Sunday, September 30, 2007

I've Got A Better Idea

The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is responding to the latest Taliban attack, a suicide bomb which killed 30 Afghans, by inviting the Taliban to form the government with him.

Apparently, he's just plain sick and tired of all the fighting. "If I find their address, there is no need for them to come to me, I'll personally go there and get in touch with them," the Star quotes him as saying. "If a group of Taliban or a number of Taliban come to me and say, 'President, we want a department in this or in that ministry or we want a position as deputy minister ... and we don't want to fight any more' ... If there will be a demand and a request like that to me, I will accept it because I want conflicts and fighting to end in Afghanistan."

So do we all, Mr. President. But please allow me to suggest an alternate plan of action if you do happen to get Mullah Omar's address.

St. Jerome

Today is the feast day of St. Jerome, who seems to be the front-runner for the patronage of we bloggers. From Catholic-forum.com:

Jerome

Also Known As
Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius; Girolamo; Hieronymus; Man of the Bible

Memorial
30 September

Profile
Born to a rich pagan family, he led a misspent youth. Studied in Rome. Lawyer. Converted in theory, and baptised in 365, he began his study of theology, and had a true conversion. Monk. Lived for years as a hermit in the Syrian deserts. Reported to have drawn a thorn from a lion's paw; the animal stayed loyally at his side for years. Priest. Student of Saint Gregory of Nazianzen. Secretary to Pope Damasus I who commissioned him to revise the Latin text of the Bible. The result of his 30 years of work was the Vulgate translation, which is still in use. Friend and teacher of Saint Paula, Saint Marcella, and Saint Eustochium, an association that led to so much gossip, Jerome left Rome to return to the desert solitude. Lived his last 34 years in the Holy Land as a semi-recluse. Wrote translations of Origen, histories, biographies, and much more. Doctor of the Church, Father of the Church. Since his own time, he has been associated in the popular mind with scrolls, writing, cataloging, translating, etc. This led to those who work in such fields taking him as their patron - a man who knew their lives and problems.

Born
347 at Strido, Dalmatia

Died
419; relics at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome

Patronage
archeologists; archivists; Bible scholars; librarians; libraries; schoolchildren; Saint-Jérôme, Quebec; students; translators

O Lord, show your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded and left for dead. O Good Samaritan, come to my aid. I am like the sheep that went astray. O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will. Let me dwell in your house all the days of my life and praise you for ever and ever with those who are there.

-Saint Jerome

Friday, September 28, 2007

Backbone

Uncle Diogenes raises a good point today.

The state of Connecticut has been considering Bill 1343 requiring all its hospitals, Catholic ones included, to administer the "Plan B" "emergency contraception" for victims of rape and for women who have had "unprotected" sex. Pardon the overabundant quotation marks; I just can't bring myself to justify the existence of these concepts by showing them the level of respect I have for real words.

The Catholic Bishops of Connecticut, during the planning & review stages of this law, urged the state's governor, M. Jodi Rell, to either veto the legislation or add a clause requiring an ovulation test before administering the drug. Not to do so, they claimed, would be in "direct opposition to our religious belief that life begins at the moment of conception and as such is a serious violation of a basic tenet of the Catholic Faith."

Such a test, easily administered in the ER, would determine if the woman was in the ovulation phase of her monthly cycle, as pregnancy is only possible in the 5-6 day window around the release of the ovum. The bishops had previously urged the lawmakers in that state to take this into consideration, as they saw a distinction between using contraception to prevent ovulation and using it to prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum (AKA a tiny human).

The Most Reverend Bishops who authored (or at least signed) this letter are Henry J. Mansell of Hartford, William E. Lori of Bridgeport, and Michael R. Cote of Norwich. They cite certain moral ambiguities around the issue of when it is ethically allowable to use the "Plan B" contraceptive.

Maybe I missed the memo, but the last time I checked, there was no ambiguity around the morality of contraception: "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil."

And don't throw the "What about rape?" question at me; the whole justification for the "Plan B" pill is based on the fact that there are 37 million "contraceptive accidents" in the US each year, and at $27 a pop, that's a quick profit for the drug companies. Rape, by contrast - while harder to track due to underreporting, is well below the 1 million mark annually; horrific to be sure, but it's disingenuous of the pushers of this pill to claim that rape victims are their chief concern. I'm no venture capitalist, but I know which demographic I'd target were I selling something. There's a clear distinction between people who live irresponsibly and have the disposable income to cover their tracks, and people who are legitimate victims of assault. If the drug companies were really that concerned about the welfare of humanity in general, they'd handle the AIDS epidemic in Africa a little differently.

