Mr. Shea States the Obvious

Part 2 of the "How to Read Scripture" series is up. The whole article seems like just plain common sense to me. Unfortunately, common sense, as we all know, isn't. So check it out and pass the link along to anyone you think could use an extra helping of common sense today.

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How do you want your abortion?

Truly ghoulish. Too bad babies can't talk -- we could ask them "How do you want to be killed today?" (Hat tip: Dawn Eden)

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Part One of Mark Shea's Scripture Study Guide Is Up At Catholic Exchange

Look here.

I'd be especially interested to hear from Bible Church people on this section:

"2. Read the Scripture within “the living tradition of the whole Church."

Goldfish do not live in a vacuum. Neither does Scripture. Many people have the notion that the only way to get at what Scripture "really" means is by "peeling away Tradition." This is exactly like thinking you will get to know your goldfish better by peeling away all that interfering water and holding your fish in your hand. What you will find very soon is that your fish is dead.

Same with Scripture, and for the same reason. Scripture is the result of the Sacred Tradition of the community that made it under the inspiration of the Spirit. Some people ask, "What right does the Church have to decide what goes in the Bible?" You may as well ask what right you have to decide what goes in your family photo album. Because Scripture is nothing other than the written testimony of what that Church believes and has experienced. Books that reflect those beliefs and experiences were (under the guidance of the Spirit) written and then preserved by the Church. Books that don't reflect this were not.

Because of this, you can no more read Scripture apart from Tradition than you can talk to a person without air. Scripture is simply the written aspect of the Church's Tradition. It is written with the assumption that you are already eating, sleeping and breathing that Tradition."
Part of what led me to seek out the Catholic Church last year was the growing feeling that the more I got "back to the Bible," the more it seemed like it had to be a piece of the faith puzzle as opposed to the whole puzzle. This section of Mark's article really speaks to that for me. It also calls to mind his 1997 Envoy magazine article called "Five Myths About the Seven Books," which was, without exaggeration, the article that pushed me over the edge and made me give this Catholicism thing a shot.

The fact is, the Bible is a Catholic book. And trying to live your life according to its precepts outside of the framework of the Church that gave it to us is ultimately an exercise in confusion and frustration. Last year, putting aside my self-developed hermeneutic and allowing myself, just for an evening, to read the Bible from a Catholic perspective (try Scripture Catholic for help with this) unlocked Scripture in an unbelievably exciting and profound way for me. It was like going from 2-D to 3-D. The stories leapt off the page, the people came to life, events fit together like never before. It was incredible.

So if you've been "Bible Only" and found that sometimes, that just isn't enough, I challenge you to give Mark's suggestions a chance. It may be the thing that finally helps you to "get" Scripture in its entirety for the very first time. The Scripture Catholic website is a fantastic resource for this kind of thing, but if you prefer the feel of a real book in your hand, pick up a Catholic Bible (I recommend Revised Standard Version, or RSV). Each chapter will have detailed commentary giving context and Catholic interpretation of the verses. It's like getting a powerful study guide free with your Bible -- and it's written by the author, editor, and publisher -- Christ's Church.

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Let's Talk About Modesty

Dawn Eden posted a link to the Diocese of Amarillo website, where the Bishop has posted A LOT of commentary on modesty in dress.

This is an issue that really gets people going, in my experience. On the one side, you have people who long for a return to the prairie dresses and bonnets of the American frontier. On the other, you have the people who say that no matter how a woman (or man -- but this issue, frankly, always seems to be about the women) is dressed, better that she (or he) is at Mass than anywhere else. And then there are the people in the middle, like me, who know there's a line somewhere, but aren't quite sure where it is, and note with some frustration that in thousands of words on the Amarillo Diocese website, the Bishop manages to avoid drawing one.

The more I grow in my Catholic faith, the more care I take in what I wear to the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Unfortunately, my carefully chosen attire might be another's scandal. My knee-length skirt may show too much shapely calf. My v-neck top may show my oh-so-sexy collarbone (hey, who knows what may turn someone on?). My dressy sandals may set the guy with the foot fetish two seats over off on some kind of weird fantasy. You never know.

Are we, as women (and I refer to women here because the most I've ever heard someone say in the way of complaint about a man's inappropriate attire was that it was sloppy or had a beer logo on it), obliged to dress to the lowest common denominator? Are we morally required to dress in the 21st century American version of the burka to prevent our brothers from sinning in their hearts? And for that matter, do we have any evidence that cultures which impose such strict dress requirements on women actually respect women more or produce holier men as a result (I'm looking at you, radical Islam)?

For the record, I, too, gawk a bit when I see young women in tight-fitting crop tops and low-rise jeans or miniskirts dragged into Mass by their parents. I wonder about the conversation that took place on the way out the door: "I don't want to go to Mass, Mom." "Too bad, you're going." "Fine, but I'm not changing." "Fine. Get in the car." Why would Mom stand her ground on the one serious sin, but not the other? And is it more sinful for a rebellious young woman to miss Mass, or to go with her heart not in it and cause half the men in the room to sin just by being there dressed as she is, all while taking communion and risking "drinking judgment upon herself?"

