Saturday, February 24, 2007

Prenatal genetic screenings

Unfit to live? Children with Down's syndrome in Canadian crosshairs

A Canadian medical group is advocating prenatal genetic screening for all pregnant women. Specifically, Down's syndrome testing seems to be the main focus. What does this mean for a woman pregnant with a child who has Down's syndrome? Will the testing make her better prepared to take care of this child? Or will the test give her a reason to abort her child? Is this a step towards better care of Down's syndrome children or just towards eugenics and the death of these children? Who gets to decide?

This is Getting Really Scary...

De Jesus's followers tattoo themselves with 666.

#6 Screwtape Letter: Preoccupation with the Future and Man as a Series of Circles

Now that the patient has begun to pray, Screwtape instructs Wormwood on more techniques to help misdirect his prayers and thoughts. The first method is looking to the future at the expense of the present. Screwtape writes:

It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of. Let him regard them as his crosses: let him forget that, since they are incompatible, they cannot all happen to him, and let him try to practice fortitude and patience to them all in advance. For real resignation, at the same moment, to a dozen different and hypothetical fates, is almost impossible.

I think this approach is especially beneficial to Screwtape for a few reasons. The first is, as Screwtape saws, true resignation to a dozen fates is impossible. This means that by attempting to resign ourselves to everything, we actually prevent the resignation and full trust in God that we are seeking. Again, we shoot too high and miss. The second is that by concentrating on the future too much we forget to seek comfort on the present crosses that God is fully prepared to help us deal with. The Eucharist is our daily bread and as such the grace is best when applied to the daily i.e. present problems. Finally, I think that dealing too much with potential crosses likely inflates our ego. If we think that we’re dealing with twenty crosses when we likely only have two, we probably think that God is dealing us a harder card then we have. This can lead to an inflates sense of what God “owes” us as well as tendency to “holier than thou” as we believe that we alone are dealing with so much and persevering whereas others have much less to deal with.

The next paragraph deals with more of Screwtape’s directions on how to distract the patient from the real issue. You’ll have noticed by now that a major theme of the Screwtape Letters is distracting the patient from the truth of things into an imaginary comfort zone in which it is harder for God to work.

One can then formulate the general rule; in all activities of mind which favour our cause, encourage the patient to be unself-conscious and to concentrate on the object, but in all activities favourable to the Enemy bend his mind back on itself.

What this means is this: when we deal in sin, we need to look at ourselves. Give ourselves the hard look or the examination of conscience and see what we’ve done wrong so that we can ask for the grace to change it. On the other hand, when we are presented with good or do good or focus should be on God. When we view the sunset as the sun slowly sinks into the mountains bathing the area in an orange glow or when we see pictures of Mother Teresa, our focus should not be on how that makes us feel but on the cause of these scenes which is God. To take an argument from Aristotle, if the highest thing is contemplate the divine than we should be careful not to substitute that for contemplating us thinking about the divine. The difference might seem small but it opens a large hole for the Screwtapes.

The last thing to draw from this letter is the idea of man as concentric circles. I found this particularly interesting as I had read something similar in a book called Lift Up Your Heart written by Lewis’s Catholic equivalent (or superior, depending on your point of view), Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. I’ll put the two quotes side by side so you can compare:

“Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy.”

“Our happiness varies according to the center about which our lives revolve. If it is the ego, there are frustrations; if it is the I, there is a measure of natural happiness, still incomplete. If it is the divine, there is the joy of being one with the Infinite Life and Truth and Love.”

I think there the idea of man as a circle is very crucial; it shows that there has to be one thing around which we revolve, only one thing which we make the center of our life. However, what that center is (or should be) is very different for the Anglican Lewis and the Catholic Sheen. Lewis thinks it ought to be the will. In today’s world of psychology and other attempts to disenfranchise man of his free will and ability to choose, this can be a helpful construct. And as Lewis writes on later in the letter, it is in the will which our choices must be concentrated in order to reflect real virtue. However, the will is still an aspect of man. Believe or not, I’m going to say that Lewis was wrong (there won’t be many times I can say that). God instead should be the center of our lives, with the I (which is very close to the will for Sheen and can reflect and love as opposed to the totally selfish ego) revolving around God, not being the center. Indeed, for Sheen, having the will or the I at the center is better than just the ego but still insufficient. For the Catholic Sheen, anything less than total abandonment of the self to God is unsatisfactory.

Next Letter: Acknowledging the existence of demons and the question of Pacifism.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Dignity of Choice

This is an excellent post by the "Aggie Catholic" discussing the ramifications of the pro-abortion side's decision to align themselves strongly with the concept of choice.

The Dignity of Choice.

Psychologists catch on to what we already know

This is a link from Dawn Eden's post on the importance of female and male virginity.

The reviews a report by the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls in this article titled, Goodbye to Girlhood
As Pop Culture Targets Ever Younger Girls, Psychologists Worry About a Premature Focus on Sex and Appearance

Does this make anyone else think of JonBenet Ramsey?

Anti-contraception Letter to the Editor Published

Some guy wrote a letter in to the editor of the Daily Reveille defending Emily's and the Church's position on contraception. It's not very good, but as pro-Church items in the Reveille are rare I decided to post it anyway.

Letter defending Emily's position on contraception.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Is Female Virginity More Valuable than Male Virginity

Dawn Eden and Elizabeth Kantor debate the issue.

Before anyone thinks I am playing up the sexual double standard, let me be clear that I'm siding with Dawn Eden on this one, but Kantor makes an interesting case.

Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten Message

"They shall look on him whom they have pierced."

Response to Emily's Abstinence Column

Last week Emily wrote a column denouncing programs that teach contraception. Because the Daily Reveille likes to publish lengthy rebuttals to anything Emily writes, today next to Emily's column we have the misfortune of reading a response piece put out by a women's studies major. If you have the time, please respond to this piece

Response Piece to Emily's Abstinence Column.

Emily Byers on Fasting

Emily Byers writes in this week's edition of the Daily Reveille about fasting and how it brings us into closer solidarity with the poor and hungry.

Lenten Sacrifice Strengthens Faith.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Loyola Columnist Defends Sex Within Marriage

If you've been reading Emily's columns on the Daily Reveille website, you might have noticed a little box in the corner containing links to articles from other college newspapers around the state. An article popped up in that box a few weeks ago with the title "Wedding Night So Overrated" from Loyola University New Orleans. Unfortunately from Loyola, this has become standard fare. What was not standard fare however was the response to this outrage at a Catholic University. A student, Benjamin Clapper, has written an excellent response to the article outlining the proper conception of sex within marriage according to Church teaching.

Sex Worth Waiting For in the Long Run.

There are comments sections, so if you have the time show your support for Ben. If you'd like to read the original column, you have to start an account with Maroon. It's free and quick (at least it was for me), so it's not too much trouble. I should warn you that while the column is not terribly graphic, it's still very troubling.

Wedding Night So Overrated.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Horrific Development in Abortion in Italy

I always knew the situation with abortion was worse in Europe, as most things, but even then I don't think I could conceive of this.

Screwtape #5: Initial Reaction to War

The Screwtape Letters were written during World War II and we see the first product of that in the 5th letter. This is a short letter for our purposes as most of it is focused on Screwtape admonishing Wormwood for taking too much pleasure in the pain caused by the war and not enough on the more fruitful business of capturing the patient’s soul and having the eternal pleasure of that soul’s anguish. Screwtape explains that war can have negative consequences for their efforts:

“Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all in of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better it is for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence…And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.”

