Archive for August, 2008

Freedom and Transformation

It’s often said that true freedom consists in the freedom to do what is right. Dietrich von Hildebrand breaks this down a bit in the 9th chapter of Transformation in Christ. In the chapter, titled “Striving for Perfection”, von Hildebrand distinguishes two dimensions of freedom. The first dimension pertains to “man’s basic capacity of assent and dissent itself” with relation to “value and non-value”. The second dimension consists of the will, choosing to act in accordance with the aforementioned assent to value or dissent to non-value.

By value, von Hildebrand means that which is good, true, beautiful, just, etc. Furthermore, both value and non-value address us; we do not address them. Thus we are primarily receptive moral beings in the world in which we are placed. This is not to deny free will, as in we are helpless receivers forced to participate in value and non-value alike. We are still free to assent or dissent to the value and non-value that addresses us. Or put another and more familiar way, free will is properly understood as man’s capacity to choose what is good and reject what is evil. Again, when value addresses us we must choose to either assent to it or dissent, but to choose is not enough. We must take the further step of acting in accordance with our assent or dissent.

We must also recognize that it is not enough to posses the first dimension of freedom without likewise possessing the second dimension, or vice versa. To assent to value or dissent to non-value is of little worth if it is not followed by action. I can assent to the truth that pornography is depraved (i.e. the antithesis to beauty), but still continue to visit pornographic websites. In this case, the assent to value is meaningless because my will is not acting according to its purpose which to carry out my choice for the good. This is what is meant by sin as a disintegration of the soul. Saint Paul knew this. We know what is right (i.e. assent to value), yet our will cannot or will not act accordingly. We are dis-integrated by sin.

On the other hand, if I am a person of strong will and supreme self-control, it does not necessarily follow that I am in possession of true freedom.  If I assent to non-value and dissent to value, following through with my will is actually harmful. As von Hildebrand writes:

There are many people who, while possesed of an iron will, [are] able to persue their aims with great energy and remarkable success, and giving proof of the utmost self-control, yet neglect their deeper spiritual freedom and refuse an adequate response to the call of value… Many of the great evildoers in history (Richard the Third for instance) were at the same time disciplined personalities whose will power left nothing to be desired.

Only when we assent to value or dissent to non-value and then act accordingly, will we be in possesion of true freedom. In this lies a proper understanding of our transformation in Christ.

What can, and should, be our own contribution to the process of our transformation in Christ? What is meant by the cooperation on our part to which St. Augustine refers in saying: “He who created thee without thee, shall not justify thee without thee” (Sermo 169.13)?

First, it is the free word of assent we are to speak to God and to our own transformation in Christ. In the free gift of ourselves that is implied in our decisive turn towards God (which finds its most tangible expression in the act of conversion); in the Volo uttered in the rite of Baptism as an express statement of the person’s being delivered to God; in the words of the Blessed Virgin, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word” – herein lies the basic actualization of our freedom in the process of our justification and sanctification. This is the word which God expects from us and from which we can never be dispensed.

But this alone does not suffice. We are also called upon to concur with our transformation in Christ by single acts subject to the command of our will; that is, by the operation of our freedom in the line of its second dimension.


You Duped Me Lord

A great piece of Scripture from today’s first reading:

Jer 20:7-9 (NAB)

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

Historic VP Choice for the GOP

Well, here we go. All the blogosphere is a-buzz, along with the usual suspects in the media. Around 10:00 am EST, it leaked that John McCain had selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate. A virtual unknown in the political arena, Palin is very much known in her home state as a tough defender of ethics and political reform. And oh by the way, she’s staunchly pro-life. John McCain, the self-styled maverick, has chosen a maverick to be by his side. Or at least, that’s the image the GOP will want to present.

Much of the media seems to have been blind sided by the selection of Palin. As a result, the McCain camp is now being credited for masterful “headfakes” in the selection of a VP. This has essentially served to retake the spotlight from Obama, who was enjoying a nice boost in the wake of a largely successful Democratic National Convention. In my opinion, this was a brilliant move by McCain and the GOP. There really is no downside to the selection of Palin for VP, as Jack Kelly points out (h/t Thomas @ AmP). At first I was concerned about Palin’s utter lack of experience, but as several blog commentators have pointed out, the last thing Obama wants to talk about is inexperience. I suspect, this will eventually serve to neutralize the inexperience of Obama charge by McCain. The Obama camp is already pointing out Palin’s lack of experience, but I take this to be a “well she’s inexperienced too” payback for John McCain’s constant accusations of inexperience towards Obama. It’s a charge by the Democrats that shouldn’t stick. The Democrats have an inexperienced candidate for the Presidency. The GOP has an inexperienced candidate for the Vice-Presidency. I don’t think it’s a path the Obama camp will want to go down for very long, but we shall see.

Clearly, McCain will own the “maverick” and the “I will shake up Washington” image. Obama has tried that tactic for well over a year now with his message of “change”, but compared to a McCain-Palin ticket, Obama-Biden looks awfuly pedestrian and par for the course. Obama will now need to adjust his image. Certainly, he will never stop with his message of change and “yes we can” – it’s his schtick – but if he continues to rely solely on that image, the Democratic Party will blow another election. I still can’t believe they blew it in 2004.

As for Palin, here’s what she had to say as she accepted the offer to join McCain on the GOP ticket:



Well, with just a couple of months until the election this race will be interesting to watch. With the Republican National Convention starting on Monday, the country will get to know Palin as the week rolls on. She’s an interesting – and brilliant – pick no matter how you slice it. She brings in the pro-lifers who are (rightly) suspect of John McCain. She adds tremendous credibility to his image as a maverick. Her inexperience won’t hurt as much as it normally would given Obama’s lack of the same. She’s reportedly quick on her feet, and tenacious when challenged – the VP debate will be oh so fun! She has the potential to bring in a significant amount of women voters who are undecided. And this will serve to undermine the accusation that McCain is sexist. She has a son who is headed to Iraq, and a very compelling personal story overall. She comes across as a very devoted mother of five children and wife, as you can see in the video and will read in numerous accounts of her life. The image of wife and mother is something Hillary was never able to pull off – if she was trying to pull it off at all. Also by selecting a woman for VP, the GOP has stolen the thunder from the “historic” nature of the Obama bid for the Presidency. I don’t see much down-side here for McCain.

And no, I am not a Republican – or a Democrat for that matter. But as Presidential politics go, this is pretty exciting no matter what your political leanings. Watch the Catholic and Pro-Life blogs in the coming days. The conversation is sure to be very interesting and enthusiastic.

As always head over to the American Papist blog for the latest on this story and more. Thomas Peters is always on top of it, and one of the best sources for news and current events from a Catholic perspective. I will gladly let him follow this story from here on out.

She Said What?!!!

Because I just can’t help myself…

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has formally responded to the rather amusing blunder made yesterday by House Speaker and self-proclaimed Catholic, Nancy Pelosi. Among other things we learn from Mrs. Pelosi is that we do not know when life begins, and the Catholic Church’s current teaching on abortion has only been around “like maybe 50 years or something like that”. And this is an issue she’s “studied for a long time”, mind you.

What Happened:

The Links:

The Bishop’s wonderful response – GO BISHOPS!

Archbishop Chaput’s incredible response – A snippet: “Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them.”  Ouch.

A humorous analysis by the American Papist

To no one’s surprise, Thomas Peters (aka – the American Papist) is covering this one pretty closely. Visit his blog for the latest information on this developing – and highly entertaining – story.

Support the University of San Diego

A Catholic University has made the wonderful decision to defend Catholic teaching.

In July the University of San Diego decided to rescind its appoint of a rather unorthodox theologian to an honorary chair of theology. The theologian in question has served on the board of Catholics for Choice, and advocates the ordination of women to the priesthood and homosexual marriage; all of which are contrary to consistently clear Catholic teaching. Not surprisingly, USD is taking some heat for rescinding the appointment. A petition in protest of the University’s decision has been presented with a little over 2,000 signatures, including at least 50 from faculty members! Despite the petition in protest, the University is standing firm. In the past couple of days, Thomas Peters from the American Papist blog and Brian McDaniel from Ora et Labora have teamed up to start a petition in support of USD. The goal is to have 4,000 signatories – twice what the opposing petition could muster – by the first day of class at the University, September 3. The opposing petition campaigned for a month to get its 2,000 signatures. Peters and McDaniel are looking for twice that number in less than 15 days. They need your help!

Sign the Petition. It only takes a few seconds. Let us show our support for the University of San Diego as it takes this stand in defense of Catholic teaching.

Read the story from the California Catholic Daily.

Through a Mother’s Eyes

Here’s a great little poem from the latest edition of Dappled Things (link). The poem is by Amanda Glass, who according to Dappled Things, “graduated in 1999 from Franciscan University in Stuebenville, where she majored in Humanities and Catholic Culture. Her poems have appeared in The Lyric and in Garlands of Grace: An Anthology of Great Christian Poetry. She and her family live in western Maryland, where she is a full-time wife and mother.”


Do you know Slim the Cowboy, the Hero of the West?
He found a rattler by the sofa, bravely beat it up.
He saved his friend the sheriff when the local gang got rough,
Then drank his campfire coffee from his pewter loving-cup.
That’s Slim, in his bandana and fleece vest.

Did you see Slim the Cowboy as he galloped into town?
He left his mustang Star tied in the stable-yard out back
(That stable looks suspiciously like my green baker’s rack),
Then sat down at the bar and had a sliced-banana snack.
That’s Slim, in small snow-boots of blue and brown.

You heard of Slim the Cowboy, the stoic and the sage?
He faced the mighty buffalo that thundered through the plain,
Defeated all the bandits who attacked the wagon train,
Then asked for cookies, got an apple, and did not complain.
That’s Slim, who is much older than his age.

I’ve found with Slim the Cowboy that what he wants, he gets.
He swiped my measuring cups to use for cooking on the fire,
He filched my rolling pin to tame a deadly gun-for-hire,
Then hid out in the hamper when the danger got too dire.
That’s Slim, who raids my kitchen cabinets.

I ponder Slim the Cowboy, my half-pint hero son.
Why does a boy engage in all the blood-combat he can
And surge through unseen struggles until he can hardly stand?
He’s training to fight foes he won’t confront till he’s a man.
That’s Slim, for whom the battle’s just begun

It should go without saying, but a subscription to Dappled Things is something I highly recommend. Check it out.


The Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans; Chapter 7, verses 15 through 25 (RSV):

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

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