Monday, October 20, 2014

Schillebeeckx's two profound threats of the 3rd millennium

I found the late Fr Edward Schillebeeckx's short "Forward" to Daniel Speed Thompson's book, The Language of Dissent: Edward Schillebeeckx on the Crisis of Authority in the Catholic Church, published in 2003, deeply insightful and a bit profound.

Among the insights is the Dominican friar's identification of what he viewed as "two profound threats" to the credibility of the Church's authority in the third millennium. First, the many varieties of fundamentalism, "which, whether in God's name, in the name of a political ideology [it bears noting that these fuse together in revolutionary Islamism], or in the name of an absolutely free market economy which tolerates no impartial supervision - do injustice to people, affront human authenticity, and thus cut off every uncritically participating religion from its own authentic sources of inspiration" (xii).

The second profound threat is "ethnic nationalism which is spreading ever more violently around the world and which is probably a variety of fundamentalism (namely, because it is a negation of the historical, temporal, and spatial situatedness of our imaginative and conceptual articulations of what we proclaim as truth)" (xii).

The Nijmegen theologian went on to observe: "Those familiar with history know that some churches, which are often eager to condemn certain sociopolitical views, often stand hesitant or silent before the violent and subtle ethnic nationalism responsible for ethnic cleansing and the brutal rejection of "the stranger": there is now a clearly real danger of self-satisfied complacency in one's own views, along with a growing failure to appreciate the 'otherness' of others" (xii).

I suppose one good observation leads to another: It is also true that some churches, which are eager to condemn certain (opposite) sociopolitical views, often stand hesitant or silent before the dismantling of the great achievement that is Western civilization, at the foundation of which is Christianity, and through their active complicity help create more than adequate space for fundamentalists of both kinds, as well as those who fuse the two together, to realize their goals.

My point is, "self-satisfied complacency" afflicts those at both extremes. If nothing else, phenomena like IS(IS/IL, whatever they want to be called this week), show us how fragile civilization, which people in the West take too much for granted, actually is. This kind of barbarism, which is happening with alarming frequency in the West, also demonstrates the importance of culture and the inadequacy of what Jacques Ellul, who wrote, "Our civilization is first and foremost a civilization of means; in the reality of modern life, the means, it would seem, are more important than the ends," called "the technological society."

I think it is precisely this "self-satisfied complacency" that Jesus sought to shake people from. He still seeks to do so in our day. Certainly the papacy of Blessed Pope Paul VI (I was Montini enthusiast before last week and not just because of Humanae Vitae, which, as Pope Benedict XVI noted in his 2008 Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, "the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sex as a consumer good, the future against the exclusive claims of the present, and human nature against its manipulation," but lauding Populorum Progresso, Evangelii Nuntianai, and other documents that constituted his unique magisterium) was aimed at doing just this. In all his teaching he sought to move us beyond our self-satisfaction and smugness, our reduction of the Gospel to a self-improvement program, and other such temptations.

My relationship to Schillebeeckx's work is similar to my relationship Karl Marx's work: brilliant at analysis and critical engagement, but his prescriptions for remedying the issues that arose from his analysis, in my view, left a lot to be desired. Nonetheless his work remains well-worth engaging. I also have to note my appreciation for his application of certain aspects of Wittgenstein's philosophy of language to his theological project.

As I was surfing the web (does anybody use that phrase any more?) looking for a suitable picture of Fr Schillebeeckx, I came across this remembrance (it had the best picture, but being a personal picture was not available for use): "Edward Schillebeeckx: 1914-2009."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Year A Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa 45:1.4-6; Ps 961.3-5.7-8.9-10; 1 Thes 1:1-5b; Matt 22:15-21

Before rushing headlong into our Gospel, let’s have a look at something important from our first reading. In this passage, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we read that Cyrus, whose right hand the LORD grasped, is referred to as the LORD’s anointed. Why is this significant? It is significant because Cyrus was the king of Persia. In BC 539, the Persians, led by Cyrus, conquered the Babylonians, who had destroyed Jerusalem, including the First Temple, and led many away into exile. In BC 538, Cyrus decreed that the exiles could return to Jerusalem and that the holy city could be rebuilt, including the Temple.

If the significance of that is not yet obvious, it is a case of God using a ruler to accomplish His purpose in and for the world. In his encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris, Pope St John XXIII wrote, “Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all” (par 46). “The good of all” referred to here is nothing other than the common good.

