Tuesday, November 6, 2007

How do we Help?

When facing a violated theme of Catholic Social Teaching (e.g. a Sinful Social Structure, an Injustice) we are then plagued with the question, "How can I help?"

The answer is usually a complex one, which often turns people away from wanting to help at all. The problem may seem too big, too widespread for one person to handle.

A popular prayer askes God to "Give me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference." This part of Catholic Social Teaching helps us to know the difference.

Once again I direct you to the School Web Lockers for the power point we covered in class on this topic.
When an individual is hurting our first instinct is to reach out and offer help. This is called DIRECT AID. It is a personal, often one-on-one way of offering immediate assistance to a vicitm. Direct aid has immediate benefits in the life of the victim, but they are often small in scope and short-lived.
For example, if someone's home has been burned to the ground by militant rebels, offering a blanket, food & drink, or some clothing is an immediate form of aid. But it does not rebuild the house or offer any other long-term solution, and it certainly does not stop the rebels from burining down other houses.

Big problems also require SOCIAL ACTION, which is identifying the root cause of the problem and eliminating it. Social Action is a long-term approach to a problem that requires a lot of organization and usually a lot of manpower. Rarely is a social action solution something that works overnight. Rather they take weeks, months, or even years. However, there impact is widespread and long-lasting (if not permanent.)

Using our example of militant rebels, a social action approach dictates that we investigate why the group is motivated to inflict terror on civilians. If the answer lies in their lack of financial resources or opportunities then efforts to restore balance would be helpful. If the rebels do not respond to diplomacy then it may be time to look at the conflict in light fo the Church's just war theory and determine if military action is the next step.

Social Action is the philosophy behind the addage, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime."

Direct Aid and Social Action work together, just like to feet, to help bring stability to a situation and enable progress toward a solution.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B

Social Structures

There are many different aspects to our lives and each them has its own context. These Nine contexts are the Social Structures (or Institutions) that make up society.

1. Marriage & Family
2. Education
3. Healthcare
4. Production & Distribution of Goods & Services
5. Business & Financial Matters (Commerce)
6. Law & Government
7. Media & Communication
8. Recreation & Entertainment
9. Religion (which is both a Human & a Divine Institution)

Again, there is a power point on the School Web Lockers, but it is mostly pictures.

Are all Social Institutions the Same?
A particular institution can be either Graced or Sinful. The criterion for making that judgment is rooted in God's will and the Dignity of the Human Person. If a particular institution violates, denies, or degrades human dignity then it is Sinful. On the other hand, if it is an institution that respects and builds up personal dignity with respect to the will of God then it is Graced.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B

Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching

Modern Catholic Social Teaching is built upon Seven Themes which we discussed in class. There is a power-point over these themes on the School Web Lockers.

This helpful website from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explaines each theme in more detail.

1. Life & Dignity of the Human Person
2. Call to Family & Community Participation
3. Rights and Responsibilities
4. Option for the Poor & Vulnerable
5. Dignity of Work & Rights of Workers
6. Solidarity
7. Stewardship for Creation

LEARN THESE THEMES and incorporate them into you senior project. Again, these are the backbone of Catholic Social Teaching.

Until Next time,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B

Monday, October 8, 2007


The Industrial Revolution, which straddled the 18th and 19th centuries, was a time of great economic change in Europe and North America. It saw a shift from a predominantly agricultural economy to one based on manufacturing. This also ushered in an era of growth for cities as jobs shifted from the rural farming areas to urban centers of production.

A few key developments that made this revolution possible are worthy of note:
1. The Steam Engine - this basic engine was used to provide power to locamotives, production machinery, and construction equipment.
2. Electricity - certainly not "invented" during this era, it was during the 19th Century that it was truly harnessed and made widely available for manufacturing - running machinery and lighting the factories and production plants.
3. The Assembly Line - a method of production where each worker is assigned a specific job, which is performed repeatedly. This is in contrast to each worker creating an object from start to finish, which was much slower.
4. Interchangeable Parts - using identical elements to create items ensured that the products would be uniform in quality and that if a single element failed or broke it could be easily replaced.

The result of the Industrial Revolution was an economic boom and in many ways an increased quality of life for the upper class, but at the same time it had a negative impact on the quality of life for workers.

Working conditions were deplorable: factories were hot, dangerous places with poor air quality. There were few breaks and the work day was 12 hours or more. There was no minimum wage, no medical benefits, and no compensation if a worker was injured on the job. Without child labor laws there was nothing to keep children from the same miserable working conditions, and what's worse - if children were working then they weren't in school. The lack of education only perpetuated the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.

Often the factory owners also owned the tenaments and apartment buildings that were inhabited by their workers, keeping them practically enslaved to their bosses.

These negative aspects of the Industrial Revolution, coupled with a capitalist economy was influential in the formation of a rival system in the minds of Karl Marx and Fredreich Engles, the fathers of Communism. It is their idea that we will explore next time.

Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Colonialism is the practice of one nation extending its control and influence to other territories by establishing settlements within those regions.

Colonialism is undertaken primarily for economic reasons - that is the colony exports natural resources to the parent country where the resources are turned into finished products. These products then fuel the economy of the parent country. In addition, the colony serves as a contained market for finished goods from the parent nation.

Truly the practice of colonizing distant lands began in the ancient world. The Greeks, with their formidable navy, were masters of colonization. However, in our context we will be dealing with colonialism in the modern world at the end of the 15th Century.

