Friday, October 21, 2005

And With That...

I'm off for another weekend of classes and spiritual enrichment. As of 12:30 last night, all my papers are done. There's happiness all around, especially since this time my beloved wife is joining me for the trip...

King David's Conversion

We studied a few biblical examples of conversion, such as that of St. Paul & St. Peter. But the one that really jumped out at me was the conversion of King David.

Now, "what conversion of King David?" you ask. Well, remember that there are two levels of conversion. The first level, from non-belief to belief, was not necessary for King David, as he, from the get-go, trusted faithfully in God. But that second conversion of progression in holiness, he did have to undergo. Just as all of us do.

Consider the stark difference between the two versions of David: David pre-conversion, and the David post-conversion.
And David said to Saul, "Why do you listen to the words of men who say, 'Behold, David seeks your hurt'? Lo, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave; and some bade me kill you, but I spared you. I said, 'I will not put forth my hand against my lord; for he is the LORD'S anointed.' See, my father, see the skirt of your robe in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the skirt of your robe, and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me upon you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, 'Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness'; but my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! May the LORD therefore be judge, and give sentence between me and you, and see to it, and plead my cause, and deliver me from your hand." 1 Sam 24:9-14

Then the king said to Zadok, "Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his habitation; but if he says, 'I have no pleasure in you,' behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him. -2 Sam 15:25-26
And David said to Abi'shai and to all his servants, "Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD has bidden him. It may be that the LORD will look upon my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for this cursing of me today." -2 Sam 16:1-12
Notice the difference. Before his conversion, David is very confident, almost to the point of being "cocky." He does nothing wrong, but he clearly is presuming upon God to ensure that favorable outcomes will always be bestowed upon him. What is really lacking is his humility.
After his conversion, his humility abounds. David realizes that he carries the burden of guilt and has found disfavor with the Lord. He subjects himself to the mercy of God.

So, what happened? Recall that David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and subsequently had her husband Uriah killed so that he could marry her. In short, he sinned. Grievously. This is the moment at which he realizes his sin:
And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his morsel, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity." Nathan said to David, "You are the man. Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; and I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uri'ah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uri'ah the Hittite to be your wife.' Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.'" David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." -2 Sam 12:1-13

The spiritual lesson in all of this is that, a fundamental prerequisite for advancing further along in conversion is becoming convinced and convicted of our own sins. It's a truth of the spiritual life, verified by saint after saint after saint, that the more one is sure of their righteousness before God, the more one is truly not righteous. Conversely, the more one shows humility and is painfully aware of their own faults, the more one is truly righteous.

Let us all strive to be like David, and recognize our own sins, so that we may grow in humility and renew our efforts to progress in the 2nd stage of conversion.

Barbara Nicolosi

If you're not familiar with the work of Barbara Nicolosi, you should be. Really.
She's on a mission to evangelize hollywood, and more specifically, make sure that hollywood produces quality output from both an artistic standpoint and a moral standpoint.

I have her blog linked in my "links" page, but here it is again:

Anyway, here is an interview of her. My favorite part is her recounting of her time of vocational discernment in the convent:
I spent my twenties as a member of the Daughters of St. Paul. As a congregation dedicated to evangelization with the media, I spent countless hours during those years, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the media and for media makers. Also, trying to stay awake, by the way. I am very grateful for those years. They seem to me now to be some kind of extended retreat that I needed to brood over all of the themes that come into play everyday in my work now in Hollywood.

I left the Daughters after a kind of Sound of Music scene with my Provincial Superior. She crying and saying "Barbara, you are a hard person to send away, but we think God is calling you somewhere else." And me crying saying, "I'll change. I'll change. Don't make me go!" But inside, I was actually relieved. Really.

It's served me well to have gone through that whole trauma-and it was traumatic. It's given me a profound sense of inner shrug that gets me through otherwise daunting challenges. When you've been thrown out of the convent during the worst vocation crisis in the history of the Church, what else can the world do to you?

