Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ich vergass, me olvidé, 我忘記了, I forgot

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A day or two ago I wrote about my interest in languages (and it's relevance for my faith). When I first posted it, I forgot to mention that in addition to making my way through German, Spanish, Chinese and biblical Greek, I will also begin studying Arabic on 12 March. It dawned on me I could use some learning advice from any linguophile readers.

So, any good tips for 1) perfecting German, 2) improving Spanish and Chinese (hopefully to a very high level), reading biblical Greek and/or 4) getting a good basic grasp of Arabic? (Maybe I should just be a philologist, comparative literarian, or interpreter.)

Now's your chance to shine, language lovers, I'm all tongues ears!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Tawk amongst yaselves

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[A chilly March day in Siberia. Two roommates are cleaning their apartment before company arrives. Zubrowka is holding a crystal decanter, Stolichnaya, a tattered fly swatter.]

Zubrowka: "Can I ask you a question?"

Stolichnaya: "You just did." [squealing laughter]

Zubrowka: [nonplussed silence]

Stolichnaya: "But seriously, go ahead, what?"

Zubrowka: "Hmm, how should I put this? ... Are you... aware of any... special meaning in your Jewish heritage, as a Christian?"

Stolichnaya: "No, not really." [shakes decanter and peers inside, pauses] "I mean, I never did anything with it...."

Zubrowka: "Well, I mean, does your Jewish background mean anything to you as a Christian?" [swats at a passing fly]

Stolichnaya: "Well, I guess it's important...."

Zubrowka: "It is. I mean...."

Stolichnaya: [sits down on couch] "Yeah, I've read Jews are still the chosen people...." [puts decanter on coffee table]

Zubrowka: "Right."

Stolichnaya: "...but I don't really understand that."

Zubrowka: "Well, they are the chosen people. And the thing for us, as Christians, is that... that what we have in Christ is based on the promises God made to the Jews. So...."

Stolichnaya: "Right. Okay." [crosses legs and runs his fingers through his hair]

Zubrowka: "So if God fails them... or lets them go completely...."

Stolichnaya: "Right, right, yeah."

Zubrowka: "If God doesn't keep his promises to them, then our promises are...."

Stolichnaya: "No good."

Zubrowka: "...crap."

[The doorbell rings. Stolichnaya grabs the decanter and stands up to greet the guests. Zubrowka swats at another fly and then hurries into the bathroom.]

Please discuss this little dialogue. I'm very curious what other people think about the relationship between the Jewish and Christian covenants. What does it mean that Jews are still "God's chosen people"? What doesn't it mean?

Augustine Day by Day - Temptations Out of the Past

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"Lord, you command me to be continent. You have commanded me to abstain from concubinage, and in place of marriage itself--which you permit--you have counseled something better. Since you granted this to me, it has been fulfilled even before I became a dispenser of your sacrament. Yet, in my memory, of which I have said many things, there still live images of such things as my former habits implanted there."

-- Confessions 10, 30

I wouldn't be too disappointed if Arthur C. Clarke is right that ghosts are merely projections from our memory onto our visual field. Such ghosts are still terrifying and real enough. Release me, O Lord, from my haunted house of sin!

Prayer. Your hand, O God Almightly, is able to heal all the infirmities of my soul.

-- Confessions 10, 30

February 25

Christian Tradition - February 25 - God's Way Is an Ascent

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"We might suppose a path pointed out by God would be a smooth and pleasant one, free of obstacles and requiring no effort from the traveler, but in fact God's way is an ascent, a tortuous and rugged climb. There can be no downhill road to virtue — it is uphill all the way, and the path is narrow and arduous. Listen also to the Lord's warning in the gospel: The way that leads to life, he says, is narrow and hard. [cf. Mth 7:14 -- EBB] Notice how close the agreement is between the gospel and the law. In the law the way of virtue is shown to be a tortuous climb; the gospels speak of the way that leads to life as narrow and hard. Is it not obvious then, even to the blind, that the law and the gospels were both written by one and the same Spirit?

"And so the road they followed was a winding ascent, an ascent surmounted by a beacon. The ascent refers to works and the beacon to faith, so that we can see the great difficulty and laborious effort involved in both faith and works. Many are the temptations we shall meet and many the obstacles to faith that lie in store for us in our desire to pursue the things of God."

Origen of Alexandria (AD 185-253), Hom. in Exodo 5, 3-4: Edit. Maurist. 2, 145-146.