We all know that "in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue." He is, of course, widely credited with having discovered America. However, did you know:

1. Columbus was not looking for (nor did he suspect the existence of) America, but rather a passage from Europe to Asia. He died thinking this is exactly what he had done.

2. Columbus never made landfall in what is now the United States. In his voyages he only explored the Carribean islands & Panama.

3. America is named not for Columbus, but for Amerigo Vespucci, a contemporary of Columubs who explored the South American mainland.

4. Scholars suspect that Northern Europeans (Vikings & possible the Irish) were sailing to what is now North America five centuries before Columbus.

Nevertheless, Columbus represents the vanguard of what became a veritable flood of Europeans into the "New World". Within a century the British had established a colony in Virginia, the ill-fated Jamestown settlement. It was not long before the French and the Dutch joined the Spaniards, British, and Portuguese in settling the Americas. Each nation was attracted to the New World by the promise of increased wealth and power, especially from the rumored Gold and Silver thought to be in great abundance. Like children cutting off slices from a pizza, the European nations carved up the Americas and began fighting with one another for bigger portions.

The rest of the world was "up for grabs" too: Europeans colonized much of Africa and parts of Asia as well.

Again, colonialism usually brought economic prosperity to those nations willing to risk the endeavor. Another benefit was found in the many advances in the technology of travel. Sailing and navigating techniques, cartography (map-making), and shipbuilding all saw enormous advances during the colonial era.

The negatives, however, were often tremendous: the degredation and oppression of the indiginous (native) people was part of nearly every colonial endeavor. Most natives were overpowered by the Europeans due to a number of factors:

1. Lack of resistance to European diseases (to some extent this did work both ways)

2. Superior technology of the European armies (guns, steel armor, etc.)

3. Loose social organization compared to the Europeans' military discipline

The end result usually followed one of two patterns:

A. The native populations were wiped out by disease or killed in armed conflict (as was the case with most of North America)

B. The native populations were overwhelmed and essentially enslaved (as was the case with most of South America)

Many parts of the world are still feeling the effects of this oppression in the form of strained race relations and economic disparity (wealthy European descendants and impoverished native descendents).

A lesser injustice of colonialism was the "second-class citizenship" of the colonists themselves when compared to the citizens of the parent nation. This played itself out in North America between the British and their colonists and eventually resulted in a colonial rebellion and the foundation of a new country. The 13 American colonies have in turn become 50 states, spanning an entire continent, due to their own sort of colonialism.

The Church today, of course, opposes the enslavement or the mistreatment of natives, but in the 15th Century the view was slightly different. Members of the Church did indeed advocate for more humane treatment of the natives, but the mindset was that they were less civilized or "savage" and therefore in need of reform at the hands of "civilized" Europeans. The Church did respond to colonialism by sending missionaries, particularly form Religious Orders, to minister to the needs of colonists and the preach the Gospel to natives. It is due to the efforts of these missionaries, especially the Franciscans and Jesuits, that much of Latin America is very Catholic even to this day. Female religious orders played a part as well, as we see in the Sisters of Providence founded by St. Theodore Guerin, who took charge of the education of youth in the frontier region of America today known as Indiana.

Until Next time,
Ad Jesum per Mariam.
Mr. B


Nationalism is an intense love of one's nation to the point that he believes his nation superior in dignity to all others. It is a fanatic patriotism, which by itself is a more subdued pride in one's nation.
Nationalism emerged as a response to the instability in Western Europe as the feudal system collapsed toward the end of the Middle Ages. For centuries Europeans had viewed themselves of citizens of a vast Christian Empire, united in faith. As the Feudal system began to break down under its own weight the Church went from being a stabilizing factor in society to being a plagued by corruption.

People began to look to their cultural identities as a source of unity and stability. By the end of the medieval era there were distinctly French, German, British, Italian, and Spanish cultures. This local unity was derived from a common heritage, common leadership, and common customs; the modern Nation-state emerged.

The Church did not respond favorably to nationalism as it was seen as a step toward secularization. People now looked to local government rather than the Church as a source of authority. This paved the way for division among the faithful and eventually added fuel to the fire of the Reformation.

The French Revolution is perhaps the greatest example of nationalism run afoul. The French lower classes, full of Rationalist spirit, saw the authority of the Church, Monarchy, and Nobility as an insult to the more "modern" ideas of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. After assisting the American colonies in gaining their independence from Britain (and in many ways, inspired by their success) the French launched their own revolution, tore down the existing authority and attempted to establish a free and equal society.

Indeed, the lower classes of French society were oppresed, especially compared to the extravagant lifestyle of the French nobility and clergy. However, in their zeal for transforming their national identity the Revolutionaries launched a deadly campaign against every member of the upper class, known as the Reign of Terror. Countless members of the aristocracy, including women and children, met their end at the hands of a French mob and the brutally efficient guillotine.

The Reign of Terror only ended when Napolean rose to power and set out to dominate all of Europe.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B


Rationalism is the idea that human reason is the sole authority in any area of human endeavor. In other words, if it does not "make sense" then reject it.

Rationalism, as it was employed in Europe during the Enlightenment, stood in direct opposition to the Church. God, Revelation, Sacraments, Faith - none of these things seemed logical to rationalist thinkers. They saw the world as guided by natural laws and forces, reasoning, & mathematics, rather than Faith, Hope, & Love.

Some notable proponents of Rationalis are:
Leibniz, Spinoza, Descartes, Montesquie, Voltaire, Locke, Hobbes, and Hume. We shall discuss only one of these at length: Rene Descartes.

