Jake Tawney

Quasimodo Sunday


In the new Roman Missal, the name of the Second Sunday of Easter has been recast as “Sunday of Divine Mercy,” promulgated by the now Blessed Pope John Paul II.  A great feast it is indeed, yet “Sunday of Divine Mercy” is not the first name to have replaced the generic “Second Sunday of Easter.”  Before John Paul II promulgated Divine Mercy, the Second Sunday of Easter was known as “Quasimodo Sunday.”
Why?  Quite simply: for the same reason that Gaudete Sunday and Latarae Sunday are called so during their respective seasons of Advent and Lent.  Gaudete (Rejoice!) is the first word of the Introit (Opening) Chant for the third Sunday of Lent:  Gaudete in Domino semper (Rejoice in the Lord always).  We find a similar occurrence in the Introit for the Fourth Sunday of Lent: Laetare Ierusalem (Rejoice, O Jerusalem).  In the days when these Introits were sung (or in the rare parish where they are still sung today), the very first word of the Mass heard by the faithful would have been a resounding “Gaudete” (or in the case of Lent, “Laetare”), and the “name” of the day would be immediately obvious.
These chants are part of what the Church calls the “Proper” texts of the day.  They are written specifically for each celebration of the year, much like the Collects and other prayers of the day.  It is a shame that these texts have been ignored by virtually every parish for the last several decades, replaced with generic hymns that have little or no resemblance to the designed chant.  Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of ICEL, stated in a speech last year:

Maybe the greatest challenge that lies before us is the invitation once again to sing the Mass rather than merely to sing at Mass. This echoes the injunctions of the Council Fathers in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and reflects our deeply held instinct that the majority of the texts contained in the Missal can and in many cases should be sung. This means not only the congregational acclamations of the Order of Mass, but also the orations, the chants in response to the readings, the Eucharistic prayer and the antiphons which accompany the Entrance, the Offertory, and the Communion processions. These proper texts are usually replaced by hymns or songs that have little relationship to the texts proposed by the Missal or the Graduale Romanum and as such a whole element of the liturgy of the day is lost or consigned to oblivion. For the most part, they exist only as spoken texts. We are much the poorer for this, as these texts (which are often either Scriptural or a gloss on the Biblical text) represent the Church’s own reading and meditation on the Scriptures. As chants, they are a sort of musical lectio divina pointing us towards the riches expressed in that day’s liturgy.

For this reason, I believe that it is seriously deficient to consider that planning music for the liturgy ever begins with a blank sheet: there are texts given for every Mass in the Missal and these texts are intended for singing.

With that brief digression behind us, let’s returns to the to the topic at hand: Quasimodo Sunday.  The name of the day comes form the first words of the Mass, the Introit Chant:  
Quasimodo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Lest people think these chants a lost reality to the “old rite,” a form of the text appears in the Novus Ordo as well for the Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy):
Quasi modo géniti infántes, rationábile, sine dolo lac concupíscite, ut in eo crescátis in salútem, allelúia.
In its new English translation, it appears in the current Roman Missal :
Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in him you may grow to salvation, alleluia.
The word quasimodo is a compound of two Latin words (split in the Missale Romanum), quasi and modo, meaning “almost” and “the standard of measure.”  Thus, the combination means “almost the standard of measure,” which in the new translation is reduced to “like.”
The quotation takes its cue from 1 Peter 2:2, which in the RSV reads, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.”  (Incidentally, the Latin in the Vulgate reads, “Sicut modo geniti infantes, rationale sine dolo lac concupiscite, ut in eo crescatis in salutem.”)
It is fitting for this time of year, as we have come to the joyous realization that our salvation has been won, but through an act of pure grace, not as something that we deserve.  We drink of this grace with the only posture fitting of a gift: that of humble and docile reception.  The imagery of a child’s dependent reception is reminiscent of Archbishop Schneider’s observation in his book/essay Dominus Est:
[T]he attitude of a child is the truest and most profound attitude of a Christian before his Savior, who nourishes him with his Body and Blood … The word of Christ, which invites us to receive the Kingdom of God like a child (see Luke 18:17), can find its illustration in that very beautiful and impressive manner of receiving the Eucharistic Bread directly into one’s mouth and on one’s knees. This ritual manifests in an opportune and felicitous way the interior attitude of a child who allows himself to be fed, united to the gesture of the centurion’s humility and to the gesture of ‘wonder and adoration’ (Schneider, 29).
Given the promulgation of the “Sunday of Divine Mercy,” the image of childlike reception becomes even more prominent.  Mercy can only be shown to him who is childlike enough to receive it.
However, when one hears the term quasimodo, I would imagine the first thing to come to mind is not the Second Sunday of Easter, but rather the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the 1831 novel by Vitor Hugo (or some later film variant).  The name Quasimodo is given to the abandoned and deformed baby found by Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, on the steps of the Cathedral.  Frollo bestows the name of the child because of the day on which he was found: the Second Sunday of Easter, none other than Quasimodo Sunday.
While a good literary reference is always appreciated, perhaps it is time to rescue the name quasimodo and restore to it its original liturgical significance: Quasimodo Sunday, Sunday of Divine Mercy.
To contribute but a small part to this effort, I give to you two versions of the Introit for today, the first using a male vocalization, and the second using a female one.

Dominus Est!

We occasionally hold a reading group at our home in which someone brings a selection, and we read aloud.  This past Thursday, we read through a short book (and essay, really) that I obtained back in 2009.  It prompted me to dig up the review I wrote.  Enjoy!


“It is true that if it is possible to receive on the tongue, one can also receive on the hand, both being bodily organs of equal dignity…. Yet, whatever the reasons put forth to sustain this practice, we cannot ignore what happens at the practical level when this method is used. This practice contributes to a gradual, growing weakening of the attitude of reverence toward the Scared Eucharistic Species. The earlier practice, on the other hand, better safeguards the sense of reverence. Instead, an alarming lack of recollection and an overall spirit of carelessness have entered into liturgical celebrations.”

The above words were written by the Most Reverend Malcom Ranjith, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in the Preface of a timely and concise book called Dominus Est!- It is the Lord! by the Most Reverend Athanasius Schneider. Archbishop Ranjith concludes his Preface, “I think it is now time to evaluate carefully the practice of Communion-in-the-hand and, if necessary, to abandon what was actually never called for in the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium nor by the Council Fathers but was, in fact, “accepted” after it was introduced as an abuse in some countries.”

This brief 33 page work by Bishop Schneider comes at a time when many in the Church are discussing postures during the Holy Mass. In fact, the publisher of the book muses that one cannot help but wonder whether the text itself had a role to play in the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to return to the traditional mode of distributing Communion at his Masses, on the tongue to kneeling communicants.

In order to answer this question of the correct posture for reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, we must divide the inquiry itself into two more refined questions. The first is, what is the most appropriate bodily response to the reality present in the Sacred Eucharistic Species? The second is, what are the practical implications of the suggested postures in forming our attitudes towards the God of the Universe who is fully present in the Sacrament? As noted in the previous post the fundamental principle of sacramentality is that the sacrament effects what it signifies. Therefore, not only must the postures with which we approach the Eucharist as well as our mode of reception conform to the dignity of the Sacrament itself, but also that same posture and mode of reception will affect the attitudes we form in regards to the Eucharist. In other words, our actions are not only indicative of our person, but also our person is formed by our actions.

Regarding the first question, the most appropriate bodily response to the reality present in the Sacred Eucharist Species, Bishop Schneider takes the reader through a vast array of evidence from the testimony of the Fathers of the Church, the Early Church, the Magisterium, the Liturgical Rites themselves, Holy Scripture, and finally the Eastern Churches and even the Protestant Communities. The tradition of the Church is unanimous in the insistence that the only proper response to an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ is to fall down on one’s knees.

It is interesting to note that the liturgical norms of the Church require a separate act of reverence and adoration if one receives standing, typically a bow. However, if one receives kneeling, no such gesture is required since kneeling is already a gesture of reverence and adoration. It is true that in the United States, as elsewhere in the world, when a dignitary enters the room, the people give their sign of respect by standing up. However, Jesus Christ is no mere dignitary. The fact that we stand for important persons necessitates that we have a separate, even more dignifying response to the God of the universe.

Regarding reception on the tongue, we begin with the principle that “the attitude of a child is the truest and most profound attitude of a Christian before his Savior, who nourishes him with his Body and Blood” (Schneider, 29). We can then see that,

“The word of Christ, which invites us to receive the Kingdom of God like a child (see Luke 18:17), can find its illustration in that very beautiful and impressive manner of receiving the Eucharistic Bread directly into one’s mouth and on one’s knees. This ritual manifests in an opportune and felicitous way the interior attitude of a child who allows himself to be fed, united to the gesture of the centurion’s humility and to the gesture of ‘wonder and adoration’” (Schneider, 29).

While issues regarding the proper posture of the individual due to the sacredness of the Sacrament, the very practical implication should not go overlooked. That is, it is in receiving on the tongue that we can best minimize the risks of losing even the tiniest particle of the Sacred Host. Quoting St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop Schneider exhorts us to “take care to lose no part of It [the Body of the Lord]. Such a loss would be the mutilation of your own body. Why, if you had been given gold-dust, would you not take the utmost care to hold it fast, not letting a grain slip through your fingers, lest you be so much the poorer? How much more carefully, then, will you guard against losing so much as a crumb of that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?” (34). (St. Cyril lived in the fourth century.)

Regarding the second question, the practical implications of the suggested postures in forming our attitudes towards the God of the Universe who is fully present in the Sacrament, it is time, roughly 30 or 40 years after the practice of communion standing and in-the-hand became widespread, to ask ourselves the inevitable question. Did the experiment work? Have we seen greater Eucharistic reverence, or have we seen an increase in lackadaisical attitudes? Has attendance at Mass gone up or down? Are people better able to explain and internalize the Real Presence in the Eucharist? An honest evaluation of the state of Eucharistic Piety in our time is bound to be dismal and disappointing.

