Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Can The Past Be Infinite?

I had an interesting conversation about the nature of time today with a friend. I also just saw a post on a blog about the possibility of the infinite nature of time. This got me thinking about things a bit, and so I would like to do a bit of philosophical exercise which may stride on into a theological exercise.

Definition of Terms

Infinite - When I use the term infinite, I use it in the Aristotelian sense. Now, Aristotle uses two possible ways in which the infinite can exist, as a potential and as an actual. Aristotle argues that an actual infinite cannot exist, but this shall not be dealt with here. My concern is with the potential infinite. A potential infinite is said to be something that is measurable, but is unable to get to the end or beginning, or both, of a set.

For example. Let us take a number set between 1 and 10. Everything within that finite set of numbers (1 and 10) is infinitely divisible. It is not possible to reach a limit in divisibility. No matter how hard you try, it will never get to an end. Once you are "within the set", it can be potentially impossible to get to the end, for there is a potentially infinite series of numbers that one would have to "cross" in order to get to one. A potential infinite is also measurable, no matter how small it is.

Time - That which is the current state of reality in the present.


St Augustine famously said "if you ask me what time is, I don't know what it is, but if you don't ask me, then I know". He is also famous for his discourse on time. He states that the past and the future are not real, for they no longer are in existence, but have ceased to be, or have not come to be. The only time that exists is the current moment. This leads to a very interesting view of reality itself, but I shall not get into it.

My question, though, is whether or not the past can be infinite in a potential manner. If Augustine is right and it no longer exists, then the question is pointless to ask for it makes no sense to talk about a reality that is no longer in existence.

However, and this is where philosophy and theology tango, Christ brings an interesting perspective into the idea of time. The infinite (in an actual and real sense, not in a potential sense) comes into contact with the finite, all in the Incarnation. As Ratzinger says, time and eternity are united. If this is the case, that eternity and time come into one contact, then it brings a sense of the eternal into the temporal world and a sense of the temporal world into eternity. This is a logical implication of the Incarnation.

Now, that means that each moment of existence, because of the Incarnation, is touched by the eternal and so, in a certain sense, is grafted to eternity to become an ever present reality. Thus, and I hate to say this, I think Augustine is wrong in his understanding of time because of the understanding of the Incarnation. I would like to point out that I am not giving a complete description of how time and eternity (that is, all instances of time) become eternal because that involves a much deeper understanding of the Incarnation that I wish not to get into at the moment.

My point is, though, that the past takes an a certain eternal character, which means it exists forever, as an everlasting moment, just as every moment in time, because of the fact that eternity and itself have been grafted to each other. Now, this gets me into the nature of the past as at least potentially infinite.

Taking my example from the definition earlier of a finite set that has infinite divisibility, I can apply this to time. Let us say that the set of the past is the total moments from the first instance in time to the present moment. If we look within that set, there is an infinitude of moments in which we can examine, breaking them down more and more into more minute moments. Thus, since the past is nothing more then a finite set of moments, and a potential infinite can be examined within that set, it makes sense to say that the past is, in a certain sense, infinite in the order of potentiality.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Philosophical Geek Out!

I am currently in the process of reading Aquinas' commentary on Aristotle's metaphysics. It is really an amazing piece of work and the fruit of much thinking!

I am currently on Book V, Lesson 2, in which the discussion on causation happens.

For those that don't know, there are 4 causal modes in Aristotle's Metaphysics within 2 types of causation.

The 2 types are:

1) Intrinsic Causation - That which is generated from within (will give examples of this in a bit).
2) Extrinsic Causation - That which is generated from without (will, again, give examples of this in a bit).

Within Intrinsic Causation there are 2 modes of this type that can be called causes:

1.a) Material Cause - That which gives the matter for a thing to be. For example, a bronze statue has as its material cause bronze. The bronze does not come from without the bronze, but is part of the statue itself. Therefore it is intrinsic.

1.b) Formal Cause (Sidenote, this cause is both an intrinsic and extrinsic cause). That which gives a thing the form necessary for it to be what it is. For example, the form of a statue is from within. The form is that which gives "definition" to the matter, to make the matter knowable to the intellect.

Within Extrinsic Causation there are 3 mods of this type that can be called causes:

2.a) Formal Cause - When a thing is made in the likeness of another thing and thus receives its form from that thing though it cannot be that thing. This type of formal cause is of the imitative sort. To bring us back to our statue example, though within it it has the form of statue, and, let us say, it is made to resemble John Paul II, it receives the form of "John Paul II" from John Paul II, who is exterior to the statue and thus a cause for it to be a resemblance of him.

2.b) Efficient Cause - That which brings a thing to movement or rest. For example to throw a ball is to be the efficient cause of the ball, for its accidental properties (such as placement and movement) are changing. The catcher of the ball is also an efficient cause because he is again changing the accidental properties of the ball and bringing it to rest. In another sense, Efficient Cause is that which brings a thing into being, which involves motion.

There are 4 types of the type "Efficient Cause" which Aquinas gets from Avicenna; Perfective, Dispositive, Auxiliary, and Advisory. I will not go into that for now, but the distinctions truly blow the mind away!

3.b) Final Cause - That which is the sake for why a thing is done. To bring us back to the example of the ball, the ball is thrown in order for the other person to catch it. Thus, the final cause of the ball in that action is to be caught.

Now, within Final Causation, there are 2 distinctions; ultimate end and intermediary end. This is the reason for why I posted this post. The ultimate cause is the ultimate "raison d'etre" for a thing to act. Aquinas would say that the ultimate final cause of man is to spend eternity in loving communion with God. But intermediary final causes are things that are necessary in order for the final end, the ultimate final cause, to happen.

Now, to bring it back to the ball example, it would seem to me that Aristotle and Aquinas (if I recall correctly) would argue that intermediary final causes are infinite in nature.

Let me give you an example from Math. Let us say we have the numeric distance between 1 and 2. Between that finite set is an infinite possibility of division. One could never move past 1 to 2, for they could continually go further and further down the decimal scale.

The same in our ball example. When someone throws a ball, the ultimate end is for the other to catch it. But in order for that to happen, there must be an infinite set of motions within the finite set of the throw and the catch.

This would seem to make sense since Aristotle argued that the universe is what he calls a potential infinite. It is measurable, yet without any seeming point to measure. If we went within the set of numbers between 1 and 2, we could say the same, as if there were no beginning or end, though there is, but from within the set, it would be impossible.

It is interesting how this seems to logically follow from Aristotle's theory of the 4 causes and how this shows up within his discussions later on in regards to the infinite.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Principle of Non-Contradiction

The Principle of Non-Contradiction is a philosophical principle that has been around for a long time. Essentially, it states that a certain claim is either true or false, it cannot be both at the same time. For example, a fire is either hot or it is not hot, it cannot be both for that goes against the nature of temperature.

I have been listening to a variety of Peter Kreeft lectures as of late and have found them fascinating. The particular reason I have found them fascinating is the extent to which he uses this philosophical principle and how the great arguments of the past have also used this to principle to make their case.

For example, take Pascal's Wager. In it Pascal gives us a reality. God either exists or does not exist. It is a logical impossibility for there to be both. Now, there are 4 possibilities from this Sic et Non.

1) God exists and you don't believe.
2) God exists and you do believe.
3) God doesn't exist and you don't believe.
4) God doesn't exist and you do believe.

Now, he says the following for each statement.

1) If God exists and you don't believe then you're in trouble because He has loved you and you have failed to return that love or to care for the fact that He exists. Bad move. You have not lived for that which you were created for.

2) Good on ya! You believed and live a life to follow Him and pursue Him passionately! This adds not only a tremendous value to your life, but to others as well. This gives your life purpose.

3) Well, you were right. But because God doesn't exist, there is no value to life anyways, so what good did it do to not believe?

4) Well, turns out you're wrong, but at least you were able to live a life that was worthy of helping others and loving them.

Now, Pascal never makes the claim that these are arguments for the existence of God. No, he says that this is simply the first step among many. But he is making a point in that, well, what does it hurt to believe? Will life be miserable because you believe in God?

Now, what interests me in this argument is the principle of non-contradiction. You take the principle of truth and falseness and see where it leads you. We see here the 4 possibilities of True and False and a decision to be made in regards to one's belief in God's existence.

Looking back now, this is essentially how the Medievals worked. Thomas Aquinas' Summa is built in this manner. He says that, for example, Theology is either a science or not a science. He shows the positions for both, and then gives you the reason for holding the true position. It is very common sensicle.

I think we have lost this principle in our lives because of skepticism. Instead of saying "the fire is either hot or not hot", we say "well, how do we know that this idea of temperature is not just a projection of our consciousness? How do I even know what temperature is, maybe it's just a social construct".

Essentially, this skepticism is bound to destroy Western Civilization and is the roots of our relativistic leanings in society.

