Tuning in to the Elemental Vibrations of Existence
Eric Brende’s review of George Prochnik’s In Pursuit of Silence (May) is a witty but serious contribution to a neglected area of study that merits revisiting by serious students of civilization and its discontents. There is a growing hunger in our world for quiet, even silent, meditation and contemplation. This hunger showed itself in the surprise small-hit movie a couple years ago, Into Great Silence, about the rhythms of life in the Grand Chartreuse Carthusian monastery, where silence is a vow as well as a discipline. Why is it that suddenly many people have grown curious about less noise in such a sound-filled world? Could it be that the noise pollution our technological society has foisted on all of humanity has reached a tipping point, that the soul of man is sick? Are we sick and tired of hearing Heather’s fashion rant at the gym in her high-volume cell-phone voice, or the insipid talk (not even whispers) of couples at movies as if we paid so dear a price to hear other people’s random interruptions, or the off-key singing of the person next to us as they bop and caterwaul to the thumping from their iPods? Our noise ordinances, while good gestures, have shown themselves powerless in the face of Generation Y.
I live in one of the noisiest areas on earth — the Washington, D.C., area — where siren-ego-motorcades, monster choppers, ear buds and leaks are the most important thing on earth. The hiss of traffic coming from a dozen highways positioned cheek-by-jowl with homes — we’re only a half mile from the sibilant roar of the beast — has imprinted itself deeply on life here and can help explain the unquiet voices of our leaders and their unhinged policies.
Yet it was here that I learned the wonder of a quiet that reaches to the interior of our being, that may, as Brende notes, touch on the elemental vibrations of existence itself. I learned to shut up and pray the prayer of quiet in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and hear in the silence the voice of eternal truth, of God; to grow in interior quiet and solitude in the midst of a world gone mad with noise, of leaf blowers and sidewalk Segways, of loud talk and trucks waiting to smash our eardrums, of screaming and cursing messengers on bikes, of juvenile and narcissistic city dwellers of every variety. Amid the din of interest groups, machines, cars, sirens, and generators I was given access to quiet, to peace of soul, inside the rising dome mosaics of St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
I was delighted with Brende’s highlighting the curative effects of chant, as well as his emphasis on ending some elements of societal noise. Every morning and evening, I plain chant the Liturgy of the Hours on my commute into and out of the city. The Metro is quite noisy, but its noise enables me to chant sotto voce undetected by my fellow commuters. The tones are hidden underneath the screech of electricity and hip-hop headphones and chatty commuters who seem unable to be alone with their thoughts or prayers. That way I can participate in a greater prayer of the Church and possibly contribute something curative to that cramped, noise-filled environment and find a way to escape its ill effects.
It seems that part of the cure to what Brende laments is for people to pipe down and go inside themselves to that secret place where God and the soul are, for just a few minutes a day, and to learn the sheer beauty of quiet even amid the roaring crowd’s ignoble strife. We might find, with Wordsworth, the “quiet stream of self-forgetfulness.”
Scott J. Bloch
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Rhode Island
Parsing Out Pleasure & Pain
Alice von Hildebrand’s timely article “The Problem of Pleasure” (May) is filled with valuable lessons. Regarding pleasures, the lesson consists of several key elements:
1. There are legitimate pleasures that we should receive as God’s gifts; for example, a fine piece of chocolate or a swim in a cool lake on a hot day. That we can validly see a pleasure as a gift of God, and have gratitude to Him for giving it to us, is a good criterion for its being a legitimate pleasure.
2. There are pleasures that are illegitimate by their very nature; the pleasure a sadist enjoys in causing pain in another person is a clear example. These pleasures are, by far, the most important to avoid.
3. There are pleasures that are illegitimate because of their harmful effects; for example, overeating.
4. There is the illegitimacy of the excessive pursuit of pleasures, where the excess consists in a distortion of the true meaning of our lives, and where this excess crowds out other activities that are more important.
5. Finally, we should remember that legitimate pleasures, while genuine goods, are not the primary goods of life. We are meant for something deeper.
True and lasting happiness comes to us from things that have value in themselves, particularly things of beauty — for example, the beauty of music given to us by great composers such as Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven; and the beauty of nature and great art. The happiness given to us by such beauty is qualitatively different from the happiness derived from pleasures. The difference is rooted in the fact that such happiness comes to us as an “overflow” from our response to the object of beauty as intrinsically valuable — that is, it is valuable in itself, for its own sake, and not just as a source of happiness for us. All deep happiness has this character. A prime example is the happiness we get from giving ourselves in love to another person, and receiving love from that person; the happiness of love comes only when we love a person for his or her own sake.
Deep down, we all long for this true and lasting happiness, the happiness that can come to us only through our recognition of and response to what is valuable in itself and appreciated as such. The passionate pursuit of pleasure in our day could be viewed as a desperate and misguided effort to find the happiness for which we are meant. Sadly, this happiness is often sought in the wrong place and in the wrong way. But the desire for happiness — somehow manifested even in the mad pursuit of pleasure — is something authentically human.
Regarding pain, the lesson Dr. von Hildebrand gives us has three basic points:
1. It is legitimate to try to avoid pain, especially severe pain, when doing so does not interfere with more important considerations. We can thank God for the gift of anesthesia given to us to avoid pain in medical procedures.
2. It is noble to choose something that we know will include pain, when we do so for a higher and valuable goal. Dr. von Hildebrand’s example of the grueling training of military SEALs is a case in point.
3. There is also the pain that we do not freely choose, but which is thrust upon us. There is great merit in humbly accepting this and offering it to God.
These points, especially the ones on pleasure and the deep happiness that comes to us from our responses to intrinsic values, are based on the teachings of Dietrich von Hildebrand. See his Ethics (Franciscan Herald Press, 1953, 1972) for a further and deeper analysis, and The Nature of Love, translated by John F. Crosby with John Henry Crosby (St. Augustine’s Press, 2009).
