Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A quick note at the end of the month

A post that originally appeared here on my blog last Saturday was published on Il Sussidiario as Foreign Policy after the G-20: A New Naiveté? The world in which we live is getting ever more complex. I think this requires us to be more, not less, coherent and consistent. Therefore, we must have clearly defined objectives. One objective has to be not allowing Iran to develop a nuclear arsenal.

If further proof were needed for the thesis I set forth in my Il Sussidiario piece, Iran provided it this week by conducting missile tests. This is the response we get from unilaterally standing down, or, as Mark Helprin put it, blinking.

I also draw your attention to Msgr. Albacete's current Il Sussidiario column The Death of Journalism. His article concludes with this sobering observation: "When concern for the truth disappears, this is what happens: politics become entertainment and entertainment becomes politics. Actually, the situation is even worse. The problem today is not just a lack of concern for the truth; it is a loss of interest in truth. When that happens, sooner or later, a cruel violence takes its place, against celebrities or non-celebrities alike. This is another result of the split between faith and knowledge and its inevitable consequence: the destruction of reason." What connects my article to Albacete's is that while we lose interest in the truth we cease to engage the world with the requisite seriousness, like being convinced by a foreign policy that refuses to see what is happening and to take account of it; it is a policy "indicative of an ideological idealism at odds with reality." On this somber note, we come to the end of September 2009.

I was reminded elsewhere today of Goya's axiom "The Sleep of Reason Prodcues Monsters"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yom Kippur

Today is Yom Kippur, which began at sundown last evening and continues until sundown this evening. It is the Day of Atonement, the highest and holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Leviticus 16 is where we find the ancient observance of Yom Kippur. More significant to Christians is how Christ's sacrifice ties into this divinely-established observance. To fulfill something is not to supersede it. So, let's turn to Hebrews chapters 8-11, looking especially at chapter 9, verses 11-15:

"But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God. For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance."

UPDATE: If you are looking to verify that Israel is truly chosen by God, look at the history of the people of Israel, known to us today as the Jews, and consider the mere fact that they still exist as a people! The article I mentioned in Saturday's post appeared today on Il Sussidiario- Obama, Abbas, and Netanyahu: what about Gaza? I usually fast on Yom Kippur, but not this year because, as a Christian, I do not fast on Sunday. I have been praying for peace all day, invoking Mary, a daughter of Israel, who, in her Magnificat proclaims: "He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever."

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.

Childbirth, the stage and God's presence/absence

The trouble with being blessed with so many intelligent, creative, and fully engaged friends is that it is very difficult to keep up with all their endeavors. I try, but I am slow.

Dr. Susan Windley-Daoust, professor of theology at St. Mary's University of Minnesota, the very institution that may yet grant a master's degree to me, and with whom I had the privilege of studying theology at said school, has a wonderful article in the current issue of America magazine, entitled A Fiery Gift about natural child-birth. Hers is no abstract treatment of the subject because she is shortly expecting her fourth child. She is also featured on on the 5 October podcast on America's website. I urge you to listen to the podcast and read her article.

It put me again in mind of this passage, written by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans: "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (8:22-23).

While I am bringing up articles from America by and about great women, Fr. Robert Lauder, whose previous article, Accept the Absurd: Beckett and Kierkegaard, Godot and Christ, was the occasion of a post earlier this month- Our on-going cultural embrace of non-being - strikes cultural gold again, this time by interviewing Liv Ullmann. He begins by asking her a question related to the subject of his previous article: "Why is it that many of the great plays and films of the last century have dealt with the silence or absence of God?: To which Ullmann, who is an artist of extraordinary achievement, a brilliant director, writer, and actress, answers: "A lot of playwrights, and other people, try to connect with God because they feel this silence of God in their lives. They look at the bottomless black hole they feel inside themselves and, since there is such silence, they feel lonely with other people, and they question the strange world they live in—with violence and all those things—and they don’t see that God exists. I believe that people who feel so deeply the silence of God are very, very close to finding God."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Year B 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Num. 11:25-29; Ps 19,8.10.12-14; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43.45.47-48

Immediately after an infant is baptized, looking forward to her/his confirmation, s/he is anointed with sacred chrism and further united with Christ. The anointing is done accompanied by the words, "he now anoints you with the chrism of salvation, so that, united with his people, you may remain a member of Christ, who is Priest, Prophet, and King." Our readings for this Sunday draw our attention the fact that to follow Christ is to be prophetic. Indeed, it is not too much to say that in and through the sacraments we fulfill Moses’ stated desire "that all the people of the LORD were prophets… that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all" (Num. 11:29)!

Predicting the future is not the essence of being prophetic. Prophets are commentators on and frequently critics of the present. Of course, what we do or choose not to do in the present has implications for the future. These implications are not divine rewards and punishments. Rather, they are the natural consequences of our acting, or our refusal to act justly. Jesus, who is the prophet par excellence, calls this discerning the signs of the times. A good summary of prophets and prophecy is that, at least from an objective stand-point, prophets quite frequently just point out what should already be obvious to God’s people.

The prophetic message, which calls Christians to fidelity to the new and everlasting covenant, established with us by God through Jesus Christ, is not really that different from the prophets of old. The message of those, like Dorothy Day, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and even St. Gianna Molla, who gave her life so her infant daughter might live, bear a remarkable resemblance to the so-called pre-literary prophets, such as Amos and Hosea, both of whom were outsiders, that is, non-institutional figures. The fidelity to which we are called through our baptism, confirmation, and participation in this Eucharist is rooted in our fidelity to the two great commandments: loving God with all our hearts, might, minds, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

A prophet is not honored her own country because the prophet tells the truth, bringing what most would prefer to leave in the dark into the light. While prophets can be members of the hierarchy, like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, they usually are not. Even when they are members, once they receive the prophetic calling, their speaking the truth casts them as outsiders. I have in mind here two great Latin American archbishops, Hélder Câmara and Óscar Romero, who still has not been officially raised to the altar, despite his martyrdom.

