Melville, Hemingway, and new Mass translations

May 31, 2010

Last month the Holy See gave final approval to a revised English translation of the Roman Missal, a long process not without its share of comedy, tragedy, and controversy.  I, for one, am enthusiastic about the change, even while recognizing that change often takes a bit of effort to get used to.

The new translations have come in for a bit of criticism on the web and elsewhere, including a rather odd online petition drive.  The criticism mostly stems from the fact that the new translations, which hew more closely to the Latin original than the translations now in use, employ a vocabulary and syntax that is likely to sound a bit foreign to most contemporary English-speakers.

The desire for the words used at Mass to be comprehensible to most people is straightforward and laudable, but simple comprehension is not the only quality we should expect in our worship language.  In fact, sometimes it’s desirable for language to sound unusual and, yes, even foreign.  To help me make this point, let me call on two old friends from my days as an undergraduate English major:  Herman Melville and Ernest Hemingway. Read the rest of this entry »


Charles Taylor on Celibacy II: The Humanist Dilemma

May 30, 2010

+AMDG+

As I explained (very skeletally) in my last post, when it comes to sex and renunciation, Charles Taylor considers both exclusive humanism and creedal Christianity to be on the horns of a dilemma.  Of course, Taylor’s continuing Catholic practice suggests that he sees at least some potential resolution to the Christian side of the dilemma.  But before touching upon the Christian solution, I thought we might examine the humanist dilemma (as he sees it) a little more deeply.

In brief, Taylor finds the typical secular humanist hemmed into a sort of no-man’s land by his inability to define a proper sort of sexual renunciation.  In explaining his position, Taylor deploys Martha Nussbaum’s distinction between the “internal” and “external” transcendence.  Simply put, internal transcendence is good renunciation, the kind that ennobles us and aims us toward properly human excellences.  External transcendence is bad renunciation, the kind that mutilates us and aims us toward inhuman excellences. Read the rest of this entry »


Do we still need Aristotle for Transubstantiation?

May 25, 2010

Seems the Jesuits are at it again, rejecting the true and authentic teaching of the Church.  Fr. Michael Kelly, Jesuit CEO of the Asian Catholic news agency UCA News has this to say about the doctrine of transubstantiation:

Regrettably, all too frequently, the only Presence focused on is Christ’s presence in the elements of bread and wine. Inadequately described as the change of the “substance” (not the “accidents”) of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist carries the intellectual baggage of a physics no one accepts. Aristotelian physics makes such nice, however implausible and now unintelligible, distinctions. They are meaningless in the post-Newtonian world of quantum physics, which is the scientific context we live in today.

I think it might be helpful to break this quote down, not simply possibly to absolve Fr. Kelly, but to try to get at what he is trying to say.   Read the rest of this entry »


Charles Taylor on Celibacy I: “Mutual Fragilization”

May 23, 2010

+AMDG+

Religious Sisters in Taylor’s Native Quebec

Whenever the New York Times makes clerical sexual abuse a front-page story, it becomes something of commonplace among loyal Catholics to point out that sexual abuse is at least equally common among Protestant pastors and married rabbis and agnostic soccer coaches; yet, the failings of non-celibates receive comparatively little attention.  It’s right, of course, to decry selective reporting on the failures of Catholic celibates.  Yet, for all the prejudices that the Times may harbor, it seems to be responding largely to market forces.  Stories of clerical abuse, for instance, almost always become the most accessed and e-mailed articles of the day.  And though the seemingly endless parade of disgraced priests is not a little discouraging, it also reminds me that the world is strangely interested in the lives of celibates.  Reading chunks of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age has, moreover, given me a better language for explaining why. Read the rest of this entry »


Happy Birthday, Mom!

May 22, 2010

Since the weekend’s big feast, Pentecost, is sometimes colloquially referred to as the birthday of the Church, I thought I’d offer a little birthday greeting.  I couldn’t fit two thousand candles on a cake, so I came up with a top ten list instead.  Maybe it’s not really my top ten, but here are ten things I love about the Church.  (The New York Times doesn’t want you to know this, but, yes, it’s still okay to love being Catholic.)

10.  Songs about Mary. Whether it’s Pavarotti belting out “Ave Maria” or tone-deaf Jesuits (like yours truly) humming their way through the “Salve,” the Blessed Mother brings out something sweet and beautiful even in the gruffest of us.

9.  Relics. They may seem a little weird to contemporary American tastes, but think about all that relics say about the importance of the body, the embodied nature of our faith, and our hope, ultimately, in the resurrection of the body.

Read the rest of this entry »


Doing penance for each other

May 16, 2010

The Pope made some important comments on his trip to Portugal last week which have a fairly direct bearing on the abuse scandals so much in the news these days.  Benedict’s response, as we might expect, touches on the spiritual aspects of the scandal and has some pretty deep implications for all of us.  Here’s what the Holy Father said:

[A]ttacks against the Pope or the Church do not only come from outside; rather the sufferings of the Church come from within, from the sins that exist in the Church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from enemies on the outside, but is born from the sin within the church, the Church therefore has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the need for justice. Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice. In one word we have to re-learn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That is how we respond, and we need to be realistic in expecting that evil will always attack, from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil and the Virgin Mary is for us the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history.

In earlier comments, too, Benedict talked about the need for doing penance, something fundamental to our identities as Catholics but which, I have to admit, I don’t normally give much thought to.  Among my generation of Catholics I’m probably not alone in being a little clueless about what penance is or why we do it.

Read the rest of this entry »


Who Is the Naive One?

May 16, 2010

Although Deal Hudson continues to criticize Sr. Carol Keehan for her naivete, it at least seems to me that she has been proven right in her support of the new health care bill by recent developments.  Though he accuses her of misrepresentation, it seems that he is at least as guilty.  In his most recent article, this is all he has to say about the new bill:

Planned Parenthood isalready crediting the health-care bill for the opening of a new clinic. What does Planned Parenthood know that Sister Keehan doesn’t? As Archbishop Naumann put it, her denial of the abortion funding is “either incredibly naïve or disingenuous.” Either way, the damage is already done.

However, this is what Yahoo has to say:

WASHINGTON – Abortion opponents fought passage of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul to the bitter end, and now that it’s the law, they’re using it to limit coverage by private insurers. Read the rest of this entry »