Descartes was a French mathematician and philosopher who assumed (that is, took on) a position of skepticism. By skepticism we don't simply mean being a pessimist or a negatively minded thinker. Philosophically a skeptic is one who doubts all statements without clear evidence or proof. Descartes doubted EVERYTHING: that God exists, that emotions are real, that his perception of reality was the same as anothers, even his own existence. He reasoned that there must be one foundational principle that would be beyond doubt and upon which he could build his philosophical system.

In the end, it became his very process of thinking that formed his foundational principle: "I think, therefore I am." (in Latin - the language of scholarship for most of western history, "Cogito ergo sum." in Descartes native French, "Je pense, donc je suis.")

Rationalism was good in that it opened the door to new worlds of knowledge, especially in mathematics and the natural sciences. It also led to new ways fo thinking in regard to government, law, politics and the structure of society. Combined with Nationalism, Rationalism changed the face of Europe and ushered civilization from the "Middle Ages" into the "Modern Era."

The downside of rationalism was it's utter rejection of Faith, and therefore the Church. It's obsession with the progress of humanity led to a rejection of tradition and history as well. In the end the Moral bedrock of western civilization was eroded and society plunged into a sea of relativism from which it has never really emerged.

Thomas Jefferson, famed champion of the separation of Church from State, was a quintessential Enlightenment thinker. In an attempt to "hold on" to the Faith of his ancestors, Jefferson did what many learned men of his age did and turned to Deism: the idea that God does exist, he did, at one point in time, create the world, and He established laws that govern it. However, He does not interfere with the world, but rather sits back as almost a spectator, watching the world from above. (Theism, on the other hand, is the idea that God remains intimately involved in the life of creation.) Jefferson even created his own version of the New Testament, which removed all the miracle stories - even the Resurrection so that the Gospels would be more "logical". You can read it online here.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B.

Monday, October 1, 2007

St. Jerome (September 30)

Though his feast fell on a Sunday, and so it was not celebrated externally, yesterday was still the feast of St. Jerome, one of the great Fathers of the Church, credited with translating scripture into Latin so as to make it available to the western world where Greek had fallen out of use.

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - St. Jerome

"Those who do not read have no advantage over those who cannot read." S. L. Clemens (Mark Twain)
Tolle, legge,
Mr. B

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Additional Questions

These questions cover pages 56 - 63, but the answers are not the type you can look up and copy; You have to form them yourself. Write or type the answers and bring them to class next time.

A. Compare and contrast Survival Rights and Thrival Rights. Don't just copy the definition from the book;Explain how they are similiar and how they differ by nature.

B. It would be easy to assume that the concept of the "common good" would simply be the "most good for the most people". Explain how, in a society in which people have different attitudes, opinions, and expectations, you can establish a common good "for all people".

C. Refute the argument that in order for some to participate and be successful in society there must be some who are marginalized. (In other words, there cannot be winners unless there are losers.)

Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching

We are in the midst of our study of the development of modern injustices. When we complete that unit we will begin looking at how the Church directs us to respond to those injustices, which is called Catholic Social Teaching (hence the name of the class).

Catholic Social Teaching addresses seven key themes, which can be found in the chart on page 56 of your textbook. There is also a short explanation of them found at this link. We will go into detail about them later, but I wanted to bring your attention to them as they will be central in the theological content of your senior project.

Next up, we will study Nationalism, Rationalism, & Colonialism.

Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B

Sunday, September 23, 2007


To study our first "-ism" we take a large step back into history and look at the Middle Ages.

Feudalism was he social, political, and economic structure of society in the Midle Ages. It was characterized by a clear caste system which created many distinct layers within society.

The members of the upper levels of society believed that the hierarchical stratification of society reflected God's divine plan for all of Creation. That is to say, they believed that God wanted the kings to be kings, the lords to be lords, and the peasants to be peasants. There was virtually no Upward Mobility (raising one's self to a higher social & economic class) in the middle ages. Kings ruled by Divine Right (the idea the their authority lay in the fact that God willed them and their descendants to be the leaders.

The Middle Ages consist of roughly the Millenium between the fall of the Roman Empire (476 A.D.) and the tumultuous 15th Century. (Basically from 500 - 1500 A.D.)

The Geographical context of feudalism was essential all of Western Europe, though it was concentrated in the areas that are today known as France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Spain.

The economy was a land-based one, meaning that the truest measure of one's wealth was in the farmable land that he owned or controlled. To help manage the large areas of land, a region would be broken up into fiefdoms - smaller regions placed in control of a vassal (a lesser nobleman such as a duke or lord). In exchange for the land, the vassal would provide his lord with money, crops, and with the support of his own army when called upon. This fiefdom would in turn be broken up into smaller segments and farmed by the serfs or peasants who inhabited the land.

The peasants led a rather bleak life. The life expectancy was hardly into one's 40's. To reach a 50th birthday was a feat. Peasant homes were generally thatched roof cottages with dirt floors. Their diet was largely grain-based with little in the way of fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat.
Most of the produce they grew was for their land lord, and little if any of it made its way to their own tables. The labor of farming was back-breaking and the work day as long as the daylight. Clothing was homespun cloth which offered little protection against the elements, and even less comfort.