Stephen D. Schwarz
Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Missionary Church
Kingston, Rhode Island
Alice von Hildebrand’s fine article on pleasure and pain leads one to a serious consideration of additional themes essential to the spiritual life. Pope Paul VI lamented the loss among too many Catholics of a sense of asceticism necessary for the disciplining of what Dr. von Hildebrand calls “the sensitive appetite” with its “unquenchable thirst for pleasure.” Addiction to illicit pleasures stemming from fallen human nature makes impossible a desirable mastery of one’s self, but there is another factor at work underlying such addiction — namely, the pleasure taken by a sinner in sin itself. The gravity of sin — indeed, the malice of mortal sin as an offense against God — has been forgotten by worldlings for whom the fear of physical suffering and sickness has replaced the fear of God and the possibility of eternal suffering in Hell.
It is a strange feature in the lives of millions that the eschatological aspects of the historic Christian faith (the “last things”: death, judgment, Heaven, and Helbphave been removed from their awareness by silent pulpits. Sons and daughters of the rationalistic enlightenment dwell uneasily in the kingdom of nature, facing multiple manifestations of moral evil found inexplicable. It is the historic Church to which we must turn if we seek needed light for a correct understanding of the world, the meaning of human life, and the need for redemption and salvation.
The Lord of the Church has also revealed among His eschatological truths the existence of the devil and a diabolical world opposed to His Kingdom. Paul VI, on November 15, 1972, did not hesitate to declare: “The Devil is at the origin of the first misfortune of mankind; he was the cunning and fatal tempter of the first sin, original sin. From that fall of Adam, the Devil acquired a certain dominion over man, from which only Christ’s Redemption can save us…. He is the secret enemy that sows errors and misfortunes in human history…[and who] launches sophistic attacks on the moral equilibrium of man. He is the treacherous and cunning enchanter who finds his way into us by way of the senses, the imagination, lust, utopian logic, or disorderly social contacts in the give-and-take of life.… People prefer to appear strong and unprejudiced [and non-Manichean] and pose as positivists while at the same time…opening their souls to the licentious experience of the senses as well as to the ideological seductions of fashionable errors, cracks through which the Devil can easily penetrate and work on the human mind. Not that every sin is directly due to diabolical action; but it is true that those who do not watch over themselves with a certain moral strictness are exposed to the influence of the ‘mystery of iniquity’ to which St. Paul refers and run the risk of being damned…. We can assume his sinister action where denial of God becomes radical, subtle, and absurd, where hypocritical and blatant lies assert themselves against evident truth, where love is extinguished by cold, cruel selfishness, where the Name of Christ is impugned with willful and rebellious hatred, where the spirit of the Gospel is watered down and denied, where despair has the last word.”
Pope Paul delivered the above address while observing the unleashing of a diabolical attack on the teachings of the Church’s latest ecumenical council. As he saw fissures threatening the unity of the Church, he became vividly conscious that “the whole world is in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). He concluded with words calling Christians to spiritual combat, words more timely than ever as we face increasing opposition from a “modern world” that cherishes its addictions to sinful pleasures: “The Christian must be vigilant; he must have recourse to some special ascetic exercises to stave off certain diabolical attacks. Jesus teaches this, indicating ‘prayer and fasting’ as the remedy. The Apostle suggests the main line to follow: ‘Resist evil and conquer it with good.'”
Rector, St. Alban's Anglican Church
Montour Falls, New York
I always read with interest Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s historical accounts and book reviews. On occasion, I pity her being assigned books by so-called Catholic feminist theologians. Feminists have a clear agenda, and it is easy to confront and expose their un-sexing demands. Feminist theologians, on the other hand, take something sacred and beautiful — Scripture — and subvert its authority and the authority of the Church to interpret it, and impose their own interpretation, while using the texts they first undermine as tools for empowerment! So it gets confusing.
Even worse is Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s sacrilegious depiction of our Lord who, she leads her readers to conclude, in having submitted to the degradation of the cross, has set up an everlasting paradigm for tolerating oppression. Why can’t we just walk away from people like her?
Dr. Gardiner has more perseverance and New England spunk than most of us. I am grateful that she spares us from slogging through fem-speak, and in her review of two of Schüssler Fiorenza’s works (May) she highlights the key distraction of this particular feminist: power. Schüssler Fiorenza claims that power is the chief corrosive in human relations, if not the chief element in all human relations, requiring a new or ongoing theology of liberation (and thus jobs for feminist theologians). While condemning power as an end, she lauds it as a means: seek power to destroy traditional “power structures.”
I wish I could ask why Dr. Gardiner even troubles herself with such batty theologians; I wish I could say they don’t make a difference. But alas, feminist theology has gone viral. It is in the cultural DNA, injected by the venues of correct social thought, undermining traditional relationships and usurping the very meaning of mother, wife, father, husband, marriage, and family. Sometimes I wonder if feminist theologians like Schüssler Fiorenza are driving cultural change or just flacking for decadence — or if they have just found a good gig in higher education that requires that they do whatever they want with the foundational text of Western civilization, as long as they shock people periodically.
I look for explanations, but cannot stomach their books. I’ll just keep in touch through Dr. Gardiner’s reviews in the NOR.
American Life League
A Return to Barbarism
Kenneth D. Whitehead (“Finding the Truth in a Narrative of Lies,” May) lucidly and thoroughly lays bare the many spurious, politically driven, and prevaricating ways in which the Obama administration has framed and promoted the slyly named “contraception mandate.” Perhaps most objectionable is the President’s erstwhile promise that abortion, now sanctioned in the mandate, would never be part of Obamacare.
Whitehead repeatedly wonders why so many people readily accept this propaganda and how long it will take before the truth wins out. His concern recalls Jose Ortega y Gasset’s lament in Revolt of the Masses, in an earlier and similarly unsettled time, about the vast, enduring power of the “unreason of reason.”
