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

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 :).