Meanwhile the land owners lived in relative luxury: stone manors (castles were primarily military fortifications rather than private homes), a diverse and hearty diet, clothing of fur and fine coth, and abundant time for leisure and entertainment.
The preservation of wealth and power from one generation to the next was of great importance to medieval leaders. This led to a policy of primogeniture, where the oldest male heir inherits virtually all of the land, wealth, and authority of his father. (The alternative, equally distributing the land among one's children, would quickly lead to the diminishment of wealth and power as each succeeding generation controlled less and less land.)

The downside of primogeniture is that it left the younger sons often in a difficult position. They could opt to "play second fiddle" to an older brother, to seek their own power through marriage and military conquest, or to become authorities in their own right through a career in the Church. It was this last option that led to some of the darkest pages in the Church's history.

Often the younger sons of the nobility would be put on the path to a career in the Church from a very young age. A man would make a large donation in gold (or more likely, land) to a local monastery, and in turn, drop off his son to be education by the monks. Monasteries were the centers of learning in the middle ages, and they preserved much of the literary heritage of the ancient world by the copying and studying of manuscripts. (see Thomas Cahill's popular book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, for an account of the debt owed to medieval monks.) Until the rise of cathedral schools in the late middle ages, monasteries were the only educational option aside from having a private tutor.

Sadly, many of the young men who were products of the monastic education system entered into careers in the Church not out of a sense of Divine calling or obedience to the will of God and service to His Church, but rather out of a desire to retain a position of power and relative wealth and luxury.

Due to a controversy known as lay investiture (where secular rulers apointed many ecclesial leaders) and corrupt practices like simony and nepotism, the ranks of the bishops was at times less than holy. Simony is the practice of "buying" or bribing one's way into office. Nepotism, on the other hand, is being appointed to a position of power and authority based only on one's personal and social connections and without any concern given to one's ability or qualifications.

I shall beef this post up a little more soon with some names and photos. Until next time,
Mr. B

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

You will always have the poor...

We discussed the Gospel passage in which Jesus tells us that we will always have the poor in our midst. This does not mean we should stop trying to relieve the struggle of those in poverty, but rather recognize that our time and efforts should be direct at BOTH God and Neighbor, and not just the latter.

I mentioned that this passage is often used to underscore the argument that Churches should have "nice" things to be used in worship (vestments, vessels, and so forth). This prompted some heated debate, for which I am very grateful.

I pointed out, God does not need all of this finery. Rather, as weak-minded mortals, we humans need these objects to signify the reverence we should give to the mysteries of our faith and to help direct our wandering minds away from the worldly and toward the spiritual.

A student pointed out that in the movie Indiana Jones (respected source of authority that it is) the Holy Grail was not a super-bling goblet, but was a simple cup. However, it is worthy of note that the interior of the cup was in fact Gold. We offer to God our very best, especially when it comes to the celebration of the sacrament of our salvation, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These items are not for the luxury of the priest or the adornment of the Church, but for the reverent worship of God in heaven. (however, anyone can go overboard, and you are right to be cautious where such material things are concerned. As the venerable Mr. Pfennig says, "all things in moderation...including moderation."

Well, get crackin' on your papers. until next time,

Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B.

"Ism" Projects

Your "-ism" paper is to be two pages in length and you are not to use the internet for your research. Rather, explore the wealth of knowledge found in BOOKS. Make sure that you cover the answers to the following questions:

1. Clearly define the –ism
2. Place the –ism in its historical context: When did it arise and become prominent?
3. Place the –ism in its geographical context: Where was it prominent?
4. What problem or social issue was the –ism intended to rectify?
5. Who were the founders, leaders, or advocates of the –ism?
6. What were the benefits of the –ism? (For individuals, classes, or society at large)
7. What were the downsides of the –ism? (For individuals, classes, or society at large)
8. What problems or social issues did it cause?
9. How did the Church react to the –ism? Why?
10. Who were notable opponents to the school of thought in question?
11. Name any non-traditional sources that are influenced by or depict the school of thought. (Movies, music, art, literature, etc.)

In addition to the paper, students will be responsible for teaching the school of thought to the class. The lesson should highlight the main points of the ideology, using the questions above as reference points. Students are encouraged to utilize audio or visual aids in the lesson, including posters, brief audio or video clips, or power point presentations. Handouts are also helpful, but not required. Finally, the lesson should include two or three discussion questions for the class.

If you need copies of handouts or any other arrangements for your lesson, let me know as soon as possible to ensure that your presentation is a success.

"A person should not believe in an -ism; He should believe in himself." -Ferris Bueller.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Social History of Injustice

Before we study the Church's approach to fixing our broken world, we will examine how it came to be as broken as it is. We will examine these eight political, economic, and philosophical ideas and how they led to injustice in our world.

(Please note that most of these ideas are not in themselves injust, but rather gave rise to injustice as they were practiced and applied.)

1. Feudalism - the layered class structure of medieval society. (image: Crowning of Charlemagne)

2. Nationalism - an intense sense of patriotism and superiority

3. Rationalism - the idea that logic & reason are the sole source of authority in all human endeavors. (images: Rene Descartes & Baruch Spinoza)

4. Colonialism- when one nation extends its reign to other regions and subjects the indigineous (native) people to second class status. (image: Columbus "discovers" America.)

5. Industrialism - the shift from an agrarian (agricultural) economy to a factory-based economy

6. Captialism - the economy is controlled by investors of capital and the trends of consumer activity.

7. Communism - the economy is controlled by the workers, usually through a centralized government.

8. Fascism - a political system typically ruled by a militant dictator. The rights of the state are always superior to those of its citizens.

