Dear Neighbor

My representative in Congress sent me a letter. I respond in this post, a response I never sent to him since I don’t think he would read it or would it make a wit of difference.


Dear Honorable Congressman Gerry Connolly,

Thank you for your letter. I was somewhat surprised to see it. To be honest, I harbor serious doubt about your intention to reach out and address my concerns. Once upon a time I was somewhat active in communicating my thoughts to my representatives but that has more or less ended. My queries have not been answered, my concerns have not been addressed, and those in power appear to answer to no one. I took a great deal of time to write this response if for only therapeutic reasons; but if you are seriously concerned, you will read it.

Congressman, it is much, much worse than just a lack of cooperation, civility, common ground, or common sense at the highest levels of leadership and governance that you wrote about in your letter. And it is more tragic still that many of our problems have simple and elegant solutions. But that does not matter to a people that just want what they want—truth, law, rights, civility and all celestial beings be damned. And what the people want—you give them—not in a spirit of cooperation and progress toward an objective truth—but in a spirit of expediency and self-interest. Like Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth, our uncontrolled passions will lead us to our tragic demise. And rather than lead, our leaders simply follow.

I can go on how disappointed I am with the policies and edicts emitted by all three branches of our government—the three branches that are to check and balance each other as our forefathers designed and not the three ring circus it has become.  But instead I will give you a prescription and how you can unilaterally begin to remedy these Divided States of America—if you care. Here they are:

Build Trust

The Speed of Trust is a book by Stephen M. R. Covey that reveals how companies that create and maintain a high trust environment accomplish their business goals and mission with speed and efficiency. Low trust environments suffer a “tax” and are wrought with problems—little gets done and not without copious time, money, argument, back-biting, and lawyers. In the extreme case, growth stagnates and the company dwindles out of the market.

Obviously, the intended audience of the book is business executives but the same principles can apply to you, Congress and the United States. The political environment of trust is so low that the whole institution has come to a grinding halt—nothing gets done and we are destined to go out of business both bankrupt and destitute.

And you, Congressman, are as much a part of the problem as anyone. The last time you were up for re-election I read your entry in our local voter’s guide. Amazingly, you actually started out blaming the opposition party. Seriously? You actually wrote, reviewed, edited, and published those words—in the voter’s guide? Do you think we’ve had enough of this puerility? In so doing you violated the first and foremost duty of building trust belonging to you and all your associates on Capitol Hill. I will argue that this is more injurious to the country than an act of terror because it creates the spirit of division whereas the tragic events of 9/11 at least brought us together. And if this offends you—I apologize but I want you to see it vividly.

To remedy this problem, you must begin to build trust with those you work with to get things done; this is the number one task of all members of our leadership. Set a policy for yourself that you will never bad-mouth your political opponents or their policies in public, private or in the solitude of your heart. Condemn the lampooning that routinely happens on late night comedy shticks and any politician, candidate or president who appears on them for political ends. Vow never to suggest the hint of a negative reply on a news interview or pundit hour when it comes to ideas contrary to your own. Instead, find and reveal the merits in opposing ideas (do it!) but then suggest why you think your ideas are even better. Be absolutely resolute in your unilateral adherence to this policy so much so that those around you take notice and begin to guard their own faculties. Be evangelical about this policy and insist that those who work for you adopt it—and fire them when they violate it.  I know that over time the yeast of this policy will propagate through congress and things will begin to miraculously change. Trust will begin to accelerate, bloom, and things will get done efficiently, perhaps with nothing more than a handshake.

Provide High Entropy Output

When most people talk of entropy, they think of thermodynamics and the amount of disassociation in matter: the entropy of water vapor is higher than that of ice at the triple point. But I am not talking about thermodynamics; I am talking about entropy as used in information science.

If you lived in the desert and I were to give you a daily weather report, you would expect to hear that the forecast would be hot, dry, and sunny. Sure enough, day after day I report to you that the weather will be hot, dry, and sunny. And after a hundred such reports, you’d stop listening because the entropy of the reporting is effectively zero—the reports don’t tell you anything that you don’t already know or cannot readily predict.

But imagine your reaction when I report one day that the temperature will drop precipitously, clouds will roll in and rain will soak the parched earth for the next three weeks. The desert will bloom with flowers; wildlife will return to create a new eco-system, and the lion will lie down with the lamb. This is extremely high entropy information. It tells you something altogether new and unpredictable.

In today’s world with today’s government, all the news is low-entropy. I already know, Congressman, how you feel about an issue, what stance you will take on a topic, how you feel about your colleagues, and what you will say in public. You and all your colleagues are so predictable that in the future all of Congress may be replaced with a simple, low memory LUT (look up table).

Is it possible for you to publicly agree with statements of a political enemy or denounce the actions of a member of your own party on some issue—and provide high entropy output? Start finding ways to do that and don’t be so predictable along party lines. This will start to build trust and constituents may think there is a point to voicing concerns to independent-minded representatives. Clouds will roll in, rain will fall, the desert will bloom and the public may start believing in you.

