My most grievous fault

Priest & People:
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,

And, striking their breast, they say:

through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;

Then they continue:

therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.


They strike their breast

and first, a tremble.

Then the fault lines appear.

Then the ego is shattered.

The soul is ready for grace.

The Cause of the Unborn – Prolegomena

In an interview with Antonio Spardaro, SJ, Pope Francis addressed the question of “irregular or somewhat complex” situations, in which some Christians “live with open wounds.”  His answer was (in)famously reported as a rebuke to those Christians who are “obsessed” with the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception.

Among those amplifying this version of events, I found none who had actually read the excerpt, let alone the whole interview.  Here’s what Francis said:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

It would be unseemly to obsess even about this – as Francis says, we ought to emphasize the essentials – but one might note:  the Holy Father is not saying that we can not or should not talk about these issues.  He is not even downplaying them as issues Christians should be passionate about (contra NARAL, et al).

Rather, by implication, he is saying the whole discussion is a bit warped.  That many, on both sides, have emphasized abortion as a single issue, and not as a reality which is treated comprehensively by a right ordering of one’s principles.  Any organization focused on a single issue is missing the point even as they try to make it.  Francis simply acknowledges that Catholics, by their faith, ought to know better.

Indeed, the well-catechized Catholic rests upon an expansive understanding of moral issues, which confidently takes up the cause of the unborn among many others.  One thinks of euthanasia, and the death penalty, and war, and sex, and poverty quite readily for their strong, tensile connections to the unborn.

It’s even more impressive than that:  One realizes, when he examines the moral edifice of the Church, that the significance of all moral issues is brought to bear on each moral issue.  Failing to do otherwise is like drawing a human face with only one eye, or spanning a river then cutting the rope bridge anyplace along the way.  Something is missing, and it turns out to be integral to the whole.

When you have a complete human face, you realize the entire beauty of that face is somehow embedded even in a single eye; when you have a complete web, you realize the strength of the whole web lies at every point.  Even the furthest flung end is lending strength to it.

Such is context.  So let us begin:  I aim, primarily, to give you a sense of that moral edifice which guides and supports the Church’s teaching on the unborn.  I hope, furthermore, that you will be persuaded of its truth, elegance, and breadth.

At bottom, I plead – I beg you – to spare the life of the most vulnerable.

On “What Sucks about the Catholic Church”

Saw this posted by a priest friend, then by a 2 year old convert friend for whom I had a small role in her journey to the Church.  Let’s get into it.

First – and this is truly most important – one must remember what the Catholic Church claims to be.  The Church claims to be the bearer of the Truth, the vessel of God’s grace through the Sacraments, and the communion of God’s pilgrim people on Earth.

The Church aims to shepherd you into eternal life, not (necessarily) to make you feel happy and fulfilled in this life.  I’m not aware that anyone does guarantee such a thing.  Moreover, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  You can’t be totally fulfilled in this life.

This is critical, because the temptation – aided and abetted by the very well-meaning Protestant ministries which are legion on this point – is to think we can have Heaven on earth, somehow manifest it here and now.

We really, really can’t.  Anyway, visually, that would look like a pulling down of the sky upon the earth, and if the dinosaurs teach us anything, it’s that the Cosmos should stay “up there.”

Second – there is no serious Catholic who is surprised to hear that there are flaws in the Church Militant.  If you wake up tomorrow and you find there are no flaws – blessed are you, for you have died and gone to Heaven!

The author, to his credit, answers his own lament:

I’ve come to an ultimate conclusion though, and it’s one that many Protestant converts before me have come to as well. The Church is us. As a Protestant convert to Catholicism I bring certain gifts, talents, and insights. If there’s a need for better catechesis in my parish my role isn’t to lament the church’s failure, it’s to start a Bible study. If RCIA sometimes seems like a chore for those leading it then maybe I need to volunteer next year. If not enough laypeople are devoted to keeping the church open during Eucharistic Adoration than maybe I can help arrange a schedule. Do you see what I mean?

The default attitude for us Protestant converts needs to shift—my attitude needs to shift—from seeing what sucks about the Catholic Church to doing something about it. After all, when Jesus gave his most difficult teaching on the Eucharist—his very own blood and body given to His Church—He asked his closest disciples, “Are you going to leave, too?”

St. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

See that?

You and I, we’re the ones at fault.  We’re to blame for these complaints and thousands more.  The Church that you can see is made up of 1.5 billion of us.

Something “sucks” about the Catholic Church?  It’s us.

 UPDATE:  I should have added – see how I suck? – what the author obviously implies.  That is:  If you can bless the Church, if you can create community or better educate catechumens or minister to the poor?  Do it.  That’s why you’re Catholic – because works matter.

Objective Morality – 7

So it is the careful distinction of moral ontology and moral epistemology which answers some of the more common objections to objective morality.  To wit:

There is no such thing as objective morality.  On the other hand, we should really put an end to [morally objectionable behavior of the day].

We see here that one cannot deny the existence of a moral standard, then meaningfully apply that non-existent standard to whatever he feels strongly about.  It is utter nonsense.  Moral ontology must be real for moral epistemology to mean anything.

Evolution explains all of our moral proclivities.  We are simply driven to survival, and whatever promotes human well-being is good.

But why is human survival good?  What if humans never existed, then what would be good?  This is a claim to definitive moral epistemology without having the corresponding moral ontology to support it.  It is a house without a foundation.

Our present case follows the movement from moral epistemology (eg. specific moral judgements we make) to moral ontology (i.e. the existence of some Good by which we make our judgements).  If we agree that there are true moral judgements we can make, then what is the standard by which we make them?

Now this standard must be an objective reality, or else it becomes a relative one.  If relative, then we are back to square one – our moral judgements aren’t what we think they are.  What is good might depend on your geography, your place in history, whether you are standing on your head or on your two feet.  It is famously asked – Is rape wrong on Andromeda?

Well, is it?

So the Good is an objective reality.  It must also be true outside, or beyond, time and space.  That is, the Good is not a physical object, is not subject to any physical laws.

If it were, then our moral judgements are subject to change; the most heinous crime today could be morally acceptable tomorrow.  If the Good could decay, like a physical object, the greatest act of goodness today may be evil tomorrow.  This is not how we think of our moral judgements.

Thus, the Good is objective and immaterial.  What sorts of “things” could qualify as the Good?

We have Plato’s “form of the Good,” which is the greatest form in the world of forms.  Our world of physical objects, Plato says, is patterned off the world of forms.  And like our meditation so far, Plato envisions the form of the Good as something analogous to light; so that, in view of the Good, we see everything else clearly.

If that sounds abstract, that’s because it is.  Finding candidates for “the Good” requires a turn to the abstract.

What else would qualify?

Aristotle carried this penultimate reality further – if not exactly in a moral capacity – and gave us the Unmoved Mover, a being necessarily outside of the physical world who was unchanging and eternal.  Christianity, born monotheistic, married these Greek concepts and attributed them to God.

So, not simply a standard, an abstraction of the Good, but the Lord Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.  God qualifies as the Good.

There may yet be some other candidate for the good, but anyone nominating must keep her eyes on the qualifications.

Objective Morality – 6

In the last post, we examined a claim against atheists concerning morality and found that it rested on a confusion between ontology and epistemology.  These terms may not roll off the tongue, but they can help us get where we’re going.

Let us speak a bit more plainly, though.  This claim of the Christian is not only confused, but dismissive.  Lacking any intellectual gravity, it seems to be more of a social compulsion (“Believer good, atheist bad.”) than a true challenge.*

Not to be outdone, our third atheist from a few posts back suffers the same kind of confusion.  Here is one who thinks that science answers all questions about morality, and who stands rather self-satisfied while his interlocutor waits for an answer.

Let’s first formulate a claim which captures this confusion.  It goes something like this:

Science, specifically evolution, perfectly explains human morality.  We know what is good because evolution has selected for behaviors which promote the good.  

And, if pushed:  The good is whatever promotes human well-being and causes the least amount of harm.

Now, like we did with our Christian’s rookie mistake, let us trim the fat and examine what remains.  Bear in mind the difference between ontology and epistemology.

The question is, what is the Good?  We are asking this atheist, “What is the ground of human morality, the basis for moral ontology?”