What, then, are we to do? Must we have a long, drawn out process of educating the laity before we can return to the posture and mode of reception that has been far more prevalent in the history of our Church? Perhaps Romano Guardini was ahead of his time in 1965 when he prophetically wrote, “The man of today is not capable of a liturgical act. For this action, it is not enough to have instruction or education; no, initiation is needed, which at root is nothing but the performance of the act” (quoted in Schneider, 47). This is a much more eloquent way of saying that orthopraxy will bring about orthodoxy. Right actions will educate and enliven doctrine. It should be pointed out that the Holy Father, in his return to distributing communion on the tongue while kneeling, seems to have subscribe to the advice of Guardini. He simply made the return, and the people have responded.

While the mode of reception is at the center of Biship Schneider’s book Dominus Est, the book is an inspiring exposition of how to best reverence the miracle of the Eucharistic Lord.

The Human Face of Suffering

About a week ago, I wrote on a article that I read from Slate.com. Having never really been to this site, I have now found myself with the same sort of reaction one has to a horrible car accident … I just have to look. On the bright side, I think that any conservative blogger could find a lifetime of material on which to comment in but a few short days of perusing Slate’s archives.

Yesterday, there appeared a very emotional piece by a mother of a child with Tay-Sachs. My heart and prayers go out to this woman – I can’t even begin to imagine the daily struggles and emotional roller-coasters that she goes through. Yet there is something terribly unsettling with her story. Her opening paragraphs read:

This week my son turned blue, and for 30 terrifying seconds, stopped breathing. Called an “apnea seizure,” this is one stage in the progression of Tay-Sachs, the genetic disease Ronan was born with and will die of, but not before he suffers from these and other kinds of seizures and is finally plunged into a completely vegetative state. Nearly two years old, he is already blind, paralyzed, and increasingly nonresponsive. I expect his death to happen this year, and this week’s seizure only highlighted the fact that it could happen at any moment—while I’m at work, at the hair salon, at the grocery store. I love my son more than any person in the world and his life is of utmost value to me. I don’t regret a single minute of this parenting journey, even though I wake up every morning with my heart breaking, feeling the impending dread of his imminent death. This is one set of absolute truths.

Here’s another: If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs (I met with two genetic counselors and had every standard prenatal test available to me, including the one for Tay-Sachs, which did not detect my rare mutation, and therefore I waived the test at my CVS procedure), I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision. I’m so grateful that Ronan is my child. I also wish he’d never been born; no person should suffer in this way—daily seizures, blindness, lack of movement, inability to swallow, a devastated brain—with no hope for a cure. Both of these statements are categorically true; neither one is mutually exclusive.

I want to try very hard to not be callous in my comment, but rather pastoral in the best sense of the word. As I stated from the beginning, this woman’s story is clearly one of great suffering.

That being said, what is the proverbial “missing piece” from this philosophy? I can think of three such pieces that are worth considering.


1. Suffering is Redemptive

There is something drastically “new” about the Christian take on suffering. If we define suffering as that gap between desire and reality (or between what we want and what we have), the ancient east and the modern west have opposite takes on how to close the gap. The ancient east suggests solving the problem by eliminating desires. According to Peter Kreeft:

We suffer because of the gap between what we want and what we have. This gap is created by our dissatisfaction, our wanting to get what we do not have or wanting to keep what we do have (e.g., life, which causes fear of death). Thus desire is the villain for Buddha, the cause of all suffering.


The modern west takes an opposite approach: we attempt to eliminate suffering by bringing what we have up to the level of what we want. This is true in both modern medicine and modern economics.

Although both work in opposite directions, the goal is the same: to eliminate suffering.

Christianity, through the Paschal mystery, takes a radically new approach: it redeems suffering and thus allows us to see it as a value in and of itself. As Christians, we are called to embrace suffering for the redemption of ourselves and of the world. I am reminded of the scene from Passion of the Christ where the Lord has hold of his cross and the soldiers ridicule him saying, “Look, he embraces his cross!”


2. God is the Author of Life – and the Soul is Eternal

It seems to me that this is an essential tenant of the Christian faith. The very first thing we learn about our nature from the Book of Genesis is that we are created. In other words, we are not our own, and nor are we each other’s. God is the author of life, and only God can decide when “it is time” (for lack of a better phrase). None of us ever wants to see an innocent child suffer to the degree that this mother has had to endure, yet even in these difficult cases, it is not our decision to make. Let us not forget, however, that the human soul is immortal. It has an existence well beyond the confines of time. Further, we know for certain that a baptized child not yet of the age of reason will be welcomed into Heaven – so whatever this child suffers here on earth, it will pale in comparison to the joy he will experience when standing for eternity face to face with the Living God.

There is actually something very laudable with the mother’s desire that “no person should suffer in this way.” While we embrace our own suffering, we also should work to a certain extent to minimize the suffering in others. Yet the line is crossed when first things fail to be kept first. The “first thing” in this case is the notion that God is the only one who takes the blessed soul from their suffering and welcomes them into eternal life.


3. God’s Ways are not Our Ways

This is so impossible to fully understand, and every one of us is guilty of crying out for justice, mercy, or some seemingly illogical combination of the two when faced with the hardest moments of our time here on earth. Few of us will experience moments as challenging as this mother’s trials, and virtually none of us will have to undergo the pain experienced by her son. Yet as hard as it is to grasp, the truth haunts us in the quiet of our hearts: as finite beings we are incapable of seeing the “whole picture.” We do not yet know everything that God has planned for both the world and for a particular individual. Only when it is all said and done, and we are granted the opportunity to “understand the whole” will we be able to find true solace in the events of this world.

What is curious about this point is that it is either a source of great consolation or bitter confusion. One either sees in the mystery of a plan not-yet-fulfilled a God who is a great architect that ever so slowly reveals His design, or one sees a tyrannical dictator who hides the truth from his subjects. It all comes down to the fundamental lens through which one sees the drama of life.

Regardless, my heart goes out to this woman. In fact, I can agree with her on not just one, but both of her points, properly understood. As such, I agree that they are no mutually exclusive. I believe with everything I am that she is telling the truth when she says, “I love my son more than any person in the world and his life is of utmost value to me. I don’t regret a single minute of this parenting journey, even though I wake up every morning with my heart breaking, feeling the impending dread of his imminent death.” I also believe that she deeply wishes her poor innocent son would not have to endure the suffering that he has already had to go through let alone that which is to come. Moreover, I too wish that I had it in my power to save him from any more suffering in his life. In fact, I even agree that his “life” would be better if he were already in the presence of God. Nevertheless, I cannot agree that taking a life of which we are not free to take, making a choice that we are not free to make, is a viable option towards such an end. The end can never justify the means.

I have already decided to dedicate a part of my Lenten spiritual reading and preparation to both this mother and her very blessed child, and I encourage others to do the same. Through all the suffering, it is clear that his mother as an authentic love for him, and that is something that many of our “healthy” children lack so desperately.

The Inconsistency of the Left and Required Virginia Ultrasounds

Okay, to be fair, I think this goes both way in American politics.  I’ve always said that everyone is a fiscal conservative until it is “their cause” that gets defunded, and everyone is a fiscal liberal until it is “their tax rate” that gets increased.

Nevertheless, some things ooze such inconsistency that it is almost laughable.  As many are aware, the Virginia state legislature recent passed a bill that requires a woman to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion.  As you can imagine, the pro-abortion constituency is out in full force over such a perceived “injustice.”  Now, call me crazy, but it seems that such a requirement should at least implicitly be considered under “informed consent.”  And besides, if those on the pro-abortion side are so sure that the fetus growing inside the womb is really just a mass of tissue, then there should be nothing to worry about, right?  Let us not be fooled here – the objection to the ultrasound has nothing to do with the requirement itself – it has much more to do with the fear that this just may actually convince more women that the baby growing inside them actually is a life.

At any rate, an article appeared on Slate.com by Dahlia Lithwick last Thursday that would have had me falling off the couch in hysterics had it not been meant to be actually taken seriously.  It was a great example of how the line between laughter and tears is often fine indeed when reading liberal commentaries.

The first laughable/cry-able moment came when the author implied … no wait, she flat out said it … that such a requirement constitutes an act of rape:

[This] means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure … the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law.

Okay, now let’s first note that no-one is forcing any woman to have such an ultra sound; the law merely provides such an action as a pre-requisite for the abortion procedure.  Any woman could alway opt not to have the abortion, and consequently be spare the “violation” of the ultrasound.  The logic here is intellectually dishonest at best, and manipulative at worst.  Under the same logic, we could object to any medical pre-requisite.  Besides, and I am happy to be correct on this, in the event that the individual decides to proceed with the abortion, is not penetration inevitable?  In fact, one could argue that the ultrasound is not a separate procedure but rather the first step in the abortion.

The argument continued,

Evidently the right of conscience for doctors who oppose abortion are a matter of grave national concern. The ethical and professional obligations of physicians who would merely like to perform their jobs without physically violating their own patients are, however, immaterial.

So here we have it … the left refuses to admit that the recent HHS mandate is a violation of conscience for individual business owners and religious organizations, they often even want to eliminate a Catholic hospital’s right to refuse abortion services based on conscientious objections, but now all of a sudden conscience should be a part of the conversation.

Lithwick goes on,

Next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument about the obscene government overreach that is the individual mandate in President Obama’s health care law. Yet physical intrusion by government into the [body] of a pregnant woman is so urgently needed that the woman herself should be forced to pay for the privilege.

Another inconsistency: the Virginia law is a clear overreach of government by requiring an individual to pay to a procedure to which they conscientiously object, yet the ability of the Catholic Church to opt out of paying for practices that they find morally incompatible with its faith is just plain silly.  Am I understanding this right?


You can shame and violate women, while couching it in the language of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s gift that keeps on giving—his opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart. That opinion upheld Congress’ partial-birth abortion ban on the grounds that (although there was no real evidence to support this assumption) some women who have abortions will suffer “severe depression” and “regrets” if they aren’t made to understand the implications of what they have done.

And at the end of the article,

Abortion is still legal in America. Physically invading a woman’s body against her will still isn’t. Let’s not casually pass laws that upend both principles in the name of helping women make better choices.

So, as is commonly stated, nationally legalized abortion is the “law of the land,” so while it is okay for you to personally object to the practice, please don’t try to push that belief on others.  However, even thought the same Court has made the ability of the States to prevent partial-birth abortion the “law of the land” … well, in that case they were just plain wrong.

