Friday, March 30, 2012

Seven Quick Takes (v31): Making Light of the Devil

The devil's in the details: this is what my laser mode looked like Monday night.
It looks like he's had a rough night on Bald Mountain. Perhaps it's because he knows that Easter is nearly here.

That this is the mode (read, spot) of my laser remind me of Saint Paul's warning:  "And no wonder: for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). I suppose he was going for literally "angel of light," meaning "angel made out of light."

Given the size of that screen, he must be an awfully tiny devil. Perhaps this is a reminder that no matter how big and bad our sins, they are still much smaller than God's mercy for those who are contrite. Is it any surprise then that the Devil may be overwhelmed by the grace given to a truly repentant sinner*?

*I for one went to confession the next day. It's a start.

On the other hand, it's also a reminder that the little things can trip us up. This is a point which is apparently lost on the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Not all sins are mortal, but they all attempt to chip away at charity, and they can all lead to bigger sins.

Small though this beam is, it would still be quick blinding if I were to glance into it. Indeed, it is brighter for having all of that energy concentrated into a small area. This reminds me of two tricks which the devil may use against us. The first is that he'll make our small sins seem larger than they are, either to lead us into despair or to cause us to ignore (or miss) our larger sins. The second is that he can tempt us to overlook them entirely, which causes us to slowly become blind to sin, including progressively bigger sins. The two are related, of course.

The laser itself is actually infrared, centered at 873 nm. This means that it would be invisible to our eyes: not exactly useful for seeing clearly. On the other hand, when amplified it has ample power to burn the skin (and those infrared burns are painful)--it is, after all, a terawatt laser. Even as an angel of light, the devil must give off more heat than light. The devil loves to capture a soul while giving back nothing in return, or to instigate attacks on one group (especially the Church) under the guise of helping another, especially if the supposed help isn't actually very helpful.

Finally, the ccd camera saw this image after a series of neutral density (nd) filters. For those who are not familiar with nd filters, they are basically dark-colored pieces of glass. Like the ccd, we see as through a glass, darkly (1 Corinthians 13). We see neither the good nor the evil we do in its fullness, nor do we see its full effects. The smallest trifling kindness on our part can be the salvation of another; the least evil  become the proverbial straw which broke the camel's back. Neither do we see God nor His angels nor the demons of Hell perfectly in this life, for to do so would be more than we could bear (see Exodus 33:20). But we can pray to God, as St Thomas Aquinas did,
"Creator of all things, true source of Light and Wisdom, lofty source of all Being, graciously let a ray of Your brilliance penetrate into the darkness of my understanding and take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, sin and ignorance."

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Trifling Kindness

My friend Mr Colin Gormley has posted his latest submission to IGNITUM TODAY. An excerpt:
 "Each of those girls took maybe five seconds at most to write their name on the card.  But that five seconds saved my life."... So the next time an opportunity to do good, even something seemingly trivial, do it.  You just might save a life.
Thinking about this, I am left to ask: is there such a thing as a trifling kindness? I think that the answer must ultimately be paradoxical. Of course there are "small kindnesses," or trivial actions which we perform with hardly a thought otherwise; when we show these small kindnesses, there is but little effort on our own part: a smile to a stranger or "maybe five seconds at the most" to sign off on a sympathy card (for example). I would hardly write home about either, and in the former case at least may not even remember crossing paths with that stranger.

On the other hand, I can never know the effect that either has. Did my smile brighten the darkest day of the stranger's life, or did my signature (let alone any thought I might include with it) save it recipient from despairing by the simple fact that someone might care? In a world which witnesses plenty of evil, even so called "natural" evil--fires and earthquakes and strong winds, for example--these trifling kindnesses are as a still small voice offering comfort and succor. The small kindnesses may gently suggest hope in a world of despair and offer joy in an age of chaos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Three Links Wednesday (vol. XII)

"Far off hymns and funeral marches/sound the same again
my ears are worn and weary strangers/in a strange land"
-Audrey Assad

I've been enjoying the writing of Mr Mark Steyn of late. Here he is discussing Rick Santorum's presidential candidacy--and also the relationship between social/cultural conservatism and fiscal conservatism (even if Santorum is not much of the latter):
If there's a follow-up question, it tends to be about why he's demonizing Satan, so to speak. "Well, there's a lot of things said in the heat of a primary campaign," I say. "I'm sure by the time of the convention he and Satan will have patched up their differences. Wouldn't rule out Rick offering the prince of darkness the vice-presidential slot in the interests of unity. Dream ticket, and all that."...

