Sunday, February 7, 2016

Lent, Faith, and Ashes

(From U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian May, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Ash Wednesday celebration aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.)

Ash Wednesday comes this week, so I'll get ashes on my forehead and start doing my Lenten routines — along with folks around the world.

That won't include the usual fasting: I'm past the 18-to-59 age requirement for Catholics in my region, and diabetic to boot. We're called to holiness, not stupidity; common sense applies, or should; and I'm putting a 'resources' link list at the end of this post.1

Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving

Lent is a time for penance; which involves fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Actually, any sort of penance involves those three items. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434-1439)

That doesn't sound like much fun, so why do it? I'm a Christian, I've been baptized, so my sins are washed away and I'm good to go, right?

Not quite. It's a bit more complicated.

First of all, I do not think sin a handful of activities I either don't enjoy, can't participate in, or actively dislike.

Sin: Original and Otherwise

(From NASA, via, used w/o permission.)

Sin is what happens when I decide not to do something I should; or decide to do something I know is bad for myself or others, and do it anyway. It's an offense against reason and truth: and God. (Catechism, 1849-1864)
"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."
(Catechism, Glossary, S)
What I should do is Love God and love my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:43-44; 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1825)

It's simple, anything but easy, and I've said that before. Often (September 27, 2015; April 12, 2015; October 12, 2014)

I think I'm a sinner and live in a fallen world — again, that doesn't mean what some folks assume it does.

The universe is basically good, and so are we — basically. (Genesis 1:26-27, 31; Catechism, 31, 299,)

What went wrong is that the first of us listened to Satan, ignoring what God had said. Then Adam tried blaming his wife, and God, which did not end well. (Genesis 3:5-13)

That was a very, very long time ago — and we've been living with the disastrous consequences of their wrong choice ever since. (Catechism, 396-412)

Humanity is still made "in the divine image," but the harmony we had with ourselves and with the universe is broken: so loving ourselves, others, and God is a struggle. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 355-361, 374-379, 398, 400, 1701-1707)
"ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God's will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the 'new Adam,' came to redeem us (396-412)."
(Catechism, Glossary, O)


(From Thomas Cole, via the National Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I received the Holy Spirit at baptism, entering the life of the Church, and starting my trek to God's kingdom. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 782, 1213-1284)

Baptism cleaned the slate, removing original sin and whatever personal sins I'd accumulated to date; making me "a new creature." It didn't, however, shield me from consequences of living in a world that's seriously out of harmony. (Catechism, 1262-1266)

It certainly won't keep me from dying, at which point I get a very serious interview with our Lord: my particular judgment, a final performance review. (Catechism, 1021-1022, 1051, 1814-1816)

After that — I have no idea how long, which is fine by me — there's the closing ceremony we call the Final Judgment, we see what Creation 2.0 is like, and I've been over that before. (November 29, 2015; November 23, 2014; April 19, 2015)

Working Out My Salvation

"10 11 So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. 12

"For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work."
(Philppians 2:12-13)
If I'd never faltered in loving others, always loved God with all my heart and mind, and unfailingly walked the path of righteousness: I'd be a character on some none-too-believable story.

We've had two people like that so far, I worship one of them, and the other is the woman who volunteered for a high-risk mission, two millennia back. (December 21, 2014; April 3, 2011)

Some Saints were mostly 'saintly' throughout their lives, and some weren't. They're Saints because they exhibited "heroic virtue" to the end. (Catechism, 828)

On their way to Sainthood, some of them were — well, a lot were like me, sort of. St. Augustine of Hippo comes to mind. Not that I'm in his league, and that's another topic.

I can't 'work my way into Heaven.' I rely on our Lord for salvation. I can't 'believe my way into Heaven' either. I must act as if God matters. (Catechism, 430-451, 1814-1816))
"Indeed someone might say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

"You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble."