Uphold the Rule of Law

Of all the issues haunting the headlines—terror attacks, police brutality, civil rights, foreign policy, cyber intrusion—the one the I am most concerned with is the disregard for the rule of law. Why? The rule of law is the substrate of this country—not a royal dynasty, not authoritarian power, not perceived rights. Start chipping away at this foundation and we won’t have a country very long:

  • You would be screaming like a banshee at the caliber of executive orders emitted by the current president if performed by a president of the opposing party. I am really trying to understand how one man in an oval office can change the fabric of MY life with the stroke of a pen without debate or due process in a country called The Greatest Democracy in the World. This is authoritarian rule by any other name and you say and do nothing? Now is the time to act with high entropy and not when the opposing party takes power and does the same thing—and they will. And you will scream like a banshee but no one will listen to your low-entropy, wolf-crying output.
  • When the supreme court decides an issue on a 4-4 or 4-5 split, it tells me that the rule of law as a boundary condition has already been erased. If those skilled in understanding the objective intent of the Constitution simply go ahead and vote their political leaning anyway, it is already a harbinger of doom.
  • If I were to routinely mishandle classified information, fail to pay taxes, drive while intoxicated, solicit the services of a prostitute, marry multiple women, misuse public property, syphon public funds to enrich myself or cut in line at the airport—I’d be in big trouble. But when secretaries of states, presidential nominees, senators, congressmen and those in power do worse with impunity often to the detriment of our national security, you remain silent. So why should you expect anyone to comply with the laws you pass if you and your colleagues are above it all? And you wonder why people do not believe in government? We have many laws—not because we are a lawful people—but because we are a country of lawlessness. And adding more laws will not change the culture.
  • The three branches of government have blown the balance of power. The judicial branch legislates, the executive branch adjudicates (by judiciously choosing which laws they wish to enforce), while the legislative branch masturbates. Time for a civics lesson refresh—for all members of Congress. Start by a daily reading from the U.S. Constitution.

The prescription is obvious—insist on the rule of law at all levels and every member of government. Every legislator, judge, president and cabinet member should be beyond reproach when it comes to the application of the law. And you and your colleagues must be stark fundamentalists on the issue.

Apt for this section is a quote from Peter Hitchens in his book Rage Against God. It talks about the character of Saint Thomas More, patron saint of our diocese, and the importance of the rule of law:

In their utter reverence for oaths, men of [Sir Thomas] More’s era were … as superior to us as the builder of Chartres Cathedral were to the builders of shopping malls. Our ancestors’ undisturbed faith gave them a far closer, healthier relation to the truth – and so to beauty – than we have.  Without a belief in God and the soul, where is the oath? Without the oath, where is the obligation or the pressure to fulfill it? Where is the law that even kings must obey? Where is Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus or the Bill of Rights, all of which arose out of attempts to rule by lawless tyranny? Where is the lifelong fidelity of husband and wife? Where is the safety of the innocent child growing in the womb? Where, in the end, is the safety of any of us from those currently bigger and stronger than we are?

Don’t vote your conscience

Over and over again we hear of politicians that vote/follow their conscience as if that were the highest good. Once again this is low-entropy output for who doesn’t follow their conscience? Hitler, Stalin and Judas followed their conscience. Your political opponents follow their conscience and yet their conscience and your conscience or at odds. Do you see the problem?

Did it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, your conscience is not the gold standard? What has so shaped your conscience that it is superlative to those around you? Don’t vote your conscience but rather vote your Constitution because that what you vowed to do (the oath). Then vote your Constituency because that is who you vowed to represent (with an oath). Then maybe vote your conscience but only after a deep examination of it. Then go to Confession. Then in the end, with it so well formed and all other steps exhausted, vote your conscience.

Eat your own dog food

Those who work in the field of software engineering are familiar with the phrase “eating your own dog food” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eat_your_own_dog_food). For example, if a company creates word processing software, one would expect that the company would do all its own word processing using the software they created. Or, if a company created a search engine, would mandate that all employees use the search engine in their day to day activities. How would you feel about Microsoft Word if the employees at Microsoft used OpenOffice (created by Sun Oracle) or if Google used Bing (a Microsoft product) as their desktop search engine? What if all the desktop computers at Microsoft’s headquarters were running Linux —what would that say about their flagship operating system, Windows?

Maybe you see the logic: by subjecting the software engineers to be the end users, the quality of the software increases.  Since they use the software frequently in various ways and must rely on it as would you and I, they know what works, what doesn’t, what should be added, and what should be removed, well before it hits the street. Result: higher quality software and steady revenue.

I bring this up to suggest that you adopt the same policy when it comes to lawmaking. In this instance, congressional members and their immediate families would be subject to the base implementation of the laws they pass for as long as they live or as long as the law exists. For example:

  • Taxation – all members of congress must comply with income tax laws without use of a consultant or tax preparer or attorneys. Members must do their own taxes by hand or use commercially available consumer grade software. Tax returns will be subject to a mandatory audit.  Members will be subject to fines, penalties and/or jail for incorrect tax returns.
  • Security –  all members and their families traveling by plane will be subject to both an X-radiation scan and a pat down by TSA officials every time they travel through U.S. airports.
  • Crime – any politician found guilty of breaking the law will receive the maximum penalty for the infraction that is prescribed by the law. No more reprimands, get out of jail free cards, or passes on tax evasion. No presidential pardons.
  • Federal budget –failure to pass a budget automatically puts every seat in government to be immediately up for re-election. I predict you will never fail to pass a budget.

The same motivation applies here as it does in software engineering: increased quality and with great speed. Such a policy would transform an “aware” Congress to an “affected” Congress. And you can expect a more rational approach to taxation, security, crime and budgeting when you and your colleagues must suffer under the same lash of the law.

Congressman, if you (and not a staffer) have read this lengthy response, I thank you. But like rainfall in the desert, I am not expecting it. In any event the people will succeed if our leadership succeeds and I wish you all the best.

