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A lover of the liberal arts, especially antiquity in its diverse forms, I am nonetheless wholly devoted to, utterly transformed by divine revelation. I seek to know the thought of the past, articulate my deepest longings aroused by the wise, and understand the uneasy relationship between reason and revelation; all for the sake of proper action and contemplation, both now and in the future.


On the Cardinal Complaints and Possible Schism

The Church has always existed in tension with the city. From the beginning She has always been different from the surrounding milieu in which She finds Herself. This reliance and handing down of the traditions She has received from the Fathers - orthodoxy - has always had its detractors, but rarely so loud, angry, and hysteric as in this current era. The Church is bigoted, hateful, intolerant, and other, less pleasant epithets, to read the relevant popular literature. Her morality is patriarchal, antiquated, and anachronistic; the product of sexist, classist, and homophobic old men. For She refuses to ordain women and proscribes abortion, fornication, contraception, masturbation, pornography, divorce, homosexual acts, and even (with few exceptions) married clergy. These proscriptions trouble even otherwise faithful Catholics, who have trouble reconciling the pure love they see in the Gospels with condemnations of homosexual union or contraception (the proscription fornication is usually ignored). Indeed, if recent surveys are to be believed, the majority of Catholic women practice artificial contraception. The popular attitude is that the Catholic laity have 'voted with their feet' and choose to follow a gentler, more relevant morality; the morality promulgated by the current era. So deep-seated is this trend that some think (hope or fear, depending on the thinker) that there will shortly be a major schism within the Catholic Church regarding these moral contraverses; that there will arise a new, competing Church which endorses all these issues which the Catholic Church condemns; which Church, it is claimed, shall mirror Christ better than Rome.

The moral disputes arise from a difference of first principles. The Church's principles are twofold, promulgated by Our Lord: Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and might; and Love thy neighbor as thyself. Modernity's Commandments are also twofold, but of rather different character: "Act consensually," and "Live as you please." Herein lies the problem; for all Her disputed teachings concern sexuality, the most (at least it ought to be) private and sacred aspect of human life. Since sexual acts are (to use the language of the Church) intended to be acts of love, or are intended (to use the language of modernity) to be consensual, how could these acts harm, if they are knowingly and prudently chosen? Surely they are not really a big deal, and thus it is absolutely wrong to proscribe something which seems harmless. Masturbation? It's fun, easy, and no one gets hurt. Casual, uninhibited sexuality? The same. And so on. As college students recently put it, "It's no big deal". And this is the root cause of the dispute: the modern age holds that the above acts are of insufficient important to warrant proscription, and the Church holds precisely the opposite view. But this view betrays, on occasion, the quieter, underlying belief that there is nothing good simply. Ask a reasonably intelligent, educated modern man, "what is the good life?" and it is likely the answer will have something, if not everything, to do with whatever pleases you and makes you happy. Anything more specific might devalue someone's perfectly viable alternative lifestyle. And if there is no good life simply, but we say rather one must live as one pleases, the conclusion of nihilism (i.e. belief in nothing), seems irresistible. We are unwitting nihilists; albeit soft, gentle nihilists. This spirit 'animates' the modern dispute with the Church, and even Her own children have fallen greatly under its influence.

Insufficient space prevents (for the moment) the development of true understanding regarding the Church's moral teachings. For the present, let us consider what might happen if a schism actually resulted. It seems that the prevalent, negating spirit would cause the schism, but would it halt there? Almost certainly not, for the Church's intolerance is not limited to sexuality; rather, Her intolerance is rooted in the essence of what She is. For She proclaims that through Christ alone may men find redemption and the path to God; all other manmade attempts will end in failure; all rebellious attempts will end in damnation, being abandoned by God to one's own devices. This spirit of exclusivity is the source of Her forbidding all which modernity would like Her to endorse, and this spirit comes from submission to Her Bridegroom in all things. If then a schism, apparently on the grounds of sexual morals, were to arise, very soon the intolerant doctrine that God may be reached only through Christ must be addressed. It takes little imagination to discern the probability of the answer in the negative, and such answer, to modernity's eyes, would be a great gain, for if 'God' may be reached through multiple means, than no one mean is better than another, and thus religious wars and violence (the greatest plague ever to beset mankind) would cease altogether. It is only those who are convinced their way is the True Way who kill others in the name of God. So say the moderns.

Very well then. We have a gentler, apparently purer church, who welcomes all men of all creeds, of all conditions, experiences, and walks of life - asking all of these without exception to try and show the love of God to everyone - in sum, to be kind to others, and not judge or condemn the actions of anyone. Surely it mirrors the pure love of Jesus better than Rome. How could it not?

To be sure, these sentiments - welcoming all men, exhorting them to the love of God and neighbor, etc.-  are admirable. Further, in their proper place they reflect the orthodox teaching of the Fathers. But if the above is all the Church may do; if there is nothing beyond this, than the Christian faith has been nullified, and the Bride has betrayed her Bridegroom. Taken to the extreme, these sentiments are the lies of the Devil. For we know through divine revelation and ordinary experience that man's condition is sin, and to reach the enlightenment of salvation he must needs have recourse to God; and God has sent His Son - Our Lord - to redeem men from their own wicked folly, and to set them on the path towards true righteousness. If this submission to divine revelation, which animates the Church in Her restrictions regarding human sexuality, be denied, than all that is left of Her teaching is: be nice to people. And what need is there of a church who preaches merely and only that? It does not require divine revelation to realize one ought not to do evil, for every great thinker, even most remotely thoughtful people have arrived at this conclusion without needing it revealed. Even our modern era recognizes it, in the midst of its hostile reaction to the Church. Rather, such a church is superfluous in the eyes of reason and may easily be discarded after short reflection.

Thus, a moral schism, though stemming from apparently noble sources, has its roots in a spirit absolutely contradicting the central claims of the faith. Given free rein, I have little doubt that it would shortly abandon those central teachings, for its embracing of modernity is a quiet, subtle rejection of an all-important teaching: the teaching that the Church, with respect to some of men's affairs, has revealed the truth of things to men. Whether the issue be sexual controverses or the Resurrection, this issue of revelation is the heart of the disputes, and nothing less than the possibility of divine revelation is at stake whenever such disputes are raised.


On the Anti-Abortion Case

Full disclosure: my belief in divine revelation has waned and waxed over the years and my opinions concerning the city have oscillated wildly, but I have always hated abortion, just as I have always hated premeditated murder, rape, and other base, shameful acts. This opposition to what I have always seen as a grave crime is unlikely to change. This brief essay is thus an attempt to outline what I hope is the best of the anti-abortion case (I name it anti-abortion, for this is less ambiguous than 'pro-life', just as 'pro-abortion' is less ambiguous than 'pro-choice'.

First, some questions. What is abortion? Ought it to be permitted? How ought we to evaluate this problem, and what sources of knowledge ought we to use in our evaluation?

Abortion is the removal and destruction of a woman's fetus. This practice is currently legal in all the states of the Union, and in most countries of the world. Approximately fifty million fetuses have been aborted in the United States since it was widely adopted and endorsed some years ago; if we include the 'morning after' pill the worldwide total rises to more than one billion. The stakes are higher than any other moral dispute, and both sides fight with religious zeal. The anti-abortion argument in sum states that a fetus is in fact a human being, a person; thus abortion is murder and therefore it ought to be universally prohibited. Others deny this is the case, and the dispute has the irritating quality of tending to spin in circles.

What modes of knowledge should we use in approaching this dispute? One thing seems clear; the empirical sciences are of no use here; first because science has nothing to do with knowledge (in the strictest sense of the word, that is), and second, science has no concern at all with moral disputes, of which abortion is now the exemplar. Thus, scientific contributions are of little help in determining whether abortion ought or ought not to be prohibited. We must use immediate, non-scientific observations, taken from ordinary experience; and these, when coupled with sufficient reflection, shall be enough to cast some doubt on the pro-abortion case, and shed light on the anti-abortion case. One such coupling of reason and ordinary experience, providing a compelling case in favor of abortion is as follows: it is acceptable to kill a living part of yourself (cancerous growth, amputation, etc.), but not another person. A fetus is a living part of its mother, not a separate other. Giving birth is the act of separating with that part, so that it becomes an other. A newborn outside the womb is obviously an other, not a part of the mother. Therefore, it is acceptable to kill an unborn fetus, but this permissibility halts at birth.

This argument is the most convincing I have heard and am likely to hear. Of these four premises, I agree fully with the first and fourth, agree with the third in a qualified way (the result of birth is absolutely an other), but have some questions about the second. How do we know that a fetus is a part of the mother and not an other? To be sure, if the pregnancy is normal, we do not see, hear, or directly perceive the fetus at all. We might conclude, therefore, that was was there before birth was no person at all. Or we could conclude that it was a person all along, even though we could not directly perceive it. But an objection could be raised here; could we not say  the same of human eggs and sperm? Might this argument make them also persons? It does not, for we could collect a man's sperm and observe it indefinitely, and it would never be anything else. We could store a woman's monthly blood and observe the same result - nothing. They remain only elements and cannot of their own accord be anything more. Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that sperm and egg, considered alone, are not persons.

But what of their union? Though the resulting fetus is intimately bound to its mother, deriving all protection and nourishment from her, it develops through its own nature through various stages till birth. And why is birth so important? Because birth is when the child comes into the world, the moment when it is seen, felt, and heard. Thus we immediately perceive it is an other. But all these changes are changes in ourselves, not changes in the newborn. We perceive it, we see it, we hear it - how have our perceptions wrought any such important changes in the nature of the perceived? How could they?

It seems clear that a newborn is a human being, and it is as obviously unacceptable to kill it. It is becoming increasingly doubtful that any great change occurred moments before the child entered the birth canal. For if the newborn is obviously human, what of the newborn that is almost out of the womb, with perhaps just the feet inside? Is it still a 'part', not yet an 'other'? If it is now an other, what of when its head clears the womb? Just before? It seems that our initial inclination to judge a fetus as only a part of the mother and not yet an other has some serious difficulties; that if we recognize a newborn as a person, we ought to so recognize a fetus shortly before birth. We are back at the fundamental question: when does a fetus become a human being? After birth? During birth? Just before? When it becomes 'viable' (i.e., capable of living outside the womb)? When with sophisticated instruments we can discern brain waves? When its heart begins to beat? At conception?

If we are to rely on observations derived solely from ordinary experience (and I think we should, though the scientific 'evidence', as it gets more sophisticated, tends to favor the anti-abortion position, for it portrays the unborn as more and more recognizably human), it becomes ever more difficult to say precisely when the fetus becomes a human person. Obviously, it is folly to say personhood is something we may grant at will - nothing prevents race-based slavery, infanticide, or even genocide if we claim this; rather, we must say personhood is something we recognize as being present already - and it seems just as silly to claim that our acts of perception effect such a great change in the nature of the perceived that it is permissible to kill the perceived before birth, but to do so after birth would be a base crime. To draw an arbitrary line some time between conception and birth with an appeal to science seems dishonest. We have seen that the egg and sperm, taken alone, are by no means a person. The only remaining alternative, it seems to me, is that the moment of conception, where there is something other - something not entirely the mother, something which, when provided nourishment and protection, flourishes and grows according to nature - provides the most sound criteria for determining when the human person begins.

So much for the theoretical argument. Some might raise an objection here, for the decision to abort a child cannot be an easy one, and there are many factors which might impel a woman to abort: poverty, illness, rape, fetal deformity, retardation, etc. Surely those who would proscribe abortion see the world in black and white, and the reality is not so simple. There are so many varied particulars at issue here that a blanket, absolute prohibition seems clumsy and naive. An admirable sentiment in its place, to be sure, and certainly, the above factors are serious, serious difficulties in the way of having a child. But are there acts which are black and white? Rape seems and always has seemed such to me: I say it is always wrong to commit rape, no matter the circumstances. The woman never "deserved it", or "asked for it" - it is to be proscribed always. To this I would add crimes like murder and child molestation, and I am not likely to be alone in doing so. If then, there are actions which are black and white, the question is not to attack notions of black and white, but to ask whether abortion ought to be numbered among them. And if a fetus is a human person, the answer is yes. Just as we would forbid the killing of an infant for the above reasons, so too before birth we must forbid the same. Even in the case of rape, even rape-incest, a crime of almost demonic evil - killing the child is not the answer. No matter the case, no matter the circumstances, it is always wrong to commit abortion - just as it is always wrong to commit murder.


Running Update: Week 3.

I easily made a 1.2 mile run late last week and then again the following Monday. But I realized, since it took more than ten minutes, that my pace was abhominably slow. I then had a choice to make: I could either continue with my slow, twelve-minute mile pace and easily hit four miles per run, or I could double my pace and see what happened.

I chose the latter, and .3 miles at a six or seven minute mile pace turned me into a gasping, winded beast, both weak and exhausted. I continued in this vein, running till I could not, then a short walk break, for 1.2 miles, and this I did for a few days. By Wednesday my legs were so sore I could scarcely move them, so I decided, alas, to cut the week short. I only made six miles last week, and seem farther than ever from my four mile goal.

My legs and feet should be ready for tomorrow's run in particular and the coming week in general. So here is my plan: I shall continue the 1.2 miles for this week, not increasing the distance. Rather, my goal is to make it .6 miles at a quick pace - 6 or 7.30. The week after I shall strive for the whole distance - to the stop sign and back - and then increase it by a mile each week till 17 August. In this way I hope my wind is able to handle between three and four miles at a time, a pace I hope to maintain for some months.

This past week was not so great, but I figure I had to trip and fall sometime. Now to pick myself up and keep running.


Running Update: Week 2

I continued my running regimen this week, albeit with less than perfect fidelity. The second week of anything is usually the most difficult for me, for it is then that my extreme sloth strives to take the wheel. I fell in love with running last Wednesday, but already on this Tuesday I wanted to do nothing less than wake up with the dawn and run across the prairies. But still, though it suffered this week, I truly do like the twice daily running. It improves my mood (for I am seldom happier than after a run) and it provides respite from my studies. Despite these setbacks, I did hit my six miles, and I even doubled my wind again! I can hit 1.2 miles without rest; a slight achievement, to be sure, but a worthwhile one, for I have not been able to do this for quite some time. I am hopeful that this pattern shall persist; that next week I shall be able to hit two miles, then four, and then....who knows? bi-daily runs at four miles per run would get me to forty miles a week, which, I think, is an excellent pace for an amateur.

I have also discovered the joys of running in inclement weather and running barefoot. The first week, my ankles were rather sore - due, I think, to insufficient exercise - and running in shoes was uncomfortable. But after superficial Internet research, I decided to give it a try: and it was magical! One may run silently as an animal. As soon as my feet toughen I shall be able to do all my runs this way, instead of one or two per week. And running in the rain? Indescribable. That day I finally hit my 1.2 mile goal, trotting resolutely through an absolute downpour. I have never been more pleased, not even during a nighttime run, though these come close.

All in all, a decent week. This coming Monday, Day 15 and the start of the third week, is likely to be the hardest. But I should easily be able to hit two miles by Thursday or Friday, if only I keep up the bi-daily pace. And then I shall have achieved my first goal: running like Benjamin Adnam.* Six miles this week, 12 miles next week. Let's make it happen.

*Inspired by the account of his post-submarine running regimen in Patrick Robinson's HMS Unseen. Unfortunately, I misremembered. Adnam does in fact run twice a day, but his ending distance is eight miles, twice daily, not two. I may never reach such a lofty goal. 