What makes this even more absurd is that the bishops were saying they would only allow Catholic hospitals to administer the drug to women who were not fertile at the time of intercourse. Think about that. They would only provide "emergency contraception" to women who don't need it. That's like saying they'd only throw you a life preserver if you're on land.

The Connecticut bishops also urged the government to allow them to outsource the administration of the drug in the cases which caused them the most moral concern. So they're saying that while the behaviour is morally reprehensible, it's OK by them if somebody else does it. Far be it from them to take an actual stand and state that "Plan B" is an unacceptable concept, as it violates the sanctity of the marriage act by nullifying its effects, endangers and often takes the life of single-celled humans by preventing their implantation, and encourages irresponsible behaviour by supplying an easy consequence-eraser.

No, that would be an offensive, intolerant message, and our bishops are much too caught up in the politics of their offices. Heaven forbid they get removed from the Christmas card lists of the prominent liberals who are unwittingly (one hopes) engineering the fall of Western civilization.

Heaven forbid that our bishops are numbered among that same group.

Please heaven, return to our bishops their spines, that they may stand up tall against the offenses in which this mad world revels.


Oh, in closing, I should mention that the bill was passed with no changes, and the bishops did not get what they wanted. So they decided instead to want no changes and are now acquiescing to the government. Wouldn't want to end up in jail, after all.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Journey With You

I've been popping my old '80s and '90s Christian rock cassettes into my van while I drive to work for the last few weeks. These tunes (from artists & groups like Rick Cua, Petra, Guardian, Whiteheart, Bryan Duncan, Eric Champion, etc) take me back to the Golden Age of my personal faith. My teenage years, like those for any boy, were filled with emotional turmoil, confusion, and heartache, but it was above all a time of sending deep roots into the soil of God's love. My faith came alive, accompanied by lyrics set to synthesizers, and to this day this music holds a special place in my heart.

Recently I've sensed God's call to let him take me through some intense personal healing, and the song which resonates with this call is Eric Champion's "Journey" from his 1994 album Vertical Reality. The album itself has a Matrix-like theme of a small group of outcast rebels who are striving to resist against the massive pressures to conform to the society around them. Its principal characters are the Orphans of the Undergrid, who were orphaned in the War of Liberation. They are trying to avoid the all-seeing GovTrol which is constantly hunting them down, and are turning to the faith for which their parents were killed.

In this setting, the main character, an inventor named Sam, speaks of a fantastic machine he has built to help him find God. Check out these amazing lyrics:

I've got the hard drive modulated
And the tube gate on even flow
Inside the time-space continuator
There's a flux mount that's set to go

This thing is vertical, retractable, reversible, submergible, and jammin' it
And the mechanizing, cross-dividing, multiplying disk drive is jammin' it... is jammin' it.

Plug the main out into the AC
I've got the steam pre to heat it up
If there's a drive valve inside the time piece
Then the jam sync will lock it up

I've been building it, planning it, dreaming it, mannin' it and jammin' it
And if I pull a switch and nothin' hits I'll do it all again

Right now
I'd give everything I've got to journey with you
No doubt
I believe in everything you are, I'll journey with you
Take me

There's more, but the concept is quite clear: In his God-less age, this inventor believes in God so much that he is willing to expend all his personal capital to create a machine to take him into the next dimension to find him.

Some would argue it's a quixotic quest, and indeed such a literal machine would be a waste. What's important is Sam's burning desire for intimacy with God which presses him into actions which the world around him sees as irrational.

That's what I feel called to, and I look forward to seeing where God would have me journey with him.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Simplicity

I walked my girls to school this morning.

This is no mean feat; often our mornings are so rushed and everybody is so far behind in terms of hair brushed, lunches packed, eyeglasses forgotten, etc, that we usually have little to no time to spare to allow for the kid-paced ten minute walk to the school, and end up driving instead.

But this morning things clicked a little better, and we were able to leave in plenty of time. It's a cool fall day here, with the ground still wet from last night's rain and the neighbourhood elm trees beginning to shed their leaves. The sun is behind a thick layer of cloud, and the birds and squirrels are chattering at each other, often drowning out the constant thrum of distant rush-hour traffic.