Please research your given topic - remember, all the books you want, but no internet.

Ad Jesum Per Mariam,

Mr. B.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Christian Service Website

As you know, all CRHS students are required to complete 15 hours of service to their community. We will have "service lessons" in class every two weeks. In order to help you keep track of the service lessons and to provide opportunities to complete your service, I have created a CRHS Christians Service Website. Click the link to enjoy a preview of our first lesson.

Mr. B.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Allegory of the Cave

First, a few details about Soctrates:

1. He was a teacher of great repute in ancient Greece. His most well known pupil is the philosopher Plato.
2. He rejected the belief in the ancient Greek pantheon of gods and embraced the rational world of ideas as the true Reality.

Socrates was charged with atheism and corruption of the youth of Athens. For these he was sentenced to death, and a self-inflicted one no less, as he had to drink hemlock - a fatal poison.

Plato, in his monumental work, the Republic (Book VIII) uses an allegory (a story with a symbolic, deeper meaning) to illustrate the role of Socrates in Athenian society.

First, imagine a cave lit only by fire. In the cave is a chair where one (or several) people are chained perpetually (always) facing the cave wall. Behind them stands another wall and a platform or stage upon which other people may stand. The fire is still farther back, behind the stage.

People may enter the stage unnoticed and hold up any number of objects above the wall, thus casting shadows on the cave wall for the captives to see. These shadows of objects are the only reality that these captives are able to envision.

An outsider, the Liberator, enters the cave and unchains the captives, leading them out of the cave to freedom. However, having no knowledge of the outside world the newly freed captives are anxious, nervous, frightened, angry, even in a state of denial. The bright sun hurts their eyes accustomed only to dim reflections of firelight. The real world blasts them with a spectrum of colors they never imagined existed. They have two options:

1. Learn to adapt to this new "real world". This will be a challenge that may require changing one's perception of reality, personal beliefs, and thought process.

2. Reject this new knowledge as some sort of hoax. Kill the "liberator" and retreat to the comfort of one's former life.

Plato sees Socrates as the Liberator and the Athenians chose option number two. Plato, however, chose option number one and is now destined to fulfill the role of liberator.

Other figures in history have fufliled this "Liberator" role, both figuratively and literally. For example, Moses had to not only challenge the authority of the pharaoh, but he also had to convince his own people that the uncertainty leaving slavery in Egypt would be better than the stability of staying.

Many scientists, explorers, discoverors, and inventors have filled the shoes of liberator as well. So too has our Lord, Jesus Christ. He brought us True Light and because we found the light different and challenging we chose to put him to death. Thanks be to God, the saving Love of Christ is more powerful than death.

Just so you know, this is not the first time you have come across the Allegory of the Cave; if you've ever seen the movie, The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey's entire life is a farce created for the entertainment of others, then you've been exposed to the allegory. Perhaps the best example, however, is the Matrix Trilogy, in which Neo is broken free from the chains that bound him (and others) to the shadow existence and brought him into the uncomfortable "real" world. He had two choices, the red pill or the blue pill - accept the truth or reject it. You too are given this same choice.

It is no coincidence, then that Fr. Jonathan Meyer, vocations director for the Archdiocese, chose the character Neo as a model for his poster encouraging young men to consider the priesthood. It is not a comfortable path, nor is it one that many take. But it's rewards are real and it brings you face to face with Truth.

The great irony of this ancient allegory is that in the last 50 years or so it has played itself out on a daily basis in homes throughout the western world. Day after day we voluntarily seat ourselves on chairs - chains to hold us are not necessary - and we watch shadows flicker on the wall in front of us (called a television). We see mere images of the real world, rather than the world itself. Liberate yourself and live life deliberately. Don't sit in a cave and settle for shadows of the real thing.

Is not the dreamer, sleeping or waking, one who substitues artificial things, who puts the copy in place of the real object?.
-- Plato

Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, kept inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind.
-- Morpheus

Until next time,

Ad Jesum Per Mariam,

Mr. B.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Test #1 on the Horizon

Here are the topics to be covered on our first test:
  • Divine Revelation
  • Development of Scripture
  • Similarities between God & Man
  • Salvation History
  • Ecclesiology
  • 4 Responses to Suffering
  • 7 Categories of Sin
  • 3 Types of Love
  • and a partridge in a pear tree.

We will review one day in class. See me before or after school for individual questions.
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B.

All You need is LOVE...

In discussing the different responses to suffering, the "best" response was that of compassion, the idea of "suffering" with someone. Ideally, when we subject ourselves to suffering with someone we should be doing so out of a sense of LOVE.
For all the wealth and diversity of the English language, we are rather poor in our use of the word "love". That is, when expressing different types of love we are limited to that one word, "love". There are three different types of love and the ancient Greeks had a word for each of them: Love of the Body, the Mind, and the Soul.

Eros - this is used to describe physical attraction and romantic love. When not used in the romantic sense, it typically indicates a possessive type of love. Pope Benedict, in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, recognized that God's love for humanity has an "eros" aspect to it insofar as God wants to "possess us" as His own.

Philia - an intellectual or friendly type of love. This is the type of love we have for our interests & hobbies, and for many of our friends. Philadelphia is often called the city of "Brotherly Love", which is precisely the English tranlation of this Greek word.

Agape - the highest of "loves", agape is an unconditional, self-sacrificing love. This is the type of love a parent has for a child, that spouses should have for one another, and that God has for humanity. Agape love has no concern for its own self interest. It is agape that St. Paul is referring to in his often quoted passage from 1 Corinthians (chapter 13).

