The hurricane has left us without power, likely to continue for a few more days - maybe a week. Our water is also polluted, for at least 2 more days. There is major flooding in Alexandria, but thankfully not here.

How does your humble Oligarch manage to post? In style, of course. I've got the power inverter plugged into the car, which is powering the 486 laptop and the 9600 baud connection on the cell phone. So I will have to be brief. Hopefully, the lights come back on soon!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/19/2003 11:59:00 PM | link

Hello, Isabel.
She's a-knockin' on my door right about now in Eastern Virginia. Winds are about 40-50 mph, rain's pouring down, power has been cutting in and out. Otherwise fine, however. The storm should be right over us in about 11 hours, sometime early Friday morning.

Zorak and I are hunkered down for the duration, until Monday. Bathtub is filled with water, plus a ten gallon tank for "utility use." I've got 5 gallons potable on hand. Food's made; emergency bag is backed. Candles and flashlights, warm clothes, and raingear is ready. Porch is stowed, computer backed up, fish tank on standby for battery power. The students are doubtless exalting that class has been cancelled for the remainder of the week.

I hope Cacciaguida et familia are doing OK down there on the coast!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/18/2003 06:22:00 PM | link

Ooooh, looky: Palestrina MP3s. (Link from Alle Psalite.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/17/2003 05:33:00 PM | link

Greetings to the Arabic Googler looking for www.old + 15 + sex. Doesn't your Qur'an have something to say against looking for that? If you click the link, you'll find that (a) Google looks weird in Arabic, and (b) I am ranked #1 for this search.

I cannot assuage the religious anxieties of the Googler looking for John Ritter trusted Jesus as Lord.

Ah yes, another hit for the ever-popular "painted b00bs."

The Matrix-inspired searcher is reminded that while Google is nearly omniscient, it's attention span is really short, so it forgets what you said after the 10th word of your search request French philosopher Jean Baudrillard whose dense book Simulacra and..."

And lastly, the Googler looking for "Quest for acceptance and understanding" will note that I only use that phrase ironically in the Bob Crane post. You will find neither here. All earnest uses of that phrase can be found at www.relativist-bogrot.com.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/17/2003 05:15:00 PM | link

Baptism question in the mailbag today. One reader writes:

After a big long post regarding random people asking you about theology, here I am, another random person with a theological question.

L.o.L. Your kind of question is a bit different than the "please help me find God! I haven't a clue!" sort of questions mentioned earlier. But I don't mind either kind.

We're in the middle of baptism classes and I'm gearing up for my defense of why in this day of immersion baptisms during the Mass do we want to have our child baptized privately and by pouring. . . . Is this more a pastoral issue with preference guiding which is more common or has there been an important development in theology is the past 25 years which says that Baptism ought to be during the Mass and done by dunking the baby into the miniature hot tub?

The usual disclaimer first: I do systematic theology, and not much sacramental theology. (I would go bonkers if I was in sacramental theo. / liturgy. The crackpot per capita ratio is far too high in that field.) But I'll give a try answering your question.

First, the rules & background:
The Vatican's Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship's General Introduction to Christian Initiation states that you may have your baby baptized either by immersion or by pouring. The CDW states that immersion is the preferred ritual, but it is not required. Pouring is still a perfectly legitimate option for you:

"22. As the rite for baptizing, either immersion, which is more suitable as a symbol of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, or pouring may lawfully be used."

The reason I've always heard for the recent increase in baptism by immersion is the same one the CDW cites here: Immersion has a fuller "sign value," i.e. its symbolism is stronger. Complete submersion symbolizes dying, and rising from the waters symbolizes the rebirth to new life in Christ. Another reason may be the trend to recover early Church sacramental forms when possible, since the early Church baptized by full immersion. (Indeed, in some places, adults were led to the baptistry nude, and then given the white garment symbolic of the purified soul as their only garment to wear during the rest of the liturgy Talk about the sign value of mortification...)

Likewise with the trend to perform baptisms during the Mass. The setting is intended to heighten everyone's awareness that baptism is not a private exchange between the baptized and God, but rather incorporation into the Church. Just as adult catechumens are normally received during the Mass (ideally on Easter vigil, Pentecost, etc.), so too recent liturgical practice prefers to extend this rationale to the baptism of children. The sheer frequency of infant baptism and the canon law which obliges parents to baptize their child within a few weeks after birth (Can. 867) impedes baptizing children in large groups on major feasts like Easter (although it is nice when possible), but usually means that once a month, there's a baptism Mass in the parish.

