Monday, May 30, 2016

MEMORIAL DAY: Masculine Publics and Family Weekends

(first published May 30, 2014)

by Dr. David Pence

May 30 was a day once designated to honor the war dead of the nation. It was an interruption of our normal routines – to remember in a public religious way on a specific date the fact that both our commercial productivity during the week and our familial enjoyment and church worship on the weekend were purchased by the blood of our soldiers. It was not a day dedicated to those who died in natural disasters or nursing home accidents. It was not a familial day to grieve our particular relatives.

It was a day with a specific purpose – for a nation to reflect on the blood sacrifice that forged our communal identity and insured our liberty. This time of spiritual reflection was meant to be an interruption of the daily rhythm of our lives, just as the life cycles of young men were interrupted by their sacrificial response to the unplanned threats against our country through the ages.

This is the nature of civic liturgy. Like religious acts recalling heroic sacrifice, this communal act of remembrance is meant to be formative. The public assembly bestows public gratitude and honor to encourage the living to emulate the dead. The specific deaths we remember on this day were overwhelmingly young and male. The willingness of these young men to participate in the warrior bond of civic protection was not incidental to their maleness. The American socialization strategy since our first colonial militias has been to identify masculine maturation with a willingness to bear arms for the local, state, or national group and risk death in the performance of that duty. This pattern of gender-bound duty is as ancient as circumcision and as current as male-only draft registration.

On this day we impress on young males the deadly seriousness of that honor code. The Taps we hear this day resonate with the heartfelt brotherhood known in sports teams, Boy Scouts, work crews, and local police and fire departments across our land. Patriotism is a kind of masculine ecology: a shared love of men for the habitat that feeds and shelters us. That homeland is sacralized in the burial ceremonies of those fallen in her defense. The patriot, the fatherland, a brotherhood from sea to shining sea, the sons of liberty, the band of brothers—all of these expressions evoke the inter-generational masculine fraternity of duty that forms the sacred sinews of every nation from ancient Israel to Singapore to America. Submerging the masculine public military character of this day into extended family weekends diminishes our understanding of the national brotherhood of duty which safeguards our nation. Losing a vigorous public sense of masculine protective duty has imperiled our cities, feminized our campuses, filled our prisons, and demoralized our public life in work and politics.

This denigration of the "male bond" has rippling consequences, for the male military bond is meant to serve higher bonds than itself. The sacral bonds of marriage and religious worship both depend on the protective military ethos we remember on Memorial Day. The flattening pacifism of our churches and the shrinking de-gendered selfishness of our families are eating away at the masculine character, which protects them both. This spreading defect in public masculine character robs our adolescents looking for boundaries, and our elderly and widows looking for protection. All our children become orphans, and all our women widows, without the comforting tranquility of masculine agreement.

Let us allow our family and work schedules to be interrupted. Let us once again remember May 30, Memorial Day. Let us salute that half-mast flag, and remember the duties that have bound us since the beginning.

UPDATE: Here is a moving tribute to our fallen soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.  May they all rest in peace.

In 2009 Dr. Pence gave this Memorial Day speech.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

In this country CORPUS CHRISTI is celebrated today


See our post of last Thursday by David Pence.

"IC XC" -- Greek shorthand for Jesus Christ

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, May 28

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE FRANCIS ON EUROPE: His text on receiving Charlemagne Award. A controversial French interview afterwards. Do Islam and Christianity both have "an idea of conquest inherent to them"? Well, we are preaching the Kingdom of God and we are trying to spread it. We want freedom in the civic order so we can propose Christ to all nations, and men can give God the assent of love. We, too, seek to conquer. There is plenty in the pope’s interview we can object to as laymen involved in politics and international relations, but divorcing Christianity from conquest may not be the fight to pick.

