Monday, June 28, 2010

the least of my people

I've been trying to figure out what to do with panhandlers and people who ask for money. It's absolutely wrong to brush by and ignore them (cf. Mt. 25:31 ff), but handing over $5 probably means enabling an addiction or bad habit, and that's also wrong. Some people say "take them out to lunch" but most times I honestly don't have time for that. (Plus it can't really help that much.) Some people tell me "you're in college and you don't really have extra money" but cf. Mark 12:41 ff.

Here's the thing, though. My time isn't really "my" time -- I've already pledged it to my employer. Maybe feeding the hungry is objectively more important than the particular task I've been assigned, but I owe to my employer that I obey him and that I give him the time I promised to give him. If he sends me on an assignment, I have to do that assignment (unless it's specifically immoral). So no, I really, actually don't have time to take someone out to lunch because the time isn't mine anymore.

Same with money. I owe it to my parents to finish college, and I actually do need to buy my textbooks. Maybe feeding the hungry is more important than memorizing declension patterns, but that isn't my decision to make. It isn't "my" time that I spend studying, and it isn't "my" money I'm spending on books. I owe it to my parents to buy my books, and therefore the money isn't mine to give away.

I think the best thing to do is to know where these people can get help, and smile and point it out to them. "Sorry, ma'am, I can't actually give you any money, but if you go to [street] and [street], the people there can help you" or "Sir, I can't give you any money, but here's the phone number of [whatever mission]. Give them a call; they should be able to help you."

A man holding his hat out is still a man and we ought to treat him as such. But we should also recognize (with humility) that we are human and limited in what we can do. I can't solve all the world's problems; I can't solve all this man's problems. But I can point him to people who can help.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


From Abbey-Roads, via The Crescat:
What if you were the reason a person refused to come back to Christ? What if your self-righteous, judgmental, dogmatic, theologically correct attitude repelled a soul from accepting Church teaching, from reconciling with the Church, from faith itself? What if they were just on the edge of conversion and one of your contemptuous sneers, caustic remarks, or hostile snubs drove them away? That is one aspect of what Jesus is talking about when he warned against "scandalizing one of these little ones".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

West's Theology of the Body

I assume we're all somewhat familiar with Pope John Paul II's "theology of the body" (expressed in his Wednesday papal audiences in the early 1980s). Christopher West, a (Catholic) speaker and writer, is perhaps its most enthusiastic and famous proponent. In early 2009, a controversy about his interpretation of JPII's theology erupted after some comments he made on TV. Although his comments were taken out of context and probably misinterpreted, it turns out that he has been making some pretty serious theological errors all along. Dawn Eden, another Catholic speaker and writer, recently exposed these errors and dissected West's interpretation for her master's thesis in theology. Find a summary of it here.


UPDATE: Marcel at Aggie Catholics has responded to Dawn Eden here (thank you, dear commenters, for the link). I need to read more of both JPII and West for myself before I can legitimately weigh in on the questions at hand. That said, I (like Marcel) am inclined to retain my reservations about West, though I will no longer take the entirety of Eden's criticism at face value.

Open question for those who know more West's work better than I do: Does he speak or write at all about the celibacy of priests and religious? More specifically, if "sexual love is the earthly key that enables us to enter into heaven's song," as West writes, then how is it possible that so many saints have been celibate? Perhaps West overemphasizes the (true) image of God as the Divine Lover at the cost of undermining other (also true) ways He reveals Himself to us: as Father, Savior, Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life...

Anyway, on a related issue, here is a good reflection from Peter Kreeft on sex in Heaven.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Very Useful Prayer

I found this in a Catholic prayer book and immediately fell in love; I think everyone knows at least one person they consider a hopeless cause, and this prayer was meant for them.

A Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
for the Conversion of a Sinner

O Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, thou knowest so well the great value of an immortal soul. Thou knowest what it means, that every soul has been redeemed by the Blood of thy Divine Son. Thou wilt not then despise my prayer if I ask from thee the conversion of a sinner, nay, a great sinner, who is rapidly hurrying on toward eternal ruin. Thou, O good and merciful Mother, knowest well his irregular life. Remember that thou art the Refuge of Sinners; remember that God has given thee power to bring about the conversion of even the most wretched sinners. All that has been done for his soul has been unsuccessful; if thou wilt not come to his assistance, he will go from bad to worse. Obtain for him the effectual grace that he may be moved and brought back to God and to his duties. Send him, if necessary, temporal calamities and trials, that he may enter into himself and put an end to his sinful course. Thou, O most merciful Mother, hast converted so many sinners through thine intercession, at the prayer to thee of their friends. Be then also moved by my prayer, and bring this unhappy soul to true conversion of heart.
O Mother of Perpetual Help, deign to show that thou art the Advocate and Refuge of Sinners. So I hope, so may it be. Amen.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Awesome Quotations (or, How to blog without thinking for yourself)

[The following lines are excerpts from my spring and summer reading.]

A one-sentence definition of a Catholic from Chesterton:
Now a Catholic is he who has plucked up courage to face the incredible and inconceivable idea that something else may be wiser than he is.
Walker Percy on various worldviews:

This life is far too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, 'Scientific Humanism.' That won't do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight; i.e., God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don't see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and wouldn't let go until God identified himself and blessed him.

Graham Greene on man as Imago Dei:
When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity -- that was a quality God's image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.
GKC on solitude:
The reason why even the normal human being should be half a hermit is that it is the only way in which his mind can have a half-holiday. It is the only way to get any fun even out of the facts of life; yes, even if the facts are games and dances and operas. It bears most resemblance to the unpacking of luggage. It has been said that we live on a railway station; many of us live in a luggage van; or wander about the world with luggage that we never unpack at all. For the best things that happen to us are those we get out of what has already happened… Now when people merely plunge from crush to crush, and from crowd to crowd, they never discover the positive joy of life.

GKC quotations are from his late essay collection The Well and the Shallows ("My Six Conversions and "The Case for Hermits," respectively). Percy's bit appears in a mock interview of himself at the end of his essay collection Signposts in a Strange Land. Greene's sentences come from his novel The Power and the Glory. I apologize for the weird alignment here; I'm having trouble with the program.