Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

I keep this older posting at the head of my blog, outlining the viewpoint of all that follows. The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders For Our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort.  Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. My own investigations center around the apparent paradox of Christologies seeming to be close together when their related Ecclesiologies are far apart. My booklist (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on at most 24 books) is:

  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours, unabridged
  • The Confessions; by Saint Augustine
  • Commentary on Job; St Thomas Aquinas
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Sixteen Plays;  by William Shakespeare
  • Men and Women; by Robert Browning
  • Collected Poems & Prose; Robert Frost
  • Dylan’s Visions of Sin; Christopher Ricks
  • Familiaris Consortio; Saint  John Paul II
  • Exodus; by Fr. Thomas Joseph White
  • The Revolution Began; N. T. Wright
  • Prayer; by Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Jesus of Nazareth; Pope Benedict XVI
  • Enchiridion Symbolorum; Denzinger
  • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

My booklist starts with Scripture, centered in the Psalms, and continues its intertwining of history, poetic literature, and philosophy broadly considered up to contemporary times. Essential to the culture of the Appalachian Riders For Our Lady is participation in daily Mass at our particular parishes (7am Mass at St Ambrose in Salt Lake City  in my case) and our encouragement of increasing use of the Liturgy of the Hours.


Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose head steward is the bishop of Rome. After addressing those preliminary questions, I intend to commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer.

I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically rather than ecclesiologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can “check one’s answers”– the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community.

On a personal level, I think the core of the Protestant error centers on the attempt to place faith above love (see Luther’s commentary on Galatians) contra Saint Paul and the Catholic tradition.


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Favorite Bob Dylan Albums

2006 Modern Times

2001 Love and Theft

1997 Time Out of Mind

1989 Oh Mercy

1979 Slow Train Coming

1975 Blood on the Tracks

1964 The Times They are A Changin

And, favorite from the Bootleg Series

2008 Tell Tale Signs




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Jesus Christ, Bridegroom of the Church

From Familiaris Consortio:

Jesus Christ, Bridegroom of the Church, and the Sacrament of Matrimony

13. The communion between God and His people finds its definitive fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom who loves and gives Himself as the Savior of humanity, uniting it to Himself as His body.

He reveals the original truth of marriage, the truth of the “beginning,”[27] and, freeing man from his hardness of heart, He makes man capable of realizing this truth in its entirety.

This revelation reaches its definitive fullness in the gift of love which the Word of God makes to humanity in assuming a human nature, and in the sacrifice which Jesus Christ makes of Himself on the Cross for His bride, the Church. In this sacrifice there is entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation[28]; the marriage of baptized persons thus becomes a real symbol of that new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ. The Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new heart, and renders man and woman capable of loving one another as Christ has loved us. Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave Himself on the Cross.

In a deservedly famous page, Tertullian has well expressed the greatness of this conjugal life in Christ and its beauty: “How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? …How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.”[29]

Receiving and meditating faithfully on the word of God, the Church has solemnly taught and continues to teach that the marriage of the baptized is one of the seven sacraments of the New Covenant.[30]

Indeed, by means of baptism, man and woman are definitively placed within the new and eternal covenant, in the spousal covenant of Christ with the Church. And it is because of this indestructible insertion that the intimate community of conjugal life and love, founded by the Creator,[31] is elevated and assumed into the spousal charity of Christ, sustained and enriched by His redeeming power.

By virtue of the sacramentality of their marriage, spouses are bound to one another in the most profoundly indissoluble manner. Their belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the Church.

Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers. Of this salvation event marriage, like every sacrament, is a memorial, actuation and prophecy: “As a memorial, the sacrament gives them the grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them before their children. As actuation, it gives them the grace and duty of putting into practice in the present, towards each other and their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems. As prophecy, it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ.”[32]

Like each of the seven sacraments, so also marriage is a real symbol of the event of salvation, but in its own way. “The spouses participate in it as spouses, together, as a couple, so that the first and immediate effect of marriage (res et sacramentum) is not supernatural grace itself, but the Christian conjugal bond, a typically Christian communion of two persons because it represents the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and the mystery of His covenant. The content of participation in Christ’s life is also specific: conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter- appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility (cf Humanae vitae, 9). In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.” [33]

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On Being Catholic

I read Elizabeth Scalia’s  article again just now. Although written in a particular political context, this gets to the heart, I think, of what it means to be Catholic.

Podesta and the Clinton camp’s unwitting compliment to Catholicism

To suggest that the Catholic Church should become a democracy is to profoundly misunderstand…well, everything

There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic Church.” – Sandy Newman, president and founder of the Voices for Progress, in an email to John Podesta, chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign for President.

In response, Podesta — a Catholic — tells Newman thatstructures have been put in place to work toward that end. A headline in the Washington Post would suggest that the line of thinking in these Wikileaks-obtained emails was mere joking, but the conversational back-and-forth appears to be in dead earnest.

It also seems shockingly ignorant.

“Catholicism is not a Democracy, and it’s not representative of any form of earthly governance, because ultimately, it does not belong to earth,” a Jesuit teacher once told me.  “The twelve apostles didn’t each get a vote on the teachings of the developing church. They got to brawl, at times, but not to vote.”

It always seemed to me, on reflection, that the instructor missed one point on voting. The apostles, the early Church Fathers, the saints and the Doctors of the Church did get a vote of sorts. They got to vote “yes” or “no” for the church commissioned by Christ, and continually overseen by Peter since then.  They all voted “yes”, so to speak. Sometimes — often — at the cost of their lives.  Catholics do not get to “demand for themselves” anything, because they are willing subjects of Christ, the King. What Catholics get to be, isobedient.

“I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first,” said Thomas More when his obedience to Christ brought him to the chopping block.

“I am an obedient daughter of the Church,” said Dorothy Day. When asked what she would do if an unhappy Cardinal told her to shut down “The Catholic Worker,” she said, “I would shut it down.”

Because you see, the Church does not belong to earth, and this sort of obedience belongs to heaven. It is not mindless obedience, but rather obedience that is formed and activated by a profound sense of trust, a trust that says, “I know in whom I have believed.”

It is a trust that, usually, has been forged by fire — by personal suffering and the surrender that leads to triumph — and by the Holy Spirit.

Earthly governments cannot enjoy such obediences because, being earthbound, human (and therefore quite imperfect) institutions, they are as broken as the people in charge of them, and seldom as trustworthy as they want to seem. Where trust is rocky, obedience tends to be as well, which is why those governments will compel obedience where it is not offered freely.

The Church, of course, is administered by human (and therefore quite imperfect) beings, who are as broken as anyone else, and sometimes as corrupt and untrustworthy as any secular politician; this has always been true. But that fire of human suffering and hope, combined with the ever-flowing breath of the Holy Spirit is what transcends the human element within the church. We are all united to heaven, and to each other, through our individual crucibles.

Everything that Newman said in that statement above, and Podesta’s apparent sympathy with it, signals a lack of understanding. To assign Catholic sensibilities to the Middle Ages is not only short-sighted, it is — in the characteristic way of human beings — conceited about the times in which we live, which are neither the best, nor the worst, nor the wisest of times, but merely (and superficially) different than what has come before.  It is to lose sight of Eternity through the dazzling newness of a passing age.

As to respecting Gender Equality, well! Setting aside the growing number of female canonists, diocesan leaders, theologians and Vatican consultants, because that’s for another piece on another day, we began the month of October celebrating the life of a short-lived bourgeois French woman we call a Doctor of the Church. In just a few days we will celebrate another female Doctor of the Church, this time a Spaniard, a great reformer, foundress, and author. Only weeks ago, we noted the life of yet another great woman and Doctor of the Church, Hildegard of Bingen, a German Abbess, author, healer, and musician. This weekend, we will canonize another Frenchwoman of music and letters, Elizabeth of the Trinity, and a number other very unique Catholics who voted “yes” for Christ and his church. And the others?

So you see, in it’s own way and outside of earthly considerations, Catholicism — if it may be called “democratic” at all — is democratic in the very best way: everyone, despite class, despite education, despite country of origin, gets the one vote, “yea” or “nea” and then, with that vote, they are made free.

  • They are free to offer the King with their gifts, a great part of which is about identifying forms of material and spiritual poverty, and then serving those needs.
  • They are free to stand against anything that would work against the freedom to identify and then serve those needs, including governments.
  • They are free to die to help others find that crucible-forged freedom.

Podesta & Company’s words speak for themselves. Intelligent people understand them, and points needn’t be belabored. The Catholic Church is not a democracy, and cannot be a democracy, because its formation and function survives by the pleasure of the King, who is All-in-All — fully beyond any of his servants or administrators.

The Church is Eternal because its founder is Eternal, and still alive within her, Present in every Tabernacle throughout the world; Present in people through whom Christ is still carried to the world, day in, and day out, through service, through charitable works, throughinnovation, through the arts, through encouragement and compassion.

Catholics who are fretsome about Podesta’s words, and the words of others in the trail of emails exposing our “public servants” as seriously short-sighted and dubiously motivated, really should not be. “If the world hates you, it hated me first,” said our Christ, (John 15:18). While the Podesta emails tell us who is firmly of the world, they pay us an unintended compliment, here, by recognizing us as part of something that cannot be tamed, or distracted from the call of the One who makes us free.

Whether we have earned the recognition is something we each must ask ourselves.

“All of God’s purposes are to the good;
although we may not always understand this,
we can trust in it.”
– St. Philip Neri
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On Jeremiah

It is more useful to read the Biblical text than commentaries on the text. However, commentaries can be very helpful for some of the texts, with the book of Jeremiah being a good example.  Here’s a bit from the introductory section of J. A. Thompson’s commentary The Book of Jeremiah.

The prophets were not merely religious teachers or philosophers in the abstract, but saw themselves as the messengers of God commissioned to convey to the people of their own day the word that God had given them.  They had a specific message to a specific people at a specific point in history.  It was a message which would interpret the events through which their people were passing, or would pass, in the light of the demands and promises which God had given to their eole.  Clearly, this dimension of a prophet’s ministry cannot be understood unless the historical background of his times is known.

The book of Jeremiah makes contact with historical events at many points.  In many cases precise dates and otherwise known events are referred to.  It was Jeremiah’s responsibility to proclaim a message about nations and kingdoms, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow to build and to plant” (1:10).  It was an age of crises.  As Jeremiah began to preach, the Assyrian empire was in decay.  At the collapse of Assyria, Egypt, and then Babylon, the kingdom of the Medes stood waiting to pick the spoils of war. Judah herself was caught up in the drama.  To begin she was nominally a vassal of Assyria, then for a brief period independent, then a vassal of Egypt, and finally a vassal of Babylon, under whom Judah lost even her identity as a nation when Nebuchadrezzar took her king into exile and destroyed her city and temple.  Jeremiah lived through all this, and much of the drama of those years is reflected in his book.  It was a time of agony for Jeremiah himself and for his people.  Anyone who attempts to read the book without knowing something of the times will be more bewildered than ever.  The arrangement of the book is complex and the variety of materials is considerable.  If one lacks any sort of historical anchorage as well, the book is a bewildering one.

We have a good deal of biblical material to help fill in some of the historical background to Jeremiah. There are the narratives in 2K. 2125, supplemented by the account in 2 Chr. 3336. Further material is available from the books of contemporary prophets Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Ezekiel.  Then we have the Babylonian Chronicle for the years 617 BC on.  Archeological discoveries of one kind and another, including some small but important written item, add to our knowledge.  There are, alas, many gaps in our knowledge in spite of these sources, but such information as we have enables us to make some headway in understanding the period.



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Dr Peter Kreeft’s conversion

When Napoleon kidnapped the pope, he said, “We will destroy you.”  The pope said, “Ha.  We haven’t been able to destroy ourselves for two thousand years.  You won’t be able to do it, either.”

Dr. Peter Kreeft’s conversion to Catholicism – Part 1
Dr. Peter Kreeft’s conversion to Catholicism – Part 2
Questions and Answers

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Global Worldviews

There is more than one global worldview.
As the song sings: “In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no north or south” and as Saint Paul proclaims: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
A global worldview is inherent to Christianity (even if political forces result in the surrender of authority to the State at times); however, while we are ‘all in this together’ in Christ, this is only true IN Christ. Even then, the sin inherent in our human condition makes this being together very difficult.
The Church is careful to balance its social doctrine of solidarity with one another with the doctrine of subsidiarity: that issues should be dealt with as locally as possible. Subsidiarity reduces moral hazard whereas legislating from a distance increases the time it will take to feel the bad consequences of wrong actions.
To support a specifically secular global agenda is to think our unity need not be IN Christ, that we can bring forth large scale good community on our own. This is haughty Pelagianism.
To support American nationalism over a specifically secular global hegemony is to be orthodox in Christian doctrine.
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Memory Work

To do, memorize:   1 Corinthians 15 & John 1, 6, 15, 20.

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