The Eighth Way

all your grace are belong to us

Category: Religious Life

Holy Obligation

Today I rejoiced. The USCCB approved what I think is the most important liturgical project it has recently engaged. Today the Bishops approved a new translation project for the Liturgy of the Hours. Finally! The Roman Missal was a giant step in the renewal of the whole English speaking Catholic world. This will be no less of a renewal. But it is a renewal with a narrower scope. This, I think, will be a large step toward the renewal of the clergy and religious.

You see, we take on the obligation to pray with and for the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is our Holy Obligation, hence the name: Divine Office. It is a sanctification of all time and all space, hence the name: Liturgy of the Hours. The Office, as it is tersely referred to, is not a private devotion. It is a public act of Worship. It is not undertaken for the sake of building the virtue of religion in the one who is praying it. Rather it is prayed for the salvation of the whole world.

However, one who prays the Office faithfully cannot help but be changed by it. Such repetition begins to form one’s thinking, one’s actions, one’s prayer life. Holy habits are just as formative, and addictive, as profane habits. I know it has dramatically effected my own life. My favorite psalms are always whirling through my mind during the day. But more than that, the very schedule of my day is literally ordered around the celebration of the Divine Office. It permeates everything a cleric or religious does.

Something that is so deeply infused into the life of the cleric or religious is going to deeply form him. The Mass is a big part of this, but I think the Divine Office is a much bigger influence on those obliged to keep it. I’m really excited by this move. It is a tangible point of demarcation in the effort to renew the clergy and religious in our country.

Now, if we could only get Rome to re-reform the structure of the Office.

Contemplative?

As a Dominican I am supposed to have a “Contemplative” life. But, what does that mean? I’m not a Monk. My job in the Church is not to simply pray with and for the Church. St. Jerome said that the job of the monk is to weep for his sins and the sins of the world. Yes, St. Dominic wept. But, instead of radically abandoning the world like a monk does, St. Dominic radically entered the world. He didn’t turn away, he turned toward.

Of course there is an immediate problem with this. The temptation is to abandon one’s self to the work of the apostolate. You must “get a job” or “do” ministry. If you don’t focus your life on these “works” then it is obvious that you must not have a “love of the people.” You should find another Order. But, this “works righteousness” approach to Religious life, to Dominican life, is absurd. It is rooted in the very Pelagianism that we were founded to combat.

We must be prepared to engage the world. We cannot afford to plunge into the depths of the world armed simply with our habit, our talents, and hard work. We need  the grace of God before all else. If we are not intentionally seeking the face of God in our common life (both privately and communally) then we will be a broken tool in the hand of the Lord. Yes, we may drive a few nails; but, eventually our rusty head will snap from its shaft and we will be fit only for the trash heap.

It is a mistake to set aside time for contemplation. We are called to live a life permeated by contemplation. This is not something opposed to the active apostolate. Rather, it precedes it and gives it depth. Without it we will always be lacking in our apostolic ministry. This, contemplative life begins with our common regular observances. It is from these observances that we come to understand the Lord as a community as Dominicans. From there we seek the prayer of study and meditation. We then go out into the world to pass on the fruits of this private and communal contemplation. But, even this going out into the world must have a contemplative character to it. We don’t leave the life of contemplation back in the cloister! Contemplation is not something or the choir stall for the cell. It’s having our entire being focused on the Lord. It is one thing to say this and give it lip-service. Many professed Religious do. It is another think to live it.

We Dominican’s must recapture this life of contemplation. We are not social workers, we are not Diocesan priests who wear white, nor are we monks. We are Dominicans. We are scholars who sing. We are monks in the city. We are preachers. We must live out the life as defined in our Constitutions. We must love and appropriate our entire 800 year tradition continually seeking reform and renewal. We must be zealous for the Lord and equally zealous for the salvation of souls. We must reside in the heart of our Holy Mother the Church. We must constantly seek the face of God. We must not give in to the workaholic tendencies of the modern western world. We must not seek to be relevant. We must not seek to be popular. We must not seek any worldly laurels. We must not appropriate the relativism and subjectivism of our age. Rather, we must chase after Christ and him crucified without fail. In the radical following of Christ, there can be no compromise.

But, as with all things, reform and renewal always begins at home. It is not enough to live the Dominican life faithfully. It must be lived zealously. We must rise up like Matthias Maccabaeus, confident in the truth, reliant on the Lord, and courageous in our actions. Anything less is unworthy of those blessed brothers who preceded us. We have a family name to uphold. We must, once again, take up the banner of Christ, armed with contemplation, study, and penance. We must make war against those powers that seek to drive us into our cloister walls. We must help all of Christ’s faithful avoid mediocrity. This is our time! Now, is the time for the rebirth of the Order.

 

The New Evangelization beckons!

Be Ye Reconciled: Part 2

Previously, I shared an insight about some of the underlying reasons why people either never go to confession or become scrupulous. It’s becoming my belief that both of these dispositions are born out of a poor understanding of how to judge whether a sin is confessable matter or not. Before I offer some practical solutions I want to explore a better of way of understanding the degree of a particular sin.

So, I said that every sin has an objective character but also a subjective application. What do I mean by this? I mean we have to understand what a sin actually is in its broadest sense. Fundamentally a sin deprives the whole of the created order of some good. Another way to put this could be that when we sin we add evil to the world. But properly speaking, by sinning we remove goodness from the world. This isn’t the first thing we usually consider. These days we either consider the relational or legal aspects of sin first. We often think about who we offend or what law or rule we broke. These two things are part of sin but they are not the first consideration. We must first realize that sin, no matter its degree, is an act of violence against the good of God’s creation and God himself.

Why is this important? If we ground our understanding of sin in either relationality or legality then we ground sin in something arbitrary – shifting sand. If it is grounded in relationality then something could cease to be considered a sin if the one offended doesn’t experience the offense or ceases to be offended by  it for some reason. So in this scenario, if Molly is married to John and he commits adultery then it is only a sin if Molly considers adultery a sin. If Molly and John have a so-called “open marriage” then neither would experience adultery as an offense. See the problem? Also, if we ground sin in legalism or rule following it is equally arbitrary. If a law changes then the law doesn’t recognize what was previously considered wrong as an offense any longer. Take for instance the sin of abortion. The American legal system doesn’t view abortion as an evil – a sin. So, it is either neutral or a good according to the American legal system. But, prior to the judicial ruling of Roe v. Wade it was considered an evil act according to the law. So, it should be pretty clear that neither relational experience nor law are sufficient grounds for determining the objective aspect of sin. But, if we ground our understanding of good and evil in ontology, in the nature of creation, then we can speak intelligibly about the objective qualities of sin.

So, when we consider an action we must determine if the action is objectively good or evil. An action is objectively good if the action is consistent with nature. An action is objectively evil if the action is contrary to nature. So, giving a plant water is good. Giving a plant ammonia, however, is not so good. This objective characteristic is not the same as the assignation of praise or blame for the action. So, when we judge an action we want first to know if it is objectively good or evil. We must know this before we determine the praise or blame we should assign to the person who did the act. The reason for this is because of the relationship between the objective characteristic of an action and the process of assigning praise or blame. This is because an act that is objectively good could, in the assignation of praise or blame, be judged either a praiseworthy act (which is obvious) or a blameworthy act (not so obvious). An objectively evil act never becomes praiseworthy and is always blameworthy (on some level). So, the objective characteristic is binary. An act is either objectively good or evil. The subjective characteristic (praise or blame assignation, also known as culpability) is a gradient or sliding scale.

Okay, if you have been able to wrap your mind around this then you are ready for the next part. If not, reread this and comment on my Facebook wall and I can try to clarify some of the details. But, I want to stop here in this post so that these basics can sink in. Next, I’ll post about how to determine the praise or blame that should be assigned to an act. This is the heart of what I want to get at. But, I needed to start here before we moved to that conversation. Once all these parts are together I’ll offer the promised practical solutions for how we should approach the Sacrament of Penance, a.k.a., Confession, a.k.a. Reconciliation.

Christian Friendship

I was reflecting on the Gospel story of the men who tear through the roof to get their sick friend in to see Jesus. It’s really touching. To me it has become an image of true friendship. They work so hard to get him to Jesus without concern for any obstacle. This is what friends do for each other. Many soldiers express this depth of friendship on the battlefield. They say that the reason for fighting changes from being primarily about the mission. They primarily fight for their buddy in the foxhole. An intense common goal is, in fact, the very foundation of friendship.

The Greeks understood this. For this reason they numbered friendship as the penultimate type of love. It’s greater than eros, i.e., the love of the desirable. It’s a shift. We love the other not because of what they can give us. We love them because we share a common cause. What that common cause is defines the friendship. Pirates, for instance, have a vicious friendship. They share a common goal for the sake of whiskey, women, and cold hard cash. Many secular fraternities are little more than pirates without a ship. But a virtuous friendship is often a marvel to behold. Through it, friends are lead to a life of natural happiness.

Even greater, a Christian friendship has the goal of mutual salvation. No foxhole is greater than the spiritual one. How beautiful it is to see such a friendship. It is the building block of the Christian community and especially the Religious community. Remember, even Christ called his own disciples his friends.