Commonplace Book: November 2004 Archives

They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would burgeon anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison house; some time, the light that only showed now, like a will-o'-the-wisp on the horizon would broaden out, at last, into the perfect day.

This attitude of expectation is one which the Church wants to encourage in us, her children permanently. She sees it as an essential part of our Christian drill. . . So she encourages us, during Advent, to take the shepherd-folk for our guides, and imagine ourselves travelling with them at dead of night, straining our eyes towards that chink of light which streams out, we know, from the cave at Bethlehem.

I found the excerpt in In Conversation with God for the Advent Season.

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from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life
William Law (1686-1761)

It is as reasonable to suppose it the desire of all Christians to arrive at Christian perfection as to suppose that all sick men desire to be restored to perfect health; yet experience shows us, that nothing wants more to be pressed, repeated, and forced upon our minds, than the plainest rules of Christianity.

I am reminded more and more of this when I am under the pressure of deadlines, etc. I grow more remote, more difficult to approach, more distant, less concerned for the welfare of others. What I realize is that it is not during the good times that character expresses itself, but rather during the difficult times. And each type of difficult time reveals something more of character. If we wish to know outselves well, we should take a snapshot at each of our difficult moments--mourning, under pressure, under scrutiny, in financial crisis, whatever. Each of these moments will shows us in greater or lesser light depending in large part on how far we have allowed grace and "the plainest rules of Christianity" to shape us. And it is in examining moments like these that the Saints themselves realized how far they were from the perfection that is part of God's gift to us.

And yet, lest we use this as an excuse to tumble into despair, our Father loves us with an everlasting love no matter how unloveable we try to make ourselves. It is important to remember that His is a love with no conditions and without regard to persons. His love is more intimate than the masks we wear--it is love of the core of our being, of the person He sees us as in the body of Christ.

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in thirty words or less, care of Mark Lowery.

from Living the Good Life
Mark Lowery

It is essential to grasp the Christian conception of history found in Scripture and tradition, and heavily influenced by St. Augustine's understanding as put forth in his classic work Certainly all humans live within history. But the best way to improve the world is by an awareness--a membership in--another "city" or "kingdom" far more important: the kingdom of God or the city of God.

Those who follow Christ and have grace in their hearts are citizens of this city--and as we'll see later, non-Christians can have some connection to his city. (The "charter of this city is the beatitudes--see CCC 1716-24.) Members of the Church, then, have a dual citizenship, in both the city of God and in the historical, political order. As Gaudium et Spes 43 notes: "This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit."

Two points here--one germane and one professional.

We straddle two kingdoms, one of which we see "as in a glass darkly." Too often we live out our lives with the notion of WYSIWYG. And yet, it is precisely what you do NOT see that is what we end up getting. We see the kingdom of God rarely, but it does emerge if we are looking. It comes out in small ways and in large. For example, it may emerge in the smile of someone greeting us as we come into work. It certainly does emerge in the Eucharistic celebration, if we are paying attention.

Now to my other point, a trivial one, but one that niggles at me. (And you'll note that it takes up the majority of this post.) Who the heck edits these books? What's with this insane jumble of grammatical oddities:

t is essential to grasp the Christian conception of history found in Scripture and tradition, and heavily influenced by St. Augustine's understanding as put forth in his classic work Certainly all humans live within history.

Why a colon? Then, as the colon is not terminal punctuation, why the capital letter following. And who is paying attention to sequence. Note this: But the best way to improve the world is by an awareness--a membership in--another "city" or "kingdom" far more important: the kingdom of God or the city of God..

Why construct the sentence so that you mention city or kingdom and then reverse the order after a colon (which should be an m-dash).

I'm sorry to bend your ear with this kind of thing, but more and more recently I'm noticing that editors are not doing their jobs. House styles are collapsing in the reign of the Stephen King and Michael Crichton, who have grown too big to be "edited." For example, has anyone read the bloated version of Stephen King's The Stand? Here is the strongest possible evidence that good editors know what they are doing and that the author's original conception is not always the best way to do things. I think Lowery's book is likely to be very helpful in sorting out a great many matters, and it does not pretend to be a handbook of style and grammar. Yet, to quote Tevye, "Would it spoil some grand eternal plan, if it were edited well?" Sorry, tirade ended. Back to sleep mode.

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Those of you who went to Catholic Universities and who studied theology and moral theology already know more about this than I could possibly share. But reading through one of my many books, I stumbled upon this term and concept and felt that it would make a marvelous addition and reminder as I look back over my posts, garnering from it them some of the insights I had a various times.

from Living the Good Life
Mark Lowery

Participated theonomy is a fancy way of saying that God's truth is build for us--his moral law (theonomy) is something we can really participate or partake in.

The notion of "participation is easier to understand if we consider another aspect of the Christian life: God's grace dwelling in us. It has "twin" aspects: First, sanctifying grace is not a thing we have in our souls, but is the very life of the Triune God dwelling--pulsating, if you will--within our very being. Grace is God's love poured into our hearts (see Rom 5:5).

Second, looked at from our angle, when God pours himself into us, we participate in him (see VS [Veritatis Splendor} 73, and CCC 1709, 1987-2016). And part of God's being is his law--not a set of rules only, as a heteronomy would have it, but the whole set of principles that puts our moral lives in order.

Twin moments again: When God pours himself into us, he pouts that "order " into us. (Later we'll see that this is precisely what "natural law" is.) From our angle we partake in that order. It is there for our happiness.

That's what participated theonomy is. When you see this term throughout the book, think "God's truth is friendly to me" or "God's truth is meant to make me truly happy.

Apart from an eccentric use of colons and italics, this passage was a superb introduction to the terminology of moral theology and to the central concept that we participate in God's law, and as God is uniate and simple (even while be triune--go ask the Thomists to explain this one) we participate in God's life itself.

A little later we have this magnificent little zinger.

Source as above

Here is another "pastoral aid" that this understanding yields: When you embrace the Church's moral stance of participated theonomy, expect to be misunderstood by people on both of the opposite extremes. Those who are positioned within autonomy will look at participated theonomy and see it is as heteronomous [control by an exterior rigid set of laws]. Because you claim, with the Church, to have access to truths that are absolute in nature, you'll be caricatured as an intolerant rigid fundamentalist who wants to impose one opinion on everyone.

On the other had, those who are positioned heteronomously will look at participated theonomy as far too autonomous for their tastes. Because you claim, with the Church, that the solution to our current moral crisis in not a return to the pre-Vatican II past, you'll be caricatured as a loose, wimpy Catholic without any moral fiber.

In the midst of these two misunderstanding, be patient and non-polemical. Take some comfort in knowing that when you are misunderstood by two polar opposites, that's a good sign that you’re getting something right!

I wanted this "anniversary post" to be something of substance--not too much substance I hope, but something that might hearken back to some of the better posts that have been made in the course of this long run.

And I implore your prayers that I might continue this endeavor for as long (and absolutely no longer than) God wills and directs. I love being here among bright, witty, talented, interesting people who are so ready to help one another live the Christian life.

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A magnificent e-text from the author of one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century. This excerpt:

from Literary Taste: How to Form It
Arnold Bennett

Chapter IX Verse

There is a word, a “name of fear,” which rouses terror in the heart of the vast educated majority of the English-speaking race. The most valiant will fly at the mere utterance of that word. The most broad-minded will put their backs up against it. The most rash will not dare to affront it. I myself have seen it empty buildings that had been full; and I know that it will scatter a crowd more quickly than a hose-pipe, hornets, or the rumour of plague. Even to murmur it is to incur solitude, probably disdain, and possibly starvation, as historical examples show. That word is “poetry.”. . .

The formation of literary taste cannot be completed until that prejudice has been conquered. My very difficult task is to suggest a method of conquering it. I address myself exclusively to the large class of people who, if they are honest, will declare that, while they enjoy novels, essays, and history, they cannot “stand” verse. The case is extremely delicate, like all nervous cases. It is useless to employ the arts of reasoning, for the matter has got beyond logic; it is instinctive. Perfectly futile to assure you that verse will yield a higher percentage of pleasure than prose! You will reply: “We believe you, but that doesn't help us.” Therefore I shall not argue. I shall venture to prescribe a curative treatment (doctors do not argue); and I beg you to follow it exactly, keeping your nerve and your calm. Loss of self-control might lead to panic, and panic would be fatal.

So, for those of you who suffer metrophobia run, don't walk to this text and find out what Bennett's advice might be. The life you change could be your own!

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Now Jack can have someone to disagree with other than me.

from Living the Good Life
Mark Lowery

We are understandably afraid of being called "judgmental"--especially when Christ's saying "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Mt 7:1) is invoked--and we end up with what might be called the "can't impose syndrome:" "I would never be able to justify having an abortion, but I can't impose my views on someone else." We might know how absurd such a claim is--substitute slave-holding for abortion, and it's pretty obvious--yet we don't want to be labeled as rigid and judgmental.

The solution is clear: We must steadfastly maintain the distinction between an act that is evil and an evil act for which someone is culpable. Christ demands that we make the former judgment, and prohibits us from making the latter judgment.

To judge that an act is right or wrong is precisely what conscience is supposed to do--in fact, the technical definition of conscience is that it is an "act of judgment" that appliles the universal truth to a particular case (see VS 32.2 and 59.2). Judging that a particular individual is cupable for having committed an evil act is strictly forbidden --that's God's business.

Honestly, I can't say why this issue weighs so heavily on my mind, but my frequent return to it shows that it does. I think I need to understand exactly where I am supposed to be with respect to God's desire for me. As I am inclined to be a very judging person anyway, I think I artificially impose this boundary as a prelude to allowing grace to make it a natural boundary. There is a limit to what I can do myself, but there is no limit to what grace can accomplish in me, but I must cooperate. And this is a form, I suppose of active cooperation.

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Rob supplies this quotation too rich to be missed:

Don Imus this morning played a clip of a black preacher, preaching against abortion, preaching against gay marriage. The preacher said, "Either God has to judge this nation, or else he's got to dig up Sodom and Gomorrah, because he owes those people an apology."

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from November 2004.

Commonplace Book: October 2004 is the previous archive.

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