Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bishops' Response to Speaker Pelosi's "Meet the Press" comments

Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, specifically # 2271, Justin Cardinal Rigali, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, along with Bishop William Lori, chairman of the Doctrine Committee, sought to refute Speaker Pelosi's erroneous statement on last week's Sunday news program, to the effect that church teaching on abortion has changed over the centuries and is somewhat ambiguous, by issuing a statement: Bishops respond to House Speaker Pelosi’s misrepresentation of Church teaching against abortion. Here is a link to a very good pamphlet by the USCCB The Catholic Church is a Pro-Life Church.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The bigger the house, the more people get to watch




Okay, head coach Kyle Whittingham should have elected to kick a field goal at the end of the game, BUT I am a Utah man and my team just beat Michigan, at Ann Arbor. Final score: Utah 25 Michigan 23. My good friend Ron Yengich was there to see it in person, as were roughly 2,999 other Ute fans. Man, it feels good. WE WILL REMAIN!

A few additional notes and asides

In my on-going desire not to be a captive of ideology and to give credit where it is due, Gov. Palin appears to be solidly pro-life. She and her husband are Christians and attend an Assemblies of God church. Living her life in accord with her convictions, in April of this year she gave birth to her fifth child, who, as prenatal genetic testing had revealed, has Downs syndrome. She has publicly spoken of Trig as a gift from God. I don't care what your political leanings are, that is cool and not just because they're from Alaska. Perhaps she can have some conversations with Sen. McCain and sort out his reasoning on this issue as regards fetal stem cell harvesting. Oh, that Sen. Obama would listen to Sen. Casey or many of the other pro-life Dems now serving in Congress!


Raphael's The Disputation


The People of St. Mary Magdalene, I have just written a post, On being faithful citizens. This post is really numbers 31-39 of the USCCB's Faithful Citizenship document, approved and promulgated last November in anticipation of this year's election. These numbers get to heart of the issues I have been trying address these past few days. In particular, number 34 strikes me as relevant to the dicussion here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A brief note on proportional reasoning

It occurred to me, as I was finishing cleaning my garage (a carry-over from last weekend), that proportionality only comes into play when one is deciding between two options both of which fall short of being a true moral good (Hey, I never claimed to be smart). This fits voting to a T, which is why many people accurately describe their experience of voting as choosing the lesser of two evils. In many important ways, though not all, this is exactly what we do, which is why prudence is so necessary. Therefore, we can see that there are times when choosing the lesser of two evils is the best we can do, thus we choose either means or even ends that in an ideal situation we would not choose. It is morally licit to do this when voting. I urge everyone to read Faithful Citizenship, it addresses this quite well. It's like that one psychological test, which I had to take, along with several others, before being admitted as a deacon candidate, that gives you two bad choices, say, between clubbing a baby seal or smacking your mom and you have to pick one with no caveats and no skipping.

I cannot emphasize too strongly my opposition to abortion. Healthy mothers aborting their children is one of the most horrible things imaginable, which is why we react so strongly to this issue. It is also why many women who make the unfortunate decision to have an abortion are often deeply wounded and scarred. One of the biggest lies associated with abortion is the post-abortion trauma experienced by many, many women, who were told that it is just a medical procedure to remove some cells, especially in an early-term abortion, like a melanoma, or some other malignant growth that you are glad to be rid of. Instead of being glad, often women find themselves sad, depressed, and self-condemnatory.

Finally, in the U.S., abortion is a constitutional issue. There are things, such as parental notification, forbidding the crossing of state lines to obtain an abortion, recognizing that fathers have parental rights, and banning infanticide, known as partial birth abortion, that we can legislatively and executively do something about and in most of the above instances, with the exception of recognizing a father's parental rights, we have legislatively acted in an often bi-partisan manner. So, find out where your candidate stood on these issues, how s/he voted if they were in a position to do so. On the issue of the partial birth abortion ban, which passed Supreme Court scrutiny and is now the law, Senator McCain voted in favor and Senator Biden did not vote. Senator Obama was not in the U.S. Senate, but has expressed his support for this ban. He also opposes late-term abortions and insists on a health of the mother exemption that really and truly only allows such procedures if the mother's life in danger. This is alright. So, the two candidates are not that far apart because McCain is alright with embryonic stem cell research, which is morally equivalent to an early-term abortion. As regards partial birth abortion, the AMA stated explicitly that a health exemption was not needed because this procedure basically consists of a woman giving birth, only to kill the child just prior to exiting the birth canal. In other words, it is never medically necessary. The subject of the requirement of a health exception for partial birth abortions was a controversy at the time of the passage of the ban because pro-abortion people admitted to lying about the frequency and medical necessity of this grotesque caricature of medical practice.

Even if a law were passed limiting abortion it would probably still allow abortions in cases of rape and incest, which, as Catholics, we oppose. It would be a step forward, however, and I would support it. The reality is that nobody is likely to do much, if anything, about abortion whether they oppose it or support it. I think it is okay to factor this in to one's decision. I also think it is important to find out what a candidate intends to do if elected.

"Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV"



For Labor Day weekend, Green Day covers John Lennon's Working Class Hero with an international spin. This, dear friends, is our Friday traditio. I love this song because it speaks to my experience, but no overly personal sharing. Suffice it say, success came to me rather later in life. What redeemed me, in this regard, was my love for reading and my existential uneasiness, which led to an event that is an encounter, finding the You who corresponds to my I, to my heart. In turn, I have come to know, borrowing words from Bishop N.T. Wright, "'Amor, ergo sum:' I am loved, therefore I am".

We turn now to Senator McCain . . .

UPDATE: As of 9:26 AM MDT it is official, Gov. Palin is the Republican V.P. nominee.

High-level rumors are now flying that Senator McCain may be poised to choose Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. She would be a smart choice certainly because she is a woman, but also because, in ways similar to Senator Obama, she is young, dynamic and came not quite from nowhere to capture the governorship of her state. She has governed, much like the governor of my state, largely above politics and has shown a great deal of compassion and pragmatism. She has taken some very tough stances on ethics. Prior to be elected governor, she resigned from the the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission citing the lack of ethics of her fellow Republicans.

She is the mother of five children, with one son serving in the U.S. Army. At the expense of sounding a bit shallow, it won't hurt that Governor Palin is quite attractive, just as being handsome does not hurt Sen. Obama. She was second runner-up in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant in 1984. I still say: Stocky bald guys are rock solid, you can count on us!

There was no way Sen. McCain could have chosen Gov. Romney or Sen. Lieberman. Gov. Romney failed to impress when he was running for president because he had to run away from all the positions he took when running for Senate and Governor in Massachusetts, which running away meant changing his positions on a lot of issues, like marriage and abortion. Apart from the issue of him being a prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which loomed large for many voters, especially in the southern states, whose concerns he utterly failed to address in his Faith in America speech, opting instead to give a high school civics lesson, polls showed that people simply did not trust him (see Romney's primary problem is not being LDS). Lieberman would have alienated the Republican base due to the fact that the only Republican issue he is in favor of is the Iraq policy, which the Iraqis themselves recently oveturned by insisting that we pull troops out no later than 2011.

Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota all but said he will not be McCain's choice for VP. Up-front it seems that Governor Palin is an outstanding choice, but only time will tell.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Senator Obama's speech, the penultimate line

The second to last line of Obama's really very good and substantial speech was from scripture, though looking through many Bible translations, it is difficult to tell just from where he got the quote. The nearest I can tell, the quote- "and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess"- is from Hebrews 10,23. If I am correct, here is the context from the English Standard Version (ESV):

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10, 19-25- emphasis mine).
While Spe Salvi expresses my hope better, the line is a good one and not horribly ripped out of context, as is often the case when scripture is used in a political speech. I particularly like "let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works".