Before signing off, I want to leave you with three helpful ways to remember the different types of love:

Eros - the pronunciation is similar to "arrows", and one can think of cupid's arrows piercing a heart, a symbol of romantic love.

Philia - a former student often said to me, "I-feel-ya" (sounds similar to philia) and said this expression indicated understanding and respect for a friend, making it a good reminder of an intellectual and friendly love.

Agape - when I think of agape I think of "a gaping embrace", like the wide open arms of a hug from someone who always loves and always forgives.

Hopefully these help shed some light on the greatest of all spiritual gifts, Love.
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Types of Sin

We addressed in class the fact that suffering is a reality in our world. It is unavoidable. We also established that a state of suffering exists because we exist in a state of sin. This post will elaborate on some specific types of sin.

1. Original Sin - this is the state of sinfulness into which we are born. It is part of the human condition, as is our mortality. It is not a specific act of sin, but rather a brokenness of our otherwise good nature. (Learn more about Origninal Sin from the Catechism by clicking here.)

One of the consequences of Original Sin is the concupisence that we all have, which is the natural tendency to choose our own will over that of God's will, thereby committing a sin. (see CCC 405.)

2. Social Sin - these are the sins of an entire community or society. Everyone bears some degree of responsibility, even if not everyone participates directly. For example, child sweatshop labor is something we all bear responsibility for, even though none of us owns or operates a sweatshop. However, when we buy products made by child labor we contribute to the problem.

3. Personal Sin - these are sins commited by individuals. Personal sins can be of different severity and different types. (see below.)

4. Mortal Sin - these are grave sins that destroy ("kill") our relationships with God. This relationship can, however, be repaired through God's Grace & Mercy, especially when sought through the sacrament of Confession / Reconciliation.

5. Venial Sin - these are lesser sins that do not destroy, but only "bruise" our relationship with God. If unchecked, however, venial sin leads to mortal sin. Venial sins are forgiven through sincere repentence, and especially at the penitential rite at the beginning of each mass.

6. Sin of Commission - when one actively engages in doing something that is against the will of God. He "commits" the sin through his action.

7. Sin of Omission - when one sins by failing to do the "right" thing when the opportunity presents itself. God's will is violated by "omiting" (leaving out) just action. A prime example of a sin of omission is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where two people walk by the battered victim at the side of the road without stopping to help.

You can read more about these classifications of sin in this section of the Catechism.
Next time we'll talk about Love, a force more powerful than sin. Until then,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam.
Mr. B.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Why is there Suffering? How do we Respond?

Suffering is a harsh reality in our world. Whether we are talking about suffering from a cold or suffering from the devastation of a hurricane, suffering is everywhere. Where does it come from?

The Church's response is that suffering is an unfortunate consequence of our sinfulness, in its many forms. We do not, however think that there is a direct correspondence - that every individual sin leads to an individual instance of suffering. Instead the Church teaches that we exist in a state of sin and that leads to a state of suffering.

We have no control over the existence of suffering, but we can choose how we RESPOND to suffering. The text outlines four possible responses to suffering in our lives:
1. Hopelessness (also called Fatalism)
2. Individualism
3. Enlightened Self-Interest
4. Compassion

Let us examine each one:
1. Fatalism - this is the idea that my actions are of no consequence; nothing I do can change the world for the better, so I need not try. This mentality is behind the remarkably low voter turn-out in our country, and the legion of people who complain about everything from healthcare to education but take no action. Fatalism is feeling very small in the face of very big problems.
2. Individualism - the idea that if a problem does not impact me Immediately and Directly, then it is of no concern to me, and therefore I should not be compelled to act in response to it.
A sense of "rugged individualism" is at the heart of the American Spirit.
3. Enlightened Self-Interest - simply put, this is looking out for yourself by looking out for others. When acting out of Enlightened Self-Interest one acknowledges that the well-being of others effects his or her own well being. The efforts are directed outward, toward others, but the focus is still inward, on the self.
4. Compassion - this word means "to suffer with" (com- with, passio - suffer). In other words, compassion is a deep empathy or love for another person that prompts an individual to share in his or her suffering. (Side note - the romantic association we have with the word passion stems from the medieval idea of courtly love, in which young people were so intense in their love for one another that it pained the heart to be apart from the beloved.)

Finally, I wish to offer you a few ideas to balance out the concepts mentioned above.
Fatalism is countered by an attitude of Hope. Hope is the theological virtue grounded in the belief that one's efforts plus God's grace will create a better future. (Please forget the textbook's definition of hope as it is naive and self-centered.) Hope is recognizing that while I must put forth the effort to better my situation, God's grace will make that improvement possible.

Grace is God's free gift of love. We can do nothing to earn grace, but if we are not willing to work with grace it will do us little good.

Individualism is balanced by an attitude of Interdependence - the recognition that all lives are interconnected. If part of a community or society suffers then all of the society or community suffers. We must not, then overlook the suffering of the least among us, but rather direct our attention to their needs.

We'll stop here for now. Take a break and see what's behind the title of my earlier post (Salvation History in 30 seconds and re-enacted by bunnies.) Warning - not for the faint of heart.
Ad Jesum per Mariam.
Mr. B.