Sincerely, your constituent

Tribunal

From the outside, the Catholic Church seems overtly judgmental, especially when you combine it with Hollywood’s skewed representation of its history and clergy. But from a policy point of view, the Catholic Church is far less judgmental than depicted—in fact far less judgmental than just about any institution, political or religious. The Church may, on rare occasion, excommunicate someone but the act is intended to bring the person back into the fold, and prevent a final judgment that leads to damnation. The vast majority of moral judgments are not made by the authority of the Church but by the individual. That’s right—we are to judge ourselves before God while the Church simply trusts that you will judge yourself thoroughly in the light of Church teaching and a carefully examined conscience.

When I go to Mass, no one stands at the door waiting with a spiritual body wand and interrogates me to determine if I am sufficiently pre-disposed to participate in the sacred ritual. When we begin Mass with the Penitent Rite it is I, not the priest or anyone else, who am to examine myself, recollect my sins, acknowledge them, and repent. When I receive communion, no one withholds the bread from me as a summary judgement. If I am in a state of unconfessed mortal sin and willingly received communion against church teaching, it’s my eternity on the line—not the priests, not the pope, not the guy behind me.

No one makes me go to confession or scour my mind to make sure I have confessed all my wrongdoing—confession is not tribunal. I am to examine my own conscience. I am to make the unilateral decision to go to confession and to continually amend my life in the process of salvation. The Church merely provides the sacrament of confession for me to use.

The Church may canonize saints and determine them to be in the beatific presence of God. But they will never canonize an individual to the depths of hell no matter how reprobate, heretical, or heinous their earthly life.  That judgment belongs to God. The Church body is to pray for the deceased regardless, not assuming they went to heaven nor assuming they went to hell. Compare that to the typical Protestant funeral where everyone makes the assumption they went straight to paradise or avoid the idea that the individual was never saved and ended up you-know-where. It’s all buttered over because the alternative is to renounce key doctrines of the Reformation—salvation through grace alone or the non-existence of purgatory. And sadly, praying for the dead—a source of solace for the bereaved—is discarded in those traditions.

I am often asked by Bible Christians why the Church doesn’t excommunicate or expel Catholic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Biden, Tim Kaine, or Mario Cuomo—politicians who support policies that protect the abortion industry knowing that abortion is a mortal sin in the teaching of the Church and those who facilitate it are also culpable.  For the reasons mentioned above, these politicians who know (or should know) Church teaching and go ahead and disobey it or circumvent it willingly and continue to participate in the sacramental life of the Church may be heaping judgment on themselves in the ultimately analysis. But that is not the prerogative of the Church even after such people pass into the next life. The Church mission is to continue to bring everyone to repentance through moral teaching and the ministry of the sacraments. The decision to excommunicate such politicians publicly would be counter-productive anyway: it would likely alienate the individual and be distorted by the media to vilify the “intolerant” Church.

As a final note, late last year, the daughter of an ENT doctor that has often cared for our family passed away. She was a young woman in her thirties and needless to say, her passing was a tragedy— no parent should have to bury their child. The same beloved doctor was also a patient of my parish priest who put the young woman in our bulletin and mentioned her by name at the Mass during the prayer of the faithful. When she passed away, the repose for her soul was also sought during the Sunday Mass—all par for the Catholic course.

Now once upon a time, the idea of praying for the dead would have seemed strange and non-Biblical. But even as a newly minted Catholic assenting to the teachings of the Church, praying for a woman who, as far as anyone knew, died an unbaptized Muslim, seemed wrong to me. Admittedly, a remnant of Bible Christianity was hanging onto my thinking which adhered to the old binary decision: trusted in Jesus? Heaven; did not trust in Jesus? Hell.  Ne-e-e-xt!

And this is the summary metric many Bible Christians use to judge themselves—“because I trusted in Jesus at some point in time, I KNOW that I am going to heaven!” I know? I know? I think it is more accurate to say “I presume” if you say anything, but only God KNOWS. Although we are to continually judge ourselves in the light of Church teaching, the final judgement is not ours—it is God’s.

In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Do you say “Lord, Lord” in the current life? Then this verse should terrify you. It does me, along with Luke 13:22-30 which talks about making every effort to enter through the narrow gate. You will notice that this comports with the doctrine of salvation through grace and works. It never really says to sit down and convince yourself that you are saved once and for all and repeat it over and over again until you and everyone around you are solidly convinced. From a Catholic perspective that’s extremely dangerous—and, oddly, many an American Catholic believes it [As one put it, many American Catholics are no more than Calvinists that go to Mass]. About the most one might deign to hope for is a slot in purgatory and making every effort to enter into that narrow gate as commanded by the Creator of the Universe. I pray that my friends, family and readers embrace this timeless, very Biblical, teaching of the Church. And it is good to know that when you pass on to the next life, the Church militant continues to pray for you.

Eventually I asked my parish priest about our prayers for the young Muslim woman. He reminded me that it was arrogant to assume that the only people in heaven are Catholic. Really! Was he repudiating the teaching of the one true holy, catholic and apostolic Church? On the contrary, he was upholding it. Now maybe heaven is populated with only Catholics—but it is not our place to presume or decide—it is the decision of the final Judge. And we are not to be judgmental about the souls in the hereafter, but faithful in our spiritual duty here on Earth—and making every effort ourselves to enter through the narrow gate.

Mass Tourism V

Visiting Our Lady of the Seas again in the Outer Banks, the place of the first Mass Tourism post. In terms of architecture, the building has a nice simplicity to it with a wooden interior and a beautiful view of the sound above the altar.  It’s stained glass and theme on things related to the beach is a bit much, almost as if it were a vacation rental—which in some ways it is.

The last time I came was on the Saturday vigil, probably during the off season. It was way less formal than that which I am accustomed but I was expecting it to be. This time was on a Sunday morning and I found the church to be packed with people, likely from out of town looking at the license plates in the parking lot. With black jeans and red collared oxford shirt, I was possibly over dressed given that the standard was shorts, t-shirts, and tennis shoes.

Two things made me cringe: the women in front of me taking flash photos of the front during the Mass—no shame, no reverence; I exhaled audibly in exasperation to get my subtle message across. The second was when the priest was preaching the homily using a telephone as a prop for his message on prayer. Not that I object to the visual except that he placed it on the altar as if it were his office desk.  For those who don’t know, the altar is suppose to be a sacred object consecrated and sometimes holding the relics of the patron saint of the church–(although this one had a crashing wave theme to it which made it hard to take too seriously–still.)

I was thinking of retaliating as an orthodox “troll”, and say all the responsorials in Latin really loud so that everyone around me could hear and be totally annoyed.

Ite Missa Est.

Deo Gratias

The Tale of a Tiny Ship

New_UK_Polar_Research_Vessel_Concept_Art

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip… that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship”

Many of my generation will immediately recognize this timeless ballad introducing all connoisseurs of high culture to the asinine antics of Gilligan’s Island, a television show of the late 1960’s held in the highest esteem—America’s contribution to the mindless decline of Western civilization. I have watched every episode at least two hundred times.

But for the purposes of this essay, the ballad is the song of another fateful trip aboard another tiny ship. The trip I speak of is that fateful experiment of “government by the people” known loosely as democracy. The overarching premise is that people know what’s best for them and are rational to make good choices when it comes to policy and governance. The image is of an informed citizenry daily drinking from the fountains of knowledge, in pensive reflection, engaging in the marketplace of ideas, utilizing the Socratic method, logic, rhetoric, and wearing all-natural togas—activities vectoring to an objective and absolute truth of which we all agree. But the reality is more of a drunken public mob raving for gladiatorial games, more bread and more circuses.

And the tiny ship?

The British government, despite centuries of tradition to draw from, discovered once again why they remain one of the few monarchies left in Europe. A new 300 million (USD) sea-going research ship needed a name and, rather than draft one from Britain’s annals of human achievement, outsourced the task to the “wisdom of the crowd” also known as the Internet. The result was a name so august, so laudatory, so appropriate for a vessel venturing into the deep waters of scientific progress—a name so breathtaking, we christen and proclaim….

[Enter with Pomp and Circumstance, heraldry, cavalcade, prancing men in tights, pointy hats, pageantry]

“We christen thee in the name of the queen, St. George and St. Michael: the Royal Research Ship (RRS) Boaty McBoatface!”

That’s right, the elected name by a large margin was Boaty McBoatface. Boaty McBoatface! Fortunately, the organizers said no to the choice and have subsequently named the vessel RSS Sir David Attenborough for better or worse.  Of course in the “spirit of democracy” the mob petitioned the organizers to change it back—in the spirit of democracy. I don’t think they quite grasp the spirit of democracy.

If this were not enough to speak to the fact that democracy by an uninformed, pornographic mob is an unmitigated disaster we now bring you to the Republican and Democrat nominations of this election cycle. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the major party nominees. Is this the best we can do? Seriously? Can we have that monarchy back please?

Now there is always the write-in candidate and of course my choice will be none other than the valiant and stout Boaty McBoatface. 124,109 people can’t be wrong.

Or can they?

Mass Tourism IV

See introduction to Mass Tourism here.

Not on vacation or a week away, I decided to “tour” a few local parishes. In the first case, the time slot of my usual novus ordo Solemn Latin Mass was being used for first Holy Communion in English. Since it was mostly going to be a family affair, I decided to go to St. John the Beloved in McLean to participate in the Traditional Latin Mass—the “extraordinary form” that had been celebrated for four centuries between the Council of Trent and Vatican II, after which it was relegated to seldom use in a season of “renewal”. Ironically, these liturgical changes were enacted November 29 1964—the start of the liturgical year that I was born. After studying the TLM in my Latin class, I am prone to believe that “promoting” the TLM was a big mistake. Fortunately, there are a number of priest and parishes in Northern Virginia that are authorized to celebrate it and I am increasingly prone to take advantage of it.

You can imagine the paucity of people attending the service marked by many women wearing mantillas.  In the two times I went to TLM before I was totally lost but this time I had with me my Kindle which this time had a copy of the pre Vatican II 1962 edition of the Roman Missal. Smug mode. I found the Pentecost Sunday pertaining and I was able to follow along—and now the secret is out. Also, the novus ordo had prepared me for many of the responses and I actually felt like I had participated when it was all done. Smug mode plus.

On the second occasion of tourism, I visited Holy Trinity in Gainesville after work late on Friday in which Mass is occasionally celebrated.  This is a new church with a very unusual architecture—not modern by any means but not the ornate gothic structures of central Europe. I recall reading somewhere that it was based on early English (I suppose before Henry VIII) influence. I recommend a look inside.

