Friday, October 31, 2014

The beauty and mystery of the feminine

This morning a post over the The Catholic Gentleman blog, "Your Wife is Wearing What? Men, Veils, and the Mystery of Femininity," caught my attention. Given my ambivalence towards this particular issue, I have to admit that it was the beautiful picture of a black-veiled Spanish dancer that drew me to go to the link. Why? Because I am utterly taken with, moved by, the mysterious beauty of women. I have been from my earliest memories. I can remember when I was about 5 or 6 going to the bank with my Mom once a week. There was the most beautiful woman who worked at the teller window. I remember my Mom commenting to someone how taken I was with the lovely bank teller with dark eyes.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Another point I wish to make before proceeding is that my lovely wife, who I am still taken with after more than twenty of marriage, does not wear a chapel veil. This is not a subject I would ever deign to broach with her, let alone something I would ever ask, expect, or insist she do. Such a decision is hers to make in her freedom as a daughter of God.

Nonetheless, I propose a though-experiment: just for the time it takes to read the The Catholic Gentleman post, set aside your prejudices. Of course, feel free to be critical after you read it. This is not just alright, but necessary, anything less is not human, let alone Christian. I would note that the current polarization in the Church, which has intensified a lot lately, is a dirty lens through which to view the world. Clean it off. This is why I think, more than any previous pope, Benedict XVI was the Pope of Christian unity. After all, he was the pope who insisted that Eucharistic hospitality must be extended to those who desire to receive their Lord kneeling and on the tongue. I would note that this is not something I do.

Sr Cristina Succia

Nobody, least of all me, is insisting that women be required to wear a chapel veil. It also bears noting that the decision to wear one cannot be a way of making someone think herself better, or holier, than someone who chooses, for whatever reason(s), not to do so. It's like abstaining from meat on Fridays, or fasting, especially on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If observing these things gives you a smug feeling of self-satisfaction, then stop right away, remove the veil, eat a hamburger, for the sake of your soul.
Some signs are cheap and disposable, like the Banana Republic ads that suggest that a briefcase is power, that having a family is a threat to personhood, that you should look as thin and edible as a Slim Jim. But other signs are woven into the very fabric of the universe, inviolate and inviolable, and a woman is such a sign. The Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us that a mother does not 'make' a home. A mother is home. Eve is the height of creation because she is a prophecy of the New Eve, the Mother of the Church, the Virgin Mary—and in all her statues and icons, Mary is wearing a veil
AND, I might add, she is beautiful, like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in her sari and veil, or Sr. Cristina, as she rocks it.

"I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic's"

What better for a Friday traditio when All Hallow's Eve falls on a Friday than the late, great Warren Zevon singing "Werewolves of London," especially in a video in which the late, great Joe Strummer receives a "shout out"? For my money, nothing!



Tonight we begin the annual three-day festival: All Hallow's Eve, All Saints, and All Souls. All Souls is the Church's "Memorial Day," which kicks off an entire month during which we remember our beloved dead in a more intense way. We do this as we make our way towards the end of time: the great Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.



Well, I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen
Doing the werewolves of London
I saw Lon Chaney, Jr. walking with the Queen
Doing the werewolves of London
I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic's
His hair was perfect

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Practicing faith: notes on how to live "this" way

This Friday, 31 October, is Halloween. Overnight, no doubt, a change will happen. We will awake on 1 November deluged by all things Christmas, but not authentically Christmas. We will be faced with what might be called, with no exaggeration at all, "anti-Christmas."

In his short book Who Is a Christian?, which I am milking for all it's worth (I find it all very valuable), Hans Urs Von Balthasar makes a couple of observations about just this that are worth passing along. The title of the chapter in which he makes these worthwhile observations is "What Does It Mean to 'Practice'?"