Al-Ghazali, a Medieval Islamic philosopher, once said in regards to skeptics (for he was once one himself) "Throw a skeptic in a fire and tell them to tell you that the fire is not really fire and that the heat is not really burning their flesh". Experience, practicality, and common sense, always win in the end.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

An Amazing Website

It is called the "International Catholic University". Is the brain child of Ralph McInerny, who is a fellow at the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas and is quite the well known Thomist. I encourage EVERYONE to check it out. Best of all, it's FREE online courses. There are some real gems in there (I am thinking especially of Janet Smith's intro the Sexual Ethics).



Saturday, October 27, 2007

Christopher Hitchen's and the Impossible Question

I recently listened to a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Alister McGrath. I would first like to say that Alister McGrath did a fantastic job and showing the reasonableness of Christianity. This debate was held by the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. The debate was interesting to say the least.

One thing stood out to me in that debate and that was a question that Mr. Hitchens asks every group he talks to. He asks "can you show me a human action that is good and requires God's help, that is, a good action that cannot be done without God's help?" He follows that with "can you tell me of an evil human action that can be done in God's name." The point is simple. He seems to think that, in his view, no good action can be differentiated between the believer and the non-believer. He believes it impossible in fact and the first part of his question has never been able to be answered he states. He states that it is rather easy to come up with an answer to the second part of the question.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hitchens makes a logical leap. It is not my hope to attack his character (which seems to be so easy to be done in the Catholic blogosphere), rather, I simply wish to analyze his argument.

The problem is that Mr. Hitchens makes the presumption that every human act that is good is done out of the person's own accord without any divine help. Christian theology states that God's grace helps us in all our actions and that this grace is made available to all men (men in the sense of all human persons). Mr. Hitchens is taking the scientific route, of that which is only observable to the realm of the investigative. However, the problem is that, and Mr. Dawkins even agrees with this, it cannot be proven that God does not exist. In the end, Mr. Dawkins says, one is only dealing with probabilities. If such is the case, then, according to a true scientific method, Mr. Hitchens us not allowed to make the jump in regards to whether or not human actions are done by their own power or from the grace of God. Science deems to "wait until it is possible to observe". That, however, will not happen until one sits before the judgment seat of God. Only then will we see how God has worked through us in our lives.

I knew there was something wrong with Mr. Hitchens' question when I first heard it. I almost fell into his trap. His trap creates confusion of which the obvious easy answer for the second part creates a confusion in the individual to re-think his whole outlook on life. This brings about the easy possibility of denial based on an irrational position.

However, thanks be to God that I didn't fall into the trap. I thought to myself "well, everyone is capable of doing good acts. However, the problem enlies in the fact that we are making a presumption that the power to do that good act comes from us".

Science is unable to determine the root cause of where our ability to do the good act comes from. In fact, to determine good actions is outside the realm of science, as "good" is also something that is not scientifically observable. Finally, the act itself is the only observable thing, but the root and the moral value of the act are totally and completely unobservable.

So, Mr. Hitchens, I ask you this, show me how "the good" is observable in science, and show me, using your scientific technique (of which atheists are so fond of), how you can prove scientifically and without a doubt that your ability for doing good acts comes ultimately from you.


Monday, October 08, 2007

A great post on Evangelization



Saturday, September 29, 2007

An Instrument of God

I am reading the new book of the letters of Mother Teresa. It is a God send, God did so much through her, and she realized that she was but His little instrument.

This affirmed something I've been praying about, how we are able to be "instruments of God".

It is first, necessary, to think about what an instrument is. An instrument (not in the musical sense only, but in any sense), is something that is used to reach a certain goal. For the sake of simplicity, I think the pencil is the best example.

In a certain sense, we are all called to be pencils in the hand of God. Sinfulness makes us pencils that are too big for God to use in His precious hand. God works with the smallest instruments for we wonder "how has He done such great things with such a small instrument". We wonder about such things all the time! We wonder at how computers are able to do so much with such tiny parts. The same is true with God. How is it that He is able to do so much with such small things?! It shows the greatness and awesomeness of His love.

So, we are called to be pencils in the hands of God. How is it, then, that we become smaller so that we can fit in His precious hands? Well, we must be shortened and scraped of all unnecessary excesses. If we have a love of self, then our pencil must thin out, all excess exterior must be stripped away. If our desire for other things is too extensive, then we must be sharpened so as to become as short as possible for God to work with us. We must become tiny instruments in His hands.

Now, God can do great work with such small pencils. He can draw a beautiful canvas of works done by His grace and love through us. We must become small to fit into His precious hands, though, in order for this to work. The smaller our pencil is, the more control He will have over us. We are able to be more attuned with His will when the excesses of pride and desires for things of the world are removed. Only then do we fit in His precious hands, tiny, insignificant, virtually nothing compared to the greatness of God. And yet, though almost nothing, it is only then that we become everything, for we become enveloped by His love shown to us by our being open to His will, which is His hands, guiding the pencil each step of the way.

But we must become small and insignificant, for it is only then that the beauty of God can be shown to the world. It is only in nothingness that we become Christ to others and are able to preach with our lives the love of God.


The Simplicity of Christ

I have been reflecting on many things as of late and one thing that has really touched my life profoundly is what John Paul II says is necessary to "fully realize what it means to be human".

To be human is to imitate Christ who "is the image of the invisible God". Christ reveals the Father to us, He reveals to us Who God is. Now, if the Letter of John says that "God is Love", then we have to ask ourselves where Christ shows us that God is Love in His life. There are, of course, many places, but the greatest place is on the Cross. God reveals His love to us through Christ's death on the Cross.

This is all good and dandy and easy to assent to intellectually. But how do we assent to it with our hearts? There is a joy in making an "intellectual assent" and this is a necessary step, but it is all pointless unless it causes us to desire to make the assent of our will, to say "I will live this truth in my life".

So, what is the truth that Christ reveals to us? That we are to love. And how do we love? By "dying on the Cross", by emptying ourselves for the sake of God. We say "no" to things of the world, not because they are bad, they are good! But God is better. We must make room in our souls for God, and that means taking out all the clutter that is in there. How do we take out the clutter? We take it out by dying to self.

This is a principle that is Biblical and consistent with the Tradition of the Church. Death to self is the means through which we become truly human. By emptying ourselves, we have more of our self to give to others and to give to God, and we thus also have a great glass to fill with the love of God.

I am convinced that this is essential for all Christians and especially for all Catholics to hear. Christ loves us and desires to be with us, He is giving Himself completely to us. We must, however, respond with love. The spear that pierced the side of Christ is symbolic of the wound we cause in Christ's Sacred Heart every time we deny Him and His will in our life. It is that wound that is the narrow gate to Heaven, and the only way to get there is by embracing the Cross Christ gives us so that we may serve God in all we do and so that we may come to receive more and more the love He wishes to show us.

This truly is the fullness of the Gospel "To love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself". This is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, and Christ shows us this fulfillment by His death on the Cross. There is no resurrection without the Cross, and there is no Heaven without death to self.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sense of the Faithful

Just a quick note for the evening. I find that a lot of people talk about the Sense of the Faithful and how that is sufficient for a Catholic Doctrine to hold. I used to be one who fell into using such a term in my day to day speech about the Church.

However, reading a book on Dogmas of the Church by Dr. Ludwig Ott, I am noticing that "Sense of the Faithful" is not the correct terminology, but it is rather a "Sense of the Communis". In the realm of the community in this sense, in order to be one who contributes their opinion to the sense of the Communis they must be in communion with the Church and all she teaches. Thus, only those who are fully orthodox and love Christ are able to properly contribute to the sense of the communis.

This is interesting because the sense of the faithful does not carry the same weight in terminology. When we say sense of the faithful, it ends up being all those who think they believe and thus have the right to contribute their opinion to the Church and Her teachings. If this is the case, then we fall into the danger of the Church becoming Democratic, that the majority of the faithful (according to their own definition of what it means to be a "faithful") have the weight of opinion on the life and teachings of the Church.

This is, of course, a false understanding of the reality of the Church. The Church is a communion of love between those who hold and proclaim all She teaches. This is a great mystery. So, it is the sense of the communis that has all the weight when it comes to the definition of the truths of faith, and not the sense of the faithful.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Eucharistic Culture

I have to apologize for the lack of updating. I'm extremely busy and so God and work come before blogging. However, tonight, for example, I have a few free minutes and so am going to put a quick idea across.

This past weekend we were honoured with the presence of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of Canada. He had many things to say, including a bit about the conclave (don't worry, he did not break the seal, he just mentioned his state at the time, the awesomeness of the experience and so forth).

He made one interesting note. He said that Canada's only hope of becoming a great culture again is that it become a Eucharistic Culture. I found this to be provocative and bold statement (in a good way). Essentially, if Canada wants to be "Canada", it must rediscover its Christian heritage, to inform herself of it, and live the values and truth that she was built on, most notably in the affirmation that God is real.

I know he truly hopes for the Eucharistic Congress to be the catalyst behind a cultural renewal in our country. He really did understand that the source of change of society is to first effect the culture.

Now, the question comes of how we actually build that Eucharistic Culture. It is not easy considering we live in such a morally deprived society nowadays. However, it is possible.