"For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."
(James 2:18-19, 26)
About that Philippians quote, like I've said before:2 fear of the Lord is not being scared silly of God. It's more like respect. (Catechism, 2144)

Ashes and Adoration

The ashes on my forehead are a good reminder that it's the start of Lent, and an outward sign of repentance.

But the real work happens inside: a "conversion of the heart, interior conversion." (Catechism, 1430-1431)

That's where fasting, prayer, and almsgiving come in. They're ways to fix my relationship with myself, God, and others. (Catechism, 1434-1439)

Like I said, conventional fasting isn't an option for me: apart from the micro-fast, which isn't an official term, before receiving the Eucharist. (Catechism, 1387)

For the last several years I've added something to my daily routines during Lent. It's not quite 'fasting,' but the change in schedule does mean I give up time that I'd use for activities I enjoy more. It's a sort of "voluntary self-denial." (Catechism, 1438)

This time around, I'm adding three hours a week to exercising and another two at the Adoration chapel down the street. It's hardly the sort of "sackcloth and ashes" thing Daniel 9:3 talks about, but it's a start.

More of my take on:

1 Lenten resources:
2Fear of God, Catholic style:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Luxembourg and Asteroid Mining

Stories like "Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet" and Red Dwarf's Dave Lister singing "...Lived an old plutonium miner / And his daughter Clementine..." probably didn't help make asteroid mining seem like a serious idea.

Then there's the 1966 Outer Space Treaty treaty: a tribute to the high ideals, and international politics, of the '60s. The idea was that anything we find outside Earth's atmosphere would belong to everyone. Nifty idea, not entirely wrong, and I'll get back to that.
  1. A Grand Duchy and Space Mining
  2. Luxembourg's Space Mining Law: It's a Start
I had a little more more to say, so this post has an afterword:

Getting Started: Luxembourg and Lists

Luxembourg is a tiny European country with the world's second highest gross domestic product (GDP) per person.

Number one in that category is Qatar. Or maybe Luxembourg is number one, or Monaco — it depends on whose list you look at.

The United states is fifth, ninth, or 12th in line: according to the International Monetary Fund (2015), World Bank (2014), and United Nations (2014). (Wikipedia)

I could rant about foreign threats, or express fashionable melancholia while predicting the coming collapse of America and Western civilization — but neither makes much sense. Not to me. (July 5, 2015; October 24, 2014)

Instead, I'll talk about wealth, asteroid mining, and being Catholic: not necessarily in that order

Universal Destination of Goods and the Monkees

Having money doesn't hurt anyone. It's love of money that gets us in trouble:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

"Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.' "
(Hebrews 13:5)
I was one of 'those crazy kids' who realized that there was, or should be, more to life than buying stuff we didn't need, to impress people we didn't like, with money we didn't have.
"...Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery...
("Pleasant Valley Sunday," written by by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, performed by The Monkees in 1967; via A-Z Lyrics)
Again, the problem isn't money. It's loving the stuff.

Owning property is okay, but stealing isn't. Since I'm Catholic, I see paying unjust wages, 'forgetting' to return a loan, or preying on the ignorance of others, as a sort of theft: even if it's legal where I live. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2402-2405, 2409)

Not that I'm in a position to do much of that. As I've said before, my household isn't among America's wealthiest: not by a long shot. (January 17, 2016)

Respecting my right, and the right of others, to own property is part of the picture. I must also remember that a whole lot of folks owned, and will own, stuff that I own today. We're stewards of this world's resources: for our reasonable use, and for future generations. (Catechism, 2401, 2402, 2415)

Respect for personal property while remembering that each of us is responsible for helping others is the idea behind the universal destination of goods.
"...Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them...."
("Evangelii Gaudium," Pope Francis (November 24, 2013))

"...As St. Ambrose put it: 'You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.'..."
("Populorum Progressio," Paul VI (March 26, 1967))

1. A Grand Duchy and Space Mining

(From, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Near-Earth asteroids could be a source of high-value minerals"
(BBC News))
"Luxembourg to support space mining"
By Jonathan Amos, BBC News (February 3, 2016)

"The Luxembourg government has signalled its intention to get behind the mining of asteroids in space.