First, as regards the liturgical year as a whole and its "application," for lack of a better term, to everyday life, he wrote:
"Practicing" is, finally, something the individual will pursue, not only within the socially well-trodden ways of the liturgical year, but equally in the untrodden, unknown paths of his own personal fate, which he will come to recognize as such at times of joy, yet perhaps still more markedly in times of trial. Here he faces the demanding challenge of interpreting his life in relation to God... more effective are the humiliations that the Lord has promised his own as a great grace and which, when they come, must always remind him, for "a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant his master' (Mt 10:24). They are a sign that the Lord and Master has not forgotten the servant. Failures, defeats, reverses, calumnies, contempt; finally, as the very embodiment of his life, a great bankruptcy - all this was the daily bread of Christ (106-107)


Then, as regards Christmas specifically:
Practicing Christmas... means translating the spirit of the feast into our own lives: the fact that God, although rich, has become poor for our sakes in order to enrich us with his poverty (2 Cor 8:9), so shamefully abused as the birthday of Mammon, distorted to the point of unrecognizability into its very opposite, must be restored by Christians to its primary meaning (106)
When we pray the Joyful Mysteries of Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, coming to the third Mystery, the Nativity of our Lord, the fruit of this Mystery is poverty.

If I have to assign this post a moral, or a point, it would be, Before we worry about keeping Christ in Christmas, let's observe the beautiful, multi-faceted season of Advent, which does not merely look back to that singular event when the Only Begotten Son of God was born impoverished in a manager in Nazareth, but to the end of time, when He will return in glory, a time we seek to bring about by praying Maranatha!

In the second volume of the tripartate Is It Possible to Live This Way: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, the focus of which is the theological virtue of hope, Msgr Luigi Giussani said,
As the virtue of freedom opens up the space for obedience, so the virtue of poverty opens up the space for trust... which is paradoxical, because freedom and obedience seem contradictory, and the space that non-possession opens up for trust seems contradictory; no, it is contradictory. Instead, in Christian discourse, according to its usual unpredictability, according to its unexpected attitude, hope, above all, gives birth to poverty

Friday, October 24, 2014

"But I ain't turning back to living that old life no more"

This week's Friday traditio is Old Crow Medicine Show singing "Darius Rucker," more popularly known as "Wagon Wheel."



Like Gram Parsons' song "Return of the Grievous Angel," this song makes you homesick. It is transcendent by being deeply existential. We've all been there: alone, cold, hungry, broke, far from home, but not without hope.



Oh, north country winters keep a-getting me down
Lost my money playing poker so I had to leave town
But I ain't turning back to living that old life no more

Monday, October 20, 2014

Schillebeeckx's two profound threats of the 3rd millennium

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Year A Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My takeaways from Synod14's final message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

"You got your passion, you got your pride"

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

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna

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


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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Finding love and value in same-sex relationships

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

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

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



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

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

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Truth and love belong together

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

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

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



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

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

Reflections on the Extraordinary Synod's mid-way report

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Some personal thoughts on the Extraordinary Synod thus far

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

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

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

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



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

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


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

Jan Hooks R.I.P.

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



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

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua"

It's been difficult to settle on a song for this week's Friday traditio. Much of the time it happens very organically, but at times it's a little forced. I am afraid this week's is of the somewhat forced variety. In thinking about this I let out a loud chuckle when I considered last week's Wang Chung song, which was actually too weird for Michael Jackson to record, if you can imagine such a thing! Yes, I understand that paying close attention to "Dance Hall Days" may reveal the song's general (utter?) inappropriateness. But oh well, it was a throwback to what I relayed about the origins of the tradito.

Last night I watched again the wonderful film Of Gods and Men with our Thursday night Catechumenate group. If you have never watched Of Gods and Men I urge you to do so. Meanwhile, in preparation, you can read "Trappist Monks of Tibhirine." I still have my copy of John W. Kiser's book The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria, which was originally published in 2002, six years after the events it tells about. I once read an utterly ridiculous literary critique of Kiser's book. Faced with the choice of being angry or laughing at it, I chose to laugh.