St. Augustine, author of Civitate Dei, on this, your feast day, pray for the United States of America.

Political miscellania: A confession

I have two confessions to make. First, unlike most people, I love politics. I am not the least bit apologetic about my affection. I do not love politics for its intrigue, or shallowness, the latter being a product of our culture and attributable as much, or more, to the electorate as to those who run for and hold office. I love politics because it is the art of the possible, it is about bringing one's self to bear on the issues that confront us as a people, weighing in on the world in light of what we think, what we believe, what we know. President Carter had it right when he averred that "The American people will never have a better government than they deserve". Democracy is funny that way. I love politics because it is philosophical and is primarily concerned with how we live together. I also like politicians. I have the privilege of knowing and/or having had some personal contact with several prominent office-holders. Now, there are many features of our current cultural and, hence, political milieu that I abhor, but it is there, it is real, and it can be changed. Furthermore, many of its better features can be embraced and harnessed for good. The motto of The Christophers holds true and seems to me to speak words we Christians need to hear: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." I will never run for office not only because I am a Democrat in Davis County, Utah, which has no Democrat among its elected officials, and a Catholic, but a Catholic convert to boot! At earlier points in my life I had different aspirations.

Second, I am a Democrat and have been since before I was old enough to vote for a lot of reasons, primary among which I come from a working class family, a modest background in every way. Last night, during his speech, President Clinton reminded me of all the reasons I am a Democrat and made me want to vote for him again. Given my second confession, I have never in my life voted a straight party ticket and I do not plan to do so this year. I plan to do something I did not do in 2004, vote for Jon Huntsman, Jr. as governor of my state. He is, by all measures, worthy of my vote. By identifying myself as a Democrat, I freely admit that the party's positions on marriage and abortion trouble me greatly, as do the increasing number of Democrats who support the death penalty, to the point that I lament and long for the old days, which I am too young to remember, and, in some instances, cause me to vote across party lines. I think these confusions are inexcusable, especially in a party that still has so many prominent Catholic members. Nonetheless, apart from these, admittedly fundamental issues, I am a Democrat through and through.

Presently, the two most prominent practicing Catholic Democrats are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and vice-presidential nominee, Senator Joseph Biden, both of whom are alright with the abortion status quo and desirous of dismantling marriage if not by legislation, then by judicial fiat. Now, it is important to note that both are married and are parents. Speaker Pelosi has five children, the same number we will have come October. Senator Biden, who in his better moments sounds a lot like RFK and who looks, acts, and speaks like my uncles on my Dad's side of the family, had four children, one of whom died in the same car crash that killed his first wife, just after he was elected to the U.S. Senate (see Greg Kandra's blog for an interesting note on Sen. Biden's speech- fellow celini please note the consonance of this with Don Gius' stance on work, especially in the Assembly at the end of chapter two of Is It Possible . . .). So, on a personal level, they both live their faith as it pertains to marriage and family. I firmly believe that actions speak louder than words. This is a far cry from the pro-family, not to mention the pro-life, hypocrisy of so many Republicans (Newt Gingrich, et. al.) that have ultimately betrayed many Christian voters.

In recent days, as my dear friend Rocco, writing over on Whispers, reports, Speaker Pelosi, justifiably, has come under the scrutiny of Cardinal Egan, archbishop of New York, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver for remarks she made on NBC's Meet the Press that stand in sharp contrast to clear church teaching. In the 5 September issue of Catholic San Francisco, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, her ordinary, a man I admire greatly and who I am so glad was the one who ordained me a deacon, Archbishop George Niederauer, will respond in his column to her statements (I will post the link). Besides, it was the so-called Bluedog Democrats, who are young old-school Dems, like me, and who are socially conservative, who beat Republicans in Republican-held districts in the south, mid-west, and west, that gained control of Congress for the Dems in 2006. Let's not forget that folks!

From where I sit, abortion among Catholics often comes down to a disagreement about means, not ends. Both Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden have said that they believe abortion is morally wrong. I believe them. It is not my right to question their moral convictions as they express these. On the other hand, I lament their inability to make a consistent judgment on the basis of what they believe and what is true and their unwillingness to acknowledge that church teaching on both abortion and marriage is rooted, in the first instance, in reason and not revelation. So, it is not a case of imposing one's religious beliefs on others. Acknowledging all of this, it is still incumbent on us to articulate our positions in the public square to people of different faiths and of no faith at all. But, Senator McCain, in his support for embryonic stem cell research, is also logically inconsistent and only slightly less confused. Hence, he is unable to make a clear and consistent judgment on the basis of his expressed belief that life begins at conception. His support for marriage seems unwavering, even though he opposes a constitutional amendment to define marriage properly. I also believe that we need to have social policies that make it easier, given their legal option to have an abortion, for women in crisis pregnancies to have their children. Enacting such policies has proven to be effective in decreasing the number of abortions. I urge everyone to read the best article on abortion I have read in recent years, written for America magazine by Dennis O'Brien, No to Abortion: Posture, Not Policy.

As far as I can tell, Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Biden are confused about marriage and about abortion as it pertains to public policy as expressed in law. I surmise that their confusion stems from the same impulse, namely their desire to be compassionate and their confusion about what compassion means, which is to suffer with. Speaker Pelosi needs to recognize, especially on this, his feast day, that St. Augustine is not the final word on Catholic teaching. Hence, her response, which you can read in Rocco's post, constitutes an evasion. Among the several things for which President Bush deserves credit, the ones that loom largest are his appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

Tuesday evening, Senator Bob Casey, Jr., Pennsylvania's (my wife's home state) junior senator and the son of the late, great Bob Casey, Sr., who if he had not died a premature death from cancer would have been one of the party's leading lights today, perhaps even its presidential nominee and who was denied the chance to speak at the national convention in 1992 due to his pro-life stance, spoke to the convention Tuesday evening. Like his dad, he is unapologetically Catholic, and, hence, pro-life, and unapologetically a Democrat. Here's what he said, making reference to his father's 1992 snub:

"Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him."
I also have to add that I am very uncomfortable with the false messianism that seems to have become a hallmark of Sen. Obama's campaign. We must always remember some fundamental facts: only Jesus is the Christ, only he is Lord and the kingdom is not yet. All our judgments are to be made in light of these facts.

More on prudential judgment in due course. Along with Suzanne, I want to be in Rimini. Meanwhile, Sharon, who is in Rimini, is bloggin'.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Year A Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa. 22,19-23; Ps. 138-1-3. 6.8; Rom 11,33-36; Matt. 16,13-20

Today’s Gospel, with very little varnish, tells us who Jesus is. It is also too often employed as a crude proof-text in support of the papacy. While this is not a grotesque distortion of this passage, it does represent an unacceptable reduction. The church is founded on the two-fold profession of faith that Jesus is the Christ and that he is Lord. He is the Anointed One and God’s only begotten Son, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”. Peter’s confession is important not because it reveals Peter’s status to us, which is derived precisely from this profession, but because it is paradigmatic of the Christian experience. Stated another way, it is descriptive of the experience of Christians. Were this not so the church, the ekklesia, would not factor into Jesus’ response when he says that upon the one who made this confession, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16,18).

Proclaiming that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” is the mission of the church and the primary task of the pope as the Vicar of Christ. In a homily given to kick-off his first apostolic journey to these United States in 1979, John Paul II said: “The reason for my mission, my journey, through the United States is to tell you, to tell everyone, young and old alike, to say to everyone in the name of Christ, ‘Come and follow me.’” Of course, the catchphrase of his pontificate, taken from our Gospel of two weeks ago, echoed the words of Jesus, who, as he walked across the water, said to his frightened disciples, “it is I; do not be afraid (Matt.14,27).