Whereas one of Whitehead’s stature habitually eschews crude, reductionist political arguments in favor of multilevel (including philosophical and theologicabpdiscourse, lucidity and careful truth-seeking count for little among our dominant leftist elites. Spawned by leftist academe, much of the political class as well as the media and the entertainment industry now sanguinely find no need to provide evidence or underlying principles for their ideas and positions. Moreover, in the interest of gaining and keeping power, today’s left stands ready to impose its political ideology, as witnessed in the Obama administration’s attempt to shackle freedom of religion within the Catholic Church.
Underlying this ideology is the academically derived postmodern view that people cannot know truth, that reality is subjective, and that relativism and skepticism rightly govern the approach to thought and knowledge. Especially relevant here is the postmodern stress, in particular among those of Marxist persuasion, on considerations of power dynamics. Thus, postmodernists tend to judge reality according to which parties hold power and whose (political and other) interest this command of power favors.
Though postmodernism is no doubt far from the Obama administration’s mind, its “war on women” gambit illustrates the point. To capture the women’s vote, the administration does not hesitate to conflate the Church’s moral objection to being forced by the state to provide contraception (including abortifacients and sterilization) with an invidious intent to deny women access to contraception.
Many among us unthinkingly subscribe to hyper-politicized, postmodern tenets. Others wield them as tools, deliberately and manipulatively. They are, however, always dangerous. As Ortega y Gasset warned, the rejection of objective standards signals “a renunciation of the common life based on culture which is subject to standards and a return of the common life of barbarism.”
Fayette State Correctional Institution
Bronxville, New York
The Trouble With Double Agency
An agent is someone who chooses to do or not do something by an act of the will. In philosophy, law, and everyday common situations, we call it an intention. Corporate entities, through their governing bodies, also broker choices as agents.
In the case of President Obama’s “accommodation” with the Catholic Church regarding health-insurance payments for abortion, sterilization, and contraception, we have two agents: the Church and the health-insurance industry. In his usual manner, President Obama has attempted to confuse the issue by shifting the moral agency from the Church to the insurance industry.
What we have here are two agents linked together. As an example, let’s say Holy Spirit Catholic Church has a school. Holy Spirit hires Joe’s Insurance Agency to provide health insurance, which covers abortion, sterilization, and contraception. The first agent is Holy Spirit, the second is Joe’s. The two are causally linked and co-responsible for the act, not completely separated as President Obama would have us think.
In law, if you hire a hit man to kill someone, you cannot use the defense, “Well, the hit man did it, not I.” The two of you are bound together as agents. Even the Sopranos get that.
James M. Stedman
San Antonio, Texas
Frederick W. Marks deserves our thanks for his article “The Catholic Connection” (May). The crux of his message is that, in spite of unfortunate dogmatic and theological differences between different types of Christians, all those of good will are deeply united in their common fight for the natural moral laws that command us to defend moral values and fight moral evil. That so many non-Catholics have actively helped Catholic organizations to flourish is a presage that moral unity in love and the pursuit of the good will ultimately lead to unity in the truth.
Alice von Hildebrand
New Rochelle, New York
Dr. Marks’s call for Catholics to “hang together” with all those who share traditional values received support in the May 8 vote in North Carolina, 58 percent to 42 percent, to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The last time I looked, North Carolina’s Catholic population was four percent.
Side note: Charles Dickens, whom Marks lauds for his praise of the Little Sisters of the Poor, once referred to Henry VIII, who took England out of the Church, as “a spot of blood and grease” on the history of England.
Anne W. Carroll
Anglican Anxieties, Roman Rewards
Martha C. Eischen’s comprehensive and inspirational article “What Is the Anglican Patrimony?” (May) reminded me of my early years. I was born and raised Catholic from day one, especially by my devout mother, due mainly to my father’s work schedule. I attended Catholic churches and schools; all my relatives, friends, and most of my neighbors were Catholic. To me, there were two groups of Christians — Catholics and Protestants. My attitude was, “If your ancestry was from Western Europe and you weren’t Roman Catholic, you weren’t a Catholic.” I was to learn more — a lot more — and in a way that changed my thinking.
As our Lord would have it, I met a wonderful girl in college. She was a Traditional Anglican Catholic. We talked a lot, and after a while we married and she became a Roman Catholic. After getting to know my in-laws, I came to appreciate the rich religious tradition they achieved in their marriage. They were a couple who knew and loved Christ, who prayed the familiar words of the Book of Common Prayer together, and who knew what it meant to offer one’s best in worship and then take the grace received out into the world. In a word, this couple embodied the Anglican Patrimony. They loved the people of God and worked for the salvation of souls. My wife brought to our marriage the same love of Christ and the more indefinable qualities of Christian zeal, love of the sacred Scriptures, love of the Church, and love of the truth.
My eye-opener came when we were invited to my in-laws’ 25th wedding anniversary celebration at a Traditional Anglican Catholic church: It was a Solemn High Mass. The first thing I noticed was the silence, even though the church was full of people waiting for the celebrant to enter. The Mass began with a procession of celebrants, deacons, acolytes, and choir. The congregation burst into song, filling the whole church with music from the hymnal. Everyone in the church was a participant and not an observer. The music was inspiring and elevated the soul to receive the Holy Spirit. It was used as an offering for the glory of God and as a help to the people in their worship.
As the Mass progressed, I noticed the common denominators in the Roman rite and the Traditional Anglican liturgy. Many of the prayers were not only similar but identical: especially their creed, in which the words “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” are found.
One item my wife brought to our marriage was the Book of Common Prayer. The original book, published in 1549, contains a rich collection of morning and evening prayers plus prayers for special occasions, Psalms, and much more. We tried to find a comparable prayer book in several Catholic bookstores but were unable to find anything that matched it, so it became one of our favorite prayer books.
If these qualities are at the heart of the Anglican Ordinariate, then it will succeed beyond everyone’s wildest imaginings. It will become a dynamic and lively force of reconciliation and unity in Christ’s Church, and will burgeon and spread throughout the whole world.