We walk hand in hand, me in the middle. The younger comments how warm my hand is, and her hand feels small, cool, and safe in my grasp. As we make our way to the school, I feel like I'm in an earthly slice of heaven - a very pure, clear moment of serenity. Just me and my girls.

I drop them off, exchanging kisses at their classroom doors (I plan on enjoying that for as long as they let me). Another mom there hands me a bag of clothes which don't fit her kids any more and I gratefully receive them and return home. This is just one example of how God provides for us, for those of you who wonder how a single-income family can possibly get by in today's world.

As I write this, my third daughter is playing with her Thomas the Tank Engine set (don't worry, we checked for the leaded paint recalls) on the low table which I built for her on the eve of her birthday. The used track pieces we received had been glued down previously, and many of them are still glued together or had broken in the disassembly process, so I had repaired some and set them aside to dry; today I add a newly-repaired bridge component to her set, generating squeals of delight.



This, I tell you, this is the life.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Holes

I caught a snippet of a sermon given by a Protestant speaker named Charles Price on TV today. He was talking about the Crucial Christian Conviction about Scripture, second of a four part series.

As a man who left Evangelical Protestantism for the embrace of the Roman Catholic Church based on the convictions I gained from Scripture, I was immediately intrigued. "Perhaps," I thought, "he can shed some more light on the Protestant understanding of Sola Scriptura." This, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the belief that the Bible alone is our supreme authority when it comes to authentic teaching on faith and morals.

When I was on my way to becoming Catholic, I remember pleading with my friends, family, and pastors to show me the error of my interpretation of the Scriptures which had aroused in me the conviction that I should convert. But try as I did to beg them for this aid, they would not give it to me. I realized only after that this is because they could not. It doesn't exist to be given. Once I was shown the light and the truth, nobody could purge the impact of that moment from my mind.

But today, on the off-chance that there was some theological nuance which all my Protestant contacts had missed, I listened attentively to what Pastor Price had to say.

To my disappointment (for his sake and not for mine) he had nothing new to add. He did surprise me by giving an honest summary of the historical church and what the Reformation's divisions did to the structure of authority in the universal church. He also gave a very accurate rendering of the Catholic understanding of Scripture's place alongside the living Tradition of the Church and the Magisterium in conveying to us the messages God has for us.

But when he got to the crucial point of why Sola Scriptura is the superior understanding, he simply indicated that any clear reading of Scripture, accurately interpreted via Scripture itself, provides the sole source of matters of faith and morals, and it is sufficient. He added that if it's not in Scripture, we don't need to know it.

That of course, is based on Matthew 7:23... or wait, no, that's not it... Galatians 5:12... no, that's not it either... Proverbs 22:9... hmm, I can't seem to find that concept elucidated in Scripture anywhere. It must be there somewhere... mustn't it? Or is the extra-scriptural statement that Scripture alone has supreme authority supremely authoritative in and of itself? Go ahead, read that one again.

Then he made what I refer to as leapfrog logic - he took one unproven premise and used it to vault into another premise even more unfounded. Apparently the phrase "the word of the Lord" is used 330 times in his Bible. [I'm not sure what the count is if you count the rest of the books, but that's a moot point.] So therefore the word of the Lord is something which we should hold in high esteem. Sounds good so far.

But he jumps right over the point of how to define "the word of the Lord." Is the word only that which is written? The last time I checked, I continue to use words in spoken communication. But according to the introduction to John's Gospel, the Word is best defined as Jesus Christ himself. The very will and mind of God, spoken through the Breath of the Spirit, becomes the Word made flesh. To have one's brain auto-correct the phrase "the word of the Lord" to "only what's written in the Bible" is a massive logical and theological error. God didn't create the world through writing, "Let there be light." He spoke it, and it became so.

But if we interpret this Word as a set of written instructions, guidelines, or core beliefs about the faith and its structure - which is the mistake that Protestants make - then we are in direct contradiction to the command of the apostle Paul. He wrote in II Thessalonians 2:15, "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." (NIV) Were these spoken teachings ignored or forgotten, in direct contradiction of the apostle's instruction? Further on (II Thess. 3:6): "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us."

Whatever this teaching was, it's clear that it wasn't all written down. Much of it had been delivered orally in a previous visit from Paul to the Thessalonians. And since we don't have a book in the Bible entitled The Thessalonians' Letter to All Other Christians, Based on What That Paul Guy Told Us A While Back And We Figured You Should Probably Know Too, we can presume only one of two things: Either the teaching was lost at some point in history, or it was preserved and has survived in the other sources of our faith's authority, parallel to Scripture.