World Catholic population growing

Interesting (and hopeful) article from
Oct. 21 (FIDES/ - The world's Catholic population increased by over 15 million in 2003 (the last year for which full statistics are available), according to figures compiled by the Fides news service. The number of Catholics grew significantly on every continent but Europe, where it fell by 214,000.
The rest of the article is here.

Monday, October 17, 2005

John Paul II quote of the day (Oct. 17)

You've probably noticed already, but the JPII quote of the day has fallen by the wayside over the past few weeks. I had a nice stack of them all lined up, but ran out, and haven't been working on JPII homework since then. Now I'm obviously back to JPII homework, and so hopefully will have a few lined up again, time permitting.

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, I just read this quote, which really spoke to me:
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.
-Redemptor Hominis

Paper update

Today is Monday, October 17. Friday (October 21) I leave for my next round of classes. Between now and Thursday evening, I have 13 pages' worth of papers to write, of which I've completed 2 so far. All for Professor Bushman. (See this post for an example of his expectations for our submissions.) Currently, I'm working on an assignment entitled:
Present a summary and synthesis of the Pope's (JPII) teaching by showing how human dignity, moral conscience, and redemption are related. Be sure to define human dignity, redemption and conscience and answer questions such as:

What is the foundation of human dignity?
How can human dignity be diminished?
How can it be restored?
How is dignity related to conscience?
How is conscience related to redemption?
What is the role of God's mercy and conscience in redemption and conversion?

Fortunately, I've taken a vacation day today, so I have all day to work on them.

Still, it's gonna take a miracle!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Authorship of the Pentateuch

Who wrote the Pentateuch?

Easy answer, of course: God.
"The books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself" - Vatican II's Dei Verbum

This truth is not negated by the fact that there is also a more complex answer to this same question. While other religious traditions often claim divine inspiration for their sacred text to have come directly from a locution from God (e.g. Islam's Koran), Christianity makes no such claim for its sacred book. Oh sure there are many visions that take place in the Bible, but with only a few exceptions the texts were written down in a different time and place than the events which are contained therein. Furthermore, each book was written by a different author, using linguistic styles, genres, and patterns of thought particular to that author's time and place. It is the Christian view that it was through this marvelous interplay of time, space, and authorship that the Holy Spirit used men as the instrument of recording spiritual truths, and that the result we have today is, in fact, a reliable product of the Word of God.

So, back to the original question, phrased a little more pointedly: what human agent did God use to record the spiritual truths He conveyed to us in the first five books of the bible?

Now that one's a little more tricky.

The traditional position has always been that Moses authored the Pentateuch. Even the New Testament makes a reference to a passage in Deuteronomy, referring to the "book of Moses" (2 Chr 25:4). Yet, if the reference is to be interpreted to mean that Moses physically wrote down all that was contained therein, it makes one curious how Moses could have written thus: "So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-pe'or; but no man knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated." (Deut 34:5-7)

Now it should be noted that, although for most of Christian history the literal Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch has been pretty much taken for granted (with the possible exception of ascribing that last passage to Joshua), there have been a few voices all along, that were attentive to this potential discrepancy, and sought to find other explanations for it. St. Jerome, for example, who translated the scriptures into Latin, thought that the Pentateuch had been assembled by the Old Testament priest Ezra, who pieced it together from notes handed on from Moses. No one else, however, picked up on this idea, and it fell out of favor.

Enter the "Documentary Theory." In the 1700s, a French theologian made the astute observation that some portions of Genesis used the Hebrew word "Elohim" for God's name, while others used "Yahweh." In and of itself, this observation doesn't necessarily mean much. But over time others began to discern that, in addition to these differences, there were other differences in style between different books, and even within the same book (For example, some sections are fond of geneology lists, others use narrative stories, others are more prophetic, etc.). Furthermore, there are several rather curious repetitions of the almost identical story, such as when Abraham, not once but twice pretends Sarah is his sister, for fear of having a king kill him in order to steal her for his wife. The strategy almost caused disaster the first time, so one would think that Abraham would have learned and wouldn't have tried it again...

Over time, scholars have taken all this data, and added it to others, to come up with what is called the "Documentary Theory." The specific details of the theory are, well, rather boring, but the overview is, to me at least, interesting. In short, the idea is that there were four separate sources which were later edited and compiled together to form what we now know as the Pentateuch. These sources are the Yahwist (J, because Yahweh begins with "J" in German), Elohist (E), Priestly (P), and Deuteronomist (D). Various passages throughout the five books are then assigned to a particular source, based upon the style of language, and the particular emphasis of the text. Now, by "source", it should be noted that a source didn't necesarily correspond to an individual author - it could have been a group of people over time. Specifically, much of the text could have developed from oral history traditions, which were part and parcel of the ancient cultures. If this is the case, how could they have ever been ascribed to Moses, you ask? Well, for one thing, ancient Israel wasn't burdened by zealous copyright laws, like we are. By ascribing something to an individual, it didn't necessarily mean that that individual had said or written that exact text. It certainly included that as a possibility, but it also could mean that the author was merely ascribing their words to be "in the tradition of" the individual. So, for example, Moses certainly handed a wealth of knowledge on to the Israelites, who then could have passed them on orally from generation to generation, finally writing down pieces of the teaching, perhaps adding some reflections of their own gained from hundreds of years of living under the Mosaic law. Finally, the process could have ended with the oral teachings being committed to writing in forms J,E,P, & D, and then undergoing a period of several hundred years' worth of editing and merging, to finally produce the version we have today, which is known to go back at least to around the year 450 B.C. Or so the theory goes.

I should note that this is only a theory, but it really is an intriguing theory. My Old Testament professor indicated that he doesn't ascribe to this theory exactly, but personally ascribes to a different modified form of it. He didn't go into detail. The problem is, there's a lack of archaeological evidence to either support or disprove this theory - it's simply a hypothesis gleamed from reading the styles present in the text. So someday it's possible that there could be a discovery which enables us to know more for certain, one way or the other, but at present it's all speculation.

One final point I should also make: I suppose it's possible for someone to wonder why we should be concerned with this at all. If we know the Bible to be the word of God, then what difference does it make how the text came to be in the first place? It's a good question. In fact, for many years the Catholic Church was even critical of efforts which used these methods known as "historical-critical methods", and for a particularly good reason - the Modernist crisis was brewing and many opponents of the Church were using these methods to "disprove" the Bible. But fortunately that time is past, and the Church recognizes that, when used properly and not to the exclusion of other methods of scriptural interpretation, these methods can serve to help further illustrate the truths in the Bible, and help propel us to a deeper understanding of God's saving action throughout history, and in many cases a more accurate interpretation of the texts themselves. Pius XII in his 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu said "Let those who cultivate biblical studies turn their attention towards this point and let them neglect none of those discoveries, whether in the domain of archaeology or in ancient history or literature, which serve to make better known the mentality of the ancient writers, as well as their manner and art of reasoning, narrating and writing." That's a pretty tall order, and we can feel confident that there will be enough discoveries throughout our entire lifetime to always keep things interesting. And more importantly, that the Church will always be there to help discern the good fruits of these efforts from the bad fruits.

I'm learning some fascinating stuff in this class...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

2005 Eucharistic Congress: perfectus

Well, it's over. All I can say is, I really hope they do it again! Final attendee count was, I believe, about 7,500. What a moment of grace for this Archdiocese! It really was invigorating to be there with so many people, all professing their love for Jesus in the Eucharist, and wanting to deepen that love even more. If everybody who was there goes home and reflects that love, even just a little bit, this city will already be a much better place.

Archbishop Flynn was gracious and thanked everybody who worked hard to make the event happen. Everybody, that is, except the man who probably had the most input of all: its spiritual director, Fr. Joseph Johnson. But in his humility Fr. Joseph is probably just as happy anyways.

Highlights of the event for me:
  • Seeing all the nuns! (especially Mother Theresa's Sisters of Charity)

  • The friday night procession from the Capitol to the Cathedral. Public witness of adulation for the Eucharist always lifts me up.