Ecclesiology: The Nature & Mission of the Church

Now we come to our brief study of Ecclesiology, which is the study of the Nature and the Mission of the Church.
The term itself gives us some insight, for Ecclesiology is based on the Greek word for church, "ekklesia". An ekklesia is an assembly, a term quite fitting for the Church because it contains the basic elements required of any assembly. We'll look at a typical assembly at CRHS first to draw out those elements.

1. There are people - students and teachers, usually gathered in the Gym.
2. We are called to the Gym, usually over the P.A. system
3. Our call to the gym has a source, usually Mrs. Hoy or Mr. Hunt.

So the basic elements of an assembly are:
1. People
2. A calling
3. A person who does the calling (God).

In other words, the Church is "People called by God" and in this sense is an Assembly, an ekklesia.

II. Mission
Q. Why is the Church called? What is it called to do?
A. To bring about the Kingdom of God!

Q. What is the Kingdom of God?
A. It is not, as one might think, simply Heaven. Nor is it some worldly kingdom with a great castle. A Kingdom is where the king's will is supreme - over all else. Therefore, the Kingdom of God is where God's will is supreme; where people consistently place the will of God over the will of man.

III. Method - How does the Church bring about the Kingdom of God?
All of the actions of the Church can be categorized into one of three groups:
1. Preaching
2. Prayer
3. Service
Why these three? They correspond to the three-part nature of Christ (the Messiah or Anointed one) and therefore to the three-part nature of the Christian (who is called to be Christ-like).
1. Prophet - one who preaches the Word of God. Preaching does not have to be from a pulpit on Sunday morning. St. Francis of Assisi said we should, "Preach always. Use words when necessary." We know that actions speak louder than words, so our actions are doing are preaching for us. What kind of sermon are you preaching with your life?
2. Priest - the priests of Israel offered prayer and sacrifice of animals or crops. As Christians we are part of the Priesthood of All Believers and we are all called to offer prayers to God and spiritual sacrifices in our lives.
3. King - as king, David acknowledged that his rule was for the good of his people and that he was to remain a servant of God. "David knew the Lord had established him as King of Israel and had exalted his rule for the sake of his people Israel." (2 Samuel 5:12) Likewise, as a royal people, Christians are called to be of service to God an others.

IV. Organization
St. Paul writes that the Church, like a body, is one though it is made up of many parts. (See 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.) There are many different roles to be filled in the Church. Some are ordained to their roles, others enter into them through a sacramental bond or by publicly professing vows.
A. Bishops- the twelve Apostles were chosen by Christ to spread the faith (evangelization) and to oversee the Church as administrators. They appointed others to fulfill this same role in different regions and to continue in this role after their death. The word bishop (episcopus in Greek) means "overseer".
B. Priests - as Christianity grew the Bishops were unable to be tend to the needs of all Christians within their regions. They appointed elders (in Greek, presbyters) to serve as their representatives to local church communities. Priests continue this function today and are sometimes called "vicars" because they are representatives of the bishop.
C. Deacons - we read in the Acts of the Apostles that tending to the needs of the poor was a concern even in the early church. In Chapter 6 we see the Apostles respond to the need for more help when they ordain seven men who were reputable, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to be their assistants. The Greek word for assistant is diakonos, which is the origin of the word "deacon."
D. Laity - this is pretty much most of us. We are not part of sacred orders, but nonetheless we share in the Universal Call to Holiness and we are pursue that call through marriage and daily family life or the vocation to single life.
E. Religious Life - these are people who live according to a "Rule" of life (religio - is the Latin for rule). This includes Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, and all other groups of monks, friars, and nuns. They are not, by definition, ordained, though many monks and friars are eventually ordained.

Did we leave anyone out? Well, you could say the Pope gets his own cagegory, since he is the succesor to St. Peter. He is considered the "first among equals", the leader of all the bishops. And what about those Cardinals? well, they are advisors to the Pope. Most, but not all, are bishops.

Next we will move on to how the Church calls us to work for Justice.
Ad Jesum per Mariam.
Mr. B

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Salvation History in 30 Seconds (and re-enacted by bunnies)

This breeze through Salvation History is just to make sure we are all on the same page.
Salvation History is God’s repeated attempts to reach out to humanity and gather us back to Himself.

We are like chicks scurrying about the farm and God is like the farmer trying to gather us in to safety. We stray, going our own way, but He never tires of reaching out to us.

Adam & Eve – here’s where it all begins. They sin by choosing their own will over the will of God, and thus suffer the two consequences of sin: Separation and Death. Way to go guys, blow it for the rest of us! Actually, this original sin is part of all of us. We all have this natural tendency to choose our own will over that of our Creator. (St. Augustine called this concupiscence).

Noah – God uses a ship (a later symbol of the Church) to save the righteous and he uses water to cleanse the earth of sin (a later symbol of baptism).

Abraham – God makes a 3-part promise to this old and righteous man:
1. He will bear a son even though he is old - Isaac
2. He will be the father of many nations
3. He and his descendants will inhabit a blessed and Promised Land that God will show him.

Jacob – son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. Jacob spends a night wrestling with an Angel of the Lord. His name is changed to Israel and he has twelve sons.

Joseph – favored son of Jacob, he is sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph rises to a position of great influence in Egypt, overseeing the distribution of food during a famine. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt seeking food. They are reconciled and the Hebrews relocate to Egypt.

A new pharaoh rises to power and has a strong dislike for the Hebrews and a fear that they will overthrow Egypt. He enslaves them, and then orders the death of their firstborn males. Out of this crisis comes Moses, who was raised by the pharaoh’s daughter after being found in a basket on the river Nile.