"It is going to support R&D in technologies that would make it possible and may even invest directly in some companies.

"The Grand Duchy will also put in place a legal framework to give operators who are based in the country the confidence to go about their business...."
I'll get back to asteroids, business, and law, after a ramble though Luxembourg's story so far.

Folks have been living where Luxembourg is for at least 35,000 years, and were building houses around two dozen centuries ago: using pretty much the same wattle and daub technology that's still Europe's traditional building style: Gothic cathedrals notwithstanding. (May 8, 2015)

Fast-forwarding over Euro-Mediterranean history from the days of Plato to Julius Caesar, Treveri lived in Luxembourg. They alternately worked with and fought against Romans. That was about two millennia back.

"Treveri" is what Caesar called them. It means "flowing river," "across," "ferrymen," or something else; none of which has much to do with asteroids. Moving along.

The County of Luxemburg was a state in the Holy Roman Empire a thousand years later. I've talked about a warlord named Karl der Große, Verden, and getting a grip, before. (August 9, 2015)

A few centuries later it was the Duchy of Luxemburg, then the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was a département in the French First Republic. Napoleon sorted that mess out, starting the First French Empire, and empires went out of style about a half-century back now.

Meanwhile, parts of Luxembourg had been in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, Prussia, the German Confederation, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Belgium. Not all at the same time, though.

These days Luxembourg is a small country wedged between Belgium, German, and France; a founding member of the United Nations, NATO, and the European Coal and Steel Community. The latter became the European Economic Community before being called the European Community, which became part of the European Union.

When dust settled after the Belgian Revolution, not quite two centuries back, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands held today's Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Netherlands had Amsterdam — a 17th-century analog to New York City — Belgium collected a small empire, and Luxembourg was a landlocked country.

New Netherland's colonial government operated out of New Amsterdam until 1664. Then four English frigates sailed up to New Amsterdam and told the Dutch authorities to hand the place over: which they did.

That land grab helped start the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

European rulers haven't had their subjects slaughter each other in wholesale lots for more than a half-century now, so maybe there won't be another major war over who lands on which asteroid. On the other hand, "... man himself begets mischief, as sparks fly upward," as Job 5:7 says.

"New Kinds of Enterprise"

(From Planetary Resources, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Planetary Resources' highly-optimistic infographic about "a modern day gold rush.")

I've talked about the Outer Space Treaty of 1966 before. (October 3, 2014)

Saying that space exploration should be "for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind" is wonderfully idealistic. I think it's also monumentally impractical: or "hippie optimism," as Tim Worstall said. An excerpt from his op-ed is this post's next item.

In the short term — the next few generations — I figure legal and political wrangling over how folks should live and work in space will provide employment for lawyers, politicos, and bureaucrats. (October 3, 2014)

In the long run, I hope we build a society that's better than the 'good old days' of the 19th and 20th centuries: which wouldn't take much. I remember 'Happy Days' America, and don't ever want to go back. (August 31, 2014)

I agree with Luigi Taparelli. I think capitalist and communist theories don't pay enough attention to ethics. (September 28, 2014)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's "Caritas in Veritate" encyclical probably shocked and horrified folks who yearn for the 'good old days,' or simply don't like change. One of his points was that we can improve on today's 'business as usual,' building "new kinds of enterprise:"
"...It is to be hoped that these new kinds of enterprise will succeed in finding a suitable juridical and fiscal structure in every country. Without prejudice to the importance and the economic and social benefits of the more traditional forms of business, they steer the system towards a clearer and more complete assumption of duties on the part of economic subjects. And not only that. The very plurality of institutional forms of business gives rise to a market which is not only more civilized but also more competitive."
("Caritas in Veritate," 46, Benedict XVI, (June 29, 2009))