  • For the speakers, it was Scott Hahn who stole the show for me. His ability to drive home all of the scriptural foundations for the Eucharist astounds me. Particularly poignant was his emphasis on the point that, after speaking of himself literally as the "bread of life", and then losing many disciples because of such a difficult teaching, Christ then turned to the apostles and said "Do you also wish to go away?" (Jn 6:67) Simon Peter's response "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life" (Jn 6:68) was the correct response, and I pray that it shall always be mine as well.

I took a few photos of the event, and am posting some here for all to enjoy:

The Eucharistic Procession:

Roy Wilkins Auditorium, where many of the events took place:

The Mass was very reverent, and included representative elements from the various cultural communities present in the Archdiocese. Here, the 4th degree Knights of Columbus color guard is visible.

Jim Caviezel rounded out the speakers and got everybody fired up to be spiritual prayer warriors for the faith...

Oh Dear...

I've been out of the loop for a couple days, so didn't notice 'til now that in addition to Katrina and Rita, there's been another hurricane, Stan, that has wreaked some havoc in El Salvador & Guatemala. In particular, there's been a bad mudslide in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, which happens to be one town over from San Lucas Toliman, where the Diocese of New Ulm sponsors a mission. (I took a service trip there in June, 2000.) As of right now, the mission's website even has a few photos from Santiago Atitlan, though they appear to have been taken before this last (large) mudslide...

Prayers are needed. It looks like the New Ulm diocese is accepting donations, as well.

Narnia: Thumb's Up

Earlier I blogged an entry about the upcoming release of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Barbara Nicolosi saw it, and liked it.

I trust her judgment. If she likes it, I can't wait to see it!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Later today...

begins the long-awaited Archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress. Tonight's events include the procession from the capital to the cathedral in St. Paul. With over 8 thousand people there, it should be a sight!

I'm mostly looking forward to being a part of such a large group of people who are all there for one reason: their love of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

I think some of the regular readers of this blog (all 5 of you!) will be there, so I hope to run into you. God bless!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lessons in Holiness

Back in my running days, I used to read quite a bit about how best to train for a marathon. How often to run, what pace to set, other beneficial exercises available. All that "book knowledge" was useful, but ultimately the reading itself didn't actually make me a faster runner. It was the daily effort to put that knowledge into practice, and actually put the tennis shoes on and get out the door for the run.

I'm finding that the IPT program is a lot like that. The whole program is geared toward promoting holiness in its students. (Pop quiz.... What is holiness again? That's right, it's the "perfection of charity". Extra point to everyone who remembered that.) So we're learning all kinds of neat stuff about holiness, mercy, conversion, abandonment to God's will, acceptance of suffering, etc. Yet merely reading and studying it doesn't do a whole lot to increase my level of holiness, in and of itself. That is, until the opportunities present themselves to use that knowledge to guide it all in practice.

Case in point: One of the effects of going to school full-time and working full-time all at the same time is that opportunities for sleep become fewer. Part of my job responsibilities as a Systems Analyst involve responding to, and troubleshooting any issues that arise during any of our system processes that run overnight. So by now, my wife & I are accustomed to occasionally hear the phone ring at midnight or so (just when we're totally unconscious!). Last night was a typical example. However, unlike most situations, last night's issue wasn't able to be solved over the phone in a few minutes. It required a little bit more digging. As attempts to connect to the central mainframe computer via my home PC failed, it became evident that duty was requiring me to drive into the office... at 12:30 am. Time to put "abandonment to God's will" into practice. Give the wife a good night kiss, put on some tennis shoes, head out the door and off to the office. Give a friendly nod to the security guy, masking the sleep-deprivation headache that's building inside, ascend to the office, and sit down, saying a quick prayer for assistance to the patron saint of computer programmers (whomever that may be).

Troubleshooting is, shall we say, a little more delicate at 1:00am when the mind isn't working so well. Everything seems fuzzy, and nothing makes sense, and there's a whole lot of staring blankly at a computer screen going on. The effort is a great chance to practice the acceptance of suffering in one's life, and unite that experience to Christ on the cross. It doesn't make it go away, but it does help one muscle through it.

Finally, when a couple hours later, the problem still isn't solved, and I realize it can't be solved without the intervention of other people (who are happily asleep at the moment), it's time to call it quits for the night and pick up tomorrow where I left off. But when the guy who runs the mainframe won't let me leave the program unfinished for the night without my manager's approval (it's "company policy", he says...), a new wave of fear creeps across my body. "Call my boss at 2:30 am and ask for his approval to quit working on this for the night???", I shudder at the mere thought, as images of me begging for mercy flip through my head. But once again the refrain "all for Jesus" creeps back into my head, I grab the phone off the hook, and do the dirty deed. Several groggy minutes later, the ordeal is over, I've convinced my boss I've tried everything in my power to fix it, and I'm free to go home.

But the lesson for the night isn't over yet. God has another surprise up his sleeve. My car was parked on the street right next to the office, where I always park it after business hours. There are parking meters, but they explicitly say they aren't enforced between 4:30 pm and 8:00 am. So you can park for free... in theory. What they don't say is that there's a sign farther down the street which says "No parking from 2am-7am Tues-Thurs-Sat". Lucky for me, it's Thursday morning. At 2:45 am. And yes, there's a sparkling green parking ticket waiting for me under the windshield wiper. There's only one thing a guy can say to that: &*%!$#!!!!

And that's where it all becomes crystal clear: I'm still in need of further conversion. I can patiently go into work and give the extra effort in the middle of the night to perform my employee duties, but give me one little parking ticket at the end of the ordeal, and I lose my calm. There was no one there to witness my fury (although my steering wheel got a little more than it bargained for), but God sees everything and saw the black spot that crept across my heart for a few minutes.

But there's still another lesson that this ordeal gave me: the experience of the ready availability of God's mercy. He died on the cross so that angry parking-ticket holders like myself could still obtain forgiveness if I only asked for it. Now that's a comforting thought. You don't really understand conversion until you've experienced first-hand God's loving mercy.

So, my graduate studies are proving to be augmented by real-life lessons in how to progress (or in my case, stumble) on the path to holiness. But that's as it should be. Just as learning the best methods of marathon training didn't increase my speed, but did help direct the actual progress that was obtained by the act of my running, my studies can hopefully help direct any actual progress in holiness that I make these next few years. Or so I pray...

John Paul II quote of the day

I then address an affectionate thought to the young people, to the sick and to the newly-weds. On this very day October begins, a month that has special importance in this year that is dedicated to the Holy Rosary. I invite you, dear young people, dear sick people and dear newly-weds, to recite with devotion this prayer that is so dear to the tradition of the Christian people. Abandon yourselves confidently in the hands of Mary, ceaselessly calling upon her with the Rosary, a prayerful meditation of the mysteries of Christ.
-General Audience of John Paul II,Wednesday, 1 October 2003

Incidentally, this quote is from the same day that this happened:

The Hierarchy of Truths

If you've ever encountered the term "The Hierarchy of Truths" before, at least in the context of the faith, you may have wondered exactly what was being referred to. It's a term which wasn't necessarily used very often in years past, until Vatican II made reference to it. And since that time, it has occasionally been interpreted incorrectly to mean that some articles of the faith are less "certain" than others. This is not so! It rather refers to the fact that some articles of the faith are more central than others, which have a dependent relationship to them.

Enter the fearless purveyor of truth, Professor Douglas Bushman (yes, the same one teaching my IPT courses!). An excellent article of his on the very subject is currently available via Ignatius Insight, which I recommend for your reading pleasure. Note the logical progression of thought in his writing, the precision of his terminology, and the importance he attaches to providing defininitions for essential phrases or terms. This is exactly how his mind works. And more importantly, the way he expects every single one of my papers to be crafted... Now you can see why I am often up late at night doing homework!