Moses – was the liberator of Israel from slavery in Egypt. On the journey back to the Promised Land, God gives Moses 10 Commandments, the cornerstone of His Law for Israel.

Israel recaptures the Promised Land and then enters a period when it is ruled by charismatic leaders called Judges, then the creation of a monarchy with the first true king, David. During this period God continues to speak to the Israelites through Prophets – mouthpieces of God who generally preach a message of mercy, justice, fidelity and a call to abandon religious legalism in favor of the spirit of the Law.

Israel suffers exile in Babylon, followed by foreign occupation by the Romans. The hope of Israel is placed in the Messianic Promise – that is the message of the Prophets that God will send a Messiah to save Israel.

Messiah means “anointed one”. In Hebrew society there were three groups who were anointed:
1. Priests – the temple priests who performed animal sacrifice
2. Prophets – those chosen by God to be his mouthpiece
3. Kings – the descendants of David
Christ embodied all three of these roles, but not in ways the Israelites of his day expected.

Isaiah – one of the Major Prophets, he preached the coming of a Messiah who would be a Suffering Servant. See Isaiah 53. Though he was to be a great liberator, he was also to be one who laid down his life for others.

Jesus – The central point of Salvation History, Christ is the fulcrum upon which human salvation hinges.
1. Public Ministry: all of his preaching, miracles, and healings. They all point to the Kingdom of God.
2. Paschal Mystery: the Suffering (Passion), Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. These are the sacrificial and salvific actions of Christ, those that bring about our salvation.

Jesus established the Church on the Foundation of the Apostles and sent the Holy Spirit to guide it. The Church will be the subject of the next post: Ecclesiology. Until then,
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Four Senses of Scripture

In creating Venn Diagrams to compare Sacred Scripture with a Newspaper one of the key observations was that both of these collections of documents are made up of different sections, and that interpreting each section accurately requires considering the context.

Now we will turn to four distinct ways of interpreting scripture – methods the Church has used for centuries. The Catechism outlines these four “senses” of scripture in paragraphs 115 – 118. (You have to scroll down quite a bit.)

1. Literal – the literal sense of scripture based on what the words of the text say. This is essentially taking the text at face value. It means what it says.

The remaining senses are divisions of what is called the Spiritual Sense of Scripture.

2. Allegorical – the allegorical sense treats the passage as an allegory, that is to say a story with a deeper meaning, often one that can use symbolism to convey truth.

3. Moral – the moral sense instructs us as to what is right (good) and what is wrong (evil). It then prompts us to Act in a Just manner. A moral interpretation of a passage usually contains the words “should” or “ought”.

4. Anagogical – the anagogical sense leads us to an understanding of the eternal meaning of the passage, that is, what bearing it has on our eternal destiny. This sense deals with Eschatology – the study of the last things, of which there are four. I call these the “Final 4”:
1. Death – we all die. Yes, all of us.
2. Judgment – we will all be judged by God
3. Heaven – the eternal communion with God enjoyed by those judged faithful and virtuous.
4. Hell – the eternal separation from God suffered by those judged to have rejected God’s mercy and love.

* Note – Purgatory is not included in this list because purgatory is not a final place, but a temporary one that precedes entrance into heaven.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam.
Mr. B.

Made in the Image & Likeness of God

Today in class we played with Play-Doh, and by doing so we learned about how humanity mirrors God, our Creator.

First, you were given the opportunity to select which color of Play-Doh you would like. Second you were given five minutes in which to create something with that Play-Doh. Finally, you were allowed to talk with your friends while making your creation.

The two Creation accounts in Genesis reveal to us that God Created mankind in His own Image & Likeness. This means that humanity resembles God in some way (though imperfectly, for only God is perfect).
1. We have Free Will: our days are full of choices. Some are monumental (where do I want to go to college?), some are trivial (which color of Play-Doh do I want?). Even when limits are placed on our choices, we still retain the freedom to choose how we react to those restrictions.
2. We are Creative: One has only to look at the skyline of a city or open the cover of a literature book, even take a stroll through an art museum to see that humanity is creative. We are even given the ability to bring forth new life, though this power is to be used in the proper context of a committed and sanctified love (marriage).
3. We are Social / Relational: whether it be talking to our friends while sculpting with Play-Doh or engaging in deep conversations that last into the wee hours of the morning, our lives are a giant web of relationships. God is also, in one sense, a relationship. Rather than a single being, God exists as a community of persons held together in a perfect bond of love – the Trinity. We exist in a “trinity” as well, of relationships with God and with others, as well as our relationship with ourselves.

The movie Castaway, starring Tom Hanks, features a great illustration of our innate desire to exist in community. After securing the necessities of food, shelter, and safety, Hanks creates a “companion”, Wilson. The connection is so strong that one of the most emotionally intense scenes in the film is when Hanks loses Wilson at sea.

Unfortunately, our relationships are not held together by the perfect Divine Love, but rather by fragile human love. When we stop loving appropriately or even altogether (which we call Sin), we break our relationships. And to break our relationship with God, the source of all life, is to place ourselves on the path of Death.

The consequences of Sin are:
1. Separation / Alienation from God and from our Neighbor
2. Death (physical death, which is a consequence of Original Sin and spiritual death which is a consequence of personal sin).

Christ tells us He is the Vine and we are the branches. If we are to have life in us we must stay connected to him. And to stay connected to him is to Love God and Love our Neighbors.
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B