For anyone who genuinely seeks the Truth, such holes in reasoning are clear signs of selective theology. When we can interpret Scripture by our own means, well-formed methodologies or not, we face a massive temptation to disregard the things we don't like, like that pesky John 6:53-55, which has a curious lack of footnotes in the Evanglical Protestant's NIV but not in the Catholic's NAB.

Once we ignore certain truths long enough, we start to feel comfortable only in the company of those who choose to ignore the same truths. And those groups don't like to have leadership which makes them aware of these holes in their belief; instead they tolerate only leadership which allows them to continue in their self-imposed ignorance.

That theme was in another Bible passage upon which Pastor Price expounded in the same sermon: II Tim 4:3. Now that's irony.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Poll Results

All I can say is, wow, have I ever been overwhelmed by the response to my poll on Catholic men's viewing of online porn. The results themselves are full of meaning, but the fact that as of writing I've got almost 400 votes is remarkable; my humble little blog has rarely been so busy before.

The question was: "FOR MEN ONLY: How often do you view pornography online, against your better judgment?" The participants in the poll were mostly sent to my site by The Curt Jester, whose blog type implies that most of his frequent readers are faithful Catholics who strive to live the fullness of their faith. Here are the results so far:

First, I must confess my own vote, which was the very first one cast, and I see I'm in the company of 20.2% of my fellow faithful Catholic men: Frequently. I chose not to put in specific phrasing like "once a month," "twice a week," or "every day" simply because men like us know our adverbs well, and we presumably have consciences formed well enough that we know when is too much.

The Catechism, as my commenters noted, does indicate that even rarely is too much:

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

And as another commenter with the curious name of amdgbvmh noted on the poll site (scroll down to the comments), when you know that an act is considered "a grave offense" and freely do it anyway, that constitutes mortal sin. A person in a state of mortal sin is in danger of losing his salvation, although only God can be that judge. We are given this clear message out of love, to help us to avoid sin, and to seek reconciliation with God who cries out for reunion with us when we distance ourselves from him.

It is an entirely charitable act to ask each of the 76.3% of you who voted anything but Never, have you confessed your sin? Have you received the peace and tranquility of absolution?

I have. Time and time again. And again. And again. Priests must get quite tired of me. And yet I still go.

In viewing my site's incoming traffic this past week, I noticed one fellow with a blog named "A Sex Addict's Recovery." This brave soul has publicly borne his burden on the information superhighway, and that is a hard thing to do. I think that he's on to something... accountability is a profound tool God has given us as we travel this narrow road together. Proverbs 27:5&6 tells us, "Better is an open rebuke than a love that remains hidden. Wounds from a friend may be accepted as well meant."

Another thing that blows me away about this poll is how it demonstrates that we Catholic men aren't afraid to admit our failings, especially if it's in a "safe" environment with a reasonable assurance of anonymity. Whether an online poll or the confessional, we know our sin and do not try to hide it from God.

But the biggest benefit to a poll like this is how much comfort I draw from it. I AM NOT ALONE. When I sin, the devil tries to compound my shame by telling me that I'm some kind of freak. And he's very good at it. "You're 32 years old, you should know better." "Geez, you just went to confession like a week ago. What's wrong with you?" "Don't tell your wife - she'll flip. Don't tell her anything." "You don't see your friends stuck in the same sinkhole."

He's a liar. Don't believe him. All his lies are based on a grain of truth which he distorts completely. Yes, I am 32 and should know better. Yes, something is wrong with me. Yes, my wife will be upset. Yes, I don't see my friends look at porn (although according to this, 75% of them do). The only shame I will accept is from the fact that I've disrupted my communion with God. Everything else, even my relationship with my wife, is secondary. Once I restore communion with God, everything else is tolerable. I must remember that he is jumping off the rooftop to embrace me as soon as he sees me turn back to him.

So take heart, my dear faithful Catholic men. You are not alone. I struggle with you. We all struggle with each other. May God bless you, and I will keep you in my prayers.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Animator vs. Animation

Found this while poking around the web. Pretty cool.

Animator vs. Animation

A Poll

All right men, it's time to find something out about ourselves. Be honest - this is completely anonymous.

[UPDATED]

The only way to see the results is to vote, and I implore you ladies who view this not to vote - instead, summon your husband (or find some other man), close your eyes and let him vote.