Msgr. Luigi Giusanni outlines the experience of faith in Jesus Christ in five distinct passages. The first passage is an event that takes the form of an encounter, it is something that happens to you that shocks you that “makes you discover something new” (Is It Possible to Live This Way?, Vol. 1, pg 57). Giussani gives a concrete example of how this works. Two friends are leaving a church after attending the wedding of another friend, when, after the Mass, one of the friends says spontaneously to other, “I feel at home for the first time! I understand why my classmate is wrong: because he presumes . . . to discover things through his powers of reasoning; he thinks he can reason his way to the truth. But, instead, truth is discovered, by surprise, in one moment, in a determined moment” (ibid). That determined moment is when the event becomes an encounter. Peter’s confession in today’s Gospel is a more immediate example of this first passage of faith. Peter’s encounter, which took place after he had been in the company of Jesus for awhile, just as the encounter happens for many people after being Catholic for awhile, maybe even their whole lives, reveals that this event is always an experience, it is never abstract. It cannot be an abstraction because it is an encounter with another.

Now, this is not to say that the truth that comes to us in this determined moment is unreasonable. On the contrary, it orders our reason. Faith is both a method and a source of knowledge. “Faith means to know reality by means of a witness” (Traces, vol. 10- No. 8, pg. 30). Peter is an apostle, which simply means one who is sent. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, after all had been fulfilled, Peter, along with the others, is sent as a witness to “make disciples of all nations” Matt. 28,19).

The second passage of faith is the exceptional nature of this encounter. It is exceptional because it corresponds to your heart, like the feeling expressed in the example of being “at home for the first time” (ibid) Think of how Peter felt as the realization, which was not the fruit of an intellectual endeavor, but revealed to him by God, dawned on him and the confidence with which he spoke the words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16,16). Peter shows us that this encounter does not strike us as foreign, as something coming to us from the outside, but corresponds to our deepest self. The third passage, according to Giussani, is the wonder to which the exceptional encounter gives rise. Wonder causes astonishment and/or admiration. This leads to the fourth passage, which is a question: “Who is this exceptional One I have encountered?”

The fifth and final passage, which occurs after having answered “Who is this?” is also a question: “What am I going to do in light of this encounter?” This is the point at which your responsibility begins. This is the point at which Giusanni says, “you’re the one who has to start bowing your head, you’re the one who has to start acting” (59). Our responsibility is to answer the question our Lord put to Peter, “Who do you say that I am” (Matt. 16,15)? The only result of answering this question correctly, which is the only reasonable answer because to answer otherwise is not only to deny reality, but to deny ourselves, is to bow our head, to bend our knee, to fall on our face. This response to our encounter is not just borne of awe, but of happiness and joy for having glimpsed our destiny, at having an experience, even if still incomplete, of the satisfaction of all our often misplaced desires.

This event that becomes an exceptional encounter that creates wonder and leads us to inquire further only to discover that it is Christ, which discovery necessitates a response of belief, a profession of faith, can be summarized by the fruit of the fifth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, depicted so beautifully in the window of the west transept of this cathedral, namely the joy of finding Jesus. At the end of this Mass we, like Peter and the other apostles, because we belong to an apostolic church, founded on Peter’s confession and passed on by the faith of many witnesses, will be sent forth to witness to the fact that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16,16). How will you respond?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wow, that was painful

I hope I am not the only one who grew tired of the Obama VP schtick these past few days. Last night, after a day of news about when the senator was going to announce his choice for VP, which decision he had made several days before, I was fatigued. I hope this does not become a feature of the campaign, "We have made a decision, but we're not going to tell you until we get a million people, who we can then spam for money, to sign-up for the text message". (Note to candidates- if this kind of pandering doesn't reveal the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform, what does?) No, I did not sign up for the text message. I wanted a surprise when I opened the SL Trib this morning. Nonetheless, I had a strong feeling it would be Sen. Biden after reading David Brooks' Oped piece in yesterday's New York Times, Hoping It's Biden and listening to him and E.J. Dionne on All Things Considered on my drive home.

Anyway, we have a Catholic on the ticket: Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware. For more on Senator Biden see Deacon Greg Kandra's post over on The Deacon's Bench. There will be more in due course, of course. Sen. Biden is a man I like in many regards. However, as with most Dems, he is compromised on many social issues, like abortion and marriage. To get a feel for who Joseph Biden is, I found listening to this episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross from February of 2006 very good because he speaks for himself. It is interesting, not mention heartening, to note that he and Sen. McCain are very good personal friends.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Confusion on a fundamental matter

If Sen. Obama is making a poor judgment by claiming not know when life begins and permitting unlimited abortions anyway, then Sen McCain, in addition to not knowing how many houses he and his wife own, or the difference between Shi'a and Sunnis, is just as confused. When answering the same question, asked by Pastor Rick Warren, that Sen. Obama said was above his pay grade, McCain boldly asserted that life begins at conception. My question here is, If life begins at conception, then how can you support embryonic stem cell research?

Michael Sean Winters, writing over on America magazine's In All Things blog observes:
"So, if he truly believes that human beings acquire rights at conception, he is evidently willing to overlook the rights of some unborn children on behalf of research to assist other already born adults. And, let us be clear here. The right he is overlooking is the right to life which he purports to be championing."
If conscience is acting with knowledge, when it comes to life issues, it seems that Sen. Obama needs to do some research and Sen. McCain needs to act consistently on the basis of his correct judgment about when life begins. These observations are appropriate on a day in which the lead-in to the intecessions for Lauds begins: "We trust in God's concern for every person he has created and redeemed through his Son."

C-o-n-s-c-i-e-n-c-e: A meditation

Giussani begins the chapter on obedience in Is It Possible to Live This Way? by asking the meaning of the word meditation. "It means becoming aware of a truth in such a way that it unfolds before your eyes, so that you can penetrate it" (pg. 116).

Last evening at supper my youngest daughter said that she did not think she would do well if she were to compete in a spelling bee. This was odd because she is a pretty good speller. I asked her to spell conscience. This word came to my mind because it was a word I remember from the only spelling bee I ever participated in, which was in eighth grade. It was a word that eliminated the student who went before me. Anyway, we began to analyze the word. Con, from the Latin meaning with and science, also from the Latin, scientia, meaning knowledge. So, to act in accord with conscience is to act in accord with knowledge. This is how we make judgments, by acting with knowledge. I suppose this constitutes a meditation on conscience.

One of the most common conflations in the spiritual life is the synonymous use of meditation and contemplation. It is here that the practice of lectio divinia can assist us. In this practice meditatio and contemplatio constitute different steps. Meditatio is when the practitioner ruminates on the word or phrase derived from the lectio. A frequent image used to teach meditatio is a cow slowly chewing her cud. Meditatio leads to oratio, that is, prayer, which, in turn, leads to contemplatio.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A quick announcement

For those of you who are reading my blog and anticipating the e-publication of the RCIA schedule, it is now posted over on Vivre L'Evangile, our RCIA blog. I apologize for it taking a bit longer than I told some of you, but it took me some extra time to tie up a few loose ends.

Once again, our text is the United States Catechism for Adults, published by the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I also draw your attention to an updated and scaled down bibliography, to which there is an addendum.

By way of endorsement, it seems appropriate in this post to draw some attention to a post, RCIA- One Year Later, over on Faith's Mystery.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Umm. Umm. I don't know . . .

Martin Heidegger observed that we live our lives against the horizon of death. Msgr. Giussani taught us that our destiny lies beyond that horizon, which is a return to our origin. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham teach us something about the poignancy of living the in-between, which has been aptly described as this present darkness. Today I am aware of both the blessing of life and the finite nature of my life. I still think Stevie is beautiful! I hate that I have to wear reading glasses! Time does, indeed, make you bolder. My children are getting older. I am getting older, too. As summer winds down, I am wounded by the beauty, by the mystery of my existence.



This song is a hymn. I wanna do a punk version. I am a disciple of Balthasar, baptizing everything and worried that others will do the same!

Evasion on a fundamental matter

I have been critical of President Bush and Senator McCain and complimentary of Senator Obama. At the end of the day, I am about as non-partisan as they come; an old-school Democrat in search of a political party. So, if, as Senator Obama insisted at the Saddleback debate, determining when human life begins is above his pay grade, then wouldn't the prudent thing be to err on the side of life? I encourage everyone to read Fr. John Kavanaugh's Dear Senator Obama, published in a recent issue of America magazine.

As Archbishop Chaput writes in his recently published book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, a brief excerpt of which appears on the First Things blog Observations & Contentions, echoing something JPII said and wrote often, Catholics must recognize that there is "[n]o such thing as a 'right' to kill an unborn child". A right, at least on a Catholic view, is God-given. Far from giving us the right to murder, divine law precisely prohibits it (see commandment 5). Senator Obama cannot claim to be a candidate of change, someone who unites, who brings us fresh ideas, and bridges divides, and spout all the old canards that seek to justify abortion on demand. If you are uncertain about when life begins, then why allow abortion? Far from being a humble admission, it is an effort to avoid a fundamental question, unless you state uncertainty as a reason for opposing abortion. Otherwise, you are making a judgment that human life does not begin prior to birth. Besides being logically inconsistent, this is a dangerous conclusion with potentially staggering implications. It is not the language of hope, but of despair in the service of the culture of death.

His Excellency, Archbishop Chaput, also calls in the chips on arguments used against pro-life citizens:

"Abortion always involves the deliberate killing of an innocent human life, and it is always, inexcusably, grievously wrong. This fact in no way releases us from the duty to provide ample and compassionate support for unwed or abandoned mothers, women facing unwanted pregnancies, and women struggling with the aftermath of an abortion. But the inadequacy of that support demands that we work to improve it. It does not justify killing the child."
In this passage His Excellency asserts a fundamental moral principle, one that in our subjective age needs to be reasserted often, given that we tend to evaluate a moral act exclusively on the basis of a person's intention, namely, one may never do evil that good may come of it. The only caveat I would suggest is that in cases, like that of St. Gianna Molla, in which the mother's life is really and truly in danger, which circumstance arises rarely, that the principle of double-effect might sometimes be applied. I am not a trained moral theologian, but that is my understanding. Nonetheless, what he writes is applicable to well over 95% of abortions performed in this country annually. He also asserts that by opposing abortion we commit ourselves supporting spiritually and materially women who have had abortions and mothers who might be tempted to choose abortion, before and after they give birth.

In their very excellent election year statement, Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops call on us to use prudence. Prudence, known in the tradition as sapienta (i.e., wisdom), along with iustitia, fortitudo, temperantia, is one of the cardinal virtues. These virtues are cardinal because all morality hinges on them. Prudence governs the virtues. In CL we talk about making a judgment on the basis of our faith, which is a method of knowledge, a way of knowing reality. Prudence is what allows us to judge correctly, on the basis of the truth, on the basis of what we know. The cardinal virtues are natural virtues, as opposed to theological virtues. Theological virtues (i.e., faith, hope, and love) are gifts of God. Natural virtues, on the other hand, are acquired through education and habitually practicing them. Our bishops tell us that,

"[t]he Church fosters well-formed consciences not only by teaching moral truth but also by encouraging its members to develop the virtue of prudence. Prudence enables us 'to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806). Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act decisively. Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace" (FC 19).


Come to See has a thoughtful post on prudently deciding who our next president should be. The Ironic Catholic has also posted some more than worthwhile thoughts on Sen. Obama's evasion. It ain't easy folks. Our bishops have given good guidance, teaching us correct principles and allowing us to decide. Freedom, what is it? Perhaps we should read Giussani. Oh, tonight is School of Community.

Luigi Giussani, pray for us

Over on Come to See you can watch a Flickr presentation by Ojus98, showing Don Giussani's new mausoleum.


In this period in which I am so focused on saints, Suzanne's timing is impeccable. Luigi Giussani, pray for us! I pray for the day when Don Giussani is raised to the altar.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bl. Louis and Marie Martin, pray for us

Cindy Wooden of the Catholic New Service reports that Pope Benedict XVI has given the green light to the canonization of Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin. Louis and Marie, as some of you may know, are the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. According to the CNS report, the Martins will be raised to the altar on 19 October, which is World Mission Sunday. The ceremony will take place in the Basilica dedicated to their daughter in Lisieux, France.

The Martins were declared blessed in 1994, during the feverish saint-making days of Pope John Paul II, the pace of which his successor has sought to slow down somewhat, including holding the canonization celebrations outside Rome, and not personally presiding at them. Even though JPII actively encouraged their full canonization, they were not declared saints because the miracle needed in order for their canonization to take place did not receive approval until July of this year.

Louis was born in 1823 and died in 1894. Marie was born in 1831 and died in 1877. Together they had nine children. Of this number, five joined religious orders. In my view the Martins' holiness is demonstrated in the first instance by having children and then by fostering vocations among them. By virtue of our baptism we all have a vocation, it is the job of parents to educate children about destiny, about the very reason for which they exist, for which God made them, and to let children know that their birth represents your cooperation with God and raising them is your vocation. Speaking to young men and women Don Giussani, in one of his characteristically frank moments, said:
"The dramatic thing is that 99 per cent of mothers no longer teach these things to their children. Because of this, they're no longer mothers. Mother can be a filly, if mother means to throw something out from your womb. She is a mother [only] if she educates in destiny" (Is It Possible to Live This Way, Vol 1, pg 113).
Please keep in mind that this is Giussani in a passionate moment speaking to Catholic people who are on the verge of becoming Memores Domini and so committing their lives to perpetual virginity and to living in community. My using it is not a cudgel with which to beat people up because I'd have to start with myself. As Suzanne aptly noted, even as parents we still need conversion. I use this quote to bring home the importance of the matter. Perhaps we did not find what corresponded to our hearts until later in life, maybe even after we had children and they were grown or nearly so. Rather than feel guilty, in the words of JPII, "Follow Christ!" Keep in mind the words of Jesus: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9,62).

It is worth noting that the success the Martins had in fulfilling their marital vocation got off to a rocky start. They originally planned to live together celibately, even though they were married. According to Fr. James Martin, SJ, writing over on America magazine's In All Things blog, it was a confessor who straightened them out about their confusion. So, I am elated to see the Martins raised to the altar precisely because they responded to the correction issued them by a wise priest, who helped them understand that destiny for them was to be achieved through marriage, which, according to the church, by its nature, includes children (can. 1055 §1)

Without a doubt their initial intention to live together celibately came from their true desire to serve God. However, such a manner of living is not Christian marriage. Rather, it represents confusion about vocation, about the state of life to which they were called. Looking at their confusion in light of what the church teaches, which is always the appropriate criterion by which to objectively evaluate our lives, under the 1983 Code of Canon Law (there was no singular code in effect during the Martins' lifetime, the so-called Pio-Benedictine code, the first unified code only being promulgated in 1917) a celibate marriage is not a valid, that is, not a sacramental marriage because such a marriage would never be consummated. In addition, their initial desire demonstrated a clear intention against children. So, their marriage was not only kept from being an abuse of the sacrament, it flowered into something beautiful for God. As a husband and a parent, I look forward to asking for their intercession.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A few brief thoughts on chastity and teens

Having had some extra time today after finishing and sending my first post-residency paper for better or for worse, I was cleaning out my cathedral e-mail box today and I came across something I sent several months ago in response to a very personal question. So, here are a few thoughts on answering the inquiries of older teens about sex with an eye toward educating them to be chaste, even when being chased, which means educating about destiny.

In talking to older teenagers, who are, realistically, too old to control by parental force or fiat, about sex it is important to both recognize and not impose on their freedom. Have a little trust that their desire is for happiness and that they are seeking what corresponds to their hearts, even if they're confused or mistaken about freedom and happiness. In other words, start from a positive hypothesis. Seek to educate them about their destiny, the path to which is through this world, through their own humanity, which includes their sexuality, which, if misused, can lead to a precipitous fall off path to destiny and be deleterious to their happiness even now.

Along these same lines as parents and adults to whom young people turn for support and guidance, we must understand that guilt trips are never helpful and lead to either rejection or neurosis, but not to Christ. Respecting their freedom, while being unrelenting about the truth, called among Christians teaching the truth in love, is always the way to go. It is the harder path given what it is at stake. Nevertheless, anxiety about outcomes is always the result of the risk-taking Love requires of us. This anxiety, born of concern, drives us to our knees in prayer, especially as parents. Keeping our children in prayer, whether they are in our charge as a result of birth, affinity, or circumstance, is key. I suggest offering intentions to our Blessed Mother when praying a rosary everyday. Mother Mary is very good with these situations, as is St. Mary Magdalene, and St. Gianni Molla. This suggestion only remains a cliché if you do not follow up. It is up to us to verify these claims of our faith with humble hearts.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Giussani on melancholy

In the Assembly at the end of chapter two of Is It Possible to Live This Way?, Giussani talks about the need to begin from what he calls "a positive hypothesis" (pg. 110). After explaining this by using an example of his own early struggles as a young student with mathematics, he is asked how his insistence on the need to approach living with a positive hypothesis coheres with his praise of a melancholy disposition in School of Community. Given my own predisposition, which, as I get older, becomes more my intentional disposition, I understood his reply because it rings true in my experience, particularly of my inward state, my I.
St. Augustine


"The melancholy temperament is defined as positive in as much as it is predisposed to intuit more easily the limits that exist in what seems obvious in all things. All things are limited" (pg. 111).
I think a good exemplar of this so-called melancholy disposition that arises from the realization that all things are limited, keeping in mind that God is not a thing, a mere existent, is St. Augustine. This characteristic, which he expresses so well in all his writings, in my view, is what makes the late, great bishop of Hippo Regius perennially so contemporary.

Giussanni goes on to explore melancholy a bit more extensively, positing a different kind of melancholy, in addition to the one he praises.
"There is a melancholy that makes one understand the limits of things, and that, therefore, makes you understand that things are made and sustained by another and it thrusts you into the search for something else" (ibid).
This "something else," which turns out to be some One else, is, again, not a thing bound by the limits of the world. He is Christ.

Then, there is a melancholy, best described as depression, which seems to be a pandemic in western society,
"that says 'Everything is nothing.' Like certain people who afterwards, give you a stomach ache, because they come to be consoled by you, and you tell them: 'But no, there are also good things,' they say: 'No, everything is nothing, nothing is worth anything'; 'Then get out and go home!'" (pgs. 111-112)
In reading this I became fully aware that it is Christ who prevents my melancholy, which arises from my realization that the world is limited, as are both my perception and intuition, from becoming depression. Christ grants me victory in my struggle. Indeed, "the victory that conquers the world is our faith" (1 Jn 5,3b). He makes me whole because in Him I find the Other that my I seeks, an Other that is not subject to limitations of mere things and who shows me that my destiny also lies beyond the limitations of things.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Books and Balthasar

The other day over on Deep Furrows, Fred provided a link to a blog that, in turn, provided this link to a blow out sale at Ignatius Press. Of course, being a notorious bibliophile, I immediately went to the sale page. Consequently, I purchased:

Hugo Rahner's Church and State in Early Christianity for $3.00
Balthasar's Explorations in Theology, Vol. 3, Creator Spirit for $5.00 (I have the first two volumes)
Balthasar's Theo-logic, Vol. 1, The Truth of the World for $9.00
Balthasar's Theo-logic, Vol. 2, The Truth of God for $9.00
Balthasar's Theo=logic, Vol. 3, The Truth of the Spirit for $9.00 (I have The Glory of the Lord and spent considerable time with his aesthetics)

So, for $41.00, which includes shipping, I bought books that would have cost somewhere between $120.00-$140.00. A great deal. Of course, I had to purchase, which I did rather inexpensively through a seller on Amazon, Fr. Aidan Nichols' Say It is Pentecost: A Guide Through Balthasar's Logic. This will be project after my master's degree is done. Fr. Nichols, with whom I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in SLC some years ago, is a great expositor of Balthasar. Probably the best introductory book for anyone unfamiliar with Balthasar and wanting to read him, which is an intimidating prospect, is Fr Edward Oakes' Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"All you've got to do is believe and All you've got to do is receive"



As a new Christian, a new Catholic who found many members of the Catholic clergy very put out by requests for pastoral help, Glenn Kaiser saved me many times with the sage advice he gave in his Kaiz Replies column in the old print version of Cornerstone magazine. He still doles out great pastoral advice on his website (which I have added to My Own Personal Linkage list). On days I received a new copy of C-stone, which came out erratically, but oddly enough always seemed to arrive when I needed it, I put off whatever else I was doing and read it cover to cover. By reading it, I learned a lot about being a Christian in the late modern U.S.A., both in terms of what to seek and what to eschew (I had to use that word). I was once the Cornerstone trekker of the month, having my picture taken holding a copy of Cornerstone while standing in Cleopatra's Gate in Tarsus, St. Paul's hometown.

The worship album, All My Days, on which this song about Glenn's conversion was initially released, is a prayer starter for me on many days. I just wanted to say publicly, as one who now ministers, that is, deacons, how much Glenn served me, even across a distance and not in person. So, thanks Glenn for your continued witness. You are, indeed, a protagonist.

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by El Greco, 1577


Today, dear friends, is a holy day of obligation, a day on which we do not have to go to Mass (who is going to make you?), but on which we get to go! What a glorious feast to celebrate such a magnificent event! Heck, since it is a solemnity, which is to be observed as a Sunday, which means no fasting or abstinence, have a cheeseburger for lunch!

The painting (which I swapped for the one I had originally posted by Murillo) is one of my favorite works of art. While in diaconal formation we had to pick an image of the Blessed Virgin and write a reflection on it. This was easy for me as I love this painting because it increases my affection for our Blessed Mother.


Ave, María grátia plena,
Dóminus tecum; benedícta tu in muliéribus,
et benedíctus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

Sancta María, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatóribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.


Deacon Greg Kandra has posted his homily for this great solemnity. His preaching focuses on the aspect of the Gospel that shows how Mary, during her lifetime, was on a journey and so are we. He makes a wonderful link with how so many Marian shrines are pilgrimage destinations. It is well worth your time. It is a good reflection on how Mary is an exemplar of being toward destiny.

Suzanne posts a remarkable video of Pope John Paul II, recorded during his Apostolic Visit to the U.S. in the '80s. It is appropriate to be reminded on this solemnity by him whose episcopal motto referred to his total consecration to our Blessed Mother, Totus Tuus, totally yours, to "follow Christ". This is also Mary's perennial message in all her various apparitions. So, Suzanne's video will count for our traditio because it corresponds to my heart.

On two lighter notes, it is heartening, as the Ironic Catholic reports on this solemnity of the Assumption, that "Shoe Rosaries" Win Intense Homeschooler Summer Craft Competition. Finally, Fred, author of Deep Furrows, gives a short history of the Vatican Space program in 1950: a grace odyssey.

P.S.
Re: Integrity Notes- I have never been accused of any legal or ethical lapses. I just want to write with credibility, which means doing it with integrity. So, these notes represent some thinking that I have been doing over the past two months.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The "Strategist"

Okay, I am an INTJ which is a strategist, intellectual. This profile, according to the experts, applies to just 1.5% of the general population, 2.5% of men and .5% of women. This comes as no surprise to me as I took the Briggs-Myers years ago during some stressful training and the came out with the same profile. My career and ministry are both good areas for my personality type for the most part. Ministry puts more stress and strain on me than does my job, which for most people would probably prove way more stressful than ministry. So, INTJ is an accurate general description of my personality. I found it interesting to see which famous people and fictional characters share this personality type. Here are some:


Historical:
Augustus Caesar
Fr. Erik Richtsteig
William F. Buckley, Jr
C.S. Lewis
C. Everett Koop
Chevy Chase
Dwight Eisenhower
Angela Landsbury
Donald Rumsfeld
Colin Powell
Jane Austen
Rudy Giuliani
Isaac Newton
Thomas Jefferson
The Ironic Catholic
Woodrow Wilson

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Fictional:
Gandalf
Hannibal Lecter
Michael Corleone
Mr. Burns
Mr. Darcy
Rosenkramtz and Guildenstern
Stewie Griffin
Vito Corleone

Perhaps I'll change the name of my blog to Guildenstern Chronicles, or Stewie Griffin Conquers the World, or The Godfather, or simply Clarice, I'm Hungry.

About a year ago, I did the My Personal DNA, which put me as a "Benevolent Innovator," which description I like.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The religious sense is being toward destiny

I read something really beautiful this morning. It appears at the end of chapter two of Luigi Giussani's Is It Possible to Live This Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Exisistence, Vol. 1 Faith. It is the first part of an answer Don Giussani gives to the request made by one of the participants to better explain his assertion that "There's only one alternative to Christ, nothing".

"Why did Christ come? The School of Community says that Christ came to educate humanity to its religious sense, that is, to educate humanity to understand, to affirm, to acknowledge that there's an ultimate purpose to all the movement of things. This ultimate purpose is God. Thus, Christ came to educate man in the religious sense; Christ came to educate man to do everything as a function of his destiny" (pg. 107).


God is the ultimate purpose because God is the origin. The return to origins is etched into physical reality.

May all we do today be a function of our destiny. Being educated to our religious sense entails a risk. Over on Come to See, Suzanne summarizes the risk by giving an outline of the first 38 pages of Giussani's The Risk of Education: Discovering Our Ultimate Destiny, a post that is well worth your time. While I am inadvertantly doing a daily round-up in light of being educated to destiny, I also draw your attention to an article in Homiletic and Pastoral Review by Angela Bonilla, entitled Humanae Vitae: Grave Motives to Use a Good Translation. A brief abstract of the article says, "Knowing when it is permissible to space births is crucial for Catholic couples
and they ought to have accurate moral direction"
. This article picks up on a key issue from my three lengthy HV posts. A diaconal bow to Fred ovet at Deep Furrows for pointing me to this great article.

Writing about those who live toward destiny, I would like to add to Suzanne's commendation of Paul's Communio blog, Always and Everywhere, which is a blog by Sara, a member of our School of Community who is preparing for life as a Poor Clare at Bethlehem Monastery in Barhamsville, Virginia.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Saint Clare of Assisi

Today is the memorial of St. Clare, who was St. Francis' collaborator, friend, and sister in Christ. See Deep Furrows and Clarity Daily for more about this great day on the church's calendar. I also draw attention to my links over the right, especially under the heading Spirituality, where you will find a link to the Bethelehem Monastery of the Poor Clares, located in Barhamsville, Virginia.

Due to my hiatus, I failed to note that Saturday was the memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in her secular life as Edith Stein. These three days are something of a trifecta for me. If you count St. Dominic on 8 August, four days, but I do not know what the equivalent to trifecta is for four, quadfecta?

Holy Mary, Mother of God - pray for us
St. Dominic- pray for us
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross- pray for us
St. Lawrence- pray for us
Saint Clare- pray for us
All holy women and men- pray for us


Saint Clare, along with the other three saints, shows us that "Freedom is the capacity for relationship with the infinite" (Is It Possible to Live This Way?, vol. 1, pg 97). Simply stated, without the saints the faith vanishes.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"Waiting for our sight"


"Well I could call out when the going gets tough. The things that we've learnt are no longer enough." Our traditio is Transmission one of my favorite Joy Division songs, with a bit of commentary.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hiatus interrupted to bring you this message

Lest you think me crazy, I had several hours in a room and all I had was a computer with internet access. So, after a bit of 'net surfing, reading about the recently concluded Lambeth Conference in The Times of London, and other sources, my thoughts turned again to Humnae Vitae. So {deep breath}, here it goes:

Humane Vitae, the most recent highly authoritative statement by the Holy See regarding human sexuality, is often subjected to ridicule both inside and outside the church. Inside the church, especially among moral theologians, the primary objection to Humane Vitae is to say that by rejecting the report of the majority of the Papal Commission, appointed by John XXII to study the issue in light of the invention of the birth control pill, Paul VI made a power play that amounted to a misguided attempt to keep the church from looking foolish and insensitive, rather than a magisterial statement arising from concerns about truth, authentic morality, and ultimately salvation. This despite what Paul VI wrote in number six of HV. Many of these same theologians often appeal to other developments in doctrine, such as usury (i.e., the lifting of the prohibition of charging interest on loans), slavery, and the death penalty, as precedents for making a change in this teaching. Hence, it is good to look to St. Vincent of Lérins, whose two rules are a good measure by which to judge the development of Christian doctrine. Vincent distinguishes between that which is profectus, or a legitimate development, meaning a better, deeper, more perfect understanding of the faith, of which the development of church teaching on slavery and the death penalty are good representatives, and permutatio, which represents a mutation, perhaps even a mutilation, of the depositium fidei.

It can be taken as fairly axiomatic that the immorality of artificial contraception was believed among Christians always, everywhere, and by all until 1930, when the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion permitted its use under certain circumstances, thus violating the moral axiom that evil may never be done that good may come of it. This is an example of permutatio, a change, not a development, of Christian doctrine. Hence, those who propose a similar change be made by the Catholic Church must demonstrate that it is a legitimate development of doctrine and not a permutation by showing that it was not believed always, everywhere and by all Christians for almost two millennia. To date no case has been made that definitively proves either and that does not also run the risk of ultimately undermining human personhood as it is understood and articulated by the church, which understanding is integral to the Christian faith.

In an essay written while still teaching theology at Oxford, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, demonstrating the direct result of such a permutatio, wrote:
"in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures" (The Body's Grace).
This is a logical conclusion drawn from the permissibility of contraception. Conversely, in a church that does not accept the legitimacy of contraception, no such fundamentalist posturing is necessary and no non-scriptural theory about complementarity that disregards psychological structures need be devised because the inherent connection between sexual intercourse and procreation is preserved. Whereas, the view that sees contraception as legitimate finalizes the divorce between sexual intercourse and procreation and sees no problem with using human reason to advance medical technology in order to allow people to engage in sex without worrying about pregnancy. Such rejection of so fundamental a truth about the human person indicates an all-too-human tendency to become self-determining, deciding for ourselves what is right and wrong. By so doing we fall again by giving into the same temptation as the woman in the garden, who, after being told by the serpent that by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree "your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad," took a bite (Gen 3,5).

There is one thing about which all sides in this discussion agree, namely, that sexuality gets to heart of what it means to be human. So, to be human, at least in part, is to be sexual, but not the most important part. To be sexual means desiring to have sex. Some people desire it more than others. For example, men generally desire to have sex more than do women and tend be initiators of sex in more often than women. Sexual desire is normal, natural, and good. We are not, after all, gnostics.

In addition to being very much material creatures, we are also rational beings. Our rationality is what allows us to see our bodily urges and desires for what they are and to order them properly. For example, eating is a wonderful and necessary activity. We would die without eating. Yet, we also prefer foods that taste good, which, in many cases, means that we prefer foods that are not nutritious and a lot of them, more than we need. In other words, we can take an activity that is necessary for our survival and turn it in to something that threatens our health and ultimately our survival. Sex is not really all that different. It is a pretty good analogy as long as we keep in mind the logician’s suspicion of analogies, which is that they limp. To say that one thing is like another thing is not to identify or mistake one thing for another thing, the take away being that while two things may be alike in a certain regard they can be very different in another.

Sexuality is unique because it is a place (using place metaphorically) where our body and our soul do not so much bump into each other (such a bumping would be dualistic) as interlock and overlap (which is holistic). Human sexual desire, if it is fully human, is holistic, which means that it cannot be merely physical. Insofar as sex is sought only as physical gratification, like the scratching of an itch, it is an urge, not a desire. Desire, even more than rationality, is evidence that we are bearers of the imago dei, so much so that it can be said that nothing is more indicative of our transcendence than desire. In fact, desire can be defined as human longing for the transcendent, for what will completely satisfy us. We employ our freedom to achieve this end, which is nothing less than the attainment of satisfaction, which is happiness. Many today see sexual liberation, defined as being freed by the restraints put on sexual expression by the church and society, as the way to human fulfillment, as the way to happiness.

Writing of an encounter he had with the same Dr. Williams, shortly after Williams was named Archbishop of Canterbury, George Wiegel, biographer of Pope John Paul II, writes of speaking with him about John Paul II’s theology of the body. The discussion then progressed, according to Wiegel’s recounting, to talking about
"the difference between ‘sacramental’ and ‘gnostic’ understandings of the human condition. The former insists that the stuff of the world – including maleness, femaleness, and their complementarity — has truths built into it; gnostics say it’s all plastic, all malleable, all changeable. The sacramentalists believe that the extraordinary reveals itself through the ordinary: bread, wine, water, salt, marital love and fidelity; the gnostics say it’s a matter of superior wisdom, available to the enlightened (which can mean, the politically correct)" (Wiegel, "The End of the Anglican Communion," Denver Catholic Register, 7 March 2007).

This brings me to what seems to be the crux of the issue as regards Humane Vitae: the nature of the sex act as it pertains to the human person. In number twelve of the encyclical, Pope Paul identifies two essential qualities of what is called throughout the official English translation of the document "the marriage act," or, in the typical text, which is Latin, "coniugii actus," which literally translates as conjugal act, with conjugal meaning pertaining to the marital state, the unitive and procreative. Pope Paul points out that the "inseparable connection" between these two qualities is "established by God". This divine connection "man on his own initiative may not break" because both qualities are "inherent to the marriage act". It is the unity of these two essential qualities that serves as the cornerstone of John Paul II’s theology of the body.

The divine connection posited in Humane Vitae between these two essential qualities is the pole around which the moral, as opposed to the juridical, debate orbits. On the one hand, it is obvious that a married couple who love each other and who live in mutual fidelity to one another, who even have children and may even desire to have more, can employ artificial contraceptives and engage in sexual intercourse. It is equally obvious that a man and a woman can "hook-up" and engage in so-called unprotected sex that results in pregnancy. In the first case, according to the moral analysis necessitated by Humane Vitae, the act is immoral because the procreative quality is not merely missing, but "the inseparable connection" is deliberately broken on human "initiative". In the second instance the procreative quality is preserved, even if only due to the passion of the moment and the consequent lack of planning, but the unitive element is missing as it is whenever sexual intimacy occurs outside of marriage, thus rendering this act immoral, too.

Both instances show that it is possible to engage in sexual intercourse in the absence of one of these essential qualities. So, the inherent nature of these qualities is not such that sexual intercourse is impossible in the absence of one of them, as the two examples illustrate. This may seem like a "Well, duh" kind of observation, but it goes to various arguments both for and against what is taught in Humane Vitae, based on natural law. It is important to note that coniugii actus is not merely a euphemism for sexual intercourse. In other words, there are many acts of sexual intercourse, both between spouses and people who are not married to each other, which are not, in fact, conjugal acts precisely because they lack one of the two essential qualities identified in Humane Vitae as inherent to acts of sexual intercourse that rise to being conjugal acts, which are moral and, hence, truly human acts. As is the case with moral issues, it is not a question whether or not it can be done, it clearly can, but whether it ought to be done, or not.

"The morality of human acts," we read in the Catechism, "depends on the object chosen; the end in view or the intention; the circumstances of the action (CCC 1750). These three together "make up the 'sources,' or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts" (ibid). While intention, along with chosen object, "is an essential element to the moral evaluation of an action," the morality, or goodness, of any human act is never derived on the basis of intention alone. Stated in a more recognizable way, we may never do evil that good may come of it; the end does not justify the means (CCC 1752-1753). The circumstances that pertain to any human action, unlike the object and intention, "are secondary elements of a moral act" (CCC 1754). What can be determined by circumstances are the "increasing or diminishing . . . moral goodness or evil of [a] human act" as well as the acting agent’s culpability in performing the act (ibid). Like intention, circumstances “cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves” (ibid). On a Christian view, morality is objective. Humane Vitae clearly teaches that the deliberate, that is, intentional, separation of the procreative and unitive qualities of the conjugal act make it not a conjugal act at all, but an immoral act.

In number 10, which is entitled Responsible Parenthood, Humanae Vitae teaches that the church, while opposed to artificial contraception, is in favor of birth control. This is an important distinction because what the church teaches is often approached in the following way, even by Catholics: "So, the Catholic church is against birth control." This implies that faithful Catholic couples are obligated to either abstain from sexual intercourse or roll the dice each and every time they engage in it. What Humane Vitae teaches is that it is up to parents to decide, taking into account their "physical, economic, psychological and social conditions," when to have children, how many children to have, and how far apart to space their children. Of course, when getting married receiving "children lovingly from God" is something Catholic couples vow to do because the church, that is, the ekklesia, understands that marriage is ordered, "by its very nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring"(CIC 1055 §1). Hence, marriage itself has unitive and procreative qualities.

"For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation" (CIC 1096 §1). The first recourse that couples have because they are human persons possessed of both reason and will is to "exert control over" our "innate drives and emotions". In other words, the object chosen for serious reasons (i.e., not to have any more children, or no children for a time) can be moral, that is, good. However, by so choosing "due respect" must be given "to moral precepts” (HV 10). Stated more directly, they may not do evil that good may come of it. In other words, they may not choose to employ artificial means to achieve the desired end of not having any more children, or no children for a time. Of course, couples who are unable to have children due to naturally occurring infertility, as opposed to deliberate sterilization, remain free to marry and to engage in intercourse because they are, presumably, not opposed to having children, and are doing nothing to deliberately sever the inherent connection between the unitive and procreative qualities of the conjugal act. A person incapable of having sexual intercourse, as is the case with a man who is impotent, cannot validly enter into the marital state.

"If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained" (HV 16).
Intention also comes into play even when reserving sexual intercourse only to infertile periods for sufficiently "serious" and "well-grounded reasons". However, by making recourse to these periods there is no separation of the unitive from the procreative either deliberate or otherwise. The act remains intact and so is a truly conjugal act.

While we might at times feel differently, immoral sex does not correspond to our hearts because it does not lead us to destiny, the end for which we are created, true happiness, the complete satisfaction of our desire. Denial of self, of selfish desires, along with living in the awareness of destiny, is essential to breaking through the clutter of our present culture, which is sex-soaked to the point of being pornographic, to attain true freedom. At this point reference must be made to what happens when moral norms derived from the divine and natural law are ignored. So, I direct you to Humane Vitae turns 40. Since I broke my self-imposed hiatus, a sure sign of blog addiction, here's a link to In memoriam: Paul VI.

