Thursday, January 31, 2013

Answer to Jake III - Not the 1st, but the 14th

Here is my response to Jake on the constitutionality of anti-SSM legislation.

Answer to Jake II - Ethics

Jake's comments on my post in answer to him were fantastically well done, and I urge you to go read them. Due to the limitations of the Blogger comment system Jake noted there, I'm going to put up my reply as a series of blog posts rather than attempting to respond only in the comment thread. One unfortunate aspect of that it is that visually, it gives my argument more weight than it deserves, and Jake's less. Please do discount that as much as you can. The first response (on ethical issues) is below the fold. Response on legal issues to follow in another post. Thanks again to Jake for a wonderful discussion.

We should not stay away

Today's first reading advises us to be sure to attend Mass.
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.
-- Hebrews 10:23-25

A prayerful relationship with Christ, and thoughtful reflection on His Word, are important. But we need our fellow Christians, and we need our Eucharistic encounter with the actual Body of Christ. Don't stay away from the assembly of the Mass.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Uncaused Cause

Rabbi Adam Jacobs does a superb job of giving a very concise, accessible introduction to the Cosmological Argument for the logical necessity of the existence of God. Very well worth checking out. (h/t Edward Feser).

Answer to Jake

In the comment thread on Catholic blogger Leah Libresco’s important recent blog post in favor of same sex civil marriage, I’ve ended up dialoguing with other commenters there about whether the U.S. Constitution really does mandate what Fr. Neuhaus famously derided as “the naked public square,” in which religious arguments are to be banished as presumptively illegitimate. Since I ended up writing a reply on the issue just now that is as verbose as any blog post, and because it handily encapsulates my position on religious arguments in the public square, I repost it here.

Prohibition has failed

On Monday, we examined Aquinas' view that it does not belong to human law to suppress all vices. Taking narcotics is a vice. Most narcotics are every bit as destructively addictive as Sauron's ring of power. Many ravage the body, even unto death. Even the less serious narcotics often resemble in their effects less the pleasant relaxation of the moderate drinker, and more the stupor of the drunk--although reportedly there are exceptions.

Sown among thorns

In today's Gospel, we find the Parable of the Sower. Of the seed sown among thorns, Our Lord explains,
"They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit."
--Mark 4:18-19

What thorns are choking the Word in your life?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sin taxes

Yesterday, we looked at Aquinas' view that human law may legitimately school us in virtue, but should not suppress all vices. To be sure, there are many vices that, were they to be made illegal, would continue to metastasize in black markets. However, making vice illegal is not the only way to steer us away from it.


In today's Gospel, Our Lord says to His disciples:
“Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
-- Mark 3:34-35

God made us. We could have been mere toys or tools, slaves or servants. But God has chosen to offer us the chance to be His children, brothers and sisters of His Son. Christ has come to us and made Himself Our Brother. We have much to be grateful for.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Human law should not suppress all vices

In the calendar of the Church, today is the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas. With that in mind, today I would like to begin what I hope will be a continuing discussion on this blog of certain Thomistic insights into the nature of law and politics. These insights may lead us to fruitful reflection on controversial topics like narcotics prohibition and same sex civil marriage. Today, though, let's found our thought in Aquinas before attempting to apply it to such issues.


Today's first reading instructs us that:
Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf. Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice. Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
-- Hebrews 9:24-28

Again, we see that the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross. Not a do-over, but a participation across time.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Speaking of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ in one of today's readings, St. Paul says:
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
-- 1 Corinthians 12:26

This is eminently true of the Church, but is true of the human superorganism generally. We are called to love our neighbor as our self.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blessed Are Those Persecuted in Christ's Name

If you are considering entering the Catholic Church, or even just going back to Mass again, you may be getting some pushback from family or friends.

In today's Gospel, we learn something about that, when Our Lord visits His hometown:

Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
-- Mark 3:2-21

If people you care about think you've lost it because you are considering that maybe belief in God, in Christ, in His Church, might just make some sense after all, don't be afraid to follow the Truth where He leads you. Offer up to Christ your loved ones' resistance and the pain it causes you. Even though He's God, He's been there. He understands.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Christ offers you a Chrysalis

In the alternate reading for today,the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, we read about the days when St. Paul was still a devout Jew called Saul, the days when he could not see that the Love of Christ fulfills the Old Law, and went about assisting in the murders of the early Christians. Then, his life was broken open and remade anew.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Visit the Amazing Time Machine!

Under the Old Law, the Jewish priests would offer sacrifices (lambs, oxen, doves) to God to atone for sin. The Letter to the Hebrews is a part of the New Testament that describes the relationship of the Old Law of Israel to the new Love of Christ. As we read there today, Jesus, the lamb of God, Whose Body is the New Temple and Whose Body and Blood are the perfect sacrificial lamb of the New Covenant, has replaced the sacrifices of the ancient high priests once and for all with His Perfect Sacrifice for us and for our sins on His Cross:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Beginning of Wisdom

In today's Gospel, we read:
Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” Then he said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.
-- Mark 3:1-6

Ah, thinks the modern Christian. Those legalistic Pharisees--following the letter of the Law and not its Spirit! But it's not so simple. We read in the Book of Exodus that God--the same God Whom the Pharisees in today's Gospel plotted to crucify--is the God Who told Moses and the Israelites:

These are the words the LORD has commanded to be observed. On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy to you as the sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Anyone who does work on that day shall be put to death. You shall not even light a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.”
-- Exodus 35:1-3

It's hard to imagine how the Pharisees could have read this any way other than the way they did. Is God contradicting His own Law? And how could God have made such a Law for the sabbath, if, as we read yesterday, the sabbath was made for man? What good has such a harsh law ever done for man?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Forty years of slaughter

Around 55 million killed in this country by procured abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided forty years ago today. More than 1,400 just today. Just today. And again tomorrow. And the next day. Every one of them a person who might have lived a life touched by beauty in so many ways. Today you will have the simple pleasures of being alive. Remember those who never did, who never will, because of this abomination. It is evil. It must end. Murder is not a right.

Remade by the Sabbath

In today's Gospel, Our Lord tells us that:
“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
-- Mark 2:27-28

This is often taken, correctly, as a rebuke to arid legalism. But why should the sabbath's being made for man imply that the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath?

Monday, January 21, 2013

A very old wineskin

In today's Gospel, Our Lord mentions that "new wine is poured into fresh wineskins." This sets me in mind of the fact that, here in the U.S., today happens to be both Martin Luther King Day and the day of the Presidential Inauguration. History's God keeps trying to pour His ever new wine into our hearts. And yet we keep trying to force Him into the old wineskins of our old prejudices, our old fears, our old grudges, and our old smug platitudes. I pray we learn to let all that go. To choose Him instead of our own projects.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Life of the Party

In today's Gospel, we read of Our Lord's turning water into wine at a wedding in the village of Cana. It's worth lingering for a moment on one detail of the story. Of the containers holding the water that Jesus would turn into wine, the Gospel tells us:
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
-- John 2:6

Six twenty gallon jars would have yielded 120 gallons of wine. That is far more wine than could have been needed. It is superabundance. Exuberant, joyful, even playful superabundance. Enough for a very long, very lively party. God's love is like that.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Here comes everybody

In today's Gospel we read:
Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
--Mark 2:16-17

At the Eucharist, all of us sinners are called to the feast of Jesus Christ. If you ever wonder why so many sinful folks (like me) are in the Church constantly screwing things up, just remember: everyone in the Church is a sinner. Our behavior down through the centuries, and our constant failure to live up to the ideals we preach, is thus pretty unsurprising.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Break on through

Sometimes the Christians we meet can stand between us and our own encounter with God. The ground is so thick with other people’s rules and hangups that a glimpse of Christ is hard to get.

In today’s Gospel, we meet another seeker who couldn’t see Christ for His followers.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
– Mark 2:2-5

A way to Christ can be found, even if the Church seems forbidding. Have faith, and persevere.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Harden not your heart

In today’s first reading,
The Holy Spirit says:
“‘Oh, that today you would hear his voice, ‘Harden not your hearts.’”
– Hebrews 3:7-8

When the grace of God comes to us, we must cooperate with it if we are to be justified.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Great grocer, unhinged political thinker

Sometimes when shopping at Whole Foods, it irks me that the store is crammed with New Age magazines about Tibetan Buddhism and Yoga instead of also carrying the occasional Christian work. After all, my local Whole Foods here in Texas no doubt has far more Christian customers than shoppers who follow the Dharmic religions, so perhaps we'd be interested in a book about the environmental stewardship of Creation, for example. However, after learning about this smugly delivered slander on NPR today, I think I'll just stick to buying my organic arugula and be very, very grateful that Christianity isn't sullied by association with Whole Foods, the CEO of which has done a lot for the natural environment, but who ought to stop releasing dangerously extremist effluent into the political environment.

Answer to Job

In today’s first reading, it is said of the Crucified Savior that
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
-- Hebrews 2:18

All of the Abrahamic religions present God as merciful. In the Incarnate God on the Cross, though, Christianity presents us with more than this, with an image of God in radical solidarity with our sufferings. Although his Gnostic thinking on it was gravely wrongheaded, Jung was felicitous when he dubbed the Crucifixion the “Answer to Job.” When we ask why God allows us to suffer, we should remember that He suffers with us: that he has taken all of our suffering up into His Glory, and that it is to Him Who feels our suffering more deeply than we feel it ourselves that we may look for help, and find total empathy and compassion.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tremble to believe

Today’s Gospel tells of a knowledgeable demon:

Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.

All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

– Mark 1:21-28

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fishers of Men

Today's Gospel tells of Our Lord's calling the brothers Simon and Andrew from their fishing nets to be His apostles. He tells them,
Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.
-- Mark 1:17

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today's readings are about baptism.

In the second reading, St. Peter instructs us that:

In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.
-- Acts 10:34-35

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Vine

Today’s Gospel tells us that after Our Lord healed a certain leper, people talked.
The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.
– Luke 5:15

Again we are reminded that while the Incarnate God could and often did heal ailments afflicting the biological life of the body (bios), that wasn’t really the Problem of Evil that God came among us in human flesh to solve. Sin and death were. Christ came to give us life everlasting (zoe) through the conquest on His Cross of sin, and the consequent conquest by His Resurrection of the death that sin brought into the world of men.

This is the plainspoken Good News consistently proclaimed throughout the New Testament and the Patristic writings of the early Church. But why should we trust the witness of the early Church? What if right from the beginning, it was just some delusional cult?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Bishop for Limerick

The Holy Father has appointed Fr. Brendan Leahy, a member of the Focolare movement, to the see of St. Munchin.

The amount of cynicism about the Church amongst Limerick people is hard to exaggerate. Even those in the diocese who still bother to attend Mass have weathered much pain in recent years, as the Catholic News Agency reports:

Bishop Murray, 72, resigned from the diocese in December 2009 after an Irish government report found he had acted “inexcusably” by not investigating serial sex abuser Fr. Tom Naughton when he was an auxiliary bishop of Dublin in the 1980s. The findings came amid continued reaction and controversy over the Catholic bishops’ response to the sexual abuse of minors.

CNA further reports that Fr. Leahy has “entrusted himself to the Virgin Mary and asked Catholics for their prayers.” He has mine! By God’s grace, may he succeed.

Not every problem is caused by our bêtes noires.

Mark Shea flags an article in the Wall St. Journal about a dearth of children in the Golden State. He attributes this to the libertinism of Californian culture. Mr. Shea gets no argument from me that the libertinism of Californian culture is a disgrace to man and a sorrow to God. But his correlation doesn’t seem to track causation. Consider that in recent years, the birthrate in South Dakota has declined, while that in North Dakota has increased. Are South Dakotans a bunch of SWPL libertines, while North Dakotans still cling to the Lutheran values of their frontier forebears?

Color-blindness is sometimes too blind

Flagged for your reflection: in a post about some new cop show I won’t be watching, media critic Alyssa Rosenberg drops some knowledge about privilege:

Not by Bread Alone

Today’s Gospel reading is:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.

– Luke 4:14-22

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gandalf the Gay

A brief thought: I have the mixed pleasure of receiving the magazine Columbia as a benefit of my membership in the Knights of Columbus. The veil over the leadership's fealty to the G.O.P. gets rather threadbare around election seasons, but other than that it's a welcome arrival every month. The hard-copy edition of the December issue's wearily predictable but actually perfectly solid pre-Hobbit "Betcha Didn't Know Tolkien was Catholic!" article, "The Knights of Middle Earth," was illustrated with a picture of Sir Ian McKellan's Gandalf doing some manly sword-wielding well-suited to the article's message of neo-chivalric moral uplift.

Of course, when not playing Gandalf, Sir Ian spends much of his time engaged in political activism on behalf of his fellow gay people; not unrelatedly, he participated in the unfortunate protest against the Pope's recent visit to Britain. Unsurprisingly (and understandably, I admit), this went unmentioned in the Columbia article.

My passing (minor) observation is merely this: Those of us, like me, on the conservative side of the present stage of the kulturkampf might do well to strive to remind ourselves periodically that even some of our most cherished conservative cultural treasures are often in part gifts to us from our gay neighbors.

New Big Projects

Wonkblogger Evan Soltas recently wrote a helpfully clarifying article entitled "Having Both Won, Left and Right Need New Big Projects" for the Ticker blog at Bloomberg. He notes that with the reelection of President Obama, liberals have secured the perpetuation of the Affordable Care Act, the capstone of the New Deal welfare state. Meanwhile, with the fiscal cliff deal, conservatives have secured the permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts, the capstone of the Reagan-era project to lower income taxes on the middle class. Both parties, then, will need something new to do.

The End of Wisdom

The first of today’s daily Mass readings includes this:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.
– 1 John 4:18

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Sage

Today’s first Mass reading runs:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
– 1 John 4:7-10

Monday, January 7, 2013

Vogt's Essentialist Argument

Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt has written a thoughtful article opposing ten justifications for same-sex civil marriage. (h/t Mark Shea.) I begin this response by noting that very laudably, his article opens with an aside that “[a]ll people, regardless of sexual orientation, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

This overlong post will address only Vogt’s first argument–specifically, why it fails to be the sort of non-religious argument suitable for use in the secular public square that Vogt claims to be aiming for. Heaven help the reader, but there are ten sections in all, which I shall address when I can and insofar as they interest me. Oddly enough, this post doesn’t contain any reflections whatsoever on the prudence or desirability of same-sex civil marriage: considering the metaphysics behind Vogt’s first argument and its unreadiness for prime time in the secular public square takes me far enough afield by itself.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Religious, cultural, philosophical, political, and personal musings of a seamless garment Catholic: mostly my marginalia on the hypertextual manuscripts I encounter. I've commented rather frequently over the years on blogs maintained by Rod Dreher, Mark P. Shea, Leah Libresco, and Scott Alexander, among others, always with the handle "Irenist," which I selected mostly to remind myself to be irenic. You might know me from one of those blogs if you hang out in the comments. I'm a different person than "the Ironic Irenist" who blogs with a similar handle. In real life, my name is Tom.