Well, okay, say the Santorum detractors, but you guys are supposed to be the small-government crowd. Why is this any business of the state? A fair point, but one that cuts both ways. Single women are the most enthusiastic constituency for big government: A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but statism is a girl's best friend. One can argue about whether the death of marriage leads to big government or vice versa, but simply raising the topic shouldn't put one beyond the pale, should it?

Well said on both accounts, that. The problem with Santorum is not his social policy: this he gets mostly right, which is probably why the media tries to make him look like an advocate for whatever passes as the Christian form of Sharia law*. His major electability problem comes from losing his last major election (and the manner in which that happened)**, though the media's out-and-out bias against anything remotely resembling conservatism would probably hurt his general election chances. His biggest problem in general (compared to the other candidates) is that he would bring us more of the same as the George W Bush era big government "compassionate conservatism" (and all the fiscal irresponsibility and expansions of federal powers which that entails) which we really don't need.

*The circumlocution is especially telling here. Does nobody else find it odd that there is no actual single word which has the meaning of the phrase "Christian version of Sharia law?" There is no such thing, any more than there is such as a thing as "a secularist version of Sharia law," which is at least as apt a description of certain laws favored by secularists as it is of Santorum's policies. In any case, the rhetoric used by some of the secularists (see "legislative equality") would certainly seem to be every bit as "theocratic" as Santorum's, albeit against theism instead of with it. Seculacracy?
**Though, oddly enough, he actually does just fine as far as electability goes, if polls are to be trusted

Professor Mike Adams has written a Swiftian defense of murder in the case of people whose fathers are rapists:
It should be evident from the foregoing that it is high time that we stop playing games with human equality. We all know the unborn are persons. And we’ve been killing them in the womb for years. In fact, we’ve been enshrining the practice in the constitution since 1973. If we say that the reason we have been doing so is that the unborn are only “potential” persons then we must be prepared for some pretty broad implications.

I propose instead that we carve out a narrow defense to homicide that allows us to kill products of rape because they remind us of a painful violent event. That is the best way to deal with things from my perspective. It will make the world appear to be a better place. Of course, there will be more murder. But it will seem like there is less rape. And that will make all the killing worth our while.
There may be no easy answers to some moral questions, but this does not mean that there are no right answers.The rights answer in this case is not easy, though it should be obvious: we ought not murder the child for the sake of the father's sins.

USA Today has an article concerning a survey of lapsed Catholics which asks why they've left the Church (tip o' the cap to Mr Kevin Knight):
Their reasons ranged from the personal ("the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all") to the political ("eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing") to the doctrinal ("don't spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control").

In addition, they said, they didn't like the church's handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal and were upset that divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass....Respondents also said they were troubled by the church's views of gays, same-sex marriage, women priests and the handling of the sex abuse crisis....The respondents also called for better homilies, better music and more accountability of the church staff.
 Some of these are critiques that I've had myself: better music*, better homilies, the way the sex-abuse scandal was handled to the extent that it was handled badly. Some can to some extent actually be improved by some effort on the part of the laity--e.g. accountability of the Church staff--and some requires more humility on the part of the pastors ("arrogant priests"), but not only on their part (there are far more arrogant parishioners than arrogant priests).

Others are points on which the Church not only won't change, but simply can't: the moral and doctrinal matters. She cannot, for example, begin ordaining women to the priesthood, even if every member of the Church wanted this to happen. Ditto for same-sex marriage: it is lacking in the material cause of a sacramental marriage, and so cannot actually be one, whatever the state or civil society tries to do. There are, on the other hand, some things which the Church possibly could do to ameliorate these things, both on a large scale (e.g. female cardinals) and on a local scale (e.g. actually talking about the "hard" moral teachings in the homilies and not relegating these things to a Monday night study group which reaches at best 1% of the parish). For those of us who actually do go to Mass regularly, these hard teachings on topics such as contraception, homosexual relations, and for that matter fornication are rarely if ever discussed in Mass save at times like this when an actual all-out attack is mad against the Church, e.g. via Obama's increasingly tyrannical HHS Mandate and Health Care Reform.

*Though I'm kind of spoiled both at home and in my parish in that department. Our pastor's and deacon's homilies are usually pretty good, too. That's what you get when the pastor is an organist with a Ph.D. in theology of some sort, in addition to the training he did in seminary.

The indefatigable defender of religious liberty Mr Frank Weathers has a link to a site where we can submit a written bit of protest against the Obama Administration's tyrannical HHS mandate.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Seven Quick Takes (v 27): Hastily Written Version

Our parish pro-life council has urged us all to find some sacrifice to make--some thing to give up, or alternatively some thing to do--during Fridays of Lent (and perhaps beyond) in response to the Obama Administration's tyrannical HHS mandate (and its recent party-line confirmation in the Senate).
Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio; contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperat illi Deus; supplices deprecamur: tuque, Princeps militiae coelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo, divina virtute in infernum detrude. Amen

I've been reading G.K. Chesterton's Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State. Chesterton was writing during the time of Sanger, of the rise of Hitler and Stalin, and when the ideas of Malthus were popular in "intellectual" circles. It is perhaps not surprising that it is relevant as ever today.

There is rumor that many Catholics institutions will go the way of the Boston Area Catholic Charities under the HHS mandate: effectively shut down by the government after refusing an unconscionable and, to be blunt, pointless mandate. Of course, for now they can just take a $400 per employee per year hit, which will have the same effect. Perhaps they could consider telling their employees that the money for fines is being deducted from said employees' paycheck (and added to student tuition, in the case of the universities). This would, unfortunately, be unfair to those employees who are faithful to the Church's teachings: but somehow, I suspect it is these would mind this the least. It's not a perfect solution, but it's better than closing down, especially if the employees in question react by protesting the mandate (as well they should).

Next week brings the midterm for my physical science students. It will be a lab practical, as will be the final. I tested out the questions today, and both actually do work reasonably well and each can certainly be done in the time allotted. Unfortunately, it's rather difficult to write an exam which tests some of the "intangible" concepts which they will hopefully learn in the class. One such intangible is that it is a lot harder than it looks to tease a conclusion out of an experiment: faulty equipment, systematic and random error, etc. Notice that I said "harder than it looks": which is a world away from saying "impossible."

Professor Budzisewski, among other, has mentioned the idea of a "seared" conscience. This is the conscience a person who does something which is wrong, knows that it is wrong, and lies to himself (and anybody else who will listen) until he is convinced that there is nothing wrong with his actions, or (worse still) that his actions are actually good. I've witnessed something like this in the response from some people concerning my conscientious objections to the Obama administration's tyrannical HHS mandate. They've more-or-less asked me who I am to judge them and condemn them. To clarify: whether or not you will be condemned for your sins, whatever they may be, is ultimately between you and God. It is ultimately up to you to repent or remain obstinate, and up to God to balance the demands of mercy and of justice; that is Who will have the final say in whether you will go to heaven or to hell. However, as a baptized and practicing Catholic, it is one of my duties to be a prophet. That does not mean that I am to tell the future, since that is not what a prophet does. Rather, a prophet is a moral teacher, a sort of watchman, who duties include calling a sin a sin and warning sinners to repent. I don't relish that duty; I don't even always fulfill it; it is a hard duty, and made all the more difficult by knowing that I am also a sinner. But when I call contraception a grave evil, I am doing no more than discharging my duty to speak the truth both in season and out.

My friend Mr Colin Gormley has been exploring the concept of persecution as it applies to Christians in general and Catholic in particular, especially in the context of the tyrannical HHS mandate, and in the context of the fact that the Church herself will always ultimately prevail. The common objection seems to be "how can you be persecuted if you'll be victorious" or (alternatively) "if the Church is so powerful that it will always prevail, how could it possibly be persecuted?" Well, the Church was clearly persecuted for the first few centuries of her existence, first by the Jews and then by the Romans. She is still persecuted in clear and obvious ways around the world today--witness the large number of Catholic martyrs (pun not intended) around the world today, to say nothing of other Christian communions, denominations, or sects. She survived Rome, she'll survive this. But individual believers will suffer (and may not survive, either physically or spiritually) in any given persecution. As for the Church's "power," it is not physical nor temporal power, and even during periods when popes, bishops, abbots, etc held temporal power, rarely did they hold more such power than the nobility, either collectively or individually. Rather, they hold spiritual power and moral authority. The situation is little different today: numerically Christians are a majority, though orthodox Christians of all sorts are a minority. Witness, for example, the percentage of Catholics who are actually obedient to Church teaching on contraception: somewhat more than the 2% number bandied about by the media, but also certainly well short of a majority even among Catholics. Granted, this is a population of some millions of people: but the 20th century alone has provided us with ample examples of persecutions (and even outright massacres) of comparably large groups of people by their governments.

Tomorrow my wife and i will be attending our first ever baptism class in preparation for being Godparents to our nephew. The class is three hours long, but that's ultimately short given the responsibility this will entail.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.