Sorry for the interruption; back to my hiatus.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A few questions

There were a couple of good questions posed to me regarding my last post. The first question arises from the what I wrote concerning giving up playing the childish game of imposing the punishments of a vindictive God on ourselves when things don't go the way we want them to and how that plays out on the larger scale of salvation history, specfically in the Pentateuch and, closer to our day, the idea that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment on the city of New Orleans. Such questions are common questions, I appreciate somebody having the gumption to ask them

I would begin by pointing out that the larger question is not really what my post was about. It is about the spiritual life of a Christian, one who wants to move toward Christian maturity, not pronouncing judgment on the world. Then I would say that if, as a believer, you think that every bad thing that happens to you or anybody is a punishment for sin and that you must appease God to correct the situation you are, if unwittingly, like Job's friends, who were wrong. A good frame of reference for what I am trying to communicate is the second reading, taken from Romans, from last Sunday: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

The Presence is just that, never absence. God is present with us even in our suffering and through our sufferings. This is precisely where we must learn to depend on God and not be a slave to circumstances, it is the path freedom, which is our destiny. It is by embracing sufferings, hardships, deprivations, bearing wrongs patiently that we realize and fulfill destiny, that is, the end for which we are created.

Addressing the question a little more directly, we must note that in the Jewish Scriptures the warnings about what would happen if fidelity to the covenant was not observed also had the promise of restoration. So, God never gave up on the covenant with Israel, even if Israel suffered for her infidelities. I suggest reading Romans for more on this, especially chapters 8-11. The church is no different. I believe that what we have experienced in the church in the U.S. over these past several years is a purification, a needed correction.

Hurricane Katrina was not God's punishment and Catholics that believe such things do so on no authority but their own. I like what Capuchin friar, Fr. Raniero Cantalmessa, the preacher of the papal household, had to say: "A disaster like this is not a punishment but a warning for everybody that we should be vigilant and should not put all our trust in what can be taken away in one day, if not by the flood of water, then by the flood of time. Time passes and will take everything".

The second concern had to do with how us being the tabernacle of Christ's presence in and for the world ties in with Eucharistic adoration. I think prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is essential and a practice to which I often have recourse. I suppose it can be done in a way that is counterproductive. The Blessed Sacrament is an object of worship because our Lord is the object of worship. It is none other than he who we worship in the Blessed Sacrament. If I didn't believe this I would not lead Eucharistic Adoration on the first Thursday of every month or Vespers and Benediction 2 or 3 Sundays a month. Beyond that I'll stick with what I quoted from Sacramentum Caritatis and reiterate that just as there has to be a connection between Mass and life, there must also be a connection between Eucharistic Adoration and life.

Again good questions because they are sincerely posed. For a truly inspired post-Evangelical Protestant perspective that demonstrates the how of depending on God in Christ, please see the Imonk's The Suburban Jesus Hates Me. Besides, as Green Day astutely observed awhile ago, "the Jesus of Suburbia is a lie".

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Freedom or slavery- real Presence or abstraction?

Defining freedom much more simply than I was able to in my post on self-control, Riccardo from Verona observes in a letter that our lives are "a constant struggle between self-affirmation and dependence on God. We can either depend on God and be free from circumstances, or be free from God and enslaved to everything" (Traces vol. 10- No. 5- 2008).

It must be pointed out that we cannot depend upon a God who is the product of human thought, a God who is an abstraction, the answer to a puzzle or a mathematical problem, a God who Giussani says is "conceived according to exigencies of man's thought" ("This Is The Victory That Conquers the World, Our Faith", pg.8). Therefore, Carrón insists that faith "is the greatest urgency among us" (pg. 6). Such faith, if it is to merit the name, is "faith in Jesus Christ alive, present here and now" (ibid). We must acknowledge the reality of the Mystery in our lives, in every circumstance. This means we have to stop looking for the abstraction. We have to cultivate an awareness of a Presence, of His Presence, in everything. This means giving up playing the childish game of believing that whenever things are going well, according to our plans, God is with us and that, conversely, when things seem difficult and beyond our control, not going according to our plan, not meeting our expectations, God has turned against us for some real or imagined failure on our part. This foolishness borders on sacrilege because it is idolatry, the worship of an abstraction that is not God, who can only be Love because He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The sacrifice the church offers is not a pagan sacrifice that seeks to appease God and earn His favor. We have God's favor, the sure sign of which, as Paul writes, is "that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5,8). It is an exchange and a most unequal one. In the Eucharist God gives us His Son and we, in turn, offer ourselves to the Father, through Christ. Hence, Christ is the nexus of the exchange. He is the victim and the priest. To wit: Christ does not remain behind after the dismissal. He accompanies us out the door, a Presence, a real Presence. To state the matter somewhat inelegantly, when we receive Christ in the Eucharist He is in us just as He is in the tabernacle. Hence, we become the tabernacle, the place of Christ's presence in and for the world, in and for the people with whom we come into contact- our companions, our families, our co-workers, the stranger we encounter, etc. This is why Carrón quotes a portion of number seventy-seven of Sacramentum Caritatis, which is worth quoting in its entirety:

"Significantly, the Synod Fathers stated that 'the Christian faithful need a fuller understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and their daily lives. Eucharistic spirituality is not just participation in Mass and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It embraces the whole of life.' This observation is particularly insightful, given our situation today. It must be acknowledged that one of the most serious effects of the secularization just mentioned is that it has relegated the Christian faith to the margins of life as if it were irrelevant to everyday affairs. The futility of this way of living – 'as if God did not exist' – is now evident to everyone. Today there is a need to rediscover that Jesus Christ is not just a private conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life of every man and woman. Hence the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived 'according to the Spirit' (Rom 8:4ff.; cf. Gal 5:16, 25). It is significant that Saint Paul, in the passage of the Letter to the Romans where he invites his hearers to offer the new spiritual worship, also speaks of the need for a change in their way of living and thinking: 'Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect' (12:2). In this way the Apostle of the Gentiles emphasizes the link between true spiritual worship and the need for a new way of understanding and living one's life. An integral part of the eucharistic form of the Christian life is a new way of thinking, 'so that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine'" (Eph 4:14). (underlining is the part quoted by Carrón)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Our certainty about God is not derived from scientific experiments, but from certain conclusions based on our experience

While I am pressing the issue of faith and reason, I cannot help but share what I read before turning off the light and going to sleep last night: Msgr. Albacete's Inside America column, which he writes for Traces, the monthly publication of Communion and Liberation. Again, this is in the June issue. The column is entitled Dispelling the Fog and is about his participation in a two hour panel discussion at the World Science Festival that took place at NYU. The discussion was called Science and Faith. The other panelists were "a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, a self-described Jewish atheist who is the American director of research in a study of the 'biological origins of religious convictions' paid for by the European Union, and a cognitive psychologist from Hawaii who is examining how the brain functions during religious experiences".

The physcist described himself as a Christian and the cognitive psychologist is a convert to the Catholic faith. At the end of the discussion, after Albacete's intervention, the self-described atheist proclaimed- "“Either I am not an atheist, or you are not a believer, because I agree with you more than with anyone else on the panel.” Albacete ends his piece by writing about how he thought Giussani, whom he knew well, would react to the atheist's comment: "All I thought about in the limousine (!) ride back home was Fr. Giussani’s face, smiling!".

To see how things ended that way, you have to read Albacete's column. To do that, you must go to Traces and follow the archive link to June 2008, on which page you find the link to Albacete's column.

I find much resonance between certainty about God arising from conclusions based on our experience and St. Anselm of Canterbury's observation that "we do not seek to understand in order to believe, but we believe in order to understand". Anselm's insight no doubt arises from the experience we all have of needing to make sense of the world into which, employing Heidegger's term, we are thrown. It is a fresh posing of the question of Being, of Sein, which Heidegger sought to recover by destroying classical metaphysics- Why is there something rather than nothing? Before this question science is rendered mute.