Thanks to The Curt Jester for the web traffic to get more than my tiny of circle of friends to contribute to the poll. So far the results are quite surprising, given that presumably only men committed enough to their faith to read Catholic blogs are voting.

I'll do a follow-up post in a week or so.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Leland Chee

For those of you who don't know that name, I must confess that I only learned it today.

Leland Chee is the official canonical coordinator for George Lucas' Star Wars franchise.

[Bear with me, I'm going somewhere with this.]

In other words, Mr. Chee is in charge of maintaining what is known as the Holocron, which is a sort of organized collection of all the Star Wars mythology, ranging from the six movies to the TV shows to the novels to the fan fiction available at numerous sources on the Web. Part of his chief duties is to discern which stories can be considered part of the official storyline and which cannot, as well as everything in between. Producers and manufacturers call on his knowledge and expertise when developing a new video game or product in the Star Wars universe to ensure every i is dotted and every t is crossed. This is, of course, a job bigger than the man himself, as the canon of Star Wars already had much momentum when he was assigned the task of organizing it all in 2000.

For anybody remotely familiar with science fiction, you'll know that with any new story a legion of fans (most of whom are without lives yet mysteriously aren't dead) will strive to poke holes in the continuity of the overall series. This is the one trait of sci-fi fans which irks non-sci-fi fans the most. Who cares why Anakin Skywalker's boots had three buckles on them in one shot and two buckles in the next?

It's Leland Chee who reveals the answers to vexing questions like these.

He is known as The Keeper of the Holocron and believe you me, the real die-hard Star Wars fans take him very seriously. On the Star Wars official website forums, he fields questions and directs fans to established sources of "truth" when it comes to their inquiries. But he also has at his beck and call a legion of co-moderators who keep the fans - who can be a little irrational in their quest to understand the official storyline - in check and allow only the most urgent of questions to filter up to him. There is a distinct hierarchy within the Star Wars community.

Allow me here to demonstrate my point: When George Lucas instituted the continuity checkers, he constituted them in the form of an assembly, at the head of which he placed Leland Chee.

Sound familiar?

That is a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the role of Peter, and the Pope, among the 12 Apostles, and the rest of the bishops. Obviously I've replaced some of the names and tweaked the sentence structure a bit, but I find it remarkable how the search for absolute truth is so core and elemental to our human forms that we cram it into the silliest of pursuits (no disrespect to the Star Wars fans out there).

Now for fun, go back to the beginning and re-read this, substituting Pope for Chee, bishops for co-moderators, faithful for fans... you get the drift.

In this frivolous exercise, I see that there is a little bit of God in everything created by man, even Star Wars. We truly are created in his image, and cannot help but include his impression in all that we create ourselves.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Proud Father

My daughters, age 5 and 6, played host to a neighbourhood girl around their age the other day. She stayed for supper and I dished up spaghetti for them and let them eat it in our screened porch while I relaxed and watched Everybody Loves Raymond.

During the commercial break, I muted the TV as is my usual habit, and was delighted to overhear the following discussion between our guest and my eldest daughter:

Guest: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Daughter: "A mommy."
Guest: "No, but what do you want to be?"
Daughter: "I want to be a mommy."
Guest: "No, everybody has to have a job to make money."
Daughter: "I don't need money. I have $8.64."
Guest: "Really?"
Daughter: "Yeah, let's go look at it."

From there the discussion frittered off in the typical meandering direction of prepubescent girls - it wasn't long before they were talking about princesses - but WOW. My daughter's aspiration mirrors her mother's at that age. I receive it as a point of pride to know that for my girls it's a perfectly normal thing to stay at home and squirt out babies, and especially to want to stick around while they grow up.

There are days when I wonder how my life would have gone differently if I had changed my mind on that park bench beside the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and not asked for my wife's hand in marriage. Would I have gone back to school? Would I have been hired on as a parliamentary aide to a right-wing MP from Saskatchewan and launched my own career into politics? Would I have explored a calling to the priesthood? Would I have regretted my decision not to pursue marriage with an elegant Dutch beauty?

On those days I am always drawn back to two things: the intimate relationship I share with my wife, and the wonder at seeing our children develop into thinking adults, all the way from the spark of the wedding night to our bittersweet parting on my deathbed. I had a part in making real people, and even after only a few years, it's been amazing. May God grant me the strength and the wisdom to continue down this path well.