The Reformation brought an explosion of diversity — some of it good, some bad, and some neutral. The Ordinariate will mitigate this, reuniting people and returning them to one shepherd and one flock. I say to those in the Anglican Patrimony who are considering the Ordinariate: “Remember who you have on your side, Pope Benedict XVI, Fr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, Bl. John Henry Newman, and the Holy Spirit.”
As a longtime subscriber to the NOR since its Anglo-Catholic days, I enjoyed Martha C. Eischen’s discussion of the Anglican Patrimony. Her disgust with the decline and fall of the Episcopal Church mirrors my own. Comforting as it is to know that there remain a few Anglican/Episcopal congregations (such as the Church of the Advent in Boston, of which I am a parishioner) that haven’t entirely transformed their missions into left-wingish social activism, one wonders how long they can resist the trend.
That the manner in which the Anglican faith is expressed is as important as its content, as Eischen describes, is indeed why Anglicans can feel at home in many Roman Catholic churches, even while the divide remains. But I am puzzled by her implicit suggestion that the logical way for unhappy Episcopalians to proceed is to follow the path of Cardinal Newman. Despite the truly remarkable example of Pope Benedict XVI, much of the Roman Catholic Church today is experiencing the same kind of disorder as the Anglican Communion. Too many Catholic laymen and Church officials in our own country, as the NOR often points out, are lacking in self-discipline and are unreceptive to the Pope’s well-intended effort to exercise his own authority. And when he is no longer here, doesn’t it stand to reason that the situation will worsen no matter who his successor? This is not a propitious situation for traditionalist Episcopalians contemplating a switch who increasingly feel abandoned by their own church but are unsure where to go.
As an Anglo-Catholic, I eagerly read Mrs. Eischen’s article. Overall, she describes admirably, if briefly, the richness of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. What struck me, however, is that much of what she says about Anglo-Catholics and their relationship to the “big tent” of the Anglican Communion could also be said about traditional Catholics and their relationship to the Catholic Church. After all, many Catholics — not to mention Catholic parishes — are “truly Protestant” in their “understanding” or their liturgical “expression” or both. I have frankly been astonished by what I have seen and heard when I have attended Catholic Masses at the numerous Catholic churches in my area.
Mrs. Eischen remarks that, along with the “glorious sense of being before His throne and ‘worshiping in the beauty of holiness,'” there is also the “temptation to pageantry for pageantry’s sake.” This is quite true, although I cannot help thinking that traditional Catholics suffer the same temptation.
Where I live, an Anglo-Catholic like me has two choices, even after having absorbed John Henry Newman’s thoughts on the matter: (1) Attend the most beautiful Mass this side of Heaven, in an Episcopal parish that is doctrinally and liturgically orthodox, and worry that I am also, in fact, “in communion” with the modernism and Wiccan practices (not sure what to call them) of the Episcopal Church, or (2) convert and attend a Catholic Mass that is dangerously Protestant/modernist in its liturgy and doctrine, and comfort myself with the knowledge that I am “in communion” with a larger Church that, somewhere else far away from me, is doctrinally and liturgically sound.
Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania
MARTHA C. EISCHEN REPLIES:
When I made my decision to enter into communion with Rome, my decision was not to try to run away from sin in high places. There’s plenty of that to go around all over the Church.
Authority and obedience are luxuries outside of Rome. But Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Samuel said to Saul, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22). While many a Catholic is disobedient, including clergymen, it is called disobedience, not freedom of choice. Individuals at every level of the Church choose to disobey. But the Church is still the body of Christ, and God promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.
For me, there is no other place in Christendom where the deposit of the faith is more clearly protected than in the Catholic Church. The Magisterium is not a huge judicial body of lawyers who spend their time determining the truth. It is a body of pastors who take seriously their vows to defend “the faith once delivered to the saints.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a masterpiece. No other body in all of Christendom can point a searching soul to such a single source and say, “This is what the Church teaches.” Although there are many variations in emphasis and expression from parish to parish, and even from individual to individual, we Catholics are one in the faith. We remain, in spite of appearances, obedient through a hierarchy. Just as Moses finally needed to set up an orderly hierarchy (Exod. 18), with judges of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, so the Church must have an orderly hierarchy to keep peace, protect the body, and protect the faith. We don’t follow men, even good men like the Pope, although we love and imitate them. We follow Jesus, for whom we forsake all. There is no disillusionment here.
The Rt. Rev. Council Nedd II
Falmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
Why Overlook Revelation 7?
Heather M. Erb gives a meticulous explanation as to why prostration is used in Islamic religious practices (“Prayer Postures: What They Mean & Why They Matter,” Apr.). She also adequately explains why prostration is not a common practice in the Roman Catholic Church. However, I don’t believe that she adequately explained why the act of prostration is wrong in the Christian context.
More importantly, why would she overlook Revelation 7 in an article that specifically addresses prostration? The postures of those in the heavenly choir chronicled there appear to be precisely what the Islamic prayer posture most resembles and is no doubt modeled upon.
In fact, St. Paul, the disciples, the tomb guards, and the women in Luke 24:5 were all correct to fall to the ground in the presence of God. It is our Lord’s choice to tell them to rise. In the same manner in which one might bow or curtsy to a king or queen, it is only appropriate to assume a similar — nay, a more profound — posture before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Yes, we can look God in the eye, as Dr. Erb suggests, because He is a loving God, He died for our sins, and He has promised us everlasting life. However, why should I dare to be so bold as to attempt to look my God in the eye? In Exodus 33 Moses wanted to see the face of God and was not permitted the privilege.
Permitted the opportunity to be in the presence of my God, I would fall on my face like the choir of people in Revelation 7, and one would certainly not be wrong to reverence Him in such a way in private or corporate prayer.
Merrick, New York
HEATHER M. ERB REPLIES:
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Missionary Church and Metropolitan for the Persian Gulf defends a view of prostration in corporate worship from within a “Christian context” on the basis of a text in Revelation 7, in which one finds the choir of angels prostrating before the throne of the Lamb. There are three points of interest here: (1) The use of the Revelation text to prescribe corporate worship postures, (2) the mode of divine presence and its relation to prayer, and (3) the Protestant interpretation of the sacramental presence.
