Monday, October 11, 2010

Gargling at the Stream of Wisdom

A day or so ago, reading something that was supposed to be a Catholic publication, I ran into the assertion that 'suicide is no longer a sin.'

This post is about blogging - and, mostly, wisdom - not suicide: so I'd better get an explanation out of the way.

The Catholic Church still teaches that suicide is wrong, and that we shouldn't do it. That isn't the same as saying that everybody who committed suicide is going to hell, and I've discussed this before. (January 28, 2009)

Screwball pronouncements like 'suicide is no longer a sin' have - not so much an element of truth, as a taste of truth in them.

That's one of the reasons that I'm careful about where I get my information: and make an effort to think - and verify - before passing something along.

Blogs and "Self-Appointed Defenders of the Magisterium"

Here's part of what another, somewhat better-informed, source had to say about bloggers, blogs, and the blogosphere:
"...blogs are often seen as hurtful, aggressive, angry 'voices from below', engaged in polemic, gossip mongering and scandal. The Catholic blogosphere been described as a Wild West, where barroom brawls are commonplace and mob lynchings not unheard of, while Catholic bloggers have been described as a sort of Catholic Taliban, self-appointed defenders of the Magisterium...."
(from Anna Arco's speech at the World Press Congress in Rome, via
She had more to say about bloggers: mostly positive, although I get the impression that she sees us mostly as whistle-blowers. That's just an impression: I recommend reading the full text at the website.

I don't want to be a 'voice from below.'

On the other hand, I probably am something of a 'self-appointed defender of the Magisterium.' That's something I don't feel guilty about: With so many screwball notions going the rounds, I think it's appropriate to look up what the Church teaches, repeat what I've found, and cite my sources.

Speaking With the Full Authority of Some Guy With a Blog

I quoted some of what Matthew Warner wrote about bloggers, blogs, and American bishops last summer. (June 17, 2010) That's when I started using his phrase, "...full authority of some guy with a blog...."

I'm a Catholic layman, with about as little teaching authority as a person can get and still be a Catholic. I don't speak for my parish, diocese, or archdiocese. And I certainly don't speak for the Church.

When I say something, I do so with the "full authority of some guy with a blog."

Which is one of the reasons my posts have so many footnotes and citations.

Wisdom: It's a Gift

"Wisdom" is one of those words that's been kicked around a bit, and can mean quite a number of things. Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church's glossary has to say about it:
"Wisdom: A spiritual gift which enables one to know the purpose and plan of God; one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (1831). Wisdom is also the name of one of the books of the Old Testament (120)."
Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church
Being the sort of person I am, I looked up the references in that definition. In reverse order:
"The Book of Wisdom"


"The Book of Wisdom was written about a hundred years before the coming of Christ. Its author, whose name is not known to us, was a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria, in Egypt. He wrote in Greek, in a style patterned on that of Hebrew verse...."
Obviously, that's not from the Book of Wisdom itself: it's an excerpt from the NAB's introduction to the book. Here's how it actually starts:
"1 Love justice, you who judge the earth; think of the LORD in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart; Because he is found by those who test him not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him. "
(Wisdom 1:1-2)
Paragraph 120 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a discussion of the books of the Bible.

Now, about wisdom, gift of the Holy Spirit:
"The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David.109 They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.
"Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.110

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God . . . If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.111"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1831)
So, do I claim that everything I write is spirit-filled prophecy, backed by the Holy Spirit?

No! That kind of trouble I don't need. (See "Crowbar for Christ in Colorado?" (October 7, 2010))

I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to say that, as I see it, wisdom - as a gift of the Holy Spirit - is a gift. It isn't something that's a part of us: but it's something that we're given, and may decide to use.

Or, we can decide to not use wisdom. I wouldn't recommend that: but it's an option.
Wisdom and Water
Wisdom has been compared to water:
"7 Now I, like a rivulet from her stream, channeling the waters into a garden, Said to myself, 'I will water my plants, my flower bed I will drench'; And suddenly this rivulet of mine became a river, then this stream of mine, a sea. Thus do I send my teachings forth shining like the dawn, to become known afar off. Thus do I pour out instruction like prophecy and bestow it on generations to come."
(Sirach 24:28-31)
That footnote reads:
"[28-31] Spoken by the author. He had at first drawn a small portion of the water of wisdom for his own private benefit, but finding it so useful, he soon began to let others share in this boon by teaching them the lessons of wisdom."
(footnote 7, Sirach 28, NAB)
Like I said before, I am not trying to pass myself off as equivalent to one of the prophets. The point I was making is that wisdom has been compared to water.

Here's another example:
"You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom!"
(Baruch 3:12)

Gargling at the Waters of Wisdom

Forsaking the fountain of wisdom happens fairly often in America. In some circles it's considered 'sophisticated' and 'intelligent' to contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church. I wouldn't do that: but that's partly because I've decided that, in the long run, I'm better off working with God, than against Him. Think of it as enlightened self-interest.

I'm not sure, but I think that gargling at the fountain of wisdom isn't such a good idea, either.

What I mean by "gargling" is taking a quick look at what the Catholic Church teaches, picking up a few phrases like "God is love" and "love your neighbor:" and walking out the door.

Nothing wrong with those phrases, by the way. At all.

But if that's all the religious education a person has, we're likely to come up with the idea that the entire message of the Church is something like "it's nice to be good."

That's - nice - but there's more to Catholic teaching like that. A lot more.

More importantly, that sort of 'Christianity Lite' makes it easier to assume that nice-sounding notions are what the Church really teaches. Like 'suicide is no longer a sin.'

That kind of careless theology can kill. Literally.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.