Friday, April 27, 2007

Is cheating no longer considered immoral?

Today on the Drew Mariani Show, one of the topics was the incidence of infidelity. A recent study (of dubious reliability, according to one guest, but it doesn't detract from my point) suggests that about half of all people cheat on their partners at some point.

The question was raised, then, "If everyone's doing it, is it even immoral?" The answer is yes, for a number of reasons, a couple of which I'll only touch on.

First of all, morality is not determined by how many people hew to it, or how many dismiss it. Secondly, if you're still calling it cheating, you probably still have a sense that it's wrong, so trying to argue that infidelity is okay because cheating isn't bad just shifts the problem.

If people walk into relationships expecting their partners to fool around with other people, knowing their partners expect the same, then, true, it's not necessarily cheating, it's just following the conditions of a more libertine arrangement; however, the problem is that when people get married, they do make vows to the effect of "forsaking all others"--putting the spouse first in all things, and not sharing with others what is promised to the spouse.

If people walk into relationships expecting cheating, infidelity isn't the problem. (Okay, it's a problem, but it's missing the point.) The problem is people not taking vows seriously, not making them seriously. Don't expect to remain faithful? It's sad, but at least you're honest. Promise to be faithful anyway? Then you're a liar and a hypocrite.

If your integrity is in question, you can hardly be expected to judge infidelity to be moral or or not.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The feast of St. Gertrude the Great is November 15...or 17....

I mention it now because I just thought of it, and to give plenty of advance notice.

One of the few female saints granted the title Great, St. Gertrude was a voracious student. Christ visited her in visions throughout most of her life, after an experience at the age of 26 essentially converted her from a student of nature to a student of God. One time, after she prayed for more time to pray and fewer things to take away from prayer time, Jesus told her:

It does not matter to me whether you perform spiritual exercises or manual labor, provided only that your will is directed to me with a right intention. If I took pleasure only in your spiritual exercises, I should certainly have reformed human nature after Adam's fall so that it would not need food, clothing or the other things that man must find or make with such effort.

Thus, spiritual growth is not just for the religious or the studious, and having some variety in our lives is generally a natural and good thing.

Another time, He asked for prayers for the souls in purgatory:

I accept with highest pleasure what is offered to Me for the poor souls, for I long inexpressibly to have near Me those for whom I paid so great a price. By the prayers of thy loving soul, I am induced to free a prisoner from purgatory as often as thou dost move thy tongue to utter a word of prayer.

Yet another, He gave her a prayer, by which He said He would release one thousand souls from purgatory every time it was prayed in love and devotion:

Eternal Father, I offer You the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, those in the Universal Church, in my home, and in my family.

There are other prayers you can do for the souls of the Church Penitent, and I would recommend them all. I would also encourage you to pray for the souls who have no one else to pray for them (on Earth, at least). They will be grateful for your aid, and helpful to your own causes and intentions (in purgatory and heaven, at least).

You can make a heroic act of charity, where you give up all your personal merits to be distributed by the Virgin Mary amongst the souls in purgatory. You can learn more about it at that link to New Advent, or at Our Lady's Tears, where I first read about it, which also has a Purgatory Novena and other prayers helpful to the suffering souls.

Anyway, I was intrigued by an idea I saw over at Free Republic and again at the Mission to Empty Purgatory, where I got most of this information about Gertrude the Great. Being of an analytical mind, the idea appealed to me from a mathematical standpoint, as well as a charitable one, but your milage may vary. The numbers work might seem a bit cold, but if we've been given this gift, we ought to make something of it, and there's nothing wrong with trying to imagine (or more) what could be accomplished with it.

Given that the Prayer of St. Gertrude releases a thousand souls from purgatory, and that there is a finite number of people who have lived, it should be possible for enough people to have a devotion to rescuing those souls and helping them enter the Church Triumphant that purgatory would be effectively emptied, and as long as there are people to pray for the Church Penitent, to keep purgatory virtually empty.

I'll walk you through the little bit of math; MTEP keeps a running tally based on prayer pledges, if you want to see it from someone else.

There seems to be a consensus that throughout history there have been approximately 100 billion (± 5% or so) people. A Google search for "How many people have ever lived on Earth?" will get you numbers in this range from all kinds of sources, some even assuming a very young Earth. Some of the sites show their calculations, so you can check their work for yourself if you like. Naturally that number's always on the rise, but let's stick with an even 1011 for convenience.

Looking at the souls extant to date, how many times would someone have to pray the St. Gertrude Prayer to empty purgatory?

100,000,000,000 ÷ 1000 = 100,000,000

A hundred million. A huge number, but not unimaginable. Seems pretty mechanistic at this point, but consider that currently there are one billion Catholics in the world.

One billion versus a hundred million. If only 10% of all living Catholics, just a hundred million again, say the prayer once, it'd be done. We've got 80 million in the United States alone. Five times that number are in Latin America.

Of course, we should remember that it is a pious devotion, not a numbers game. As we don't pray the rosary just in the interest of quantity, we shouldn't pray this prayer just to get through it, just to rack up spiritual bonus points, either. More than one Catholic I've heard from with memories of life before Vatican II remember how common rushed, unintelligible Tridentine masses were, where the priests just garbled the Latin and went through the motions just to get it done; and how they really weren't as spiritually healthful (albeit still valid) as a Novus Ordo, said in English or Latin, prayed solemnly and with sincere intent.