The closest we get to a direct answer is a description of what is good:  That which promotes human well-being and causes least harm.  This sounds eminently reasonable…but that’s it.

Look again:  What makes this a ground for morality?  It is clearly not – it is more an observation, a summary, rather than a reality upon which all of our morality is based.**

Moreover, the atheist usually pitches this as a reasonable idea, one which we could expect him to come up with.  And if he can do that while lacking a belief in God, well then there’s no reason we need God after all!

Obviously something is askance here, even if one cannot immediately put her finger on it.  But here it is:  He is still dealing in epistemology.  This is not an ontological statement at all, and we can demonstrate this straight away.

We may ask, “Why is that good?”

After all, why is human well-being objectively good?  Perhaps it only seems good to us, since we are driven to survive and perpetuate the species.  It is an effective mode of behavior if we want to achieve survival – but now we are only talking about wants, not objective realities.

Why not prefer the good of ants, and work toward the elimination of human beings for their benefit?  Why not prefer lifelessness, and work toward the destruction of our planet for that end?

No, we have not reached the ground yet, even after we have dealt with Science and evolution.  But you will know you have landed when you ask why a thing is good, and the thing you are asking about is the Good.


*As in other posts, I’ll suggest again that the more modest claim would be stronger.  Rather than saying, “Atheists cannot be moral people,” one might say, “Atheism tends to confuse a person’s moral epistemology” or, the claim we’ll be examining, “Atheism provides no ground for objective morality.”

**Not only that, but this stance suffers some absurd results.  A classic example is that such a stance justifies the killing of an innocent little girl, if somehow, by her death, millions of people are made a little bit happier.

Religion must be in Politics

Not that this hasn’t been touched on before, but let’s go for it again:

Religion must be in politics.

Let’s start by acknowledging two facts.  First, that religion has persisted throughout human history.  Second, that laws are essentially morally based, and religion has always been about morality.

Now, why might a person want to excise religion from politics?

Reasons that leap to mind include:  Bias against religion, frustration at the influence of religion in politics, or else some legitimate case against the role of religion in politics.  The third, of course, assumes the first two are illegitimate.  Mere bigotry in the first case, sour grapes in the second.

What legitimate reason might there be, to disallow religion to influence politics?  Or else, on what good and high ground ought religious people to surrender their political influence?

I honestly cannot imagine any, except that some religion were to become so powerful yet so contrary to nature that it would actually be harmful to the populace.  However, history shows that this is more often the role of ideology than religion; in either case, dominion over that society does not last forever.

Much as I believe in representing my opponents in the best possible light, let us not do all of their work for them.  Rather, what is the positive case?  Why should religion be in politics?

Because it cannot be otherwise.

Consider, first of all, what governance is:  The provision of due rights and liberties, at the cost of civic duty and fealty to the state.  Politics, then, is simply the form that governance takes, including the rise and fall of those in power.

What is religion?  I might begin to define it as a system of belief regarding the foundation of reality.*  For our present purposes, this includes the notion of value and the way we determine whether a thing is good or ill.

Now, what is a right except that to which a person is entitled?

Is a person entitled to freedom of speech?  To security of his person?  To financial support no matter what his contribution to society has been?

We don’t need to answer these questions here.  We have only to note that, to answer them, one needs to have some concept of the value of a human being (call this “dignity”), and what means provide for the satisfaction of that dignity.  In other words, if we do not satisfy the dignity of our human citizens, we fail as a government.

How would you, dear reader, begin to answer this question?  What is the value of a human being?  What is human dignity?  How do we satisfy the demands of that dignity?

These are metaphysical questions.  There is no experiment which gives us the results we need to answer such questions.  As such, they make contact with the foundation of reality, which we have, historically, struggled to comprehend.

One does not have to be religious in order to venture a guess.  Be assured, however, that religion most certainly does offer answers to such questions, and always has.

Religion is not some foreign object, not some inhuman influence within human affairs.  It is a collective, enduring, thorough-going human endeavor.  Subject it to criticism if you like – if you will likewise endure scrutiny yourself – but do not disqualify it out-of-hand, lest you expose your barbarism.