Your local bishop may have particular law governing some specifics of how baptisms are conducted in your diocese, since the CDW explicitly permits ordinaries to modify certain rules.

My two cents:
I don't mind baptism during Sunday Mass. The negatives are purely accidental in my mind: It can encourage the usual showmanship / self-indulgent behavior of some clergy who don't know how to handle the transition to the baptismal rite in the middle of Mass. If it takes too long, people get fidgety. It can make the affair seem less intimate for the parents & god-parents.

If your celebrant has discretion and sensitivity, none of these problems need arise. I enjoy the "sign value" of the entire congregation, and indeed, it is the only time I've ever heard appropriate clapping in church. That said, nearly all the baptisms I've attended have been outside of Mass, and I think it's a tertiary issue to argue about whether 20-30 people have better "sign value" than the few hundred which consist of your average Sunday Mass congregation.

Regarding immersion, there's some issues. First off, the tradition is full immersion. This is obviously something most pastors feel more comfortable doing with adults, not newborns. Reservations about fully immersing the child can lead to a mere dipping. This can be problematic, depending on how the immersion is done.

Insofar as I understand the issue, it is important that the head be immersed in the water. I've seen this tastefully done by reclining the baby on his back and lowering him far enough into the font so that the water rises up to his head, but doesn't cover the mouth and nose. But I've also heard about baptisms where the baby's legs and bottom are dipped into the water, and no contact is made with the head at all -- this is bad. I do not know about the liciety or validity of this practice. Play it safe and make sure your celebrant will insure that your baby's head makes contact with the water.

That is why in the baptism of adults in smaller, "hot tub"-sized fonts only a few feet deep, the priest will still scoop up water and pour it over the baptizandus' head, or bend him over so that his head also enters the water, a truly awkward maneuver in most small walk-in fonts.

Baptism by pouring avoids all of these kinds of problems. IMHO, the "sign value" gained by full immersion is lessened to the point of worthlessness if the whole thing is completely awkward (i.e. two grown men struggling in a tiny bathtub), and the sign value is null if the practice is illicit! (I do not know if any recent document has spoken about the status of the practice of only "dipping" the baby without the water making contact with the head. You may want to check websites like catholicliturgy.com)

As is often the case with trends in emphasis, I get annoyed at two things: 1) One aspect is emphasized while others are neglected, and 2) the emphasis gets implemented in an irregular way because nobody can seem to resist the urge to tweak the liturgy these days.

Passing over (2), I wish that whomever decided to restore immersion also paid attention to other aspects of the rite:

What about the "sign value" of the second anointing (with chrism) as priest, prophet and king? One would think that even popularists would have jumped at the opportunity to emphasize the priesthood of all believers here. And doesn't this stand in organic connection with the emphasis on "rising with Christ" in immersion? Taking on Christ's munus triplex is the next natural step after rising with Him.

The minor exorcism at the beginning of the ritual is so emaciated, no one knows it is there. This is probably intentional on the part of those moderns who think mention of evil spirits and exorcism is a relic of the past.

Ratzinger has some truly ringing criticisms of other minor changes in the rite. (I read them in his Principles of Catholic Theology, but don't buy the book. It's a thrown-together, eclectic collection of essays. More sketches than substance.) His criticisms include the positivist banality of the new question-and-answer exchange between priest and parents. E.g., when asked, "What is it that you desire of God's Church for your child?" the present ritual has the parents answering, "Baptism" rather than the older form, "Faith." In my mind, the emphasis upon the communal nature of faith added by baptizing during the Mass is reduced by the aforementioned revision. (Here again, the motivation seems to be in line with the modernist mindset which insists that faith is an entirely notional decision of the atomistic individual -- the same view of faith that leads them to encourage, contrary to canon law, the practice of postponing baptism until the child is "older" and "can make up his own mind.")

Ratzinger also has some nice commentary about the value of the ephphatha ritual (the "opening" of the ears and mouth), which is usually passed over as well.

Lastly, if we're talking about sign-value here, why are some immersion fonts truly ridiculous in appearance? I mention this because you call yours "a miniature hot tub." If there's a nice pedestal-style font available as an alternative, having a dignified location for the sacrament is certainly a valid factor in your preference for baptism by pouring. (I wouldn't try this argument with your pastor, however, unless you know he hates the hot tub too.)