There are number of things to draw out from this short quote. The first is the danger of letting suffering become an excuse. How often have we excused our cutting someone off in traffic because we’ve had a bad day and are in a foul mood? Similarly, when in suffering we and the people around us can be tricked into thinking that somehow the expectations for behavior have changed. “We shouldn’t chastise him; he’s sick,” we might say; thereby allowing the person to slip further from God. Suffering then cannot be an excuse but rather as a means in which to grow. This idea is something that Lewis examines later in the letters but more fully in his book A Grief Observed.

The second thing is the nature of being preparing for death by simply acknowledging that we are not eternal. We might claim to know this but often we don’t. Ask yourself this: can you imagine a world that you’re not in? A world in which no one knows your name? A world in which no one cares for you? Save for a very select few that will be the world that exists for all of us two centuries from now. Especially in times of peace we can be carried away by the illusion that that’s not true, that somehow we will live on. But we won’t; the thief in the night may come at any time whether in war or driving to school or during a vacation in Destin. War simply makes that reality more imminent. We then must be aware of this reality.

As if that wasn’t hard enough, we face another problem: the ‘contented’ aspect of the worldliness that Screwtape refers to. As spiritual as we may become there is always the danger of still being too attached. Again another question that forces us to examine ourselves: if you had the choice between living and dying, which one do you choose? I’m not talking about suicide or anything like that which inserts our own will for God’s and intentionally hurts others, but our simple desire to be on this earth as long as it takes. If we truly want full union with God, the notion of death should be something we’re comfortable with and perhaps even anticipate so that while we live we can look forward to our deaths as they bring us into full communion with the infinite that can match up to our infinite desires.

I’ll leave you with something in this letter that I found amusing considering some of the discussions that went on in Planned Parenthood’s spirituality series. In these discussions, it has been said that suffering is not a part of God’s plan. I got much enjoyment out of the idea of reading this passage to them and seeing their reaction:

“The Enemy’s human partisans have all been plainly told by Him that suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption; so that a faith which is destroyed by war or pestilence cannot really have been worth the trouble of destroying.”

Happy Mardi Gras!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Screwtape #4: How to Pray

In this letter Screwtape goes deeper into the subject of prayer by instructing Wormwood how to twist the prayer of the patient so that it becomes ineffective. The first way of accomplishing this is borne out of a reaction to the “parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood.” That is, knowing that as children we simply ran through them without thought there is the temptation to jettison them altogether in favor of “free” prayer; that is prayer without structure in order to pray more genuinely. But methods of prayer are important but both have their pitfalls. The formal prayers can feel like a chore that we simply run through. The “free” prayers can be reduced to no prayers at all. Screwtape elaborates:

“(H)e (the patient) may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularized; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part.”

This might seem silly at first; how could we be tempted by such a type of prayer? The problem for us is that very holy people probably can pull off simply being silent and let God flow into them. As we see in the saints the ability to pray like that and knowing that it is an incredible spiritual experience, we seek to immolate that without really knowing what we’re doing and so fall into simple laziness. Prayer, at least for beginners, needs to be directed to some extent by our will and intelligence and not just a mood. For some this probably means the “training wheels” of the formal prayers we learned as children, then perhaps of a mix of formal and free until we are capable of the highest arts of prayer.

Another thing that Lewis mentions is the importance of our bodies while praying. As Screwtape says, “they are animals and whatever their bodies do affects their souls.” As we know, there is an intimate connection between the body and the soul and so what Lewis is telling us makes sense. We need to watch our bodies during prayer. Perhaps this can mean kneeling longer or looking straight at the Blessed Sacrament more during Adoration so that our bodies can lead our hearts.

Screwtape then goes into how to misdirect the intention of prayer. The first way is to focus the patient not on God but on our own feelings:

“Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills…When they say they are asking for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.”

One thing that comes out of this is the importance of the priest at Reconciliation in order to counter this tendency to simply make ourselves feel forgiven instead of actual forgiveness. Lewis, although an Anglican, was known for going to the Anglican equivalent of Confession more often than usual and so would probably agree on the value of having some else there. The other thing is that if prayer is selfish then it will fail. We cannot pray to “go feel better” though prayer can certainly help us to do that and ought to be our first resort if we are having trouble. Instead, we should pray to become closer to God and the offset of that will be that we feel better. If we focus on ourselves than we, not ourselves are directing the venture and so the value of the prayer as a prayer and a means to connect better with God is close to nil.

So we are to focus on God, but there is danger in that too. As Screwtape points out, our preoccupation with the physical can mislead us. When we think of God, we might think of a dove or the image of Christ or the crucifix in our bedroom. That is, physical depictions for a reality which (except for Christ) not physical and greater then are images. So while focusing on these images is better than not praying it still denies the fullness of truth that comes from God. What is this fullness and how do we achieve it? Believe it or not, Screwtape knows and warns Wormwood of the danger of it if it ever happens:

“For if he ever comes to the distinction, if he ever consciously directs his prayers ‘Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be,’ our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their merely subjective knature, and the man trusts himself completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it-why then it is that the incalculable may occur.”

Screwtape then wants to avoid this lest God take it as far as He can so that the patient is lost to Screwtape and Wormwood forever. Therefore, we should strive to pray so that we do as Aristotle would say and contemplate not images of the divine or ourselves, but the divine Himself.

Next letter: a Mardi Gras treat as we go into the first letter dealing with war.

Ryan Duns, S.J. on vocations, accepting that we've been found

A vocation isn't weighing one good against another, as though it were deciding on whether to have the beef or salmon. Long before any person entertains a thought of religious life, of marriage, or of being single, that person has been called. Quietly and through the day-to-day events and goings on, God's invitation into deeper relationship has, for a long time, been extended to each of us.

So the second set of experiences occurs in prayer, when the young man stops "thinking" and starts exploring the inner recesses of his heart. It is in these caverns, spelunking new and as-yet unknown depths, that he stumbles upon a silent fullness, a glimpse of strange beauty, and he realizes that all his fumbling and searching have prevented him from seeing that what he so madly searched for had already found him.

A spiritual restlessness and dis-ease is endemic today. We are searching, turning to strange pursuits and faddish interests hoping to slacken our thirst for more. The prodigal son went so very far from his home in order to find fulfillment...only to find emptiness. Imagine, then, his joy upon returning to meet his father's eyes, eyes that have scanned the fields every day waiting for his return. The son didn't have to bargain for his identity, didn't have to negotiate a deal with his father: the abiding presence of the Father has waited patiently for his return, waited on the lonely and quiet porch of the heart, waited for his son to know himself to be found.

This experience is both grace and curse. The grace is knowing that one has been found, that God has been waiting for you for a very long time. The curse is that, once pierced by this love, the human heart will forever bear this wound upon it and be restless for completion. For some, this restlessness leads into marriage, for others into the single life, and for still others into religious life. The life of the Christian is a vocation, worked out in response to the God who finds us and welcomes us home.
More here.

And now, a musical interlude

Dylan with Mark Knopfler

License to Kill

Man thinks 'cause he rules the earth he can do with it as he please
And if things don't change soon, he will.
Oh, man has invented his doom,
First step was touching the moon.

Now, there's a woman on my block,
She just sit there as the night grows still.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Now, they take him and they teach him and they groom him for life
And they set him on a path where he's bound to get ill,
Then they bury him with stars,
Sell his body like they do used cars.

Now, there's a woman on my block,
She just sit there facin' the hill.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Now, he's hell-bent for destruction, he's afraid and confused,
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill.
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies.

But there's a woman on my block,
Sitting there in a cold chill.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Ya may be a noisemaker, spirit maker,
Heartbreaker, backbreaker,
Leave no stone unturned.
May be an actor in a plot,
That might be all that you got
'Til your error you clearly learn.

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled.
Oh, man is opposed to fair play,
He wants it all and he wants it his way.

Now, there's a woman on my block,
She just sit there as the night grows still.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?