That Broken Thing

No wonder my generation thinks marriage is broken. No wonder we look at it and reject it out of court. The love of self has completely poisoned marriage and "till death do us part" now mean "until the feelings go away". When the man and woman (or even just one of them) seeks their own apparent good regardless of the other, the marriage is damned.

All I can see when I look at my parents' marriage is misery and pain. My mother thinks my father makes no effort to understand  her, and my father feels she hates everything he does; that he cannot make her happy. Were they wealthy, I have little doubt my mother would leave him.

How does it come to this? How, after more than thirty years, is it reduced to childish screeching and shouting? Why must it be this way? What went wrong?

Can it be made right?


Running Again

I have been running on and off for almost ten years now; mostly off, I'll admit. But getting accepting to Josephinum put a burr in the saddle to make this wretched, treacherous body of mine perform to the best it can, for I am a seminarian in the Church, and so my body belongs to the Bride, not myself; therefore I must forge it into the best possible instrument for the Blessed Mother. So I began running again.

On the third or fourth day of running pathetic, short distances (approx. .3 miles), I learned how to breathe for the first time in my life, and felt like I could go on forever (though I likely wouldn't have made it over two miles, and it would have been good fortune to hit one). I doubled my distance the next day, so now I'm running .6 miles. Monday I shall run .6 miles twice a day, morning and evening, five days a week. Thus it shall be my custom, each Friday evening, to log in my mileage. This was the intro week, so I only did 3.6 miles. I'm hoping I hit 6 miles next week, at .6 miles twice per day five days a week.

It feels great. As if feeling closer to God than ever weren't good enough, I get so darned happy when I run it's like I'm on drugs. It's like grinding levels in a Final Fantasy game, where Level 1 might be a hundred yards, and Level 100 might be several hundred miles. I'd estimate I'm at Level 3. And yes; on Thursday, when I doubled my distance, I felt as if I leveled up, with celebratory JRPG music and everything.

Life is good.


I Am A Seminarian!

On 16 June, I received a letter from Reverend James A. Wehner, S.T.D., rector of Pontifical College Josephinum. I have been accepted! I depart for the seminary on 17 August to begin a two-year program of Pre-Theology, followed by a four-year Theology degree. In six years, by the grace of God and constant intercession of the saints, particularly the Blessed Mother, there shall be a joyful ordination to the diocesan priesthood. The path I began to follow five years is nearing its end - ordination as a priest; thereupon a new path will begin; serving Our Lord as a priest in his holy Church. This path is far less clear, and as my examining psychologist noted, there is no way of knowing just what will happen after I am ordained. Ordinarily, given my penchant for detail, order, and intricately-laid plans, this might worry me, but I have only to fulfill the next step: prepare for my August departure. I have a list of books I hope to read, a distance I hope to run, intimacy with my Lord, his Mother, and my guardian angel I hope to gain, and music I hope to learn. Added to this are letters I need to write and other, less important details. There is much to do.

Yet I am not overwhelmed. This is the most exciting part of my life, and truly, each day is better than the last, for Christ is new every morning, pouring his blessings out upon me anew. Surely David spoke for me when he said "my cup runneth over". In the face of my mounting duties, I am but transcendently happy.

Off to joyful, leisurely labor!


I Do Not Fear the Turing Test

Much is made today of the growing capabilities of computers, and the apparently evanescent differences between a man's mind and a machine. In Dune's Orange Catholic Bible, the first commandment is, "Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of a man's mind" - referring to the devastating wars against sentient machines. Television, film, and anime are all full of speculation about the future of computer evolution, indirectly seeking out what makes men to be men; that which, when removed, would make us no longer men. In the mid 20th century, Mr. Alan Turing proposed that computers could eventually mimic human interaction successfully - attempting to argue, it seems to me, that machines could "think"; or at least making a definite prolegomena to that proposition. Now, in the present day, computers can imitate simple human interaction so well that two thirds of the time (if I recall correctly), a third party cannot reliably distinguish between them. The road to Blade Runner seems paved.

Wishing to examine the matter myself, I visited, where their new 'chatbot' had done well in the last Turing Test. I asked it a series of human questions: How ought we to live? What is justice? Why is there being rather than nothing? Here is the beginning of the 'conversation':

Me: What is justice?
Computer: Justice is demacia
Me: How ought we to live?
Computer: Forever if you would like.
Me: Why is there being rather than nothing?
Computer: Ask a scientist.

I tried several approaches, but dialogue was completely impossible. The computer was unable to work off of previous responses, so individual inquiries into matters of weight was fruitless (when your interlocutor cannot recall you asked a question and has no memory beyond your last response, better to abandon the dialogue and seek guidance elsewhere). No less fruitless was the scattered questions enumerated above. Apart from the most amusing third response, the answers (I asked the question multiple times) were either incoherent, self-contradictory, or total nonsense. I sensed immediately a privation that could not be explained by ignorance, indolence, or even excessive frivolity. With a start I realized that were the judge to watch a chat between Socrates and a computer, the correct answer would be apparent every time.

"For now", some might say, and who knows? Perhaps they are right. But given the absurdly bad performance in the present day, how could a computer ever attain the gift of reason? Though we can apparently without limit increase the power of a computer to perform calculations we feed it, how can this increase of power ever end in a universal principle? It seems a bit like counting to infinity; fruitless by definition. In this I found a most unexpected ally in Descartes, and while investigating Mr. Turing I came across this excerpt from the Discourse on Method:
          "If there were machines which bore a resemblance to our bodies and imitated our actions as closely as possible for all practical purposes, we should still have two very certain means of recognizing that they were not real men. The first is that they could never use words, or put together signs, as we do in order to declare our thoughts to others. For we can certainly conceive of a machine so constructed that it utters words, and even utters words that correspond to bodily actions causing a change in its organs. … But it is not conceivable that such a machine should produce different arrangements of words so as to give an appropriately meaningful answer to whatever is said in its presence, as the dullest of men can do. Secondly, even though some machines might do some things as well as we do them, or perhaps even better, they would inevitably fail in others, which would reveal that they are acting not from understanding, but only from the disposition of their organs. For whereas reason is a universal instrument, which can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs need some particular action; hence it is for all practical purposes impossible for a machine to have enough different organs to make it act in all the contingencies of life in the way in which our reason makes us act."

Descartes has thus earned another hard, critical look (in a way Lucretius has likely not, but if so, it is only by the grace of Strauss) and I shall treat him far more seriously than I did as a sophomore and junior. But speaking of Descartes here:

An objection might be raised: Even if what Descartes and I say is true, how do we explain the success computers are gaining in ever more recent Turing Tests? Perhaps the inverse or contrapositive (I hope it proves to be the latter, but my formal logic is most regretfully shaky) of Descartes' famous maxim, suitably explicated, can pose something of an answer; at any rate, we can ponder if it is true or not (and it's the substantive form of the adjective, so leave me alone):

Ego non cogito, ergo non humanus sum.


On Pedophilia

It is considered bigoted and homophobic nowadays to subscribe to the proposition that homosexual acts are disordered and sinful. Much is made of the unkindness shown to struggling homosexuals and similar others, and their suffering is always before us when the topic arises in conversation. Leaving the political argument to one side (though even here, the analogies often made to the late twentieth century civil rights movement seem suspect: is the claim that skin color determines political treatment the same claim that an act is immoral?), I wish to think for awhile on another set of men who, unlike adult homosexuals, elicit no sympathy for the public: pedophiles, those who are sexually attracted only to children, not to adult men or women. They are probably some of the most hated and feared people in our society, facing similar discrimination as what homosexuals are reputed to have faced fifty to one hundred years ago. There is no (at least, not yet) licit outlet for their sexual drive, their relevant pornography is banned in all media (including, oddly, animated material, which harms no one); unbelievably, in our post-sexual revolution, sexually indulgent world, where refraining from sexual relations is "unnatural", society demands celibacy of them (as does the Church, and rightly, with all those who are not heterosexually oriented).

Since pedophilia is banned under civil law, those caught are usually predators. But is not attempting to understand pedophilia through the study of convicted child molesters like studying male heterosexuality through the study of rapists? I am convinced of the following: to love means, among other things, to will the good of the beloved. And pedophiles are lovers of children. They thus wish to cherish, to nourish, to protect, to benefit their beloveds. To be sure, this love includes having sex with them, just as my love for women (which society would heartily endorse) would ordinarily include this. But would it not change the way we viewed them, were we to understand that there does not seem to be a reason why a pedophile cannot love a child in the same way that a man properly loves a woman? Would we not begin to see them as men, and not depraved monsters?

I pity them. They need Christ's love so very badly, and they will receive it from none but the Church, for society takes no pity on them; rather it hates and shuns them. They must keep their orientation private; to come out as a lover of children rather than lover of men or women is to spell personal and public disaster. And if they are caught in the grip of lust and have inappropriate relations with their beloved, or even look at inappropriate material, they are thrown into prison, as society rejoices that another dangerous predator has been locked away. It is men like this to whom we are called to bring the saving light of the gospel, to issue the call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins through Our Lord.


Pursuing the Vocation

I am working now on my application to Pontifical College Josephinum, on Father DePalma's orders. He is my vocation director, and it will be through him that the Archdiocese of Santa Fe either accepts or rejects me as a candidate for the priesthood. An unnerving time, in some respects, but I am called from none other than our Lord and he shall eliminate all obstacles in my way. 

Our Lord's call notwithstanding, it is as if there are bureaucratic, obfuscating demons blocking my path recently. I have lost my immunization records, and it seems as if Josephinum requires a full set of shots. This will be a slow, arduous (I hate and fear needles - there is no possible chance of a heroin addiction in my future, so I like to believe) process, but I shall conquer all, for this choice is not up to me - it is a call issued by our Lord and recognized by his anointed ministers. 

Still, the list of requirements and expectations is rather beyond me at present. My circumstances are rather unusual, having converted to the Church rather than being brought up within her ken, and having parents who do not exactly understand the vocation to Holy Orders. My father certainly doesn't, and my mother fervently hopes I have not made a disastrous decision. As if it were my decision! Jesus Christ himself has called me, and I can elude the Heavenly Hound no longer. I swore long ago to follow him wherever he commanded me to go, and to that I hold. For five years now I have been impelled to the seminary and the diocesan priesthood. I am called, most unworthy, wretched slave that I am, to serve our Lord as priest in his most holy Church. And thus whenever I thoughtfully reflect on it, my difficulties in finishing my application appear meaningless. But swamped amongst difficult choices and requirements, occasionally the end escapes my sight.


On the Moral Scandal

The child abuse scandal has plagued the Church for several reasons. The first, and probably most grievous, is that the hierarchy did not publicize the crimes, fearing scandal. Unfortunately, they failed also in curbing the abuse properly; the crimes were made public and the Church's reputation suffered greatly.

However, there is a secondary source of ire, and that is the old anti-clerical stance the world has taken since the twilight of the Middle Ages; since the Church is but a worldly, man-made institution, so the reasoning goes, it should accommodate itself to the latest in modern sentiment; that She does not is infuriating; the more so when She promulgates unpopular doctrines like those forbidding abortion. Thus, in the words of Chesterton, any stick is good enough to beat Her with; and particularly the child abuse scandal. One would almost believe that priests never do anything else, because their celibate lifestyles impel them towards pedophilia (a most unjust remark to pedophiles - perhaps I'll write about them later). Yet as even the secular (and rather, though not extremely, anti-clerical) media have written, Holy Church's priests abuse children at about the same rate as other groups. And though one may despise Her doctrine, one must admit that bowing to the current winds of the age is little good in maintaining apostolic tradition


I Said Yes! (original title)

[nota bene: I scribbled this note shortly after returning from the chapel in Santa Fe, hearing Christ's calling to the priesthood clearly for the first time. As the note shows, I was in a state of rapturous excitement]

It was not God refraining from calling me clearly, it was my own hesitation in discerning his call. Tonight in chapel I took my third leap of faith and said 'yes' to my vocation. Afterwards, almost immediately, I felt a sense of peace, beautiful in itself, but then - ! I fell in love with God as I have not before, either in Smith Hall or when I swam the Tiber to arrive on the banks of Rome. I could not control myself; I ran about in the snow like a madman, laughing and making snow angels. Whatever doubts, second guesses, or attacks from the Enemy I have yet to face*, whatever battles and fights with the Devil lie before me, this I know: I am God's holy creation, His most unworthy servant; that He loves me; that He will protect me, and He shall never leave me to face my  perils alone. Already I feel fears of uncertainty needling me, pushing me towards uncertainty and doubting God's goodness. But they come not from my loving Father, the supreme Being whose new lover I have become. They come from Satan and his demons, who hate my Holy Savior and His most beautiful Bride. They wish to destroy me and the good work Christ has begun in me. Get behind me, Satan! You cannot harm me, for I am Another's, forever and ever!

*A prescient statement given the unfolding events of the following night.


Journal Excerpt

I just had, bar none, the best weekend of my life, for my future is now clear. My path lies open before me, and I shall go down it like a thunderbolt. Since never before have I felt such joyous happiness, writing a few (or more!) apologetic lines seems justified.

On Thursday afternoon I boarded a train bound for Lamy, New Mexico. From thence I shuttled to the Carmelite monastery for a three-day retreat whose purpose was to help discern a vocation to the priesthood. I arrived and met, for the first time in my life, thirteen other like-minded men - truly a startling phenomenon. We were met by two priests, a current seminarian, and the Archbishop of Santa Fe. The retreat was a series of conferences about the character of the priesthood, ways to properly discern one's vocation, and practical concerns on how to respond to God's call. But for my experience on Friday night to be the most intelligible, a biographical recapitulation is warranted, which unfortunately is of the most interest only to the author. Nevertheless:

In August of 2006 I was part of a volunteer team of high schoolers at a summer camp in northern Wisconsin called HoneyRock. During the previous five or six weeks, I had been feeling a fair bit of pressure concerning my future. I wanted very much to enlist in the Army as an infantryman, and I was very much worried that God had different plans for me. But the Hound could not be dissuaded, and sooner or later I responded by kneeling on the floor and vowing to live my life solely for God, seeking always to fulfill his will, regardless of mine own. Instantly I felt a great relief, a reassuring peace, and an excited joy flood me - I had become a Christian in the strictest sense of the word.

That coming semester was my senior year in high school and I embarked on a course of study on Church history, from Apostolic times through the Protestant Reformation. Seldom has a curriculum produced more unexpected results: Reformed Evangelicals were its authors, so the student was always reminded of Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and eventually Lutheran/Calvinist theology. This bothered me not at all, for I was squarely in their camp. But I began to notice in Eusebius and Bede an odd and soon disconcerting thing: The church I saw in these authors and others like them (Augustine, Dante, etc) was quite different from the Evangelical orthodoxy I had received. Communion  and baptism in particular were explicitly treated as far more than symbols of remembrance, and the way Mary was spoken of unnerved me. In short, I had met the Roman Catholic Church, and I was greatly alarmed, for I had previously thought her to be a insidious source of heresy: salvation by works, worship of creatures, etc. But since Eusebius and Augustine wrote hundreds of years after Christ, I decided to go earlier and find the apostolic Church, who then must have held the Truth - that is, my own orthodoxy. So I turned to Clement, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.

The results proved disastrous, and I was in a dreadful strait. That such doctrines like the Immaculate Conception, the Real Presence in the sacraments, purgatory, communion of saints, were all so explicitly taught so early in Christendom meant that either such teachings were what the Apostles and their immediate successors taught, or that the Church had abandoned Christ almost immediately after his ascension. Worse yet, I was finding the Roman Church more attractive every day. I began to scour the New Testament, searching for Sola Scriptura, and finding exhortations to tradition instead. I considered: since (as I held) the Bible is authoritative absolutely, from whence did it come? The best answer my orthodoxy gave me was that it was a 'fallible collection of infallible books' - which I immediately rejected, for its implications were unbearable. The only other option is that the Holy Spirit guided the Church in her decision, which the Old Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) have always maintained. I considered again: I had always held that all doctrine must be explicitly derived from Scripture. But that very doctrine was simply not to be found anywhere; thus the doctrine refutes itself and must be rejected as incoherent.  At this point I realized I was no longer Protestant; but though I was increasingly inclined to the Roman Catholic Church, some of her doctrines made me uncomfortable. In this I was helped by an unexpected source: an intrepid young scholar, himself a revert to the Church, remarked on a comment I made on a forum, in which I said I was "almost Catholic". He inquired as to what questions prevented my full union with the Holy Mother and that is how I met Ben Tansey, a man whom I have never met in the flesh. He argued, rather persuasively, that the doctrines which troubled me were neither internally inconsistent nor at odds with more fundamental doctrines. This did not solve all my troubles, but it did help. I began seeking guidance from God, asking if it were truly his will that I become Roman Catholic. I wanted an angelic apparition or a miracle, but instead I got a persisting urge telling me to say yes, and ever-increasing agitation the longer I hesitated. I could bear it no longer. During my visit to St. John's College in November of 2006, I went to St. Francis Cathedral Basilica and told Christ yes, I would join his Church. Seventeen months later I was baptized, confirmed, and made First Communion.

Immediately after I climbed out of the Tiber on the far shore, I began feeling another urge, this time telling me to be a Roman Catholic priest. "Ridiculous", said I, and for good reason, for I was not even close to Confirmation. Besides, St. John's had fired my soul and I could not wait to enroll. So I decided I would put that question aside till I graduated. Four years later, I met with the Vocation Director, and our interview was profitable, but he was quite cool, and advised further reflection. The longer I did so, the more insistent the urge became; but I pushed it aside again, for I wanted to devote my career to liberal education, beginning with Great Hearts Academies, then graduate school at the University of Dallas, and finally teaching at a liberal arts college (maybe even my alma mater). I met with Great Hearts faculty and administration and realized I would absolutely excel at this job. They turned me down flat - a crushing defeat. Either they were dishonest in their appraisal of my performance, or refused my application because my appearance did not match their ideal teacher, or my competitor was a god - I do not know. But this threw me into another agony of questioning, and not a day went by when I did not experience the agitation of uncertainty and indecision. How could I commit without being sure?

Finally I emailed Father DePalma again, saying I thought I should take the next step, and he replied that I had missed the 2011 deadline and that I would have to wait a year. I was in a sorry state: I could not find ANY work at all  - not at home, not in California, not in Chicago. None would hire me. So I lapsed into the most shameful period of my life, where I distracted myself with frivolous entertainments in despair. This persisted until November, when Father DePalma told me about a vocation retreat to take place in February of 2012, and urged me to attend. I eventually agreed, and arrived at the Carmelite Monestery in Santa Fe nervous, unsure of what I would tell the Archbishop, and not positive I truly had a vocation. On Friday we finished evening prayers and I stayed behind in the chapel, pouring out my heart on my knees. I repeated the prayer I had prayed for five years: "God, if it be thy will that I be a priest, show me, please!" And again, no angelic or saintly apparition to confirm it, no booming voice from the heavens. Instead, I felt a new urge: "Say yes or no". I realized I was being like Gideon, constantly seeking absolute knowing, and I realized God had told me all he was going to; I had to make an act of faith. And yet I could not yet say yes, for I was not sure. But in anger I told myself that I would not budge from the chapel until I had said either yes or no.

I stayed in the chapel a long time.

All of a sudden, the word 'yes' popped out of my mouth, aloud and unbidden. I could not exactly retract it, so I told Jesus, "I am committed. I believe you are calling me to be a priest. Thy will be done." For the third time, I felt a profound, reassuring peace, like I had back in 2006 when I became a Christian, and again when I swam the Tiber. All was well. But then something new happened - I don't know quite how to describe it; the best I can do is to say I fell in love with Jesus the way a man falls in love with a woman. I know now that heavenly love is as real and substantial as earthly love, and when I exited the chapel, I was afire with the love of God. I raced to my room, threw on different clothes, tore off my shoes and socks, and went running barefoot out into the snow, dancing, laughing, and making snow angels. I made a right fool of myself. I could not sleep that night, for I was in love with my Savior. My calling and vocation was secure. Saturday afternoon I interviewed with the Archbishop and it went swimmingly; he did not say unequivocally that I was called, but that he, I, and Fr. DePalma would discuss it. I was thrilled.

The Enemy was not long in attacking me. I was distracted and upset already, for I had heard my sister had been in a nasty accident, and my thoughts were scattered. After Saturday evening prayers, after some of the euphoria had worn off, I began to be plagued by fears that the priests and Archbishop would deny my vocation, that I had made a mistake, that it was the foolish impulse of a moment, that I would damn countless souls through my incompetence. "How do you know", said the spirit of fear, "that God truly has your good in mind? That he does not wish to raise you up and smash you for his own amusement"?  and so on. I was simply paralyzed with fear. I knew that these fears did not come from Christ, for he never frightens us into anything, and would never tempt me into questioning himself, his goodness, or his chosen ministers of the Church. Never before have I come close to the thoughts that were racing through my head, and this frightened me, for I knew that these fears did not wholly have their source in me. In horror I realized that I was under demonic oppression, and fell flat on my face before the sanctuary, where I must have said the Ave Maria hundreds of times. It seemed to take hours, but at last the fear began to fade. I returned to my room and collapsed.

Sunday morning Father DePalma and I had the following short dialogue:

Me: Father, can you think of a reason I should not enter seminary this fall?
Him: No. Can you?
Me: No.
Him: Awesome.
Me: Awesome.

The rest of the retreat was a happy blur. The fear vanished, driven out by perfect love. I now have the path before me, and for the first time in years - ! I know where I am to go. I have God's work to accomplish and it matters not who or what opposes it.

What more can I say of the weekend? Granted, discerning God's will for me was a plus, but I also overcame my fear of spiders. My friend Naomi purchased a Chilean tarantula, which filled me with the willies, and I was horribly nervous about meeting Book. But when he did not immediately jump to attack my face, the 4.5 inch arachnid started to grow on me and I could honestly admire his magnificence. Seeing him perched on Naomi's shoulder made me even calmer, though the Irish Car Bomb I'd had earlier (I watched the Super Bowl and a friend of mine was in an ecstatic victory mood after the Giants' victory) and the beer I was currently drinking probably helped. At last I couldn't help myself and asked Naomi to put him on my leg. He just sat there! Tremendous. Next, the arm. He didn't like that so much, and crawled up on my chest and looked at me with his bulbous eyes. I fought down the panic (the worst thing in the world would have been to hurt him) and eventually did what earlier I though impossible: I held a gigantic spider in the palm of my hand and enjoyed it immensely. A better evening I have seldom had than at her house that Sunday night.

Then it was onto the train, and back home. What a weekend! I am a new man, completely transformed by the grace of God, fully committed to his will, and best of all - I know what his will is!! Blessed art Thou, Master of the Universe!


New Year, New Resolution

This year, I wish to experiment with polyphasic sleep. Having heard about it via Blizzforums some years ago, it immediately captured my interest. Since at the time I was in school, I thought it would have been difficult to schedule the rigid naps I thought would be necessary. I am now unemployed, waiting to hear back from Great Hearts (for the second time, no less) and for the next month or so, I have a completely free schedule. I would always regret not trying, so today, 10 January 2012, is the date of my attempt. I shall likely fail multiple times (oversleeping will probably be a large problem for me), but how could I resist?

But what is polyphasic sleep? Simply put, it is taking short naps over a rather frequent period of time. The times I have heard the most are a thirty minute nap every four hours or so. I shall aim for 2 am, 6am, 10am, 2am, etc. I might adjust this to 1-5-9 or 12-4-8, but the first seems easiest so I'll stick with it for now.

Probably the greatest danger for me will be finding things to do with the extra time. Six naps of 30 minutes equals only three hours of sleep per night, so wandering about aimlessly would likely result in me sleeping more than I 'should'. It's too bad I quit smoking - cigarettes would help me remain awake enormously.

The extra time is my second motivation for trying this - the first being intense curiosity. Will it destroy me? Shall I find myself incapable of maintaining such a thing? Shall I truly find myself invigorated after a week or so under its influence? Who can say? So to begin, let me list (you know it's my favorite thing to do!) what I should like to work on during the increased awake time:

  • Write. I have much to write - letters, this oft-neglected blog, my journal, my novel, etc. 
  • Read. There is no end to what I must read. On my plate now is Christopher Bruell's book On the Socratic Education, an 'introduction' (gotta love that Straussian irony) to the shorter Platonic dialogues, the Dialogues themselves, Aquinas' Summa Theologica, and Dostoevsky's Demons, not to mention the Bible and various Christian disciplines which I should like to make a large part of my life.
  • Practice. Though my musical ability has been irrevocably stunted, some pieces are still within my ken; most notably Schubert's Impromptus Nos. 1 and 4. Even his D959 sonata may not prove impossible, though almost certainly his Fantasie and second impromptu shall be. No matter, for I find I cannot set aside the piano indefinitely, nor abandon my cultivation of classical music.
  • Exercise. My running dream has been frequently set aside, but never abandoned. My goal is to run three to five miles at once, and with the extra time I might well be able to do so. 
I don't know how I shall react to this experiment, and I am equally curious about the long-term effects. My 'career' shall likely, Dei volonte, be in the Church. If I am truly to become a priest, I can think of no better opportunity to maintain polyphasic sleep - I should set my own hours, if Father dePalma is to be trusted!

That is enough for now. Time to try it out. I shall write again when I am in the zombie state. Will it take two days or two weeks to overcome?