(1) The use of Revelation: While there are 24 “prostration” (or “worship,” derived from Greek proskuneo) references in the Apocalypse, the text in question indicates that the angels prostrate, while the human multitude stands, waving palms of victory around the throne and, as some theologians suggest, worshiping God face to face in Heaven. While Revelation is often considered to be the paradigm of the eucharistic liturgy (its angelic hymns, Sanctus, doxologies, etc.), to use it as a catalog of prayer postures for the faithful in public, corporate worship is odd, especially given the unknown nature of the “Christian context” referred to by Bishop Nedd. Whether that context is a Protestant communion service; an awakening of awe during a Scripture reading, rousing hymn, or sermon; an experiential “witness of the Spirit” during fellowship, the personal judgment after death, the general resurrection, the beatific vision, or all of the above is not irrelevant. True, the earthly liturgy participates in the heavenly angelic liturgy depicted in Revelation, but Bishop Nedd distinguishes Catholic eucharistic liturgy and devotion from broader Christian practices. In addition, the late-first-century author of Revelation multiplies references to prostration in order to accentuate his apocalyptic message of religious resistance to the abuse of earthly power and the righteous rewards of persecution and martyrdom, all the while designating the unique object of correct worship — God. In contrast, St. Paul consistently stresses “bending the knee” while also condemning idolatry, and builds a comprehensive theology.
(2) The mode of divine presence: Contrary to Bishop Nedd’s deduction, I do not imply that eucharistic adoration involves “looking God in the eye,” for two reasons. First, the body of Christ in the Eucharist (transubstantiated from the substance of bread, whose accidents remain) cannot be apprehended by the senses, but only by faith (St. Thomas, quoted in the Catechism, no. 1381). Christ is present really and substantially but under a sacramental veil, and thus His physical eye is not seen visually (if it were, we would know His eye color by experience). Second, the conceptual “capturing” or assimilation sometimes denoted by human vision does not apply to eucharistic adoration, since the latter is a contemplative gaze that transforms the viewer, just as reception of the Eucharist grafts the soul into the divine life, not vice versa. Even Moses was once granted a mystical vision of God (not seeing Him as in beatitude, however) in order to witness to the supernatural beatitude that awaits us, says St. Thomas. But no human is a comprehensor of the divine essence. St. Thomas, for instance, denies a complete or comprehensive knowledge of God’s essence even when aided by grace and the light of glory in the next life — the distance between finite power and infinite object simply precludes the possibility of ever containing God through vision or love. Nonetheless, eucharistic adoration involves mysterious knowledge and divine intimacy, as noted by Pope John Paul II: “It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple and to feel the infinite love present in his heart” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 25). Sacramental union and supernatural contemplation focus less on matters of power, privilege, and fear, than on invitation, mystery, and loving wonder.
(3) The Protestant distaste for medieval Eucharistic cult, stemming from the twin denial of the sacrificial nature of the Mass and of Aristotelian metaphysics, impairs the grasp of the dynamic exchange that is eucharistic adoration. It is also often offset by a taste for novelty, which opens the door to a wide and conflicting set of charismatic and ecumenical excesses, including “testimonials,” liturgical experimentation, hyper-community emphasis, “open” (and occasionally inter-species) communion tables, minimizing or co-opting the provenance of contemplative traditions, etc. Further, Article XXV of the Thirty-Nine Articles in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (used in various editions by traditional Anglicans, including those members of the Continuing Anglican Churches who deny transubstantiation) forbids eucharistic adoration, since the Sacrament is to be “duly used,” not “gazed upon or carried about.” The contested “Black Rubric” (originally the last rubric in the communion service) instructs communicants to kneel, “but that thereby no adoration [of the elements] is intended,” suggesting that one should not prostrate oneself, but rather kneel in a non-adoring attitude. In many circles, “dynamic symbolism” came to replace Catholic “naïve realism” regarding the Eucharist, for fear of reifying Christ in the reserved species as an object. Christ’s presence, it is argued, resides rather in the reverent communicants, congregation, or “assembly.” (Cardinal Ratzinger addressed this in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy.)
Finally, with respect to liturgical postures, the central “Christian context” is the eucharistic context. As the “concentration” of the entire paschal mystery, the eucharistic mystery is at the heart of Christianity, and stands at the center of the Church’s life. For Catholics, kneeling is the required canonical norm. For Anglicans, it is a thorny question involving the nature and centrality of the Eucharist, and the related problem of the theological authority involved in the prescription of corporate prayer postures.
Andrew S. Erdelyi
Putnam Station, New York
When Is Kneeling Appropriate?
In her April article, Heather M. Erb writes, “Our adoring contemplation of Christ in the Eucharist is the high point of a journey in progress and a gazing on the mysterious face of Christ, whose light reaches our inner being. ‘Kneeling,’ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger stated, ‘is not only a Christian gesture, but a Christological one.’ The spiritual communion of seeing and being seen begins in adoration and is perfected in the beatific vision.”
Is the Holy Father suggesting here that kneeling is appropriate for adoration within the Mass, particularly during the elevation of the Host? The reason I ask is that in Canada we have been instructed to stand from the Mystery of Faith until the last person in the congregation receives Communion. We do kneel for the consecration, but we stand even for the Agnes Dei and the elevation of the Host.