So which is it, my dear leftist friends?  Is conscientious objection important or isn’t it?  Should individuals be required to pay for procedures they find objectionable or shouldn’t they?  Does the “law of the land” matter or doesn’t it?  It seems to me that the answer depends greatly on the ideology at hand, which in this case is the perceived “right” to abortion on demand.  In other words, we must accept a priori the right to abortion, and then we use any and all arguments available to defend that decision, even if it means speaking out of both side of the mouth at times.

Now, in fairness, it could be asked whether the political right is being just as inconsistent in all three arguments.  Whether this is true or not I leave up to political commentators.  For my own part, I submit that the Catholic position has no such inconsistencies, and here is why.  First, we don’t ground our positions in the law of the land or conscience seen as an unfettered freedom to relieve one’s self from any and all acts.  Rather, we ground our positions in natural law and conscience seen as the freedom to pursue truth and goodness.  Forcing a doctor to perform an abortion is a clear violation of his or her right to act in a way consistent with a belief system.  The act itself is the violation – the Catholic finds the act objectively immoral.  It is not that a Catholic doctor wants to perform abortions in some cases and not in others, it is that he or she never wants to perform them. In requiring an ultrasound for a woman seeking abortions, what act is being found objectively immoral?  Correct me if I am wrong, but an ultrasound, whether external or internal, is a perfectly acceptable medical procedure by both the left and the right.

Second, from a Catholic position, the natural law it the governing principle, not the “law of the land.”  Natural law, inscribed on everyone’s heart, deeply suggests that the taking of a life is intrinsically immoral.  Science has shown over and over again that the “mass of tissue” in the womb of a mother is a life.  Even rudimentary philosophy says that it is a human life.  But returning to the matter of conscience, if we understand that freedom of conscience does not give an individual the right to abstain from any and all acts (for instance, it does not give and individual the ability to refrain from stopping a violent crime taking place before him), then we can see that freedom of conscience does have limits.  The question for the left is: in what do you ground the limits of freedom of conscience?  For Catholics, the answer is clear: natural law.  Therefore, it is a violation of conscience to require the taking of this life.  Yet in supporting the required ultrasound, rather than seeing it as violating conscience, we understand in the greater context of the right to life.

Third, if freedom of conscience is at the service of pursuing truth, then how does giving the doctor and patient more information violate this process?  In other words, if a doctor has the “right” to eliminate the ultrasound from this procedure, the same logic could be used to dismiss all informed consent laws form the books.

Finally, it is always amusing to hear the left decry government regulation in cases such as this.  Somehow the government not only has the right, but the duty, to regulate Wall Street and the Health Care industry in a way that destroys any rational notion of subsidiarity and was never envisioned by the founding fathers, yet when it comes to a required ultrasound before an abortion … well, clearly that is a government overreach.

Religious Liberty: A Council Ahead of Its Time?

So much of the discussion in the public square of late concerns religious liberty.  Not to obscure the other issues involved in the recent HHS rule and its subsequent “accommodation”, for assuredly there is also the issues of natural law, the right to life, and others.  However, it is curious that the issue on the front line for Catholics and non-Catholics alike has been religious liberty.  I say “curious” not to express disapproval; quite the opposite, for I myself think this is the crux of the issue.  I say “curious” because it has caused me to reflect on the Church’s teaching on religious liberty, particularly those of the Second Vatican Council.

In discussions with various groups that are not in full communion with the Church (okay, let’s not beat around the bush – we mean SSPX here), no issue has caused more angst than that of religious liberty and Vatican II (except perhaps the validity of the Novus Ordo).  Now, there is a certain amount of irony to this, because the “conservative” apologists are now clinging (rightfully) to religious liberty in order to combat the rhetoric and actions of the Obama administration, but the “really conservative conservative Catholics” (e.g., SSPX) find themselves in a bit of a pickle.  For it is this teaching of Vatican II that they have rejected publicly.  (See my footnote below for an apology and explanation of my meaningless labels.*)  Yet we have seen in the last month just what happens when religious liberty is not protected.

With that, let’s have a look at what Vatican II said.  The document in question is Dignitatis humanae (“The Dignity of the Human Person”), and paragraph 1 begins,

A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man, and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty. The demand is likewise made that constitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of the person and of associations. This demand for freedom in human society chiefly regards the quest for the values proper to the human spirit. It regards, in the first place, the free exercise of religion in society … On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it … Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society.

It seems to me that the USSCB could use this paragraph as it mantra for the battle against the HHS mandate.  But let’s continue … from the next paragraph:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.  This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

Now this is where SSPX starts to get nervous.  They would claim that no-one has the “right” to adhere to falsehood, and the Second Vatican Council implies otherwise.  As for the first part of the claim, I agree.  I made the point in a previous post that nobody has the “right” to contraception, not just from a constitutional standpoint but also from the perspective of natural law.  However, with regards to “what Vatican II really said,” I read over this section at least three times, as well as the rest of Dignitatis humanae, and I simply cannot see how it implies that people have the right to adhere to falsehood, theological or otherwise.  It does say that religious freedom is essential for man’s search for truth, and that political coercion flies in the face of this necessary freedom, and that “the right to this immunity [from coercion] continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded.”  Yet nowhere do I see that people have the “right” to adhere to falsehood.

At any rate, I meant not for this post to become an occasion for dialog about the SSPX-Vatican disagreements.  I meant only to point out that the Vatican II “Declaration on Religious Freedom” may turn out to be a very useful document for those of the conservative political persuasion in the current climate, and that there is a certain amount of irony, because it was one of the documents of the Council that was most hailed by the “progressives” in the Church.

Certainly the declaration was written within the context of 1965, the year in which Paul VI promulgated it: a time when the world was still very concerned about the oppressive regimes of Communism and Nazism.  Yet I can’t help but think that (surprise, surprise) the Holy Spirit knew what he was doing, for we may well find in our own era the need for Dignitatis humanae.  The battle currently is in the medical field: the fundamental right to religious liberty being trumped by a fabricated “right” to obtain contraception and abortion services free of charge.  However, the battle lying just around the corner will inevitably involve the issue of homosexuality – here we will see a parallel conflict, but it will be the fundamental right to freedom of speech, either in religious or secular circles, being trumped by a fabricated “right” to live one’s life without criticism.  Consider all that is in front of us together with that which is to come, it warrants asking: was Vatican II a council ahead of its time?


*  I am at loss for labels here (as if this weren’t obvious in my use of “really conservative conservative Catholics.”  I inherently reject using the word “traditionalist” because all Catholic should be traditionalist – our faith is a faith of tradition, built on an original deposit that unfolds slowly overtime.  Yet “conservative” is a political term more than a religious term.  At the same time, politics and religious, while distinguished in concept, are not entirely separate.  (There is a reason why politically conservative people also tend to prefer more “traditional” liturgies.)  I hope that the point is not lost here … it seems obvious to me that the SSPC is a sort of “ultra conservative” group, clinging to a tradition that does not allow for any sort of unfolding, organic or otherwise, but rather is frozen in time (arbitrarily chosen as the middle of the 1900’s).  Then again, I write with a certain amount of trust that I am among friends who will understand the irony which I attempt to disclose, that, despite a lack of appropriate labels, the most “conservative” Catholics (so “conservative” that they have left the Church), are now in need of the one of the very doctrines they reject from Vatican II (the teaching on religious liberty) in order to be “conservative” in our current political battle.

Food, Guns, and Contraception: A Random Followup to Some Random Thoughts on the HHS Rule

Instead of responding to comment on my previous post in the proper place, I decided to do a followup of sorts to clarify two issues and to expand on a few of the initial thoughts and their reactions.  As a starting point, I want to consider the following comment left by “Mary”:

What about an employer forcing their religious beliefs onto their employees? My daughter is a nurse and works at a catholic [sic] hospital. She is not Catholic and feels birth control should be a woman’s decision. The woman has the right to decide when she wants to start a family. She was surprised when she found out that birth control was not part of the insurance program. She has been buying it on her own, and it is not cheap. What about those who can not afford to purchase birth control? Viagra is covered under the insurance program, and that is health care? Don’t think so. I’m not surprised that the article and comments here are all by men. It is not your body and you should not make the decision for women who want to use birth control.

It seems to me that this misses the point I was initially trying to make, and I take responsibility for any lack of clarity in my presentation.  To make up for this, I want to consider Mary’s argument from two perspectives.  Both perspectives will consider Mary’s assertion that women have the right to use birth control.  First, I will temporarily grant Mary this assertion and re-present the argument that it still does not make it right to force Catholic hospitals, Catholic-owned businesses, or Catholic-run insurance companies to cover contraception.  Second, I will challenge Mary’s assertion by arguing that women don’t in fact have the “right” to oral contraceptives.

1.  What if Mary is Right?

What if we temporality lend credence to Mary’s statement that women have the right to use birth control?  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will direct you back to my initial analogy of gun ownership.  I firmly believe in the right to bear arms, but this in no way means that I believe the government should purchase a gun for me, still less does it mean that the government to force my employer to purchase a gun for me.  There is a difference between the right to posses and use something and the “right” to have it at no cost to ourselves.  This distinction has been lost in the national conversation.  Even if Mary is correct that women have the right to use oral contraceptives, it still leaves me wondering why the cost for this should come out of the employer’s pocket or the pocket’s of the insurance companies.

Allow me to illustrate this point with another analogy.  I think all of us can agree that the human person has the fundamental right to eat food.  Should our employers then be required to provide us with our weekly groceries?  Should they be required to give us vouchers with which we can obtain meals?  Correct me if I am wrong here, but I thought the point of employment was to provide labors with a fair and honest wage, and the wage earners then get to decide how to spend those wages.  Think here for a minute how you would feel if instead of providing you with a paycheck, your employer gave you vouchers for very specific kinds of food.  Is this not a restriction of freedom rather than its expansion?

Actually, when you see the contraceptive coverage in this light, I think you will come to see that having the employer/insurance company forced to cover it is actually the more inequitable scenario.  Allow me to explain.  First, understand that contraception itself is not “free.”  It is a product, and as such it has a cost associated with its production.  If an employer is forced into providing this coverage for all employees, the cost of the plan will be effected somehow.  I will leave it up to the actuaries to weigh in on how this cost works out, but the fact remains that the cost needs covered in some form or another.  Contrary to popular belief at the moment, money cannot be arbitrarily created out of thin air.  (This is a more complicated way of putting the age-old adage, “Nothing in life is free.”)  Now, once the employer has this cost added to the plan, his budget must take that into account somehow, which will translate eventually into wages in some form or another.