Are your answers better than those of a religion?  Demonstrate it.  Otherwise, do not begrudge a person’s sincerely held beliefs.  Are yours objectively conclusive?  Can it be that only a fool denies what you assert?

Expel religion at your peril, then, for you will likely expel the religious as well.  Imagine, in an exercise belying your own foolishness, that they are no good anyhow.

Behold:  It is the religious who often survive in continuity, and who go on to establish new societies and remake old ones.


*Usually in a specific narrative form.  An ideology might take a narrative form, but the characters are often generalized or symbolic.  A religion concerns specific characters, taken to have acted within human history, and heeds the consequences of that story on the human race.

Best of all possible worlds

I would like to adopt and institute the practice of writing a Christmas reflection.  Some years, it might be a story.  At any rate, it seems appropriate for one who likes to write, just as many people enjoy baking especially for the holidays.

Philosophers nowadays will sometimes frame an argument in terms of “possible worlds.”  One reason for this is because it helps distinguish between what is logically possible and what is physically possible.

For example, it is physically impossible – in our Universe – that humans could survive on the surface of Mars unprotected.  But is it logically impossible?

Well, we could imagine another Universe – a possible world – where human beings could breathe carbon dioxide and oxygen, and they could tolerate higher levels of radiation, extreme temperatures…and so on.  None of this is logically impossible.  There are no logical contradictions here, so there could be a world where all of this is possible.

This plays well to Multiverse theorists, who capture the imagination with the notion of infinite worlds where – literally! – everything that could happen does happen in one Universe or another.  Think of it:  In some other Universe, you stopped reading one paragraph ago.  In another Universe, you didn’t even open the link.  In still another Universe, you wrote this post.

As thrilling as those alternative Universes must be, there is no evidence that reality is composed this way.  Nevertheless, as a philosophical tool, the notion of possible worlds can be very useful, even to Christians.

Here is another use of possible worlds:  They help us understand the difference between contingent and necessary beings.

Let’s see – the device you are now viewing, which relays this post to you.  That exact device.  That device did not have to exist.  In point of fact, it did not exist for billions of years, and it will likely be junked and destroyed, ceasing to exist for the remaining trillions of years in the life of our Universe.

The device is obviously contingent – it depends on some other being for its existence.  We can easily imagine a Universe where this device did not exist.  (In fact, it was this very Universe, 100 years ago).

Necessary beings – if there are more than one – are entirely different.  They necessarily exist.  An example (if a matter of significant debate) is God.

When you think about it, the classic, historical, traditional understanding of God is that He must exist, that He can’t fail to exist, that He just is existence itself.  He is a necessary being, perhaps the only necessary being.

Ok.  Let that settle in.

Now – God could have made any world, any of the possible worlds which philosophers dream of but cannot themselves create.  He had, perhaps, an infinite number of worlds to choose from.

And He made this one.

Then, He who – literally! – cannot die, cannot fail to exist, took the form of a contingent being.  He became flesh and dwelt among us.  He made Himself vulnerable to death, to annihilation, to the outer darkness.

Behold, the philosopher’s mind collapses!  For, how can it be?  How can a necessary being humble Himself and make Himself vulnerable to non-existence?  How can He, who exists in any possible world, actually enter our world as one of us?  And why would He do such a thing?

This is the Incarnation.  This is Christmas.

Granite and God

If you’re not already a fan of, I highly recommend it.  The pictures are often gorgeous, and the things people do with architecture and decor really are amazing.  (It can sometimes be approached as a challenge by the DIY types).

Well, Houzz led me to this site by way of an article on kitchen upgrades, and so I took in what information could find.  I’m not keen on granite, so the idea that its favor is fading intrigues me.  (Nanotech countertops?!  The future is now).

And good heavens, don’t forget the comments.  A debate broke out over the existence of God!

Granted:  It takes a little over 30 comments to get to God, and up until then, the comments were largely relevant to the article.  I was enjoying the back and forth, as I know nothing about geology.  There are even some fun electron jokes thrown in for good measure.

Now, it would seem “Faith Priest” said something worthy of being censored; though the content is lost, we get an idea from “guru dogg” that it was incendiary, possibly explosive.