In the first instance, the common good requires respect for the dignity the human person as such, that is, the human being as a bearer the imago dei, the divine image, or, more philosophically, a being with a transcendent dimension. This means that those in public authority are bound to respect “the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person” (Catechism of the Catholic Church par 1907), identified in our Declaration of Independence as God-given, “unalienable Rights.” And so, the common good requires that all people be permitted to exercise their natural freedoms, which exercise is necessary in order for each person to have the possibility of realizing the end for which s/he is made, which is God Himself.

Turning, then, to our Gospel: Jesus’ interlopers sought to ensnare Him in a trap, but to no avail. By asking Him whether or not it was lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar, the Pharisees and the Herodians (the latter of whom were most likely a political party seeking the restoration of Jewish self-rule under the Herodian dynasty- the Herod’s were Roman vassals during Jesus’ time) thought they had the Lord in a Catch-22. If He said Jewish law forbade Jews to pay the census tax, then He would be openly fomenting opposition to the Roman occupiers, who did not look favorably on such rabble-rousers. If He said it was lawful, then they believed He would discredit Himself and that would weaken His influence and would likely reduce the number of His followers, as the census tax was a loathsome thing to them.

Not only does Jesus’ answer allow Him to evade the trap, it is also the basis for recognizing the legitimacy of governmental authority, even while giving priority to following God. This all sounds neat and fine, but what about those times when our allegiance to God and our allegiance to the state come into conflict? Certainly we live in a time when this is the case, whether it is the unjust HHS mandate, the attempt to re-define marriage, and the fall-out from that for individual Christian citizens, mostly small business-owners, or the courts, as in one case before the Louisiana Supreme Court, seeking to force a priest to divulge something a penitent confessed to him in the Sacrament of Penance.

The Tribute Money, by Peter Paul Reubens, ca. 1612

Among other things, fostering the common good requires governments and officials to act in accord with both divine and natural law, or, to put it in the language of Scholastic theology, to act in accord with right reason. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this means that if rulers or governments “enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order," these laws and measures do not bind us in conscience (par 1903). When necessary, we are to staunchly and peaceably disobey such laws, a practice known as civil disobedience.

In his First Apology, St Justin Martyr, echoing the teaching of Christ, wrote about the charge that Christians were enemies of the state because of their refusal to participate in pagan rites and because they spoke about belonging to another kingdom. Justin argued they were not enemies of the Empire because the kingdom Christians seek is not an earthly kingdom, a kingdom that would be a rival to Rome. If the kingdom Christians anticipated were an earthly kingdom, he reasoned, they wouldn't accept martyrdom in such a clam manner. Instead, they would hide and await the earthly kingdom. On the contrary, St Justin pointed out, more than anyone else, Christians are good citizens because they are allies “in fostering peace,” believing that one day everyone will face God and give an account of their lives. “Only God do we worship,” he said, “but in other things we joyfully obey you, acknowledging you as the kings and rulers of men.” He even used today’s Gospel as an example of what he meant.

Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, tells us, “The way in which the earthly and the heavenly city interpenetrate each other can be recognized only by faith; indeed, it remains a mystery of human history, that is, of a history always troubled by sin” until Christ returns (par 40). Being “the universal sacrament of salvation,” the Church “has one object in view: the coming of God’s kingdom and the salvation of the whole human race” (par 45). In accomplishing her goal of bringing salvation to the world, “The Church believes… she can make a great contribution, through [her] individual members and the community as a whole [by]… bringing a greater humanity to the family of man and to its history” (par 40).

The only way it is possible for us to render to God what is God’s is by participating in the Eucharist. Several years ago, in a speech entitled “Beyond Secular Reason," Archbishop Javier Martínez identified the “Eucharist [as] the only place of resistance to the annihilation of the human subject.” The centrality of the Eucharist was stated beautifully in the final message from the bishops participating in the Extraordinary Synod, which concludes today in Rome: “The high point which sums up all the threads of communion with God and neighbor is the Sunday Eucharist when the family and the whole Church sits at table with the Lord. He gives himself to all of us, pilgrims through history towards the goal of the final encounter when ‘Christ is all and in all’ (Col 3:11).” And so it is, we can only render to God what is God’s because the Father sent His Son, who, in and through the Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit, gives Himself to us.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My takeaways from Synod14's final message

Because it is readily available, I don't want to simply re-state the final message from Synod14. I do want to observe that it is a beautiful document, far exceeding in every way the mid-term report, which certainly had some excellent features, including what it relayed in certain sections of Part III about marriage, including an outstanding section on Humanae Vitae. Sadly, all of these were overlooked as a result of some troublingly vague and ambiguous passages about other, no less important, matters.

In my view, Synod14's final message leaves us with a lot hope about what will occur over this next year leading up to Synod15.

I simply offer below several passages, in sequential order, from today's message that I found deeply moving:
On his journeys along the roads of the Holy Land, Jesus would enter village houses. He continues to pass even today along the streets of our cities. In your homes there are light and shadow. Challenges often present themselves and at times even great trials. The darkness can grow deep to the point of becoming a dense shadow when evil and sin work into the heart of the family
We recognize the great challenge to remain faithful in conjugal love. Enfeebled faith and indifference to true values, individualism, impoverishment of relationships, and stress that excludes reflection leave their mark on family life. There are often crises in marriage, often confronted in haste and without the courage to have patience and reflect, to make sacrifices and to forgive one another. Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious
This light—the light of a wedding story—shines from the encounter between spouses... This authentic encounter begins with courtship, a time of waiting and preparation. It is realized in the sacrament where God sets his seal, his presence, and grace. This path also includes sexual relationship, tenderness, intimacy, and beauty capable of lasting longer than the vigor and freshness of youth. Such love, of its nature, strives to be forever to the point of laying down one’s life for the beloved (cf Jn 15:13). In this light conjugal love, which is unique and indissoluble, endures despite many difficulties. It is one of the most beautiful of all miracles and the most common
Finally, this amazing sentence, which says a lot not only about who are, but Him who makes us who we are: "The high point which sums up all the threads of communion with God and neighbor is the Sunday Eucharist when the family and the whole Church sits at table with the Lord. He gives himself to all of us, pilgrims through history towards the goal of the final encounter when 'Christ is all and in all' (Col 3:11)." I'll be honest, reading that brought tears to my eyes.

Venerable Pope Paul VI- to be Blessed Pope Paul VI as of tomorrow

Tomorrow is the day that Pope Francis himself will beatify the Venerable Pope Paul VI. So after tomorrow we can say, "Blessed Pope Paul VI, pray for us!" Seeking his intercession, along that of St Gianna Molla, Pope St John XXIII, Pope St John Paul II, is something I plan to do often over the course of the next year.

Let us also pray often the prayer given to us at the very end of the final message from Synod14:
Father, grant to all families the presence of strong and wise spouses who may be the source of a free and united family.

Father, grant that parents may have a home in which to live in peace with their families.

Father, grant that children may be a sign of trust and hope and that young people may have the courage to forge life-long, faithful commitments.

Father, grant to all that they may be able to earn bread with their hands, that they may enjoy serenity of spirit and that they may keep aflame the torch of faith even in periods of darkness.

Father, grant that we may all see flourish a Church that is ever more faithful and credible, a just and humane city, a world that loves truth, justice and mercy

Friday, October 17, 2014

"You got your passion, you got your pride"

From early traditios to late. As I read about Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's participation in one of the press conferences this week held for the Extraordinary Synod in Rome, Billy Joel's old song "Vienna" came to mind. Why? Well, for those who do not know, Cardinal Schönborn serves as Archbishop of Vienna. There's no more to it than that, which, given how much I have been posting and the intensity the subjects I have been addressing require, is just fine for a Friday.

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna

I will mention, yet again, that His Eminence, Cardinal Schönborn, wrote a wonderful book on Christology, God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology. Apropos of an underlying theme in the Synod (i.e., the development of doctrine, in his book His Eminence cited Hans Urs Balthasar to the effect
that theology is the doctrine of the divine meaning of the revelation of the historical events in revelation themselves - nothing above them, nothing behind them, nothing that one could take away and retain as a suprahistorical substance - and that therefore, the more the historical discloses itself in a theological sense, the more does theology develop

You got your passion, you got your pride
But don't you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true
When will you realize... Vienna waits for you?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Finding love and value in same-sex relationships

Do you wonder how committed relationships between two people of the same-sex can be life-giving and have positive value?

Committed, truly loving relationships between two people of the same sex, like healthy heterosexual relationships, are not exclusively, or even primarily, about having sex. Many are constituted by deeper things, which are expressed in genuine care and concern for the other person and the willingness to sacrifice self. One necessary condition for any fully loving relationship (even between a husband and a wife) is that it is chaste.

This also points to how much the objective immorality of contraception needs to be stressed. It's easy to see why many (rightly) argue that the Church takes a harsher stance towards Her members who are homosexual, which stance is not maternal in the the least. As Rowan Williams noted a long time ago, people who view contraception as morally legitimate have no firm basis for rejecting the morality of sex between two persons of the same sex. Anyone who insists that all same-sex relationships are exclusively or even primarily about sex has traveled a long distance towards de-humanzining people who are homosexual.

I was very gratified that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn participated in one of the press conferences at the Extraordinary Synod. He spoke about this very matter and in the words of a summary of his remarks, he explained what it means to find "the positive elements even in 'disordered' relationships." The summary also noted something vital he said in this regard: "The church looks first at the person, not at the person's sexual orientation," emphasizing that this is a "basic Christian doctrine." He spoke about a couple he knows, "praising one partner who cared for another who was seriously ill." Quoting him directly about the care provided by one partner for the other, the summary relayed him saying, "It was saintly. Full stop."

I'd encourage anyone who holds the view that such relationships can't possibly have life-giving aspects to read Eve Tusnet's newly published book Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, which to cite part of the publisher's description "In this first book from an openly lesbian and celibate Catholic, widely published writer and blogger Eve Tushnet recounts her spiritual and intellectual journey from liberal atheism to faithful Catholicism and shows how gay Catholics can love and be loved while adhering to Church teaching."

I would also urge you to visit Lindsey and Sarah's blog A Queer Calling: Reflections on the experiences of a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Truth and love belong together

In his homily at Mass today in Casa Santa Marta (I love saying those words together!), Pope Francis, without a doubt indirectly referring to the just-released Relatio post disceptationem of the Extraordinary Synod, preached on what he called the "Holy Law." He pointed out that the law is not an end in itself. Towards the conclusion of his homily he posed some questions for us to ponder:
And this should make us think: am I attached to my things, my ideas, [are they] closed? Or am I open to God's surprises? Am I at a standstill or am I on a journey? Do I believe in Jesus Christ - in Jesus, in what he did: He died, rose again and the story ended there - Do I think that the journey continues towards maturity, toward the manifestation of the glory of the Lord? Am I able to understand the signs of the times and be faithful to the voice of the Lord that is manifested in them? We should ask ourselves these questions today and ask the Lord for a heart that loves the law - because the law belongs to God – but which also loves God’s surprises and the ability to understand that this holy law is not an end in itself
This is kind of issue that any serious Christian should think about, ponder on, and pray about quite often.

I was not borne nor was I raised a Catholic. Rather, my religious background, as I experienced it, was what I can only describe as hyper-legalistic. Perfection was achieved solely as the result of my own efforts and there were no ordinary means of grace I could lay hold of to help me when, despite my own fervent attempts at perfection, I failed.

As a result of my religious formation, I agree wholeheartedly that the "Holy Law" is not an end itself. It is a means to an end. The end to which it is a means is the very end for which we are made, redeemed, and towards which are drawn, not against our will, but with our cooperation, which may require great sacrifice, through the circumstances of our lives. I can only agree when Pope Francis asserted that our "journey" is a pedagogy "that leads us to Jesus Christ, the final encounter, where there will be this great sign of the Son of man." Indeed, the title of the Communion & Liberation Spiritual Exercises back in 2009 captured this well: Experience: The Instrument For a Human Journey.

It also occurs to me that the "Holy Law" cannot be imposed on anybody. It can only be freely adhered to and then only out of love for God and neighbor. The purpose of obedience is to respond in love to the One one who loved us first. This was set forth beautifully by Hans Urs Von Balthasar in his book Who Is a Christian?:
Christianity has a very unusual proposal to make with regard to the general desire of all religions for unity with God. Religions, provided they do not remain stuck in in ritualism, must ultimately content themselves either with removing the difference between God and the world or else with having men merge into God (in death, in ecstasy or meditation, and so on). How is it possible, Christianity asks, for there to be an identity between God and man, since both are and remain essentially different? And it answers: Such an identity is possible by virtue of the fact that God gives his love the character of obedience and man gives his obedience the sense of love" (72-73)
Ministry that is truly pastoral endeavors both to walk alongside others and to lead them into the Way of Truth, which is the Way of life eternal. It seems to me that attempts to separate truth and love are tantamount to cutting Christ in two.

I cannot see the multiplication of false dilemmas as in any way useful. Positing such disjunctions, I think, is unnecessarily confusing and divisive. It seems to me that one thing often missing from many ecclesial deliberations these days is any explicit reference to truth. From where I sit, we could use a healthy does of of "caritas in veritate," which is to say a deeper reflection on the absolutely necessary relationship of truth to love. Without truth love is not possible. As Jesus says in today's Gospel, referring to the people of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria, "because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here" (Luke 11:32). If that is not Love bearing witness to the Truth, I don't know what is.

Reflections on the Extraordinary Synod's mid-way report

It' surprising to me how many people live under rocks, or, more accurately dwell so far away from the lives of normal people, or, in the case of Church commentators, so far from parish life, that they can't grasp the relative significance of events in the Church or in the world. But that is a subject for another day. At least for me, one good reason why it is important to read these documents myself is to separate what they actually contain from efforts to spin the contents, which usually consists in unduly emphasizing some aspects while completely ignoring other, equally important, or even more important, aspects. It is also important to note at the outset of any such post that, even though the English translation is on the Holy See's website, it has to be something of a "rough and ready" translation. At the top of it, even on the Holy See's webpage, appear the words, "[Unofficial translation]."

Today Péter Cardinal Erdő, Realtor for the Extraordinary Synod, read out loud to the assembled members of the Extraordinary Synod the Relatio post disceptationem of the General Rapporteur, or the mid-way report of the Synod's proceedings. This report is nothing more than a summary of the interventions made over course of the last week. It will form the basis of the Extraordinary Synod's final document, which, in turn, will be given over for use to those preparing for next year's Ordinary Synod. Hence, this report is no more earth-shattering than the interventions that it seeks to summarize. All of this is stated very well in the document's conclusion:
The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialog that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015. These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view. All the same the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to find roads of truth and mercy for all

While one might quibble with the assertion that it "took place in great freedom," the general discussion is what it is, to employ a wholly useless colloquialism. The document has three constituent parts: I. "Listening: the context and challenges to the family"; II. "The gaze on Christ: the Gospel of the Family"; III. "Discussion: pastoral perspectives." Each part features several subsections.

The Extraordinary Synod clearly recognizes "the value and consistency of natural marriage must first be emphasized" (par 18). This is no throwaway line in the document. It encapsulates the Church's unchanging witness over the centuries. Part III is the portion of the document in which the most common concrete pastoral challenges are set forth and briefly sketched out. Therefore, I wish to briefly look at certain subsections of this part. At some point, I may circle back around and address the first subsection of Part II on "gradualness."

As regards marriage preparation, the Synod clearly recognizes the need for better, more in-depth, preparation for couples marrying in the Church, including catechesis on marriage as part of preparing for the sacraments of initiation. The Synod also set forth the need for parishes to reach out to newly married couples, couples who are in the first years of marriage: "The parish is considered the ideal place for expert couples to place themselves at the disposal of younger ones. "Couples need to be encouraged towards a fundamental welcome of the great gift of children. The importance of family spirituality and prayer needs to be underlined, encouraging couples to meet regularly to promote the growth of the spiritual life and solidarity in the concrete demands of life" (Relatio, par 35).

One of the subsections that many might find provocative is the one entitled Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation. At least on my reading, there is really nothing out of the ordinary here, especially in the suggestion that "Pastoral accompaniment should always start from these positive aspects" of such relationships and that "All these situations have to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy" (par 39). As one who pastorally works with people in these situations quite regularly, this what most of us already do all the time for heaven's sake.

The question that can't be avoided: reception of the Sacraments by people who are civilly divorced and civilly re-married. Before jumping to those often vexing cases, I was gratified that a lot of consideration was given to those who are civilly divorced and not re-married. There was one proposal concerning those who are divorced and remarried that set forth a vague penitential path involving the bishop. I would assume that in addition to being civilly divorced and civilly remarried that another condition to "walk" such a path would be that the penitent had petitioned for an annulment and not been granted one. I still do not see how such a proposal can be squared with fundamental Church teaching. So, it seems that between now and next year's Synod "a greater theological study was requested starting with the links between the sacrament of marriage and the Eucharist in relation to the Church-sacrament. In the same way, the moral dimension of the problem requires further consideration, listening to and illuminating the consciences of spouses" (par 48). By "moral dimension" I take to mean the teaching of our Lord about remarriage and adultery. Given the importance of this question on every level from the pastoral to the dogmatic, it is my hope that such a study is undertaken by the International Theological Commission.

The subsection on Welcoming Homosexual Persons, takes up a challenging and important subject. I like that this subsection (par 50-52) begins with the axiom: "Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community." Reality (i.e., the way things actually are) is the only starting point for meaningful engagement. Hence, we can't pretend that there is nothing of value in any and all human relationships that are characterized by self-sacrifice and the good of the other. I do wonder about something in this section that strikes me as potentially contradictory, which makes me glad it is posed in the form of a question: "Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" Clearly we need to grapple honestly with the truth in answering this question. There is also the recognition of the powerful force brought to bear on the Church by individuals and organizations that espouse "gender ideology," which is to be resisted and rejected. It has seemed to me for all the years of my own ministry that the the Church, in her love and care for people who are homosexual, is required to "thread the needle" pastorally-speaking. It usually seems to provoke a scandal to mention the need for holiness, repentance, and conversion across a broad range of issues involving sexuality. It does seem right and just to recognize the priority of the rights of "children who live with couples of the same sex."

I have to admit to being very gratified (a way of being thankful, not indulged) at the subsection dealing with the transmission of life: The transmission of life and the challenge of the declining birthrate. This section consists of three paragraphs (53-55). Here is the middle paragraph:

Probably here as well what is required is a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional opening to life as that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest. It is on this base that we can rest an appropriate teaching regarding natural methods, which allow the living in a harmonious and aware way of the communication between spouses, in all its dimensions, along with generative responsibility. In this light, we should go back to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, which underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control (par 54)
Above all, education is essential: "The fundamental challenge facing families today is undoubtedly that of education, rendered more difficult and complex by today’s cultural reality" (par 56). What is more necessary today than ever, given the vast range of circumstances in which people choose to live, is for the Church "to support parents in their educative undertaking, accompanying children and young people in their growth through personalized paths capable of introducing them to the full meaning of life and encouraging choices and responsibilities, lived in the light of the Gospel" (par 57).

Let's hope and pray that between now and this time next year the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with due reference and regard for Scripture, authentic Tradition, and the witness of so many saints, does not lose the bubble on the need to clearly set forth what is authentically human, keeping in mind St Paul's words: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all" (1 Cor 15:19).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Some personal thoughts on the Extraordinary Synod thus far

Let me state up-front, I have no intent of ever becoming an apostate or a schismatic. I fully affirm what St Ambrose of Milan stated long ago: Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eterna (i.e., "Where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is life eternal!"). With that out of way, let me also state that the designator "Rad-Trad" is a redundant absurdity and using the appellation "Neo-Catholic" is merely a way of joining in the name-calling. In my view, both constitute puerile polemics.

I have to admit my disappointment at Archbishop Martin's (a man whom I mostly admire) insistence that the Synod "has to find new language to show that there can be development of doctrine." Does finding new language to express the truth (by the term "doctrine" I understand the expression of a divinely revealed truth) really require a development, which I take, in this context, to mean change? Even Pope St John XXIII, who insisted on the need to state timeless truths in language accessible to the people of our day, in his address to open the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council also insisted that the Council needed to "transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion." After all, the single subject that is the Church of Jesus Christ cannot be in discontinuity with herself. Nonetheless this is exactly what many, who adhere to what Pope Benedict XVI, in his Christmas speech to the Roman Curia in 2005, dubbed "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture," think and have sought to convey since practically the end of the Council. By way of contrast, what Pope Benedict called for is not, as others insist, "a hermeneutic of continuity," but "a hermeneutic of reform in continuity."

Neither let us forget that less than a month prior to announcing his abdication, in his final speech to the Roman Rota, it was Benedict XVI who discussed "lack of faith," characterized as not doing what the Church intends when marrying even in the Church, as a ground for nullity.