Why is this inequitable?  Because it effectively means that all employees will suffer the economic effects of some people choosing to use contraceptives.  Of course, I am not naive enough to think this is a dollar-for-dollar transaction.  Rather, the costs will be spread out through actuarial means.  Nevertheless, would not a more “fair” system be to not cover contraceptives, to pass on the savings in the form of wages and salaries, and to allow those women that choose to use oral contraceptives under Mary’s claimed “right” to do so?

This is precisely what happens with both food and guns.  The employer pays the employee, and the employee then decides what to spend his or her wages on: food, guns, or oral contraceptives.  I would think that the advocates of “choice” would prefer this system anyway, for in taking money in the form of wages and then making an active choice how to spend the money, is that not a more powerful statement than having an employer (by means of government coercion) tell you how you have to spend your wages?  Said differently, the problem with Mary’s “right to contraception” plan is that is actually takes away the right not to purchase contraception – it results in less choice, not more.  If the insurance plans are forced to cover it, all employees are forced to purchase it, although some will choose to leave their supply at the pharmacy counter.  In effect, Mary’s argument actually reduces choice and freedom.

Two other points are worth considering here.  First, Mary claims that contraception is expensive, and that is why insurance companies should provide it “for free.”  The problem with this is the illusion of “free.”  It is basic economics here, something that seems to be absent from the Obama administration’s manner of administrating.  As I pointed out above, the production of contraceptives costs money, and to think that this cost will not be passed on eventually to the employees is naive at best.  The insurance companies are not going to take this “bottom line” hit – their very bright actuaries will work to makes sure that the cost is covered in the premiums charged.  The employer won’t take the “bottom line” hit either.  They employee likes to think of wages and benefits in two separate categories, but to the employer they are both part of a compensation package, and they both cost money.  Whatever is added to the cost of medical insurance will necessarily be made up for in salaries.  Of course, it won’t be right away, but it will be reflected in future salary negotiations.  Anyone who has been a part of contract negotiations knows that it is never simply about salaries and wages.  The “bottom line” will eventually be covered by all employees.  Thus, Mary’s daughter will end up paying for the contraception anyway through lower-than-would-be salaries.  When insurance plans cover something like contraception, it does not “save” the employee money, it simply forces them to spend some of their money in a particular way.

An analogy here is a local collect some years back that “gave” all entering Freshman an iPod.  On the surface, it seems like a “free and generous” gift.  However, the university is mindful of its finances, which means that the cost of this iPod is somehow or other figured into the cost of tuition.  Seen in this light, it is not a “free gift,” but rather forcing all entering Freshman to purchase an iPod.

Returning to the forced purchase of contraception, even from a women’s dignity perspective, I would think that most would find this reprehensible.  It is as if the government is saying, “We don’t trust that you will spend some of your money on contraception, so we are going to force you to spend it just to be sure.”  Once more, apply this to something like food.  It would be like your employer, under government coercion, withholding part of your wages and instead giving you food vouchers for specific items that the government deems “essential” to “healthy eating.”  (Actually, the more I think about it, the more fitting this analogy is.)  Wouldn’t it be better to have the money passed on in the form of wages to allow the individual the right to choose how to spend it?  Once you understand that you will be paying for the contraception in some form or another, does not the whole thing sound rather insulting?  In fact, I do something similar with my kids allowance: I give them a certain sum of money, and then I mandate that they put a portion of it in the Church basket on Sunday.  Why?  Because without the mandate, they won’t do it.  Why?  Because they are children.  When it comes to the forced purchase of contraception, the government is treating women as if they are children: they don’t trust that you will purchase contraception on your own, so they are going to make you purchase it.  (This is what they are doing with the health care mandate itself, by the way.)

The other more obvious problem is that this also forces women who chose not to use contraception to carry plans that cover it, thereby essentially purchasing it themselves (one the cost of the plan is passed to the employee in the form of not-as-high-as-they-would-be wages).  In this way, then, the whole issue is not about the right to obtain contraception, it is about the right not to purchase contraception.

Further, Mary brings up the idea of Viagra coverage.  There is an obvious difference, pointed out by one commenter, in that Viagra is correcting a bodily system that isn’t functioning as it should (and is thus much closer to actual “health care”), whereas birth control is doing nothing of the sort.  However, I will say that in this case I agree with Mary.  I also think that the government should not force insurance companies to cover Viagra, but that the employer should simply pay salaries and wages to its employees  and allow them to choose how to spend their money.  The difference here is that, to my knowledge, the government is not doing this in the case of Viagra.  In fact, it may help to clarify the outcry over the contraceptive mandate to imagine the vitriol reactions that would surface if the HHS mandate required the coverage of Viagra.

2.  But in the End, Mary is not Right.

All of the previous argument is null and void however, if Mary is not correct in her assertion that women have the natural “right” to use oral contraceptives.  In order to address this, we must first re-think the whole notion of “freedom” and “rights.”  The problem with our pluralistic society is that everything is couched in terms of “rights,” and further that this terms is never fully defined.  Even so, a discussion bases solely on rights, defined or undefined, could never actually be consistent, because “rights,” understood in simple unqualified terms, will necessarily lead to situations of “competing rights.”  In this case, we end up arguing over which has precedence: the “right” to religious liberty or the “right” to use oral contraceptives.  When we find ourselves at the inevitable impasse of unqualified and competing rights, the only thing left to decide a “winner” is pure power.  Whichever “party” finds itself in control will force its priority on the populus, and this is exactly what we see happening with the Obama administration.

The difficulty here is that freedom is not the random ability to choose between contraries.  Rather, it is the ability to choose the good.  Servais Pinkaers gives a great illustration of this in his book Sources of Christian Ethics by giving the example of a well-trained piano player.  An individual who has no respect for the “rules” of music and the instrument is “free” to bang randomly on the keys (a “freedom of indifference”), but a trained pianist who has been taught the “laws” and “nature” of the piano is able to create music, a freedom that is much more authentic (a “freedom for excellence”).

The moral life is not much different than the musical arts.  We are created with a purpose, a sort of definition of what it means to be “fully human”, what the Greeks called a telos.  We are “free” insofar as we act in a manner consistent with what it means to be human.  In a dilapidated view of freedom, we are of course able to act arbitrarily.  But such a view is not authentic freedomAuthentic freedom is found when we act according to our design, according to the natural law inscribed on our hearts.

Understanding the natural law is the only way to avoid the inevitable conflict of arbitrary and competing rights.  The only “right” we have is the right to act according to our design, to act in a way that is authentically human.  Religious liberty falls generally under this one “right” because we know that we need to freely pursue and accept God.  One can never be coerced into faith (even if the “faith” into which they are coerced is objectively “true”).

The question then is, does an individual have the “right” to use artificial contraception?  Does the use of contraception allow an individual to be more “fully human.”  From a Catholic perspective, the answer is clearly, “No.”  Now, it is not my intent here to defend the Church’s teaching on contraception – numerous arguments far better than what I could produce have been written about this already.  My point here is much simpler: we cannot approach this argument purely from some abstract and ill-defined notion of “freedom” and “rights”, but rather must conceive (pun fully intended) of “rights” and “freedom” under their proper telos of natural law.

I will give only one attempt at an argument against the “right” to oral contraceptives.  I mean this not as the only, and maybe not even as the best, but I do think is it the most important one to publicize: oral contraceptives are abortifacient.  It is in the very design of the pill that on the off chance (the measure of which is hotly debated) that fertilization occurs, the lining of the uterus is renders unstable so as to prevent implantation.  In this case, a newly created human person is destroyed – a life is ended.  Now, the fundamental “right”, if we are to speak in these terms, is the right to life.  Understanding the notion of “freedom for excellence,” the path towards fulfillment as a human person, or the ability to choose the good … none of this is possible without the possibility of living in the first place.  (Another “silver lining” to this tragic situation in which we find ourselves is the mere mentioning of this fact on national television by those members of the Episcopacy (un)fortunate enough to land an interview.  It is about time the terrible truth about abortifacients in oral contraceptives gets more press.)

This is not the best argument against the “right” to use oral contraceptives, because it is conceivable (there is nothing worse than the same pun twice in one article) that someday the pharmaceutical companies will develop an effective oral contraceptive that is not abortifacient.  Even then, seen in the light of Catholic teaching, there will still not be a “right” to use such medication to prevent pregnancy, the prevention of which drives a wedge in the very definition of marriage which by its nature is both unitive and procreative.  In doing so, contraception thereby does not allow a couple to strive towards their fulfillment as human persons in their marital vocation.  (For marriage, after all, is a vocation, and hence a “path to fulfillment.”)  Nevertheless, it the abortifacient argument is an effective argument here and now, because oral contraceptives here and now are abortifacient.

Random Thoughts on the HHS Rule

So much has been written about the HHS rule and its “compromise” that I hardly think I have much to add to the conversation.  Nevertheless, there are a few points that I think have been missing form the debate, even in Catholic circles.  Allow me to take a brief moment to give a relatively disconnected trio of issues that just may help to spark some more conversation.

1. Religious Liberty is an Individual Freedom.

It seems to me that the focus of the national Catholic conversation has been on the Obama administration’s violation of the freedom of religion by forcing Catholic institutions such as hospitals and universities to provide employees with contraceptives and sterilizations, a practice that is in clear contradiction to the teachings of our faith.  While this is certainly deplorable and the most overt violation of the First Amendment, what has been relatively missing from the dialog is that religious liberty is not merely a liberty granted to religious organizations.  First and foremost, religious liberty is an individual liberty.  Each and every citizen of our nation is guaranteed under the Constitution the freedom to practice one’s religion both publicly and privately and to not be coerced into violating our consciences by acting in a way contradictory to the tenants of one’s faith.