“When you see a warhead missile detonating above your city, how will your state of mind react to the state of burning flesh? When your eyes melt in your sockets, how loud will you call out to God?”

Huh?  I, for one, really want to know what Faith Priest said.  No matter, there’s still some fine material ahead.  “Bubbawubba Gump” says,

Holy bat sh*t crazy, Batman! @guru, you have spent way too much time in a dark room dreaming of what god will do to everyone and you should see a psychiatrist. If the bombs drop they will definitely be sent by some psycho who believes God wants him to destroy the world, not by someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife.”

So, Gump starts off in the land of humor and proportional response, then takes a sharp turn toward Dawkinsville, where any instance of evil is “definitely” the the fault of religion.  Because only religious people perpetrate evil.

“Geri” tries to bring the conversation to the abstract:

Without God, I am the sole authority and measure of my own good. There is no objective measure of good unless it is in comparison it to the infinite goodness, God Himself.”

Geri is actually getting ahead of me in the series on objective morality, but you can guess I agree with his/her point.  Not that the combox following an article on countertop surfaces is the best place to plant one’s flag.

Not one to let a reasonable point be made, “jfahle3″ retorts:

“See, caveperson, I don’t believe in an invisible sky giant. Fortunately for you, I don’t need an invisible sky giant to tell me not to steal from you, I just know it’s not right to steal from you.”

Let’s see – presuming superiority by name-calling, grossly misrepresenting what is meant by God, and failing to comprehend the point he/she is criticizing.  Here is the New Atheist trifecta!*

Something is missing, though.  “SwoodTN” goes for the knock-out with a left hook nobody saw coming…

Interesting article about granite. You know what is really interesting about granite? It can be found on every continent on earth and has the distinction of being carbon dated as earth’s oldest rock. Scientists say it formed over millions of years as the earth’s surface cooled. But if you look at granite under a spectron microscope, you will see radio halos trapped inside.”

Unless you’ve read Internet comboxes before, then you totally saw it coming.  Here is the “But how do you explain this?” angle, which takes a narrow set of facts and interprets them in an apparently straightforward way, with the conclusion that God did it.  Frankly, the jargon is beyond me, but the rhetoric is par for the course.

“Prism” replies with the obligatory, jargon-for-jargon rebuttal:

“(2) Granites that have been appropriately age-dated (using K-Ar, U-Pb, Rb-Sr isotope dating, e.g.) range from billions to less than a million years old. Felsic magma may be cooling deep in the earth (forming new granite) even as we speak (basic earth processes continue to operate as always), but younger intrusive rocks are not yet exposed at the surface for study.
And (3) re: radio halos in granite – not even close to true. See”

When you’re numbering your points 40 comments deep in an article about kitchen upgrades, you might be wasting your time.  It might be easier to say, “That’s interesting,” and point out that a mysterious occurrence in geology – if it is actually mysterious – does not tell us much about the existence of God, the ground of all reality.

Only two more, because they are more down to earth (or, up to the surface?).  “Stevo” says:

So called scientific TRUTHS are only theories that are constantly amended as more facts are discovered. Christianity is belief in proven facts about Jesus that only requires faith.”

I think I get what Stevo is saying, but his intellectual opponents on are not even going to try.  Remember, Christian brothers and sisters – when in doubt, be modest in your claims.  If you have no doubt, be even more modest.

We finish with “PlacidAir,” who replies,

There are no “proven facts” about Jesus — that’s why it’s called ‘faith’.

I strain myself here to understand what PlacidAir is saying, though as a disposition, I do endorse modesty (see above).  Is PlacidAir saying that we have not proven that Jesus existed, for instance?  The simple existence of Jesus of Nazareth is as close to certain as it can be – doubting it gets you the label of “Myther,” which is about the same level as the “FlatEarther“.

There probably is some grand take-away here, but I’ve relayed this combox debate simply because I found it amusing.  I hope it lightens your day.


*As always, the New Atheist is to be contrasted with the serious, non-militant atheist.  They may be distinguished by the following measure:  The latter can be reasoned with.

The Gift of Tears

Another trait of Catherine’s spirituality is linked to the gift of tears. They express an exquisite, profound sensitivity, a capacity for being moved and for tenderness. Many Saints have had the gift of tears, renewing the emotion of Jesus himself who did not hold back or hide his tears at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and at the grief of Mary and Martha or at the sight of Jerusalem during his last days on this earth. “   – Pope Benedict XVI on St. Catherine of Siena

We are used to seeing only sadness in tears, and that often at the blunt end of life’s troubles.  Loneliness and disappointment, loss and death – these things strike us like car accidents, and leave mourning and weeping as evidence of the trauma.

The gift of tears is something else, but let us say something more about these worldly sorrows.  We have no need to diminish them by comparison.

For the Christian, they are echoes of the Fall; and somehow, everyone senses that things are not quite right, that life ought to be better than it is.  The world was once a fairy tale, but it has been cut short.  Not “happily ever after”, but something nostalgic, like “we were happy once, but no longer.”

Else, why does death sting?  It is a plain fact, one never avoided, but we are hushed and dumbstruck when it visits us.

The gift of tears is not without sadness.  The sadness may be yet more profound, since it is a response not to natural events, but to supernatural significances.

Consider the sadness of Christ, when he cries at the death of Lazarus.  It is clear that Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead; he was not crying over the finality of this particular death, as Mary and Martha did.

Why does he cry, then?

Consider the sadness of the penitent woman:  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”   (Luke 7:38)

If she was weeping over natural things lost, why approach Jesus about it?  Even if someone had died, why does she not say anything, but content herself to an act of abject adoration?  What does she want from him?

“Your sins are forgiven,” he says.  “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

It might have been difficult even for her to say what she wanted, but it appears to have been a spiritual mercy.  But listen – even this, if accurate, is only a crude way to express the “exquisite, profound sensitivity” that she possessed.

And this woman is a bridge to the Christian experience of the gift of tears; St. Gregory of Nazianzus observed that the gift of tears was a kind of baptism:

“Yes, and I know of a Fifth [Baptism] also, which is that of tears, and is much more laborious, received by him who washes his bed every night and his couch with tears; whose bruises stink through his wickedness; and who goes mourning and of a sad countenance; who imitates the repentance of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 38:12) and the humiliation of the Ninevites (Jonah 3:7-10) upon which God had mercy; who utters the words of the Publican in the Temple, and is justified rather than the stiff-necked Pharisee; (Luke 18:13) who like the Canaanite woman bends down and asks for mercy and crumbs, the food of a dog that is very hungry.”

Centuries later, St. Ignatius of Loyola would find himself overcome with saying Mass, sometimes unable to speak the words because of his tears – “He sometimes cried so much at Mass that he could not go on, nor even talk for some time, and he was afraid that his gift of tears might cause him to lose his eyesight.” *

St. Thomas Aquinas is said to have experienced the same thing, sometimes coupled with visions.  And of course we have the example of St. Catherine as told to us by Pope Benedict above.

Weeping at Mass – if it’s not a wedding or a funeral – may seem odd, like voluntary poverty.  It’s not impossible to imagine, but we only think very strange – or else, very holy – people could really do it.  But we have the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, and I said she would be our bridge.

The gift of tears is marked by deep, almost unfathomable penitence.  The woman did not just mess up, but realized she had made a most deplorable mistake, a real tragedy.  She had done something perhaps millions of other people have done - Luke does not say exactly what – but she, uniquely, saw the spiritual meaning of it, and it reduced her to uncontrollable sobbing.  She may have approached Jesus without any assurance that he would forgive her, yet she was compelled to humble herself anyway.  There was nothing else, nothing at all, that she could do except weep for mercy.

Ordinarily, we think that penitence does not feel good, and one does not see how it can be a gift.  At least with the natural sorrows, we see how they are unavoidable; they are the cost of being alive.  Why compound this with spiritual sorrows?

Oh, dear friend.  I would pray for you to know the gift of tears.  If I knew the gift of tears was at the end, I would want for you to endure every hardship life brings, and neither you nor I would regret it.

Because, at bottom, the gift of tears marks the presence of Joy.  To be so moved is to catch a glimpse of the face of God; you could never know such sorrow without encountering Him.  Yet what joy, because you are facing Him!