Bottom line:
Baptism by pouring is a legal option. It has not been forbidden. Immersion is preferred, on the basis of its "sign value." But I think there are plenty of grounds for preferring pouring, and you can assure your pastor that due care is being given to the sign-value of baptism in the pouring ritual. I do not know how to proceed with your particular priest. Call your desire for pouring a "pastoral need" of yours -- everybody else has them.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/17/2003 01:53:00 PM | link

Rain-X: Great Car Product
Tested by a cranky man who insists the product delivers perfectly what it claims, easily, the first time.)

If you have an older car (like I do), this product is for you. Consider it Armor-All for your windshield and other windows.

I used to complain that visibility through my windshield was poor when it rained. I blamed it on my wipers for a while, but even after replacing them, I didn't get good results. Closer inspection of my windshield revealed what is probably the case for many of you out there driving older cars: the glass has lots of tiny scratches and pores from taking a beating from dirt flying through the air at 60 mph. Water clings easily to porous glass, and lays in flat sheets, streaking when wiped, etc.

So on a tip from weather.com, I decided to try Rain-X. It's fast, it's cheap, and it works great. It is basically wax for your windshield. It fills all those miniscule scratches and makes the whole surface hydrophobic and slick. Rain just flies off. I was amazed at the difference it made for my car. The company has to be cautious making this claim (because of litigious idiots), but it is true: it works so well, you don't need your wipers when driving over 35 mph. A moderate rain just blows right off the windshield without help. Of course, you probably want to use the wipers, anyway.

I bought the 16oz spray bottle, which is more than enough to do all the windows in my mid-size car about 10 times. You don't need that much. Just clean your windows well (I used Windex, then water), wait until they are dry, spray the Rain-X on a clean cloth, and buff it into the surface of the glass with some vigor like you're waxing your car. It dries in 2-3 minutes on a warm, sunny day, making a light haze on the window. Reapply, just to get a good coat, then let dry again. Rub it off with a different clean cloth. Viola!

I found that buffing it off requires a few passes. Like any wax, a heavy application means more rubbing-off, but it also means you can put a nice finish on it. When removing, use circles the first time, then go back and forth horizontally. The wax is crystal-clear, but if you view the window from a glancing angle, it might have a very slight "greasy" look on the surface at first. Don't worry about it. After a few days, it goes away, and you can't notice it looking directly through the glass (i.e. looking perpendicular to the surface). Alternatively, once it's dry and you've buffed it once, sprinkle a little water on the glass, and wipe it down good once again. Any greasiness should be gone.

You'll notice immediately that water beads up into tiny beads on your windshield. A small wind blows them right off. There's no more streaking from your wipers (provided they're in good shape in the first place). If you're like me, and need empirical proof, do half your windshield first, or treat your windshield and not your back window. You'll see a big difference.

I had to hunt for the product, even online. Hector's Hardware offers the 16oz bottle for $8.99. Hector's not kidding when he says he ships fast.

I also bought the Rain-X anti-fog product listed below it. I've applied it to some of my internal windows (only some, to compare), but weather conditions haven't permitted me to verify whether it really cuts down on the windows fogging up. The anti-fog is applied pretty much the same way (to your interior window surfaces), and was easy to use. Maybe the hurricane tomorrow will provide me with more data.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/17/2003 12:47:00 PM | link

The Insightful Hazards of Being a Lay Theologian

Fifty years ago it would have been very unusual to be what I am: A lay Catholic theologian. Not a minister. Not a priest. But a theologian. Most theologians were ordained.

Nowadays, we tend to look at the frequent intersection of the priestly and theological vocations as an historical accident, or luxury of the priest-abundant pre-conciliar era. Both the academy and the episcopacy seem to be comfortable with the idea of the non-sacerdotal, non-pastoral office of theologian. On a professional level, there is a comfortable, well-established division of labor between pastor and doctor. In theory, I do my academic work in the school room, and the clergy dispense the sacraments and serve as doctors of the heart in the parish.

The average layman usually casts this distinction completely aside. It's not a case of a Protestant mistaking me for a minister, although that sometimes that happens. People learn that I'm a Catholic theologian, and then they immediately ask me for really gritty pastoral advice or badly-needed spiritual direction. This happens to me all the time.