Robert Lamb, Marine Engineer
HEATHER M. ERB REPLIES:
Mr. Hilborn is correct that there is a dearth of mystagogical catechesis on the Sacred Mysteries. Certain Canadian bishops’ injunctions against kneeling stem, in part, from specious arguments presented in the early 1990s in the “National Bulletin on Liturgy,” produced by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). These arguments include notions of the non-penitential nature of Sunday worship, of kneeling’s “individualism,” its “inactive” quality, etc. Fortunately, these prescriptions have not been universally adopted across the country. The CCCB’s recent “Resources for Implementing the Revised Translation of the Roman Missal” cites the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which prescribes kneeling during the key moments of the eucharistic prayer, but also presents the view that gestures of reverence during Mass are geographically sensitive, in a capitulation to liturgical progressivism. Our Holy Father develops the “theology of kneeling” in The Spirit of the Liturgy, in a chapter entitled “The Body and the Liturgy,” in which he notes its Christian and Christological usage and origins. At the moment of consecration, he states, “we cannot do other than fall to our knees and greet him. It [the consecration] draws our eyes and hearts on high.”
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the former secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, also emphasizes the importance of kneeling before the Holy Eucharist, in the preface to a book written by Bishop Athanasius Schneider titled Dominus Est. Cardinal Ranjith notes the unfortunate practice of some dioceses of removing kneelers, or at least prescribing standing even during the elevation and adoration of the Sacred Species. He reiterates the teaching of Sacramentum Caritatis (no. 65), which stresses the importance of kneeling during the central moments of the eucharistic prayer. The GIRM states that we “should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason” (no. 21). Authority to adapt postures during Mass is, in any case, not the prerogative of priests or individual bishops but of episcopal conferences (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 39).
Joseph P. Wall
David J. Peterson’s letter “Revisiting Versailles” (May) highlights some of the awful miscalculations that brought about World War I and the revenge exacted by Allied Powers when “the entire burden of the war was placed on the German people.” But the most devastating revenge was leveled against the Hungarians who, to begin with, were reluctant to be dragged into war against Serbia over Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination. The Treaty of Trianon, signed at Versailles on June 4, 1920, which dealt with the Kingdom of Hungary, was not mentioned by Peterson.
The cabal of Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Vittorio Orlando was determined to destroy the only remaining Roman Catholic monarchy — namely, the Kingdom of Hungary, which was then part of the equally Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was done under the guise of Wilson’s idiotic “Fourteen Point Plan.” The thousand-year-old Kingdom of Hungary was chopped up into fragments, from which were born some new, artificial national entities, such as Greater Romania, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. It is no secret that large numbers of Germans and Hungarians suddenly became subjects of totally alien realms. How come the Germans of the Sudetenland didn’t have the option of self-determination? How come the Austro-Germans of the Tyrol didn’t have the same? How come the overwhelmingly Hungarian-populated lower half of what is today Slovakia didn’t have the same choices, which were also withheld from the ethnic Hungarians, Germans, and Szekelys in Transylvania, which was torn lock-stock-and-barrel from the ancient Hungarian kingdom and given to Romania?
Had there been a fair application based on Christian principles and not revenge, Hitler’s Germany would not have been able to use the Sudetenland as a pretext for overrunning Czechoslovakia. Hungary’s only aim in joining the Axis was the promise of the return of her stolen lands. Had Hungary been left alone after World War I, more than likely she would have avoided any involvement with Nazi Germany.
Judie Brown, President
I would like to correct David J. Peterson’s assertion that the R.M.S. Lusitania was a “converted British war destroyer.” She was in fact a 31,550 gross-register-ton passenger liner, 787 feet long, and capable of carrying approximately 2,200 people. At the time she was launched in 1906 she was the largest passenger liner in the world.
By contrast, destroyers during World War I were usually about 180 feet long and approximately 900 gross register tons.
It was not the law of international warfare to attack unarmed ships loaded with passengers. The public outrage that ensued after the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats was justified.
The Anscombe Legacy
The New Oxford Note “Ivy League Culture Wars” (May) refers to the pro-life and pro-chastity activities of Princeton University’s Anscombe Society. This group is indeed an excellent example of the way our world is gradually being reshaped according to traditional moral values. The process could be compared to blades of grass breaking through the concrete of our presently highly secularized society. In the end, the grass conquers!
Dr. Elizabeth Anscombe, the group’s namesake, was no armchair philosopher. In addition to raising a large family, she took an active part in England’s pro-life movement. While I never met her, I did work closely with two of her seven (grown) children, her son More and her daughter Tamsin, while doing pro-life work in England and on the Continent. Incidentally, Tamsin has been a Dominican nun in Staffordshire for many years.
Bernard M. Collins
The Terminology that Leads to Termination
I must express my concern over the language used in the letters section of the May issue regarding the topic of when a human being’s life begins and why that life has no arbitrary starting point (“Abortion, Ethics & Double-Effect”). Suffice it to say that James J. Harris seems not to understand basic science, and Joseph E. Kincaid’s reply could muddy the historical waters.
Mr. Harris states that “a woman is not pregnant until the fertilized egg is implanted in her womb.” The term fertilized egg is not a scientific term but one that is used by proponents of abortion for the express purpose of dehumanizing the preborn child during his first days of life. The Carnegie Stages of Early Human Development teaches us the proper terms for those crucial first days of the human being’s life, at which point the proper label for the preborn child is human zygote.
Science also teaches that there is no doubt that at that point pregnancy has begun. While some claim that pregnancy does not begin until implantation, this suggestion reveals a political agenda rather than an accurate presentation of the facts. Plan B, therefore, can act as an early-stage abortion drug, and should not be given to rape victims, period.
Furthermore, the word conception was hijacked in 1965. In the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ “Terminology Bulletin” for September of that year, the following definitions appear:
“· FERTILIZATION is the union of spermatozoon and ovum.
“· CONCEPTION is the implantation of a fertilized ovum. ‘This definition has been selected deliberately because the union of sperm and ovum cannot be detected clinically unless implantation occurs.'”
As a result of this change in terminology, pregnancy was redefined as beginning at implantation rather than conception, thereby solving doctors’ dilemmas when it came to being truthful with their patients about how the birth-control pill works. Since the pill can abort a preborn child prior to implantation, it was convenient for these doctors and their collaborators, including Planned Parenthood, to redefine the word conception and thereby throw into doubt the commonly held understanding of when a pregnancy actually begins.
It behooves each of us to take great care when we impart facts about the human being whose life begins at creation. I use the word creation because it helps us include in our discussion those preborn babies who result from sexual relations as well as those who result asexually from natural occurrences like monozygotic twins and clinical occurrences such as cloning.
Each of these human beings is a unique child of God. That is why we must not make it possible through the use of sloppy language for further confusion to set in. When that happens, the culture of death wins the argument every time.
I commend Dr. Kincaid for his overarching message, both in his reply to Mr. Harris and in his article (“On the Ethical Treatment of Rape Victims,” Mar.) that elicited the discussion, which is that aborting a child at any stage of his biological development is an act of violence and results in more trauma for the rape victim whose baby is intentionally killed. Abortion is a crime; we are inspired to end that crime by sharing the truth.
It was shocking to read James J. Harris’s letter describing the “moral rights” of rape victims. He uses a subjective definition of when life begins to justify the termination of lives conceived by the act of rape. Missing from Dr. Kincaid’s reply was that changing the terms we use does not change when life begins. Whether we say that it begins “at the moment of conception,” at “implantation,” or “somewhere between age one to three,” has no bearing on when life itself comes into existence, which is precisely at conception. Our play on words cannot change reality.
As for the rape victim, the reasoning is clear: Her rights have already been violated; but we cannot correct one violation with a violation of a more insidious and permanent nature — i.e., the murder of the innocent unborn child. This by no means detracts from the severity of the violation of rape, or the emotional and physical trauma such a horrendous act causes. Yet we cannot set aside the rights of other innocent people because an act of evil has been perpetrated against one person.
The Future Belongs to the Fertile
The New Oxford Note “Where Have All the Children Gone?” (Mar.) was well done. For many years, the clear cause of Catholic school closings has been evident for all to observe. The situation is virtually global, and the full crisis is nearly upon us as we face the grave decline of world population. Urban blight, white flight, and suburban sprawl are only a local, collaborative part of the story. Generous Catholic family life could have made the difference, but it was never preached or lived with sufficient joy, even by those who accept the teaching of Humanae Vitae or who made their own the “responsible” parenthood promoted by Pope John Paul II.
My wife and I traveled widely over France by automobile in 1988. As we left Paris’s De Gaulle Airport on our way home, I commented to her, “You know, after three weeks, I cannot recall seeing either a child or a pregnant woman.” Perhaps it was because the children were in school, or because the generally beautiful architecture and magnificent countryside had occupied our interest. But not one child? We love children: We have six of our own and many grandchildren, so we were naturally on the lookout. Then I remembered a book by Maisie Ward, which I had read in the 1940s, titled Is France Pagan? I realized that the great but despoiled culture of France had become the eager recipient of modern contraception and was an early product of the emerging culture of death. What we saw in 1988 was a dying population.
“Unnatural deeds” did “breed unnatural troubles,” as Shakespeare knew they do. So we Catholics must ask ourselves what we can do, in the midst of the great confusion and consternation we have helped cause, to accomplish God’s will in the specific context of today’s circumstances, not those of some ideal past. Let’s not deceive ourselves with ghost statistics: We really are a shrinking Church, and we are only a shadow of our earlier presence in society. Our first obligation is, of course, to have children courageously, but if we are to live our Christian vocation enthusiastically, we also need a breakthrough vision.
My family has had an experience that might be useful. After 33 years of raising our children with the help of our parish, the school became less than acceptable for their children. The parents’ role in the curriculum had been overlooked and then overruled, especially under the rubric of “sex ed.” Furthermore, with the diminishing presence of traditional religious sisters, a Gaia mentality made its presence known in the classroom. At the start of the day, a teacher was pledging allegiance to “Mother Earth and all her sacred parts.” Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the student body became increasingly dominated by non-Catholic families looking for an alternative to the local public schools. We, on the other hand, began looking for an alternative to the parish school.
And so “Crossland Latin School: A Private Education in the Catholic Tradition” became a reality. Legalities and accreditation proved to be of no impeding consequence and were handled easily. Initially, we were located, rent-free, in the basement of a retirement home — a great place to start that benefited both students and residents. Later we relocated to a larger facility in a failing Protestant church two blocks from the parish school. It too was offered free of charge. From one classroom and one teacher with five or six grade levels, we expanded to three classrooms and eight grades, and eventually a total of about 25 students. Family tuitions easily covered operating expenses. Holy Mass was offered in the classroom weekly by understanding priests. The rosary was a regular part of school life. The catechism was taught faithfully and the students were standouts in their confirmation classes at the local parish. The interaction between grade levels was one of the enormously productive parts of the school’s natural activities. Parental involvement was required and happily given. High school success was assured. One of our grads even became the valedictorian of her high-school graduating class (and “homecoming queen”). To my knowledge, our graduates all succeeded at college. Launching and operating Crossland was an incredibly enriching experience for all involved.
As the years passed, however, core families moved, and the Protestant church was sold. As it was too close to the local parish school to attract much attention anyway, Crossland moved to a suburban location, where it eventually closed.
Without schools of a dependably Catholic character, the life of the Church in our largest cities is effectively dead. We should all understand that the future belongs to the fertile. A handful of isolated couples living in the city who have a Catholic understanding of marriage — i.e., who live the Church’s teaching of generous family life — will not be able to hold on to that way of life without the mutual help found in a wholesome, faithful school life for their children. The urban neighborhoods with their historic parish structures, and their potential for a rich spiritual and cultural life, as well as lower housing costs, will continue to decay and be abandoned to the forces of secularism and lower fertility rates. Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, etc., all attest to this reality.
Crossland Latin School proved to me that there can be answers to at least some of the urban family problems when Catholics live a generous family life and find mutual support in the setting of a faithful Catholic school. Crossland would not have succeeded as long as it did if it were based on a “bunker mentality.” Generous Catholic family life would be incompatible with such a mindset. It is prevented by a founding Christian perspective that is open to the full implications of our faith and the cheerful optimism that looks outward to the world, with which God wants us to be in contact. Schools such as Crossland, under the influence of generosity, have the potential for real evangelization.
