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I know that sounds selfish and prideful, and it certainly is if that is your prevailing attitude in life.  But sometimes it is completely necessary and beneficial.  You can’t give of yourself if you are running on empty.  And I have been running on empty.  It’s sort of like when you’re on a plane and they give you the run-down on safety matters–put your own oxygen mask on first, and then assist others.  It was years before I understood the good and logical reason behind that instruction.  You can’t very well assist anybody if you can’t breathe yourself.

And so, I have been trying to focus on myself.  Doing things that I know will be profitable to me.  I’m even taking a break from looking for Mr. Right–this is partly out of scientific curiosity; I want to test the very popular and widespread theory that “When you’re not looking, that’s when the perfect person will come along.” We shall see about that.

Among other things, I just completed an introductory computer programming course via Coursera. I took it just because I felt like learning something completely new. I wasn’t too sure whether I would be any good at it, but I did it anyway, and it turns out I am pretty good at it (so far)!  It might even lead me down a new path in my career. I’ve already signed up for some future classes in math and science.

For so many years, I was convinced that I was no good at math and science and never could be, not in a thousand years.  Now, I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self a sound shaking and say “Don’t you believe it. Don’t you dare believe it!”  Now, I am trying to make up for lost time.  The truth is, I’ve always had a natural love and fascination with science.  My mind has always worked in scientific ways.  My heart and soul have always been in it–regardless of what marks I got in school.  I always knew a truth that was far more important than anything I could learn in school: I knew that science would help me know God better.  And I know that now more than ever before.  That is my driving force.

It feels good to broaden my horizons and unfurl my sails!  Who knows where I might end up?  Adventure–I think that is what I need most of all right now.  An adventure with the One who knows me best and loves me most.

I’ll close with one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotations:  “All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead, but the darker secret of why he is alive.”

It always delights me when Pope Benedict talks about Dominicans.  This week, he spoke of St. Albert the Great, the Doctor Universalis.  Among other things, he was the professor of St. Thomas Aquinas, and is the Patron Saint of the natural sciences and of scientists… as well as of philosophers and theology students.

This article summarizes the speech: “Albert the Great: No Contrast Between Faith and Science”.  Here is an excerpt:

“Above all, St. Albert shows that there is no opposition between faith and science. … He reminds us that there is friendship between science and faith, and that scientists can, through their vocation to study nature, follow an authentic and absorbing path of sanctity”, said the Holy Father.

“St. Albert the Great opened the door to the complete acceptance of the thought of Aristotle into the philosophy and theology of the Middle Ages, an acceptance that was later definitively elaborated by St. Thomas Aquinas. This acceptance of what we may call pagan or pre-Christian philosophy was an authentic cultural revolution for the time. Yet many Christian thinkers feared Aristotle’s philosophy”, especially as it had been interpreted in such a was as to appear “entire irreconcilable with Christian faith. Thus a dilemma arose: are faith and reason in contrast with one another or not?

“Here lies one of the great merits of St. Albert: he rigorously studied the works of Aristotle, convinced that anything that is truly reasonable is compatible with faith as revealed in Sacred Scripture”, the Pope added.

I wonder how many people realize that we have a Patron Saint of natural sciences and scientists?  Remember this the next time you hear or read somebody claim that the Church is ignorant of and/or hostile toward science.

Here is the National Review Online interview with Harvard AIDS expert, Dr. Edward C. Green (with my emphases and comments:

From Saint Peter’s Square to Harvard Square
Media coverage of papal comments on AIDS in Africa is March madness.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez

‘We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.”

So notes Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, in response to papal press comments en route to Africa this week.

Benedict XVI said, in response to a French reporter’s question asking him to defend the Church’s position on fighting the spread of AIDS, characterized by the reporter as “frequently considered unrealistic and ineffective”:

I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.  [NOTE:  I don't believe this is the accurate, official version of what the pope said.  That can be found in this article.]

“The pope is correct,” Green told National Review Online Wednesday, “or put it a better way, the best evidence [evidence!] we have supports the pope’s comments. He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not be effective at the ‘level of population.’”
“There is,” Green adds, “a consistent association shown by our best studies, [studies!] including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”

Green added: “I also noticed that the pope said ‘monogamy’ was the best single answer to African AIDS, rather than ‘abstinence.’ [A very important distinction.  Lots of people are attacking the pope's position because of the old claim that abstinence is impossible, unreasonable, barbaric!  Well, it's really none of those things, of course, but that's beside the point.] The best and latest empirical evidence [more evidence!] indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates (the other major factor is male circumcision).”

And while, as Travis Kavulla writes from Kenya today, the international media will ignore all sorts of fascinating new stories about church and civilizational growth in favor of a sexier, albeit way-too-familiar storyline, Green has some encouraging news: The pope is not alone. “More and more AIDS experts are coming to accept the above. [So, all the people who are singling out the pope and Catholic moral teaching for their criticisms are either uninformed or dishonest.] The two countries with the worst HIV epidemics, Swaziland and Botswana, have both launched campaigns to discourage multiple and concurrent partners, and to encourage fidelity.[Again: monogamy, not abstinence.]

The pope added during that Q&A, “I would say that our double effort is to renew the human person internally, to give spiritual and human strength to a way of behaving that is just towards our own body and the other person’s body; and this capacity of suffering with those who suffer, to remain present in trying situations.”

We need to, in other words, treat people as people. [Which necessarily includes not treating people as expendable sexual objects.] Reason with them and show them there is a better way to live, respectful of themselves and others. It’s a common-sense message that isn’t madness [Boy is that a counter-cultural statement!] whether you’re in Africa or dealing with hormonal American teenagers. It’s a hard message to hear over the same-old silly debates, parodies, and dismissals. [Which is mostly what one finds in the secular media and society, because God forbid anybody should engage the issue with the objectivity, gravitas, and intellectual rigor it deserves.] But it’s one that is based on real life—and acknowledged not just in Saint Peter’s Square but in Harvard Square.

Wow–all that talk about evidence and studies!  Could it be that our brilliant Holy Father has done his homework?  Or could it simply be that science and Catholic teaching are on the same page, part of the same truth?  I’d say both are the case.

St. Albert the GreatToday, 15 November, the Church pays tribute to a great Dominican Saint, a bishop and Doctor of the Church, St. Albert the Great (1206-1280), also known as St. Albertus Magnus.

St. Albert may be best known today as being a professor to another great Dominican Saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas.  That alone gives a hint of his brilliance!  Known for his vast knowledge of a wide range of subjects, St. Albert was given the title, Doctor Universalis, the Universal Doctor.  His great learning also earned him the honorific “the Great” during his lifetime–a rare achievement!

St. Albert is the Patron Saint of the natural sciences, among other things.  St. Albert could be considered the forefather and special patron of all the many great priest-scientists who have filled the history of the Church down to our day, and will certainly continue to do so.  Just off the top of my head, I think of Nicolas Copernicus, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, and Michal Heller.  To be sure, one can’t know the history of science or the history the Church and maintain the all-too-common myth that the two are at odds and mutually exclusive.

My local Dominican family and I are proud to have St. Albert the Great as the patron of our priory.  In fact, I just recently returned from our monthly meeting there.  Our spiritual director taught us about St. Albert’s life and thought.  He read to us from a commentary St. Albert wrote on the Gospel of St. Luke and on the Eucharist:

Do this in remembrance of Me. Two things should be noted here. The first is the command that we should use this Sacrament, which is indicated when He says: Do this. The second is that this Sacrament commemorates the Lord’s going to death for our sake.

So He says, Do this. Certainly He would demand nothing more profitable, nothing more pleasant, nothing more beneficial, nothing more desirable, nothing more similar to eternal life. We will look at each of these qualities separately.

This Sacrament is profitable because it grants remission of sins; it is most useful because it bestows the fullness of grace on us in this life. The Father of Spirits instructs us in what is useful for us to receive His sanctification. And his sanctification is in Christ’s sacrifice, that is, when He offers Himself in this Sacrament to the Father for our redemption, to us for our use.  I consecrate myself for their sakes.  Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered Himself up without blemish to God, will cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

Nor can we do anything more pleasant. For what is better than God manifesting His whole sweetness to us? You gave them bread from heaven, not the fruit of human labour, but a bread endowed with all delight and pleasant to every sense of taste. For this substance of Yours revealed Your kindness toward Your children, and serving the desire of each recipient, it changed to suit each one’s taste.

He could not have commanded anything more beneficial, for this Sacrament is the fruit of the tree of life. Anyone who receives this Sacrament with the devotion of sincere faith will never taste death. It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and blessed is he who holds it fast. The man who feeds on Me shall live on account of Me.

Nor could He have commanded anything more lovable, for this sacrament produces love and union. It is characteristic of the greatest love to give itself as food. Had not the men of my tent exclaimed: Who will feed us with his flesh to satisfy our hunger? as if to say: I have loved them and they have loved Me so much that I desire to be within them, and they wish to receive Me so that they may become My members. There is no more intimate or more natural means for them to be united to Me, and I to them.

Nor could He have commanded anything which is more like eternal life. Eternal life flows from this Sacrament because God with all sweetness pours Himself out upon the blessed.

So beautiful and deep!  I shall like to meditate upon this writing… I feel it could help me to deepen my understanding and love for the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Communion.

Spiritual writings such as these also remind me that no matter how smart, clever, intelligent, and learned I may become, it all comes back to God.  Without God and the faith and loving our fellow man, any studying and intellectual endeavors will be lifeless, meaningless, and fruitless.  St. Albert and St. Thomas both make that very clear.  They were stellar intellectuals… but they were Catholics first, and being Catholic directed and oriented everything they did.

An important lesson for Dominicans, and for all practicing Catholics!

Happy feast day, Father Albert!  Please help all of us in our pursuit of Truth–especially our bishops!

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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