Trappist martyrs of Algeria

Late last week Fr Benedict Groeschel, CFR passed away. This week marked the beginning of the #Synod14 (i.e., The Extraordinary Synod on the Family), the convening of which caused as much unease as reassurance. Also this week many of us received the news that our dearly beloved Msgr Lorenzo Albacete is quite ill (the latest news is that he is rallying a bit). Of course, IS continues its murderous rampage through western Syria and northern Iraq. Ebola is spreading. SCOTUS this week, with its decision not to decide, insured that the U.S. stayed on pace to undermine the very foundations of our society. What to make of it all? Hell if I know. I do know that Jesus is Lord. Given that, let's go with a genuine traditio: the Sanctus from the Holy Mass:



Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Extraordinary Synod Questions & Answers

At the beginning of this week I was interviewed by Karee Santos for an article she wrote for Aleteia ("What Maggie Gallagher and Other Marriage Experts Think About the Synod's Agenda"). I would note that, while I am happy to contribute in whatever way I can, I don't self-identify as an expert in much of anything. It's really privilege enough to be included in Karee's article at all, but to be asked to contribute to a piece that includes Maggie Gallagher is truly an honor.

The questions were specifically about the Realtor-General of the Extraordinary Synod's "Report Prior to Discussion." Pope Francis appointed Péter Cardinal Erdö of Hungary to serve as Realtor-General. With some alterations, additions, and a few emendations, below are my replies:

1. Much of the pre-Synod press has focused on hot-button issues rather than foundational issues, but the opening speech by the Relator-General instead focused strongly on marriage preparation and faith formation of young people. How do you think better formation can solve the crisis in the family?

It’s interesting that several people with whom I am acquainted, in the lead up to the Synod, cast aspersions on the efficacy of pastoral and catechetical programs in the Church that seek to address what is so clearly lacking among the faithful when it comes the Sacrament of Matrimony. But I think better formation from a very young age is absolutely essential. It is no longer the case that Catholic young people grow up in overwhelmingly Catholic environments, which was a major means of formation for generations up through probably the 1960s. From my perspective, any serious proposal to turn the tide regarding marriage and family must have a strong catechetical component along the lines suggested in the Instrumentum Laboris.

I don’t believe that better formation in of itself is capable of solving the crisis of the family, however. It also requires the faithful and authentic (as opposed unrealistic, or overly idealistic) witness, especially as young people grow-up and begin to think about how to live their lives. Such formation must be carried out in great depth. This is precisely where Pope St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is most useful. Children must grow up with an appreciation for their redeemed humanity, for their masculinity and femininity, seeing it as a great gift, as a talent to be multiplied.

2. The relator general said the task of marriage preparation is to "show the value and attractiveness of a life-long bond" and help engaged couples "conquer their legitimate fears" about relationships and economic uncertainty." How do you think marriage prep can do that?

This where I think it is crucial to have married couples prepare couples for marriage. As Fr Julián Carrón, President of Communion & Liberation, once said at a Assembly in which I participated, "It is useless to have the perfect doctrine of marriage if you don’t live it." This is true. Couples preparing for marriage need the witness, the shared testimony, of couples who can personally attest to the beauty of a life-long bond, couples who have been married 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years. Again, this needs to be realistic, testifying to the good, the bad, and the ugly and direct experience of the grace of the sacrament, showing that grace builds on nature, that God’s grace does not normatively work as a Deus ex machina. This should not only happen at Engaged Encounter, which is designed to be a capstone to meaningful marriage preparation already received, but constitute part of the total formation couples receive.

3. The Relator-General suggested that "the answer" to the problem of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics "can be sought in a more comprehensive pastoral care of the young and those in marriage preparation." How could better formation address the problem?

The axiom "Prefer nothing to Christ" needs to be deeply imbibed by every Christian. This is the fruit of authentic evangelization. Fewer Catholic marriages that end in civil divorce is the most common sense way of dealing with this problem in the same way that sexual abstinence before marriage is the best way to deal with the problems that stem from young, single, unmarried mothers, who frequently live and raise children in poverty, and preventing sexually transmitted diseases. Any choice that puts you out of communion with Christ and His Church is objectively a bad choice.

We speak of marriage as a sacrament and so as a vocation in same way that becoming a priest or a religious is a vocation, that is, a divine calling. Contrast the formation received by priests and those in religious life with what most people who marry in the Church receive. I get that marriage preparation cannot last for 4-6 years, but a year to 6 months seems reasonable. Once married there is a need for on-going formation in light of the couple’s experience of being married and having children.



4. In discussing Humanae Vitae, the Relator-General stated that "the moral norm cited in the document needs to be considered in light of the law of gradualness ... keeping in mind that each person is a historical being, who knows, loves and accomplishes moral good in stages of growth." What does he mean by that?

In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul himself rejected what he referred to as "the so-called principle of totality" (HV par 3). I mention this because it seems to me that a suggested gradualistic approach can easily be taken to mean that at certain stages of a couple’s married life the use of contraceptives might be morally licit. Such is not the case. Even having recourse to NFP must be the result of "serious reasons" for either temporarily or permanently not wanting to conceive (HV par 10). We must be careful to avoid the kind of "pastoral" reasoning that has led to the state we’re now seeking to change. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote back in 1998 when addressing the question of Holy Communion for divorced and civilly re-married people: "In the end only the truth can be pastoral." I believe this is true because the end we seek, the very one for which we are made and redeemed, is not a worldly end. For the past several months 1 Corinthians 15:19 as been stuck in my consciousness: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all."

On my reading, the section of Familaris Consortio Cardinal Erdö cites seems to warn against this as well. Here is the relevant part: "On the same lines, it is part of the Church's pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae Vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm" (par 34). In his thoughtful intervention, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, made an important distinction between "the law of graduality rather a graduality of the law."

Mark Brumley wrote a thoughtful piece, "It’s time for the full Gospel of the Family," for Crux. In it he hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned: "Like so many others labeled 'conservative,' I want change, not the status quo… Not change that undercuts rather than strengthens discipleship. Not change that seems like a throwback to bad, failed ideas of the 1970s-1990s, ideas that helped create the problem, and which are only now beginning to be exorcised from Church structures and programs."

5. Could you explain what Cardinal Erdö meant when, in his opening Realtor General's address he discussed possible canonical reforms?
My caveat in responding to this question is that I am not a canonist. So with that in mind:

Firstly, His Eminence seems to propose by-passing the Tribunal of first instance and moving some formal cases immediately to the Tribunal of second instance to make a binding ruling. The cases that constitute the "some" seem to be those to which neither party objects, that neither party is likely to appeal, and for which the defender of the bond has determined the ground(s) on which the annulment is sought to be well-founded in the testimony and evidence presented. This would streamline the process somewhat for some cases, but not necessarily speed them up in every instance. It bears noting that this is a variation of the proposal set forth by Archbishop Bruno Forte at the Synod on the Eucharist back in 2005.

On my reading, in the second paragraph Cardinal Erdö takes up the proposal, first made to my knowledge by Pope Benedict XVI in his final address to the Holy Roman Rota on 26 January 2013, to include lack of faith, that is, lack of intention to do what the Church intends, as a ground for an invalid, even perhaps simulated, marriage. This matter was taken up recently by Cardinal Scola of Milan in an article published in Communio, in which he stated this quite clearly: "The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does. However, if it is important not to confuse the problem of the intention with that of the personal faith of those contracting marriage, it is nonetheless impossible to separate them completely."

In the third paragraph it is not clear at all to me what His Eminence takes up. What came to mind reading this are those instances in which couples have only ever had contracepted sexual intercourse. This flows from Can. 1061 §1, which states- “A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.”

Finally, when it comes to applying the principle known among the Orthodox as oikonmia to second and even third marriages, it seems to me that His Eminence recognizes that such an application is far from universal among Orthodox Churches. It also seems he recognizes that among the Orthodox Churches that apply this principle to second and third marriages, it is far from uniform, which leads to a suggestion for further study. Such a suggestion, I think, points to a recognition that such a "solution" is slippery and difficult to square with Christ’s teaching as set forth in Matthew 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12, as well as the sacramental discipline and canonical tradition of the Latin Church.

I would be wholly remiss not to bring to your attention a post by my friend (I have a few) Artur Rosman: "Synod14: The Church Needs to Replace the Family." In it he discusses something important that gets far too little thought or attention: the break down of the extended family. As someone who grew up in a pretty tight extended family and who, in my own lifetime, has witnessed the dissolution of it, this is a proposal that strikes a resonant chord in me. It's my hope that Artur's article garners the attention of some the bishops at the Synod. His proposal is the kind of thing that brings everyone together and shows us a way for the Church to be Church.

Given that the Holy Family of Nazareth are the patrons of Synod14 and Synod15, it bears noting that Jesus' cultural milieu would've consisted almost exclusively of extended families. It is estimated that Nazareth was no more than 200-400 people. Chances are very good that it was one, large extended family.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Archbishop Martin speaks about marriage

It's been awhile since I have mentioned how much I admire Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland. I admire him for many reasons, among which are his forthright dealing with the grave Church abuse crisis in Ireland, not playing politics or mincing words, even when it comes to his fellow bishops, the result of which is that he will probably never be created a cardinal (even the Franciscan papacy can only handle so much truth), his call to people with no faith to act according to their own consciences when it comes to baptizing their children, publicly teaching that Christianity is not a tribal phenomenon, quite the opposite, and certainly for establishing the permanent diaconate on the Emerald Isle in aid of healing and rebuilding the Church there (let's not forget St Patrick himself was the son of a deacon). There are many reasons he was highly favored by Pope St John Paul the Great, who called him from the Holy See's diplomatic service to go home to Ireland precisely to help rebuild the Church in his native land. His intervention at Extraordinary Synod also serves to demonstrate why I hold him in such high regard.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

Before writing about his intervention I must state that it has become obvious to me in the lead up to the Synod and now that it has begun that the idea and/or reality of a man and a woman married for life, whether Catholic, Christian, Jewish, non-religious, etc., has truly become a sign of contradiction. The mere mention of such an audacity sends many flying off on the nearest tangent: What about those who are divorced? What about those divorced and remarried? What about these people? What about those people? It often seems to me that for many a man and a woman married for life bear no consideration whatsoever, their very existence is a cause for offense. All this before addressing those with enough audacious hope to conceive, bear, and raise more than one or two children. I believe that at a very deep level, this unhealthy societal shift constitutes the very reason for this year's and next year's Synods.

My sentiments partially arise from reading about Archbishop Martin's intervention, in which he took up precisely that thread, albeit in a gentler, more melodic tone and tenor. In his remarks to the Synod, His Excellency noted that the sacrament of marriage is a gift given for the building up of the Church in holiness. Due to its sacramental nature, marriage has as special status in the Church. He cited the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: "Christian married couples help one another to attain holiness in their married life" (par 11). Given this, in my view, it stands to reason that because of its sacramental character, the witness of couples living out their vocation is vital for both strengthening and communicating a deep understanding of the Church. After all, the sacramental sign of marriage points to the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. Designating the family as the domestic Church is no mere attempt to engage in sentimentalism, it is a reality. Part of the failure to hand on the faith to younger generations is due to the disintegration of the family and, even when it comes to intact families, not living our Catholic faith in our homes.

As the Zenit summary of Archbishop Martin's remarks put it: "The authentic living out of the married vocation, sanctified by a sacrament, can become in a unique way a true theological source. Familiaris Consortio spoke of the law of graduality rather a graduality of the law. There is still difficulty in accepting the significance of human endeavour which fails to reach the high ideals but is part of the struggle for perfection. None of us would be capable of living the teaching of our calling in the Church without the help of the mercy of God."



Prior to these remarks, Archbishop Martin shared another deep insight concerning marriage, when he pointed out, again, according to the summary of his intervention, that "many men and women, without making explicit reference to the teaching of the Church, actually live out the value of marital fidelity day-by-day, at times heroically." In a direct quote he said, "They would hardly recognise their own experience in the way we present the ideals of married life. Indeed many in genuine humility would probably feel that they are living a life which is distant from the ideal of marriage as presented by Church teaching." He called for "a theological language of listening" to married couples, pointing out that "To many the language of the Church appears to be a disincarnated language of telling people what to do, a 'one way dialogue.' I am in no way saying that the Church is not called to teach. I am not saying that experience on its own determines teaching or the authentic interpretation of teaching. What I am saying is that the lived experience and struggle of spouses can help find more effective ways of expression of the fundamental elements of Church teaching."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Render to God through Caesar?

One of the superstars of the Catholic blogo-trapeziod is Amy Welborn. Along with a few others, she was a founding member of the Catholic new media in the United States. Sadly, as a professor friend expressed to me just last evening, this "sphere," or whatever it is, has become a bit decrepit. Perhaps it is due to the law of virtual entropy or some such thing. No doubt, in some regards this so-called sphere (aren't spheres obtuse?) has become a bit of a self-licking ice cream cone, quite impressed with its own, relatively shallow, pronouncements and "takes." As a member of this less-than-august group, I must admit that I agree with him. I have always been more than a little ambivalent about my own efforts. Nonetheless, through it all, even after taking a hiatus, Amy's Charlotte Was Both blog (it was her previous blog that rightly gained her renown) remains as fresh and insightful as ever. This is evidenced by her most recent post, "Kasper, German Bishops, and the Church Tax," which reflects, at least in my view, just the kind of analysis and commentary the new media set out to provide.

Amy hits the nail squarely on the head with her opening sentence: "In this age of 24-7, can’t escape information-mongering, it is amazing (or perhaps not) that actually reporting continues to suck." I am not going to summarize Amy's piece, I urge you to read it for yourself. Her post is enlightening and informative, helping anyone who is interested to understand why this singular issue has come to dominate the Church's discussion about the civilizational crisis fomented by the dissolution of marriage and to grasp what is behind things like this: "Cardinal Marx says German bishops back Kasper proposals on divorced and remarried Catholics."

The part of Amy's post that prompted me to write something was this: "This decree declared that if you’re Catholic, and you un-register with the German government and don’t pay the church tax…you’re basically excommunicated. From, you know, the Eucharistic Table of the Lord. You can’t be buried out of the Church unless you’ve repented. Heck, you can’t even chair the social committee."

Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus- The Cologne Cathedral

I have a friend who is native of Cologne, Germany. He lives there still, but spends several months a year in Salt Lake City. I first met him when he contacted me about 3 years ago. When he is in Salt Lake City he attends Mass every Sunday at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I am privileged to serve. He makes regular contributions when the offering is taken up. He does not attend Mass with such regularity at home. Why not? Because he un-registered so as not to pay the Church tax, which he feels is coercive and unjust.

The question he posed to me in our first meeting (we continue to get together whenever he comes back) was, "Given that I refuse to pay the Church tax in Germany, may I receive Holy Communion here?" Keep in mind, he is a lifelong Catholic, involved from his youngest days in the Church, attends Mass, serves his community through the Church, is married in the Church only once, to his wife of more than 30 years. What a question, am I right?

With Amy, and I am sure many others, I find it puzzling that this piece of the discussion about admitting divorced and civilly re-married people to Communion, even while denying it to those who do not want to be coerced in to render "the things that are God's" through Caesar, is ignored completely. This has to create some level cognitive dissonance for any honest person. Perhaps this might prompt us to reflect a bit more deeply on Pope Francis' call for a poorer Church.

Of courts and cowardice

No sooner does the Extraordinary Synod on the Family open in Rome than in Washington, D.C. the United States Supreme Court, in determining which cases it will adjudicate next Spring, decided to let lower court rulings on so-called "same-sex marriage" stand, thus effectively agreeing that state constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman violate the equal protection clause of the fourth amendment of the U.S. constitution. As Rush sang in their song "Free Will"- "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." The lead-in of a post on The Economist's blog Democracy in America, ("Why did they take a pass?") hit the nail on the head: "NEVER has a US Supreme Court decision not to hear a case had such a quick and profound impact on the rights of so many Americans." I would certainly dissent from the use of the word "rights" in this context, but the high court's refusal certainly made "a quick and profound impact" on this country. It is also oddly incongruent to write about judicial fiat under the heading Democracy in America. A more appropriate heading would be Oligarchy in America. If there is any doubt now that our federal system retains any semblance of states rights, then the one making that assertion is simply out of touch with reality.

Inside the Supreme Court

The good news is that, try as you might, rulings, or non-rulings, cannot alter the fabric of reality. Of course, there can be no sour grapes. As many friends on either side of this divisive issue might tell me, "In the U.S. that's just the way the cookie crumbles." I have no choice but to agree, but not without noting there is nothing "just" about it, as well as pointing out that this non-ruling only demonstrates the dryness and staleness of the cookie.

This development only serves to highlight the importance of the deliberations and outcome of the 2014 and 2015 Synods. As Catholics we need to face the circumstances that are presented to us, fully embracing reality, not denying reality, or fleeing from it. In my view, the Church has a golden opportunity to clearly and unambiguously teach the truth about the human person, which is something the Western world is monumentally confused about presently, which confusion leads many people to live lives of hopeless desperation. Of course, the truth must be taught in love, which means to teach it clearly and unambiguously, even creatively, engaging with culture, with the understanding that without truth there can be no love.

Theologian Don Divo Barsotti made this observation about the post-conciliar writings of Swiss philosopher Romano Amerio as set forth in his great works Iota Unum and Stat Veritas (the latter of which has yet to be translated into English): "Amerio essentially says that the gravest evils present today in Western thought, including Catholic thought, are mainly due to a general mental disorder according to which 'caritas' is put before 'veritas', without considering that this disorder also overturns the proper conception that we should have of the Most Holy Trinity." Of course, living the truth in love was a leit motif of the papacy of Benedict XVI, who masterfully spoke to the challenges and provocations issued by Western culture.

Just last night I read a brilliant piece in First Things from back in January of this year: "Celibacy as Political Resistance: Explaining Johann Möhler’s political theology to subvert state domination." Towards the beginning his article, Kaplan makes a deeply insightful observation concerning the United States and the difficulties being American presents to Catholics:
Christians, however, have too often failed to recognize that we’re frequently swayed by the deep, romantic national identity that America fosters so well in its citizens. It and not the Church often sets the agenda. The calls for religious freedom very quickly focus on the rights of conscience, reinforcing an individualism that downplays the importance of the freedom of the Church to occupy public space on her own terms
Soon, how we live marriage, too, will become a way of resisting the state, especially as the pressure for the Church to "celebrate" same-sex marriages increases. Mark my words, such governmental pressure will increase and will eventually be brought to bear with the full coercive power of the state, as we have seen in the unjust outcomes of several legal cases brought against small business owners amply demonstrate. Also, prepare for the legalization of polygamy, despite whatever howling protests this might draw from those who support re-defining marriage to include unions between those of the same sex.

If how we dealt with the terribly unjust HHS mandate (a topic also taken up by Kaplan in his article), is anything to go by, we're in for trying times. In a recent column for his diocesan newspaper, "A tale of two churches," Francis Cardinal George also noted the fundamental dichotomy between the United States and the Catholic Church:
There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the [United States of America]. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class. Forms of anti-Catholicism were part of its social DNA. It had encouraged its citizens to think of themselves as the creators of world history and the managers of nature, so that no source of truth outside of themselves needed to be consulted to check their collective purposes and desires. But it had never explicitly taken upon itself the mantle of a religion and officially told its citizens what they must personally think or what “values” they must personalize in order to deserve to be part of the country. Until recent years.
St Peter's Basilica

At the end of his column Cardinal George also obliquely alludes to the fact that much of the Church may not be up to the challenges presented by the world: "Catholics do know, with the certainty of faith, that, when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, the church, in some recognizable shape or form that is both Catholic and Apostolic, will be there to meet him." In my view, there is more than a slight possibility that the shape or form of the Catholic and Apostolic Church may well look more like that envisioned by Robert Hugh Benson in his novel Lord of the World than the shape and form she currently has.