Example: A few weekends ago, I went out to celebrate Eve and Shamed's birthdays with them and some other Washingtonian friends. Our travels took us to a Thai food place in Dupont Circle, my old stomping grounds, and then to the magnificent Brickskellar.

At one point in the evening, I leave the table on a trip to the men's room. I am absent for 5 . . . 10 . . . 15 minutes. My friends are probably wondering whether I have sneaked into the back room to marvel at the 800-something different kinds of beer. But inevitably, someone else from our party runs into me: I'm talking religion to somebody I've met at the bar in the hallway. He's locked onto me intensely, and clearly isn't going to break off the conversation with a chit-chatty "Well nice to meet you" since he is talking about something existentially relevant. A few minutes later, Eve comes by, knows what's up, and smiles and nods sympathetically. I return in five more minutes -- only to get pen and paper. A half hour later, I'm finally back.

"What was that?" someone asks. My wife already has a general idea of the category, but I fill in the details. "Interesting guy. Raised pretty much without any formal training in religion, but hungry for God. He has a curious angle of approach: He thinks people today don't reflect honestly enough about the reality of guilt and moral responsibility. He had some insightful experiences with Buddhist monks growing up, and ran into a Catholic priest in college with whom he still trades letters, but far less frequently than he'd like. Has a dozen questions about Catholicism and the spiritual life. Moreover, he doesn't hate the Church because of the "priest scandals." He was singing an Irish tune in the john, and I knew what it was. He asked if I was Irish, and I said no, but our college chaplain is. He of course asks what I study. I reply that I teach theology." 25 minutes later, I am sorting out this stranger's important life moments with him and trying to give him whatever help I can in his quest for God.

This is not a random occurrence. This happens to me all the time. In the beginning, I thought it was random. There are some people who will tell anyone who will listen absolutely every aspect of their entire life story. I am not talking about people like that. Nor am I talking about kooks, although I get them, too. I am talking about psychologically balanced people that I meet anywhere: in the dentist's office, at the grocery store, in the taxicab, on the train, etc. When people find out I'm a theologian, they often start asking me for spiritual guidance -- on the spot.

I don't solicit this kind of attention, either. In fact, I try to avoid it. I am frequently overwhelmed when, in the midst of shopping for vegetables, someone hauls out the problem of evil and asks me to deal with it in five minutes so that they can be at peace with this nagging issue in their heart. I don't do well with "switching gears" suddenly, on top of all the subtleties required when talking to a stranger.

But in the course of any polite conversation that lasts longer than 30 seconds, someone usually asks you what you do. I say, "I'm a grad student," or "I teach at a college. What do you do?" and hope to leave it at that. But the next question is inevitably, "What subject?" After I say "Theology," I know within seconds whether I will be able to move on, or whether we have just broached a long conversation.

The questions I'm asked vary widely, but they all share certain basic aspects: They all require great care on my part, they all touch on some profound aspect of God and His Church, and they all could be much easier to answer if I knew the person. Questions I have been asked in the past include:

Why doesn't the Catholic Church ordain women?

Why did God permit my mother to get cancer and die when I needed her so much?

What do you think about the Pope?

I'm a Catholic woman engaged to a Jewish man. He's willing to have a priest marry us, but he wants to include Jewish rituals to make his family happy. What's appropriate?

I used to be Catholic until: insert some depressing story about a(malicious / ignorant / overbearing / vapid) priest or nun from their childhood. What do you think of that?

Why can't I receive communion in the Catholic Church?

Have you ever read . . . (insert some awful recent book about the Church)?

There are a few conclusions that I draw from this recurring experience. I am sure there are more to draw, if only I was more reflective. (I don't feel like I've gotten to the bottom of it yet.)

1) The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few! I feel so humbled and inadequate when I realize what's going on in many instances: Person X, standing in front of me, has a profound curiosity about the Catholic faith, or about Christianity in general, but has not ever really met a Catholic who knows his faith well enough to talk about it earnestly for an hour. My wife has graciously come to terms with what this means: Wherever I am, I must stop and talk to this person. I can't brush them off when I'm clearly their only point of contact with the Church, for whatever reason. (I begin to get a small sense of what it must be like for a priest who is always on call, no matter where he is or what he is doing, but thankfully, I am less conspicuous!)

This is depressing insofar as it points to the abysmal state of Catholic catechesis in this country. So little of the Faith is understood on a rudimentary level, and there is increasingly less context for such an understanding in an ever more secular world.

But increasing secularization doesn't seem to mean increasing disinterest in the Church, at least in my experience. Rather, the appetite for God is still there, but there are far fewer occasions to satisfy it. This is a very hopeful situation viewed from the perspective of the resurgence of orthodox Catholic apologetics directed toward those both inside and outside the faith. While some people have had horrible glancing exposures to Catholicism (which can confuse in a way that is worse than no exposure at all), many are genuinely interested in a solid presentation of the faith from square one. The orthodox apologists of steak-and-potatoes, full-bore Church doctrine will have no shortage of hungry intellects to feed, especially when what they offer is rich compared to the watery gruel slopped out by the vaguely Catholic feel-good generation.

But sometimes even the scantiest scrap of information is enough, be it gruel or potatoes. Take this example from when I took advantage of a professional situation in a secular academy: I was asked to pinch-hit for a history faculty member who suddenly could not teach Western Civ I at the community college during a summer session. During the section of the course which dealt with the early Middle Ages, I decided to depart "from script" for a lecture and give a lecture on the incredible contributions of Medieval monastery life to European culture during this era. At the end of the course, a young woman, a sophomore, comes up to me and says, "You know, professor, I was raised Catholic . . . " (I shudder instinctively. This phrase almost always begins something bad.) " . . . and after 12 years in Catholic school, I never knew what monks were, or what they did. That was cool. Monks are fascinating." My presentation, I remind you, was probably the most guardedly non-sectarian presentation I could give in 75 minutes.

2) Many people aren't getting adequate pastoral instruction even within their own parishes. I know this is obvious to most of my readers. I also know the whole issue of re-catechizing baby boomer Catholics is its own little nightmare, but I'll just mention it and move on.

3) Despite how the profession of theologian is framed by many academics, it is an ecclesial vocation in the full sense of the word. I'm just a novice, and I can see it already. If I don't develop some modicum of "pastoral skills" (not my forte, by any stretch of the imagination), I will not be able to deal with the constant stream of people the Lord sends my way. If I don't maintain a healthy spiritual life, I'm going to give bad example, and I know I am often someone's only recent data point of the Catholic faith. Gak! That always sends me running back to God in prayer.

I credit my theology department for instilling in its doctorands, as a matter of pure theory / hermeneutics, the lesson that to do theology well, you must maintain a healthy spiritual life. Sin blinds the theologian to the mysteries of grace -- any kind of sin obscures insight and deep theological understanding. (There's an old joke often used to illustrate the point: Aristotle said a man could only be wise after age 50. Thomas believed Aristotle, but did all his writing before he died at age 49. So was Thomas unwise? No, Thomas had grace.)

These recurring experiences show me that a healthy spiritual life is important not only for gaining insight into dense theological matters, but also for transmitting those insights as well. If I didn't have the promptings of conscience and intuition when dealing with a curious, spiritually starving newcomer to the Catholic worldview, I'd be lost. And those intuitions are deadened whenever I am away from the Mass, the sacraments, and the friendship of God.

So a final thought: These little incidents also show me why Ex Corde Ecclesiae is so completely, absolutely correct to insist that the Church's theologians swear their fidelity to her, as I do every year to my bishop. Despite the false pretension of Olympian remove from episcopal oversight that is cultivated by decadent theologians -- lay and ordained alike -- these people directly effect the spiritual welfare of the bishop's flock. Like it or not, people approach you as an official spokesman for the Church. If little ol' me can already become the sole point of contact with the Church for some lost soul and a living, breathing authority for a few dozen random people whom I have met in bars, on trains, etc., (deeper friendships aside), bigwigs with endowed chairs should pray as hard as pastors on mission assignments. They need to be accountable to the Church. They need to be in explicit communion with her. The bishops require it, the laity presume it. Stop fighting it; just do it!

The laity's presumption that the theologian must have a deep spiritual connection with the Church is true even in those cases where the layman is approaching the theologian with an eye to "getting something out of him" which he can't get from his pastor or bishop. I get this every once in a while: somebody will presume I am a liberal because I'm a lay Catholic theologian. A glance at my wedding ring, and the question: "So what do you think about the Church's stance on birth control?" (What I respond, of course, inevitably frustrates and amazes them.)

But even in this case, I know what the person wants. He wants a "prophetic" figure in the mold of John the Baptist before Herod, or Nathan in the court of David, or Our Lord denouncing the spiritually dead intellects of the Pharisees. He wants a theologian who sees something in the Gospel which the busy, celibate bureaucrats in the hierarchy don't see out of unfamiliarity or disinterest. He wants a theologian on the margins who is more "in tune" with "the real Gospel" than its official, Pharisaic custodians. In other words, our heterodox inquirer wants a theologian unconditionally loyal to the "true heart of the Church," but he is unwilling to surrender his misconception of the heart of the Church for the Church's true conception of herself.

So stop kidding yourselves, you theologians who hide under the Land o' Lakes agreement. Your liberty on academic matters must be conditioned by responsibility to your bishop, just as your priest's liberty is required in similar matters. Even two strangers at the Brickskellar can figure that out over a few beers.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/15/2003 02:57:00 AM | link

Well, that puts the week in the dumper.

Johnny Cash died today, as well as John Ritter, who died unexpectedly from a heart defect.

Johnny Cash is my kind of country music, and I admire his work outside the genre too, especially his collaboration with U2 on "I Went Wandering" at the end of the Zooropa album.

When growing up, John Ritter, Bob Crane and Robin Williams were my three favorite comedians. (I managed to watch Three's Company all the time as a boy, despite the normally watchful eye of my parents.) I've blogged already on Bob Crane's sad end, and Robin Williams -- an amazing man for the sheer insanity of his associative intellect -- has politics that spoils my enjoyment of his work sometimes. But I still enjoy many of his works. Hopefully, he'll live to see old age.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/12/2003 08:43:00 PM | link

Remember September 11th.

Pray for all those who died this day, suddenly, without the benefit of any chance to repent or the consolation of the sacraments.

Also take time to remember all the priests killed, nuns raped, churches desecrated and Christians imprisoned in Islamic countries like Sudan, which continue their war against what remains of the Christian West every day, while we contracept ourselves into non-existence.

Our Lady of Lepanto, Pray For Us!

Islamic treachery

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/11/2003 12:43:00 AM | link

Some interesting Rahner pages on the web.

Liberal screed, disregard first few paragraphs of completely unrelated invective against orthodoxy, and drink in the overall feel of Rahner by a liberal devotee.

Mark Fischer has summarized all the chapters in the tedious book I'm reading.

An "interview" with Rahner. A well done little precise. Balanced.

Retrieving Rahner for Orthodox Catholicism, by Mark Lowry, Prof. at U. Dallas, published in Faith and Reason. I think Lowry is over-optimistic about his "retrieval," but the criticisms he gives are accurate, if softly stated.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/11/2003 12:39:00 AM | link

No, Jesus, you're the problem:

"Too narrow a concentration of the foundational course on Jesus Christ as the key and solution to all existential problems and as the total foundation of faith would be too simple a conception. It is not true that one only has to preach Jesus Christ and then he has solved all problems. Today Jesus Christ is himself a problem, and to realize this we only have to look at the demythologizing theology of the post-Bultmann age."

Karl Rahner, acting up again and getting all catty, in Foundations of the Christian Faith. He was such an arrogant priss in his old age. The "foundational course" he's talking about, btw, is supposed to be for seminarians...

And Rahner's solution to this "problem" is 470 pages of turgid Neo-Kantian bullshit. There. I said it. So sue me.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/10/2003 05:12:00 AM | link

The web should have an equivalent of *69 (You know, the telephone service where you can call back the people who call you, without knowing their number.) I would love to find out what's on these peoples' minds. Without further ado:

Welcome to the Italian google searcher looking for "plastic female valves for aerosol bomb." (I'm ranked #3 for that one!) Please see www.hairspray-terrorist-kook.info for your parts list.

I also rate #3 on google for "Sex pistols spanish lyrics." Google, man, you're slippin'. No Spanish here anywhere. Nada.

But the best request of the day goes to the weirdo surfing from Illinois who came here looking for "pictures of misogyny being practiced in the Illiad."

1) As opposed to misogyny being theorized in the Illiad?
2) When Gustav Dore goes feminist, I'll call you with some great line drawings, OK?
3) What the heck for?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/10/2003 05:05:00 AM | link

Oh boy, I've started a cottage industry regarding questions about alcohol and religion. Chris writes (from about a month ago! Sorry Chris!):

I read with interest your blog posts on the use of alcohol, and they seemed to make sense. (I'm a 24-year-old Catholic just returning to the Church after several years of atheism.)

That's always amazing to hear. You don't know how much that buoys up weary old curmudgeons like me.

I have a question for you, though, if you have any time to reply: how do you treat your religious experience of life while you're under the influence? I haven't figured this one out yet. Say I have 5 or 6 drinks, and after parting company with my drinking companions I have that pleasant warm feeling in my gut, and say I then have the urge to sit down and say the Rosary. When I've been in that situation I've often felt somewhat fake or insincere, worried that my religious fervor is nothing more than the effect of ethanol on my neurons -- sort of the same urge that makes me want to call up
old friends at 3 in the morning. It thus seems somewhat disrespectful to pray to the Virgin (or whomever) in such a state. I'm curious to know what you think.

Two disclaimers first:

1) Whether you were initially a cradle Catholic before your atheist phase, or not, it is very helpful to get a spiritual advisor. This would be a priest with whom you find that you have a good rapport. It's not too formal a relationship or a massive time commitment. Basically, it's just an agreement that you will use him regularly as a confessor, and will go to him for guidance in practical matters like this. A man who knows you, and who has pastoral experience, is the best person for these kinds of questions. I have neither.

(Side note: Another benefit to having an advisor: Not only is it more humbling to go to the same priest for confession month after month, it also promotes a higher level of self-awareness and compunction. It also makes a strong check against the sin of presumption, since the embarrassment you routinely feel in front of another human eventually makes you wonder: Why don't I feel even more embarrassed to come to God again with the same old mess?

2) I've always felt like I could benefit from guidance in the field of "spirituality" (what an odd word), but I have yet to come across a guide that I trust in the matter. I mention this because I think the more you are "in tune" with how you pray, the more readily a prudent answer to your question would become intuitively apparent to you (and less so, by extension, to me).

So now a stab at an answer, sketching some potentially good situations and some bad.

I wouldn't schedule a block of prayer time after a social engagement, but sometimes prayer just happens. It sounds like these moments are what you're talking about. And it sounds like you're not drunk, but only tipsy or mildly euphoric.

The short answer is: If in doubt, be brief, be humble and be focused. If you find that you're rambling, presumptuous or irreverent, or unable to concentrate, say something short, and resolve to pray about it when you feel better. (Even better, write down a note, and if it looks foolish later, you'll know.)

The long answer:

I don't think there's anything wrong with praying a sincere "Thank you!" for good friends and their company, or for a pleasant time out that evening. I find that my thoughts sometimes turn prayerfully to the blessings of friends or their needs after they leave for the evening. If you're a little sleepy from a few drinks, I don't think there's anything worse praying at that moment than when you remember to give thanks and say a tired-out grace after meals on the couch moments before the urge to nap holds sway.

The tone of your question seems like you are worried that your prayer is ill-motivated by some kind of "sentimentality." While your friends might have several reasons for being annoyed about a phone call at 3am, I'd imagine that Our Lord or any of His saints is happy whenever we turn our hearts to them -- whether the motivation is purely out of love, or lower. If the Lord accepts a sinner who is moved to pray simply out of fear, or the prodigal son who returns because he is hungry, I suppose that He is happy if, in the midst of your joviality, you remember Him before going to bed for the night. It's not the best time and place to pray, but I'd have a hard time saying it's bad simply because you are a little impaired.

As much as I find Jesus a trusted friend, I much more often approach Him under the aspect of Lord. This aspect most often moves me to watch how I pray and what I pray for. If we are so very careful talking to the CEO, or to the senior partner of the firm, or to our mother-in-law lest we damage the relationship by irresponsible, disrespectful chatter or slothfully-considered, greedy or ill-advised requests, that's all the more reason to be focused when praying to God Almighty. (At the same time, there are human factors, like misunderstanding of intention, or the other person's weaknesses that don't apply here. But the remaining points do.) This is something to keep in mind if you are more than pleasantly relaxed. My wife will tell you that I chatter on aimlessly for an hour when I've had a few (and sometimes when I haven't). This isn't a good way to approach prayer. If you get the recurring, nagging feeling that you're being silly or disrespectful, listen to it. At the same time, you could keep a prayer card or something by the bed or in your wallet for those moments: something brief and serious like "Prayer before a crucifix." If you find you're being scatterbrained or silly in the midst of prayer, but nonetheless moved to pray, perhaps you could say something short and contrite about your state, pray the short prayer, ask God to take care of your request, and resolve to pray more about it at length after you've rested up or cleared your head. Making a note and reviewing it in the cold light of morning is usually a good touchstone.

I say the foregoing because there seem to be at least two ends to prayer: One is to petition God for something (whether it's guidance, or some concrete outcome), another is to conform the mind to spiritual ways of thinking. The latter is "spiritual exercise" and best done when you're ready to focus on it, but asking for our needs seems to arise often on a moment-by-moment basis, and as long as you're respectful, I'd imagine it's still good in itself, in accordance with St. Paul's "Pray constantly" (1 Thess 5:17).

In thinking about the question, it may help to broaden the focus of your observations. Now I find I encounter many more hazards to prayer when I'm angry than when I'm tipsy. Indeed, I occasionally let some vengeful things slip ("Lord, why don't you call this dimwit home?") that are undoubtedly sinful and I feel awful after I've said them. Thinking about my attitude more broadly helps me to get a good perspective on the appropriateness of particular moods. But I am inclined to anger when sober, and pretty mellow and benign after a few drinks. I'm sure it varies from person to person. I don't know you, so I can't say.

The preceding points apply equally well to the saints. (I.e., there is a certain sense in which we share in the communion of the saints, and are thus friendly "peers" with them. But they are also heroic models of sanctity and our patrons. Keeping the latter aspect in mind, especially the high place of Our Blessed Mother, should fend off the urge to pray when you're not serious. I don't know about your mother, but mine would give me a nice strict look if I walked in the house talking nonsense.)

If, in the course of these kinds of situations recurring, you are nagged by doubts that it is appropriate to pray at the time, these doubts are probably worth listening to. But only your spiritual advisor will know if you are the type of person who tends to be overly strict with yourself (a/k/a "scrupulosity") or lax.

Hope that helps.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/08/2003 01:06:00 PM | link

Helpful syllogism of the day:
Ratio est femina.
Varium et mutabile semper femina.
Ergo, ratio est varium et mutabile.

In working through the Genesis narratives, one has to be careful not to get too literal. But I particularly enjoy how changes within science itself make old knock-down, drag-out debates between science and religion irrelevant after a while. That whole thing about geocentricity vs. heliocentricity eventually gives way to relativity where you can pick whatever center for your inertial frame of reference that you want.

And take that much-derided view that the sky is a firmament. Granted, it looks like a dome. Turns out, it also holds up zillions of objects weighing in excess of 1,200,000 tons (a thundercloud). Not bad for a completely permeable object.

Now before I get any letters from scientists about bulk modulus and density as better definitions of when a firmament is firm, I know the latter point is stretching it. But with charity, and a non-technical understanding of firmament, you see my point.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/05/2003 03:44:00 PM | link

If Origen of Alexandria met John Carmack: Quake-style Christian video games, if such a concept appeals to you. (From cbn.com)

Saints of Virtue: Within the spiritual land of the human heart, an ongoing battle for the control of your mind is being waged. Saints of Virtue allows you to assume the role of a young Christian and enter this incredible realm deep within the kingdom of your heart. Within this allegorical world you will don the full armor of God and do battle with the personified tendencies of the flesh. These fleshly enemies fight tirelessly to keep you from reaching the Throne Room of your Heart.

Who would St. Michael frag?
Catechumen: Your mentor and brethren have been captured by the demon possessed Roman soldiers. It is your job to work you way through the catacombs of Rome to free them.
(from Haacked)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/05/2003 03:29:00 PM | link

I don't normally plug TV shows, but:

8pm Tonight: Ratzinger on EWTN


Tactical to Practical, Sept 9th, on the Hitler Channel:

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/05/2003 03:24:00 PM | link

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/05/2003 03:17:00 PM | link

Before you drop $80K for that Hummer, check this out:
Britain's newest sports car took a test drive Wednesday, zooming back and forth across the waters of the Thames River in pure James Bond style.

The Aquada can hit speeds of 100 mph on land -- and once it hits water, the wheels retract into the wheel arch, jets kick in, and the car is suddenly a boat.

Once waterborne it can reach speeds of 30 mph, according to Gibbs Technologies, the British firm that designed it.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/05/2003 03:15:00 PM | link

In a week, it will be Sept. 11th. Do you part to memorialize it, so that it remains the new Day That Will Live In Infamy. Check out Reverted X-er for related news.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 9/05/2003 05:00:00 AM | link


Friends Outside the
Prophetes Viatoresque:
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