November 18, 2014

An All-Male Priesthood, Part Two: Church and Sacraments

This is part two of a series. Before reading the second part, I recommend that you take a look at the first part, which deals with my intentions for doing a prolonged study of this topic, and some arguments against an all-male priesthood. I won't repeat that stuff here, so get it from the source.

The Catholic Church treats the priesthood fundamentally as a sacrament - specifically, the sacrament of Holy Orders, by which a particular man [in the gender-exclusive sense] is set apart or consecrated to the priestly life. This is analogous to marriage viewed sacramentally: a man and woman, through a vow, enter into a life which is itself sacramental. Just as the whole of married life can be properly called the sacrament of marriage, so the whole life and function of a priest can be described as the living-out of the sacrament of holy orders. Therefore, to understand the sacrament of holy orders, we must first understand at least some things about what sacraments are and how they work.

As is frequently the case, when I want to begin to understand what the Church thinks about a given thing, I turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church before diving off the deep end into the libraries worth of theological literature on any given subject. In this case, the CCC defines a sacrament as follows: "An efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit." [Glossary, reference paragraphs 1131 and 774] This is a dense definition; allow me to expound a bit. The first thing to notice is the Trinitarian structure of this definition: the merits of Jesus' sacrifice, by the work of the Holy Spirit, bring us into reconciliation with the Father. The whole Trinity takes part in the operation of sacraments, because, ultimately, the sacraments unite us to the life of the Trinity itself: grace is participation in the life of God, Who is Three in One. The means by which this communication of Divine Life is given to humanity are "efficacious signs of grace." A fuller statement of this would be "a physical sign which effects the grace it signifies." The sacraments use material things as signs of supernatural things. The waters of baptism use the symbolism of water's cleansing properties to effect the spiritual cleansing of the baptized person. The physical sign itself - the matter of the thing, the bread, the wine, etc. - becomes the material conduit, if you will, for the outpouring of God's love and life upon a properly disposed individual. Just as God entered the human world as a man, and physically suffered and died with a real body in a real place, just so God uses material signs in the age of the Church to communicate the merits of that same sacrificial offering on the Cross. As Christ won freedom from sins in a physical death, so He transmits that freedom through physical signs. The Church's approach to the life of grace is fundamentally incarnational, making use of, and even relying on, matter.

A second point to notice in the Catechism's definition is its insistence that each sacrament was "instituted by Christ." Not only do sacraments take materiality from Jesus' own materiality, but they also draw from His historicity. This accomplishes two things. First, it sanctions and authenticates each of the seven sacraments in Divine institution. We know that these are the seven sacraments, because these are the seven things which Christ Himself told the Church to do. This involves an explicit set of Scripture references, as well as testimony to the Church's continued, conscious repetition of the Lord's actions. This conscious repetition is already contained as early as Paul's letter to the Corinthians, "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed..." [1 Cor. 11:23] This conscious effort to do as the Lord did shows up again and again through the Church's defense of the sacraments through the years. For example, when Aquinas defends the words of institution, he argues that "our Lord used this form in consecrating, as is evident from Matthew 26:26." [Summa Theologiae, IIIa Q 78 a 2] Second, this reliance on Jesus' institution of the sacraments establishes Christ's own mission, words, and actions as the authoritative body that determines their form. This is explicitly spelled out in the recent synod on the family, which states, "Our gaze is fixed on Christ to re-evaluate, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty and dignity of the family." [4] Our gaze must be truly fixed upon Christ in determining how we celebrate the sacraments, for it is most truly Christ who, as High Priest [see Hebrews 5], is the principal presider over every part of the Church's liturgy. [See Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7] Thus, we baptize with water only, for the Lord was baptized with water. We use bread and wine for the Eucharist, because that is what Christ used.

This reference to the actions of the Lord also extends to the meaning attributed to the physical signs as well. As Aquinas explains, "Now all these and similar errors [concerning the matter of the Eucharist] are excluded by the fact that Christ instituted this sacrament under the species of bread and wine, as is evident from Matthew 26. Consequently, bread and wine are the proper matter of this sacrament. And the reasonableness of this is seen first, in the use of this sacrament, which is eating: for, as water is used in the sacrament of Baptism for the purpose of spiritual cleansing, since bodily cleansing is commonly done with water; so bread and wine, wherewith men are commonly fed, are employed in this sacrament for the use of spiritual eating." [ST, IIIa Q 74 a 1] Christ's words in the gospels ["Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies..." Jn 12:24], the Psalms [Wine to gladden the heart of man, ... and bread to strengthen man's heart." Ps 104:15], and many other places within the texts of Scripture refer to bread and wine as having particular signification. Grain falls to the ground and dies, and so brings forth new life. Wine and bread nourish and strengthen humanity in body and spirit. If a sacrament is to "effect the grace it signifies," the signification of the matter used must have some ontological basis - a basis in Christ, the divine source of being. Bread and wine in the Eucharist must have a particular and definite meaning in order for that meaning to effect the grace God has intended it to signify when it is used in the Church's liturgy. In other words, the matter taken up and used for the sacraments must conform to Christ's intended meaning, as evident in Scripture and the Church's tradition. We must recognize that bread is nourishing, and that wine gladdens human hearts. If we deny that material things can have specific, ontological significance, then we deny the efficacy of the sacraments as instituted by Christ. The skeptical nominalism of modern theories of meaning are useless to describe sacraments - significance and meaning cannot come from humanity, cannot be in name only, or else the matter of sacraments cannot ultimately mean anything, and thus cannot effect a grace which they do not truly signify. This principle is evident in the Church's practice - even though grape wine is not prevalent in some countries, it is still mandated for use everywhere because the fermented juice of grapes carries an ontological meaning intrinsic and necessary to the sacrament.

This concludes my discussion on sacraments in Catholic thought. This is a woefully inadequate discussion, and if I ever find time to do the full-length book that I want on the subject of an all-male priesthood, I'll expand on the topic of sacramentology quite a bit more. If you still have some questions about sacraments, and want to learn more, I recommend The Sacraments by Louis-Marie Chauvet, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, or questions 60-65 of the Tertia Pars of Aquinas' Summa Theologiae. Alternatively, you can ask questions and discuss this further in the comments below. I can try to answer with the limited knowledge that I have, and hopefully can get some help from others. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for part three!

November 04, 2014

An Introduction to the Relatio from the Synod on the Family

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which recently concluded, had the English translation of its relatio presented on the Vatican's website over the weekend. It can be found here, and if anyone wants to talk about the Church's position on marriage, they should read it. This document is not an official expression of the Church's magisterial teaching office, but it does come from the bishops and carries with it what might be called an ordinary authority. It also says a lot of good things, which those who are seeking to live a truly Catholic life in the modern world ought to keep in mind. However, given the huge variety of contradictory views on the family swirling through the cultural melting pot, I think an introduction for those who might not understand the Church's position could be helpful. I'll try and introduce the document, but my introduction is merely an individual interpretation and a help to the source. Read the real thing.

This document is structured pastorally, with a view to education and accessibility. It is divided into three main sections, "listening, looking at the situation of the family today in all its complexities, both lights and shadows; looking, our gaze is fixed on Christ to re-evaluate, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty and dignity of the family; and facing the situation, with an eye on the Lord Jesus, to discern how the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family." [4] Of these three sections, the most important is the second. Looking to Christ, in both His teachings and in His life, is the source and goal of the family.
In order to “walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ, to pause in contemplation and in adoration of his Face. ... Indeed, every time we return to the source of the Christian experience, new paths and undreamed of possibilities open up” (Pope Francis, Discourse, 4 October 2014). Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God. [12]
When the Church addresses the issue of marriage, she does not do so in a legalistic vacuum or in a wishy-washy subjectivism. Instead, she views marriage the way she views all things: through the lens of Christ, who is the definitive self-revelation of God. All that the Church talks about concerning marriage has as its source the deeds and life of Christ, and has as its end the participation in the life of Christ by which means alone any human person can attain eternal life. For this reason, the issue of marriage is intimately bound up with all of the Church's doctrine and dogma.

A central dogmatic point which this relatio deals with is the relationship between justice and mercy. The argument about marriage in Catholic circles could be summed up as follows: positively, conservatives attempting to uphold the law and liberals attempting to show mercy to those in bad situations, negatively, conservatives burdening others with excessive legalism and liberals condoning harmful practices out of false "mercy." The interplay between mercy and justice, between God as the creator of order and the redeemer of sinners, is at the heart of the debate concerning marriage today. This relatio deals with this question in a surprisingly profound manner,
The indissolubility of marriage (“what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” Mt 19:6), is not to be understood as a “yoke” imposed on persons but as a “gift” to a husband and wife united in marriage. In this way, Jesus shows how God’s humbling act of coming to earth might always accompany the human journey and might heal and transform a hardened heart with his grace, orientating it towards its benefit, by way of the cross. The Gospels make clear that Jesus’ example is paradigmatic for the Church. In fact, Jesus was born in a family; he began to work his signs at the wedding of Cana; and announced the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation which restores the original divine plan (Mt 19:3). At the same time, however, he put what he taught into practice and manifested the true meaning of mercy, clearly illustrated in his meeting with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-30) and with the adulteress (Jn 8:1-11). By looking at the sinner with love, Jesus leads the person to repentance and conversion (“Go and sin no more”), which is the basis for forgiveness. [14]
The reconciling principle between mercy and justice, which otherwise would be opposed, is God's loving plan of salvation through the Cross. God comes to earth to establish a new world order of justice, where human beings can willingly participate in God's love as it orders their lives toward the good. If an individual chooses not to follow this order of love, they alienate themselves from this new order. However, Christ comes precisely to find the lost sheep, and to restore those who have fallen - and, indeed, there is no one who enters the heavenly city by right, but only through Christ's reconciliation. However, this is not a free pass - the only way to heaven is the cross. As St. Paul explains, "Are we to continue in sin...? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." [Romans 6:1-4] The synod calls for mercy in welcoming those of us who have fallen away, so that through partaking in Christ's suffering, and dying to ourselves, we may enter into heavenly justice. Christ's command, that we "go and sin no more," is the path along which God's mercy leads us into the enjoyment of His love in justice.

In this regard, the Sacrament of Marriage itself is the means of grace by which individual families are led through mercy into a right relationship with God and with each other. As the synod states, "Christ the Lord ‘comes into the lives of married Christians through the Sacrament of Matrimony,’ and remains with them." [17, quoting Gaudium et Spes 48] Many Catholics are plagued by seemingly insurmountable difficulties in their lives and in their marriages. To help alleviate and ultimately solve these problems, Christ has given the sacrament of marriage itself as a remedy to our fallen relationships. By forming a sacramental bond, two individuals welcome Christ into their lives in a particular and defining way, allowing Him to transform their daily encounters with the love and joy of His gospel.

This relatio synodi not only offers a theological justification for and explanation of sacramental marriage, but offers profoundly loving practical and pastoral advice to aid those ministering to the Christian faithful. For a full understanding of what the synod recommends, you will have to read the document itself. However, I will provide a couple of highlights.

  • The Church is to provide a more solid preparation for marriage, both in terms of catechesis and supportive structures. [39]
  • Parishes are to provide more help for marriages in their early stages. [40]
  • Ministers are to meet couples in civil [non-sacramental] marriages or cohabitation with genuine and authentic sympathy, recognizing the good works these people already do, but offering "a constructive response, seeking to transform them into opportunities which can lead to an actual marriage and a family in conformity with the Gospel." [43]
  • The Church must extend the utmost love to those living in a broken family, especially those unjustly suffering from an unwanted divorce or spousal abuse. Pastoral care in this matter needs to be ordered toward "reconciliation or mediation of differences," keeping particularly in mind the special needs of women in a more vulnerable position. [47]
  • An authentic ethic of life which places in high priority the good of children in broken or injured families must be maintained. [Ibid.]
  • The economic factors and structures which unjustly prohibit a family from flourishing in accord with Christ's mandate must be opposed. [42]

This concludes my short introduction to the relatio synodi released by the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Please read the document itself - my short discussion barely scratches the surface on what is a profound call to spread the "Gospel of the Family."


October 30, 2014

Creative Writing Assignment: Plot-Driven Narrative: "Condition"

 The time has come to consider the many problems faced by a young man named Zachary.  Truly, there was never an individual so rolled up and tossed aside by the system and fate itself as Zachary has been, and I am sure you will agree.
 Examine, first, his family; or perhaps the lack thereof.  Before Zachary had a chance to be able to comprehend the meaning of the famous one-fingered solute he had come to feel all people and situations left him with, he was the unsuspecting, unborn recipient of it from his father.  Left with a single mother and a younger sister, Zachary grew up in an apartment and fed at the hand of federal dependency programs.
 Worse things were to come for our tragic hero.  Much of Zachary's life was dictated by the many chronic physical and mental conditions he was unrighteously cursed with.  The first he was made aware of was ADHD, which he was diagnosed with in kindergarten.  Details of the exact incident which provoked this diagnosis are shrouded in the mists of the past; however, Zachary will gladly regale you with what he knows of the story, most notably the part where he threw a stapler at his teacher's face in response to being told to “stop bothering the other children.”
 Thus fate landed unfortunate Zachary into the lifelong path of special education.  The various teachers, principles, deans and superintendents had what can only be characterized as a debilitating lack of understanding for his many problems.  A report card littered with C's and D's was testament to their poor work as educators.  Time was what he needed!  Time to allow for his crippling inability to focus on his studies, whether itwas at school or at home at night, so that he could also fit in his essential need to socialize and enjoy himself for some time while at home.
 While all his conditions were irreverently thrust upon him, not all of Zachary's diagnoses were.  Throughout highschool he was thoroughly depressed by his apparent lot in life, yet because this malady did not result in any blunt objects being thrown at his teachers, it did not result in a swift diagnosis by a school nurse as had been this case with his ADHD.  His diagnosis for major depressive disorder took more than a year of explaining himself to doctors and many negative results in mental status examinations to finally show them the effect on his mental state his many problems incurred.  Zachary faced the same problem in achieving a diagnosis for his hypothyroidism.  The doctors simply couldn't wrap their minds around his issue; ADHD medications were supposed to reduce his appetite, therefore an underactive thyroid was the only logical explanation for his significant girth.  It was only after visiting multiple doctors that Zachary was able to find a doctor that understood him; that understood his problems could not be written off by a negative blood test.
 So we find our tragic hero at his present state: twenty-three years old, living in a single apartment hidden behind a highly developed strip mall.  The time is 3:08 in the afternoon, which is an important time on this day as it means Zachary's alarm has been sounding for eight minutes and has provoked his neighbor to begin knocking at the door of his apartment.  The combined noises of the grating alarm of his phone, the rough knocking of his neighbor and frantic cries of his neighbor's baby are finally sufficient, and so Zachary begins the day.
 As quickly as he can, Zachary reaches out with his right arm to the bedside table his phone is on and, in spite of knocking a motley assortment of beer and soda cans on the floor, he manages to abate his alarm; he always has problems pressing only one button at a time on his phone's touch screen.  The end of the alarm also means the end of the knocking, and as the crying recedes down the hallway Zachary finally opens his eyes.  The brown stain above his couch seemed larger than usual.
 Shifting from a slumped position into an upright one in his seat causes an Xbox controller to slide down his ample front onto the floor below.  Waking up isn't the hardest part of waking up; rather, standing up is the major obstacle currently between Zachary and arriving at work on time at 3:30.  Rest assured, he is a valiant hero, and after a five minute internal battle of wills he is standing.  Next to his couch is a half empty case of Mountain Dew cans; a brilliant display of efficiency in Zachary's mind, just like his ingenious idea to rest in his work clothes so as to speed up his morning routine.  He always feels particularly chipper in the morning once he has had something to drink, and eat.  The last remaining donut in a box on the coffee table in front of him will suffice for this morning, though Zachary is sure the powdered sugar on this particular specimen is just a little more gray than white.  Over stained carpet and debris he travels, and into the bathroom and holy medicine cabinet.  The mirrored door of the cabinet calls to his attention the unkempt appearance of his dark mat of black hair, a mess which he is wont to remedy with utmost efficiency.  Seeing his image in the mirror, he gains firmer resolve to someday remedy his uncontrollable acne and the ever-growing dark stain on the chest of his dark blue work polo.
 On the highest shelf of the medicine cabinet are Zachary's holy grails; the divinely inspired substances without which he fervently claims he will surely go insane.  Perhaps he has been falling into insanity these past few weeks, since he has been taking his Cymbalta, Abilify and Focaline less frequently.  They make him feel dizzy and nauseous, and won't help him focus on his work, he'll claim.  Instead, he grabs the bottle of Prandin and thrusts it in the pocket of his khaki cargo shorts with his free hand, taking another bite of the slightly odd donut held in his other hand at the same time.  The other bottles of pills, along with a razer, toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant, could wait.  Dusting the powdered sugar off on the sides of his shorts, Zachary unlocks his phone to see that – yes, it's just as he expected, – he has only ten minutes to make it to work.
 Locating his wallet and keys is always an unreasonably lengthy task for Zachary.  It is always prolonged by the piling remains on his kitchen counter of last night's snacks – or is it last week's?  After checking under the empty Budweiser case at the end of the counter, behind the pile of dirty cereal bowls in the sink and next to the ever-growing pile of junk mail by the door, he manages to find them on the table next to where his phone had been; another ingeniously efficient move.  Zachary feels oddly focused this morning.
 Work is only a couple minutes' drive away.  Some of his coworkers walk from the same apartment complex Zachary lives at, but he is unable; the hand fate dealt him included a painful pair of knees, a condition which Zachary is lucky enough to have a handicap plate to accommodate, though he was forced to fight for that as much as any of his diagnoses.  There are many handicap spaces at the large department store he works at, the nearest available one of which he parks his car in.  His car always drives smoothly in the morning.  The dazzlingly bright sun high in the clear, ocean-blue sky bothers Zachary more than usual; something beyond the discomfort of the light in his eyes, the pain in his knees, the all-too-familiar taste of his last sip of mountain dew and the sweat beading on his forehead as he slowly makes his way into the air conditioned confines of the massive expanse of his workplace.
 Due to his many disabilities, Zachary only works a four hour shift on weekdays.  He spends his time there cashiering, a job which he has begun to take pride on his proficiency in.  The hours seem to rush past in the flurry of directing barcodes to the infrared scanner at his register, remembering PLU's for vegetables and fruits, price-matching other stores' advertisements, and constantly chanting, “Here's your receipt, have a nice day!”  Zachary gorges himself on the feeling of mastery over his realm of knowledge.
 “Mommy, why is he sweating?”  The question of a little girl in the front seat of a shopping cart to her mother is just enough to break Zachary out of his trance.  His phone on the counter next to the register's monitor indicates his shift is only a few minutes from being over.
 “He's working hard at his job, sweety.”  The mother doesn't seem phased by her daughter's question.  Her curt, gray business suit indicates an ability to answer questions quickly and correctly.
 “Is this like your job, mommy?”  Who could slight this genuine, young girl for not being able to differentiate between one job and another?
 “No it isn't, sweety.  Mommy works downtown.”  There is an apologetic look on the mother's face.
 “Here's your receipt, have a nice day!”  Zachary takes notice for once of the contents of the cart he had just scanned: cases of soda and above-average quality beer, chips, various dips, frozen appetizers, salad kits and a party tray.  He also notices the total on the receipt as he hands it over, a number exceeding his weekly paycheck nearly twice over.
 Shortly after, Zachary has run through the motions of closing his register and is standing in line at the sandwich shop inside the department store near the entrance.  A new girl is working there, and the veteran employee Zachary has always ordered his sandwich from is helping her on her first day.
 “New hire, Miranda?”  Zachary is genuinely interested; the atmosphere of that corner of the store always helps him open up.
 “Gettin' the usual, Zach?”  Miranda seems unimpressed by Zachary's interest.  Her lips are pursed and her arms are akimbo; it gives her a sarcastic, almost sassy look.  Her displeasure at seeing him is often the largest source of entertainment for Zachary.
 “Of course!  Aren't you happy to see me again?”  It's what Zachary says every day.  Miranda was already ignoring him, turning her head to the new girl to show her his order: herb and cheese bread, a double order of steak, extra american cheese, onions and jalapeno slices, toasted well-done with lots of mayo.  It is in the completion of this final step which gave the new hire pause.
 “Is this enough mayo?” she asks shyly, having put three lines on the sandwich from a squeeze bottle.  Zachary chuckles jovially, gesticulating wildly with his arms as he shouts,
 “No, put more on!  More!  More is always better!”  The look on the new girl's face stuck with him all the way home that night.
 Zachary's ratty old, gray Dodge Neon seems to creak more loudly than usual as he steps out into the late evening light in front of his apartment complex, a bag holding his unreasonably heavy sandwich in one hand, a large container of Diet Mountain Dew in the other.  The night bothers Zachary.  He can't fall asleep at the same time as other people do.  Is it because he stays up so late?  No, his depression medication worsens his insomnia.  Zachary shuffles into the lobby, stopping briefly to open his mailbox and retrieve a couple letters from within, knowing his disability check is due any day now.
 After a brief elevator ride, Zachary finds himself back in his apartment.  The brown stain on the ceiling looks even bigger now than it did in the morning; it disgusts him greatly.  Frustrated, he makes his way back to the couch, places the cup next to so many like it on the table in front of him and sets the sandwich bag to his side on the couch amidst a heap of empty chip bags and makeshift ashtrays.  There are three letters in his hand which he peruses slowly.  The first is a paystub for $158.90, his paycheck from last week.  The second is his monthly disability check which, upon inspection, has increased slightly from last month to $852.00.  Zachary doesn't smile.
 The third letter belongs in the junk mail pile.  It is a brochure for a community college that has a location just a few miles from the strip mall.  Today, though, Zachary has decided it does not belong in the junk mail pile.  Instead, he digs his laptop out from under a jumble of empty beer cans on his bedside table, opens the third letter, and decides he ought to take out the trash.
 Considering the many problems faced by Zachary, I think it's safe to say he will prevail over the system which has tried so hard to take advantage of his poor fate.

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Creative Writing Assignment: Setting-Driven Narrative, "Humor"

 The prospect of visiting one's grandparents' house is somewhat inflated at a young age.  It can be difficult to say why; perhaps merely because it a departs from normalcy should the aforementioned grandparents live far away.  Similarly, it is possible that certain grandparents are simply nice to be around compared to more strict parents.  The house could be an interesting place, if a family has roots on a farm and its members have branched out to plant seeds in more urban soil.
 All these qualities highly influenced young Timothy's excitement to visit his grandparents.  As can be the case, very young children, mostly before the age of seven, have little concept of the idea that one's parents had parents.  In fact, to Timothy, his grandparents were just exceptionally nice people his father and mother just so happened to be acquainted with.  This acquaintance was very convenient for the child, because as can be inferred from his view of his grandparents being exceptionally nice, he was very excited to visit.
 It could be said that Timothy often thought of his parents' SUV as a military vehicle or a tank, and, in order that we may humor him, there are many similarities that can be drawn from his point of view.  First and foremost is the olive green color of the vehicle.  When light shone directly on the side of the vehicle and not on the far side, it gave a two-tone effect that Timothy interpreted as being similar to camouflage.  Furthermore, the sides were made of metal which, to a child, seemed nigh impenetrable.  His father was a bit of an aggressive driver, which in this instance simultaneously frightened his mother and thrilled Timothy; the way the car seemed to careen around corners and fly uphill past other cars gave Timothy a sense of urgency and purpose as if his presence on the battlefield were of vital importance to the mission.  The engine roared like a lion and the tires crunched the gravel like the wild bones of prey under its unforgiving wheels as they drove along the driveway of grandma and grandpa's house.  The inside of the car could be said to be fit for a lion, though this was lost on Timothy; the booster seat under him had plastic arms which dug into his skin uncomfortably on long drives such as this one.  This discomfort caused Timothy to think the car was much more like a tank, since tanks are vehicles of war and not of luxury.  Timothy may not have realized, though, that in order for him to consider the car a tank his father would have to be the commander.
 In the hills of northern Kentucky driveways have a tendency to be long, and Timothy's grandparents' house was no exception.  A long, winding hill led up from the road, surrounded by dense trees and vegetation, up to an open plateau on its peak looking down into a bowl with a large farmhouse at its center, surrounded by tall, golden grass that glimmered in the evening light.  The whole image was very much like a grandiose scene of a castle surrounded by a sea of glittering gold with dark, menacing mountains in the background, since the bowl was surrounded by woods.  The SUV charged down the slope toward the unguarded keep with many a cry of “slow down!” and “you're going to fast!” from Timothy's mother, which coaxed a chuckle from his father and a loud guffaw from Timothy.  Ah, if only his mother knew his mission, she would humor him, too.
 The SUV slowed to a stop in front of the closed doors of a small red barn with white trim.  Timothy knew what was inside; hay bales, a small tool shop where grandpa works on his truck, and a loft with nothing on it.  With some assistance from his mother, Timothy was able to dismount his steed, or perhaps to escape the confines of the behemoth tank.  It came immediately to his attention that in the green square of grass surrounding the house there was a gigantic cylindrical bale of hay which Timothy correctly reasoned would be a good outpost for enemy sharpshooters.  In order to make sure his parents weren't attacked by a rogue enemy sniper, Timothy very slowly approached the hay bale, making sure that someone on the other side would have no chance of seeing his advance.  When he reasoned he was close enough to ambush, he rushed to the other side with a very sudden motion, loudly exclaiming “Aha!” to the patch of clovers and bluegrass waiting to accost his unwitting parents.
 “Hurry up, Timmy, you're going to delay dinner!”  Timothy was upset to hear his mother yell all the way from the doorstep, totally unwary of the abject danger she and his father were in, running out in front of a hostile fortification as they had just done.  Timothy relented, though, because that is the sort of focused child he is; he was on a mission, and the goal of that mission laid inside his grandparents' house.
 Having already knocked and gained entry into the main keep, Timothy's parents were beginning niceties with the king and queen thereof (or the captain and sergeant; at this point, Timothy is equally captivated by both medieval and modern warfare), and so Timothy marched in behind them warily.  Diplomacy was not his objective.  Instead, Timothy was there to perform a very thorough search of the treasure trove located at the top of the modest farmhouse:  the attic.  Smells from the kitchen indicated a celebratory meal had already been prepared for Timothy's victorious arrival.  Surely his grandparents will humor him!
 Upon his entrance, Timothy's grandma gave a loud exclamation of disbelief and embraced him, explaining to him, “I can barely believe how big you are, you've got to be twice as tall as the last time I saw you!”  Like any good soldier in the deepest enemy territory, Timothy was appalled by such a display of affection.  He is such a directed and motivated child.  He barely had any time to pay attention to the exchange his parents were having with his grandparents; it was necessary to get to the attic quickly at all costs.
 The welcoming blues and grays of the front room faded into the warm, comforting yellows and whites of the kitchen.  Laden on the table were a heaping bowl of lush green beans, a plate stacked high with steaming corn-on-the-cob with an accompanying dish with a stick of softened butter upon it, an overflowing bowl of mashed potatoes, which Timothy noted had been mashed with the skin still on them just the way he liked, and around the table were five spots set with grandma and grandpa's fine china and crystal.  Timothy felt out of place there in the heart of the home; it was no place for a soldier such as he.
 After passing the altar of the feast, Timothy proceeded out a framed doorway into the foyer.  This was a very big step for him to take in the unknown territory of the foe, because the lights in the foyer were off.  A few steps later and he was facing the stairs, looking upward into a dark abyss, each step a varying degree darkness due to the light from the kitchen being dully reflected from the kitchen so that the sides of the steps were illuminated and the tops left to the imagination.  The hardwood foyer creaked under Timothy's footfalls eerily and he feared detection from his grandparents.  This fear was, however, not well justified, as when he set his right foot on the first step it groaned like a gargantuan monster disturbed from it slumber, provoking a call from Timothy's mother.
 “Don't wander, Timmy, we're going to sit down to dinner in just a minute!”  Timothy found this warning entirely preposterous; he was not wandering but, instead, he was accomplishing the very purpose of his being there in the first place.  
 His priorities reaffirmed, Timothy set his left foot on the second step.  The stairs towered above him like the gaping mouth of an upward abyss, daring any hero brave enough to explore its secreted depths by virtue of its concealing shadows.  Heroic and foolhardy, Timothy continued to set foot after foot on the sentry serpent's back, and it hissed and its bones creaked in angry response to his conquering footfall.  Alas, the subdued snake had raised an alarm in its dying throes, and a pursuer had begun the climb behind our valiant conqueror!
 Determined to lay claim to the valuables laying in wait in the treasure room of the attic, Timothy leapt up the final few stairs and, thus finishing his ascent, wheeled to the right and sprinted down the shadowy corridor.  A window on the left of the hallway cast rays of sunlight in the shape of the panes of glass on the opposite wall, and Timothy dashed through them, convinced a searchlight had been directed at the window to direct his enemy's eyes to his daring mission to obtain the plunder at the other end of the hall.  There it was!  The goal of his mission reposed at the end of the hallway: a narrow portal unopened for who knew how many years, behind it laying the long-forgotten jewels and golden reserves of an ancient civilization.  If only someone would humor him, riches the likes of which no one had ever seen would be within Timothy's grasp!
 Angry footsteps echoed around and past Timothy, warning him to not and yet simultaneously daring him to reach for the door handle and pull outward.  They grew closer and closer, the advance of the unknown sentinel advanced on Timothy's every sense, beating step by step the peril of his situation into his head and through the door handle into his hand and up his arm, reverberating throughout his being as he yanked once on the door.  Twice!  It budged slightly, and on the third he was sure he would gain entrance and solace from his pursuer.
 But alas!  The icy hand of capture and death had him by the shoulder, gripping him with all the power and malice of an ancient warden of an even more ancient fortune.  Heroic Timothy, even with failure and murder breathing down his neck, could still taste his prize.  With one final tug, he had the door open and with a noble and fearless cry he leapt into the murky blackness, the unlit void of the treasure room, his only hope!
 Poor, unfortunate Timothy had jumped from the capture of the guarding sentinel to the awaiting arms of a beast guarding the treasure!  His noble battlecry was reduced to a frightened scream as he was encompassed by the monster's cold, menacing arms and it swallowed him whole!  Is this nameless beast the only creature in all the whole, wide world that will humor poor Timothy?
 Light abruptly penetrated the enveloping bowels of the unseen monstrosity which had devoured Timothy.  The impossible, Deus Ex Machina, had occurred, and he was pulled from the belly of the beast.
 There Timothy's mother stood, humorless, holding poor Timothy above a cardboard box filled with winter clothes, surrounded by the dust-covered remnants of her parents' past.  Her glare was enough to express what her words could not.  Why hadn't Timothy gone straight to the front door of his grandparents' house?  Why hadn't he stood quietly by his parents until they sat down at dinner?  I think we are the only ones who will humor him, I am afraid.
 At the table, Timothy's chalice of victory had been emptied and refilled with shame.  He hung his head in defeat over his plate of roast turkey, green beans, corn and mashed potatoes, completely disinterested now that his victory feast had been replaced by one of defeat and humiliation.  The triumphant party around him bandied words he knew not what.
 Timothy's mother, upset from her son's escapade, explained to his grandparents, “his kindergarten teacher and nurse are both upset with his conduct in class.  They've suggested we put him on Adderall.”  His grandfather was disinterested, his grandmother looked concerned, and Timothy's father said nothing.

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Rise Against's "People Live Here" and Revolution

I have a significant love for the music Rise Against has put out. In their worst moments, they're a formulaic punk-rock band, matching angrily anarchic lyrics to simple chord progressions for public consumption. These moments are few and far between, somehow - I'm not quite sure how. Their chord progressions haven't gained any complexity over the years, their lyrics haven't progressed in technical proficiency or poetic depth. Yet something about them works, and works well. Their anger flows from the emotional sea of their generation - by chance, the same one as mine - crashing like angry breakers against the unjust structures we've inherited. Their rebellious nature flows authentically from their hearts, and they live the lives they advocate in their revolutionary music: for example, they preach against animal violence, and are vegans. Their message is fundamentally optimistic, as they believe that the changes they advocate are not only possible, but are within reach if we fight for them.

Their latest album, Black Markets comes after a hiatus of two years, and as such shows the depth of something long meditated. They've incorporated some new sounds, mostly from a blues or pop source, and matched them to the same lyrics Tim McIlrath has been pumping out for a decade and a half now. It's a solid album, changing just enough to be new and engaging, but keeping enough the same to fit in with the rest of their repertoire. I appreciate Tim's decision to leave his recorded voice with a less-doctored up, more raw sound. It suits their band.

One track out of the bunch has really gripped my attention. After a several-album deficit, they've finally included another acoustic ballad: "People Live Here." The song sums up something about the way Rise Against see the revolutionary movement among millennials which, to an extent, they represent. The song is an impassioned call for respect to humanity as a whole, to the cosmos, and to whatever McIlrath thinks of God. Hey, people live here. Treat this bridge, this city, this nation with some concern. In doing so, McIlrath has laid out enough of a sketch of the problems plaguing modern man that I can make a list:

  • Religious superiority and pharasaism.
  • Inattentiveness to the suffering of others
  • Infidelity to the revolutionary movement
  • Gun violence, and consequently popular armament
  • Reliance on electricity and power at the expense of nature

This is followed by the path to safety: the recognition that "My dreams are not unlike yours," which will lead to "laughter past the edge of our fears," where there's "chaos," but such anarchy is "music to [his] ears." This is connected to a Christian-influenced allegory for safety: "May you be in Heaven before the devil knows you're dead / May the winds be always at your back." After all, in the end, "When we're all just ghosts / and the madness overtakes us," the remnants of our human existence will serve as evidence of our human dignity - evidence that "People lived here." From this description, we can see an ethic somewhat comparable to that of most mainstream Christian churches: Pride is the root sin, which doesn't recognize our fellow humans as brothers and sisters. This leads to every kind of violence and destruction, both socially and environmentally. But God, or some other indefinite higher power, intended for us to be joined in pursuit of common safety and well-being: a materially realized "Heaven." Then, once our race is inevitably wiped out by natural forces, the rubble of our civilizations will serve as a quasi-eternal testament to the human dignity which made our short existence worthwhile.

This exposition of the revolutionary message, which vivifies the social activism lived out by many in my generation, is compelling. I would wager that a majority of white, suburban twenty- and thirty-somethings hearing this would find a resonance with their own dissatisfaction with the world as it is - and this wager is backed up by the research of Christian Smith. We can clearly see the pain and suffering surrounding us, both in supposedly innocuous "first world problems" and the more pressing poverty and destitution elsewhere in the world. We see through the systems built up by our forebears to the fundamental injustices propping these structures up. This generation would also agree on the game plan for resolving these conflicts - awareness of diversity and suffering leading to genuine respect and solidarity, and the common effort of humankind to overcome these material obstacles to a better life for us all.

However, this is precisely where Rise Against present a message which I sympathize with, which I see taking hold in my brothers and sisters of my own age, and yet which I cannot myself embrace because it fundamentally contradicts the religious worldview I have consciously and committedly embraced. I share the pain of a world torn apart by violence, war, environmental irresponsibility, and hatred. I suffer from the loneliness of consumerist self-satisfaction in constant acquisition and long to ease the burdens which this capitalist machine has placed on the weakest and most forgotten along with Rise Against and "their" movement. And yet, the solution which they present to the problem, as heartfelt as its revolutionary message might be, is heartbreakingly insufficient. Allow me to explain why.