Origen became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria and devoted his life to the study of scripture. When he became a Christian, he sold all his many books, a decision he later regretted (and which still makes me wince). Over the years, he was plagued by rumors that he may have castrated himself out of misguided zeal for Christ's command in Matthew 5:27-30. Self-mutilation was condemned as a heresy in the early Church, so the enormity of this rumor was a constant thorn in his side. Having been persecuted and exiled numerous times, in many cities, he died at the age of sixty nine in Tyr.

After his death, he was condemned for positively teaching (Platonic) heresy, including among other things his subordinationist views about Christ and his doctrine of apokastasis, according to which all beings -- even the Devil -- will be saved and reconciled to God. Despite these controversies and blemishes, Origen's contribution to biblical exegesis is immense and the majority of his writings are an immense treasure for the Church. I am moved by how Origen's tremendous spiritual zeal for Christ drove his intellectual work.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Seek it like silver

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Proverbs [2:1] My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,
[2] making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
[3] yes, if you cry out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
[4] if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures;
[5] then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.

I have drooled over two gems[1] for at least four months and tonight I finally bought them:

Both the Old and New Testaments in Greek! The Septuagint, the OT the early Church used, and which the NT quotes! My new Greek NT includes a 150+ page Greek-English dictionary and a sweet index of quotes and allusions to the OT and various other texts. They were expensive, and "not" "technically" "necessary", but what is a lover of wisdom to do? I seek wisdom and learning like a great treasure of silver and gold, which means I'm often prepared to part with my small heap of silver and gold.

My plan? To read the Scriptures first in my Roman Daily Missal and then in Greek. Mind you, I can't understand much Greek at all. But I can pronounce the alphabet, and I have a large enough English and German vocabulary that I am comfortable with cognates and basic Greek root words. (Hey, it worked for this autodidact guy!) Believe it or not, I also intend to read the passages each day in my Spanish TEV Bible. I'd do the same with my Chinese Bible, but I'm not quite "there" yet with Chinese, even with the help of the Chinese learner’s phonetic alphabet and with having read the passage in English. At the same time, in preparation for my reception into the Church[2], I am trying to memorize the Nicene Creed in Chinese to say publicly during the service. Oh, and lest I forget, I will begin learning Arabic on 12 March. It's one of the most evangelistically and culturally "strategic" languages on the planet and I plan to hop on. Plus, it sounds really cool. :gratuitous emoticon:

It all sounds crazy (believe me I know!), but I enjoy keeping up my language skills. More than that, I love getting so many interesting hints and rays of light by a multilingual meditation on the Word. I've never spoken in tongues (glossolalia), in the charismatic sense, but I'm convinced I have the gift of tongues in a less dramatic way. Indeed, I think there is a deeply missiological (missions) meaning to the gift of tongues.

Consider: The basic thrust of Christ's redemption is to reverse and reassemble what was torn asunder with the onset of sin. But Christ's redemptive reversal does not magically erase the scars of sin. He completely heals the wound, but transforms its enduring scar. He transforms the scars of sin into glory, as His own holy, resurrected body showed (cf. John 20:27ff.). As the Venerable Bede says, Christ's scars are "an everlasting trophy of His victory" (as cited in St. Thomas Aquinas, ST III.Q54). Likewise, St. Augustine says in _De Civitate Dei_ (chapter xxii),

"Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ's name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body" (op. cit.).

He gives the old signs of division and death a new meaning of union and life. Hence, for example, although man and woman were rent apart at the Fall, they are reunited in the sacrament marriage – yet without losing their sexual uniqueness. Christ saves man and woman into marital unity, not into androgynous uniformity.

The point of this truth for the gift of tongues in missions is that, while human sin resulted in the diversity of languages, Christ's redemption reassembles them – *yet without erasing their diversity*. The barriers of language are a fruit of sin; but their division will be redeemed in the glory of unity, not the sterility of uniformity. The heavenly vision of multilingual, multicultural worship (cf. Revelation 5:9ff, 7:9ff.) parallels the scars of Christ: signs not merely of sin, but of sin defeated and reversed. The call of missions is to work with Christ as He reunites all languages in the one tongue of worship. As my roommate and I both like to ponder, Christ reverses the tower of Babel! This is precisely what happened at Pentecost when the Apostles began speaking so that all peoples understood them (cf. Acts 2). Their charismatic glossolalia overcame the divisions of language for the unifying glory of God.

