Sep 222014
 

I had toyed with the idea of having a blog post with the title of “The Golden Age of Catholicism” which just had the title and the body of the post was blank. To illustrate the idea that there never was such a golden age.

Charles Dicken’s summed up Church history perfectly even if he wasn’t referring to it

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. – A Tale of Two Cities

Church history frankly is messy and it started out that way. You don’t read St. Paul and come away with the idea that everybody was properly catechized and faithful. We are always on the cusp of some heresy, in the decline of one, or amidst one.

Sometimes we will idealize a previous generation because of a numeric superiority of priests and those in religious life. We talk about the last forty years or so of bad catechesis as if we had ever been fully catechized. No doubt the quality of catechesis has waxed and wained over generations due to multiple factors. Yet those generations who were supposedly more fully catechized managed to fall apart despite this and to pass along a diminishment in teaching.

When we look at the problems of the day it is easy to look fondly on a time without those exact same problems not fully realizing that they either had a different set of problems or roughly the same set. That each age if full of people with original sin and all that it entails. It is certainly a laudable thing to identify positive aspects of the past and want to bring them forward. The problem comes in when we have a wistful affection of the past that is devoid of the problems of that time also.

It is quite easy to be a critic of the times you live in, not as easy to see the good among the bad.

“The Reformer is always right about what’s wrong. However, he’s often wrong about what is right.” G.K. Chesterton

We can read the sign of the times and despair or we can read those same signs and be a saint. The universal call to holiness has nothing to do with the time period you live in. We are called to “Pick up the cross daily” precisely because our crosses will never be in short supply. Seemingly so many paths to anger and few to prayer, yet this is but the crossroads of what direction we travel in reaction to events. It is just and right to be scandalized by sin, but it is neither to further scandalize others by our reaction to this.

Whether it is the best of times, or the worst of times; our commitment to Christ and spreading the Gospel remains the same.

Now this post is not meant to show an example of any kind of wisdom. Often I find myself not writing posts for others, but to preach to myself my own faults.

Aug 272014
 

From a post by John C. Wright where he responds to one of his readers.

I’m fairly certain, if God is indeed maximally good and therefore would do everything he could to draw people, free agents, towards him, the greatest good, that logically, the best option would be to reveal himself not just occasionally, but always so that there can be no doubt as to his existence.

For though the heart of the atheist and other non-believers may be hard, and their minds closed off, I’m fairly certain even Dawkins and Osama Bin-Laden would have gotten on their knees and prayed for forgiveness and most likely would NOT have even needed to do so if God was always undeniably present.

What deficiencies, if any, are there on this option

Have you ever been an atheist? I was. I would have defied God to his face, and blasphemed the Holy Spirit. I solemnly assure you that I would have. The coyness of God is the only thing that saved from the one thing the Bible clearly says is an unforgivable sin. …

Now I can certainly identify with that. The idea that even if you see a miracle that you will instantly accept God really does not necessarily follow. It is a common complaint among atheists that both deny God and demand that he reveal himself to them. It is a nice idea that when we are provided by evidence that our philosophies will instantly change to take this new information in in. A nice idea absolutely refuted by human nature.

I know from my only life that what Mr. Wright says about defying God to his face is not just hyperbole. I know this since I have done such. Once when returning from an pre-deployment workup at sea my wife had told me about a miracle, one that she and our kids witnessed and that she had the benefit of. I have never had any reason to doubt the testimony of my wife or my children, but in this case I could do nothing but doubt. My philosophy as an atheist did not allow miracles and such they could not exist. So I was quite willing to totally ignore their testimony and come up with alternate theories to explain it.

Years later I was to experience an aspect of what they witnessed. This happened as I had started to believe in God. I accepted that there were miracles, but still I tested what I experienced to see if there was a natural explanation. I realized later how this was juxtaposed in relation to the testimony of my family. As a believer I could accept miracles, but deny or question specific ones and subject them to reason. “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thess. 5:21) As an atheist I could only deny them with no need to question further.

A nice antidote to this idea of God revealing himself to remove all doubt need only to read the Book of Exodus. God continuously revealed himself to them and yet they disobeyed him at every corner. They witness countless miracles and did nothing but whine and build idols. Now even for those who do not accept the events in the Book of Exodus, still you can read this as literature and find nothing contrary to human nature. I have a hard time for even a skeptical reader to read the story and then say “There is no way they would act such after seeing such miracles and the constant presence of the pillar of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.” You could reject this as a story, but not reject that is was an accurate portrayal of human nature.

Another interesting example is the story of Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel who witnessed two miracles at Lourdes and still could not bring himself to believe it was anything more than natural forces at work. For details see this article by the late Rev. Stanley L. Jaki.

Note: Post title is lifted from Mr. Wright’s post title.