In this vein, I must also express my disappointment in Cardinal Ouellet's speech published in the most recent issue of Communio. While he argued brilliantly for being faithful to the Lord's teaching in sacramental (i.e., ontological) terms, he dismissed the moral dimension (i.e., remarriage as adultery) as if, like the recent rage for separating the pastoral from the doctrinal, the moral and the sacramental, the orders of nature and grace, have no truck with each other.

The issue of Holy Communion for those who are divorced and civilly re-married also gives us the opportunity to face reality squarely. The reality we need to face is that, at least in many dioceses in the the United States, the so-called "internal forum," whereby a divorced and civilly re-married person obtains permission from her/his pastor to receive communion without obtaining an ecclesiastical decree of nullity for his/her previous marriage(s), or having her/his current marriage convalidated in the Church, is widely used. This, at least, has the advantage, most of the time, of lifting some or all of the culpability off the couple and placing it on the priest who grants his permission. In all honesty, most (by no means all) clerics I know and with whom I have discussed this matter find the idea of a so-called "Josephite" marriage ridiculous at worst and unrealistic at best. A "Josephite" marriage, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a marriage in which a man and a woman seek to live with each other in a sexually continent manner (No jokes about unwittingly being in such a marriage. Okay, maybe one!). So, there is a de facto sense in which this question has been answered in some places and for some cases.

In my view, it boils down to something virtually nobody wants to concede: in this disputatio theology matters. There is no way around it. All of this makes apparent that our catechetical disaster flows from our theological dumbing-down. One way this is manifested is people who say things like, "People are starving to death and you're worried about admitting the divorced and civilly re-married to Holy Communion," as if the dissolution of marriage is not a major cause of poverty among women and children! There is a reason that, in his papal magisterium, Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae between Populorum Progresso and Evangelii Nuntiandi.

I still chuckle a bit when I remember that, in his gentle but clear way, Benedict XVI expressed disappointment at the shallowness of the discussion at the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, where many of these questions were taken up, albeit in a more forthright and public way. It bears repeating, if the communion issue predominates the Extraordinary Synod, we're safe calling the gathering a failure.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Theology & Dogma: St John XXIII, Balthasar, and Romano

This afternoon I (finally) had the chance to do some undirected, that is, not-required reading. I chose to delve into reading Hans Urs Von Balthasar. In addition to making progress in his short book Who Is a Christian?, I re-read the introduction to volume two of his theological aesthetics The Glory of the Lord: Studies in Theological Style: Clerical Styles. The short chapter from the first book complemented a striking passage from the second.

The third short section of Part III of Who Is a Christian? is entitled "The Crucial Point." The "crucial point" is the Incarnation. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the incarnation of divine love. According to Balthasar, "what is revealed of the nature of this love in the existence of the Son is the renunciation of self-ownership. This renunciation alone is what gives the fulfillment of his mission its unheard of dramatic impact" (66-67). The dramatic impact is made manifest in Jesus' abandonment to the Providence of the Father, which "relieves him of any obligation to calculate, to measure out, to be diplomatic, and gives him endless energy that need care nothing for the walls of contradiction, pain, failure, and death, because the Father is leading him and will bear him up, even at the farthest end of the night" (67). In this, Balthasar asserts, we "can see how dogmatics, in its two fundamental pillars - of Incarnation and Trinity - is likewise the embodiment of the Christian doctrine of life" (67).

How we have lost sight of this in our loss of transcendence, in the forgetfulness of our destiny: "Dogma and existence go together"! (67). We need to re-read Von Hildebrand and books like August Adam's Tension and Harmony: About the Value of Dogma for Personal Life, or perhaps even Balthasar's short work In the Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic. I am convinced that this deficiency plays a large role in the confusions we seem to constantly experience these days. So as not to sound too passive-aggressive, in nothing perhaps more than when it comes to marriage.