Above all, being prophetic requires courage. One way that being prophetic requires courage among Christians in the United States today is not being concerned about whether others view us as politically incoherent, either those on the right or the left, who view matters from a strictly secular point-of-view. In other words, whether we come down on what is seen as the liberal or conservative side of any given issue depends on what the Gospel demands, on what following Christ requires, the only criteria against which we measure of judgments on important matters. Bishop Niederauer summed this up well when he said: "Asking me if I am a liberal or a conservative is a little like trying to sell me a car and asking me if I want a brake pedal or a gas pedal."

For example, in our current national situation, we see extending healthcare coverage to everybody as being a moral imperative because access to needed medical care is a human right. Human rights, in turn, arise from the inherent dignity of being human, which for Christians stems from the fact that we are all created in God’s image. When it comes to how best to do this, it is a matter of prudential judgment, which is the proper sphere of politics.

We must be careful, especially with rights language, which we often use very carelessly. In other words, we must be discerning. There are false prophets, many who call us to adhere to false values that are at odds with both God and nature and that do not lead to human flourishing. Such summonses ignore the transcendent meaning and purpose of human existence. Hence, recognizing the dignity of every human being does not entail supporting an ambiguous and meaningless freedom-as-an-end-in-itself agenda. People who falsely claim the prophetic mantle seek to usher in, not the kingdom of God, but a nihilistic utopia, a genuine place of nowhere. In such a place the individual, the dreaded self, with all our distorted wants and desires, not only remains unchecked, but catered to, indulged, an idol sacrilegiously placed on the altar of what is meant to be the temple of God’s Spirit. This utopia is a place where freedom of choice, regardless of what the choice is, is the highest value, where the necessary link between truth and freedom is severed. Here there can be no communio. Hence, it resembles hell, outer darkness, the pit of the self that yearns for but never turns to what will satisfy it, God alone. This is what Jesus speaks directly about at end of today’s Gospel reading.

What is described in James’ letter is nothing other what we call the common good. "In keeping with the social nature of man," we read in the Catechism, "the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good" (par. 1905). Being concerned about the common good means, at times, subordinating what is beneficial for me to what is good for all. So, concern for the common good first requires respect for each person as such. It is this that leads the church in her teaching across the entire range of social issues, like immigration. Returning to the issue of healthcare, if access to necessary medical care is a human right, then the only qualifier is being human. When it comes to getting needed care, immigrants qualify, despite their legal status. It is also important in the current health care debate to reject any proposal that expands access to and provides federal funding for abortion. Such a reform must also include the protection of current conscience clauses for Catholic and other religiously-based healthcare providers, thus insuring that respect for human dignity, whether at the beginning or end of life, to include all the issues in between, is wholly maintained.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus in a very prophetic mode. He is not scared of those who cast out demons in his name, but who remain unknown to the disciples. In characteristic fashion, he states the matter positively: "whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40). In contemporary Catholic social teaching, these are the women and men of good will, who, while maybe not sharing our faith or being a part of our communal life, are nonetheless concerned about the common good, a concern that is rooted their deep understanding of the human person. Finally, we see Jesus as prophet engaging in hyperbole in order to show us what is at stake, to point to us to our destiny in order that we may live in the awareness of the very purpose of our existence, allowing us to live in a serious, purposeful, and joyous manner, enabling us to sing our Psalm response wholeheartedly: "The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart." He also warns those who are false prophets as well as those who follow them and urge others to do so; they will reap what they sow, which is not divine punishment so much as fully realizing the individual autonomy that they see as the very point and purpose of life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

We turn from domestic to foreign policy in big way

A lot happened this week in the foreign policy arena with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the beginning of the G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh, the latter replete with demonstrations by the nihilistic forces of political and economic incoherence, wearing hoodies and covering their faces with bandanas. Regarding the opening of the General Assembly, I point you to an amusing and insightful piece by Msgr. Albacete: New York: Where nothing unimportant ever happens. The events really began the previous week with the Obama Administration's surprise announcement that the U.S. land-based missile defense we were preparing to deploy in central Europe will not be deployed. Nobody was more surprised than our NATO allies, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, many of whom will remain vulnerable to both Russian and Iranian aggression.

It seems that Pres. Obama extracted no concessions whatsoever from the resurgent Russians nor from Iran. The shadow of this unilateral decision hung over President Obama's tripartite meeting last Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. I was invited to write an article on this meeting, its likely outcome and significance. The result was a fairly lengthy and provocative piece about the state and future of Israeli/Palestinian relations. If it is not published, I will publish it here. I take what I consider to be a realistic stance with regard to this perplexing and complicated issue, which is usually dealt with in slogans and generalities here in the U.S. that take two forms: why can't they just get along? and the equally ignorant they have been fighting for thousands of years. As to the first question, there are many important issues for both the Palestinians and the Israelis that need to be resolved before they can live side-by-side in peace, not the least of which are terrorist groups, like Hamas, which governs Gaza, and who, like Iran, see the destruction of Israel as the only solution to the problem; the second is just a lie. Two events, both of which happened in the 20th century, drive the current Middle East situation. First, the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after WWI and subsequent colonization of the Middle East by European powers. Second, the creation of the State of Israel by the United Nations in 1948, coupled with the post-WWII independence of Middle Eastern nations and the rise of, largely secular, pan- Arabism, which, like Islamic fundamentalism, was hostile to and aggressive toward Israel, resulting in two wars and the territorial expansion of Israel, including unifying Jerusalem under Israeli rule and the acquisition of the Golan Heights in the country's north. Of course, the West Bank, seized from Jordan, as was Jerusalem, and the Sinai Peninsula, taken from Egypt, were later returned, with the West Bank becoming a largely Palestinian area, along with Gaza, and Sinai being ceded back to Egypt as part of the much heralded Camp David Peace Accords.

Mark Helprin, who in addition to being one of our greatest living writers, the author of, among other works, A Soldier of the Great War, which, along with Milan Kundera's Immortality, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and DFW's novels Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System, is among my favorite works of contemporary literature, is also a wise political observer, especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy and national defense. Helprin wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal this past Wednesday, Obama and the Politics of Concession: Iran and Russia put Obama to the test last week, and he blinked twice. This brief article sums up well what we are dealing with and why we should all be as concerned as are our stunned European allies about the Administration's unilateral decision to stop the deployment of the European-based missile defense system.