Jul 312014
 

There was part of the Gene Wolfe interview I wanted to break out into a separate post.

I know you thought Algis Budrys a tremendous writer.

A. J. was a friend. I admired _Who_ [1958] enormously. The plot of _Rogue Moon _[1960] is striking: Budrys tells us that if you destroyed a man here and reconstituted him somewhere else, you’re fooling yourself if you think that the reconstituted man is the same as the original man. The man who goes into the matter transmitter is going to go dark; he’s going to die. You can create a new man with the memories of the dead man; but that doesn’t mean that the dead man is still alive. The dead man is dead.

A copied man turns up in _The Fifth Head of Cerberus_: a robotic simulation of the narrator’s great-grandfather. Mr. Million says, helplessly: “He—I—am dead.”

This describes perfectly some thoughts I had after becoming Catholic and thinking about the Star Trek transporter. Sure they had many plots where something went wrong with the transporter, but really everytime it was used something went horribly wrong. Now I know the idea of the transporter came about in the show as a way to save money regarding expensive set and model building for landings.

The the materialist the idea of the transformer involving dematerialization and subsequent rematerialization makes sense. If we are just material beings than copying our bodies down to the cellular level, converting it to data, destroying the source, transmitting the data, and then making a new copy based on the data raises no hackles.

From the Catholic point of view (and tongue-in-cheek) the transporter is a device of horror. Not only did the red shirts often die, but the so did those wearing green, gold, and blue shirts! Really during the series Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and the rest of them are killed hundreds of times and their copies go on. And they thought the Bearded Spock universe was evil? Really viewing Star Trek this way is quite scary, “Oh no they killed them all again”.

As St. Thomas Aquinas and the Church would attest the soul is the form of the body. Something that can’t be encoded into data, transmitted, and reconstituted.

In literature we sometimes find plots involving teleportation from the magical to the SF story. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Disintegration Machine is an early example, but more famously is the short story The Fly by George Langelaan. Still my favorite of the genre is Jumper by Steven Gould where teleportation was an innate ability (skip the horrible movie of the same name, but there the sameness ends).

You did hear from time to time the idea of dematerialization/rematerialization seriously bandied about where it is only a matter of time until such a process can happen. I would like to see a story involving such a endeavor where no matter the preciseness of the data copying the rematerialized subject is always dead whether it is vegetable, animal etc. See again St. Thomas Aquinas on the vegetable soul, the sensitive soul, and the rational soul. The plot would involve the struggles of the materialist scientists in coming to grip with the possibility there is a soul.

In the mean time I think I will watch an episode of Star Trek and scream every time the transporter is used.

Nov 302013
 

First off have a blessed Advent!

Eight years ago I decided to create my own Advent Wreath graphic instead of just using the normal animated gif that I had used previously. If you would like it for your own blog you can use the html code below. I will replace the graphic each week so that it correctly shows the number of candles that should be lit. On Christmas I will change it to another graphic I created for Christmastide.

<img src="http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/Advent/curtjester_advent.gif" width="170" height="189" />

Update: The above was updated since quote marks were not translating correctly

Additionally underneath my Advent graphic on my left side I have code that does a Christmas countdown showing how many praying days left.

Below are both a JavaScript and PHP versions.  For WordPress use the PHP version.

JavaScript Version

<!– Christmas Countdown – Jeff Miller–>
<script language=”JavaScript”>
function eventcount() {
var now = new Date();
var message = “”;
var event = new Date(“Dec 25 2013 00:00:01″);
var seconds = (event – now) / 1000;
var minutes = seconds / 60;
var hours = minutes / 60;
var days = hours / 24;
if ( (days%1)<.5)
days++;
days = Math.round(days);
if (hours< 0 && hours >= -24)
message = “Merry Christmas; Christ is born!”;
else if (days > 0)
message = “Only “+days+” praying day”+ (days>1?’s':”)+ ” till Christmas!”;
document.write(“
<p>”+message+”</p>
<p>”);
}
eventcount();
</script>
<!– End Christmas Countdown –>

PHP Versions

<?php function countdown( $event, $month, $day, $year )
{
 // subtract desired date from current date and give an answer in terms of days
 $remain = ceil( ( mktime( 0,0,0,$month,$day,$year ) - time() ) / 86400 );
 // show the number of days left
 if( $remain > 0 )
 {
 print "<p><strong>$remain</strong> more praying days until $event</p>";
 }
 // if the event has arrived, say so!
 else
 {
 print "<p>$Merry Christmas; Christ is born!</p>";
 }
}
// call the function
countdown( "Christmas", 12, 25, 2013 );
?>

Note: PHP version is adapted from here.

Nov 202013
 

small_10808923615The charge by some atheists that “religion is a crutch” is rather common. When I was a atheist I had heard the phrase and instantly agreed with it. It was just so much better to live by pure reason and to know that when you die “that’s all folks.” I would think that to believe otherwise was just pure wish-fulfillment and escapism to deny the simple fact that “life sucks and then you die.” From time to time I would pondere moving from existence to nonexistence. Something both scary and comforting since when you blink out “you” won’t think about it anymore.

Some make the counter-charge that atheism is also a crutch. That and atheistic belief can be comforting and wish-fulfillment in that ultimately there are not consequences to your actions. You never have to repent of your own perceived faults other than what seems to cause external problems in your day-to-day life. This counter-charge might have some truth to it. Although I would suspect that it a rather small factor in atheism. Still I can only judge from what I have experienced. For most of my time as an atheist this charge would have been way off the mark. I held that atheism was true and self-evident and thus this was the purest reason to hold to it. This took a bit of a hit as I grow to realize my myriad faults were something beyond just faults but something even into the territory of sin. Yet “sin” was too theological and I thought surely using reason and will I could overcome those faults that I perceived caused damage in my life. I could overcome these eventually while being able to keep all those faults I liked or thought didn’t really matter.

All of the events that paved the way for me to being open to faith ultimately came down to the reality of sin and working very backward to the reality of God. In this backdoor it is not far to go from the reality of sin to the reality of needing a redeemer. When I read years later G.K. Chesterton’s reply to why he became Catholic “To get rid of my sins.“ I was able to totally relate. During this transition period there was a time as an atheist where I was forcefully clinging to my atheist faith trying to shore it up with atheist books and a dose of Ayn Rand. I realize now just how much I feared leaving atheism behind. I just could not hide out in agnosticism, but I did manage to spend a couple of years on the cusp of faith where I guess I had become a ”cafeteria atheist.” But atheism as a crutch was a valid way to look at this time as I was truly afraid to step forward because I knew I had so much to repent of.

Now “religion as a crutch” is a rather odd crutch. Such a crutch is more like the staff that turned into a snake. The reality of sin and the possibility of Hell is not exactly comforting. So if Catholicism is wish-fulfillment, you’re doing it wrong. Repentance rather sucks and slowly working on all those attachements to disordered things is a day-to-day struggle. Plus when your really start reading Jesus’ words you find that he could never have gotten a job on Madison Avenue. Sayings like “Pick up your cross daily”, “Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect”, and “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” are not exactly Gospel ad copy. If “Turn the other cheek” and blessing those that persecute you is wish fulfillment you need to get out more.

Despite this the joy of knowing Jesus and his love for me strengthens me. Yet I also know that I have many battles before me and most of them battles with my concupiscence – talk about friendly fire. There is also the reality where “religion is a crutch” rings true. When you are unable to walk by yourself a crutch is extremely useful. It isn’t wish-fulfillment to know that you are injured and need aid to help you walk straight. Really the problem in most of my life is that I thought I was walking straight when I was really hobbling along, When I am at my smartest I realize I have to lean on Jesus to move forward and am at my dumbest when I once again forget this and hobble along on my own. The crutch of the matter is really the crux of the matter and it is with carrying that cross that I have a crutch in which to follow Jesus.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Martino™ via photopin cc

Oct 162013
 

From the Pope’s speech Meeting with the Clergy, Consecrated People and Members of the Diocesan Pastoral Councils – Pastoral Visit to Assisi.

It is not enough just to read the Sacred Scriptures, we need to listen to Jesus who speaks in them: it is Jesus himself who speaks in the Scriptures, it is Jesus who speaks in them. We need to be receiving antennas that are tuned into the Word of God, in order to become broadcasting antennas! One receives and transmits. It is the Spirit of God who makes the Scriptures come alive, who makes us understand them deeply and in accord with their authentic and full meaning!

vaticanradio009-1304028458_XL-resized

Vatican Antenna

As a past electronics technician I like the antenna imagery. In this case it would be a duplex antenna being able to receive and transmit. Plus it makes sense regarding the “transmission” of faith. Then efficiency of this Gospel antenna is measure by the ratio of what is faithfully transmitted to what is received from the Church. There can be loss of efficiency due to heat since not proclaiming the truth in a charitable way generates more heat than light. With the Gospel antenna you can expect polarization as Jesus amply warned in Matthew 10. If you are not living a life of faith and then try to transmit it to others, expect transmission line losses. Expect resistance and other impedance losses.

Jul 312013
 


“You see how faith accomplishes a revolution in us, one which we can call Copernican; it removes us from the centre and puts God at the centre; faith immerses us in his love and gives us security, strength, and hope.” Pope Francis – Welcoming ceremony for young people

Even as science marches on we keep having to disprove the theory of Egocentricism* where everything in the universe orbits around us. To learn and relearn that we should revolve around the Son. From our own center God seems so far away that there seems to be no visible parallax. We need a Teleoscope to see final causes and that it is not all about us.