I believe that urban parishes should invite and encourage parents to begin small, independent schools like Crossland, and allow their operation in existing parish facilities, the ones their great-grandparents paid for. The parents’ primary responsibility for the education of their children, and their accountability, would be the glue that maintains solidarity and authenticity, and would demonstrate the school’s unbreakable link to the home.
The Death & Rebirth of a Man
I have known Dr. Terence Hughes, author of “The Death of a Man & the Hope of Mankind” (Mar.), since the 1960s, when we were both at Ohio State University and I was administering grants that included his research in the polar regions. I was Associate Director of the Institute of Polar Studies at the time. His ability to recognize issues in his field of glaciology and to carry out research in topics that his peers regarded as unconventional labeled him in some ways a renegade. However, renegades can obviously conduct leading-edge research and have it published, as evidenced by his record over the next many years.
Terry immersed himself thoroughly in his research and also in teaching at the University of Maine, and gradually adopted another career that created occasional troubles with his colleagues and academic officials. That sideline to his academic work was about the “right to life” that he and his wife, Bev, took very seriously and lasts to this day. Rather than dwell on that, I only want to add that Terry’s views on religion and the afterlife that he will eventually enter as a result of his bout with pancreatic cancer make his article worth reading over again. That he has prepared himself for the inevitable is a tribute to the kind of man he is: never yielding, aware that he is accountable to God, and a symbol for what all humans should consider in their waning years. I wish him well, and admire him for his dedication to his ideals.
Ed. Note: In light of the preceding letter, we asked Terry for an update on his condition. His reply, which picks up where his article leaves off, is below.
TERENCE J. HUGHES REPLIES:
Pancreatic cancer is a determined adversary with many ways of prevailing over its victims, like a general commanding troops in a take-no-prisoners campaign.
On my way to the bathroom right after Thanksgiving Day 2011, I felt dizzy, lost my balance, and almost collapsed. A friend took me to St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre, South Dakota, where a CAT scan showed spots on my lungs and liver, which the doctor interpreted as tiny cancer tumors (I had been diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer back in July 2010). He told me I was a dead man walking.
I was taken by ambulance to the cancer institute in Rapid City, where a more accurate CAT scan led my cancer quack to conclude that the lung spots were actually tiny blood clots. He didn’t see spots in my liver. He concluded that blood clots from my legs passed through my heart into my lungs, and that’s why I almost passed out. He said they could have killed me.
He put me on an IV that introduced drugs into my bloodstream that would dissolve the clots. He also inserted an “umbrella screen” in my body that, folded, went from my neck through my heart to the big blood vessel from my legs. Then the “umbrella” was opened and the screen intercepted any new blood clots so the drug could dissolve them before they reached my heart and lungs. After ten days I was discharged. During that time I walked to Mass at the cathedral, about a mile away, first on a Saturday evening in total darkness and a stiff wind, then on a calm Sunday morning in bright sunshine. I signed a statement releasing the hospital from responsibility on those two occasions. The “general” in charge of my tumor had produced proteins that attacked the walls of my blood vessels, so my body reacted by trying to heal the wounds. That’s what caused blood clots to form. Militarily, it was a flanking maneuver.
With the new drug, the tumor marker fell to 34 in June, a good, low number, but my weight loss continued and I now weigh 200 pounds — I’ve lost 70 pounds since the “general” saw fit to attack my body. And it wasn’t all fat; I’ve lost a lot of muscle too, and my loss of energy continues. But food no longer has that metallic taste; about half of its natural taste has returned.
Meanwhile, the “general” in my tumor had been keeping my pancreas from producing natural insulin, so I became diabetic. Worse, it prevented my pancreas from producing an enzyme that assists in digesting what I eat. So the food I was eating passed right through me. That’s why I kept losing weight even though my appetite had partly returned and I’d been eating more. My cancer quack prescribed capsules that provide the enzyme but so far that hasn’t stopped the weight loss. Militarily, the “general” had severed my supply line. Now my pancreas has been producing natural insulin again.
For all that, I was able to organize and lead rallies outside the Federal Building in Pierre this March protesting the loss of religious freedom imposed by Kathleen Sebelius, who as governor of Kansas protected late-term abortionist “Tiller the Killer” from prosecution and who now runs Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services. “Health care” as defined by Obamacare now includes drugs that prevent women from conceiving babies, drugs that kill babies already conceived, and surgery that makes sure a woman will never be able to have children. This isn’t so much health care as it is a direct attack on a healthy woman’s reproductive system, with the goal being to prevent the next generation of Americans from being born. This is the real “war on women,” not the phony one Obama conjures. It is also a direct attack on the future of the United States of America. Opposing this with all the strength I have left is what’s keeping me alive. That and my prayer that God keeps me alive as long as I can be fully attentive to my wife, Bev, and that He’ll take me outta here when I fail in that endeavor.
Better Than Rice Cakes
Thank you for a year of enlightening and thought-provoking reading, courtesy of your scholarship fund for prisoners, retired religious, and other impoverished Catholics. I would be most grateful for another. There are fewer and fewer solid magazines like yours, so for the love of God, keep it up! There is a plethora of liberal-leaning periodicals out there, and just as many that are orthodox but which are also intellectually and spiritually bland. Just because I want to eat right doesn’t mean I need to eat rice cakes! And there are the traditionalist magazines that are sometimes just as bad as the liberal ones, only in the opposite direction. Your magazine is special, part of a small group of orthodox, spiritually and intellectually filling, and fruitful periodicals. Keep up the good work and may God bless you and, through you, the lives of all who ever have the honor of reading the NOR.
Ed. Note: This prisoner, along with many others, receives the NOR free of charge thanks to the generous readers who have donated to our scholarship fund. For more information about the fund, and how to contribute, see the notice on page 45 of this issue.
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