CARDINAL SARAH ON AMERICA: Now there was a Catholic Prayer Breakfast! The cardinal from African Guinea and the Prefect of Divine Worship for the whole Church is one of the clearest voices in the Church today. He told Americans that the loss of God is at the root of the destructive gender ideology which is undermining civilization. He has given us a manly model of how Catholics should speak in our present American culture. Rather than harping on the procedural claim for ourselves of religious liberty we should employ the liberty we have to tell the truth about God, man, and woman. So let us not clamor for OUR RIGHTS, OUR RIGHTS for more liberty. We are not one more victim group being oppressed. Let us exercise the authority which we have -- clearly, consistently, persistently to give honor to God. Let us call God the Giver of Life and abortion a form of domestic violence which desecrates the feminine. Let us condemn sodomy as a desecration of brotherhood, and an abomination against Nature and Nature’s God. Why is it so easy for conservative Catholics to condemn Donald Trump with such gusto, and yet not call for impeachment against the judges who equated the abomination of sodomy with the sacrament of marriage? Cardinal Sarah elsewhere has called gender ideology and jihadist Islam the demonic forces of our day. To follow him is not to cry for freedom, but to speak with courage.
  To conservative critics of Pope Francis, the cardinal reminds them of filial piety - a virtue not well practiced in the anti-patriarchal West. "He is our father." More about Sarah at the Prayer Breakfast: Utopia and America without God will fail.

Cardinal Sarah, on prayer, has also called for a return to liturgical orientation during the Eucharistic prayer, the Gloria, and the penitential rite. This should begin at cathedral Masses and work its way from there into the parishes. Will our bishops take the lead?

POPE FRANCIS AND COMMISSION ON WOMEN DEACONESSES: Our own A. Joseph Lynch explains the history of the deaconess as rising out of gender distinctions within Christianity and aimed at women serving as women to the Church.

FROM NEW YORK'S FR. RUTLER: "The Charismatic Movement filled a spiritual void for many in the chaos following the Second Vatican Council, and was commended for that even by popes, but it had its risks. An isolated emphasis on the Holy Spirit could lead to Spiritualism, as such emphasis on the Father could become Deism, and an emphasis on the Son could become Humanism. Charismatic manifestations that emphasized gifts of the Spirit apart from fruits were faulted as far back as Eusebius and Augustine in their repudiation of Montanism... It is curious that when many people stopped praying in Latin, they began waving their hands to speak in faux-Aramaic."


THE MILITARIZATION OF AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY: A drone strike in Baluchistan of Pakistan displays the deep rift between the U.S. and Pakistan. There have been many drone strikes in Northwest Pakistan, but this is a new area and infuriates the Pakistan government which sees this as a breach of sovereignty. An opening to Vietnam in the form of arms sales - not quite beating those old swords into plowshares. Both acts trouble the waters with China.

LEBANON THE NEXT FRONT: Be ready to call Hezbollah an ally.

SOUTH AMERICA AND HER ARAB POLITICIANS: What a great boon for the notion of South America as a "source Church" if a new generation of South American leaders with Mideast roots could transcend the socialist/capitalist debate, and bring their Christian nations into the international arena as proponents of Christian realism.

NEW DEFENSE MINISTER IN ISRAEL TILTS TOWARD RUSSIA - JUST THE BEGINNING: The emerging relationship of Russia and Israel is going to disrupt a lot of the myopic foreign policy thinking in "think tank" Washington. The migration of Soviet Jews to Israel after the USSR played such a hostile role in the 1967 Six Days War was a wake-up call for many Soviet Jews. What is counter-intuitive is how the revival of Orthodox Christian Russia has led to a public warming to the Jews there. In Putin’s Russia the Jews as Jews are called to play an honored role as part of Russia’s multi-national history. The appointment of the Russian-speaking Lieberman as defense minister could be a game changer. Putin has deep personal ties to many Jews - an uncommon affinity. President Putin said the first Soviet government was 80-85 percent Jewish, and in the name of a false ideology harmed both Jews and Russian Orthodox. The Jewish library once seized by the anti-religious Soviets is now returned by the practicing Christian. It is becoming more and more clear to perceptive Israelis how deeply tied Putin is to Jews in his childhood and inner circle. All of this takes added import as one considers the new role of Russian-speaking Israelis. Russian is the third most common language in Israel; and Putin says he considers Israel to have a special relationship with Russia as part of the Russophonic world. Wikipedia on Russian-Israeli relations is full of facts most of us don’t know, but all of us will soon. Putin has also made Russia a safe haven for European Jews - but this Christian leader will not be embracing homosexuals any time soon.That confuses some secular Jews, but not Orthodox Jews or traditional Christians.