I have said it again and again, but the first thing we need is Saints, holy men and women who live the life of God totally and without reserve. We need to truly encounter the reality and truth of Christ. This happens, again, first and foremost in the Eucharist, where He is truly present to us.

I found the statement that "Canada needs to become Eucharistic" very fascinating. It had never occurred to me before. This makes sense, and yet at the same time it is a very mysterious phrase, one that will be need a good deal of prayer and meditation.


Ice Surface Melting!!


I love the National Post. Always gives reasonable! discussion of issues instead of being overrun with emotionalism and irrationality (*cough cough* Globe and Mail *cough cough*).


Friday, August 24, 2007

Jesus of Nazareth - Book Review

The following is a book review I wrote for the Diocesan Messenger (the newspaper for the Victoria Diocese):

Jesus of Nazareth is a result of a lifetime of experience of Joseph Ratzinger, his “personal search for the Lord.” The fact that the book is based on his personal search that makes it so interesting, especially because the book is the work of Joseph Ratzinger the theologian, and is not a part of his magisterial authority as Pope. This leaves the book open to theological criticism, and some have taken Ratzinger up on that.

It is, however, difficult to find a point of criticism with this book. It is a book writing in a style that is beautiful, deep, and accessible. It is through this masterpiece of Christian writing that Ratzinger expresses three essential aspects to this book; it is Christological, meditative, and engaging.

The Christological aspect is perhaps the strongest, and yet most subtle, theme of the book. In the book Ratzinger discusses the intellectual background of the historical-critical method in biblical theology. He engages this method throughout the entire book by discussing who Christ is. He engages the historical-critical by affirming, in so subtle a way, that Christ is the source of history, thus attacking the historical-critical method that history is the source of Christ. This is especially affirmed in his discussion on Christ's temptation in the dessert, in which each of Christ's responses affirm that He is God, always obedient to the will of the Father.Ratzinger's “personal search for the face of the Lord” makes this book meditative because it is obviously based on years of deep personal prayer. It is this search that has created a love that is obviously sincere and deep. His reflections on the various aspects of Christ's life are profound in a way that they provide the reader with a variety of sources for contemplation in their own search for the face of the Lord. His experiences are a great addition to ours as we all journey together towards Christ.

The final aspect is that it is a book that is engaging and relevant. Ratzinger explicitly brings the Gospels to our present situations. He does not read the Gospels according to the modern situations, but rather reads the modern situations according to the Gospels. Christ, revealed to us through the Gospels, is the lens through which history is looked through. This is an essential point for Ratzinger in his affirmation of Christ as the center, source, and summit of history. He does this aspect justice par excellence.

All in all, this book is a brilliant and accessible book that all Catholics ought to read. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, this book has something for you. This book presents to us Christ, and Christ reveals to us who we are created to be, and it is through this presentation of Christ by Ratzinger that we come to a deeper understanding of the call to holiness we are all challenged to answer.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I have come to experience over the past few weeks that people seem to lack a sense of mystery. This is not just something that is apparent in just a select few, but really, in the end, I think we all lack that certain sense of mystery.

I will give an example. There are many times that people will ask for a reason behind a certain action. There are certain times that giving a reason is acceptable and indeed proper. However, it is not always the case that we ought to have to give an answer. There may be a valid reason, but it may just be that they ought not to be privileged to such a reason. If a Bishop moves a priest, he is not required to explain why, or if someone is not wanting to go somewhere, they do not have to always give a reason why it is they don't wish to go there if it is personal and are uncomfortable with the public knowing about such decision.

This all leads to the culture in general and, in a certain sense, the Church. A loss of mystery follows from a loss sense of Beauty. When we loose sight of what is True, Good, and Beautiful, we loose sight that we can not comprehend the True, Good, and Beautiful. This is, for example, the danger of technology. Technology makes everything accessible, tangible, explainable. Technology becomes, as Fr. de Souza said at a lecture here one evening, about technology becoming anti-sacramental.

The Sacraments are meant to be mysterious. We can have an understanding of them, but, in the end, we can never comprehend the total reality, and this is most true in the Eucharist.

This is why I believe intellectualism can go too far. St Thomas, after his mystical experience, stated that "All I have written is but straw". Intellectual pursuits are true, good, and a gift from God, we are supposed to explore that gift according to the size of the gift given. However, just as it is with the grace of freedom, the gift can be misused. We can come to worship intellectualism. Intellectual pursuits are only so good as when our lives reflect holiness. If intellectual pursuits are not bearing fruit in our souls and the souls of others, then we have to question if we are using this gift accordingly.

The danger of intellectual pursuits I find is that people tend to want to know about everything, even if you do not feel they have the right to know. It is true that we are supposed to give a reason for the hope within us, but I think we can take this pursuit too far when attampts to understand things we were never meant to understand. I think that mystery is a good thing because it leads to contemplation. Intellectual pursuits are only so good as to when they lead us to contemplate the beauty of God in a deeper and more profound way.

I may be wrong in this and would gladly accept any comments.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Having vs. Being

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards "having" rather than "being", and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.  - John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, Paragraph 36.

This quote came to my mind today when our Bishop gave his homily at Mass this morning.  I will first say this, his homily was probably the best homily I have ever heard and I mean that in every way.  It was engaging, it had something for everyone, it spoke about the central vocation for us all, which is to holiness and to live a life of love.  The most important thing, however, was that he did not stop there, but engaged us and challenged us as to how it is we are to love God, and that is something that is very important for us to hear.  Oh yes, and he was also "eschatologically oriented", that is, he said that we come to know the important things in life when we meditate on our own death.

This above quote from Centesimus Annus is something that he touched on.  While I was at the Tertio Millennio Seminar, I had to give a 10 minute presentation on a paragraph that I found topical and engaging and I chose paragraph 36, specifically focusing on the above quote.

It is this quote that is essential for the modern culture because it speaks to a deeply a reality that has spread itself rapidly in Western culture, that is, we are defined by what we have, not who we are.

How many people define themselves by the car they drive, the amount of money they have in the bank, how many houses they own or, in my case, how many books they have.  We all have that one thing we enjoy in life that we define ourselves by.  It is not to say that we can't enjoy books and cars and houses and the material things in life.  But they must have a purpose.  They must not be the end of things, but must be a means.  The material things in the world are supposed to be a means, to help us attain Heaven.  That is the point and purpose of "things".  

What defines ourselves is being, that is, living in the moment according to God's will for us.  We be, we exist, we experience everything all out of our love of God.  Our dignity is based in who we are, not what we own.  How many times people try to define themselves based  on how others think about them, how they do in school, and so forth.  This is not how we are made to be important, we are not made to be loved based on what we have.  Rather, we are to be loved simply because we are an individual.  God does not love us because of our grades, because of our money, and so forth.  God loves us because we are us.  It is the fact that God loves us that we want to live the call to excellence.  From there, when we experience God's love, we are challenged by that experience to live the life of love as God does.  We are challenged to live that more excellent way, to become excellent for the glory of God.

We do not define ourselves by what we have, we define ourselves by who we are, a human individual, loved by God's infinite love.

John Paul II, ora pro nobis.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

More Canadian Cultural Renewal

I was privileged this evening to have dinner with Fr. de Souza (writer for the National Post), Tom Mcfeely (an editor for the National Catholic Register), his wife, and some friends from College and Career.

I have had some ideas about getting people together to start brain storming on how to engage cultural renewal in Canada and Tom knew about this, so he told me to put my idea across Fr. de Souza to see what he thinks.

Fr. de Souza felt that publishing journals in the realm of First Things, for example, would be a bit too difficult to get going in Canada.  In the US, it has about 40,000 subscribers and is probably the most prominent politically conservative, religiously orthodox journal in the US.  Since Canada's population is only about 1/10 the size of the US, he feels it would be difficult for people, in a journal, to be able to get their readership up enough to make it a financially viable endeavor.  

I will be honest that I was rather surprised to hear this.  While I understand his reasoning, I do think that if things are promoted properly then people will subscribe.  I am sure that it would not be difficult to get many subscribers, again, promotion is everything.

He was also a bit down, I found, on the idea of think tanks, because they need money and people seem hesitant in giving money for such things.

I think he is in principle for such endeavors, but feels that since our population is so much smaller and less religious, it would be hard to get such things off the ground.

He did say, however, what he does think would work.  He said that we ought to encourage people to write for their local newspapers, so that their opinions could be heard on a local level and that, generally, editors for local papers are willing to have local writers to write on local issues as it gives the paper that local feel it wants.  

He also mentioned the idea of a website in which there would be access to content and news on a regular basis.  He believes that this is the best means.

I still think the other things are possible too, though, and I am going to be continuing to be bouncing ideas off of people.  I do see the idea of a website being very popular and something that can give us the boost we would need to eventually get a journal off the ground.

I also had another idea but I forgot to put it past him.


What Ruins Society

I have began writing notes on the nature of society and the impact of allowing homosexual marriages as being legal on a society at large.

This has me contemplating as I know there is various "anthropological stamps" on society as they are based on the social nature of Man.  The concept I have been contemplating most is the concept of "nuptial stamp" on society, that society is in a certain sense nuptial.  If it is, then nuptiality is based on the necessity of the difference of sexes, and if that is essential in the nature of a society, then homosexuality itself can never be seen as a society.  At best it could be seen as a partnership, but partnerships have no legal (or social) rights to marriage.

This is all in the preliminary stages and so will require more reflection and study, specifically in the realm of social and anthropological philosophy.  

What got me thinking about this is why civilizations in the past have fallen.  It has been on what I call the 4 pillars of the death of a civilization, which are abortion, homosexuality, infanticide, and promiscuity/destruction of the idea of the family.  All 4 are attacks on the nature of what we see society being.  But why is it that these are seen as the essentials for destroying a civilization?  If a civilization is destroyed, it is because the structure of society has fallen apart, so, logically, these 4 pillars of death really would be the antithesis of a free and virtuous society.  And they are all inherently social.  So, they must be the cause of the fall, but why is it that they have such a detrimental effect on society?  This is what I hope to research, and any suggestions on this would be greatly appreciated.


Friday, August 03, 2007

The idea of Beauty in Sacramentum Caritatis

I have recently begun the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. I have found it to be an exhortation rich in theological depth and spiritual food. I recommend everyone to pick it up.

Today I began the section on the liturgy, perhaps the section I was most excited about starting. I found it interesting because of the basis of how he starts the section, first with a brief paragraph on the essential relationship between Lex Credendi and Lex Orandi, that is, the law of belief and the law of prayer. These things are essentially related with one another, and that one's orthodoxy is known by their orthopraxis and visa versa.

That was very nice to hear affirmed, but what I found even more interesting was that he began the very next paragraph with a reflection on the nature of Beauty.

Now, most people think that, when talking about Beauty, that is is spoken of in an aesthetic sense. However, that is not how the Pope is speaking about it here. He is speaking about the objective reality of Beauty, a reality in which the Liturgy participates because Beauty Himself comes to us in the Eucharist.

I found this quite interesting as he seems to be, in his usual subtle way, to be affirming the necessity of a proper comprehension of the nature of Beauty in order to have authentic liturgies. He states this because Beauty is what leads us to Love, Who is God.

By addressing this abstract idea, he is also addressing an unfortunate reality in many parishes throughout the world, that they do not resemble the idea of beauty because there is no unity in their liturgies, that their liturgical space is lacking in ornate objects to lead one to contemplate Beauty Himself, and that their is no music that leads to the contemplation of that reality as well. It is worth pondering and contemplating as I think he is touching a very serious root of the modern liturgical problems and culture, the loss of the sense of Beauty. I think that the loss of the experience of Beauty was at first cultural but what eventually got its way into the Church's practices.

And thus, it brings us back to the orthopraxis means orthodoxy statement. A loss of the idea and experience of the reality of Beauty leads to a false understanding of Church Doctrine and of the reality of Christ. It is interesting that the Pope is attacking the problem through the realm of beauty, but I am not surprised either, taking into account his writings from previous years on liturgy and beauty.



I had a discussion today with my priest, and, he rightly criticized me for being a bit too self-righteous. But we did end up having a decent dialogue about the nature and purpose of intercessions.

I was looking at the Magnificat prayer book (one that I often refer to for intercessions), and found the following:

That government leaders will work to provide a just distribution of the
world's goods, remaining especially mindful of the poor.

I saw this and thought to myself "so, people are supposed to be distributed justly, interesting concept". Now, that thought may sound a bit weird to some, but, with a proper understanding of Catholic Social Teaching, it makes perfect sense.

One of the talks that Fr. Neuhaus gave us was on the idea of wealth. When reading Centissumus Annus by John Paul II, he explicitly (that is, leaves no room for error) states what is the wealth of the world, what its goods are. He states that wealth and goods are not based in material things, but in man. It is not money, or land, or technology that is the basis for our wealth, but ourselves.

Let us take an example that Fr. Neuhaus gave us. Silicon used to be absolutely worthless. It had almost no value at all. It wasn't because it was silicon that it was worthless, but rather because no one saw a purpose for it. Now, someone comes along and thinks "this would be a great thing to use in the construction of microchips". And boom, the value of silicon skyrockets. It's not because someone said "oh, silicon, based on its properties, has a value of x", but it is because someone came along and applied their gift of reason to the object and said "I can make you worth something". This is the value of wealth, man, not object.

This brings the above mentioned intercession into a greater context. Seeing that man is the source of wealth, standards of living, wealth (in the purely materialistic sense) are seen as having an endless opportunity for growth. This is the beauty of Catholic Social Doctrine. It does not say that there is a pie chart which states there is only x amount of wealth in the world, and thus that it is unfair since the rich have 80% of it, but rather the Church says there is no pie chart, but rather infinite access to opportunity.

This is why (and JP II talks about this a lot in Centissimus Annus) it is not right to send money to less developed nations. Money is not going to make them develope. Rather, what they need is access to training to see that the potential for economic prosperity is within themselves thanks to the gift of reason which God has given them. This is the true empowerment of the poor that the Church teaches.

And so, we ought to be weary when intercessory prayers are put within a box, because we must remember that the Church, in her adequate understanding of man, says that man is not constrained by a box, but only by his lack of willingness to use his reason.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Problem of Language?

I was having a discussion last night with my roomate. He was stating that he is going to be researching the history of the idea of a person, with concentration on the theologians of the East.

He was stating that this is a topic he's going to spend time on because of a problem in engaging the idea of person nowadays.

He stated that, when discussing the distinction between man and animals, the ability to distinguish between man and animals is lessening with an alarming rate. Why is this happening? Because of an overly emphasized empiricism. For example, people say that apes can have a sense of the idea of beauty because they stare longer at a piece of art that is beautiful then one that is ugly. Therefore, they exhibit a human characteristic and thus are not so different really, and perhaps they are indeed persons.

My roomate was arguing that we have focused too much on the idea that man is a rational being, and it is the gift of reason that distinguishes him from animals. I was completely honest with him in that I didn't agree. The problem was not the idea of man being reasonable and something that has been taking by animal behaviourilists and applied to animals. Reason is that which defines the individual. But the problem is not on the individual level, but on the level of species.

One thing that is not discussed is man as a social animal. Perhaps there has been an over-emphasis on man's individual isolation from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is why it is important to affirm mans's social aspect. This is why God said it is "not good" for man to be alone on the 6th day. This is quite strong language, considering God is constantly saying "behold, it is good". The first statement of value is that God says it is "not good". That should really stick out to anyone who reads the Bible. God saw Man as not being complete and so created a partner fitting for Adam. Man became fulfilled by being a society of persons. Then God not only said that it was good, but that is was "very good". This again should leave us food for contemplation, because it is the only time in the creation narrative that God says "very good". Man is only fulfilled by being a society of persons. Man, on the species sense, is fundamentally different from the individuals. The individuals are individuated from animals because of their ability to reason, but also to be social in a society.

This, of course, is the theological position. To bring in Genesis to the public square on the nature of animals would probably not go over too well. And so, I propose a second problem, a flight from metaphysics.

People in the modern world have taken the idea of science too far to the point that all certainty is in that which we observe through our senses. They divorece it from any idea of a universal principle, form, or what not. When you divorce metaphysics from empiricism, you divorce your ability to make your case convincingly on a universal basis. Metaphysics discuss those universals from which we derive our particulars.

And this is why I think JP II's Theology of the Body and Philosophical Anthropology are the tool to this modern epidemic. One is a theological language, exclusive to the Christian discussion and affirmation of Man, while the other is a philosophical language, based in truth and in a deep understanding and experience of the human condition, being able to engage all people, whether they are Christian or not.

This theological and philosophical idea that JP II has is unique because of its unique unitivity. It understands the principle that nothing is in the mind that is not previously perceived through the senses (a standard medieval principle and the basis of empiricism), while at the same time affirming that our empirical experiences are a mode of coming to experience something more then just the particular, but to grasp a universal. It unite empiricism and metaphysics in a proper classical method. It further unites subjectivity with objectivity.

I think the most important thing is that it affirms the idea of experience as the means of attaining knowledge, something almost every human person, I think, would agree with. However, it says that our personal experience is personal and unique to us, but that does not mean that it is not a personal and unique experience of something universal. It affirms that personal understanding of truth and says "a universal does exist, you have experienced from your indivuality, which is unique. You have experienced a universal in a unique way, thus adding to man's total understanding of that truth". In other words, it defends itself against the plague of relativism that is the result of a purely empirilistic world perspective.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

On the Nature of Societies

I received a few comments by e-mail on my post on the USCCB. Without divulging what people said to me in private, needless to say I was a bit saddened by the fact that people think that, in this case, the conference is identical with its members. This is not the case, a society, by definition, is fundamentally different from the members which make it up. The society is, if you will, its own person with its own will, rights, and dignity. It is what Maitland calls an "N + 1 Unity". It is a person unto itself which consists of n number of individuals plus itself, with its own distinctive individuality.

To understand this, there is the need to distinguish the idea of what persons are. At the core, a person is someone who is, according to St Thomas, "distinct by reason of dignity". I will not go into the history of the word persona here and now, though I encourage researching it as it is quite fascinating.

Taking this definition of a person, we have 3 categories of persons; natural, fictional, and real.

Natural Persons

Natural Persons are those who, according to Prof. Hittinger (and the entire Christian tradition), possess a unity of rational substance. That is to say, it has a substantial nature which is expressed primarily through reason. This has within itself 3 categories; Man, Angels, and God, God being the most distinct in dignity of Natural Persons because of the infinite nature of His reason.

Fictional Persons

Fictional Persons fall under the nature of the law. Virtually anything can be a fictional person. Essentially, the best way to explain this is through example. Let us take, for example, that Joe leaves his dog Spot everything in his will. Joe has every right to do this and, 10 years after writing his will, passes away. Spot now is a legal entity bearing rights and interest by virtue of law. They thus receive a legal dignity necessary to make them distinct under the eyes of the law so as to legally receive that which has been given to them under the law. This is not something they receive because of their nature, but because of the structure of the law.

Real Persons

Real persons are defined by what they are not; they are not a substantial unity nor are the a fictional creation of the law. This is the realm in which societies fall under. This comes from the Thomistic Tradition in his idea of the unity of order. Thomas states that this unity of order is not absolutely one, but that its unitive actions are fundamentally different from the actions of its parts and visa versa.

Let us take an example. Say, for example, that you have a soccer team. The action of the team is to win the game. This is only something a team can accomplish as a team, as a society of persons. The goal of the society is to win the game. However, this is distinct from the role of the individual members. The role of the goalie is to stop the ball, the defenseman to ensure the ball is away from his side of the field and so on. These are activities that are distinct to the members and do not belong to the whole. It is not the role of the entire society of the team to be a goalie.

And the same goes the other way around. It is not the role of the goalie to win the game. By the very definition of team sports, this is contrary to their purpose. Of course, the goalies goal is to win the game and he will do his part to ensure that the societal person attains its goal.

Let us, then, apply this example to what I was saying yesterday. When I am talking about the USCCB, for example, I am talking about the real person that is that society, I am not talking about its members.

Again going back to the soccer example (and taking the hardcore nature of soccer fans into effect to a certain degree), I may hate Arsenal because they beat Manchester United, but this is not going to mean I am going to hate each individual player on the team. Rather, I am referring my hate towards the real personal entity that is the society of the team Arsenal. (Qualification, I am not actually advocating hate towards any persons, real or natural!).

So, if I am talking about the USCCB , I am not talking about its members, but about the society itself. I am addressing concerns I have with the actions taken by the real person known as the USCCB. These actions are distinctive to the society and not the individual bishops. Now, there are members of the society who will take a role in ensuring that the society itself takes certain actions. I am not going to agree if it is in regards to something such as to what I posted yesterday. However, my criticism does not have anything to do with the particular members, but the unitive whole that is distinct in being and nature from its members. That is what I mean.

I could honestly post a lot more on this, but I won't because this is a very complicated (and interesting!) topic, one in which I would only too happily talk on and on about.

I also encourage checking out material by Russell Hittinger on the subject. He was my main source for this as this was his main focus in his lectures at the Tertio Millennio Seminar.


Conference on the Eucharist and the Family

Well, it's been a bit, but the Diocese of Victoria is putting on yet another wonderful event with yet another wonderful speaker.

On Saturday, September 15th, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Primate of Canada and Archbishop of Quebec City, will be giving a talk on the Eucharist and the Family.

It is a 1 day event, and he will also be celebrating Mass at 12:30pm on Sunday. The best part of this event is that it is FREE!! No, it's not a typo, it's the truth! So come one come all (I know I have some Vancouver readers who I know would be interested in this).

More information is available at www.edithsteinsociety.ca

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. I know some of you who came out to George Weigel last year would be interested in coming, so I joyously await hearing of your coming to this :).


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Barack Obama

I had a friend from Poland e-mail me this speech from Barack Obama and he asked me some questions that he was hoping for my feedback on. The speech can be found here:


My friend asked me the following questions, which I hope I answer to his satisfaction:

What do you think of it? Is it a hijack of religious language? Is it a Trojan horse into Christian mindset? Or maybe Obama has right to formulate his opinions using religious language? And by using Christian language he is legitimizing it? Or maybe he is rather discrediting it or abusing it?
Before I get started, I would like to say that Obama is quite the rhetorician. He really knows how to speak the talk of the right while not actually buying into anything that it stands for. It is very clear that he is trying to please both sides, saying that our duty is to the progressive ideal while saying it is not fundamentally opposed to having been informed by religion. I will have to say, I can see how easy it is to be carried by his sway, but his colours showed deep down through his clever use of language in an attempt to appease all sides. In fact, I believe the following paragraph illustrates this perfectly:
Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I," resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal
What do you think of it?

As I write this I am still finishing the talk. It is quite intriguing because he puts in many attractive statements, only to follow them with subtle arguments that, if one is not careful, will fall into the razzle dazzle of his smoke and light show.

What was eerie for me was that all I could think about was Fr. Elijah by Michael O'Brien. The politician who was able to convince people of all faiths that they were all right, yet in a subtle way so as they could think that they could still be who they claimed to be. It eerie how similar it was to that book as I was reading this to be completely honest. The man who would bring world peace by bringing an end to division, a division which, at its root (according to the world) is in religion. Religion is what divides, but according to Obama, it is our reason that unites.

It is weird because I read a paragraph and think to myself "right on!" only to follow it up with a "oh, I see where he's going" and quickly see the error of the original excitement. I hope to address the rest of the observations in the remainder of the questions.

Is it a hijack of religious language?

I am of the firm opinion that this speech is a definite hijack of religious language. He is using it all over the place, but that is precisely the point, he is using it. It is funny how at one point he is talking about the universality of morality, while at another point saying that some basic moral precepts are only right for some cultures and not for all.

I really am just amazed about the subtle contradictions. What I am even more amazed about is that I think he is fully aware of the contradictions, but says them because he knows that the average joe will not see these contradictions and see that progressivism and faith are actually the best of buddies and are not mutually exclusive.

One spot I noticed the hijacking to be at its height was at the following:

Some of this is already beginning to happen. Pastors, friends of mine like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes are wielding their enormous influences to confront AIDS, Third World debt relief, and the genocide in Darfur. Religious thinkers and activists like our good friend Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are lifting up the Biblical injunction to help the poor as a means of mobilizing Christians against budget cuts to social programs and growing inequality.

First I thought to myself "wow, he knows Rick Warren!" After regaining my senses, I looked at this and thought "he is using religious convictions to promote ideals that are not necessarily religious." I can't remember the last time we have talked about the role of budget cuts in our attaining salvation. But that just might be my lack of exposure. He says at one point that we can't have our religious convictions influence our political decisions in matters like abortion and homosexual marriage, while at other points, such as the above quoted paragraph, he is saying we need to exercise our religious faith in the public square. This is ok, of course, because it is in line with the progressive agenda. It seems, in the end, Obama is saying that faith is ok in the public square only when it is in according with the progressive agenda, which to Obama, seems to be the true revealer of all that is true.

Is it a Trojan horse into Christian mindset?

I will be brief here. I will simply say that yes, it is a Trojan horse. He is talking about things that every religious person has a deep concern about and says to them "yes, you are right for having a deep conviction of faith". That is his way in, and he talks the language they talk, but it is through that language that he subtly moves his progressive agenda in. For example, he says "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values." He is using a language that many Christians are accustomed to, the idea of universals. But he seems to think that if it is universal, it is in conflict with religiously based morals, as if religion cannot attain an understanding of morality, unless it is the version he is touting with the progressive flag. 'Nuff said there.

Or maybe Obama has right to formulate his opinions using religious language?

Well, Obama does have the right to formulate his opinions using religious language. However, the question needs to be asked if this formulation is in accordance with truth. I think the Catholics who read my blog would say no, it is not a proper religious infusion into language. The inherent contradictions alone make it contrary to "religious-speak"! The idea that things can be universal, but also relative, and so forth. Yes, he has the right, but is he forming it right? I think he is not.

And by using Christian language he is legitimizing it? Or maybe he is rather discrediting it or abusing it?

I think the first part of this question hits the problem dead on. He is attempting to legitimate his perspective of the issues by throwing in Christian language. By speaking the language many conservatives would use, he is speaking at their level and engaging them in a way I am sure they are not used to by a progressive. Furthermore, he is quick on his feet and subtle, so it is tough to see that he has inherently wrong positions, but he is crafty enough to cover them up with statements that conservatives would like to hear.

I think, however, the second part of the question answers the remainder of the first. In the end, he is hijacking something that is not his. If he is really a relativist, who sees religion informing your public opinion only when it is in accordance with the progressive agenda, then he is definitely discrediting and abusing such a style of talking.

I would like to make one final comment. He sure liked to throw in his Catholic jab. He notes that "a majority" of Catholics practice birth control and are not opposed to the legalization of same sex marriage. First off, I would like to know how he knows that this is what the majority of Catholics do. Secondly, just because the majority does it, doesn't mean it is right. He is saying that the Bishops have to encourage their faithful to oppose birth control and same sex marriage on a personal level, but in the public sphere it can only be the progressive truth. I wonder how the heck you can encourage people to be anti-birth control privately while saying at the same time they are right for practicing it.

I think it is unfortunate that Barack fundamentally falls into so many easy errors. I think it is even more unfortunate, however, that this man has such command of the U.S. public. This man is indeed quite smart, and he knows how to use the right words to speak to the right people. But he uses those words to his advantage so that he can lure people into voting for him, , if he pulled the usual progressive lines, would usually not.

It is interesting what he is saying. He sees the conservative movement as having a control over the majority in the US and he sees that the only way to engage is to speak their language. It is a very brilliant move, I must admit. I just hope that those on the conservative side show that he really is not speaking their language at all. If only Barack could see it.


Environment more important then humanity, say some

There was an interesting article on Maclean's that I read today:


It is discussing the nature of humanity, that the only way to save the environment (and humanity, maybe, if we're nice enough) is to stop having babies.

In fact, some would even go so far as to say "Save the world, kill yourself" (though one of course has to comment about the obvious rebuttals of "well, why haven't you done your part yet?").

Anyways, it just shocks me at what people are saying. They think that because man produces so much carbon just by breathing that he is a threat to the environment. Well, I hate to bust their bubble, but there are things on this Earth that produce far more carbon then Man. I'm not wanting to get into the environmental science issue of this article, however.

What shocks me about it is that there are people in the world who think that having more people is a bad thing. This is a direct attack on the philosophical Principle of Plenitude which states (if you take the Augustinian view of Beauty as a proper way of describing reality) that the more being there is in the created realm, the better it is. That is, a universe that is the most full is the best possible one. If man is meant to yearn for beauty, then to have a world with less of Man, then beauty is no longer an essential thing for man. I think many can agree that a world without beauty will be a world without truth and love, and that is a world, in contradiction with the last line of the article, is explicitly anti-human.


I was having dinner with a friend this evening and it was very fruitful.

One thing we were discussing was, well, the nature of discussion!

Fundamentally, we saw a problem in society that is made very present in every day life and that many people do not realize as being a serious problem.

The serious problem is the culture's unwillingness to enter into dialogue. How true this is in our day to day lives! I blame this on a current of thought that has really permeated modernity in a fierce way. It comes down to the Ockham vs. Aquinas debate of primacy of will vs. primacy of reason. When dialogue is not happening, people are not only unwilling to listen, they are unwilling to engage. When you are unwilling to engage, for whatever reason, you try and figure out a way for your point of view to be engaged. If you are unwilling to engage in an authentic way (that is, through dialogue), then the only other means you have is to impose your will. And thus you cease listening and talking, and instead shout (in a figurative manner, though even then that isn't always the case!) until you impose your will far better then those you are attempting to have a discussion with.

This is, of course, a bit of an oversimplification of the matter, but I think a matter that desperately needs our attention! We see so much the need for engaging, but engagement can only happen in dialogue.

There is a few things that must be recognized in dialogue:

A) That a dialogue means a dual logos, dual reasons, dual logics. Thus, you recognize that there are 2 points of view that do not exactly see eye to eye. But because they are based in the pursuit of truth, then there is always going to be a kernal of truth in both position.

B) A willingness to see the reasonableness of the other position. The desire on both sides, for authentic dialogue, is so that both can come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Truth.

C) Maturity is also needed. Maturity in dialogue is expressed when there is authentic listening and there is no shouting. You cannot simply say "you are wrong" or "you're so stubborn" unless you give a reason!! for that position.

I think all 3 things are lacking in our culture. Relativism is having an especially daunting effect on the nature of dialogue, for if there is no truth, then there is no reason based in truth, and thus no opportunity for dialogue. Instead, relativism brings about the idea of the survival of the fittest.

Anyways, that is just a brief reflection on the nature of dialogue. I would recommend you analyze your day to day life and see if those 3 conditions are being fulfilled in good, authentic conversations. If they're not, then a dialogue will not be flourishing.



I was having some excellent conversations this evening with a couple of friends who keep me up far too late on work nights. But it really is too difficult to leave for the discussions are pure, honest, and sincere in their willingness to be open to the truth of the other side. This leads to an authentic search for truth and authentic dialogue happens. It is really a lot of fun (though I'm sure I won't be saying that when I wake up in 5 hours!)

Anyways, there was a point in my discussion tonight that I just could not let pass and had to write it down.

It was to do with Canada and Culture.

We have talked about this a couple times over the past few days, the ideas of what it means to be Canadian and if there really is something called a "Canadian Culture". If there is, why don't we know what it is, and we should go back into history and search it out. If there isn't, is it possible to create one authentically and organically 140 years after the institution of the country?

These are answers none of us have at the moment, from our conversations, and it has at least inspired me to research it at greater depth.

What really interested me, however, was that I also saw Canada being at a crossroads. There is a great hope I see for the future of Canada, and the Church plays nothing but an essential role in this. Where this is coming from is my generation. My generation has had the desire for a true expression of the human person. They have been exploring the riches of the Western Tradition to see this and have found it. Now, my generation is beginning to grow up and take an active role in society.

The question is, can what we see to be a culture worthy of the human person come out of an organic desire in a country that seems to have no unified culturally identity? I think my generation is beginning a great cultural renaissance. They are engaging all aspects of life, from the arts, the intellectual realm, the universities, politics, business, health care, etc. They see that the only way for having a robust and excelling culture is if it is rooted in a faith in God and strong moral conditions. Unfortunately, these are 2 conditions missing from the foundations of a Canadian culture at this point in history.

This just leads me to further pondering, but I will have to do that on my bed as I am passing out! Is it possible to renew a culture if we don't know what our cultural identity is? Is it possible to organically create a true cultural expression? Is there really any hope in Canada? These are important questions that I think we honestly need to ask ourselves.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Underlining Changes

I had quite an in depth conversation with some members of my parish today. It all began with the discussion of Michael Moore's new movie Sicko. I quickly gave a rebuttal against the movie, though I haven't seen it, knowing how slanted his opinions can be. One person was claiming how triumphant the movie is in giving the American system the black eye it so deserves.

I quickly said that the problem is not with the system. If we look at the system and how it works, it is actually the most efficient system. What has happened is that the culture is corrupted, and this leads to a false living of political and economic systems. I said that Americans have known for a long time that there are problems inherent in the culture at the moment. However, the problem is precisely a cultural one in which money and materials things are put in front of people. This is expressed in the day to day lives, in the political system, in the economic system, in how they treat people in their health care system.

This got us on to a huge discussion about the nature of what it means to be Canadian and how there is not a huge sense in that, in that Canadians define themselves through the via negativa, that is, through what they are not instead of what they are.

Fundamentally, what is at the root of this discussion, a point I was constantly emphasizing, is that the problems in Health Care in the US are not just a US problem. It is an expression of a problem in Western Civilization. The problem is the loss of the cultural roots in God and in a moral life. Fundamentally, the West is in a cultural crisis, not a political or economic one.

I gave them the example of Poland. Communism was taking a hold of the country, but it was Divine Providence that a Polish Pope was elected. What JP II started was a cultural renaissance, bringing back the idea of what it means to be Polish. Through this re-identification in a deeper sense of what it means to be Polish, the culture eventually expressed itself politically and economically through the fall of Communism.

This cultural need is something that the Communists saw as a threat, as did the Nazis. It is no wonder that they wanted to destroy Polish history, all that it stood for, all the literary, artistic, musical, philosophical, economic, and political achievements. These were expressions of a cultural identity. The Communists and Nazis saw these things as a danger to the formation of the totalitarian culture it was trying to impose. It is this reason they attempted to destroy their cultural roots.

During his pontificate, even after the fall of Communism, JP II saw the absolute need for a cultural revolution. He saw the deeply seeded materialistic tendencies that were overcoming the Western Countries and begged them to turn their focus on God and not themselves, for it is faith in God that man truly finds his identity.

And so we speak of the cultural crisis in various individual nations, all Western. However, if Western Civilization hopes to defend itself, I think the West itself will need a fundamental cultural revolution and reformation (reformation meaning a turning back to the form of the culture, the culture's essential nature). If the West hopes to survive, it needs to turn back to God and to the moral norms that come from such a faith.

All that we know to be Western are fundamentally rooted in Christianity, no matter how much people choose to deny it. I will give one example. The idea of personhood as we understand it today was not formalized until the 4th century discussions on the nature of the Trinity. The theologians were struggling to find a way to describe how three entities could be of one nature. They took the word persona from Latin, which was originally used to denote a mask an actor would wear, and used it as a means of explaining the Trinity. It was fully formalized in the definition we use today by Boethius as an individual substance of a rational nature. This is rooted in Christianity.