Thus, the HHS rule is not simply a violation against specifically religious organizations.  It is also a violation of the religious liberty of the individual business owner, Catholic or otherwise.  As a Catholic, the owner of a private business cannot, under the Constitution, be compelled by the government to pay for “medical” services that violate his or her faith, including contraceptives and sterilizations.  This applies not only to those companies that have a religious mission, such as EWTN or the Knights of Columbus, but also to the owner of a chain of restaurants, a manufacturing form, or an publishing company.  Further, it also applies to the faithful Catholic owner of a medical insurance company.  Forcing the insurance company to provide coverage for these services despite religious beliefs, is a clear violation of the protection guaranteed under the First Amendment.

My fear is simple.  If the conversation focusses exclusively on those organizations for which Bishops have direct involvement, we may very well see further “compromise” between the Obama administration and the USCCB, but tens of thousands of other Catholic business owners will be lost in the shuffle.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that even if the HHS does a complete 180 on the current issue, i.e. incorporating Catholic hospitals and universities in the exemption clause without the bogus compromise that forces the insurance companies to cover the costs and services … even then, the fight is not over.  Because even then there will be thousands of businesses who are not included in the exemption clause because business activities have no specifically religious purpose.  Yet these owners too have the right to practice their religion, and hence should not and cannot be compelled to act in a way contrary to their faith.

That being said, there is admittedly a certain advantage in focussing on overtly Catholic organizations like hospitals and universities.  First, they are the most obvious cases of government intrusion in the religious sphere.  Second, they have high profile leaders, i.e. the episcopacy, that will be forced to take a stand.  Yet still, we should not for a minute think that the battle ends with these organizations.  Each and every one of us is entitled to religious liberty as an American citizen, and forcing a Catholic (or other religious) business owners to pay for plans that include contraception and sterilization is very much a violation of this liberty.  The problem is compounded, of course, if the business is a medical insurance company.

2.  There is a Silver Lining.

The felix culpa effect never ceases to amaze me.  God can bring good out of the most heinous evils, the case and point being the crucifixion.  The silver lining to the current HHS tragedy is the unified effort of the Catholic Episcopacy.  While the thought that the Obama administration feels that it can abuse its power in this manner terrifies me, the response by the Bishops has given me great cause for joy.  When the Bishop’s letter was read from the pulpit two weeks ago, the congregation applauded.  It is a powerful moment for the Church.

Our Church, after all, thrives on persecution.  It is precisely in the midst of being “kept down” that we can rise up against tyranny.  Such is the lesson of the Cross.  There is a quote from 2010 that has been circulating recently, in which Cardinal George of Chicago says, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”  Whether or not the Cardinal is prophetic remains to be seen, but such an “exaggeration” may not be so exaggerated after all.

In light of this, I would encourage those whose Bishop was one of the hundreds that wrote a letter and had it read to send a note of gratitude.  Yes, it was a coordinated effort, but it was the coordination that made it so powerful and effective.  While Friday’s “compromise” is manipulative and nothing really close to a compromise, it seems clear that even this minimal response would not have happened had it not been for the organized outcry.

3.  “Health Care” is Being Redefined.

My final point has been mentioned by several others, but it warrants reiteration.  There is a not-so-subtle redefinition of “health care” in this whole debate.  There is a certain amount of irony that under the president’s health care bill and the accompanying HHS ruling, I will not be able to receive Tylenol or toothpaste for free, but women will be able to receive birth control and abortifacients for free.  Tylenol is a drug that actually tries to cure something that is “wrong” with the body, and toothpaste is authentically “preventative” in terms of dental health problems.  Yet birth control and abortifacients have little to do with the health of the body.  In fact, they are often used for reproductive systems that are otherwise heathy.  They are designed to take a perfectly healthy and well-functioning bodily system and stop it from functioning how it should.  Since when did fertility and pregnancy become a disease?  Since when is birth control more “preventative” than toothpaste and abortifacients more of a “cure” than Tylenol.

Whether we agree or disagree on the morality of birth control is not the relevant question here, nor is whether or not we agree or disagree on the “right” of a woman to take these drugs.  The Catholic Church has always been clear on this, but it seems to me that there is something else at issue here.  Even for those who condone the consumption of these drug, it is a rather large leap to insist that someone else pays for it.

Let me give an analogy.  I believe firmly in the right to bear arms.  However, I do not believe the the government should provide a gun to every citizen who wants one.  Moreover, I don’t believe that my business owner should be forced to provide each of its employees with a gun.  Yet this is precisely what is happening with the HHS rule.  Even if an individual thinks they should have the right to use oral contraceptives, how does that translate to insisting that the government forcing employers and insurance companies to pay for it?  The only answer is to misclassify the contraceptives as “health care.”

I have two clarifications before I sign off, mostly to ensure that I am not misunderstood.  First, I understand quite clearly that oral contraceptives are occasionally prescribed for reasons not having to do with birth control.  This is emphatically not what I am talking about, and such an issue requires a separate conversation.  For my own part, I am of the firm belief that non-contraceptive methods such as NaPro technology have had far more positive results at a cost that is a fraction of many of the contraceptive techniques in dealing with serious medical issues.  Yet again, this is another topic for another time, and is not my intent here.  However, the media has successfully and unfortunately recast the debate in this light, causing a decent amount of public confusion over the issue.  (In a way it reminds me of a person who believes in abortion on demand up until the cutting of the umbilical cord who insists of focussing the debate on the “hard” cases of rape and incest.  In the HHS debate we have people who believe that the government can force employers to cover contraceptive for every purpose but insist of focussing just on those cases where they are not being prescribed for contraceptive purposes.  It is both misleading and disingenuous.)

Second, I am in no way claiming that an individual does have the right to use contraceptives (for reasons of birth control), less so abortifacients.  For my own part, given the objective immorality of such acts, such a “right” would be in direct contradiction of the natural law in which we were created.  My point was only that even if one believes in the right to birth control, it still doesn’t mean that employers or insurance companies should be forced to provide it anymore than they should be forced to provide their employees with firearms.

The main point is simple: birth control is not health care because fertility is not a disease.

The Triple Meaning of Epiphany

The Visit of the Magi

The Feast of Epiphany is preceded in importance by only three other feasts during the liturgical year. (As a good exercise, see if you can name the three feasts in order of their liturgical importance.) The connection between Epiphany and Christmas is not only in the fact that it is twelve days after the celebration of Christ’s Nativity, but also in its modern emphasis on the visitation of the Magi to the Christ Child. Historically, however, the connection is stronger still. Laurence Paul Hemming, when describing the history and theological significance of Epiphany in his book Worship as Revelation, reminds us that the feast of Christ’s birth was originally celebrated on January 6th rather than the current date of December 25th. “[F]ollowing the arguments of Sextus Julius Africanus … the actual birth of Christ was redated to December 25th …. So important was the date of the feast of the 6th January, however, that the established feast of that date remained, in both the East and the West.”

The Wedding at Cana

Once the feast was redated, what was the purpose of reserving January 6th as a day of particular reverence? It might seem at first that the date of January 6th was kept for purely historical or nostalgic reasons. On the contrary, Hemming indicates that the Feast of Epiphany originally had a triple significance: The Nativity (together with the visitation of the Magi), the Baptism of the Lord, and the commemoration of the Wedding at Cana. Thus, even with the transference of the Nativity to December 25th, there were two remaining significations of the feast of Epiphany: the Baptism of Jesus and the commemoration of the Wedding at Cana. Interestingly enough, “[t]he least of the significations of the feast (so much so, that it gets no mention in the liturgies of the East) is the appearance of the wise men of Magi from the East, the so-called ‘three kings.’”

The connection between these three significations is evident in many elements of the liturgy, but perhaps the antiphon for the Benedictus on Epiphany shows this most clearly: “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”
The Baptism of the Lord

The connection the Nativity shares with the Baptism of the Lord is more profound when we recall that the sacrament of Baptism is a celebration of heavenly birth. While Christmas Day is the celebration of the Incarnation, the earthly birth of Jesus, the Baptism of the Lord (as seen by Origin) is a celebration of the heavenly birth of the Savior, not in a temporal sense of course (because the Second Person of the Trinity is an eternal procession from the Father), but in an eschatological sense. There is, then, a connection between the Christmas-Epiphany cycle and the hypostatic union. The Christmas-Epiphany pair celebrates the union of the divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ. Liturgically, we hear this celebration of the hypostatic union and its importance in our own lives in the Opening Prayers from Christmas, Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord.*

From Christmas – Mass of the Day: 

O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

From Epiphany: 


O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy, that we, who know you already by faith, may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.
From the Baptism of the Lord:


Almighty ever-living God,
who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan
and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him,
solemnly declared him your beloved Son,
grant that your children by adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may always be well pleasing to you.
The last example is reminiscent of the silent prayer the priest offers when pouring a drop of water into the chalice filled with wine: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” With the wine representative of divinity and the water representative of humanity, the connection between the wine and water of Cana and Christ’s hypostatic union is made explicit.  (For a more detailed explanation of the signs involved at the Wedding at Cana, see a this commentary on the thought of Fr. Robert Barron.)
It should now be clear that “[t]he central importance of the Feast of the Epiphany is that liturgically we are brought to see the connections between the Incarnation and the Resurrection” (Hemming). In a certain sense, this feast recalls for us the entire Paschal Mystery. It is for this reason that in Rome (and in many other church’s throughout the world) it is on this day, the Feast of Epiphany, that the Deacon, after chanting the Gospel solemnly proclaims in sacred chant the dates of the next Ash Wednesday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and the following First Sunday of Advent.
The Feast of Epiphany, then, calls us to contemplate our own creation and its orientation to our new creation in Christ Jesus. While we may at first be drawn to thoughts of the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the true gift of Epiphany is Christ’s gift of himself for our salvation. Therefore, the three gifts offered by the Magi should only be representations of our own gift of self to the Lord. As proclaimed in Gaudium et Spes (24), “[M]an, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
The universal call to holiness means that the mystery of Christ must become the center of our own existence. As with all things liturgical, the event of Epiphany effects what it signifies. While signifying our own divinization, the liturgy also brings about that divinization. Truly, through our Eucharistic participation in his incarnation-death-resurrection, we do “come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” However, like all sacramental effects, we must dispose ourselves towards the reception of the grace offered. Our attitude towards our Creator must first and foremost be that of openness to the gift, an attitude that recognizes the transcendent reality beyond us, that sees with the eyes of faith that we are actors in the great drama being played out in the cosmos. Let us pray for this disposition so that Jesus Christ might become an Epiphany in our own lives.

My Official Protest – A Two Part Announcement

Part I.  In gratitude for the authorial opportunity granted to me by The American Catholic, I would like to use this forum to host my official “Announcement of Protest.”  Let it be forth known that from this point forward, I am protesting.  The status quo has become too much of a status, and as for the quo … well, who knew what that ever really meant.  Yes, I am protesting, and as such, I am a protester.

Part II.  I would now like you to all join me in a round of congratulations.  Growing up in small-town Ohio, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.”  It is humbling, of course, to be in the company of George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II, and Henry Kissinger.  When I receive my plaque from Time, I will be hosting a party, and all of you are invited.

Part II(B).  As an added bonus to using an online forum for my official announcement, it turns out I have post facto been named “Person of the Year” for 2006.  This secondary plaque will be occasion for a separate, but equally elaborate, celebration, to which all of you are also invited.

Part II(B)(iv).  It is unclear at this point whether or not I won the same award post facto for the 1969 prize.  While certainly a “Middle American,” I was not yet born.  I have sent a request for clarification to the good folks at Time.  I will await the official word before scheduling the third celebration.

Part II(B)(iv)(e).  My MacBook Pro is under the impression that it should receive the 1982 prize.  I tried to tell it that this was just plain silly, but now it is officially protesting me, thereby potentially qualifying it for not one, but two prizes.  It has sent a clarification Tweet to Time.  In the event that it is correct, the computer can plan its own darn party.

Catholic Identity and the New Translation

The Collect for this Sunday should give us pause and a moment to think about Catholic identity.  Before giving you the new text, let’s take a gander at what we heard this past year:
fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Now, we could go through the Latin and point out the deficiencies in this translation, but there is something larger at stake here.  To see it, let’s look at the Latin, but more importantly the new translation.  The Latin text reads,
Gratiam tuam, quaesumus Domine,
mentibus nostris infunde,
ut qui, Angelo nuntiante,
Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus,
per passionem eius et crucem 
ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur.
Some people may already see the connection I am hinting at.  For the rest of us, myself included, reading the new translation brought the whole thing to light:
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
The Angelus (1857–59) by Jean-François Millet
The above is the familiar prayer from the close of the Angelus.  The Angelus is the prayer of the Incarnation that has been recited by Catholics throughout the centuries three times daily: 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm.  The prayer itself goes back at least 700 years, but probably even to the eleventh century or earlier.  In times past, it was one of the most familiar and celebrated prayers in our Catholic heritage, and as such it provided a distinctive mark of Catholic identity.  A priest friend of mine has often recalled the story of his family’s restaurant/bar on the east side of Columbus.  Growing up, every day when the noontime bells rang out from the Catholic Church across the street, everyone in the bar dropped what they were doing and said the Angelus.  Even those who were not Catholic sat in silence during the recitation of the prayer because they know if they didn’t, they would not be served.  This story is an illustration of Catholic identity.  If the same bells were to ring today, how many Catholics would know why, let alone be able to rattle off the words to the Angelus?
Having the Collect from the last Sunday of Advent taken from this timeless prayer is important for establishing the link between the ritual liturgy and the lived liturgy.  In the spirit of lex orandi, lex credendi, if congregations were to hear the Angelus Collect in the context of Mass, those familiar with it would be immediately placed in the presence of the three-times-daily ritual.  Conversely, if the Collect were to be used, more people would become familiar with the Angelus prayer itself.
Unfortunately, until now, the prayer has been disguised beneath a mistranslation.  I am someone who is very familiar with the Angelus, yet I never realized that the Advent Collect was one and the same.  Of course, there are others who have.  It only took a quick Google search to turn up and article from Fr. Zuhlsdorf written in 2004 (and reprinted in 2006) on precisely this issue.
I am not one to debate these chicken-and-egg questions.  Has the mistranslation led to an abandonment of the Angelus, or was the Angelus abandoned long before, and therefore the “retranslating” of the traditional words for the purpose of the Mass Collect was not seen as such a big deal?  Quite frankly, it is probably both.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that the loss of the Angelus is both a symptom and a cause of the loss of Catholic identity, and recovering the translation in the Roman Missal can go a long way towards the process of its restoration.  At the very least, it provides an impetus for a stellar homily.  (Imagine, actually, if the priest on this Sunday were to give a homily that begins with the Angelus and ends with an explanation of the term “consubstantial.”)
Let’s put it this way.  When I read the words for the corrected translation of the Collect from the First Sunday of Advent, my eyes “perked” up from line one: “Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord…”  Imagine how much more will my ears do the same when, blessed be God, they hear the glorious recitation of this prayer this Sunday.  Who knows, maybe they’ll even hear the ever faint echo of the Angelus bells accompanying the text.

A Funeral of Sorts: The Last of the Old Translation

Last year on the First Sunday of Advent, I wrote a piece about the passing of the Propers in the soon-to-be-defunct translation of the Roman Missal.  While we had an entire year to say goodbye to the current Ordinary, each Sunday for the past year has presented us with a set of Propers that would never be heard again.  As we have journeyed over the course of the last fifty-two weeks through the new translation of the Ordinary, we didn’t give nearly as much attention to the once-a-year texts.  Yet these prayers, belonging mostly to the priest, are some of the most exquisite and exciting changes in the new translation of the Missal.

Today is the very last Sunday of the lame-duck translation.  Never again will we hear the translation with which most of us grew up.  While many parishes have already incorporated the people’s Ordinary into their Sunday celebrations, this weekend marks the end of the rest.  (Of course if you are one for “long goodbyes,” there is always the opportunity to go to Mass during this week for a series of last hurrahs.)

It seems timely, then, to visit the Collect (or the “Prayer-formally-known-as-the-Opening-Prayer”) for the very last Sunday in the liturgical year: The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  The current rendition reads:
Almighty and merciful God,
you break the power of evil and make all things new
in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.
May all in heaven and earth
acclaim your glory and never cease to praise you.

As far as these things go, it is not all too bad.  Yet the new and improved version does quite a bit more to emphasize the majesty of our Lord and of this great celebration:
Almighty ever-living God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray,

may render your majesty service

that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.  

May we, too, be set free from the slavery of a translation that was in desperate need of being cleansed of its iniquities, and may we ceaselessly praise our Lord and Savior, the King of the universe, through this great gift that has been given to us: The New Translation of the Roman Missal.

As a complementary bookend to this last Sunday of the last year of the old translation, I give you the article written, nearly a year ago, on the first Sunday of the last year of the old translation:


A Funeral of Sorts … every Sunday for the Next Year
November 28, 2010

I feel like each Sunday this year presents a funeral of sorts … a passing of Mass texts that will never be heard again.  Rather than mourning this passing, my heart finds solace in the assurance that these texts will rise again in a more perfect form with the “advent” of the new translation.  While we have a full year to pay our respects to the passing Ordinary, there is a rejoicing of sorts that the current Propers have reached the end of the proverbial line: their days are numbered, their time has passed, and blessed be God for that.

Today, the First Sunday of Advent, provides the first example of such a passing.  The Collect, in Latin, reads:
Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
hanc tuis fidelibus voluntatem,
ut, Christo tuo venienti iustis operibus occurrentes,
eius dextrae sociati, regnum mereantur possidere caeleste.
The current, Lame Duck Translation (to borrow the phrase from Fr. Zuhlsdorf) … what we all heard at Mass this morning … reads:
All-powerful God,
increase our strength of will for doing good
that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming
and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.
The new translation will read,
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
The Mickey Mouse rendering of 1973 lacks a certain dignity when compared with the more new and improved translation.  The later is more faithful to the Latin, but more importantly, it has an aesthetic quality that leaves the Lame Duck version grounded, or perhaps six feet less than grounded.
Let us not prematurely break into the Dies Irae for the passing of the old, decrepit, 1973 translation, for while it seems to have met its certain death with the passing of today’s Sunday liturgy, it pains me to say that its ghost will live on.

Those who regularly pray the Liturgy of the Hours know that the Collect from Mass is often used in the Proper of Seasons and Proper of Saints for the Divine Office.  This is done deliberately, of course, and provides the faithful a perfect opportunity to unite the sanctification of the day found by saying the Liturgy of the Hours with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the source an summit of the liturgy.  If one is faithful to all the hours, the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent is recited four times today (Office of Readings, Lauds, Daytime Prayer, and Vespers), as well as once yesterday (Vespers for the Vigil).

Once the new translation takes effect, there will be a disconnect between the Collect from the Sunday Mass and the Collect found in the breviary.  I sincerely hope that the Bishops allow the new translations to be used during public recitations of the Liturgy of the Hours in order to remedy this disconnect.  Is it possible that new breviaries are printed?  Possible, yes.  Plausible, no.  In the absence of a new printing, a supplement of Collects could be printed to be used alongside the Psalms and Readings from the breviary until such a time that ICEL decides to retranslate the Liturgy of the Hours.  (Don’t hold your breath, by the way.)

All things considered, however, this should not distract us from the burial of these texts that we experience this year.  At least in terms of the Holy Mass, the 1973 “Opening Prayer” for the First Sunday of Advent has met its maker, kicked the bucket, bit the dust, bought the farm, breathed its last, and indeed … croaked.  This is not a cause for mourning, but rather a looking forward to the day of resurrection; for the Latin soul of this prayer is indeed filled with grace, so when it rises again as the 2010 Collect, it will be gloriously triumphant.  We could, in fact, say that that new translation renders the prayer “worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.”

One Sunday down, 51 more to go.   UPDATE: 51 Sundays down, 1 more to go.

The Paradoxes of Economic Measures

I am not an economist, and I don’t claim to have anything close to useful knowledge in the area.  However, like many areas in which I have little knowledge, I find that I have lots of question.  Economics is a particularly interesting field in that two “experts” can examine the same problem and come up with solutions that seem diametrically opposed.  I put “experts” in quotes because I sense that the discrepancy of opinions lies more in politics than it does in the discipline itself.  By its very nature, the science of economics intersects the arena of politics, hence the phrase “economic policy.”  The down side of this is that even the “orthodox” positions, those on which nearly all economists agree, can be colored for political purposes.  In general, it seems that any social science has something of this.  For whatever reason, the “hard” sciences produce less public controversy.  Perhaps this has to to with the relative ease of experimentation in the hard sciences when compared with the social sciences.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the social science have as their subject the human person, which by nature cannot be reduced to overly rationalistic or mechanistic behavior.  Not being an expert in either hard sciences or social sciences, I can only speculate.

Yet despite my near total lack of experience and absolute total lack of expertise, it strangely enough doesn’t seem to hinder me from thinking about paradoxes in the field, or at the very least “perceived” paradoxes.  One such paradox that has kept me up at night, (well, let’s not go that far), is the obsession that political economics has with using GDP/GNP for measuring the health of the nation’s economy.  Now, let’s not go off the deep end here; I am not saying to toss the measure out the window altogether.  But consider the following relatively useless mental exercise.*

We all have household tasks to perform: mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cooking meals, even watching our children.  We do perform these tasks willingly, and no one pays us to perform them.  The services themselves don’t contribute to the GDP.  Now, one day, my neighbor and I become concerned about the GDP and decide to do something to help it out.  We agree to take some of these services, say mowing the lawn and washing the dishes, and hire each other to do them.  I pay him $20 to mow my lawn and an additional $30 to wash my dishes every week.  Thus, I am hiring him for $50 a week, or $2600 per year.  Now, let’s be honest, with five kids, I can hardly afford to pay someone to do these menial tasks for me, so I get my neighbor to agree to pay me $50 per week to mow his lawn and do his dishes, coincidentally just enough to cover my new annual $2600 expense.  In total, we have collectively contributed $5200 per year to the GDP.  Yet our lives have not changed in the least, neither in income or standard of living.  Further, our workload has not really changed at all.  Yet we have now contributed to the GDP.

To make the mental exercise even more absurd, after a month of doing this, we decide that it is a real inconvenience.  My neighbor simply doesn’t want to walk across the street to mow my lawn and do my dishes.  However, he doesn’t want to give up his new-found $2600 profit.  He decides to subcontract this work out to a poor soul who will be willing to do the work for half the price, $1300.  That poor soul ends up being me.  In other words, I am paying my neighbor $2600 a year to mow my lawn and do my dishes, and he in turn is paying me $1300 to do this work for him.  I, in turn, play the same game with him.  He pays my $2600 a year to mow his lawn and do his dishes, and I hire him for $1300 a year to do his own work.  The net result of this is as follows.  We have added $5200+$2600 = $7800 a year to the GDP, yet the net change to my fiscal situation is $0 (likewise for my neighbor), and the net change in my workload is 0.  (I am mowing my own lawn and doing my own dishes, just like I was before we had our brilliant idea.)

To exaggerate this even further, because we have now become obsessed with our own brilliance, my neighbor and I decide to up the ante by multiplying all of our payments by 1,000,000.  (Of course, we will have to take out loans for this, but once the banks recognize our raw intelligence and entrepreneurial spirit, they will be fighting to give us loans.)  We have now contributed to the GDP $7,800,000,000, or 7.8 billion dollars, all for mowing our own lawn and doing or own dishes.

While I am admittedly unclear on the exact accounting of such an experiment (for instance should the subcontracting fees be deducted from the profits), something of this already exists when trying to compare the GDP in the United State over long periods of time.  In the last two-hundred years, the GDP in our county has grown enormously, yet the figure overstates the growth in production over the that time period.  Two-hundred years ago, far more people (most people?) produced their own food and many of their own possessions (clothing, etc.).  As self-produced, these activities and products were “off the ledger” of the GDP, so to speak.  Perhaps the biggest change came when many women moved from the home into the workforce.  Activities once done for no monetary exchange were now part of the GDP calculation: housekeeping, child care, cooking, etc.  The affect of this was essentially one of accounting: much of this activity moved from “off the ledger” to “on the ledger.”  The activity itself didn’t necessarily change, nor did the production of goods and services (yes, this oversimplifies the situation), yet the GDP was grossly affected by the accounting move.

The same sort of game can be played with unemployment rates.  The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by the size of the labor force.  An “unemployed individual” is defined as someone who is not currently working by is willing to work for pay.  In the midst of our recession/double-dip-recession/ whatever-the-experts-are-calling-the-current-situation, no number has been tossed around the news media more than the unemployment rate.  However, this number is just as easily manipulated.  For instance, let’s take every household in which one of the two parents stays home decides simultaneously, “I want a job.”  All of a sudden, even though the financial situation of the country has not changed, the unemployment rate goes through the roof.

On the other hand, suppose every one of these parents decides to engage in a deal such as between me and my neighbor.  Maybe they decide to pay each other to watch their own children for the day.  Now we have the opposite effect: the unemployment rate goes down.

In the interest of attempting some sort of pseudo-rational analysis, I suppose that these numbers are not entirely absurd if only because people don’t act in ways proposed by my two mental exercises.  Nevertheless, it does make one question how much stake we put into a system that relies almost solely on quantifying economic behavior, which is essentially human behavior.  I want to be careful here to once again separate the discipline of economics from the politics of economics.  I cannot in good conscience speak for a discipline of which I have so little experience, but I can speak to the way in which numbers such as GDP and unemployment rate are used (and abused?) by the news media which makes its way into my living room.

In the interest of giving the discipline itself the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that it has as its goal to both measure and increase the well-being of citizens.  (Actually, does not every discipline have this as a sort of telos, each with its own methodology?)  If so, should not the measure of economic well-being somehow take into account how well the beings actually are?  And surely this is a larger question than one of just exchange of dollars and cents.

Further, even if the discipline limits itself to the question of economic well-being (however that is defined), surely the two mental experiments show that the current methods are not at all adequate, despite their preferential treatment in popular conversation.  I have a sneaky suspicion that respectable economists realize this in their theoretical work, yet because it is theoretical and altruistic (I use that word as a compliment), the message is drowned out in the overly-pragmatic popular press which likes to grab on to easily digestible but often misunderstood or misused measurements such as GDP and unemployment rate.

In the current climate in which we find ourselves, there seems to be an inherent contradiction in terms.  More than any other time in my short history, folks are talking about not spending money, about being responsible with their finances.  In short, people are quite concerned about being economical with their resources, financial or otherwise.  Yet according the measure such as GDP and unemployment rate, acting in a way we deem “economical” is one of the most un-economic things we can do.  I speak here not form the level of an individual consumer, for the act of “not spending” often involves investing, even if it be in something as simply as a savings account, which by any measures grows the economy.  As a good friend wrote to me, “Rather than focusing on wisdom, responsibility, and prudent management of resources, the popular discussion focusses single-mindedly on improving questionable measures of national well-being;  As a result, gimmicks rule the conversation and common-sense gets lost in the commotion.”**

I beg you not to misconstrue my point – I am not suggesting that there is no place for numerical measures in the life of the economy.  I am not even saying that there is no place for the specific measures of GDP and the unemployment rate.  Rather, I am suggesting that such measures not “rule the conversation.”  The conversation should instead be ruled by solid philosophy.  And as a good Aristotelian, I suggest we begin with the highest ideas, such as the “happy life”, or “fulfillment.”  Rather than measuring raw dollars and percent growth in spending/income, perhaps we should be thinking about how fulfilled people are, how much closer (or farther?) are they from being “fully human”, and how economic policy can work to bring about the “happy life”.  Did not the philosophers of old define a good society as one in which the greatest number of individuals are able to achieve their telos as human person?  Surely economic measures and policies should keep the proverbial end in sight if they are to be anything that remotely resembles a success?


Soap box abandoned.


*  This exercise was not of my own creation.  It is a modified version of a situation describe by Joseph Pearce in Small Is Still Beautiful: Economics as if the Family Matters.

**  I am highly indebted to Bill M. for reviewing this post for me.  Unlike myself, Bill actually does have some background in economics, and my ideas, while more than likely still flawed, are at least clearer because of his input, much of which made its way into the final version.  In some cases, I have used his wording.  Nevertheless, any errors in perception or thinking are still mine and mine alone.

Calculating Divorce

Several days ago, Creative Minority Report posted a video interview with comedian Steven Crowder on the state of marriage in our country.  Before I get on with my own comments, I should say that Crowder makes several good points, and overall his spiel is very pro-marriage.  Give it a watch if you haven’t already seen it.

YouTube Preview Image

The “myth” that caught my attention is the one about a 50% divorce rate.  If it is indeed a myth, then I have certainly been taken in by it.  For, not only have I believed it for several decades, but I have found myself irresponsibly quoting it without having an actual source.  (Such is the case with myths, yes?)  I suppose the purpose of this post is not much better, because still don’t have a source.  However, the mathematician in me go to thinking about how one might go about “measuring” the rate of success in marriage at a given point in time.  Rarely do numbers lie, but people (and people’s lack of basic statistical understanding) often lie with numbers.  I made a similar point a while back with the the myth of the “99% effectiveness” of Natural Family Planning.

In other words, studies are often perfectly clear on their methodology, but most people have no idea what the studies actually measure, and they misapply the end results.

Let’s think about two different methods one might use to measure the current “divorce” rate.

The first method is the obvious one.  It is entirely accurate, but altogether impractical.  If we want to know the divorce rate for marriage that occurred in the year 2011, we take all those who were married and wait until one of two things happen: the couple divorces or one of the spouses passes away.  The marriage in which a couple passes away are deemed “successful”, whereas the ones that divorce are not.  With a simple division, we have our divorce rate.  Unfortunately, this means we have to wait until at least a half a decade in order to report on the success of marriage in any one given year.  For, although it is unlikely that a couple who is married past fifty years will end up divorcing, we cannot be sure – so we must wait it out.  (Of course, at any given moment, we could count the number of divorces and say, “The divorce rate for 2011 is at least x%.”)  This method seems to assume that divorce is a product of cultural attitude at the time of marriage.  In other words, we blame the failure of marriage on the year in which the marriage occurred.

The second method is the flip side of the first method.  It is quite easy to do, but perhaps not all that accurate.  We count the number of marriages that occurred in 2011, and we count the number of divorces that occurred in 2011, and we divide.  The upside is that all the information is available at the close of the year.  The down side is that we are comparing apples to oranges.  (Additionally, in theory very strange results could occurs, such as divorce rates above 100% .. unlikely, of course, but in this scheme, theoretically possible).  This method assumes that marriages fall apart based on current cultural attitudes, not on the attitudes in the year in which the couple was married.  Perhaps that is better, yet there still seems something wrong with counting divorces and marriages with an entirely different set of couples and then attributing the result to that particular year.

To illustrate how these calculations might differ, let’s come up with some hypothetical data.  I admit that I am over-simplifying the situation, but the goal is to point out the difference that results between the two calculations, not to give an accurate description of divorce in our country.  Because it is easier to begin with method one, we will assume that we have a 40% divorce rate that never changes.  Further, we will assume that 10% of the marriages end within the first year, 10% in the second year, 10% in the third year, and then 5% per year in years 4 and 5.  After year 7, no more divorces occur for that cohort.  (We attempt here to model the phenomenon that marriages that last tend to last!)  We will also assume for the sake of simplicity, that the number of marriages climbs by 10% every year.  Finally, we have a hypothetical starting data for the year 2000.  In order to compare results, we will need to wait through at least one cohort length, but we will extend it to two cohorts, or ten years.  Thus, our data looks like this

(My apologies for the small image.  Open it in a new window to see the full calculations and results.)

I have only totaled the years after 2004 because this is the first year we have all the divorce information (due to our assumption that no divorce takes place after five years of successful marriage).

Let’s look at the year 2005.  We know from our assumption that Method One yields a 40% divorce rate.  What does Method Two yield?  Method two suggests that we divide the number of divorces by the number of marriage in that year.  This gives us 505,510/1,610,510 = 31.4%.  There is quite a difference, yes?  (An 8.6% difference to be precise.)

Let’s see what happens as we progress through 2010.  Remember, we decided to keep a constant “Method One” divorce rate of 40%.  It turns out, and I’ll leave the reader to check this, that the 31.39% rate continues into the subsequent years.   (As a challenge, can you prove that a constant “Method One” rate yields a constant “Method Two” rate?)  Why is Method Two lower?  Because it is counting divorces with a higher cohort than might be appropriate – a number that ends up in the demoninator.  Of course, this is because the number of marriages is increasing throughout the years.  (Again, as a challenge, can you prove that if the number of marriages stays constant, there is no difference between the Method One rate and the Method Two rate?)  If the number of marriages decreases, then the Method One rate is less than the Method Two rate.  As an example, suppose that the number of marriages decreases by 10% rather than increases.  The Method One rate is still 40%, but the Method Two rate comes out to be 53.2%.

If you are savvy with a spreadsheet or a programming language, you can play around with the Method One rate and the way in which it is broken down (I broke 40% into 10%, 10%, 10%, 5%, and 5%) to see just how far apart the two method can get.  For instance, when I broke down the 40% into 10%, 10%, 5%, 5%, 5%, 1%, 1%, 1%, 1%, and 1%, the Method One 40% rate came out to a Method 2 rate of 30.1%.  The farther into a marriage that divorce is allowed to go in our model, the farther apart the two calculations get.  (Incidentally, that was with a 10% growth in marriages every year.  With a 10% decline, the 40% rate led to a 57.4% Method Two calculation.)

There are, of course, all sorts of auxiliary points.  For instance, the comedian seemed to suggest that people were afraid to get into marriage at all, in which case the rate we are really interested in is the divorce rate for first time marriages.  This will clearly be different than when we take into account all marriages.  Further, while it might be true that divorce numbers (in any calculation) might be dropping, let us not conclude that this means that marriage itself is becoming more successful.  It could mean that the number of marriages itself it dropping (or at least not growing as much as it once was).  With an increase in cohabitation, I would have to imagine that we are experiencing less marriage than perhaps would have been predicted given the rate of growth of population.  More to the point, those who chose not to get married are also those that would have been more susceptible to divorce.  (This is my intuition, not the result of actual data.)

Completely tangental, perhaps a more interesting number, especially as an educator, would be to look at the percent of the population who are the children of either a divorce or an out of wedlock relationship.  Conversely, this would mean looking at the percent of the population whose parents are either still together or have suffered the loss of a spouse.  If we are talking about the impact of divorce on future society, this seems like a valuable number to know, and the calculation is much more straightforward the the divorce rate.

I can’t say that I have read the research in front of me that proposes a near 50% divorce rate.  Likewise, I haven’t seen the research that backs up the numbers quoted by Steven Crowder.  What I can say is that it is not altogether unthinkable that both numbers were arrived at in scientific papers, each calculating the rate of divorce differently.  What this means for our casual conversation is this: try to understand what a statistic means before quoting it, and I include myself in this docile chastisement.

The Holy War: Mac versus DOS

With the resignation of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple Corporation, it seems timely to revisit a classic piece of prose from Umberto Eco.  Many have seen this, some have not.

For my own part, I have always been an Apple guy at heart.  My family’s first computer was an Apple IIGS, purchased in 1986, retailing at just under $1000.  My first personal computer was a Power Macintosh 5260 during my Freshman year at college.  (By the way, had I taken my $2000 and invested it into Apple stock rather than buying the computer, it appears that the stock  today would be valued over $100,000.)   Shamefully, I admit that I went through a three year stint on a Sony Vaio that I obtained as a gift.  To this day I still question the decision that a free PC was better than a paid-for Apple.  Nevertheless, I returned to Apple when the Vaio crashed and burned, and needless to say, Steve took me back with open arms and a big smile of forgiveness.  Yes, folks, I am a revert.

Umberto Eco wrote “The Holy War: Mac versus DOS” on September 30th, 1994, for the Italian weekly publication Espresso.  I altered his title in my post as we are seemingly past the point where the three letters D-O-S mean anything to the average consumer.  His piece, however, is brilliant, and confirms what I have always suspected.  Moreover, with the stepping down of Apple’s “pope” and the “election” of his successor, Tim Cook, the nostalgia of this article that I read years ago was fueled by its recent mention by Whispers.  (Yes, I am well aware that I am taking the analogy entirely too far.)  Enough of all that, though.  Without further delay … Umberto Eco:

The Holy War: Mac versus DOS

by Umberto Eco

Friends, Italians, countrymen, I ask that a Committee for Public Health be set up, whose task would be to censor (by violent means, if necessary) discussion of the following topics in the Italian press. Each censored topic is followed by an alternative in brackets which is just as futile, but rich with the potential for polemic. Whether Joyce is boring (whether reading Thomas Mann gives one erections). Whether Heidegger is responsible for the crisis of the Left (whether Ariosto provoked the revocation of the Edict of Nantes). Whether semiotics has blurred the difference between Walt Disney and Dante (whether De Agostini does the right thing in putting Vimercate and the Sahara in the same atlas). Whether Italy boycotted quantum physics (whether France plots against the subjunctive). Whether new technologies kill books and cinemas (whether zeppelins made bicycles redundant). Whether computers kill inspiration (whether fountain pens are Protestant).

One can continue with: whether Moses was anti-semitic; whether Leon Bloy liked Calasso; whether Rousseau was responsible for the atomic bomb; whether Homer approved of investments in Treasury stocks; whether the Sacred Heart is monarchist or republican.

I asked above whether fountain pens were Protestant. Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground religious war which is modifying the modern world. It’s an old idea of mine, but I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately agree with me.

The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach — if not the kingdom of Heaven — the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It’s true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions: When it comes down to it, you can decide to ordain women and gays if you want to.

Naturally, the Catholicism and Protestantism of the two systems have nothing to do with the cultural and religious positions of their users. One may wonder whether, as time goes by, the use of one system rather than another leads to profound inner changes. Can you use DOS and be a Vande supporter? And more: Would Celine have written using Word, WordPerfect, or Wordstar? Would Descartes have programmed in Pascal?

And machine code, which lies beneath and decides the destiny of both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that belongs to the Old Testament, and is talmudic and cabalistic. The Jewish lobby, as always….

Why the Youth are Rioting

I beg your patience over my absence, and I ask for your prayers.  In June I accepted an administrative position with a new school district.  While this is a very good opportunity in so many ways, I have never in my life found myself so overwhelmed.  I can only say this: teaching was so easy!

At any rate, while this post is not original by any means, I couldn’t help but share the content of an article I ran across today.  The liberal left often likes to pin social unrest on the ills created by the conservative right.  You know how the goes … the economy is in the pits because of right wing policies put in place by George W. Bush … because people don’t have jobs they become socially discontent … because they are socially discontent they rise up “against the man”, so to speak.  Rarely are people actually held accountable for their actions.  Instead, we live in a culture that seeks to pin people’s actions on something external to the human will, something other than sin (dare I even use the word).  Actually, this is nothing new.  It is merely a modern version of ancient Christian heresies that seek to separate the body and soul, in this case to separate the external actions from the internal person.  How often as a teacher did I hear a student explain their dishonesty with, “I know I cheated, Mr. Tawney, but I am not a cheater.  I am a good person.”  The danger in separating our actions from our persons will be catastrophic for the world.  The Christian principle of sacramentality, understood here in its most general sense, says quite the opposite: the external is a reflection of the internal, and at the same time the external forms the internal.  This is true whether we are talking about the words of consecration (which are externally symbolic of the underlying reality and are simultaneously efficacious in bringing about the internal reality) or whether we are talking about the moral act.  Friends, we are how we act, and we act how we are.  When we stand before God, we will not be able to pin our sin on the social policies of one party or another.

I have rambled enough … more than I intended.  With that, I give you the motivation behind these thoughts: an article on the London riots.

The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. They do not have what most of us would call ‘lives’: they simply exist.

Nobody has ever dared suggest to them that they need feel any allegiance to anything, least of all Britain or their community. They do not watch royal weddings or notice Test matches or take pride in being Londoners or Scousers or Brummies.

Not only do they know nothing of Britain’s past, they care nothing for its present.

They have their being only in video games and street-fights, casual drug use and crime, sometimes petty, sometimes serious.

The notions of doing a nine-to-five job, marrying and sticking with a wife and kids, taking up DIY or learning to read properly, are beyond their imaginations.

Read the rest here.

Follow TAC by Clicking on the Buttons Below
Bookmark and Share
Subscribe by eMail

Enter your email:

Recent Comments
Our Visitors. . .
Our Subscribers. . .