Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Job 7:1-4

A thought experiment: ask some occasional Christians or non-believers to name off books of the Old Testament. My guess is that Job would place close behind first-place Genesis.

It’s a complex work. Scholars place it among the poetic literature. It’s a long 42-chapter lyric addressing the basic question of human pain: why do good people suffer?

It’s also a human work, as it depicts the “good” person as flawed, imperfect, and even prone to sin. Job doubts, rages, and asks questions of God. Here are some of them:

Is not life on earth a drudgery,
its days like those of a hireling?
Like a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for wages,
So I have been assigned months of futility,
and troubled nights have been counted off for me.
When I lie down I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.

For a home visit to anoint the sick, maybe a minister and recipient want something this honest. The disruption of sleep is a real problem for many ill people. We know a body needs rest. And yet, difficulties in getting that rest certainly give rise to the complaints uttered above. If an illness and accompanying insomnia do last weeks and months, that is certainly an obstacle to both health and spiritual calm.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

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Teilhard, Attack And Defense

Image result for teilhard de chardinI found myself on the fringes of a facebook discussion about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the concern over his being the subject of a fandom and his supposedly foundational racism, his defense at commonweal, and the suggestion this defense is somewhat unconvincing. At that last link, Tim O’Malley, a liturgist I admire, said, “Commonweal’s defense of Teilhard is weird.”

Unpacking all of this takes more than a fb comment. Taking it a bit in reverse, I’m not sure the defense is Commonweal’s as much as it belongs to John F Haught, a Georgetown theologian. His conclusion:

I do wish that Teilhard had expressed himself more clearly at times. I wish too that he had been more ecologically sensitive, less Eurocentric, a bit more Darwinian and less Lamarckian, more aware of gender issues, more attuned to the ambiguities of technology, and so on. Well, I wish too that John Chrysostom and Martin Luther had purged their preaching and prose of every trace of anti-Semitism, and that Thomas Aquinas had given us a deeper understanding of human sexuality. My point, of course, is that most of us do not take the blemishes in our religious classics to be foundational or legacy-defining. If we are fair, we can usually find in the main writings of saints and scholars the very principles that demolish those defects. Surely we can and should read Teilhard’s vast body of writings no less leniently. Teilhard’s reflections and principles put forth a theologically and morally rich framework within which we—and he—should be able at least to ask the hard questions without having to be accused of ethical monstrosity.

This strikes me as balanced, honest, and rather un-weird, especially in comparison to the blogosphere. It is part of the current human enterprise in rationalism, a very definite child of the worst of the Enlightenment, that many internet discussions about celebrities descend into a gotcha! contest. What is the worst we can dig up on a person? Or, if we are opposed by some foil, what can we dig up on their heroes? What dirt on what pope, bishop, theologian, saint, or grandmother can help us in our zero-sum game of lifting our own comfort level at the expense of someone else’s. Maybe that’s some kind of rejoinder to Teilhard’s sense of spiritual evolution. Who knows?

I’ve read John Slattery on Teilhard, and he seems to have a back-and-forth about essays behind firewalls and not. One of his conclusions:

I do believe Teilhard still has much to teach us about science, faith, and mysticism; but no, I do not believe he can or should teach us anything else about racism.

I can admit upfront I’m more an admirer of Teilhard than a scholar of his work. The man was a paleontologist–and that was more or less the core of my undergraduate studies. I observe that Teilhard is celebrated as much for being persecuted by the institutional church than for the content of his work, which I admit I have found difficult to follow. If you do a search on this website, you will find him mentioned about a dozen times. I find myself drawn more to the man who experienced God’s creation and was able to put his reflections and prayers into words as part of that.

He was not viewed with uncritical praise by his colleagues in the sciences or theology. Even a fanboy or fangirl can concede that. On the other hand, I don’t see a handful of difficult statements in many volumes of work to be evidence of his theology being rooted in racism. Mr Slattery’s assertion …

Teilhard de Chardin unequivocally supported racist eugenic practices, praised the possibilities of the Nazi experiments, and looked down upon those who he deemed “imperfect” humans. These ideas explicitly lay the groundwork for Teilhard’s famous cosmological theology, a link which has been largely ignored in Teilhardian research until now.

… seems quite a stretch for my reading eyes.

To be fair to Mr Slattery, his conclusions from that first link above, a summary of a 2018 paper:

Three final points must be made. First, it should seem obvious that I strongly object to Teilhard being named a Doctor of the Church, though I don’t object to the Vatican removing Teilhard’s previous censures—if those censures were based on scientific ideas alone.

Second, even though this essay contains the largest collection to date of Teilhard’s writings on the relationship between forced human perfection and cosmic theology, I have no doubt that there is more to be found.

And third, in order for Teilhardian scholarship to continue in light of this essay, academics, clergy, and laypersons alike must be vigilant in reconsidering our own cosmic theologies in relationship to eugenics.

On number one, the man is not yet a saint–except as recognized in the Episcopal Church. We know the institutional church found it difficult when confronted with scientific developments of the 19th and 20th centuries–and that was certainly part of their opposition to Teilhard.

I’d like to read more about “forced human perfection.” As a science-educated person, I know that human beings, over the past several millennia, have engaged in some threads of genetic modification. We see the results in nutrition in not a few ways, including tolerance of lactose, to increases in height across the world. Our choices–casual, intentional, and accidental–all have results in the realities of the physical human body. Is a six-foot modern human innoculated against diseases who can drink milk superior to a five-foot human from thirty centuries ago? Teilhard would acknowledge their equality before God. But a person picking sides for basketball or tlachtli would likely be biased toward the taller, stronger human.

And number three, I think a scholar needs more than a repetition of the word “eugenics” for it to apply. I’ve seen his cherry-picked quotes and I’m not sure that Teilhard uses that term in exactly the same way as his critic or I might.

I’m also unconvinced that seeking the “more to be found” is necessarily helpful in the discussion. I think if one wants to build on Teilhard and refine his efforts in cosmology, mysticism, and his reflections on Christ, then the fruitful path is to elucidate the positive connections.

On that last point, I’m aware that various believers take aim at Saint Paul or Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or most any other for offenses against women, Jews, sexual propriety, etc.. I think it’s healthy to have a healthy skepticism about what people have said or written. I also think it incumbent on a faithful theologian or theology-oriented believer to resist the urge to dismantle the heroes of other believers without offering something of substance that builds up faith, understanding, and especially the intersection of the two.

Comments that expressly declare “(this) is weird” really do nothing to further the Gospel.

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Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Job 3:1-3

Care for people who are sick and dying has been part of Christianity from the time of Jesus. The Jewish tradition extends centuries into the past from there. The book of Job is one of the most well-known Scriptures both to those within the faith and people outside of it.

Westerners zero in on the “patience” aspect. However, that narrative doesn’t go deep enough. By the beginning of chapter 3, like many sick people, the patriarch has had enough:

After this,
Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.
Job spoke out and said:
Perish the day on which I was born,
the night when they said, “The child is a boy!”

I’ve known people beset by chronic illness. Constant pain is one of the worst. Likewise cancer sufferers who find the treatment as brutal as the disease. Or more so. “Perish the day I was born”–it’s not an uncommon thought. I wouldn’t shy away from it either.

A person with a lasting illness may be anointed if the condition worsens. The Pastoral Care rites provide for repeating anointing, even for the same sickness. I would think that a spiral into discouragement would certainly count also, particularly if the original condition was grave enough to steer a person to wish she or he had never been born.

An inexperienced minister might be tempted to discount Job’s feeling expressed in this reading. If a person truly feels this, a more fruitful tack might be to just listen. And not imitate Eliphaz or Bildad or Zophar.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

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The Armchair Liturgist: St Blase On Sunday?

What do you do every fifth, sixth, or eleventh year when the third of February falls on Sunday?

Liturgy geeks know that the memorial of Blase, Bishop and Martyr, just vanishes when the observance falls on a Sunday. But there used to be a great attachment to the blessing of a throat.

Did you know a lay person may invoke the saint?

A few of us were discussing the placement of this feast–somewhat after the advent of flu season. Better in November?


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Now Presenting: The Last Day of Christmas


Saturday can be a sore spot for some parishes and their liturgies. Some clergy do not offer a regular Mass on this day. I’ve been in parishes where everyday Massgoers celebrate on Saturday night instead, returning the next day for the same readings, music, and even a homily.

Elsewhere on the Saturday front, obligatory holy days often lose what little energy the Church offers on special observances. Days like today slip even deeper into a non-celebratory void. When I’ve pressed clergy on celebrating All Saints on Saturday, I haven’t always been persuasive enough.

The Presentation Feast lies just a bit behind the obligatory holy day: important enough to Image result for cream cheese pastrybump an ordinary Sunday’s readings and prayers, yet not vital enough to “compel” mandatory attendance. My own sense is that these observances deserve a full celebration as if they were obligatory.

If there’s to be a sense of recovery of these days in the Catholic imagination, days like this will need more than a church full of candles and music stuffed from entrance to sending. Parties would be a good start–even Saturday morning pastries and drinks if nothing else.

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Children In Church

See the source imageThe “Rebuilt” priest, Michael White, has stirred a nest of hornets in his opinion that parents aren’t encouraged to bring little children to Mass.

It’s a reasonable notion. It’s also not the only notion.

In his book, he cites testimony from parents who are relieved to have the experience of child-free worship. And they’re speaking their own children. Sometimes kids can be a handful–even one child (and on that point I speak with experience). If a couple can only get away for one experience together, and if their kids require more than minimal attention, then I would affirm Fr White’s position.

If parents can’t root themselves in a worship experience, how could we expect them to be fed and nourished for their spiritual duties to each other and to their children in the coming week?

That said, I could imagine two parents who pray together at least once a day, and who engage their children in prayer. Same parents also bring their kids to church at times other than Sunday Mass and accustom the young ones to quiet. Even if those girls and boys at Sunday Mass started crawling all over the woodwork, I can see a prudent choice in favor of bringing them to Mass.

There’s a bottom line: it all depends.

I also read Prof. Tim O’Malley’s critique. I largely agree with it also. He has a deeper grasp of the theology of Mass than Fr White. His arguments in favor of the spiritual imagination of children are persuasive.

If people in a parish are distracted by little kids, my advice there: get over it.

Catholic bloggers who are deacons, educators, and homeschoolers, critical of Fr White, likewise. It’s just advice. Not a standing order.

Fr White’s critics all have more tools, resources, and experience at their disposal than “Timonium Tim,” the typical suburban American quasi-MTD seeker that Fr White is just trying to get into the building more than once or twice a year. Parents who find children more a burden at Mass need mentors, not theology or a blanket we’re-okay/they’re okay. My guess is that’s Rebuilt 201.

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It seems like four out of five times I begin to write a blog post, I ask myself, why?

My reading for enjoyment has picked up quite a bit the past two months. But instead of writing a book review on something hardly any reader will read, I find it more exciting to pick up the next book.

I still monitor church news, but I find that the endless commentary on teens in MAGA hats, the Cuomo-Dolan feud, the Fr Michael White-parentswithkids feud, and new pastoral letters on music is hardly relevant to my ministry or spiritual life. Teens continue to do dumb things. Daily. Likewise politicians and bishops, parents and pastors, musicians and people who don’t seem to understand music. Um, so what, except for the people directly involved.

I was thinking about a five-years-ago, ten years, or fifteen years feature. But whenever I turn the clock back, for every good essay from Neil or the occasional word from me, there are nine posts that strike me as more bloggy than relevant.

It might be that inspiration will strike and I’ll pick up the pace somewhat. But that’s not likely to happen to the tune of 150-post months.

So, there’s your bloggy update. More tomorrow. Or maybe not.



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