If we cut ourselves off from such roots, then what we hold to be good and true in the West will also be lost. This is why JP II and Benedict XVI have been so insistent on the inclusion of Christianity in the pre-amble to the Constitution of the European Union. Everything that the EU stands for, its democratic ideals, are rooted in Christian thought and a Christian perspective of the world. To not include Christianity in the pre-amble is to say that what the EU stands for is not Christian when in all truth it is.

Let us reclaim our civilization and reform our culture.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

A brief observation

I have just begun reading Earthly Powers by Michael Burleigh and I have been finding it incredibly enlightening. The basis of the book is the clash of religion and politics, with a focus on the period from the French Revolution to The Great War.

One thing that he notices is the idea of the State replacing the religion, providing man something to worship and find fulfillment in on Earth. This is all in the introduction and is to be expounded upon later on, but it got me thinking.

We hear all the stories about fire and brimstone from the homilies of the past, and yet it seems to have completely disappeared from the modern mentality of preaching. Whether this is good or bad is not a judgment I am going to make here and now, but simply an observation.

What Burleigh argues for is that the State offers a bringing about of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth through political and economic means, while the Church offers the Kingdom of Heaven, knowing that the only Person who can make that reality of happen is God.

Well, if we look at the trend of homiletics (I am making a semi-generalization, though I of course do know that this is not a universal at all, but simply a trend), we see that we no longer focus on the world to come, on the eschaton. Rather, we now focus on the world. It is as if fulfillment is in our grasp here and now by creating a justly ordered world in which every tear will be wiped away. It is what Voegelin called the "cult of immanency of the eschaton", that is, that the Kingdom of Heaven is present on Earth through this cultish embrace by the State.

This mentality has been felt in homiletics in which we no longer hear of the world to come because it truly is no longer at the forefront of our minds but is rather now replaced with the eschaton of the now. Now, I am of course not blaming the priests for this, but I do think it does call for reflection too.

Do we simply keep our reflections solely on the now, or do we keep our focus on the world to come. Fulfillment in this world or in the next? Which is higher? I know all good Catholics will say the latter. If it is the latter, then I believe we must re-examine our eschatonal (I am making up a word there!) orientation. We must orientate ourselves towards Heaven and the life to come, which will thus witness to this world that though peace and justice are important aspects of this world, they pale in comparison to the Kingdom of God in the world to come. Let us reclaim the eschaton.

And yet more on the Motu Proprio

From this week's Catholic Register:


I found this to be a great and clear articulation of the Pope's intentions behind the subject. It is an affirmation of what has been said here on these pages as well as on many other pages.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Slow Day

Sorry everyone, I've been a bit pre-occupied today, so instead I have a couple links for you to check out:

First, at Catholic Explorers, I was asked to post about my experiences at the Tertio Millennio Seminar, you can find the write up here:


Secondly, at AugustinePoodle, you will find a great post on Biblical Translations a la Fr. Neuhaus, check it out here:


Also, the full post by Fr. Neuhaus can be found here:


Enjoy. I'm going to relax and enjoy a good book (something stimulating) and a not so good book (at least in terms of writing style, I'm going to read some more of Harry Potter).


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Oh CanaDUH

I encourage everyone to read this article from Macleans Magazine:


This survey, to me, really speaks volumes of the intellectual crisis in Canada. While the columnist calls the idea of a "literary crisis" a tad alarmist, I am in agreement that we are in a crisis, though I wouldn't call it literary, but rather an intellectual one.

The fact that these figures are so high shows just how dis-engaged Canadian culture is. Perhaps this is why we're so polite, we simply don't know what it means to engage and thus just apologize and thank everyone for anything, not because we know why we're apologizing or saying thank you, but because it's the "tolerant" thing to do. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to engage your ideas and put them to the test of reason", "thank you for your opinion, it has given me a new perspective" (if only Joe Smith knew what perspective was!).

It is not to say that politics are the be-all end-all litmus test of our society's brain drain, but it is a good indicator. And I know what one complaint will be, "America is taking all our smart people". Well now, is America taking them, or are Canadians leaving Canada because they're fed up with the lack of engagement of the country? I would argue that if you talk to anyone, it's the latter. Let us leave America out of it. Most people are simply jealous of the many achievements America has made and so just presume that everything American is bad. Let us stop blaming people and start taking action!

Let us begin engaging people and actually giving them an education. Let us stop defining being Canadian with hockey, beer, and Tim Hortons. Materialism is not the way to defining what it means to be Canadian, let me assure you!

While I was stuck in London I met another Canadian who seemed to put his life on beer and swearing. The unfortunate thing is, however, that this is not uncommon. People in Canada do not think. I know I am making a generalized statement, because I am obviously thinking right now and giving reasons for what I am saying. But the sweeping majority simply do not care about thinking. In fact, many men actually identify with the stupid-man character on so many TV sitcoms. It has now become the status quo that if you are like the men on TV, then you are a real man. I'm sorry, but real manhood is not that, I hate to burst the bubble.

It is time to stop this cultural pacifism and start getting engaged. Perhaps we can start at a level all people can understand, though. Let us put on each box of Tim Hortons a line from the Constitution Act, or on a can of beer a name of a Prime Minister with their face. Perhaps we can still educate this country before it falls into intellectual nothingness.


No Faith in Reason

I had a rather long e-mail discussion with someone today about how it seems that in Victoria and in Canada in general there is a certain complacency towards what the Church teaches. Many say "I believe it" but stop there and refuse to engage to come to a deeper understanding of the truths of the Church.

This seems to me to be thoroughly un-Catholic position. If you look at the great Saints, they attempted to understand God to the best that their abilities allowed. They yearned for Him and wanted to know Him to a greater extent, even those Saints who weren't as smart as the great Doctors of the Church.

What is the result of the Church in Canada? We have adapted ourselves to pacifism, fideism, and just a general desire to not engage the Church in what She teaches so that they can come to know Christ more deeply.

I am not saying that we are all called to be great intellectuals, not all are called to that. But there is a reason why the Church has always valued the Saints, because they have used their gift of reason as best they could. There is always a reason. That is the beauty of the Church. St Peter writes "Be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is within you". We must be prepared to give the reasons we are faithful to the Church and Her teachings! In fact, our faith is a reasonable faith because the Logos IS Reason! Reason became incarnate in the world, He gave meaning to the world.

Now I do not think that this pacifistic fideism is a result of the Church and Her teachings, but rather a result of the Canadian culture in which we live. There is a false view of tolerance in which relativism runs so very deep. And this creates an idea that if we are to be tolerant, we cannot subject a person's most deeply rooted beliefs to the test of reason. This leads to a lack of desire to wanting to engage our gift of reason on that front and thus on all fronts. Fundamentally, Canada has lost her faith in reason.

It is this idea that reason is primary in man that we need to rejuvenate in Canada. We need to show everyone that there is joy and beauty in desiring to know God in a deeper manner. We need to show that our faith IS reasonable. We need to reform the Universities, bring about journals to discuss public issues on the public square, we need think tanks, we need to engage the culture. We need to show the culture to beauty of reason and the joy that comes out of it. There is a reason there are not great achievements as of late in Canadian culture. When a culture loses its pride in reason, it loses its sense of beauty and excellence. When a culture does this, it begins its downward spiral towards destruction.

Look at the great Renaissance's of the Middle Ages, specifically the 9th and 12th centuries. These are times in which the gift of reason was seen as the central means for expressing man's love for beauty. It is this that created great cultural achievements. It is time for a new renaissance, a renaissance of reason. Let us not have history look at the 21st century as a time of cultural decay, but of cultural renewal in which the culture brought about a change in all aspects of society. Let us regain our faith in reason.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Liturgical Continuity

The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal. - Benedict XVI - Summorum Pontificum

I have been finding the discussion on the Motu Proprio (MP) by Benedict XVI rather interesting. I will admit to my excitment at its release while I was in Poland and eagerly read it with joy.

That being said, I think that many people have been taking the norms of the MP too far. It has been a bit to my shock to hear of many people, including many who are rather large names in the Church, now suddenly calling for it to be in place in all places, as if it ought to be the ordinary rite for the Church, as if it is holier then the Pauline expression of the Rite. This has ensued in the seemingly sudden dismissal by many people of the Paul VI missal, as if it has been decided that the Missal has been unsuccessful because of so many abuses done with that Missal.

People are expecting Bishops to implement norms so that it is in place in all parishes and getting all people to learn Latin so that they can all attend the Roman Rite according to the Missal of John XXIII. This is not what Benedict has in mind, I believe, with the MP.

The MP has been issued for 2 essential reasons. The first is expressed in his explanatory letter about the wanting to heal divisions within and outside the Church. Along in that first reason is the fact that many people are simply attached to that older expression of the Roman Rite and wishes to allow people to worship in that manner, for an older expression of the Rite is never forbidden.

The second reason is expressed in the quote from above. It is his hope, I believe, that there is a sort of "dialogue" between the 2 expressions of the Rite so that in the end the Pauline Missal, which is the ordinary expression of the Rite, can come to a true and proper expression according to the intentions of the Council Fathers and Paul VI. The Pope, in the end, sees the Missal according to Paul VI as the means for unification in which, once properly expressed and abuses cease, Parishes can live a Christian life in accordance to the Law of Prayer. Orthodoxy only comes from Orthopraxis.

So, I do hope that there is a Mass according to the Missal of John XXIII in all Dioceses around the world, so long as there is interest within that Diocese. This is not meant to be imposed on the people, as the Pope rightly expresses. I hope that there is one here in Victoria, simply because I wish to experience that Mass and see what riches it has that can still help in the organic growth of the Paul VI missal.

Finally, I would like to make one final note. It seems to me that many people want to go back to the old expression of the Rite because of the abuses that have happened over the past 40 years. This reactionary position is wrong headed according to Benedict in the explanatory letter. He says that the Pauline Missal has a theological and spiritual richness, and, like I said, this will come out througha "liturgical dialogue". You cannot say you want the Johannine Missal because the Pauline one is spiritually inferior. The Pope is saying that this is a position that is not theologically tenable.

So, I pray that the reactions will begin to slow down and that an authentic implementation of these norms will take place when necessary.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Retributive Justice, Self-Defense, and Just War

While at Tertio Millennio, George Weigel gave an extra lecture on the just war tradition.

In that lecture, he mentioned the 6 criteria for ius ad bellum, which is Latin for Justice of War. These 6 categories are necessary to be fulfilled prior to engagement in order to justify the engagement in war. Without one category fulfilled, then it cannot be considered just.

The 6 criteria are:

1) Just Cause
2) Competent Authority
3) Right Intention
4) Reasonable Chance of Success
5) Proportionality of Ends
6) Last Resort

Criteria 1 - 3 are what are considered "Deontological", that is, one is duty bound for the sake of moral truth to fulfill them. 4 - 6 are considered "prudential" in that they are prudential judgements, that is, it is up to the competent authority or authorities to make a judgement based on the information they have whether or not these conditions can be met. There is no universal means to make the judgements for that, it is not a methematical formula that is universal, but is something that needs to be exercised once the deontological criteria are considered fulfilled.

Now, it is criteria 1 that is of particular interest for me. There are 3 possible categories that this criteria can be considered fulfilled:

a) Punishment for evil
b) Defense against aggression
c) Recapture of something wrongly taken

However, it is generally assumed by most people that the only justifiable category is (b).

I don't agree with that statement and see (c) as a justifiable category as well, depending on the seriousness of the theft of property. If Country A steals a toaster oven from Country B, I would hardly say that is justification for going to war!

However, I do have a problem with (a). I do not see punishment for evil as a justifiable category, no matter how evil the action is. This is where people will immediately ask the question of "how is it possible to justify attacking a defenseless people against a tyrant?". I do see helping defenseless people defend themselves as justifiable, but not within the category of (a).

To talk about this, I would like to make a distinction. Many people say that when someone does an evil act, they forfeit their dignity. This is true, but not in a complete sense.

It is here that a distinction in dignities needs to be made. The most basic type of dignity is the dignity based at the core of a person's being, the dignity of being the Imago Dei. This is what is called "Ontological Dignity" (a term that Fr. Williams, LC, termed. Ontology is the study of being). There are other types of dignity, though, such as moral and societal dignity. Anything that is under ontological dignity is considered to have the ability to be forfeited. This is because moral and social dignity are given to you and can be taken away. They are earned from your equals in your society.

Ontological dignity, however, is something that you receive personally from God. It is therefore something that is not in the realm of man to take away. Thus, punishment for evil, according to JP II's anthropological outlook, can never amount to taking an individual's life away, no matter how evil his actions, because of the ontological dignity that is within him and is a gift from God. He has, however, forfeited other dignities which is why a tyrant, for example, would go to jail because he no longer has the societal dignity to be a member of society.

What this is leading to is that (a) is not a justifiable category. However, the explanation for (b) can be expanded. At this moment in time it is seen in the terms of self-defense in a self-contained sort of way, that a nation can only defend itself and cannot interfere in affairs that do not concern it.

I believe, however, that (b), since it speaks only in terms of defense, can be expanded to the idea of defense on behalf of others who are not able to defend themselves. For example, the situation in Darfur could be seen as a just cause as the people need to defend themselves but are unable to and so need an outside force to defend them on their behalf. I see no contradiction in (b) fulfilling this need for action. It used to be seen that, in the case of Darfur, it would be justifiable because of the actions certain people are taking and that they need to be punished for their actions. Now it can be seen instead in the light of defense and bringing an end to an unjust situation with the only possible means (if all non-military means have been attempted of course).

That is my brief reflection on the idea. I'm also now half asleep so if something doesn't make sense it's because I was falling asleep typing this.


I'm Back!

Well, I finally made it back safe and sound. I have one post I will make this evening and then will proceed with unpacking and cleaning my room (I forgot that it was fully of boxes before I left).

The plan for the evening is to get to bed early!


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tertio Millennio - Reflections

As promised in my previous post, here are my reflections on the course.

When Mr. Weigel invited me to this course in September, I was a little blown away. I am no one special, and, truth be told, I hadn't been Catholic very long, just about 3 years at that time. But God plants purposes in things that we don't know, and I accepted the gift with great graciousness, despite my lack of being able to grasp that I was actually going to go.

I came to this Seminar with very high expectations. But I was also prepared to be dissapointed as usually when one has high expectations, they are not met nor for that matter surpassed.

I realized, however, at that opening dinner, that my expectations were going to be surpassed beyond my wildest dreams. My excitement was justified, and my hope was fulfilled, which brought me a great joy.

This fulfillment can be described in a line that Fr. Neuhaus used in his homily on the last Wednesday of the Seminar. He said, "If you come away from this seminar realizing that you know how much you don't know, then this seminar has fulfilled its goal". Indeed, I have realized how much I don't know. It is tremendously humbling. Not only in the intellectual realm either, but also in the spiritual and cultural realm as well. I know that there is a lot I don't know, and how grateful I am to know this!

Let me begin by talking about the intellectual portion of the seminar. I will have to say, I was blown away over the past 3 weeks. Deep down in my heart, I have a great yearning for these pursuits and it was amazing to be put in an environment where this can be fleshed out. Not only are the classes fun and interesting, but they are challenging, in the way that you realize you don't know, and you want to know more about how much you don't know. Every instructor gave great insights into things. More importantly, though, is that they also took a personal interest in us and were wanting and desiring to interact with us.

The second is the spiritual. A seminar in which Mass is the center part of the day is a seminar that has its heart in the right place. With pilgrimages to some of Poland's greatest shrines, starting off the day with prayer, and so on, it really makes you realize how much you don't know about the spiritual life being exposed to a rich history of Saints who have been through the trials of faith before us. It is a truly humbling experience.

Finally there is the cultural aspect. Again, this is a richly embrassed aspect of the course, it is very sacramental, very Chestertonian. And this is a good thing. It realizes that being Catholic means being social, being able to relate with one another as much as possible. It is important to build friendships, have discussions, and enjoy the gifts of God's creation.

It is in the cultural aspect that a deep reality was revealed to me, along the lines of knowing how much I don't know. Perhaps one of the greatest things that I need to work on is how to be social. I know that I don't know how to be social, at least in the ways others have been here. It is not to say I have not been social, in fact, I've been throwing myself in almost every opportunity to do so! But hearing others speak about their rich experiences of being a Catholic made me realize just how much in the beginning I am (I have only been a serious Catholic now for just over 3 and a half years). And this is good, it shows me that there is no rush in experiencing everything, because things are only beginning. I appreciate that greatly. I do wish to work on this, of course, because it is impressive to see people the likes of Brian, for example, being able to hold great and fun conversations all out of his experience of Catholicism. It is great because it is an experience of truth, so the conversation is always universal.

I would like to end, however, by saying this. Though I have been emphasizing the realization of knowing how much I don't know, there is one final thing, and perhaps this is the most important, in which I have taken away.

I have taken away that God has created me for excellence and I should settle for nothing less. This means that I am called to live a life of excellence according to my vocation and situation in life and to bring excellence out of that through the grace of God. At lunch on the last day, I was asking George about engaging deep-seeded anti-Americanism. And it was discussed quickly, but the most important thing was that he affirmed in me an observation I was making, that there are no think tanks that seriously engage government and society, there are no lobby groups that lobby for life issues in a deeply engaging way, there are no socially conservative religious journals to bring ideas to society to be engaged, there are no institutes for the training of the young generation who yearn for truth and who wish to shape society. This is all missing in Canada, at least in an engaging manner. And it made me realize (after talking to others) that it only takes one person to get the ball rolling. Whether or not that is me is a completely other question, only God knows what is in store for me. But if God gives me the opportunity to promote the Truth to the world in various forms, then I know that it is my duty to follow that call and I will follow it. I have taken away, in the end, the idea that God has created me (and everyone else) for excellence. If you live a life of excellence, it will catch on to others, and things will change, but always, in the end, by God's grace and love.