2. Luxembourg's Space Mining Law: It's a Start

(From NASA/AP, via Fortune, used w/o permission.)
"The Economic Problem With Luxembourg's Space Mining Law"
Tim Worstall, Op-ed, Forbes (February 3, 2016)

"Luxembourg has announced that it is going to be drawing up new laws to aid in defining how space mining may be efficiently and economically governed. This is useful, as under the current law ruling the issue, United Nations law, there's absolutely no chance at all of anyone being able to do such mining efficiently or even profitably. And this speaks to an issue of great importance for public policy. There are all sorts of resources out there–minerals in asteroids, He3 in the dust on the moon, all sorts of exciting minerals layering the deep sea (and in international waters) bed–but none of them can be effectively exploited without our having the right legal systems over ownership. The economics of how you can do it are determined by the legal structure that allows you to do it.

"If we retain the UN laws (which appear to have been written in some bout of hippie optimism) then it just won't be possible for anyone to do anything useful. They essentially say that mining isn't supposed to be for profit, it’s supposed only to be for the benefit of all mankind (rather missing the point that being offered minerals at a price you're willing to pay, whatever the profit being made on them, is to your benefit). And there isn’t supposed to be any ownership rights attached either to the mine or to the minerals extracted....

"...Here is what the big economic problem is: Protection of minerals extracted is fine, but what needs legal protection and ownership are the minerals not extracted...."
There may be a few folks who can afford spending several billion dollars on setting up an asteroid mining operation: and giving whatever they find to others.

Many of us, billionaires included, have bills to pay and families to feed: and can't afford dropping a few thousand megabucks in the collection basket.

The good news, as I see it, is that some of the world's wealthiest are willing to risk part of their fortunes on enterprises which may benefit themselves — and many others.


Law and Looking Ahead

I think I understand some of the "hippie optimism" and international politics that gave us the Outer Space Treaty of 1966.

Now that we've got folks interested in making off-Earth resources available, it's time to file it under 'nice ideas that won't work.'

We need laws and regulations that let business operators do their job and give employees a chance to do theirs while earning a living. (Catechism, 2436-2436, particularly 2431-2432)

The task at hand is deciding how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 19th century's laissez-faire capitalism blunders and the 20th century's experiments with communism.

About the latter, I think communism would work: with people designed along the lines of naked mole rats, ants, or termites. In a society where the citizens are human, not so much. (October 3, 2014)

I was going to talk about positive law, rules we make up to deal with current situations; and natural law, ethical principles that don't change: but as I write this it's late Thursday night, and I need my sleep. Besides, I've been over that before. (September 6, 2015; August 29, 2014)

One more thought, and I'm done.

The news and op-eds I've seen about Luxembourg's announcement focused on 'asteroid mining.'

However, that nation's February 3, 2016 press release mentioned asteroids as one example of available resources: "...a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects (NEO's) such as asteroids...."

My guess is that asteroid mining will be important a century or two from now, maybe sooner. But metal and stone aren't the only precious commodities out there.

We don't think of substances like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, as "mineral" resources: partly because they're so common on Earth.

We literally can't live without them, though, so I'm pretty sure that volatile-rich comets will be at least as important as asteroids in the space-faring economy. (November 28, 2014)
"...Simon P. Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation said: 'Humanity is on the verge of expansion into the solar system – and then beyond. Using the resources we find there is essential – not only for our expansion into space but also to ensure continued prosperity here on Earth.'..."
(Luxembourg press release (February 3, 2016)
And that brings me to the usual list of somewhat-related posts:

Sunday, January 31, 2016


Last week I talked about why I don't try to be someone I'm not: more specifically, why I don't insist that God equip me with what's trending in charisms. Also spirit-filled administrators and loose cannons. (January 24, 2016)

That Sunday's second Scripture reading got me started: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30. Today's second reading, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13, picks up on the next verse:
"Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts...."
(1 Corinthians 12:31)
I could stop there, and claim that everybody should start clamoring for "the greatest spiritual gifts."