Of course, older women do the immodesty thing, too, albeit in a "classier" way (i.e. they don't look like slobs a la the teenagers, they just look wildly inappropriate). I see a lot of short skirts and mile-high heels, along with push-up bras and low-cut blouses -- usually not all on the same person, thank God. But I just want to make clear that it's not all "those darn kids" who dress like call girls for Mass. This problem is pretty universal.

All that said, I return to one of the first things I wrote here, which is, essentially, "One person's scandal is another person's 'trying really hard.'" While I try not to gawk at the woman wearing the micromini and stilettos, there's probably someone in a long, loose-fitting jumper and sensible shoes trying not to gawk at me. And that brings me to my point (finally), which is that we'd all have a lot less to worry about if we just worried about ourselves. Find the plank in your own eye before picking at the speck in your brothers' and sisters', and all that.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this matter. Whenever I ponder it, I always end up settling on "It's between each person and God," but that somehow doesn't seem totally right. We are a body of believers, after all, and the actions of one affect the rest. In my own life, I've defaulted to the St. Peter's Basilica guidelines, which are basically covered shoulders and slacks or skirts to the knee or longer. But then, I can't seem to get worked up about people who do bare their shoulders in this summer heat, provided they aren't wearing some spaghetti-strap monstrosity that shows a whole lot more than a little bit of shoulder. I end up looking at immodesty the way the Supreme Court looks at obscenity -- I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. Maybe that's the best anyone can do. But I'm open to second opinions. Anyone care to comment?

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Holy Scripture is Not an Ouija Board

More good stuff from Mark Shea.

The "Bible as Ouija Board" phenomenon was puzzling to me as a protestant. I was told by more than a few fellow worshippers that the Bible had all the answers to my daily problems -- just pray about the problem and open up Scripture and the Holy Spirit would "show you a verse." It didn't seem to matter what the context was -- twisting the verse to fit your individual situation was the goal. I had a friend who sincerely believed the entire book of Isaiah was written specifically for her. Any prophecies about the Messiah were incidental -- mostly it was really just all about her.

I think the source of this approach to Scripture is the abundance of anecdotes concerning people who hit rock bottom in whatever their personal struggles were, opened their Bibles in desperation, and read verses that somehow spoke to them in their situations. Salvation (or at least a renewal of faith) inevitably followed.

I believe God really does that for a lot of people when they, in their total spiritual starvation, turn to Him through Holy Scripture for just a crumb of sustenance to keep them going. But to take that and extrapolate it into some kind of rule that says He must do so for all of us, all the time, is ridiculous. Those of us who are followers of Christ (and particularly those of us who are members of Christ's Church) have an entire banquet of Scripture and other resources at our disposal to continually feed our souls and help us through the trials of daily life. Why would we want to survive only on crumbs?

I'm sure there are a lot of protestants who look aghast at this poor approach to Scripture. I really don't think this is a very widespread practice, this "Bible as Ouija Board" thing. But where it is prevalent, it contributes to an almost schizophrenic experience of faith wherein people make their decisions moment-by-moment according to "what the Holy Spirit shows them" rather than doing any sort of deep contextual study of the Scriptures in order to form a comprehensive Christian worldview with which to confront the world and its myriad dilemmas in the first place. Put another way, they're winging it. And while God is certainly able to protect and guide even the willfully ignorant, it's the "willfully" part that will be a liability on Judgment Day.

Anyway, read Mark's article and keep checking back for more from him -- it seems he's going to try and show us how to better read and learn from our Bibles. I know I'm eager to do that better. I hope you are, too.

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It's not Father Todd I cry for ....

It's the children of the Diocese of Sioux Falls.

Somehow I just now found out about the tragic loss of Father Todd Reitmeyer. Ordained in 2003, he was a passionate young priest who had a heart for children and devoted himself to teaching them about the Eucharist.

At his blog, a parishioner wrote:
"Each month, Fr. Todd would make the long trip to Sioux Falls to celebrate children's adoration. He wore the most elaborate vestments he could find. He asked the children to get on the floor into a ball and 'Make yourselves small, so that Jesus can grow bigger in you.' He always had the children recite the Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great and told them, '1,000 souls will be released from Purgatory and they will pray for you when they get to Heaven.' At intention time, he allowed every last child to come within a few feet of the Blessed Sacrament. He would say, 'Don't tell me; I'm not Jesus! Go right up close, look straight at him, and tell him your intention!' One time he burned so much incense that the smoke detector went off and the fire department showed up! He wanted to promote children's adoration in the diocese, so he once asked that photos be taken at holy hour; these were posted in the Bishop's bulletin."
The photos below will first fill your heart with joyful hope, then throw you down on your own knees praying through your tears that someone - someone, please, anyone! - will continue the good work Fr. Todd began in those kids. At least that's what they did for me.

For Father Todd and the kids:

"Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen."