Sunday, 24 May 2009

Pilgrimage to Loreto

I was thinking that it's been a while since I blogged, and that it's really been a while since I let anyone know what I'm doing except over the phone, so I'm going to try and be more regular.

What's more, you Dobson people, I'd like to know what you're up to as well - so if you blogged a bit as well, that'd be great. And there's Skype too.

Anyway, rather conveniently, this weekend we've done something for a change. We went on the diocesan pilgrimage to Loreto. Now there's a risk that may sound hardcore, but, if Wolfram|Alpha is to be believed, it was only a3.735 mile walk away, or 20 seconds at the speed of sound.

We got a lift to Crocette from Monica's Dad, because the coach from Offagna was a bit steep (€7 each) and picked up a booklet each and we were off, with a Madonna of Loreto carried up at the front, and various people carrying speakers all the way through the crowd. We basically walked across the main road - people are used to this kind of thing in Italy. The speakers didn't work very well, and sometimes cut out completely. I don't know quite what it is, but pretty much all of the audio equipment in Italy seems to be really clapped out and unfit for purpose.

It was good, but it was more rosary than I can deal with really. We prayed 2 and a half sets of mysteries, and walking in a crowd in the heat (we've had a warm spell here - pre-emptive summer temperatures) makes it difficult to concentrate. For those of you who don't know, the main point of the rosry is to meditate on events in Jesus' and Mary's life i.e. The Annunciation, Mary's visit to Elisabeth, The birth of Jesus, his presenatation at the temple, his being found among the teachers of the law there. So if you can't concentrate it detracts rather.

And when we got to the end, it was the mass of the Ascension with the bishop, who was atypically brief in his homily (apparently he had to be up for something early this morning). All in all, a good day was had by all.

Schools nearly finished in Italy. They have an immense summer holiday. And in the last weeks of school, even goody-two-shoes' like Monica bunk off apparently. Plus, the first weeks a new school year are infallibly interrupted by strikes. So this means that the children we've been helping with English and sundry other scholastic disciplines won't need our services soon, and we'll have more free time to look for work but less money. We intend to go to the beach and look for seasonal work.
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Monday, 18 May 2009

Talking Dirty (Yes, it's rude.)

Death of Onan. watercolor by Franc LanjščekImage via Wikipedia
Dave recently put up a link to a thing called Porn-Again Christian, a leaflet about masturbation and pornography in a Christian context. There's some good stuff in there, but I did find myself disagreeing with quite a few things, and I wanted to mention one in particular:

Many Christian pastors have tried in vain to find a mention of masturbation in the Scripture so they can condemn and forbid it. Unable to find any verses on the matter, some have foolishly used the story of Onan in Genesis 38:6-10 as their proof text. However, the story of Onan says nothing of masturbation. Instead, the story is about a man who died, leaving his wife a childless widow. The dead man’s brother was then expected to marry his widowed sister-in-law, have normal sexual relations with her, and enable her to have children. Although Onan was happy to have sex with his sister-in-law, he would pull out of her just prior to his orgasm and ejaculate on the ground rather than obey God and become a father. To argue against masturbation with Genesis 38:6-10 is as ludicrous as arguing for masturbation like one young guy did with me by quoting Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might."

Now I disagree with the author, one "Pastor Mark Driscoll [of] Mars Hill Church, Seattle", on his take on the passage, but I disagree still more with the tone he takes. People who disagree with him argue "foolishly". He asserts (there is no argument - the relevant verses about the levirate law are omitted) that it has nothing to say about masturbation, rather, that it's purely about his refusal to continue his brother's line. Then he makes an irrelevant and insulting comparison between those who do think that this passage is an argument against masturbation and some guy looking for an excuse to wank in the bible.

Here's the story of Onan:

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also. - Genesis 38:6-10

Here's the substance of the levirate law, together with the designated punishment for defying that law:

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

However, if a man does not want to marry his brother's wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, "My husband's brother refuses to carry on his brother's name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me." Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, "I do not want to marry her," his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line." That man's line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled. - Deuteronomy 25:5-10

Onan refuses to "obey God and become a father"
- God kills him.

An Israelite "refuses to carry on his brother's name"
1. He loses a sandal
2. He gets spat on
3. He gets publicly dressed down
4. His family is called "Unsandaled"

Now, I'm sure I lack many of the qualities necessary to become the Pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, but at least I can pick up on the massive disconnect between those two scenarios. Is is possible that there's more to this verse than Driscoll says? Well... yes.

On Driscoll's scheme, the crime is the same in both cases, the refusal to become the father of children by his brother's widow. Consequently, we'd expect the punishment to be the same, but it isn't.

The ends are the same, but the means are clearly different. Onan does take his brother's wife, but the way he gets round becoming a father is to avoid, as Driscoll himself puts it, "normal sexual relations with her". The hypothetical Israelite simply doesn't marry her, and has a lesser punishment. The intent being exactly the same, by elimination the problem must be somewhere in here:

"Whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother."

I do know that coitus interruptus isn't masturbation - I'm not an idiot - it's a crude form of contraception, a way of escaping the natural consequences of intercourse. God doesn't seem to be sold on the idea.

Now, I'm dubious about this verse's possibilities as a "proof text" against masturbation, but I do think the following question is worth considering: If God doesn't appear to approve of the distortion of lovemaking within marriage to avoid its natural consequences, can we assume that a husband/wife masturbating themselves or each other to avoid lovemaking altogether, and its natural consequences, is somehow actually better?

Driscoll seems to speak with the voice of authority. Being a Catholic, I'm very familiar with the idea of authority; it's a consequence of Jesus' promises to the Church founded on Peter the Rock would be led into all truth and the Scriptures which call that Church the pillar and foundation of truth, declare that the faith has been delivered once for all and that the teachings of the apostles, whether in writing or by word of mouth, are to be handed down in perpetuity by those who are given the ministry of teaching by the Church.

On the other hand, why should we listen to Driscoll when we can all read the Scriptures for ourselves? Is it because he's the Pastor of Mars Hill, and has presumably been to theological college? You don't need to listen to the Pope; he has a silly hat, and repeats the things that Christians used to believe in the past, before progress happened. Listen to Mark Driscoll. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, so when Mark Driscoll says you can have oral sex and masturbate within marriage, case closed.

However the real trouble is not that Mark Driscoll talks as if he's the Pope, but that if, instead of looking for guidance to the community which is the pillar and foundation of the truth, we pull out our bibles and say we can work this stuff out for ourselves, just me and Jesus, we can't help but be our own Pope.
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Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Presence of God

From Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. Some advice on "placing yourself in the Presence of God":
IT may be, my daughter, that you do not know how to practise mental
prayer, for unfortunately it is a thing much neglected now-adays. I
will therefore give you a short and easy method for using it, until
such time as you may read sundry books written on the subject, and
above all till practice teaches you how to use it more perfectly. And
first of all, the Preparation, which consists of two points: first,
placing yourself in the Presence of God; and second, asking His Aid.
And in order to place your self in the Presence of God, I will suggest
four chief considerations which you can use at first.

First, a lively earnest realisation that His Presence is universal;
that is to say, that He is everywhere, and in all, and that there is no
place, nothing in the world, devoid of His Most Holy Presence, so that,
even as birds on the wing meet the air continually, we, let us go where
we will, meet with that Presence always and everywhere. It is a truth
which all are ready to grant, but all are not equally alive to its
importance. A blind man when in the presence of his prince will
preserve a reverential demeanour if told that the king is there,
although unable to see him; but practically, what men do not see they
easily forget, and so readily lapse into carelessness and irreverence.
Just so, my child, we do not see our God, and although faith warns us
that He is present, not beholding Him with our mortal eyes, we are too
apt to forget Him, and act as though He were afar: for, while knowing
perfectly that He is everywhere, if we do not think about it, it is
much as though we knew it not. And therefore, before beginning to pray,
it is needful always to rouse the soul to a stedfast remembrance and
thought of the Presence of God. This is what David meant when he
exclaimed, "If I climb up to Heaven, Thou art there, and if I go down
to hell, Thou art there also!" [25] And in like manner Jacob, who,
beholding the ladder which went up to Heaven, cried out, "Surely the
Lord is in this place and I knew it not" [26] meaning thereby that he
had not thought of it; for assuredly he could not fail to know that God
was everywhere and in all things. Therefore, when you make ready to
pray, you must say with your whole heart, "God is indeed here."

The second way of placing yourself in this Sacred Presence is to call
to mind that God is not only present in the place where you are, but
that He is very specially present in your heart and mind, which He
kindles and inspires with His Holy Presence, abiding there as Heart of
your heart, Spirit of your spirit. Just as the soul animates the whole
body, and every member thereof, but abides especially in the heart, so
God, while present everywhere, yet makes His special abode with our
spirit. Therefore David calls Him "the Strength of my heart;" [27] and
S. Paul said that in Him "we live and move and have our being." [28]
Dwell upon this thought until you have kindled a great reverence within
your heart for God Who is so closely present to you.

The third way is to dwell upon the thought of our Lord, Who in His
Ascended Humanity looks down upon all men, but most particularly on all
Christians, because they are His children; above all, on those who
pray, over whose doings He keeps watch. Nor is this any mere
imagination, it is very truth, and although we see Him not, He is
looking down upon us. It was given to S. Stephen in the hour of
martyrdom thus to behold Him, and we may well say with the Bride of the
Canticles, "He looketh forth at the windows, shewing Himself through
the lattice." [29]

The fourth way is simply to exercise your ordinary imagination,
picturing the Saviour to yourself in His Sacred Humanity as if He were
beside you just as we are wont to think of our friends, and fancy that
we see or hear them at our side. But when the Blessed Sacrament of the
Altar is there, then this Presence is no longer imaginary, but most
real; and the sacred species are but as a veil from behind which the
Present Saviour beholds and considers us, although we cannot see Him as
He is.

Make use of one or other of these methods for placing yourself in the
Presence of God before you begin to pray;--do not try to use them all
at once, but take one at a time, and that briefly and simply.
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