I've talked about cherry picking before. It's a bad idea. (March 15, 2015; February 8, 2015)

As usual, the first few words aren't the whole story:
"Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

"1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues 2 but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

"And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

"If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing."
(1 Corinthians 12:31-3)
There's a lot more along those lines.

What is "Love?"

1 Corinthians 13:4-6 give a quick overview of love:
  • Love is
    • Patient
    • Kind
  • Love is not
    • Jealous
    • Pompous
    • Inflated
    • Rude
    • Self-serving
    • Quick-tempered
Finally, love doesn't brood over injury — and celebrates truth, not wrongdoing.

I checked the Catechism's glossary for a definition of "love," and got this:
"Love: See Charity."
(Glossary, L, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Another click of the mouse, and I saw this:
"CHARITY: The theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God (1822)."
(Charity, Glossary, Catechism)

"...Love One Another"

Love and charity, in the Catholic sense, aren't just feelings. We're supposed to act as if love and charity make a difference.

Doing what's right is easier when emotions are in sync with our reason — but we're supposed to think. Like I keep saying, "...conscience is a law of the mind...." (Catechism, 1762-1775, 1776)

Saint Jerome says that when John the Apostle was very old and weak, he'd be carried out to meet people. Then he shared what he'd learned while at the side of Jesus:
" 'My dear children, love one another.' When his auditors, wearied with hearing constantly the same thing, asked him why he always repeated the same words, he replied, 'Because it is the precept of the Lord, and if you comply with it, you do enough': an answer, says St. Jerome, worthy the great St. John, the favourite disciple of Christ"
("St John, Apostle and Evagelist," EWTN [emphasis mine])
Every profound insight, all the knowledge learned at the side of the Second Parson of the Trinity were, at their core: "My dear children, love one another."

That's why, for two millennia, the Catholic Church has been passing on the same message:
The way I see it, Luke 6:31, "do to others as you would have them do to you," is how I'll act if I take Jesus seriously: which I do. (October 18, 2015)

Not a Poached Egg

Jesus the Nazorean claimed to be God: "...before Abraham came to be, I AM." (John 8:58)

I've got options: I can believe that Jesus is a lunatic, a liar, or the great I AM. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, I can't assume that Jesus is just another wise teacher:
"...A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell...."
(C. S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity," via Wikipedia)
I'm quite sure that Jesus isn't crazy, or a liar: mainly because our Lord was tortured, executed — and then stopped being dead:
"And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them."

"With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight."
(Luke 24:30-31)

"While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, 'Have you anything here to eat?'

"They gave him a piece of baked fish;

"he took it and ate it in front of them."
(Luke 24:41-43)

"Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, 'Peace be with you.'

"Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.' "
(John 20:26-27)
Small wonder that each of the surviving Apostles, except John, were killed because they wouldn't stop acting as if Jesus matters. John most likely died, an old man, in Ephesus.

Best - News - Ever

(From NASA/ISS, used w/o permission.)

Matthew 25:35-46 says that feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, visiting folks in prison, and other practical expressions of charity, are a good idea: putting it mildly. (November 17, 2016)

Over the last two millennia, some of us have acted as if loving God, loving our neighbor, and seeing everyone as our neighbor, matter. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a recent high-profile example.

Some of us haven't. (September 14, 2014)

Helping individuals and building a better world is important. (November 22, 2015; July 5, 2015)

So is sharing the best news humanity's ever had: God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 3:17; Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:3-5; Catechism, 1-3, 52, 1825)
"For God so loved the world that he gave 7 his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn 8 the world, but that the world might be saved through him."
(John 3:16-17)
That, and a list of vaguely-related posts, seems like a good place to stop writing today:

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

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