MR. TRUMP IN SPOKANE ON THE STUTTERING AMERICAN MALE: "If [Clinton] didn't play the women's card, she would have no chance, I mean zero, of winning," Trump said. "She's playing the women's card. She's going — " [here Trump's voice drips with sarcasm] "'Did you hear that Donald Trump raised his voice while speaking to a woman?' Oh, I'm sorry!" And then: "I mean. All of the men, we're petrified to speak to women anymore. We may raise our voice. You know what? The women get it better than we do, folks. They get it better than we do. If she didn't play that card, she has nothing." Women in the audience started cheering at this.

TRUMP AND TECUMSEHAmerican men off the reservation by Dr. Pence.


MEMORIAL DAY - MAY 30 - A DAY TO REMEMBER AND COMMIT: The religious and military bonds of a culture of life.


REMEMBER THE BOYS: Anthony Esolen on Boys to Men.

U.S. ARMY - PLEASE ASK AND WE WILL TELL: Eric Fanning, gay Secretary of the Army - no big deal?


Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday BookReview: "Crime and Punishment" (part 2)

[This is the concluding part of the essay by Professor Gary Saul Morson. 

The first part is here].

Why does Raskolnikov kill the old woman? Dostoevsky, who wrote an article on Edgar Allan Poe, loved to exploit the thrilling plots of mysteries while filling them with philosophical and psychological content. He turned the whodunit into a whydunit. He did so because he wanted us to ask not "who committed the crime?" but "what is crime?"

Looking back on the murder, Raskolnikov himself wonders why he committed it. As if anticipating a century of critics, he consider a series of possibilities. It is easy to reject the motive he gives when he turns himself in, the desire for money, since he immediately buries his plunder under a stone and forgets about it. Clearly, his theories had something to do with it, but the problem is, they contradict each other. The one denying that good and evil have any substance obviously runs counter to utilitarianism, which gives them a firm, if repugnant, foundation. In his article on crime, Raskolnikov has developed yet another theory, and Porfiry Petrovich taunts him with its implications.

Raskolnikov divides humanity into two groups, the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary.” In so doing, he takes to an extreme the intelligentsia’s presumption that they, as the enlightened ones, should govern society for its own good. No matter how other intelligentsia beliefs may shift, that presumption remains. Dostoevsky predicted how it would lead to what we have come to call totalitarianism, but even in softer forms it persists among progressives. After all, it is highly gratifying to belong to the elite of righteous people deserving all power. Whenever you hear that true democracy is to be achieved by an oligarchy from prestigious institutions, you are encountering the thinking Dostoevsky feared the most.

In Raskolnikov’s version, ordinary people work, breed, and keep society going. To fulfill this role, they must submit to the law and so are deluded into deeming it sacrosanct. Such people “are men conservative in temperament and law-abiding . . . it is their duty to be controlled.”

Everything important depends on the few extraordinary people, towering figures like Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Caesar, and above all Napoleon, who have the possibility, indeed the obligation, to say “a new word” and so advance the human race. They are inevitably criminals because “by virtue of the very fact that they make a new law they must transgress the old one.” It follows that “if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not have been made known except by sacrificing the lives of one, a dozen, a hundred or more men, Newton would have had the right, would have indeed been duty bound . . . to eliminate the dozen or the hundred men.” Ordinary people are their "material."