Interesting that in the welcoming ceremony at WYD that the Pope referenced Copernicus who was of course Polish and certainly spent time in Krakow and was where one of the universities he attended was. Bonus that Copernicus was likely a priest or at the minimum had taken minor orders. Although I am sure this was a coincidence and not a hint ahead of time where the next WYD will bee.

  • Certainly ego is an anagram of geo

Photo credit via photopin cc

May 222013
 

Recently having read The Church Building as a Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal by Duncan Stroik I was thinking about how my own views towards architecture that have both changed and stayed the same.

I realize in some ways I strived for an aesthetic that was fueled by my atheism. I use to think all government buildings should be the architectural equivalent of the big box stores. Functional and without a concern for beauty or anything that would add cost for merely appearance sake. Humans really didn’t need all that to do work so why bother. I would also have seen rows and rows of cubicles as an efficient no nonsense design.

Spending many years at sea onboard various aircraft carriers I found my aesthetics pretty much satisfied by the way military ships are designed. Wiring is all visible and the bulkheads and frames of the ship are uniformly haze gray. A design based on ease of maintenance with not other concerns. It also use to annoy me that one area that was not based on practical concerns was the linoleum tiled floors. Although part of this dislike was the time spent mopping and buffing such floors and the idea of making a warship pretty.

Part of my outlook was certainly appreciation of the “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” relativism. Since beauty was totally subjective we should not waste time and money on something so subjective. Yet at the same time I didn’t really believe this. I was forcing this view on myself to match my philosophy. I was committed to moral relativism, but not a relativism towards beauty. When it came to art and architecture I was drawn to beauty and totally frustrated with the lack of it in so much art and architecture. So-called modern art should have appealed to my atheism, but instead it repelled me. I could find many forms of art interesting, but I didn’t equate something being distinctive as being the same as it being beautiful.

Still my more utilitarian mindset wanted to appreciate function over form. That in a universe with no ultimate meaning it was ridiculous to try to bring meaning out of art. If I had known Andy Warhol’s quote “Art is anything you can get away with” I would have appreciated it from the mindset I tried to overlay on my thoughts. Yet time and time again I was drawn to what classically was called beautiful.

It was my conversion that led me to finally drop what I didn’t really believe. I did not have pretend to myself anymore that I preferred the utilitarian or that what I found ugly or what had repulsed me was just my own subjective view. That while there are subjective reactions towards beauty this is not to say that all beauty is purely subjective. It is not that you are as likely to find a painting or photo of a mountain scene than one of a garbage dump.

I remember once my late pastor had told me that often reporters assumed that his parish was the diocesan cathedral. Surely this was because it was the most beautiful church in the diocese created along more traditional lines with a beautiful high altar. What had drawn me to this parish church was it’s beauty. I had found it accidentally when driving when I saw the sign for the book store. When I went inside I was stunned by what I saw and recognized the beauty of it. At the time I had rarely been in a Catholic church and certainly not one that couldn’t have doubled as an auditorium. Hollywood also seems to be attracted to the more traditional architecture of Catholic churches in that when you see one in the media it is never of the fan-like auditorium type that unfortunately are so prevalent. They know instinctively what a Catholic church is suppose to look like.

This does make me wonder just how much the loss of the religious sense has contributed to so much utilitarian ugliness that pervades the world? So much art and architecture seems to exist to only glorify the architect or artist. A rebellion against beauty to force a new aesthetic into acceptance. This is understandable to some extent in the secular world, but unfortunately the same is true regarding sacred architecture and art. An attempt seems to be made to divorce themselves from the past instead of building on it. An individualism that creeps into everything yet at the same time an ugly sameness. Aesthetic relativism does not led to people arguing over what is more beautiful, but a destruction of the beautiful.

May 072013
 

Angels and Saints at Ephesus from the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles is now available. This is the followup album to their wonderful Advent at Ephesus.

Thanks to Carmel Communications I have two copies of the album to give away.

Rules are simple:

  • Leave a comment on this post with a valid email between now and midnight on Sunday.

I will then randomly select two winners with the results posted next Monday. Winners will be contacted so that the CD can be mailed to them.

  1. Dear Angel Ever At My Side
  2. Ave Regina Cælorum
  3. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
  4. Christe Sanctorum
  5. Duo Seraphim
  6. Virgin Wholly Marvellous
  7. Est Secretum
  8. Lorica of St. Patrick
  9. O Deus Ego Amo Te
  10. Emicat Meridies
  11. O God of Loveliness
  12. Læta Quies
  13. A Rose Unpetalled
  14. Jesu Dulcis Memoria
  15. Te Joseph Celebrent
  16. Jesu Corona Virginum
  17. Veritas Mea