Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Of Meteors and Conclaves

I am so glad the Mayans were wrong about the world ending in 2012. Because 2013 has barely begun and it is already far more interesting.

It really isn't every day that a massive chunk of space rock comes tumbling headlong into our atmosphere and explodes. Even more amazing is the fact that the 10,000 ton space rock careened to earth over a populated area and, though injuring many with the massive blast, killed no one. It is enough to make an unbeliever reconsider the concept of guardian angels.

In my mind, however, what was even more amazing about last week was not this natural event but a human and divine one. That would be the now famous address in which Pope Benedict XVI announced his upcoming renunciation of his papal office. It was a stunning move, to say the least. This incidentally occurred on the same day that the Vatican dome was struck by lightning. Twice.

Whether the strike be a sign from God or not (a sign of what we aren't told), it certainly marked a momentous day. No pope in 600 years has abdicated his throne. It would be a first in recent history, at a time when the Catholic Church has reached a critical point in her ad the world's history. Even putting aside the more egregious examples of the mostly secular, mostly political, and mainly awful mainstream media coverage of the entire affair, one theme has emerged in a resoundingly clear crescendo:

The Catholic Church is the only institution left that has not altered its official stance on the issues that dominate the modern world: abortion, contraception, homosexual sex, Marxism and capitalism. For the Church to remain relevant, it MUST CHANGE ITS VIEWS. NOW.

Implicit in that unified outcry is the assumption that the new pope, chosen from a pool of cardinals hand-picked by men who championed against these issues, will do nothing to "move the Church forward." For the journalists, politicians, and activists who are doing the crowing about progressivism in the Church, they couldn't be more right.

Thank God.

Their beef with the Church is really quite silly when you think about it. The Church has been a monument of rock-solid permanence for the past 2,000 years or so. She has seen empires rise and fall, has watched great men flare up and burn out, has born through fierce storms of mankind demanding violence and change. And yet here she still stands, still unmoved by those pleas to alter her first principles. In a way that the secular world is unable to understand, the Church does not change not because she will not, but because she can not. When her identity contains within itself the bearing witness to an unchanging truth, then consequently being untrue to that truth would make her cease to exist. It is just that simple.

But this is only half the silliness of the world's beef with an unchanging Catholic Church. The other half is why the secular world gets its pants into such a collective bind when the Church once again, for example, mildly insists that we will never see women priests. For such an enlightened, reasonable world where democracy reigns supreme and tolerance is the byword of the day, why then is there such a problem with the Catholic Church?

The problem appears to be a simple one of identification. When a man of the modern world devotes himself to secularism, he thinks that he is simply extricating himself from the noxious tangle of religion and belief in God in order to put himself on a higher plane of understanding than the rest of humanity. From this higher plane he can view the world from a truly enlightened angle and judge impartially what is best for it. Reality, sadly for him, is somewhat different. What the secularist does not realize is that on the natural level he can never become a detached observer of his own kind, because he himself is of that kind and probably knows just as little about humanity's ultimate good than any other human. This inevitably will lead him to clash with religion because his imagination has become his own religion.

The Catholic Church, meanwhile, adds another layer to this assessment by giving us the supernatural reason that the secularist has a beef with unchanging truth. Mere men in many ways would not have such a burning hatred of the truth if it were merely they that were engaged in the battle. Leaving each other to believe as they please only works for so long. The Church's unwavering doctrine of Satan and his power are as true today as they have always been, as well as the teaching that the Devil hates humanity with all of his heart and desires to egg them on against the truth with all of his might. So the secularist, in his indifference to truth, becomes its enemy and by default the ally of a host of evil spirits that are engaged in an epic war against said truth.

Author Steve Jalsevac, in an excellent article on, quotes Vatican observer Robert Moynihan as saying this:

“Are there facts the Pope has weighed in making this decision that we simply don't know about, or don't know fully? … Does the Pope have information about the possible course of events in the months ahead that led him to conclude that he needed to allow a younger, more energetic man to take over his office from him, so that the Church's highest authority could take action quickly and decisively as events unfold?”