The first problem is in the ethical foundations for such a movement. McIlrath presents problems and pains which the majority regard as wrong, and as such they are emotively compelling for the majority of listeners. And yet, a simple ethics of majority-rule would create the same systems of exclusion and oppression we currently suffer. Popular consensus cannot be the source of our vision of the good from which to build the good society of the future - the consensus of the past enshrined sweat shops and segregation into law. Although majority-rules ethics are out of the question, McIlrath does not, and can not present an alternative: a consistent and universal good from which to build a society, cannot present a unified conception of justice from which to resolve such ethical problems. His outcry is essentially subjectivist, individualist, and prescriptively relativistic. In an anthropology in which the resolution of problems is listening and understanding the other, and granting them autonomy of desires, there is no room for a higher order to adjudicate between one desire and another. In prescriptive relativism, there is no more basic foundation of justice or ethics than the subjective goods which individual people perceive upon which to build a universal justice. In a tragic irony, McIlrath laments how individual desires and self-actualization are hampered, and sometimes completely denied, by others seeking their own individual desires and self-actualization. Thus is the inherent contradiction in such an ethics, and in such a social philosophy.

The second problem is the restriction of all human fulfillment to a this-worldly peace and respect. This is an understandable, and even a laudable goal - in a world where material prosperity, and even subsistence, is systematically denied to people because of class, race, and gender, we must build a material order which actually takes care of people in order to even approach "justice." But, in the end, if the eternal material universe continues to spin after "we're all just ghosts," and the rubble of a broken Earth is all that survives of humanity, I don't find the historical recognition that "People lived here" comforting. The pain of this world, so evident even in romantic relationships and friendships where such a love cannot end our suffering, is too great for even some kind of cosmic, eternal tombstone to commemorate. If I'm to work for the good of my brothers and sisters, sacrificing my own subjective aims in favor of theirs, the mere fact that "people live here" is not a sufficient reward for this kind of sacrifice. Only a pearl of great price, or a treasure the like of which eye has not seen nor ear heard could justify the sale and redistribution of all material goods. Only the deification of humankind, in eternal unity with God in transcendent glory beyond human language, could not merely make up for the suffering and pain, but redeem even the evil itself by the presence of the Son of God walking through it with us. If all we're working toward is some kind of earthly city, it's not worth it.

And yet, McIlrath has anticipated this religious argument, and adds more in one of the most emotively compelling lyrics I have ever heard. I'll quote it here, but to give it its full effect, you should go listen to the song.

From the penthouse to the holy martyr,
Sea to shining sea,
From the coffins full of kindergarteners:
Is this what you call free?
From the hate that drips from all your crosses,
Are your hands so clean?
There's a wildfire, and it's spreading far
From sea to shining sea.

In these eight lines of punching, terse accusation, McIlrath associates the "holy martyr" with the capitalist oppressing the masses from his "penthouse." These, in all their American glory stretching from "sea to shining sea," lead directly to the tragedies of Sandy Hook and Columbine, producing "coffins full of kindergarteners." The blind, self-fulfilling greed and the smug superiority of such people infects and characterizes even the crosses, which thus "drip with hate." These oppressive bigots, who assume that their money and their religious beliefs make them de facto superior to their fellow men, perpetuate the hatred and exclusion which is at the root of the problems listed above. As a result, can those whited sepulchers really say their hands are clean? After the wars and slaughter fought for gods and for oil? The result of this oppression is a rebellious wildfire spreading throughout that same America, which will burn down such oppressive structures and rebuild a world dedicated to love and equality and justice.

My first response to this second assault on my religion was an angry bewilderment: how could someone misinterpret the Cross: the single, fullest expression of God's love for the human race? How could Jesus' sacrificial death of reconciliation, intended to set the captive free and raise up the lowly, be seen as hateful? How dare someone call the visible face of Love hatred? But then, it dawned on me. McIlrath doesn't see the Cross as I see it, he sees it as we, Christians, present it. He sees it as the in hoc signum of imperialistic bigotry and hateful exclusion. He sees the cross as the standard and weapon of the Westboro Baptist Church, the moral legalists, and the ungodly union between Church and greedy Republican party, by which the "followers" of Christ beat and accost the weak and rejected. Nothing could be further from the reality of the Cross, but nothing could more accurately describe the public facade we Christians have built for the tree of life in America. "Christians" picketed the funerals of gay soldiers, "Christians" refuse to accept even the slightly impure into our communities, and "Christians" systematically deny the poor their place among us. This is our fault. Nostra culpa, nostra culpa, nostra maxima culpa.

The only proper response from Catholics and Christians, then, is revolution. The revolution of the "New Evangelization" heralded by Bl. Paul VI and St. John Paul II. The "New Springtime" advocated by Benedict XVI. The "Evangelii Gaudium" preached by Francis. If we want the Church to be a plausible solution to the woes of the world, then we must become such change ourselves in the revolutionary act of sanctity. Because the Church ontologically and eschatologically is the immaculate Bride of Christ, we as her historical members had better start acting like Body of He who "did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant." This is the only kind of revolution, the inversion of worldly power systems inherent in the selling of worldly goods for the Kingdom of God. May the poor woman who God raised to be blessed by all generations, as proof of His love which raises up from the netherworld, intercede for us with her Son, with whose mercy we can repent and faithfully begin to spread the Gospel anew.