On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option III

Rod Dreher’s middle chapters on liturgy and community make the most sense to me. Once he gets out of politics, his thinking and the writing that represents it gets clearer. Liam’s comment brings it together for me:

When Rod steps off the topical treadmill, his writing gains immensely.

I can even see the point Mr Dreher makes about “tightening church discipline,” though I think this is ideally handled in the context of a fair-minded local community and not a distant clerical elite. Or worse, an ideological one. I recognize Rod’s personal bitterness with “misbehavers” over the years. That’s certainly colored my church experience, too.

In my view, Chapter Seven on “Education as Christian Formation” is largely a failure. I might comment on the Enlightenment emphasis on human reason and will. I’m a big skeptic to the notion that you can learn a person into good morality and ethics–let alone faith and belief. Here’s one nugget:

In traditional Christianity, the ultimate goal of the soul is to love and serve God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, to achieve unity with Him in eternity.

Do you see what’s missing? The Great Commission entrusts a mission to us before we achieve eternal unity, namely the proclamation of Christ to the world. Sure: you can say this is done in the service of God. I might argue that heaven is the natural consequence of the cooperation with grace in this life–why mention that either? The commonality of the ancient Church was this kerygmatic impulse. Evangelization wasn’t left to the experts. It began with those unnamed seventy-two even before Jesus completed his earthly mission.

The author touts Great Books and a Classical Education, but again: this is head stuff. It can be mastered without touching a student’s heart. The uncritical embrace of “traditional” Western Civilization is part of the problem. There are values to be found among the “dead white men” of the Christian West, to be sure. But not every value is a virtue. Classical education did not prevent many grievous sins in generations past. Young people are right to question aspects of “tradition” that work in ways contrary to the Gospel, or to basic moral conduct.

I’ll finish up the book in a few days and report one those final chapters and offer a conclusion.

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Aparecida 177: Sacrament of Reconciliation

You readers know I’m a skeptic when it comes to any notion of “exceptionalism” in generations–good or bad. When I read observations about a loss of a sense of sin, I think, “That’s not new. That’s always going on.”

177. Benedict XVI reminds us that “a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation”(Sacramentum Caritatis 20) We live in a culture marked by strong relativism and a loss of the sense of sin which leads us to forget the need for the sacrament of Reconciliation in order to worthily approach receiving the Eucharist.

It is not a mark of a particular culture, but rather the human condition to lose or lack a sense of sin. That said, the following guidance is always helpful and appropriate:

As pastors, we are called to encourage frequent confession. We invite our priests to devote sufficient time to offering the sacrament of Reconciliation with pastoral zeal and merciful hearts, and to prepare worthily the places of celebration, so that they may express the meaning of this sacrament. Likewise, we ask our faithful to appreciate this marvelous gift of God and to approach it in order to renew baptismal grace and to live more authentically the call of Jesus to be his disciples and missionaries.

Good, this: the connection to baptism, grace, and the work of discipleship.

We bishops and priests, ministers of reconciliation, are particularly called to live intimately with the Master. We are conscious of our weakness and of the need to be purified by the grace of the sacrament which is offered to us so that we may identify ever more with Christ, Good Shepherd, and missionary of the Father. As it is our joy to be fully available as ministers of reconciliation, we ourselves must also frequently approach, on our penitential journey, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

For a deeper look, remember to check the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 176: The Imagination of Charity

A citation from Pope John Paul II on “the imagination of charity” blends with a call for the parish church to be on the watch for every possible opportunity to present itself and its members as agents for Christ in a world that too often rejoices in the suffering of the majority of human beings.

176. The Eucharist, sign of unity with all, which extends and makes present the mystery of the Son of God made man (cf. Phil 2:6-8), poses for us the need for comprehensive evangelization. The vast majority of the Catholics of our continent live under the scourge of poverty. It has different expressions: economic, physical, spiritual, moral, and so forth. If Jesus came so that we might have life in fullness, the parish has the wonderful opportunity of responding to the great needs of our peoples. To do so it must follow the path of Jesus and become good Samaritan like Him. Each parish must come to embody in specific signs of solidarity its social commitment in the various settings in which it moves, with all “the imagination of charity.”(Novo Millennio Ineunte 50) It cannot stand apart from the great suffering endured by most of our people often in the form of hidden poverties. Any authentic mission combines concern for the transcendent dimension of human beings and for all their concrete needs, so that all may reach the fullness offered by Jesus Christ.


For a deeper look, remember to check the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option II

I made it through the second fifty pages since my last post on this book. Chapter Three involves a visit to an Italian Benedictine monastery. I find it curious that Mr Dreher would choose to cross the Atlantic to detail a monastic movement from the inside when he had dozens of choices much closer.

Trappists are perhaps the most hardcore of the Benedictine heritage. Other communities have found fruitfulness in a country not always welcoming of Catholics.

I had the same reaction to the lament over persecution as I’ve had when I’ve read conservative Christians online. Warnings about losing one’s job and having one’s children barred from the college of their choice are a choice brand of apocalypticism. That kind of thing happens in the Middle East. Ejecting people from jobs has been a favorite political tactic of the American Right. Not to mention LGBT people being accepted into church jobs with a wink and their children embraced as Catholic school students, only to have the wink rescinded once the sexuality of partners or parents was outed.

When Rod Dreher talks about “A New Kind of Christian Politics” it reads like sour grapes. I know: he had a lot of keystrokes invested in the culturewar. I understand his bitterness with business interests determining that they have more to gain by embracing a wider net of people. What did he expect? Political conservativism involves no bestowal of immaculate freedom from sin. Likewise for the self-styled faithful orthodox. We are all human beings, Left and Right. As such, we all sin and fall short of an ideal of virtue.

As for the suggestion to delve into “antipolitical politics,” I’ve read of a lot of liberals doing the like for the past forty years:

Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good.

What the author speaks of here is an intentionality about one’s life. To decide what the best course for fruitful living might be, and then to take steps to aim toward it. A lot of non-religious people are doing it. Also liberals, libertarians, hippies, Greens, and a larger assortment of people than with whom Mr Dreher usually chums, I suspect.

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Aparecida 175: The Sacramental Life

Continuing with the Aparecida bishops as they look at parish life, we reflect with them on the sacramental life. The parish is the first setting one usually considers. That’s not to say the home or the diocese lack a sacramental manifestation, for each certainly does. Pope Benedict made the connection between the early Christian community, idealized in Acts 2, and the active life of the local parish:

175. Following the example of the early Christian community (cf. Acts 2:46-47), the parish community gathers to break the bread of the Word and of the Eucharist and to persevere in catechesis, the sacramental life, and the practice of charity.(Benedict XVI, General Audience, Apostolic Visit to Brazil, May 23, 2007) It renews its life in Christ in the eucharistic celebration. For the parish, the Eucharist, in which the community of the disciples is strengthened, is a school of Christian life. There, together with eucharistic adoration and the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation in order to worthily approach to receive communion, its members are prepared so they can produce ongoing fruits of charity, reconciliation, and justice for the life of the world.

A summary follows:

a) The Eucharist, source and culmination of the Christian life, makes our parishes to be ever eucharistic communities that sacramentally live the encounter with Christ Savior.

They also celebrate with joy:

b) In Baptism: the incorporation of a new member into Christ and into his body which is the Church.

c) In Confirmation: the perfection of the baptismal character and strengthening of ecclesial belonging and of apostolic maturity.

d) In Penance or Reconciliation: the conversion that we all need to combat sin, which makes us inconsistent with our baptismal commitments.

e) In the Anointing of the Sick: the evangelical sense of community members who are seriously ill or in danger of death.

f) In the sacrament of Holy Orders: the gift of the apostolic ministry which continues to be exercised in the Church for the pastoral care of all the faithful.

g) In Matrimony: love of spouses which as God’s grace germinates and grows to maturity making effective in daily life the complete self-giving that they made mutually in marrying.

What do you make of these definitions/descriptions? Would you see conversion as the aim of Penance? Would you agree that the adjective “evangelical” fits for the anointing of the sick?

For a deeper look, remember to check the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Nice Ship

Image result for orville shipBefore reading the reviews, my wife and I viewed the new sf show from Fox/Seth MacFarlane. Then I read the reviews. I had never experienced the series star before, so I have no point of reference to the criticisms of the actor for his previous media activity. Some impressions follow …

As for the Star Trek connection, the show seems two-thirds homage and one-third spoof. Twenty-five years after the golden age of Star Trek on television, the visuals seem more polished. I guess they can do this more cheaply than they could in 1992.

On that note, the aliens seem rather cartoonish. But maybe that’s the comedy part breaking through.

There’s the sex and elimination jokes. Too many, and usually not funny. Speaking of science orientation, I’d say The Big Bang Theory does the comedy thing way better. I’ve always wondered what would happen if some sf angle happened on TBBT and some of them got whisked off into the future or into space. I think their braintrust could do it better than Mr MacFarlane.

So my wife asked me what I thought. Despite the problems, I liked it a bit more than I was prepared to do so.

Meanwhile, in the Star Trek universe, people keep insisting on two failed propositions: slavish imitation that would get Fox sued and going back in time rather than forward. Original ideas, please.



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Aparecida 173-174: Parishes Developing Missionaries

Parishes need to train their lay people to something new, yet something essential to the mission of the Gospel:

173. The Fifth General Conference is an opportunity for all of our parishes to become missionary. The number of Catholics who come to our Sunday celebration is limited; the number of those who are afar, and of those who do not know Christ is immense. Missionary renewal of parishes is urgent in the evangelization of both large cities and the countryside in our continent, which is demanding imagination and creativity on our part so as to reach the multitudes who yearn for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The creation of new pastoral structures is an issue especially in the urban environment because many of those structures arose in other times to respond to the needs of the countryside.

It seems the presence and ministry of clergy (large cities) is not enough. Adapting to a new era, too, requires new thinking, initiative, and ideas more attuned to today’s challenges. The seeds of all this were planted at Vatican II.

174. The best efforts of parishes now at the outset of the third millennium must be aimed at inviting and training of lay missionaries. Only by multiplying them will we be able to respond to the missionary demands of today.

It’s not about just transforming lay women and men into “churchy” people, but forming them to reveal the Gospel where we live, work, and play in the world.

It is also important to recall that the specific field of lay evangelizing activity is the complex world of work, culture, the sciences and the arts, politics, the media and the economy, as well as the realms of family, education, professional life, particularly in those settings where the church becomes present only through them.(Lumen Gentium 31, 33; Gaudium et Spes 43; Apostolicam Actuositatem 2)

For a deeper look, remember to check the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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