Not that I'm condemning all the mass celebrants from before 1965. Liturgical abuses didn't end then, and I'm not condemning or condoning everything that's happened since 1965, either--while the frequency of mechanistic, rote masses has probably dropped, the variety of heteropraxy has grown (unless someone can point me to some coulro-Tridentine mass somewhere).

I admit, sometimes the best I can claim is that the 20 minutes I spend praying the rosary is 20 minutes I'm not doing something worldly. I also realize that the numbers angle can be an opportunity to develop some rote habit. However, some habits are pious, and we would not be given simple or repetitive prayers if we were not meant to recite them frequently. We need only direct our wills prayerfully towards Christ "with a right intention."

Here's the thought from Free Republic: the Church should dedicate one day to the emptying of purgatory, and ask every Catholic to say St. Gertrude's prayer. Then, every Sunday, we'd say the prayer once as sort of a keep-it-empty devotion.

Divine Mercy Sunday sort of fits that bill, but if it's this devotion we're interested in promoting, it might be more fitting to put it on the feast of Gertrude the Great. Maybe two weeks earlier, on All Souls' Day, now that I think about it. I'm not trying to tell the Church what to do, and the Church can't liberate people from their purgation under by its own fiat, but what I can do is encourage people to remember the people who died in God's grace but weren't quite ready for prime time. If you like the idea, you can say the prayer every day, or make it a decade; or in the interest of forming a holy habit, at least try to remember it on Gertrude's feast day each year and ask others to do the same.

I know I'd appreciate it when I get there.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Happy 300th birthday, Euler!

Stolen shamelessly from ISCA:

"Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. The encylopedist Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The empress was much amused, but some of her councillors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. the empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest's tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented. The mathematician, which was Euler advanced towards Diderot and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction: "Monsieur, (a + b^n)/n =x, therefore God exists. Any answer to that!" Diderot,
to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted."

Friday, April 06, 2007

If you can believe anything the Church teaches about itself, why can't you believe everything it teaches?

For my Lenten discipline, I've been reading the Bible straight through. I picked up in the middle of Genesis where I left off several months ago, and have been trying to do it in smaller chunks so I don't get overwhelmed and give up; I've found that when I do something for Lent, it's easier for me to keep to the discipline, so I figured, why not give it a shot? It's Easter and I'm now into the first book of Maccabees, and might finish the whole thing by summer.

I must say it helps tremendously seeing all the familiar readings in their broader contexts (and completely in order, as much as the old books are in order at all), both in understanding for myself and in responding to people who get upset over the distorted impressions they have of Scripture. Except for the repetitive constructions in the second book of Chronicles, I didn't even find it to be too dry. Okay, some of the genealogies and censuses in the Pentateuch didn't do much for me either, but they were shorter and easier to skim than the stuff in the later books I've gotten through so far. Either way, I'm not doing an in depth study at this point, so it's not like I'm sedating myself trying to reconstruct all the travels of Samuel or to uncover the pastoral reason for why the ephod or any of the other vestments were purple or had red thread or whatever.

Anyway, I was talking to someone about it a few weeks ago, and pointed out something that I found interesting. Inside the front cover of my Bible were these words:

A partial indulgence is granted to the failthful who use Sacred Scripture for spiritual reading with the veneration due the word of God. A plenary indulgence is granted if the reading continues for at least one half hour. (Enchiridion Inndulgentiarum)

The respone I got was "I didn't even know they still do indulgences...I'm not sure I believe in them, either."

"No? Why not?"

"Well, how can we know God's always going to do what they say when we do any of these things?"

All right, how can we? Obviously we can't prove it empirically; there's no tangible evidence we can observe. However, Jesus told His apostles that what they bind or loose on Earth will be bound or loosed in heaven--when Peter said that Jesus would pay the temple tax, even, Jesus had Peter catch a fish that had a coin in its mouth to pay the tax, even though it would not be proper (or at least not necessary) for the Son of God to give money for the House of God.

There's more, though. If you're going to doubt that God's going to honor the pious proclamations of His disciples, despite an obvious example of Him doing so in Matthew 17, what's stopping you from doubting that God's going to act every time someone pronounces a blessing or a priest does one of the sacraments? Habit, familiarity--does the ubiquity of the mass give you the impression that God will be more dilligent about performing a real miracle, or less? Hey, maybe last Sunday the Holy Spirit didn't come upon the bread and wine at mass, and they ended up not becoming the Body and Blood of Christ; maybe God felt that a simple symbolic communion would be appropriate at that time.

Most Catholics would probably agree that such logic sounds silly when it's applied to an actual sacrament, and I'd be thrilled to hear that people put more faith in the Eucharist than in anything else, but what's harder to believe: that God became man and shared with some of his followers the authority to turn common food into His Body and Blood, or that God shared with some of His followers the authority to commute the temporal punishment due for sin along side the ability to forgive it?

Here's a hint. Is it easier to say "your sins are forgiven" or "rise and walk?"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I'm still watching "LOST" and "Battlestar:Galactica"...

...but I'm really getting tired of the writers confusing moral ambiguity with the main characters just being a bunch of jerks. I can watch "reality" TV if I want that crap, y'know?

Anyone listening out there in Hollywood?