The Mass was like most abbreviated weekday versions. The opening verses and responses I could not identify (maybe Angelus). Some of the responses were sung in Latin, e.g. Sanctus, Agnus Dei, which I happen to know. Smug mode thrice. Two things stood out on this occasion: the communion host was provided intinctured which means the priest dips it in the wine before giving it to the communicant. This means I wasn’t going to take it by the hand as I am most comfortable doing.  Fortunately, I did not mess it up and all went well.

The other event involved a 3-year old boy writhing about so much that his mom carried him to a nearby fenestrated room likely designed for such occasions. At some point I heard/felt this massive thud wave-propagate through the stone floor. Was that? Yes, the lad had writhed about so much he landed on his large float-away head which, apparently, went over like a lead balloon. The wailing and screaming soon followed making a few people cringe—that must’ve hurt bad, really, really bad. My head hurt just thinking about it.

At any rate, I am likely to visit these two parishes again in the future. Both celebrate the TLM at some point in their week and I may want to check out Holy Trinity if occasion permits.

Ite Missa est.

Sign of the Cross (Signum Crucis)

Why do Catholics Cross Themselves?

One of the most visible signs of one’s Catholicism is “making the sign of the Cross”. At the funeral of my wife’s beloved Aunt Carol, the non-denominational pastor happened to open his comments at the memorial “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”. Almost as a reflex, another guest and I made the Sign of the Cross. I was willing to bet the other guy was Catholic.

The Sign of the Cross (signum crucis) is such a visible emblem of one’s faith (generally Roman Catholic) it is readily recognized by society. Movies use it to depict a character’s fear, a transition to death, the religious faith of a villain (Chappy had the antagonist cross himself for no other reason to take a cheap shot at Christians, particularly Catholics), spiritual warfare and so forth. Soccer players are always crossing themselves entering the pitch, leaving the pitch, scoring a goal, missing a goal, or saving a goal. Or being fouled. Or being red-carded…

Anyhoo, why gesture the sign of the cross? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2157  The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.

OK but is this Biblical?

What’s interesting about the sign of the Cross is how much it reflects in the Bible—both Old and New Testament. Signs and marks of a spiritual nature appear as early in the Bible as Genesis 4 when Cain was made to be a wanderer after the murder of Abel:

And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod east of Eden.

Later we see a mark put on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt on the night of the Passover. Then there is the infamous Mark of the Beast told in Revelation, sensationalized in a number of prophecy fiction books and movies:

13:16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.

From this passage, many an author has conjured that in a future dystopia, men and women will be tattooed with a universal bar code on their hands or foreheads, or injected with a subcutaneous microchip and monitored with global positioning. What those writers don’t realize apart from the ludicrous interpretation is the mark on the forehead or hand originated—not in Revelation with the Beast—in Deuteronomy 6 with the Law:

6 And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

These were idiomatic statements, not to bind them literally on your body but to meditate on them with your mind (believed resident between your eyes) and do them in deed (thus binding them on your hand).  It wasn’t enough to believe in the Word of the Lord, it had to be part of the fabric of one’s life in deed, speech, and thought (uh—sounds also a lot like that other paradigm shift, Salvation through Faith and Works, but we won’t go there).

In such instances, God marks his own as we see in Ezekiel during the events leading up to the Babylonian captivity. Ironically, it was the wicked that were carted off to Babylon while the righteous were marked off, protected and “left behind”:

Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherubim on which it rested to the threshold of the house; and he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his side. 4And the LORD said to him, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and kill; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; 6 slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.

We see a similar act in Revelation:

7  After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.

The passage goes on to describe those sealed from every tribe and nation, clothed in white robes symbolizing the seal of Christian baptism. In the early days of Christianity, the baptized would cross themselves on the forehead in conformity with the directives of Scripture in which those chosen are sealed thereupon. Even today, before the Gospel is read at Mass, congregants will cross themselves with an “+” on their forehead, an “+” on their lips, and an “+” on their heart so that God’s Word would be always on their mind, always in their speech, and always in their heart. This has evolved to be the sign of the cross often executed when someone enters the sanctuary, hears the trinity, ward off evil or play a game of soccer.

Joseph Ratzinger was already well known as the premier Catholic theologian before he became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. In his book, “Spirit of the Liturgy” he talks about the sign of the cross which is worth quoting:

To seal oneself with the sign of the Cross is a visible and public Yes to him who suffered for us; to him who in the body has made God’s love visible, even to the utmost; to the God who reigns not by destruction but by the humility of suffering and love, which is stronger than all the power of the world and wiser than all the calculating intelligence of men. The sign of the Cross is a confession of faith: I believe in him who suffered for me and rose again; in him who has transformed the sign of shame into a sign of hope and of the love of God that is present with us. The confession of faith is a confession of hope: I believe in him who in his weakness is the Almighty; in him who can and will save me even in apparent absence and impotence. By signing ourselves with the Cross, we place ourselves under the protection of the Cross, hold it in front of us like a shield that will guard us in all the distress of daily life and give us the courage to go on. We accept it as a signpost that we follow: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). The Cross shows us the road of life—the imitation of Christ.

With so much tradition, meaning and Biblical reflection behind the sign of the cross, with immediate recognition by a fallen society, knowing that God marks his own, the question is not why do Catholics do so, but why do other Christians neglect the practice?

Regina Caeli (Queen of Heaven)

If you’ve been reading the paradigm shift series, particularly on topics of Marian Theology, and if I am persuasive, you may concede some Catholic points: maybe it’s fine to venerate Mary; and maybe she should be rightfully called Mother of God; maybe Jesus draws his human nature from The Virgin. And maybe she can intercede on our behalf as part of the communion of saints—maybe.

But Queen of Heaven?

This is where Protestants think that Catholics have stepped over the line, believing this title equates Mary to the likes of Juno, Hera, Frija, and other consorts of the old pagan gods.  But the notion of Mary as the Queen of Heaven is not extra-biblical nor something cooked up in the imagination of the medieval Catholic mind. Not only is it a logical conclusion to be drawn from widely accepted Christian theology, but quite Biblical and not in some misfit deuterocanonical book.

The first thing to learn about the title “queen” is what it meant in the ancient Near East, particularly in the Davidic lineage. Unlike the European monarchies which are most familiar to us, the queen was not the one and only wife of the king, but the mother of the king. Why? Because the practice at the time was polygamy and the king had many, many wives and so many, many “queens”.

In fact, the wives of the king, also called a harem, was something of sign of one’s kingship. We see this in the Bible, particularly in 2 Samuel 16 after Absalom usurps power. What does he do to signify his new status? He avails himself of the remaining portion of the harem of the palace and does so in full view of Israel. We also see a prototype of this in Genesis where Noah’s son, Ham, sleeps with Noah’s wife (and Ham’s mother) as a play for power. The fruit of that illicit union was Canaan. Ever wonder why he was cursed (Gen 9:25) or why Canaan is mentioned with the other sons (Gen 9:18)? This passage about nakedness was a euphemism for sexual relations, not about nudity. And let’s not forget about the countless wives king Solomon amassed as a matter of political maneuvering (and against Mosaic Law at any rate).

The queen (or more precisely the Queen Mother or Dowager Queen) on the other hand, was the mother of the king and one of the most powerful position next to the king himself. This is also evident in the Bible. The mother of king Solomon, Queen Bathesheba had special deference from and special access to the king as illustrated in 1 King 2 regarding the intrigue of Adonijah.

Perhaps for this reason, whenever a king is introduced to the historical narrative, the queen mother is also introduced. After Solomon’s reign we are introduced to a sequence of kings in the divided kingdom starting with Jeroboam in Israel and Rehoboam in Judea. And often with every introduction of the king, we see the king’s mother introduced as well:

1 Kings 11:26 Jerobo’am the son of Ne’bat, an E’phraimite of Zer’edah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeru’ah, a widow, …

1 Kings 14:21 Now Rehobo’am the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the LORD had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. His mother’s name was Na’amah the Am’monitess.

1 Kings 15:1 Now in the eighteenth year of King Jerobo’am the son of Ne’bat, Abi’jam began to reign over Judah. 2He reigned for three years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Ma’acah the daughter of Abish’alom.

1 Kings 15:9 In the twentieth year of Jerobo’am king of Israel Asa began to reign over Judah, and he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Ma’acah the daughter of Abish’alom.

Whoa, was this lady the mother of her grandson too?  Here we see another example of incest. So powerful was the queen, certain women held on to it for as long as they could, apparently. Here’s another at the end of 1 Kings:

1 Kings 22:41 Jehosh’aphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of A’hab king of Israel. 42Jehosh’aphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azu’bah the daughter of Shilhi.

We see this pattern appear many times and at the end of 2 Kings where we introduce the last kings just before the Babylonian captivity.

2 Kings 24:8 Jehoi’achin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehush’ta the daughter of Elna’than of Jerusalem.

2 Kings 24: 18 Zedeki’ah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamu’tal the daughter of Jeremi’ah of Libnah.

And in the lineup of the exiles out of Judea we see the mother mentioned in the pecking order second to the king himself.

2 Kings 24:12 and Jehoi’achin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his palace officials.

But now we have Jesus, the Lion of Judah, the king of kings, whose kingdom is to have no end. By the same logic, who would be the queen mother in this Davidic dynasty? The Church thinks Mary has this title if you believe she is the Mother of Jesus and, by extrapolation, the Mother of God. Temporally, perhaps that lands her the rightful title of queen mother. But Queen of Heaven?

If the kingdom of God transcends and is not of this world (John 18 36), then in what kingdom would she be queen? If that is not enough we have Revelation 11:19 – 12:

19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. 12 :1 And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. 3And another sign appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. 4His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; 5she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

The argument here is that the mother of the male child caught up to God is Mary and, we might surmise, that this is Mary (prefigured in the Old Testament by the Ark) who appears “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”, appears as a queen. Critics would say that this female figure is not Mary but the Church, the Bride of Christ, and that would be true too—this interpretation meshes with Catholic teaching as well. But like much of scripture there are potentially multiple meanings in each verse, this part of Revelation being such a case.

To a lesser extent, the language of redemption includes such terms as “coheirs”, “judges”, “reign” as well as “children of God” and “a kingdom and holy Priesthood” hinting to a promise that all of us will be nobility in the kingdom of God. If this is orthodox for rank and file Christians, why is the special title of Queen withheld from the woman which all nations are instructed to call blessed?

So one may or may not believe in the Mary Queen of Heaven coronation. The point of this essay is to at least show that the Catholic teaching on the subject is not cut from whole medieval cloth as Protestants would claim. Indeed, there is a lot of biblical basis to support this Catholic claim and at least make the idea plausible.

Paradigm Shift – Prayer and Vain Repetition

The nature of personal and corporate prayer changes significantly when moving toward Catholicism. This Paradigm Shift will examine some of the prayers that Catholics recite and objections non-Catholic Christians raise regarding those prayers.

Prayers offered in evangelical churches are always improvisational and often conclude with some form of the phrase “in the name of Jesus”. I believe this practice derives from the passage John 14:13

Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; 14if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

Prayers in the Catholic Church can also be improvisational but more often the Church draws from its huge tradition to say composed prayers, particularly at Mass, but on just about any occasion.  Catholics don’t typically pray “in the name of Jesus” but more often in Trinitarian form, e.g., “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.

Analysis

Catholic prayers are criticized by Bible Christians as being formulaic, mechanical, extra-Biblical and repetitive—especially the Rosary, labeling it “vain repetition” citing:

Matthew 6:7 And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Some have tried to make Jesus’ words into a universal condemnation of long or repetitious prayers, however, according to Catholic theology, this is not the intent. In ancient times there was a pagan belief that the gods could be controlled by special incantations and the enunciation of the right divine title at the right time. We see this in 1 Kgs 18:25-29 when Elijah stands against the prophets of Baal.

And they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Ba’al from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered.

Elijah mocked them:

“Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

Although the verse above in Matthew condemns vain repetition it does not condemn repetition—in prayer, in worship, in meditation and in other areas. Like it or not, repetition is a large part of life and learning. Without repetition how would we learn the alphabet, words, reading, and for that matter, the Bible. Are not Bible Christians taught to memorize and recite verses of scripture? And how can one accomplish that without repetition? And why is this not vain repetition too?

And why should prayers be any different than verses of Scripture? The Lord himself encourages perseverance in prayer (Luke 11:5-12; 18:1-14), and he himself prays all night (Luke 6:12), and repeats one of the most solemn prayers of his earthly ministry (Mark 14:39-42). And we are exhorted by St. Paul to pray constantly (1Thes 5:17).

So let’s look at the Catholic practice of repetition in prayer, specifically the Rosary, which includes a number of standard prayers often repeated. Is this vain?

More than just a medium of prayers, the Rosary is an educational tool used to pass on the faith, especially at a time when books and literacy were uncommon. The rosary (lower case) refers to the associated prayer beads used to recite the prayers. These beads are grouped into decades and upon each decade, one is to meditate on a particular mystery in the life of Christ and Mary from annunciation, conception, nativity, crucifixion, resurrection and beyond. With four sets of mysteries of five decades each, that’s 20 episodes from the life of Christ (and Mary as part of that life) that Christians are good to meditate upon. Bible Christians might even like the Scriptural Rosary (ca. 1500’s) which recalls a verse of scripture for each bead totaling 150 verses of scripture in the full blown meditation.  In the earliest prototype of the Rosary, monks developed a mechanism with a bag of pebbles to recite the 150 Psalms. Lots of scripture, lots of meditation and to be sure, lots of repetition.

How about the prayers themselves?

The Rosary starts with the sign of the cross—another topic—followed by the Apostles Creed. This creed is an old prayer not found in the Bible but few Protestant denominations object to it. Many even recite it in their church services even though it uses the adjective “catholic” which they take to mean “universal” in the lower case.

Then the Lord’s Prayer is said at the beginning of each decade—still no objection other than what words are to be used for “debts” or “trespasses”—not a game changer.

Then the Hail Mary which is the most repeated prayer of the Rosary and one that Protestants object to a great deal. But the first part (“Hail Mary full of grace…”) is straight from the Bible in the gospel of Luke—so why object to it? The second part was added in the Middle ages (“Holy Mary Mother of God….”) which is only objectionable if one does not believe in the communion of saints or intercessory prayer (See Paradigm Shift on the Communion of Saints)

Then the Glory Be which was a prayer composed by the ultimate Bible scholar of all time, St. Jerome. This prayer is Trinitarian and should not be objected to by Protestants.

Finally, not always but often, the Fatima Prayer which is directed to Jesus Himself. Although stridently Catholic, no one should be offended by a prayer to keep one and others out of the fires of Hell. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

To conclude the Rosary is the Salve Regina (not repeated) which would cause Bible Christians to recoil in horror. This is a prayer to Mary, Queen of Heaven, which is another topic altogether.  Obviously the requirement would have us believe that Mary is the Queen of Heaven and why Catholics believe it so. And yes, it is Biblical.

So understanding what Jesus was saying when he was talking about “vain repetition” is important and that repetition itself is not condemned. Then understanding the origins and nature of Catholic prayers is also important to dispel false perceptions of Catholic teaching.

 

Paradigm Shift – Cult of Personality

This paradigm shift discusses personality and how much it shapes a denomination or church.

In many Protestant churches, particularly non-denominational or Bible churches, the influence of a singular personality on the church and its members is pretty high. Because preaching is so central to many of these communities, it figures that the experiences, characteristics and charisma of the one doing the preaching becomes the identity of the church itself. It is not uncommon for one to attend such a church solely to hear the preacher preach.

Some of these charismatic leaders become superstar televangelists like Joel Olsteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, Joseph Prince, Jim & Tammy Bakker and many others who go on to establish mega-churches, mega-ministries and, to be sure, mega-corporations. Frequently, these become family dynasties that the second generation usually bungles. At any rate, the existence of the church is tied to the existence of the pastor and when the latter retires, dies, or gets caught in a sex scandal, the church and its members fade away like lilies in the field.

As far as television personalities that are Catholic and could be described as televangelists, I can only think of two: Bishop Fulton Sheen who pioneered using television to spread the Gospel from 1951-57 and Mother Angelica who started the EWTN network in the 1970’s. The former eventually became archbishop and is posthumously venerated en route to beatification; the latter was a wimple-wearing nun who recently died after a decade of health problems, and most of the shows on EWTN do not feature her; she too will likely be venerated.

Generally speaking, the Catholic Church doesn’t feature preaching as much as it features the Mass which features Jesus Christ more than anyone. The celebrant priest wears a chasuble over a number of other vestments during Mass—not to look impressive – but to “cloak” his individual identity and become more of what the church terms the alter christus (another Christ). This is why only men are ordained in the Catholic Church and why priests are suitably unmarried and celibate. That is why the congregation stands when the priest stands up during Mass—to defer and honor the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why the priest reads the Gospel passages which represent the preaching of Jesus Himself. That is why only he presides over the liturgy of the Eucharist and intones the words of the Last Supper as Jesus did (and does) at the institution of the New Covenant. And most all the words of the liturgy are pre-arranged for a three-year cycle so that any priest anywhere is doing pretty much the same thing—and it is never to be varied or personalized. No!

In addition, there is a general directive for those attending the Mass not to stand out in any way but to strive to become one in unity during the Rite. To maintain this unity, responses and gestures of the faithful are prescribed to a large degree: one should bow only with the head when receiving communion, knell after the Sanctus, stand after the great Amen, say the responsorial, pray the Our Father, kneel again after the Agnus Dei, etc., etc. —and always together. When music is performed for the Mass, there is to be no applause because it is not performance or an exhibition of talent.  It is void of personality so that Jesus becomes the personality from start to finish.

 

Thinking in Latin

The official language of the Catholic Church is Latin. On the face of it, this seems rather quaint and, like Church teachings, a relic of the past emblematic of an irrelevant and outmoded institution. Indeed, as many are wont to believe, Latin is a dead language befitting a dead Church.

I routinely attend the novus ordo Solemn Latin Mass at my parish. Dead or alive, the Latin adds to the beauty and art of the sacred rite and I love it so much that I have committed to memory the Latin liturgical formulas, the major Catholic prayers, Vulgate scripture and a few motets. I also take a Latin class every Saturday morning. But aside from this bizarre personal proclivity, why is Latin important?

Why is any language important? Language is not only relevant to the manner in which thought is expressed but also how thoughts are shaped in our minds. Even today as progressives try to eliminate the use of the feminine and masculine pronouns of our language to blur gender lines, language is used to shape society. Some words are even being outlawed. Language can add to the beauty of a culture or take away from it. Language can be used to elegantly express a concept or create a blind spot as we often hear of a word in one language that has no direct translation in our own.

Sociologically, language can unify and divide. Remember the Tower of Babel? The subsequent division in people was a side effect of the division of language. What about the reverse—Pentecost? The Church was born upon the unions of disparate peoples hearing their native language. The preservation of language is a preservation of a people and their culture. There is a reason Denmark, Iceland, France, and Japan go to great lengths to preserve their language from the onslaught of foreign languages, particularly English. What about the reverse—the United States that refuses to even recognize an official language? Let’s not think upon that …

At any rate, Latin is not a dead language. We find it latent in English when we say “vulnerable” (L. wound) or “nautical” (L. sailor). We find it explicitly in words like “et cetera”, “alma mater”, and “pro bono”. Ever wonder why the abbreviation for pound is lb.? It is short for libra, the Latin word for scale. Latin is used in the fields of law, science, botany, taxonomy and medicine. It is incredibly instructive in terms of grammar and smart parents make their kids learn Latin. At least for many centuries, Latin was the language of the academy and many a great paper by the likes of Aquinas, Newton or Copernicus were written in Latin to communicate science to an educated world. Thomas More, an Englishman of the 16th century, corresponded with Erasmus of Rotterdam, a Dutchman, using Latin though neither was familiar with the others native tongue. Thomas more could also vilify and insult Martin Luther in Latin, which he did quite generously.

As the language of the Church, Latin has been helpful in shaping theological concepts that English may have difficulty expressing. For example, in the Credo said at every Mass the phrase “ex Maria Virgine” is uttered in bowed reverence. This doesn’t just mean Jesus popped out of the Virgin Mary but that he “came out of” or “drew his humanity from” her. It is rich in significance and intended to be so.

More significantly, Latin is indicative of a catholic church—that is, one which is “universal”. Encyclicals and teachings must be conveyed to a world consisting of bishops in Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa. Not only does Latin unify the body of Christ geographically and culturally, but as a stable and ancient language, Latin also unifies the Church temporally. As G.K. Chesterton observed, tradition is the highest form of democracy since it enfranchises the dead. Latin allows us to consult with our past and build upon it, not discard it outright as our modern world does and much to its peril.

Sadly, the Church which once conducted the Roman Rite Mass in Latin exclusively has discounted this invaluable treasure which it alone possesses. An older gentleman in my Latin class remembers the time when one heard the Mass in Latin and followed along in the Roman Missal with Latin on one page, the vernacular on the other—all beautifully illuminated. One could travel clear around the world and participate in the Mass more or less as one did in his hometown.

Things are changing. Since Benedict XVI (who is reputed to speak Latin extemporaneously), the use of Latin in the ancient Rite is experiencing a renaissance. Several parishes in Northern Virginia conduct the Tridentine Mass, a number of these very close to my home. The Roman Missal pre-Vatican is available on Kindle and after having read some of it, I can tell you how amazing the prayers and liturgies once were. It’s time to bring it back.