The experience of Sorrow and Joy both, not in some dilution but each at full strength, it presses the heart, wrings it out until it yields tears.  There is Sorrow, yes, but the Joy is unspeakable.  The only possible expression of it is in weeping, in a total breach of emotional control.

I give you one example, and I give it so that no one will think the gift of tears only comes to the holy ones.  It occurred when I was younger, and more spiritually immature.  You will see:  It is a very simple experience.

We were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and I was walking with the group through a church – I want to say in Capernaum, but I am not sure.

Anyway, as we entered the church from the outside, and made our way through a winding vestibule, I could faintly hear a voice, singing.  We walked on, and the voice became clearer.

When we finally entered into the sanctuary, the voice broke on me like a waterfall.  My legs felt weak, as though under a physical burden, so I found the last row of chairs and fell to my knees.

It was a beautiful voice dancing in a cavernous church, a cantor practicing for the next day’s liturgy.  And there is much about a beautiful voice that anyone could understand, which might cause anyone to weep.

That is not what moved me.  Rather, somehow, the voice pointed me not to its own beauty, but to Beauty itself.  The voice was not the object of my admiration but the vehicle of my adoration.  I did not – I could not – simply sit and enjoy the voice, but I begged for understanding.  What did this mean?  What am I supposed to do with this?  Even, if faintly – why me?  Why should I be so blessed?

And that was all.  I have, since then, wept more profoundly at the touch of even simpler things.  I have sobbed because of the elegance of a shadow.

I suggested a breach, because that’s what it is.  You are traveling about in your body, in your self-image, in your conception of what the world is about and why you are here.  And then you are seized by the least tincture of some pure thing, like Beauty or Intelligence, and it’s all over.  Nothing you thought is quite right; nor are any of those things which threaten or impose on you real or true.

Something else – the Transcendentals, the attributes of God – reveals itself as fully real, as being the only true thing.  No argument is plausible, no capture of the moment is possible.

Only tears.


*Passages regarding St. Gregory and St. Ignatius taken from Dr. Taylor Marshall’s blog.

Punch a Heretic Day, explained to a 5 year old

I owe you all an apology. Yesterday, in honor of St. Nicholas’(s) feast day, was unofficial “Punch a Heretic Day.”

Not familiar? Much to my delight, my eldest caught me laughing about it, and what follows is a loose transcription.

A: Why are you laughing, Papa?

Papa: Well, there’s a lot you have to learn about this, but let’s see. You know how we’re Catholic, right?

A: Yeah.

P: The Catholic Church has been around for 2,000 years, since Jesus started it. During all that time, the Church has always been talking about God and Jesus, and trying to explain what they’re like.

A: Yeah, like how Jesus is our Savior.

P: That’s right. So, sometimes, people will say things about Jesus that aren’t true, and it’s the Church’s job to correct them, and say what’s true.

A: Maybe some people just say those things, but they just didn’t understand, and they just needed to be told the right thing.

P: That’s very good. Now, when a person won’t change his mind, and he keeps saying the false thing, he’s a heretic. Ok, you know Santa Claus?

A: Yeah.

P: [Here I realized that she still believes in Santa Claus and, despite my ambivalence, I did not want to call that into question during this conversation]. You know how some people call him St. Nick? Well, there was a real St. Nicholas.

A: Who lived before Jesus?

P: No, he lived after Jesus.  Well, he heard this man Arius talking about Jesus, but Arius was saying that Jesus wasn’t really God.

A:  But he is God!

P:  Right, exactly.  And he wouldn’t change his mind.  So one day, when the Church Fathers were talking about Jesus, Arius kept talking and saying that he wasn’t God.  So St. Nick..well, he punched him in the face.

(We both laugh)

A:  That’s not nice!

P:  Oh, I know, he probably shouldn’t have done that.  But Arius wouldn’t change his mind, and he wouldn’t stop talking.  So St. Nick punched him in the face.

(Laughter again)


I can’t tell you how satisfying this conversation was.  Nor how satisfying it was to segue-way to dinosaurs.  (It totally made sense).

And here are some memes for good measure.