The great paradox of the Faith is that while there is neither Greek, nor Jew, nor male nor female, there is Greek, Jew, male and female -- but all are on in Christ (cf. Galatian 3:24ff.)! In the world, our "signifiers" seal us off from one another, like wounds that tear apart the body of humanity, while in Christ, they are the everlasting trophies of His victory. Only sin, justly punished by God (cf. Gen 11:1ff.), could tear us apart; this is our great condemnation. Only Christ could reunite us under with one voice, under one head; this is His great glory.

Where do I fit into all this? Well, as I said, I’m not much of a charismatic “tongues-guy”, but it certainly is part of my vocation to work in a slower, perhaps humbler way toward the unity of all languages in Christ. I want to become all things to all people (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19ff.), which almost essentially means knowing people’s language. The God of the Bible is, as John Stott famously pronounced at Urbana 76, "a missionary God." This is my God, which means this is my call.

At any rate, between the Latin of the Missal, the Spanish of my TEV, the biblical Greek, and the CHinese of Nicea, I should have a grand old time reversing the tower with God!

[1] These images are not to scale. In reality, both books have approximately the same surface area, although, of course, the Septugint is much thicker.

[2] Instead of “mere” chrismation this Easter (27 March), I will be baptized, since I can't find my proof of baptism. I’m not perfectly happy about this, considering I view baptism as a sacred, one-time thing. But hey, dem’s the breaks. I’m not going to quibble my way away from Mother Church at this point! As they say in Vaticanese, "Better licit than sorry.")

It may not have been obvious, but...

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I did set up a discussion board for FCA. So far, though, only one chattermouth named "the Cogitator" has had anything to say. It's a "free" service, but in reality, intrusive ephemeral pop-ups are the small price to pay. Stop on by...

One malawak reason to love the Vatican

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Radio bulletins in Pilipino!

Oh, and in English,
and Polish,
among others

Did I forget to mention Esperanto?

This is what I call becoming all things to all people, in every tribe, nation and tongue! I love it!

(And, while not on the Vatican website, I must alert you to this sweet Latin news feed [try listening to the week's highlights, too].)

Such tragic, nettling irony

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Between every two moments of complaining about the frenzied, reckless pace of Taiwan, I'm the one cutting red lights and tapping my foot in line.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Augustine Day by Day - Excess in Eating and Drinking

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"I struggle each day against concupiscence in eating and drinking. It is not something that I can resolve to cut off once and for all and touch no more, as I could with concubinage. The bridle put upon the throat must be held with moderate looseness and moderate firmness. Is there anyone, Lord, who is not carried a little beyond the limits of personal need?

-- Confessions 10, 31

This is very encouraging for me. I'm a thin and basically fit guy, but, truth be told, I have the weirdest gorging urges.

Prayer. O holy God, it is you who give us the power to do what you command.

-- Confessions 10, 31

February 24

Christian Tradition - February 24 - Spiritual Sacrifice

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"For us who have been called to live a life of holiness through faith the true lamb has been sacrificed, the lamb that takes away the sin of the world. To this sacrifice we must add a food that is spiritual, wholly good, and truly sacred, a food typified in the law by the unleavened bread, which we now understand in a spiritual way.

"In the divinely inspired scriptures yeast always signifies wickedness and sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ, warning his holy disciples to be on their guard, said: Beware of the yeast of the scribes and Pharisees. And Paul in his great wisdom wrote that those who have once been sacrificed should put far from them the yeast of impurity that corrupts mind and heart. Purify yourselves of the old yeast, he urged, and become a fresh batch of bread, since you really are unleavened.

"This urgent plea prompted by concern for our well-being shows that spiritual communion with Christ the Savior of us all is not only a benefit to us but also a real need. It also shows how important it is for us to keep our minds pure by refraining from sin and washing away every stain. In a word, we must avoid everything that defiled us in the past, for it is then, when no fault of ours bars the way and we are wholly free from reproach, that we shall open the way to this communion with Christ."

"To this sacrifice we must add...." These "synergistic" words alone are anathema for many Christians. But the problem with saying our acts of charity "detract from the finished work of Christ" is that the finished work of Christ consists precisely in us adding our acts of charity to Christ's sacrifice. Our works do not enhance the propitiatory efficacy of Christ's passion, but they do manifest and realize it, as expiation and worship, in the world, before man and God.

Most of us, I think, realize this (put in fairly technical terms of unmerited enabling grace and charity as the fruit of grace, etc.), but I love how Cyril puts the same abstract truth into such vibrant, biblical language. Christ's sacrifice of pure charity unites us to his holiness and life. In this union, our acts of charity not only derive from his love, but also in fact enhance (or deepen or actualize) the power of his love in us. Let me be so bold as to say we have no salvation without working in holy union with the holy sacrifice of Christ -- for salvation consists precisely in this co-operation. There can be no detraction from Christ's work by our acts of charity since exactly this is Christ's work. Our faith in Christ's redemption is not opposed to our obedience to him, since our faith roots itself precisely in the fact that Christ has redeemed us to obey him holily.

To lean on Cyril's vibrant imagery, Christ is the baker and bread is made to smell and taste of the excellence of the baker's finished work. A fine loaf of bread doesn't detract from its Baker's glory simply because it is excellent. Quite the contrary. What detracts most savagely from the Baker’s glory is a loaf that stinks and never fills the house with its aroma. Our sin, not our holiness, is the true detraction from Christ’s finished work.

Cyril of Alexandria (AD 376-444), Paschal Homilies 19, 2: PG 77, 824-825.

Cyril was a monk, priest, bishop and patriarch of Alexandria. He worked at the Council of Ephesus where he fought against Nestorius who taught the heresy that there were two persons in Christ. He was also a major catechetical writer, a leading Greek Father of the Church and a Doctor of the Church. And I like the cut of his jib.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Augustine Day by Day - The Value of Mortification

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"What else is that cross of ours which the Lord commands us to carry if not the mortality of our flesh? It is a source of distress to us until death is swallowed up in victory. Therefore, it is precisely this cross that we must crucify and pierce with the nails of the fear of God."

-- Letter 243, 11

Prayer. Are there any persons, Lord, who do not at times let themselves go beyond the strict limits of necessity? I am not one of them, for I am a sinner.

-- Confessions 10, 31

February 23

Christian Tradition - February 23 - Prayer, Fasting, and Mercy

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"Perseverance in faith, devotion, and virtue is assured by three things: prayer, fasting, and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting gains entrance, mercy receives. These three things, prayer, fasting, and mercy, are all one and they give life to each other. Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them, for this is impossible. If we have only one of them, if we have not all three together, we have nothing. Whoever prays, then, must also fast; whoever fasts must also show mercy. If we want our own petitions heard we must hear the petitions of others. God's ear will be open to us if we do not turn a deaf ear to other people.

"When we fast we should understand what it means to be really hungry. If we want God to take account of our hunger we must feel for the hunger of others. If we hope for mercy we must show mercy. If we look for kindness we must show kindness. If we want to receive we must give. Only a shameless person would ask for himself what he refused to give to others. In showing mercy this should be the rule: show it in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness as you would wish it to be shown to you."

Peter Chrysologus (AD 400-450), bishop of Ravenna, Sermo 43; PL 52, 320.

Lent, on a silver platter.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Augustine Day by Day - True Priestly Service

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"Clearly, there is nothing easier, more pleasureful, or more sought after than the office of bishop, priest, or deacon if this is going to be carried out lightly, amid the blandishments of flatterers. But in the eyes of God, there is nothing more miserable, more regrettable, or more worthy of condemnation.

On the other hand, provided this service is carried out as our Master commands, in the eyes of God there is no greater happiness."

-- Letter 21, 1

I expect these words will be ringing in my heart for a good while.

Prayer. Lord, you are never needy, yet you are pleased with gain. You are never covetous, yet you exact interest on all you give us.

-- Confessions 1, 4

February 22

Christian Tradition - 22 February - The True Passover

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"Now that divine power has been made manifest in the assumption of human weakness, there must be no sadness among the faithful to cast a shadow upon the paschal solemnity, no sorrow in recalling the events of the past, since our Lord could so use the malice of his enemies that their evil intentions served the purpose of his mercy. At the time of the exodus, Israel's freedom was restored through the blood of a lamb and the wrath of the destroying angel was averted through the sacrifice of a beast. And if this deliverance was marked by the institution of a solemn festival, how great should be the joy of Christian people, for whose sake the almighty Father spared not his only Son! He delivered him up for us all, so that the death of Christ might become the true passover and unique sacrifice, no longer saving a single people from subjection to Pharaoh, but delivering the whole world from bondage to the devil."

Lent is, I suppose, the re-appreciation of how deeply we were imprisoned in sin and serves only as the penitential preface to the joys of Easter. Leo's cheerful admonishment gives me pause -- good pause, but pause all the same as I "repent through Lent"....

Leo the Great (AD 400-461), bishop of Rome, Sermo 9 de passione 2: PL 54, 343.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Committed Jesuits?

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A reader asked ironically if such a thing could even exist. For whatever reason, the admittedly huge scandal of (Western) Jesuitry can't seem to rip my eyes from the essential holiness and nobility of the Ignatian chrism. I'm ceaselessly intrigued by their vision, their history and by their treatment by outsiders.

What makes the bad Jesuits so bad these days? When and why did the Western Jesuits go bad? What are the good signs (from, say, India or the Philippines) to counteract the rotten mess of the much-publicized widespread Jesuit dissidence? Are the sores and cancers of the order too severe for the "good Jesuits" to overcome? How does Kolvenbach rate compared to, say, Pedro Arrupe or Karl Rahner?

While I was in the hospital a couple weeks ago, I met a diocesan priest, Fr. Gagan (far right), who had been a Jesuit (in the Chicago province at seminary with the inimitable Fr Mitch Pacwa, S.J.!) but left the order because they were too liberal for him -- or because he was too conservative for them. Is Fr. Gagan the future of the Jesuit order?

I'd love (and this is a standing notice) to get in touch with real live Jesuits, pre-novices, novices, brothers, scholastics, priests, whatever for some insight. Anyone?

Christian Tradition - February 21 - The Communion of Saints

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[It's been a while without these quotes, but I figured they are nice daily "whiffs of grace" worth bringing back to FCA. You'll notice that now my Catholic intentions are out in the open, I've replaced the more innocuous word "heritage" with the more precise and stirring word "tradition". It's nice to be able to strecth my legs on my own blog.]

"If those who believe in Christ are one, then through the mystery of the sacrament the entire body is present where bodily eyes see but a single member. Solitude prevents no one from speaking in the plural; nor is it inappropriate for the multitude of believers to speak in the singular, for through the power of the Holy Spirit, who is present in each and fills all, it is clear that the solitude is full of people and the multitude forms a unity.

"Our holy Fathers regarded this intimate relationship and communion of believers in Christ as so certain that they included it in the creed stating the Catholic faith, and commanded us frequently to call it to mind along with the other basic elements of Christian belief. For immediately after we say: 'I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church,' we add: 'the communion of saints.' Thus in the very act by which we bear witness to the God in whom we believe, we also affirm the communion that marks the Church which is one with him. For this communion of saints in the unity of faith is such that, because they believe in one God, are reborn in one baptism, and are strengthened by the one Holy Spirit, they are admitted, through the grace of adoption, into the one everlasting life."

Peter Damian (AD 1007-1072), Liber Qui Dicitur Dominus Vobiscum 6. 10: PL 145, 236.239

Damian was the bishop of Ostia. He worked closely with eight popes as diplomat and legate. The number and range of his writings were considerable.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

One reason I love the Jesuits

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They reach the extremes of the world in order to reach the center of the Gospel -- and vice versa.

Jesuit says Church also to blame for corruption

[00:21am (Mla time) Feb 06, 2005, by Armand Nocum, Inquirer News Service. Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Feb. 6, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer]

THE CATHOLIC Church in the Philippines needs to do serious introspection on what it preaches and practices regarding graft and corruption, according to a Jesuit priest and a university professor.

Speaking at the Jesuit-sponsored "Ehem!" anti-graft seminar series, Fr. Albert Alejo and Prof. Ronnie Amorado said the Church should first look into itself before pontificating and "cursing society" for the latter's corrupt ways. ...

"The Catholic Church played a [big role] in corrupting the system," he said, pointing out that during the colonial era, priests and Church leaders did nothing against, if not directly benefited from, the excesses of the local Spanish rulers who were generally using "public office for private ends." ...

During a break in the seminar, Alejo said the Church was dwelling too much on "liturgical and spiritual realities" and not giving due emphasis to the "social reality."

I admit, a good deal of Fr. Alejo's pointed comments raise my conservative theological hackles. But I must ask myself: Why do I become uneasy considering the demands of justice may just demand some hard, and very mundane, accountability? Since when was justice antithetical to spiritual realities? Since when have prophets been the most comfortable bedfellows? Pope John Paul II made much the same point in Centesimus Annus (para. 5), saying,

The "new evangelization," which the modern world urgently needs and which I have emphasized many times, must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church's social doctrine. . . . Now, as then, we need to repeat that there can be no genuine solution of the "social question" apart from the Gospel, and that the "new things" can find in the Gospel the context for their correct understanding and the proper moral perspective for judgment on them.

In other words, the spiritual Good News is essentially also social Good News. The Gospel of mercy is simultaneously the Gospel of justice. All the dimensions of the Faith – repentance, crucifixion, hope, resurrection – typically, and rightly, applied to our personal lives demand to be applied, just as consistently and naturally, to the sinful structures of the world.

So, before I accuse Alejo & Co. of being doctrinaire, sensational and dissident just for the sake of doing so, I would need to know him in the context of his larger work and witness. What else has he said about doctrinal issues? Is he a living faithful alter Chrstus? Before I leap on him in a frothy-mouthed fit of doctrinal rage, I need to admit he is at least among the people, among the Pinoys, bound by vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. Meanwhile I am...?

In a related article from the October 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 10), "Jesuits Take on Corruption" [Alfred A. Araya Jr., CyberDyaryo (online publication), Manila, the Philippines, July 24, 2003] Alejo, after some hilarious introductory observations (if you’re more than a little familiar with Filipino culture) makes some equally striking comments:

Filipinos have certain characteristics that make them Filipinos. How do you call a Filipino abroad? You say, “Sssst” and the Filipino in the crowd responds. Filipinos, it is said, also cannot resist buying items on sale even if they don’t really need them, use outlines of feet drawn on paper for buying shoes for friends, like everything imported, and take more time having wedding pictures taken than for the wedding itself.

When the foibles of Filipinos are pointed out, Filipinos laugh at themselves and say, “Yes, that’s us. Why? Pinoy kasi (Because it’s Filipino),” observed the Rev. Albert Alejo, S.J., at a July 7 book launch held at the Ateneo de Manila University, as the audience, noting the truth in it, broke into knowing chuckles and outright laughter.

Just as easily as the giggles started, however, they quickly died down when Alejo continued, “You also know you are a Filipino if your roads are like moon holes. You know you’re a Filipino if there are more patients than beds in public hospitals, and in state-run schools, students share one old textbook. If you’re being solicited for a bribe, and you don’t relent, you’re told, ‘Para ka namang hindi Pinoy’ (It’s as if you’re not Filipino)." ...

Alejo’s opening remarks on how corruption has become a way of life for most Filipinos, and the pressing need to do something about it, kicked off the launch of a new book, Ehem! A Manual for Deepening Involvement in Combatting Corruption. The concept of “ehem,” according to the manual, “is a gentle but powerful hum to caution and to make one’s presence known, which brings forth some sense of embarrassment among those who will commit corruption.” According to Alejo, it is a subtle but effective signal that reminds people to be vigilant and mindful of one another’s roles and actions to counteract corruption. ...

Apart from lectures and workshop modules, the manual also offers prayers and passages from the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran.

Zoinks, Scooby Doo, did he just say what I think he said?!

Citing the Qur'an, as the "Holy" Qur'an no less, along with the Holy Bible is, let's be honest, much much harder to square with orthopraxy. All the same, I'm, gulp, willing to see it as missionary bridge effort to show the Muslim world its own moral demands concerning justice and thus align it with the Christian truth. (After all, in large part Islam derived historically and theologically from Christendom). Citing the Qur’an as inspired Scripture, bad. Citing it as another, very compelling voice on social ethics, good. I mean, would I raise half my unibrow[1] if the manual included quotes from the Bible along with a string of famous non-Christian ethicists, economists, philosophers, and activists as intellectual “padding” to show the basic rightness of the biblical faith? Would I be as upset if the Talmud were cited along with the Bible? In both cases, probably not at all. So, without simply endorsing Alejo’s use of the Qur’an, I must take seriously his accoradance with what Vatican II stated in _Nostra Aetate_ (para. 3):

The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,[1] who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the bidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. ... For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.

Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.

How can we reach Muslims without becoming them? How can we honor the truth of their faith without capitulating our own? I'm not sure, but I have to admire Alejo's efforts to balance all those plates. The story continues.

The end goal is to make people realize they have to become intolerant of corruption. “We must learn to be more intolerant, because we have become more tolerant...more accepting of the way things are because they are [already] that way,” Magadia said.

It is said that Filipinos have a high threshold for pain and suffering, a high tolerance for corruption, and a short forgiving memory when it comes to history, Alejo said, adding his observation that the general response to the anti-corruption movement is cynicism: “It’s all over the place, it’s culture already, it’s second nature, we cannot do anything about it.”

But Alejo's witness, and that of the Philippine Jesuits in general, says, "No. There is something we can do. We are all in the company of Jesus and we must live like it."

Love them or hate them. Sponsor them or persecute them. Either way, you can’t find anything more arresting than a committed Jesuit.

[1] No, not really.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere

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I was not disappointed by my time with Fr. Ramón today. It was, in fact, one of our best times together (for me at least). After briefly catching him up on my trip home, and once he noted how emotionally turbulent I was inside, he began reminding me that God's work is to pick up our broken pieces, all broken pieces actually, and reassemble them in such a way that, miraculously, mysteriously, the new form is superior to the original untarnished form. God the Father created the glass[1]; we have broken it with our sin; Christ, God the Savior, salvages and re-forms our pieces into a new wholeness; and the Holy Spirit, the living principle and immanent person of grace, is the "glue" that keeps our pieces together in their new, redeemed splendor. "That is the process you are on," Fr. Ramón said.

This gave me considerable pause. At a loss for words, I quickly became aware of the eyes of Christ beholding me, beckoning me, from the beautiful icon in the chapel.

With Fr. Ramón's permission, I hurried into the chapel to bow before Christ, knowing he had something to tell me. I bowed before him silently, aware of his eyes unpeeling my tired, jumbled soul.

Now, since this was a very private and intimate encounter, I'll only divulge the following basic ideas of what Christ said to me (yes, really): "How are you using my talents? How are you using your time, and to what end, each day and every hour? Elliot, 'Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my name's sake shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.' Follow me to the Cross; on the other side of it is the light of the Resurrection. Trust me! Trust me, I *will* make you whole!"

I’m still mostly at a loss for words, but I am confident that Jesus will bring me into the wholeness I so deeply long for.

Ecce venio, Domine, ut faciam voluntatem tuam!

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, et meus matris, ora pro nobis!

[1] This is not to deny the truth that all three divine persons were and are equally and fully active in creation, but merely to emphasize the truth that the Father is the principle source of the Trinitarian energies and actions (cf. CCC 292, 316, 320).

One of the best books I've ever read

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(with Griff Witte)

Amazingly well documented, superbly lucid and downright rollercoaster-paced. My roommate saw it and asked if it was written by a liberal, to which I answered, "I don't know." But the question is as much a nonsequitur as its answer, since it's silly to try pinnning down such an expansive, exhaustive and balanced exposé as Coll's as either "conservative" or "liberal". Indeed, I'm so pleased with _Ghost Wars_ that I intend to give all of Coll's books a good long gander.

Of course, at about 600 large, dense pages, it's not a weekend read. In fact, its cast of characters, foreign names and calamitous events make it sometimes as baffling and intricate as a Russian saga-novel set in the Middle East. Even so, _Ghost Wars_ merits the accolade unputdownable without qualification. Buy it, read it, get informed -- and get concerned.

Icing on the cake

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ROME (AP) - Art experts and conservative clerics are holding an unusual ``trial'' in Leonardo da Vinci's hometown aimed at sorting out fact from fiction in the ``The Da Vinci Code'' after many readers took the smash hit novel as gospel truth.

Note to self:

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Apparently, according to Robert W. Gleason, S.J., one shouldn't just "read" St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises as I had intended to do for Lent. They are to be led by a retreat director for at least 8 days in total silence. Oh well. There's always the Bible, Missal, Catechism and good old holy solitude!

Gleason's preface was nicely written and chockful of great insights. I'd like to comment on them more right now, but I must (finally after three weeks apart) go meet with Fr. Ramon. (Yeah!)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Yes, I am alive

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Sort of.

A quick bellyache update and then I need to hobble off to work.

Norfolk was a very good time. Finally saw _The Grudge_ (6/10), _Amelie_ (6/10) and _Napoleon Dynamite_ (8/10). Despite its lethargic pace, I LOVED _Napoleon_. Highly quotable and so delectably weird!

Sparing you the details, I made it back to Taichung about 2330, got mostly unpacked, and caught about five hours of sleep before starting the new semester procotoring two tests. A cinch. Yesterday, alas, was no cinch. I taught six hours straight and was pretty emptied by the end. Then I went to dinner and about 2130 I crashed: sudden weakness and fatigue. In a move that must certainly have chilled hell for a moment, I took some echinachea and astragalus, and fell asleep around 2230. Then it was into a night of intermittent wake-up calls from my aching body and stuffed, oozing nose.

I was of a mind to go to Chinese class, but better sense won out and I've been resting at home all morning. (Real rest, too, not my usual stubborn reading-or puttering-when-I-should-just-sleep rest!) I feel much better, but also know I'm "this" close to relapsing if I push too hard. I've postponed my German class to next week and now all I must do is trudge through four class hours. God be with me.

I've had plenty of ideas to blog about, but of late, no time or energy to blog about them. I think this stretch has been part of my Lenten co-sufferings with Christ. My weakness and suffering, endured and offered up in faith, unites me to His death, which in turn unites me with His resurrection.

Okay, off I hobble.

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Humans say the darnedest things

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[Brief notes for myself, move along:

"Catholics don't always get what they want; they only get each other." - "There is no perfection; there is only resurrection." - "The saints were head cases." - "Being Catholic means being everybody." - "Anger only locks YOU up; the problem is that the closer people are to you, the easier THEY get locked up with you."]

Ulcerior motives

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Hi gang, as I posted in the BULLETIN BOARD, "I've been in the hospital the past few days, but now I'm out. I knew I'd beat the rap. Your prayers are and always will be appreciated."

Yeah, Monday night I fought an upset stomach until it erupted into vomfest trailing blood. And then again 15 minutes later. And then were off to the hospital for more shivering, fatigue, dizziness, a third round of violent puking, an NG tube placement -- resulting in more puking. A few hours later I had my first endoscopy -- which was actually the most pleasant part of the whole treatment -- followed by the usual assault of blood draws, IV bag changes, aches and grunts and patches of sweat. It's nice to be able to eat real food again and start at least a month of medication and no beer. Now THAT'S what I call a vacation trip halfway around the world![1] (But seriously, it was so encouraging and humbling to see so many people come out of the woodwork to care for me, whether by phone, prayer or visit.)

Tomorrow morning I head off to NC with my dad to see my little brother and others. And then I close out the trip home with a few days in Norfolk.

I spent a little time today, after being discharged, dredging out my email accounts and modifying FCA. Eyes open.

[1] ;op

Tuesday, February 1, 2005


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A trivium:

I was raised in Riverside Presbyterian Church in the Five Points area of Jacksonville, Florida. Our organist and music director for the past 25 years (as of 10 February 2005) is Andrew "Andy" Clarke.

Over the years I have become increasingly aware of much of a giant in a valley he is. We had a surprise concert in honor of the (mostly) unsuspecting Andy yesterday and it was truly unforgettable. We had leading members of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra appear gratis. We had two of Andy's organ students -- both now music directors at local churches -- perform, showing how vitally he has passed on his skills at the pedals. We had former RPC members travel all the way from Alabama and Tennessee (not to mention Taiwan!). We heard the first and probably only public performance of one of the RPC choir's annual satires, entitled "Andy". This satire, written by RPC's own Eleanor Carswell and based on Ken Medema's "Moses", was a true delight. It helped me see not only how much Andy is adored by his singers, but also how central his music is to his worship of God.

I've always appreciated having a huge organ in my church, and also always respected Andy's talents in playing it[1]. But until yesterday I don't think I fully realized how much of a national treasure my own little church's organist is.

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

[1]In a sad twist, worthy of Beethoven himself, a few years ago Andy suffered the loss of his hearing in one ear. Nevertheless, he intends to keep performing, composing, teaching -- and thus inspiring.

And you think the election in Iraq is big news?

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I should have announced this earlier to get the voting rolling, but please have a look at this year's Beard-a-Thon results and cast your votes with Erick, my old roomie. As Erick says,

The beard-a-thon is complete and you can now cast your vote (one vote per category, per e-mail address please). Please send an e-mail to with your beard-a-thon vote. Due to late updates the voting deadline will be extended to February 14th, Valentine's day. Thanks for voting and remember to send in your pledge money!

Vote early, vote often! My charity will be The Voice of the Martyrs (leave it to me to keep things light and easy, right?). You can either send a pledge to the V of M for my hirsute efforts or support the other guys' charity, Starlight Children's Foundation.

Surprisingly enough (or maybe not), the SAIBAT made the news (KVAL 13 News, 15-12-04)!

Three local men are competing in The Second Annual International Beard-A-Thon. On November first, ten guys shaved their face and for two months they won't trim their facial hair.

This year all the money raised will be donated to the Starlight Children's Foundation. "Women typically don't like the idea of beards. Employers don't either, but this charity thing works out. They are not so sketchy about it after that", Erick Banks, webmaster.

Alas, our huge international stardom can't even begin to compete with the Campbellsports 100 Day Beard-A-Thon or these hairy studs in the the World Beard Championships.

Finally, if you want to see the world with bearded eyes, so to speak, have a gander at All About Beards. The page's original home began with this quote from a 1973 psychological study:

"...the male beard communicates an heroic image of the independent, sturdy, and resourceful pioneer, ready, willing and able to do manly things."

I love it!

So I was in a bar the other night when...

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a priest, a rabbi, a nun and a lawyer walked in.

The bartender looked at 'em and said, "what is this -- a joke?"