We all want to live in a world of peace and security. Sadly, peace and security have never been achieved through concession and appeasement with forces of aggression. Our very feisty former U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, who looks and often refreshingly speaks like Yosemite Sam, said of Pres. Obama's speech to the General Assembly that it was "a post-American speech by our first post-American president. It was a speech high on the personality of Barack Obama and high on multilateralism, but very short in advocating American interests." Are John Bolton and I the only ones who are troubled by how enamored our president seems to be of his own story? Don't get me wrong, Barack Obama has an amazing and uniquely American personal story, one that, in many ways, should make us all proud and hopeful, but I guarantee that Putin and Ahmadinejad are not impressed.

What we need to be concerned about is the seeming naiveté and domestic political calulation with which our foreign policy is being conducted. Even the illustration by Chad Crowe that accompanies Helprin's piece is misleading. In reality, Ahmadinejad is not hiding his country's nuclear ambitions and offering a handshake. The missiles should be in front of him and, instead of offering a handshake, he should be defiantly flipping the bird.

As to the calling out of Iran for their secret nuclear facility at the end-of-week, how much do you think the regime in Teheran fears sanctions, angry letters, and verbal denunciations by world leaders at international gatherings? Our appeasement of the Iranian regime caused us to be caught flat-footed when popular protests arose after June's elections. We were compromised by our friendly overtures to a regime that is at odds with what we stand for and unpopular with its own people, especially the young, who constitute an ever-increasing majority of the Iranian population, thus rendering us unable to claim the moral high ground and assist the forces of democratic change. Even the president's public statements about the protests were lukewarm, indicating his commitment to dealing with the dictatorial and globally ambitious ayatollahs and their man, Ahmadinejad. This is not an intelligence failure, it is a political failure, a strategic failure, indicative of an ideological idealism at odds with reality. All of this before we get to the recent back-peddling and indecision about our course in Afghanistan, another issue in which Iran is very interested to see what the U.S. will do. Backing-down in Afghanistan would serve Iranian interests well, not to mention those of the freshly reconstituted Taliban and Pakistani-based Al Quaida. Let's not forget the consequences that the collapase of an already politically unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan would have on regional and global security! I shudder to think of the effects that another administration blinded by ideology and with no long-term, strategic vision will have on our world.

I end with a question: Why does everybody seem so surprised that Gaddafi is still an ego-manical wind bag?

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Don't believe in anything you can't break"



With a deep diaconal bow to my friend Rebecca, Garbage's Stupid Girl is our Friday traditio

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A clarification on faith, values, and politics

My short post on faith and politics last night prompted a number of very thoughtful responses. One in particular deserves to see the light of day and not remain buried in the combox:

"What is faith? Is not possible to reduce faith to anything, otherwise wouldn't be faith. Would be piety with elements of Christianity. Exactly because I know Christ I am not afraid and I am interested in every particular of my life, even in political life. Christ was a great politician and the 'change' he brought to the world makes the lately “change” fade away. To be attached to values without looking forward to what happens, without risk of verifying the values in my own life, values remain values and eventually end in the trash can. Values are meant to give a first hypothesis of work, than I need a personal convincement about my life and the life of the others. To be subjected to values and cultural views is a sign of fear and not of knowledge of God. The only problem of all of this is the fact that is a fact! So, it wouldn’t be possible if it didn’t happen already in history and so to have the possibility to learn and to follow. Not only the fact of Christ, but the fact of the life of Fr. Luigi Giussani and the life of the Movement of Communion and Liberation.

"During the 60’s and 70’s Fr. Giussani never withdrew himself and his friends from the political square, because he was certain of the presence of Christ. Christ lunches me in comparison with everything, because he is the present fulfillment of everything. Thus I can enter in anything certain that He will fulfill what he promised and I can even spend my life in political matters for the good of my people and my nation and the people of the world and of the world. Fr. Giussani was never afraid of political people even very far from his own visions, because he was convinced that Christ could correspond so much to the heart of every man that he was not afraid to meet anybody. Examples are the friendships with Giovanni Testori, Walter Tobagi, Adriano Sofri, etc… Other point: what is the Church? The assembly of the baptized. If we don’t rediscover what baptism is, if we don’t accept to start over personally in the adventure of knowledge, if we take faith for granted, there is no way that we could come out of tunnel. And even your suggestions will remain a flatus vocis."

I appreciate very much this clarification regarding values. It was sorely lacking from my original post. Like my Anonymous commenter-friend, I believe there are values, but these arise from Christ and my adherence to Him. They become valuable insofar as I take the risk of living, as Giussani said, "this way".

Neither is my observation a call to retreat from the public square nor to abandon politics. We must engage reality in all its aspects, politics certainly being an aspect of reality. I am more interested in how and how not to do this. We do this in the knowledge, as Carrón so pain-stakingly tried to show us in this year's Exercises, "that Christ is the present fulfillment of everything". I see my blogging as just this kind of risk-taking, engaging an aspect of reality, one that is emerging and important. I hope my engagement is positive by being challenging. A person of faith, precisely because s/he starts from a positive hypothesis, is not defensive and must not be engaged in fighting a rear guard action. Not only is the battle not lost, the outcome is not even in question because in Christ we are victorious, which is why we can say that "the victory that has overcome the world [is] our faith" (1 John 5:4).

So, again, I appreciate for the clarification and even the correction.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Morality is not faith and religion is not social control

Writing last week about Dostoevsky's assertion that without God everything is permissible, I wrote that the great Russian author is not arguing in favor of the God of the philosophers, let alone the God of the politicians who seek to use religion as a means of social control. In the final paragraph of his article for Slate about the passing last Friday of Irving Kristol, Christopher Hitchens writes this about the godfather of neoconservatism:

"The neoconservative faction, or should we say movement, is generally secular and often associated with the name of Leo Strauss. Kristol was one of those who never minded saying that he was a Straussian, and Strauss is unusual among the pillars of American conservatism in having been decidedly skeptical about religious faith. Here again, Kristol appears to have been contradictory between an abstruse, elite intellectual and the popular will: If I understood him correctly, he believed that religion was a useful tool for making people behave well, quite independent of whether it was true or not. If that should turn out to have been a paradox with a dry hint of cynicism, he very probably derived relish from it."
This is a case in point as to why Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere must be careful not to become useful idiots in the political game and also to avoid reducing faith to morality and morality to mere values. I think Christians in this country for many election cycles made a Faustian bargain with the political right.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A note from our retreat

Our annual deacon retreat was a great experience. Rarely do we get the opportunity to spend time together as a deacon community because we are all so busy. We only have two opportunities per year: our retreat and our lecture and dinner just before the Chrism Mass. We had a really outstanding retreat master, Dr. William Shaules, who teaches Scripture at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical Protestant school also located in the greater L.A. area. He is very involved with the diaconate formation program in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. We looked at The Gospel According to St. John. I have 12 pages of notes!

Of everything Dr. Shaules guided us through, I was most impacted by our discussion of the story about the Samaritan woman Jesus encounters at the well in the fourth chapter of John. I agree very much that to see and define her as "the woman living in adultery" because she had been married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband is really to miss the point entirely (John 4:17-18). Given the highly literary manner in which the fourth Gospel was composed, defining her this way is nothing less than a deviation from the text.

The whole Samaritan interlude in this Gospel is indicative that the Johannine community had a significant Samaritan contingent. The five husbands may well be a literary device that refers to the five nationalities we find in 2 Kings 17:13-34 where we read about the Assyrian destruction of the northern 10 tribes, whose elites were forcibly relocated, while people from "Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim" were forcibly resettled in Samaria. This is the historical background of the split and subsequent animosity between Samaritans, who are a racially mixed nation, and Jews. This split is very much present in the dialogue at the well, during which Jesus talks about worshipping in Jerusalem, site of the Temple on Mt. Zion, or on Mt. Gerazim, the place the Samaritans viewed as sacred. In addition to stating that "salvation is from the Jews," the Lord refers to the time when people will worship neither in Jerusalem nor on Mt. Gerazim; when "true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth" (John 4:22-23). Because of Jesus, these true worshippers will be from all nations and can worship the Father anywhere and everywhere.

There two more accurate ways of defining the Samaritan woman; as theologian and apostle. Both of these can be summed up by one word: witness. She is a witness to the event that became for her an encounter. An encounter that happened when she went to draw water from the well, a mundane and every day chore, and received the living water, Jesus, the water that quenched the thirst of her desire to be happy, fulfilled, satisfied. Like this woman, our desire is bigger than the world, even infinite. Hence, our fulfillment must be infinite, too. Like the Samaritan woman, we long for the water that quenches our thirst, for the life that is truly life.

I urge you to read the account for yourself in John 4:4-43.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Retreat!

I am off to our diocesan deacon retreat. I'll be gone 'til Sunday. That will give both of my readers time to catch up, or to listen to Paranoid a bunch of times, like I did today in between and while going for a run, doing yard work, reading Hitchens, and playing with my baby boy.

"I need someone to show me the things in life that I can't find"

I absolutely loved this article by Walter Gatti for Il Sussidiario, which translates Paranoid by Black Sabbath. A while back over on Facebook my friend Fred made reference to Sabbath's album Paranoid. It conjured up memories of laying on my friend's bedroom floor, staring at the ceiling, and listening to this album in its entirety, both sides in those days! While they're correctly categorized as heavy metal, Sabbath, as well as Ozzy when he went solo, had something more. I think this band from Birmingham is far more influential than most are willing to admit.

Mr. Gatti included this version, from Ozzy sans Iommi, Butler, and Ward. It just rocks.... Ozzy has a hell of a band with Zakk Wylde, Robert Trujillo, and Mike Bordin!



"All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy."

A 1992 New York Times article refers to the time when New York archbishop John Cardinal O'Connor called him a Satanist in a homily delivered in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Ozzy's response was:

"Unbeknownst to Cardinal O'Connor, I am not the Antichrist, I am a family man."

In this same article, author Nick Ravo writes: "Devil-worshipers may be chagrined to learn that Ozzy, a member of the Church of England, kneels and prays backstage just before going on; he makes the sign of the cross, too." This only shows that the church must engage culture at all levels, not dismissing those who fall outside of our own carefully constructed view of things, thus denying their humanity. After all, the issues and questions of human existence are perennial and universal.

Of course, it was also Ozzy who said in an interview after he cleaned up and was trying to stay sober "Sobriety sucks." There are people to whom that will seem silly or outrageous, there are others, even many who are now sober and clean, who can relate either by saying Amen, or remembering what it was like starting to face up to existence sober. To say that it is hard doesn't even begin to do justice to the difficult passage from dependence to sobriety. I remember a slogan from younger days: Reality is for people who can't handle drugs. Let's return to Paranoid, the lyrics that describe some of the anguish that leads some to turn to what Ozzy described in a later, very controversial song from his solo career, the "suicide solution": "Happiness I cannot feel and love to me is so unreal."

As Ozzy says at the end of the song "...God bless you all, stay safe!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

U.S. politics and the lunatic fringe: Van Jones revisited

In the wake of Van Jones' resignation I wrote a short article for the on-line Italian news outlet Il Sussidiario: Jones Resignation/Is it time to put an end to the "czar" system? My main point in the article was that the citizens of the U.S. are poorly served by the czar system, which represents nothing other than a massive power grab by the executive branch of our government, thus compromising our well-constructed system of checks and balances. Hence, I mentioned only in passing that Jones was far out of the political mainstream, which put it rather mildly.

Ed Kilgore's post on his blog over on The New Republic's webpage this morning, in which he asks if the Democrats need their own crazies to counter the Republican crazies, reminded me just how easy a pass I gave Mr. Jones in my article. To that end, I direct you to Marty Perez's blog post on TNR's blog The Spine: Cool... But, Yes, Communist. In his post, Perez, who is thoughtful and unapologetically liberal, shows that Jones fits Kilgore's bill and that, as we all know, there is a lunatic fringe of donkeys, too. Of course, the drum was beaten daily and loudly for Jones' resignation by Glenn Beck. Maybe it takes a crazy to know a crazy. Of course, I am referring here only to political viewpoints, not either man's mental health.

Am I the only one who sees the strange irony of a communist becoming a czar? No... wait a minute... Lenin was the first, followed by Stalin, followed by Khrushchev, etc. According to Kolakowski, this is not an aberration, but the direct result of Marxian ideology. There is far more irony in putting a person with Jones' ideological commitments in a high-level job designed to help get the economy moving by creating green jobs.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dostoevsky, God, and morals on Facebook!

Sunday morning I posted this quote by Roger Kimball as my Facebook status:

"Dostoyevsky once claimed that if God does not exist then everything is permitted. Considerable ingenuity has gone into proving Dostoyevsky wrong. To date, though, the record would seem to support him."

It is a quote that readily lends itself to the same misunderstanding on the part of people who agree with it and with those who do not. This was brought to my attention by a very insightful comment made a young woman who is studying at university, who wrote:

"I disagree, I think if a person falls into this thinking, that then allows for prejudice against those who do not believe in God (or a different god), and that leads into non-respectful/ unchristianly acts....I suppose I disagree with the statement then more because of what can result from the philosophy and not necessarily the philosophy itself. However, I also think the topic of morality has to come into play...and am not convinced that morality it strictly bound to religion as would be the claim with this statement."

Fyodor Dostoevsky
I see this response as one I would have made at a similar point in my education. This is not to be dismissive in the least. It is a great point, even a necessary one, because it goes right to the consequences of people who agree with D's thesis, but who misunderstand and oversimplify it, that is, reduce it to their measure.

"Dostoevsky is really talking about the ultimate basis for and rational grounding of morality. He is not making the case that atheists are practically immoral but that morality can't be arbitrary. It is easy to cite many examples of people whose stance toward God is either agnostic or downright disbelieving, but who are moral people, even more moral than many who believe. Neither Dostoevsky nor Kimball suggest otherwise. Kimball is referring to political systems that are ideologically atheist. Otherwise, the danger you describe become possibilties and even realities.

"To make a claim that morality is not strictly bound to religion is easy and is done often; to demonstrate what else it might be that morality can ultimately be based on is far more difficult without making everything relative by having no ontological footing. Because morality does not exist apart from people, it comes to down to one's view of the human person and, more to your point, a person's view of her/himself."


It occurred to me after making this reply that it is necessary to point the obvious: that even to say that someone who is an atheist is moral requires some criteria as to what counts as being moral, that is, acting rightly. I replied a few moments later with this follow-up, which I think is more to her point:

"A couple more quick, but relevant, points:

"1) D's thesis about the necessity of God for the ontological grounding and rationale for morality does not so much posit God as the supreme law-giver who must be obeyed, the transcendent means of social control, whose ontological necessity morality requires. Such a view does not get us past Feuerbach. But God the origin and end of human existence, this is what brings us back to it coming down to one's view of the human person.

"2) Faith can never be reduced morality. It is precisely this reduction at which I think you are taking aim. It is a worthy target. The most obnoxious and unconvincing believer's and institution do precisely this. It something that manifests itself often."


This is exactly the kind of discussion to which Camus' brilliance and honesty lend themselves nicely. It also shows that social media can and sometimes does facilitate thoughtful conversation, even if not in real time. The advantage of written communication not in real time is that those conversing can be more thoughtful and incisive, even if it results in a few misspellings and some very poor grammar, all on my part!

Apropos to the tenor of this discussion and the main point I am trying to make, today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

Realizing the relevance of this feast to the topic, along with a few more incisive comments, prompted me to write that, as Christians, "we do not believe in the God of logical necessity and social control, the so-called god of the philosophers, but in the God who for us 'and for our salvation came down from heaven' and who 'by the power of the Holy Spirit was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.'

"Experience that teaches us this, even if we spend a long time asserting ourselves against reality."
We must love the other's destiny enough to help get them over this hump that all too easily for too many becomes an insurmountable wall.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The resurrection is not one fact in the world, along with all the other facts

Today is the Lord's day, Dies Domini. It is the day that we commemorate, remember, and celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact of Christ's resurrection remains for us a fact, along with the other facts in the world, both incredible and mundane, if we do not encounter Him. This is true even if we believe this truth, this event that happened in time and space. Objectively, Christ's resurrection transformed the cosmos. According to God's plan, for those made in the divine image and likeness, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed, something that happens by the power of the Spirit, who is nothing other than Christ's resurrection presence among us.

We all know that Gospel more or less means "good news". The good news is that God loves you and wants you to be happy, to be fulfilled, to be satisfied, to understand and to attain the only end for which you are made. We must not understand this in a trivial, frivolous, or sentimental way. The way to happiness and fulfillment is a struggle, an agon. An agon creates agony, and agony, in turn, passion. When we encounter the eternal we are awestruck. In those moments we recognize our nothingness, how infinitely far we are from what we desire, we wonder, How do I get from my nothingness to my fulfillment?

It is no accident that St. Paul describes the world's becoming (you being a part of the world) in his letter to the Romans as a woman in throes of labor: "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience" (Rom. 8:22-25 ESV).

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads"



I heard this song on the way to work this morning. I did not feel like listening to anymore news. It was an event, a moment of gratitude and happiness! Runnin' Down A Dream is our Friday traditio.

"I felt so good like anything was possible. I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes. The last three days the rain was un-stoppable it was always cold, no sunshine."

Leszek Kołakowski 1927-2009

I am remiss for not noting the passing of Leszek Kołakowski back in July. Kolakowski was truly one of the most incisive philosophical and political minds of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Writing in The Weekly Standard, Roger Kimball points out that Kolakowski understood "that human freedom is inextricably tied to a recognition of limits, which in the end involves a recognition of the sacred. In an interview from 1991, he argued that ‘mankind can never get rid of the need for religious self-identification: who am I, where did I come from, where do I fit in, why am I responsible, what does my life mean, how will I face death? Religion is a paramount aspect of human culture. Religious need cannot be ex-communicated from culture by rationalist incantation. Man does not live by reason alone'."

If he had done nothing else, writing his three volume The Main Currents of Marxism would have been enough. It remains the definitive philosophical refutation of Marx and does Marx' voluminous work justice. Of course, his contribution was far greater than that singular achievement. In addition to being eulogized in print by Roger Kimball, Christopher Hitchens also wrote a great tribute to this great man in Salon. Hitchens remembered that Kolakowski "was one of the most engagingly witty people it was possible to meet. And his wit was deployed to puncture every kind of intellectual fraud or imposture. I remember his comment when he heard that Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukacs had said that even the worst socialism was preferable to the best capitalism: 'Ah yes, the advantages of Albania over Sweden are self-evident.'"

To be so generously lauded by distinguished men of very different philosophical, not to mention politial, persuasions, gives one insight into the greatness of this man.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Health care re-boot

President Obama's speech last night seemed like the necessary re-boot health care reform needs. After all, there is a learning curve to governing well. His administration's initial attempt to push a bloated and unwieldy bill through Congress before the recess was doomed to failure. I wrote about this tactic, one also employed by the Bush Adminstration as it lurched and sputtered toward its catastrophic end, for Il Sussidiario back in July: A tired line of political argumentation.

Even when you have a large majorities in both houses, it is a good idea to build consensus on such a broad-reaching issue. President Clinton discovered this early in his first term. Let's hope we can move forward now and achieve the kind of reform our country needs, the reform to which virtually everyone is committed. This means differentiating between ends and means, as well as listening to the concerns of citizens on all sides of the debate.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have articulated a four-point position on the ends to be achieved:

1) a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity

2) access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants

3) pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options

4) restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers

It is up to Congress now to work and compromise about how to achieve these important goals. If health care is a human right, why not include illegal immigrants by at least giving them access to basic and necessary medical services?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our on-going cultural embrace of non-being

I was perusing the issue of America magazine in which my article on the permanent diaconate appeared. When it was published, I was so focused on the diaconate articles, my own and those by Dr. Ditewig and Greg Kandra, as well as on the subsequent on-line dialogue, that I missed a lot of what was in that issue. Besides, I had not yet had my late summertime re-engagement with the writings of Samuel Beckett.

What drew my attention was the picture from a recent Broadway production of Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, featuring John Goodman, Nathan Hale, and Bill Irwin. I then looked at the title of the article, by Fr. Robert Lauder, who teaches philosophy at St. John's University in New York: Accept the Absurd: Beckett and Kierkegaard, Godot and Christ.

Altering something written by Heidegger, Fr. Lauder observes that God's death and/or absence "is the horizon against which some of the most highly respected playwrights of the 20th century created their work. I think of Luigi Pirandello’s six characters searching for a meaningful narrative, of Edward Albee’s angry creations making contact only through violence, of Harold Pinter’s people mouthing non-sequiturs as they search for their identity and of Eugene O’Neill’s Tyrone family looking for forgiveness. All these characters exist in a milieu in which God’s absence has serious consequences for human fulfillment. All of them struggle against what Paul Tillich called the threat of nonbeing: the threat of self-rejection, guilt, despair, fate and death. Beckett has taken the premise of God’s death to its logical (or illogical) conclusion."

Fr. Lauder's reflection further verified for me that truth of the statement made by Oscar Giannino, who said in an interview in the current issue of Traces that "the prevalence of language over reality, condemns culture to being merely a descriptive shelf on which the prevalence of Non-being drowns, rather than the instrument for continuous transformation based on the person who wants Being." Giannino's words clarified for me the repulsive attraction I have to the works of Beckett and to other such works, like Tennessee Williams' Night of the Iguana, etc.

The other day on my drive home from work I listened to Johnny Cash's recording of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails song Hurt. It begins like this:

"I hurt myself today
to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
the only thing that's real
the needle tears a hole
the old familiar sting
try to kill it all away
but I remember everything
what have I become?"

Of course, the answer to this question is simple: a junkie. The junkie is not the protagonist of history. Intoxication, as Freud pointed out, is but one way of avoiding the suffering, the passion, of human existence. The Buddha was right that to live is to suffer, but that is not all. To live is also to love, to experience joy. According to Freud, intoxication is both the "crudest" and "most effective method" of pain avoidance, as "it is a fact that there are foreign substances which, when present in the blood or tissues, directly cause us pleasurable sensations..."'

Perhaps the junkie or the addict is the beggar who thinks that this is as good as it gets, the ones who have given up on transcendence, like the one who is willing to "love" the one s/he is with, not recognizing that a mere orgasm is no more transcendent than being stoned or drunk. The beggar is the one who is not willing to settle for anything less than the life that is life. The beggar moves, implores, asks, begs, unlike Beckett's hobos, who do not move, but who nonetheless recognize their need "to go," and who are unable to budge "because without God," Fr. Lauder writes, "there is no direction or goal to the human journey."

Even this last observation does not get us all the way home, or even on the pilgrim path because this is what Feuerbach meant when he wrote that if God didn't exist human beings would have to invent God. It is not just the death, but the murder of this God, the God of logical or existential necessity, the God of the pragmatic move, that sparked this cultural movement. It was Kierkegaard, as Fr. Lauder points out, who "characterized the Incarnation as absurd." Absurdity for Kierkegaard did not mean that which lacks meaning and coherence. Rather, using Lauder's words, the Dane referred to "what is full of mystery, the superabundance of meaning, the supra-rational, that which is beyond human comprehension," to what Giussani identified as the dynamic and inter-personal phenomenon of correspondence.

This does not call into question the consonance of faith with reason. It is merely to do justice to both by reducing neither. After all, knowing is not merely a material act.

I think this speaks to what I earlier posted about atheism.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Our czarist system

My latest article for Il Sussidiario about Van Jones' Labor Day weekend resignation, in which I ask Is it time to put an end to the “czar” system?

Puzzlement

I am utterly puzzled a) as to why Pres. Obama thought it either necessary or wise to address all the nation's school children and b) why so many of my fellow citizens either think this is a good idea, or do not see it as a matter for even a small amoount of concern. While I readily concede that it is not the end of representative democracy as we know it, I think it shows that we need to be better educated about the principle of subsidiarity, which basically sees the value in decisions being made and carried out at the lowest possible level. Subsidiarity trusts people to make good decisions about what directly affects their lives.

Subsidiarity is a word that, along with solidarity, appears over and again in most modern Catholic social teaching, including in the Holy Father's recent encyclical Caritate in Vertatis, in which, writing about the phenomenon of globalization, he points out that "subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state. It is able to take account both of the manifold articulation of plans — and therefore of the plurality of subjects — as well as the coordination of those plans" (par. 57).


Subsidiarity is very important to our constitutional order, according to which what belongs to the federal government and what belongs to the states is fairly clearly spelled out, with education clearly and historically not falling under the purview of the federal government. To my mind, it is no accident that educational achievement has fallen as the result of increasing federal encroachment, which always claims it will have the opposite effect, believing, in the face of a lot of evidence to the contrary, that per pupil spending equates to student achievement. Yes, this includes the overly ambitious and intrusive No child left behind.

Don't get me wrong, this is not about what President Obama said- it was banal beyond belief and a lot about himself! It is not about whether he has the right to make such a speech, he does, this is about whether it is a good idea, or, more bluntly, whether he ought to have given it. After all, do our children really need the president to tell them to study hard, stay in school, and wash their hands frequently? It is also about whether we are naive enough to believe that there is no political motivation behind this, especially with the president's popularity on the wane and just before a major address to the nation and a joint session of Congress on the very issue that is making him less and less popular, health care, his proposal for which represents a massive expansion of the federal government.

Good citizenship is not built through efforts like this. The White House can feign all the surprise they want at opposition to the talk, Jon Stewart can go comically and maniacally on and on about what nuts all of us who think this is a cheap political trick are (I will probably even laugh at his jokes), but the administration knows what they are doing and they're betting that this will help advance their political program. The really sad thing is that they are probably right.

All of this sounds pretty strident, but I allowed my 3 school age children to watch the talk. We talked about it before and we will discuss it this evening. For all of us, as Congress prepares to go back into session, it is time to start talking about the limits of government.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Atheism: "The game has changed"

Yesterday, during some down time between things at church, I paid a visit to the weblog of Michael Spencer (a.k.a., the internetmonk, or imonk for short). Visiting Internet Monk: Dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness is always a provocation for me.



One post in particular struck me: Re:Atheism. I encourage you to read Spencer's post, which begins with the Gervais video above. As in much of his work (i.e., The Office and Extras), Ricky is funny and poignant as he discusses God. Like Michael, I think the British funny man captures late-modern atheism very well. Late-modern atheism is not amenable to the kind of apologetical arguments we have traditionally employed. In other words, what was convincing to people when C.S. Lewis was writing, or even to people 15 or 20 years ago, no longer suffices. Too often we give answers to questions nobody is asking. Is it any wonder we're not convincing? I found myself attending to Spencer's corrective to Christians:

"What we’ve said and written is fine. What we’ve lived in our homes, private lives, churches, workplaces and friendships has spoken louder.

"We are the ones who appear to not believe in the God we say is real. We are the ones who seem to be forcing ourselves to believe with bigger shows, bigger celebrities and bigger methods of manipulation.

"You can’t understand why some people just say atheism has about it the beauty of simplicity? You don’t see why Occam’s Razor is so powerful, even among students who have no idea what it means?"
I concur with the Imonk's conclusion, namely that, as regards atheism, or what might more aptly be described as robust, laissez-faire, agnosticism: "The game has changed".

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Labor Day

One of the aspects of Catholic social teaching that is often ignored or disregarded is what the church teaches with regard to work and labor. Each year the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issues a Labor Day statement. I come from very working class people. I am always amazed when people point to all the great historical figures to whom they are related. I am related to no such people, certainly not the famous Dodge brothers nor to Grenville Dodge, the Civil War general and driving force behind much railroad building. In fact, I do not think any of my grandparents, all of whom lived their entire lives in the 20th century, graduated from high school. My parents and all their siblings have high school educations, but it was not until my generation that members on both sides of my extended family went to college, even then not all of us by a long shot, let alone to graduate school. Telling my Dad I was majoring in Philosophy and History was a very difficult moment for me, not to mention for him. He is still surprised that I manage to make a living.

Despite that, everyone has been alright because of their willingness to work hard. My Dad worked for quite a few years assembling dishwashers. We did not even own a dishwasher until many years after he stopped doing that job. To make ends meet, he worked as a barber on Saturdays, having attended vocational school after he mustered out of the Navy. It was while he was attending barber school at the old Utah Technical College that he watched the news of President Kennedy's assassination while having lunch at Bill & Nada's. Over the years of our growing up, he did a lot of odd jobs on weekends and in the evenings. Even though he is retired now, he won't let me pay for lunch, supper, or even a cup of coffee.

As one might expect, this year's USCCB Labor Day message, The Value of Work; The Dignity of the Human Person, draws heavily on the Holy Father's encyclical, Caritatis in Veritate:

"As we seek to rebuild our economy, produce a better health care system, and improve the immigration system, we are presented with unique opportunities to advance the common good. Pope Benedict’s new encyclical insists that the ethical dimensions of economic life begin with protecting the life and dignity of all, respect for work and the rights of workers, and a genuine commitment to the common good. As the Holy Father points out: 'it is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it. To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity' (emphasis in the original, #7).

"On this Labor Day, let us remember those without work and without hope. Too often in our public discourse anger trumps wisdom, myth outweighs fact, and slogans replace solutions. We can work together and rebuild our economy on the moral principles and ethical values outlined by Pope Benedict in his new encyclical. This Labor Day, we should take a moment to pray for all workers and all those without work. We should also ask God’s help in living out the Church’s call to defend human life and dignity, to protect workers and their rights, and to stand with the poor and vulnerable in difficult economic times. In his new encyclical, Pope Benedict challenges and reassures us: 'As we contemplate the vast amount of work to be done, we are sustained by our faith that God is present alongside those who come together in his name to work for justice' (#78)."
Let's not forget everything that has happened this past year. Let's also understand in a deeper way that society requires solidarity and makes us interdependent. We all have a responsibility to towards each other. After all, wasn't it Cain who asked whether he was his brother's keeper?

Friday, September 4, 2009

"I'm in your front yard under suspicion"



Rancid real and live. "Come on baby, won't you show what you got, I want your Salvation" our weekly traditio.

Comparing my blog to that of more reputable Catholic bloggers, I can state that reading what they post is like drinking a nice, relatively inexpensive, wine. Whereas, mine is more like the beer you find laying on the sidewalk: you pick it up, look around quickly to see if anyone is paying attention, and think "What the hell?", then you open it and take a deep gulp. Whether you drink it down or spit it out is entirely up to you.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right..."

I think most people, when asked straight up, would agree that everyone should have health care. Perhaps the one issue many who have health care with which they are satisfied could be more educated about is the common good, but no politician is going to do that because they're still running for student body president and promising a lunch period that's twice as long and to shorten the school year by two weeks.

It's time to move from ends to means. This means that we have to recognize that there is more than one way to achieve the desired end. Hence, it ceases to be about moral obligations and becomes about prudential judgment. Successful health care reform has to be bi-partisan, which means there has to be compromise. I'm tired of the ignorant lashing out by the right and the sanctimoniousness of the left. Therefore, I hope in his speech to the joint session of Congress the president doesn't preach a sermon, but talks about how we're going to get there and opens the way for meaningful debate on this important issue facing our country.

Writing in the opinion section of today's Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove, a man, who long-time readers know, I do not greatly admire, cited some statistics that I found very interesting. He did not indicate the sources of these numbers. However, if they are even remotely accurate, it makes what the Administration is proposing seem like overkill: "Nearly nine out of 10 Americans say they have coverage—and large majorities of them are happy with it. Of the 46 million uninsured, 9.7 million are not U.S. citizens; 17.6 million have annual incomes of more than $50,000; and 14 million already qualify for Medicaid or other programs. That leaves less than five million people truly uncovered out of a population of 307 million. Americans don't believe this problem—serious but correctable—justifies the radical shift Mr. Obama offers."

I agree with the position of the U.S. Bishops that immigrants should also have access to health care. Fifteen million people without access to health care is a problem. Of course, this brings comprehensive immigration reform back to the fore. It's time to move from generalities and slogans to public policy.

Any meaningful reform has to deal with rising cost of health care in a significant way and slow growth in cost. Throwing another trillion dollars at the problem won't resolve it. We already spend more per capita on health care than any other country. We should be able to achieve universal coverage at what are currently spending. Back in the '90s when House Republicans wanted to limit growth in Medicaid and Medicare to around 6% a year, which was about double inflation at the time, they were accused of cutting health spending!

In addition to other concerns and all discussions about death panels aside, there is plenty to be concerned about in the proposed legislation with regard to abortion. As with some methods of extracting embryonic stem cells, ends do not justify means. I appreciate very much what Cardinal O'Malley wrote in his much-admired post, about the opportunity he had to speak with President Obama at Sen. Kennedy's funeral, sharing with him "that the bishops of the Catholic Church are anxious to support a plan for universal health care, but we will not support a plan that will include a provision for abortion or could open the way to abortions in the future." His Eminence reports that President Obama "was gracious in the short time we spoke, he listened intently to what I was saying."

Cardinal O'Malley

In a truly remarkable post on his blog, Cardinal Seán O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, reflects on the life, passing, and funeral of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He writes many things worth reading, but this post is a great reflection by a man who is first and foremost a pastor of souls. Writing about the always divisive issue of abortion, His Eminence has this to say:

"Helen Alvaré, who is one of the most outstanding pro-life jurists, a former Director of the Bishops´ Pro-life Office and a long standing consultant to the USCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities, has always said that the pro-life movement is best characterized by what it is for, not against. We are for the precious gift of life, and our task is to build a civilization of love. We must show those who do not share our belief about life that we care about them. We will stop the practice of abortion by changing the law, and we will be successful in changing the law if we change people’s hearts. We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief and loss.

"At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church. If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us. Jesus loves us while we are still in sin. He loves each of us first, and He loves us to the end. Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the Church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other."

Among the many things I like about Cardinal O'Malley's words is that he gets JPII's teaching correctly insofar as we do not contrast the culture of death with a culture of life; we are to build and culture and civilization of love.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ruminations for a Wednesday

It seems that everyday I am faced with challenges, small and large, that I would rather evade than face. I have learned through my experience that there is more to be gained by facing them than by trying to evade them, especially when they are the kind of challenges that do not go away by ignoring them, even if they only linger in my mind.

By being treated instrumentally, judgmentally, and dismissively, I am provoked to treat others the way I want to be treated. This provocation very often comes after the initial waves of reaction ebb; becoming defensive and desiring to return evil for evil. Another thing that I have learned very starkly in recent weeks is that it is just as important to stand your ground as it is to retreat, trying to convince yourself that you are being humble. It is a matter of discernment.

A valuable lesson I have learned over the years about ministry, lay and ordained, is that it is not about me. Too often our service is self-service. We see putting our gifts at the service of the community as our chance to shine. As a result, we become rigidly locked into a way of doing things that has as its rationale boosting our ego. We need to cultivate an openness to the Spirit while being careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think it is most difficult to recognize the movement of the Spirit through another person, largely due to ego. A bruised ego is often manifest by hurt feelings. We think that if it is not the Spirit moving directly in and through me it can't possibly be authentic. This is where the ability to listen, not just to the Spirit, which is a metaphor anyway, but to another person is so necessary.

Even in parish ministry we must put into practice what we believe with regard to institution and charisma. In other words, we cannot pit the two against each other and see institutional leadership in the church as having wholly succumbed to the Weberian institutionalization of charisma. Neither can we dismiss the Spirit moving in and through people outside formal church structures. Again, it is a matter of discernment. Discernment starts out with the practical. So, this does not mean that, after listening, there cannot be questions, concerns, and suggestions. Collaboration is necessary for effective ministry, just as change is necessary. The Spirit moves us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Meeting taking stock and looking ahead

The final press release for the 30th Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples- Meeting: a journey of knowledge along thirty years- is now issued. It looks at the theme- Knowledge Is Always An Event- through the words of the Holy Father:

"distance and absence of involvement are not ideals to chase in vain in the pursue of an "objective knowledge". Instead, the ideal to chase is the adequate involvement with the object."

The theme for next year's Meeting, which I hope to attend is That nature which pushes us to desire great things is the heart.

A deep diaconal bow to my dear friends Suzanne and Sharon for letting me know about this and for their unfailing witness.