I am becoming more and more convinced that Moynihan has hit on something extremely important here. Whether it be the need for stronger discipline of the Church's errant leaders, as Jalsevac suggests later in his piece, or the ominous rising tide of American-style sexual liberation by government coercion, or something else entirely (or all of these things), I am in admiration of a move by Pope Benedict that I think will be perceived only later as the brilliant move that it is. It is a move that I imagine will create a counter-crescendo to the rising cacophony and blathering disunity of secularism.

It is a move of unity, continuity, humility, and permanence.

The new pope (whomever he shall be) will only proclaim one thing, the truth. It shall be the same obnoxiously immovable and unchangeable truth as it always has been, no matter how many or how few people adhere to it. The media loves its facts and figures concerning the average Catholic's attitude towards the Church's teaching; what they fail to realize is that waning church attendance and liberal attitudes about contraception and abortion are not signs of the Church's irrelevance. A drought is not a sign of the irrelevance of rain, but of the desperate and all-encompassing need for it. So it is with the Church and her truth.

God bless Pope Benedict XVI, and bless all the cardinals as they meet to discover which of them shall sit on the throne of Saint Peter next. I will be waiting with baited breath.

Panorama of St Peter's Square in Vatican City. Photo by Fran├žois Malan, via Wikipedia.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Sliding Puzzle

I had a friend a while back who, while visiting with us got a hold of an eight-piece sliding puzzle and attempted to solve it. The final result was supposed to be a three-dimensional lizard emerging from a pond, but my friend was not getting it to work and became more irritated and more humorous the more tries he made. Finally, in a fit of desperation, he took a butter knife to the edges and proceeded to pry the pieces out. Then he rearranged them correctly on the tabletop and re-installed them in the sliding frame in the proper order.

The only problem was that the frame was now loose at best, and broken in places at worst.

The more attempts that were made to solve the puzzle incorrectly (i.e., by violent prying at the edges with said butter knife) the looser the whole puzzle got. It would not be long before the whole thing would be broken and worthless.

Though funny, the episode says a lot about our fallen human nature. We are impatient, temperamental creatures, decidedly stupid on occasion. On a darker note, however, we are more often than not unwilling to take the time to stand back and understand something, before diving in and trying to "solve" it. This is, for example, the problem with much of modern philosophy, which concentrates on assumptions that are made before any real observation has be done. One can always construct a theory out of thin air and then force the facts to fit later. Humanity is often not interested in discerning something's true nature.

This inevitably leads to trouble, because in failing to understand something's true nature, we cannot properly assess the thing's value, and consequently very little meaningful interaction can take place between us and the thing in question. More often than not our interaction will result in damage and destruction, either of the thing or of us.

We do this with everything, it seems. Americans, I fear, are especially good at this sort of dense behavior. For instance, we look at the male and female sex of all different kinds of creatures, and we see them mate with each other, and we know that this process brings forth new life of the same species. Mankind has known this for thousands or even tens of thousands of years. When we are old enough to understand, we realize that we are creatures similar to the aforementioned observed animals, being male and female and possessing all the proper equipment to mate amongst ourselves. And yet we make the monumentally stupid leap of non-logic to the conclusion that sex between male and female humans has no connection or bearing on the creation of new life.

Or we look at government. Anyone with a semi-firm grasp of history knows that governments do not necessarily have the greatest track records when handed more and more centralized power. Imperial Rome crumbled under the weight of its own corruption and emperor-switching. Emperor Charlemagne's new Holy Roman Empire fell apart because it was built more on him and his charisma than on robust and widespread rule of law. The Soviet Union collapsed under the crushing pressure of unsustainable spending, repression to the breaking point of its subjects, the proven inefficiency of central planning, and the obliteration of the individual. And yet, parties on both sides of the American political spectrum will conclude that either centralized governance or centralized production and ownership is the key to solving all our ills.

Or look at guns and gun control. Or marriage. Or the concept of beauty in art. Or practically any other aspect of our lives. In every case, the loudest voices offering "solutions" to the challenges handed to us are also the ones that advocate tearing apart the frame of the puzzle in order to solve it without any observational work. And this approach has never worked. Not for very long, at least.

Our race is drowning in its own boneheaded sins. To refuse to understand the nature of the world for whatever reason is to doom oneself to incompatibility with that same world and the people in it. When burning fossil fuels for energy is all that we know or will accept, we will run out. When factory farming and mass pharmaceutical production is all that we will consider in those respective fields, we will continue to wonder why the modern man is becoming less and less healthy. When we accept that long hours of work in a factory is the only path forward to financial peace and happiness, we will wonder why we are burnt out and unfulfilled. When we rob from the wealthy to give "compassionately" to the poor, we wonder why both the wealthy and the poor no longer wish to work. When we "accidentally" conceive a child during an act of fornication or adultery and then proceed to have responsibility for it destroyed through abortion, we will wonder why the woman suffers psychological torment and physical ailments for the rest of her life. (And, in relation to that, we will wonder why men are such bums.)

We will wonder, and we will think about the problem after we have already screwed it up. We will suffer pain and regret and loneliness and hollowness because we did not try to understand the nature of the issue at hand, but only applied our own theory of operation to it and hoped like hell it would work. It is not a good way to live.

There is a way out, a way forward towards the light. Or, more accurately, there are two ways out. One is divine and the other is earthly. There is a facsimile of the divine solution floating around, and it is probably the one thrown in people's faces more, pitched to mankind without its proper context or background, used unfortunately as an "easy fix" type approach. It is catchy to be told that Jesus is the answer to all our problems and if we simply believe in Him then everything will be okay, and the hole in our lives will be filled. The real divine solution is much more involved and all encompassing, a labor of love and a transformation of life, but it must inform and work in tandem with the earthly solution to be effective. The earthly solution is this: to be aware. To open our eyes and our minds and to struggle to understand how the world actually works. To reason our way from honest premises to reasonable conclusions. To embrace our intellect, to think for ourselves, and to demand that the world do the same.

It is not a hopeless cause, getting to the root of things. It just takes a healthy dose of humility to admit, as Socrates once did, that we know nothing. We need to look long and hard at every issue in our lives to determine if we are solving the puzzle or breaking it.

Because unlike the plastic eight-piece sliding puzzle, our lives are fixable.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Just Because It's Awesome!

I am posting this video here just because, well, it's pretty awesome. I like to appreciate awesome when I see it, so here it is. Some crazy long football and basketball shots.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tiny Houses and God-Men

Wow, the Lenten season is almost upon us again. This year is already going by way too quickly.

For those of you who don't know, the season of Lent in the Catholic Church is a six-week trial-by-fire in the early springtime of heavy spiritual lifting (fasting, abstaining from meat, giving up our daily pleasures as sacrifices, praying.) It is a sort of boot camp for the soul, especially for those who will be baptized on Easter. In the end it becomes a time to scrap everything in your life that you really don't need, to dig until you find the real naked you underneath, to detach yourself from all that you thought important in order to rearrange your priorities. 

It is very cathartic, to say the least.

It is a season that begins with a reminder of death, when ashes are applied to the forehead with the words "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust you shall return." It is also a season that nearly ends with a re-imagining of one of the most brutal kinds of deaths, being nailed with iron spikes through the hands and feet to a cross and left to asphyxiate/bleed to death. But in the very end, Lent is preparation for a miniature heaven, that of the remembrance of the resurrection from the dead of a man who was also God.

This year I think is going to host a very good Lent. My wife and I have already resolved on our own special sacrifices and my children are getting old enough to understand what is going on this time around. Also, on a more national level, our country is gearing up for what looks like a showdown between God and government, between the laws of men and the laws of the Almighty. It will separate the mediocre from the fervent, the true from the false. It will be a trial by fire.

But more importantly I think is the small, individual purifying struggles that will be the arbiter of the quality of this Lent. An example of this: I was recently inspired by secular sources on YouTube concerning the Tiny House movement, in which people realize that their big mortgage, big square-footage houses are not providing happiness and so downsize to very small homes. They in many ways unconsciously express the great truth of being poor in spirit, of being happy with fewer things, of ridding themselves of excess and unnecessary clutter. My wife and I have become inspired to do the same thing, but infused with a Christian sense of poverty of spirit, and it has yielded amazing results so far (we aren't nearly done yet...) Our tiny apartment seems so much larger now that we got rid of a few things and rearranged others and generally dealt with the mindless junk that we have kept for so long. It is freeing.

So next week, when Lent begins in earnest with that very long hungry Wednesday, be of good cheer. We are about to decompress and declutter for 2013. We are about to become more free, more ourselves, and more good, as long as we let the God-man in to do His work.

Photo by LemosaCorel, via Wikipedia.