If “wading through blood” is allowable for the Napoleons, then it is proportionally also justifiable for those who are only “a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word.” Every intelligent, more or less, has the right to use ordinary people as material. Dostoevsky’s progressive readers must have squirmed.

“Excuse the natural anxiety of a practical law-abiding citizen,” Porfiry Petrovich teases, but couldn’t these extraordinary people “adopt a special uniform”? What if an ordinary person should get it into his dense head that he is extraordinary and “begins to ‘eliminate obstacles,’ as you so happily expressed it?” And set my mind at ease, he continues, “are there many people who have the right to kill others?” I don’t know how many, Raskolnikov replies, but there must be “some definite law” specifying a particular portion, because “it cannot be a matter of chance.” With his faith in a mathematical law, Raskolnikov has become a social scientist.

It is left to Raskolnikov’s sister to express the ordinary person’s moral response to this hideous theory: “what is really original in all this . . . to my horror, is that you sanction bloodshed in the name of conscience, and excuse my saying so, with such fanaticism.” A moral sanction for murder, she continues, is worse than any other.

Plainly, the Napoleonic theory contradicts the amoral one because it makes bloodshed a moral obligation, done “in the name of conscience.” It also contradicts the utilitarian principle that the happiness of each person is equal. Soon enough, Raskolnikov comes up with a fourth possibility: he didn’t kill because he thought he was a Napoleon but to find out whether he was a Napoleon. If so, he reasons, he failed the test, because Napoleon would not have felt a moment’s guilt; and that means, Raskolnikov tells himself, that he is “a louse like all the rest.”

So which explanation is correct? Which theory led to Raskolnikov’s choice to kill the old woman? The answer is none of them, because he did not “choose” at all, in the usual sense of that term. We typically assume that to act one must first choose to act, but that is psychologically na├»ve. Raskolnikov lives in a state of mind in which nothing is quite real and everything is hypothetical. Completely abstracted from his surroundings, he has long been “so completely absorbed in himself” that he has fallen into extreme slovenliness. He spends his time dreaming of theories and what it would be like to commit a crime based on them. Strictly speaking, it is not crime that fascinates him, but the possibility of it. The possible is what is most real to him.

As a rationalist, Raskolnikov believes he can plan the perfect crime that would be impossible to detect, but he never actually plans it, only plans to plan it. Even on the day of the murder he relies on chance to secure the murder weapon. As the novel opens, he attempts to conduct a trial run for the crime but loses himself in dreams, so that, as he soon reflects, “even his late trial run was simply a try at a trial run.”

Never choosing either to commit or not to commit the murder, he lives in an in-between realm in which he might commit it. This kind of might-be time is a special way in which people can experience temporality. Dostoevsky diagnoses it as a disease to which dreamers and theorists are especially subject. “We may note in passing one peculiarity in regard to all the final resolutions taken by him in the matter,” the narrator explains:

They had one strange characteristic. The more final they were, the more hideous and absurd they at once became in his eyes. In spite of all his agonizing inward struggle, he never for a single instant could believe in the carrying out of his plans.
And, indeed, if it had ever happened that everything to the least point could have been considered and finally settled, and no uncertainty of any kind had remained, he would, it seems, have renounced it all as something absurd, monstrous, and impossible. But a whole mass of unsettled points and uncertainties remained.
Raskolnikov leaves details unsettled in order to remain in uncertainty. In principle, he could live forever in this in-between state, except that he happens by sheer chance to learn that Lizaveta will be out at 7:00 PM and so the old woman will be home alone. Since he could never hope to acquire such information again, he must either act on his dream or give it up. But he postpones doing either. As 7:00 PM approaches and the territory between action and renunciation shrinks almost to a point, he loses track of time, falls asleep, and wakes up just a bit late to keep his appointment for murder.

Even when he stands before the old woman, removes the axe from the secret loop inside his coat, and holds it over her head, he still has not decided whether to swing it! As the narrator explains, throughout the scene he behaves “almost mechanically, as if someone had taken him by the hand and pulled him along irresistibly, blindly, with unnatural force, without objections. As if a piece of clothing had been caught in the cogs of a machine and he were dragged into it.” It turns out that even in his dreams it had vaguely occurred to him it would be like this, which is why he chose an axe, a weapon requiring no accuracy or presence of mind, rather than, let us say, a knife. Even in his dreams he imagined doing it dreamily.

She stands with her back to him, but he postpones acting until she is just about to turn around and his chance would be lost. When “he had not a minute to lose” he “pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, he brought the blunt side down upon her head. He seemed not to use his own strength in this.”

Dostoevsky is at the height of his powers here. The hero commits a hideous, violent act without ever actually deciding to do it! It seems that the picture of human psychology familiar in legal thinking and social science is much too simplistic. Raskolnikov cannot understand why he chose to commit the crime because he did it without choosing.

Russia’s other great psychologist, Leo Tolstoy, was the first to grasp what Dostoevsky was doing here. Tolstoy asks: when did Raskolnikov live his true life and when was it decided that he would kill the old woman? It was decided not when he stood before her with axe in hand, Tolstoy explains, because then he was simply “discharging the cartridge with which he had long been loaded.” Neither was it decided when he made the loop in his overcoat by which the axe hung or while thinking any thoughts directly connected with the murder. No, he lived his true life leading to murder when he was just lying on his sofa, doing nothing but letting his mind wander. And in that state of mind “tiny alterations” of consciousness were taking place: “tiny, tiny alterations—but on them depend the most immense and terrible consequences . . . houses, riches, and people’s bodies may perish, but nothing more important can happen than what was hidden in the man’s consciousness. The limits of what can happen are set by consciousness.”

The crime emerged not from a specific decision but from a state of mind, resulting from his neglect of prosaic duties and kindnesses, and from his cherishing “bookish dreams.” Because he let himself sink into and persist in dreams where murder is a possibility, he is, without having chosen murder, still morally responsible for it. Every moment in which he fostered the theoretical state of mind, in which abstract considerations displaced common decency, made the crime more possible.

He lived his true life leading to murder when he was just lying on his sofa, doing nothing but letting his mind wander.

When one dreams of killing, whether individual homicide or the mass murder honored by the term “revolution,” one creates a field of possibilities in which killing is much more likely to happen, directly or indirectly. John Maynard Keynes famously observed that “madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” Dostoevsky would have added: a scribbler who may have been indulging in a play of bloody abstractions but who would himself never harm a fly. Would the Parisian Marxists with whom Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge colleagues studied actually have killed anybody? Do such scribblers ever accept responsibility for a theory’s consequences?

Like most critics, I have referred to a murder, but that way of speaking misses a key moral point. It isn’t a case of murder but of murders, because Lizaveta walks in on the crime and Raskolnikov winds up killing her, too. This murder, indeed, is even more mechanical than the first and so Dostoevsky gives the agency not to the killer but to the weapon, as if it committed the crime on its own initiative: “the blow landed directly on the skull, with the sharp edge, and immediately split the whole upper part of the forehead. She collapsed.”
Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan in Saint Petersburg

Dostoevsky’s point is that however theoretically justified or well-planned a crime may be, the unintended consequences include completely innocent victims. Later Raskolnikov will proclaim, “I killed a louse, not an old woman,” but even then he forgets the other victim and so repeats the thinking that caused her death. Revolutionaries typically excuse such crimes by pointing to all the innocent victims bound to suffer if the tyrannical monarchists or capitalists are left in power, and, indeed, the students Raskolnikov overhears voice just this argument. And so real lives are equated with hypothetical ones, and present people die for the sake of improvements that might never take place. Bystanders are so easy to forget! How often have you heard revolutionaries mention they will kill thousands of bystanders along with the capitalists?

All critics sooner or later must face the novel’s signal weakness, its epilogue. It is set in Siberia, where Raskolnikov is serving his term. The saintly Sonya, the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold who implored him to confess, has followed him. Epilogues are supposed to be set in a sort of after-time so they can trace the consequences of the crucial events already narrated. But this epilogue has real plot. I recall an old cartoon showing a sullen writer listening to a publisher: “Mr. Dostoevsky, we like your novel Crime and Punishment and Repentance, but we think you should cut it by about a third.” The book we have reads as if Dostoevsky complied and crammed “Repentance” into the epilogue.

To make matters worse, momentous events are narrated not realistically, like the rest of the book, but mythically, in a setting where shepherds tend their flocks just as they did “in the days of Abraham.” The conversion experience occurs in a dream, which works not psychologically but mythically. Raskolnikov dreams that a terrible intellectual plague has infected everyone with the delusion that he alone possesses the absolute truth. Armies battle until they disintegrate into fighting individuals. The dream is an obvious allegory for what happens when the spirit of the intelligentsia prevails.

Critics have spilled rivers of ink justifying the epilogue, but their very effort shows the need for it. How did Dostoevsky wind up with such an ending? The answer, I think, lies in a philosophical conflict he couldn’t resolve.

If ideology is the plague, what is the cure? This novel offers two distinct alternatives. I think of the first as Tolstoyan because it develops a line of thought found in his work, especially in War and Peace, which, as it happens, was being serialized in the same literary periodical at the very same time! Porfiry Petrovich actually mentions a scene from it. Readers got a lot for their money.

For Tolstoy, what makes life meaningful is not dramatic heroes but decent, prosaic people who (as George Eliot concluded Middlemarch) "lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." In both Crime and Punishment and War and Peace, Napoleon represents the dramatic view of life. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov’s friend Razumikhin, whose name means "the reasonable," represents the prosaic alternative. Here "reasonable" is opposed to "rational" the way common sense is opposed to abstract deductions.

Before the murder, whenever Raskolnikov is drawn to renounce his plan, he finds himself on his way to Razumikhin. He asks himself whether he could actually imagine a solution lies with his practical friend. It does, not so much in Razumikhin’s moderate political views as in his resourcefulness and hard work. When Raskolnikov lies brooding, he tells the servant who brings him soup that it isn’t worth working for small sums, which he equates with piecemeal solutions rather than destroying all evil at a blow. Razumikhin, by contrast, is always contriving some small job to make ends meet and as the novel ends, he sets up a publishing business. He is, perhaps, the only wholly positive portrait of an ethnically Russian businessman in Russian literature. Live right moment to moment, rely on common sense, work for small sums, and do a kindness whenever possible: that is the prosaic alternative to Raskolnikov’s grandiose theorizing.

But the novel also offers a religious answer. Sonya, whose name means "wisdom," and who reads the Gospel aloud to Raskolnikov, is so saintly, so free of Dostoevskian psychology, that she seems superhuman. Dostoevsky deliberately made her unrealistic as if to suggest that the truth is not of this world. Until the epilogue, he presents both alternatives, Razumikhin’s and Sonya’s, without choosing between them.

The epilogue fails, I think, because it relies wholly on the religious answer, as if the prosaic one, worked out so meticulously for so many pages, did not exist. Raskolnikov’s repentance follows not from the overwhelming portion of the book devoted to psychological realism but from the Gospel story Sonya reads aloud, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Raskolnikov too is raised. It is all a bit too neat.

The questions this masterpiece poses still haunt us, perhaps even more than when it first appeared. Revolution still attracts. "New atheists" and stale materialists advance arguments that were crude a hundred fifty years ago. Social scientists describe human decisions in absurdly simplistic terms. Our intelligentsia entertains theory after theory elevating them above the ordinary people they would control. Morality is explained away neurologically, sociobiologically, or as mere social convention.

In such a cultural milieu, we might recall what Raskolnikov learns so painfully: that people are more complex than any model; that basic decency is a better guide than theory; and that a crime—whatever else it may be—is a crime.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

CORPUS CHRISTI: Lessons from Nature and History

(first published June 19, 2014)

Dr. Pence writes on this feast day, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (a holy day of obligation in the universal Church; and a national holiday in countries such as Brazil, Portugal, and Poland) --

The feast of Corpus Christi seldom inspires dialogue with Protestants. This is unfortunate, for much more than theological formulations of justification and faith, it is the sacral priesthood’s irreplaceable role in forgiving sins and bringing the Eucharist to the faithful that divides Catholic and Protestant.  The consecrated Apostolic Priesthood and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist are indivisible truths. The faithful Protestant with a Bible in his hand, a heart for his Savior, and the name of Jesus on his lips cannot fathom that liturgical actions of the sacramental priesthood are an indispensable means to proximity with Christ. The personal faith of the Reformers has trumped the priestly works of the Papists.

In the same way as Andrew did with Peter, Catholics run to our brothers saying: “We see the Messiah. Come and be with Him; come and be with us.” We know that believing Protestants want to hear us, but it is a hard saying. They want to be close to Christ. They say He is their personal friend and Savior, and they mean it. But especially during Corpus Christi processions and Eucharistic Adoration hours, the Catholics seem so radically different.

Catholics kneel and say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God” – expressing the awe and veneration owed to the God who made heaven and earth. We join the centurion in saying that we are not worthy that Christ should enter under our roof. In the Holy Communion that immediately follows, He enters under our roof and our souls are healed in an act of incorporation beyond any act of friendship.
   from "Last Communion of Saint Jerome" by Botticelli

Why don’t Catholics display the continued unrelieved intensity of a “personal relationship with Christ”?  Because we live in a different sort of emotional universe.  At times we do not dare the familiarity of friendship, as we take off our sandals with Joshua and “fall down and worship.” Other times we know the communion of theosis for which friendship is too sparse a term.  We admire the intensity of our Evangelical friends, but we should neither envy nor imitate the one-dimensional emphasis on friendship that compensates for centuries apart from the Eucharistic presence. Receiving the Lord in the Eucharist introduces a kind of interpersonal consummation, which generates an abiding peace.  This rhythmic liturgical experience of Presence is less excitable than the enthusiasm of college friends; but like marriage, it is a deeper communion.

Corpus Christi invokes an irresistible lesson from the Book of Nature as well.  Bacteria were the first forms of physical life created 3.8 billion years ago. Bacteria live as single cells or in colonies. They consist of prokaryotic cells, which have no nuclei and multiple coverings – a membrane, a cell wall, and a capsule. Around 2 billion years ago, one of the great transformations in life-forms occurred as certain bacteria lost some of their external coverings (the capsules) and merged with other bacteria to form something new: eukaryotic cells. This type of cell was larger and had a nucleus. Most importantly, the new cells had fewer coverings, and the membranes of their cells were capable of much more complex social interaction with other cells. These cells would develop over time with a capacity to “incorporate” into multi-cellular organisms.

These new eukaryotic cells would become the multi-cellular organisms of the protist, fungal, plant and animal kingdoms.
[The protist kingdom is that of amoeba and algae; the ‘silly putty’ of the biological world, or the living goo from which emerges the more defined forms of plants and animals].


I have always pictured this event as the best biological analogy to the capacity of persons with spiritual souls to be incorporated in the Body of Christ. There is something about shedding an outer self to allow a deeper bonding in a new multidimensional organism that resonates. The sacraments of Initiation and Holy Orders seal our souls with indelible characters that configure us in a radically transformed mode of living. The feast of Corpus Christi calls us to consider this truth: that Christ is fully present in the Eucharist and being incorporated in Him (and participating in His Sonship) is the way members of our species are going to live forever in the Father’s household.  

UPDATE:  From a letter of J.R.R. Tolkien to his son (November 1, 1963) --
"But for me, that Church of which the Pope is its acknowledged head on earth has as its chief claim that it is the one which has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament and given it most honor and put it as Christ clearly intended in prime place.  'Feed my sheep' was His last charge to St. Peter… It was against this that the West European revolt (or the Reformation) was really launched – 'the monstrous fable of the Mass' – and faith/works a mere red herring."

"Oculi omnium in te spirant, Domine:
 et tu das illis escam in tempore opportune."

(The eyes of all look towards you in hope, O Lord:
 and you give them their food in due season.)

"Ecce Panis Angelorum, factus cibus viatorum."

(Behold this bread of Angels
Which hath become food for us on our pilgrimage.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Catholic Sociobiology: Feasts of Communio -- Trinity and Corpus Christi

by David Pence

The weeks after Pentecost, the Church meditates on the great communions at the heart of Catholic Sociobiology. The Octave of Easter, the Sunday after Easter, she meditates on Trinity Sunday. The Thursday after Trinity Sunday she considers the Body of Christ in the Feast of Corpus Christi. This day was chosen  to recall the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. Thursdays were also often designated by parishes as the special day for short periods of Eucharistic Adoration.

Over the last century the practice of reception of Communion by Catholics at daily Mass in the local parish has become a trademark communal prayer where Catholics "think cosmically and act locally" by uniting themselves in the Living Organism of the Body of Christ through the Liturgy.
Priest in Nigeria

Monday, May 23, 2016


An Introduction to the Geography and History of Central America

By A. Joseph Lynch

Central America is comprised of seven Christian (mostly Catholic) nations: Belize (335,000), Costa Rica (4.7 million), El Salvador ( 6.1 million), Guatemala (14.4 million), Honduras (8.5 million), Nicaragua (5.8 million), and Panama (3.6 million). Today's Map on Monday, however, will consider Belize and the five nations that had been part of the Federal Republic of Central America. Panama, due to its strategic importance as well as its historic ties to the nation of Columbia and the short-lived republic of Gran Columbia, will be treated separately.

The geography of Central America is that of a tapering isthmus, running from the northwest at its widest to its narrowest point in the southeast. While the region shares land borders with Mexico and South America, most of Central America faces the ocean: the Pacific to the west and south, the Caribbean to the east and north, and the Gulf of Mexico further north. Central America also sits on what is called the Caribbean plate, which it shares with the island nations of Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico (Cuba sits on the North American Plate). Central America is also very mountainous with the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, the Cordillera Isabelia and the Cordillera de Talamanca as the three longest ranges in the region.

From 1523 to 1697, conquistadors brought the region under Spanish rule. In 1609, the area was given some autonomy in military and administrative affairs. Ruled by a governor-captain general, the region remained part of the Spanish Empire but was directed locally by a competent man with the crown's approval. Napoleon's intervention in Spanish affairs in Europe brought about independence movements in the region. On March 15, 1821, the region enacted the Act of Independence of Central America and spent the next two years as a member of the Mexican Empire. In 1823, it seceded from Mexico to form the Federal Republic of Central America, a representative democracy with its capital at Guatemala City. A lack of national identity eventually drove the region into civil war from 1838-1840 leading to the creation of five separate nations: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

The land making up the nation of Belize did not become part of the Spanish Empire due to its lack of precious metal resources and its proximity to strongly held Mayan defensive positions. The British eventually began to settle the area for use in military engagements with the Spanish. Belize was called British Honduras from 1862-1973 before gaining its independence in 1981. It is strategically located between Central America, the Caribbean, and the Mexican/American north. Belize, thus, also acts as a cultural bridge between the Anglophone Caribbean/America and the broader Spanish-speaking world around it.

This post originally appeared on Anthropology of Accord on July 6, 2015.