Today marks the fifty-second anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in Rome by Pope St John XXIII, whose liturgical memorial (the first since his canonization earlier this year) the Church observes today in honor of this event. In his opening address to the Council, Papa Roncalli stated,
The manner in which sacred doctrine is spread, this having been established, it becomes clear how much is expected from the Council in regard to doctrine. That is, the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council, which will draw upon the effective and important wealth of juridical, liturgical, apostolic, and administrative experiences, wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will
In his great work, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, Romano Amerio noted during the time of great confusion after the Council (which time persists):
Some authors deny the existence of the present confusion in the Church or else deny its specific character by attributing it to the duality and antagonism inherent in the nature of the world and of the Church. This denial seems to us inadequate, because the essential opposition here is not between the Gospel and the world which Christ comes to save, that is, the world understood as the totality of creation, but rather between the Gospel and the world for which Christ does not pray, that is, the world inasmuch as it is in maligno positus, infected by sin and oriented towards sin (2)

Turning then to the introduction to second volume of The Glory of the Lord, in which Balthasar picks five representative "clerical" aesthetic theological styles- Irenaeus, Augustine, Denys, Anselm, and Bonaventure- he discusses the difficulty inherent in theology:
At first this bewildering variety of styles alarms one, and there arises the suspicion that between the glory of the divine revelation [culminating with the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity] and its imitative expression there can be achieved no kind of convincing correspondence. Is not perhaps then the paradoxical pointer, consciously intending shock and offence, the only possibility? A human word, which, in witnessing to God's word, witnesses itself to its own inappropriateness, even contradictoriness? Were that all, then the Word of God would not have become flesh. So there is a twofold mediation to be considered: the general phenomenon of the freedom of human expression in spiritual utterance and the humanity of the historical revelation of salvation (26)
This leads Balthasar to identify three "fixed points of reference" for Christian theology freely expressed, if it is to be considered Christian theology at all. The middle point is "the teaching of the Church, which has the duty of proposing the binding ground rules of such hermeneutics and to which each orthodox theologian has to conform, for the Church as such possesses the Holy Spirit of interpretation and the theologian only in so far as he undertakes to express himself in the spirit and in the name of the Church." In this regard it certainly bears mentioning Ratzinger's The Nature and Mission of Theology: Approaches to Understanding Its Role in the Light of the Present Controversy.

Jan Hooks R.I.P.

I was saddened yesterday morning to learn of the passing of actress Jan Hooks. She is best known for being on Saturday Night Live from 1986-1991, during what has become known as that show's "second golden era." During this era, in addition to Hooks, the show featured the late Phil Hartman and Chris Farley, Dennis Miller, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Victoria Jackson, David Spade, etc. I was very struck by a remembrance of Jan by Sarah Larson that appeared on the website of The New Yorker this morning, which was brought to my attention by a friend via Facebook: "Jan Hooks (1957-2014): An Appreciation."

In her piece, Larson captures Hooks' understated brilliance and the chemistry she had with Phil Hartman, as well as capturing what I can only describe as the "magic" of the show during that era. She also did many wonderful skits with Nora Dunn, on whom I had a crush- before I knew how mean she was to everyone on the show (Dunn left the show in protest, rightly I think, over Andrew Dice Clay guest-hosting). Unlike Larson, I was not a "goofy pre-teen" then, I was a young adult in my early 20s. I remember watching the show almost every Saturday night (it would even run on the television sets of many of the clubs my friends and I frequented in those days). In addition to tremendously funny skits, there were, back then, thoughtful, even poignant vignettes. One favorite of mine is a skit that was set on Thanksgiving, in which Hooks plays the family matriarch, taking care of her guys. I think it was a time during which SNL had what can be called a fairly well-formed social conscience. This held true even when it came to the naughtier skits, like the one in which Hooks played a prostitute and Hartman a "john" trying make her "interested" on personal level- to no avail.

Larson sums up her piece by mentioning that she recently finished reading a Phil Hartman biography, You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman (a book I think I'll read). She observes,
Hartman helped [Hooks] to overcome her stage fright, and Hooks coined his nickname: the Glue. They were both characters who made “SNL,” in an era of brilliant writing, a show both for goofy preteens like me and for adults, combining the simple appeal of sketch comedy with intelligent political and cultural satire. Rather than making adults watch juvenile humor, it welcomed young people into the adult realm of politics and culture. Hooks and Hartman—the Reagans, the Trumps, the Bakkers, the Clintons, and Beauty and the Beast—were a cornerstone of that approach
I am too young to really remember the show's early days with Belushi, Ackroyd, Chase, Jane Curtin, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, and Lariane Newman. While that was stunning television, I really believe the show reached its heights during this era, from the late '80s to early '90s. I have a copy of the book Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, which I haven't read from in a few years. I need to dust it off this weekend.

Larson is quite right to point to the short film Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman performed in for SNL "Love is a dream" as something rather beautiful and worthy of another viewing. So do yourself a favor: