Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"I couldn't the bear the reality of what I would see"

Kayla's Story
Uploaded by voteyesforlife

As many of you know, this past year the South Dakota Legislature passed a law banning almost all abortions in that state. A commendable and bold move. Well, this Tuesday in that same state there is a ballot initiative seeking voter ratification to strengthen the case for this needed law as it faces court challenges. The stories on this website are all worth watching. I warn you that you'll need tissues. You will weep for joy and sorrow, but weep away. It is important to be reminded that defending the defenseless is not partisan or ideological, it is right! Life is so very precious. There is no such thing as life not worthy of life.

As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said during her speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994 "Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion." As we approach the feast of All Souls, let us not forget the millions of aborted children. We must also pray for healing and forgiveness for women, like Kayla, who have made this tragic choice. God's grace, His mercy is more than sufficient to overcome even sins as serious as the taking of innocent life.

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To you do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve.
To you do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this exile
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb,
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.

A Three Day Festival of the Communion of Saints

As with most truly great things, Halloween was brought into being by the ancient Celts who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. The celebration precedes their conversion to the one, true faith. For the ancient ones, November 1 marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter. Showing the requisite Celtic spirit, the night before the new year, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, who, in Celtic mythology, was Lord of the Dead. It was believed that, during this festival, the souls of the dead—including ghosts, goblins and witches—returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires and, no doubt, in true Celtic form, drink fermented grain bevvies and distilled grain bevvies (i.e., beer and whiskey).

When the Romans conquered the Celts, showing a distinct lack of the requisite Celtic spirit, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards. Cute, huh? The Romans also bobbed for apples and, again, showing an utter absence of Celtic spirit, drank cider! So, where, you might ask, does the Christian aspect of the holiday begin? Well, in 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallow’s Eve or "holy evening." Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. Then, on November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day in commemoration of all the faithful departed. Therefore, it is also important to assist at Mass on that day and pray for your dead, too.

The purpose of these feasts is to remember saints, both those canonized those who are not, which, I would say are most of the holy ones in heaven, as well as all the faithful departed. Hence, the name All Souls for 2 November's feast. My oldest daughter's baptism day is All Souls, which I think is really cool! The three days constitute a festival that celebrates the communion of saints, and reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time. All Saints, I do not hesitate to add, is holy day of obligation. Furthermore, it has not been moved to the nearest Sunday, Deo Gratias!

On Sundays and holy days of obligation, the Code of Canon Law tells us, in Canon 1247 the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

Can. 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.

§2. If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.

So, have great time tonight. Isn't it nice not have to be puritanical about Halloween, protesting that it is pagan, un-Christian, and being forced to go to harvest festivals? Good heavens, dress up, go to a party, have a scotch and beer- in moderation, of course. As you celebrate, be grateful for love and life, be mindful of all those who came before you, especially your own ancestors, who, despite their sins and faults, played their part in God's providential plan, and, not least, were necessary in order for to exist.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Year B 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Five Lessons of the Blind Beggar

This homily is unusual in that it relies heavily on a single passage from a single book. The book in question is Dr. William Barclay's The Gospel of Mark, Revised Edition. The passage occurs on pages 260-262. This revised commentary on Mark's Gospel was published over thirty years ago, in 1975. One of the nicest gifts I received after ordination was a complete, brand new, set of Barclay's New Testament commentaries from a fellow deacon, Lynn Johnson. However, this marks only the second time I have used Barclay for preaching. His commentaries, however, are wonderful for personal study of the books of the New Testament.

Readings: Jer 31,7-9; Ps 126,1-6; Heb 5,1-6; Mk 10,46-52

Even a merely human high priest, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, because he is conscious of his own weakness, "is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring" (Heb 5,2). The point being made is how much more patient and merciful is Jesus Christ, our High Priest, who, as we recited last Sunday from this same New Testament letter, is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses” because he has been "tested in every way, yet is without sin" (Heb 4,14-15). This gets to the core of our confession, which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: "hold fast" (Heb 4,14).

But holding fast to our confession, "Jesus is Lord," stands in stark contrast to what today’s Gospel calls us to do, which is to follow Jesus on the way to God’s Kingdom. Like most of the episodes of Jesus’ life written down by the evangelists, today’s pericope concerning the blind man finds its meaning for us not primarily in the event itself, but beyond it. Like so many scriptural passages, this passage is about each of us and tells us a lot about Jesus Christ and how he relates to us. In St. Mark’s Gospel, as well as the other two synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke, our Lord makes only one trip to Jerusalem during his public ministry. Today’s passage takes place during this journey, which ends at Passover with his betrayal, arrest, trials, scourging, and crucifixion. The city of Jericho is about 15 miles east of Jerusalem, or, given its location on the West Bank of the Jordan River, just down the mountain. Jewish law during the Second Temple period, during which Jesus lived, required every male Jew twelve and older, living within approximately 15 miles of Jerusalem, to observe Passover in the holy city (Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Revised Edition, pg 260). Despite this requirement, it was not possible that all could attend. Since the vast majority of Jewish pilgrims going to Jerusalem from the North passed through Jericho, walking along the Jordan so as to avoid setting foot in Samaria, the men of Jericho who were not making the pilgrimage would line the streets in order to wish the pilgrims well.

Similarly, when a distinguished Rabbi walked such a journey it was normal that he was surrounded by a crowd of people; in the case of Jesus this crowd included both men and women, which was not the norm at all. The crowd constituted the teacher’s disciples, who listened to him as he taught while walking. It is easy to imagine the excitement among the residents of Jericho when they received word that Jesus of Nazareth, the audacious young Galilean who was healing the sick, casting out demons, and who had pitted himself against the religious authorities throughout Galilee, was passing through town. The tension was made even greater given that many priests and Levites who took turns ministering at the Temple lived in Jericho, thus constituting a large group of those religious authorities.

At the northern gate of Jericho sat a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. Upon hearing the "sizeable crowd" as they approached the gate to leave the city, Bartimaeus asks who is passing by. When he is told that it is Jesus of Nazareth we receive an indication that Jesus’ fame had spread beyond his native Galilee when the blind man suddenly cries out, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me" (Mk 10,47). Upon hearing his loud cry many rebuked him and told him to be silent or, more realistically, they told him to shut up. In his encounter with our Lord there are five lessons we learn from Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, a marginal Jewish castoff who lived over 2,000 years ago, about prayer.

The first lesson is persistence. Once Bartimaeus knew who was passing by, nothing would stop him from coming face-to-face with Jesus. His was not a nebulous, wistful, curious desire to encounter this Galilean miracle-worker. Encountering Jesus was his deepest and most desperate desire; deaf to the voices seeking to silence him, this wretched soul keeps calling out, "Son of David, have pity on me." (Mk 10,48). Then, above the noise, our Lord hears the cries of this poor, blind beggar and calls Bartimaeus to him. The beggar’s response to the call of our Lord is our second lesson.

Immediately and with no hesitation, the blind man, Mark tells us, "threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus" (Mk 10,50). As we see in other Gospel narratives, like the one from two Sundays past, found in this same chapter of St. Mark, when Jesus calls the rich young man to follow him, many hear the call of the Lord, but say in effect, "Wait until I have done this, or finished that." Our inordinate attachment to ourselves, or, as appears to be the case with the rich young man, things, keep us from springing up and coming to Jesus when he calls. “Sometimes," Dr. William Barclay, writing on this passage, observes, "we have a longing to abandon some habit, to purify life of some wrong thing, to give ourselves more completely to Jesus." Sadly, we do not always act on it that moment –"and the chance is gone, perhaps never to return" (Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Revised Edition, pg 261). After all, Jesus passed through Jericho only once.

Once he is standing before Jesus, our Lord calmly asks him, "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mk 10,51) The blind beggar’s response is our third lesson. Bartimaeus humbly, yet directly, says, "Master, I want to see" (Mk 10,51). Too often we have nothing more than a vague attachment to Jesus. However, when we go a doctor we want her to deal with some definite situation. When a toothache drives us to go to the dentist we do not ask him to dig into any tooth, just the diseased one. It should be the same with Jesus, healer of our souls. However, this involves one thing few people wish to face – rigorous self-examination. When we call to Jesus, if we are as definite as Bartimaeus, things will happen.

Indeed, things will happen. Do you believe this? Well, Bartimaeus did and his faith is our fourth lesson. As a blind cast-off, Bartimaeus would have been poorly educated. He may have been physically blind, but spiritually Bartimaeus had 20/20 vision. He demonstrates this by calling Jesus a Messianic title, "Son of David." Therefore, his conception of our Lord was as a king in the line of David who would lead Israel back to national independence and greatness. Of course, this is an inadequate idea of Jesus, the king whose kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18,36). Still, Bartimaeus had faith, he believed that Jesus could and would make him see, such faith more than makes up for the inadequacy of his theology. Hence, the demand is not that we fully understand Jesus Christ. Rather, the demand is for faith. It is important to note that Jesus tells Bartimaeus his faith has "saved" him. The Greek word here for "saved" is sozo, which means to rescue from danger or destruction. In short, Jesus is well aware that there is more ailing Bartimaeus than blindness. Saving faith begins with our encounter with Jesus and involves nothing more than returning the love God gives us in him. This encounter does not leave us unchanged. It leaves a mark. On-going conversion is the fifth and final lesson of the blind beggar.

Mark tells us that "immediately" after Jesus speaks, Bartimaeus "received his sight" and, having received his sight, follows Jesus "on the way" (Mk 10,52). On the way to where? He followed Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, to the site of the Savior’s passion, death, and resurrection. In other words, once his need was met, he did not go selfishly his own way, which, we know from Jesus’ words, he was free to do. No, he began in need, went on to gratitude, and finished with loyalty. That, my sisters and brothers, is a perfect summary of the stages of discipleship.

We are all blind beggars. The question is, do we sit beside the road in hopelessness and despair, or do we, like Bartimaeus, cry out, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"? Do we pray in the confidence he will hear us, heal us and lead us on the way to our Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Yet More Signs of Hope, God's fierce love and endless mercy, Jesus Christ

I just visited the blog of Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill, an evangelical church in Seattle. I read his blog quite frequently because, oddly, on a personal level we have much in common, but theologically, not so much. That being written, Mark is a passionate and compassionate man, who loves Jesus Christ and through his ministry at Mars Hill and with the Acts 29 Network, leads many people to our Lord. He was raised Catholic, but sadly, as is the case with too many Catholics, which is usually the fault of the Church, remained unevangelized and, by all indicators, uncatechized. Nonetheless, he came to Jesus Christ and, in the words of our Lord, "whoever is not against us is for us"(Mk 9,38-40). One thing we apparently have in common is looking at contemporary culture through the lense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When on the road, I frequently watch shows, like the one he mentions in the post to which I am about to link you. Anyway, in this post Mark makes some salient observations about well-known celebrity porn star Jenna Jameson. While Ms. Jameson considers herself Catholic, which, plus baptism is all you need to be a Catholic, I find it sad that she seems not to have ever sought spiritual direction and reconciliation. But, nobody is ever lost! I am happy she believes. I hope her dream of being able to be just a wife and a mother are realized.

There is a case in Italy, from several years ago, in which a porn star, Luana Borgia, returned to the faith, due to the efforts of Franciscan priest, Father Fedele Bisceglia.

Finally, on the same hopeful note, Busted Halo, back in August or September, had an article entitled, Stripper Salvation which is well worth reading. Lest you think watching porn, going to strip clubs, etc., are inocuous activities, think again. By your participation, you contribute to the exploitation of women and the degradation of society. How much more incentive do we need to pray for a world that, in Driscoll's words, consists of sinners, who are "a crazy bunch of conflicted people torn between the dignity of creation and depravity of the curse, who, apart from Jesus saving us from ourselves and renewing our minds, are a hopeless mess."

All of which reminds me of a story of evangelist Francis Schaffer who, while on a visit to Paris, encountered a prostitute one evening. When she solicited him, he asked, "How much?" She named her price. Schaffer responded, "That is too low." So, she upped the price. Too low again, protested Schaffer. So, again, she upped her price and, again, Schaffer said, "Too low." Finally, Schaffer told her that she was priceless to God who gave everything to gain her. It is easy to romanticize this story, but picture a cold night on a dirty street in Paris asking strange men passing by if they are interested in paying her for the use of her body, suggesting what they might do to her and how much it will cost. She is someone's daughter. She is someone's sister. She is loved by God with an infinite love, just as you and I are. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now at the hour of our death.

Friday, October 27, 2006

One hundredth post

To the left is a picture of your scribe baptizing last Easter. It is such a privilege to serve God's holy people, especially in the celebration the sacraments, which truly are God's masterpieces. This is post number 100 of this blog. Not much of a milestone, especially given that I am not sure that there is anybody who reads my musings with regularity, let alone benefits from these random thoughts written out. It is not lost on me that this exercise can be seen as a bit arrogant. Suffice it to write that, odd as it may sound, I feel called to this ministry.

Given my, apparently, single-handed effort to elevate Friday back to the status it enjoyed for the first nineteen-and-a-half centuries of Christianity, it is appropriate to reach this milestone on a Friday. It is also a joy to be able to direct people to many of the really great Catholic and Christian websites. One of my favorites is the Paulists site Busted Halo. It is primarily directed at young Catholics in their twenties and thirties, but has a lot of really good content about being Catholic in our real lives.

Another indispensable site is the Irish Jesuits' Sacred Space. This site can be the way you pray at home or at work. But more than anything, I am glad help make Christ present in cyberspace, which is so filled with filth. On this modest milestone, I invoke the intecession of St. Isidore of Seville, the patron of computers and the internet. So, a litany for the entire internet apostolate.

Kyrie, eleison (Kyrie, eleison.)
Christe, eleison (Christe, eleison.)
Kyrie, eleison (Kyrie, eleison.)

Christe, audi nos (Christe, audi nos.)
Christe, exaudi nos. (Christe, exaudi nos.)

Pater de caelis, Deus, (miserere nobis.)
Fili, Redemptor mundi, Deus, (miserere nobis.)

Spiritus Sancte, Deus, (miserere nobis.)
Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus, (miserere nobis.)
St. Isidore of Seville

Sancta Maria,
Sancta Dei Genetrix,
Sancta Virgo virginum

Sancte Michael,
Sancte Gabriel,
Sancte Raphael,
Omnes sancti Angeli et Archangeli,
Omnes sancti beatorum Spirituum ordines,

Sancte Stephane
Sancte Laurenti
Sancte Vincente
Sancte Francisce
Sancta Maria Magdelena
Sancte Isidore

Omnes Sancti et Sanctae Dei, (intercedite pro nobis.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

God summons us to a feast of Bread and Wine

In his classic novel, Bread and Wine, Italian writer Ignazio Silone does a masterful job of capturing the popular Christianity of the Abruzzi region of central Italy, with its echoes of ancient paganism. In one episode, Pietro Spina, a Socialist recently returned to fascist Italy from a forced exile, who, disguised as a priest named Paolo Spada, is asked by a pregnant mother in the poor mountain town of Pietrasecca, who thinks he is a priest, to bless the child in her womb because she has dreamt and fervently believes the child will otherwise be born blind. Pietro refuses because he knows "that if he pretended to say prayers or carry out exorcism in one case the inn would immediately be besieged by other applicants whom it would be impossible to refuse." All of this would end with him "behaving like a fraud and a clown, he would end by attracting the attention of the authorities," the very authorities he is eluding in his sacerdotal disguise.

Nonetheless, after the woman, Teresa Scaraffa, threatens to take her own life, which would also result in the death of her unborn child, Pietro agrees and blesses the in utero child where he best thinks his head is. Believing the danger of her son being born blind is now averted due to the priest's blessing, a thankful Teresa later brings Pietro a dead chicken as an offering for his taking the curse of being born blind away. He refuses her offering, as a real priest might, by saying "I can't accept it. Priests cannot accept gifts." Teresa replies to his refusal by saying, referring to the efficacy of his blessing, "In that case it's no use." For she believes if her offering is refused "the grace won't work and the child will be born blind." Pietro replies, "Grace is free." "There is no such thing as free grace," Teresa, ending the exchange, says. Incidentally, the two names of Silone's main character are significant and mean Peter Thorn and Paul Sword respectively.

Of course Pietro is correct, grace is free by definition. One cannot, however, blame the humble faith-filled Teresa who, in her life as a peasant in a very poor mountain village, has experienced a life filled with hardship, pain, suffering, and loss for thinking one cannot get something for nothing. One does not have to be a poor peasant living in a mountain village in 1920s Italy to experience and, hence, believe the words of economist Milton Friedman that there is no free lunch. In Christ, we get everything for nothing, including a free meal, the Eucharist! So, as Friday begins, liturgically, at 6:31 p.m. MDT this evening and ends at 6:30 p.m. MDT tomorrow, it is good to reflect not only on what you are going to do (fast, abstain, serve, etc.), but why you do it.

We do not bring our offerings, like Teresa brings the dead chicken, to God as repayment for what He has already done, or payment for what we want God to do. We can neither repay God for his goodness nor manipulate the God of Israel like an ancient pagan god. We do it as penance, knowing forgiveness is already ours, we do it to draw closer to God, who is always already with us, we do it to mortify our flesh and reign in our appetites, to focus on Jesus' words that we do not live by bread alone (Matt 4,4; Lk 4,4).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two Georges for Tuesday

Since I am slowly introducing members of my community of the heart, today seems a particularly good day to introduce a man who, like St. Therese of Lisieux, needs no introduction. His name is Eric Blair, but he is known to the world as George Orwell. It was while reading Orwell that I really came to consciousness as a young teenager. As a high school sophomore I read Orwell's A Hanging. As with many essays, novels, poems, musical compositions, paintings, and people who have deeply influenced me, it is difficult to describe completely the effect this essay against capital punishment had on me. I can write that through this essay I came face-to-face with human mortality, my own mortality. In a flash the awful (meaning full of awe), mysterious, incomprehensible beauty and preciousness of human life became apparent to me. All of this was quite existential, as opposed to transcendental. From this flash, or satori-like realization, I was led to another member of my personal community, a man whose writings I devoted a lot of time and energy to during college in coursework both in Philosophy and History, Albert Camus. In my senior seminar for History, I studied the Algerian war of independence in great detail. This is relevant because Camus was a pied noir, a French Algerian. Therefore, my Senior Thesis for History was Camus' response to the Algerian war of independence, about which he was ambivalent. I will write more about Camus another time.

So taken was I with George Orwell that I penned a few articles for high school publications using the pseudonym Eric Blair, which I thought extraordinarily clever at sixteen. Orwell is on my mind today because of a posting by Fr. George Rutler, who I also admire a great deal, on the First Things blog about the ever-increasing demolition, or deconstruction, of language and why it matters. Back in August I posted a more technically philosophical treatment of this same theme in What's in a name? An observation of some societal consequences of Philosophical Nominalism. In his post, Fr. Rutler draws heavily from Orwell's still relevant Politics and the English Language. He uses this classic Orwell analogy: "A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language." In his own books, Fr. Rutler writes brilliantly about our culture and the perils we face. His book A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles is well worth taking the time to read. In the opening pages he writes:

"A tendency to unreality, or psychological denial, is the poison of any culture that has calculated its agenda apart from the intense realism typical of saints. The poison has an antidote, however bitter it may taste to the lethargic. It has three ingredients. Saint Francis de Sales wrote of them, but the benign alchemy was summed up before him by Louis of Granada. These are regular prayer (neglect of which destroys the taste for the things of God); contempt for inordinate self-love (which prevents loss of the right perspective on the self and everything outside the self); and the cultivation of those virtues proper to one's state of life (lest the devil of distraction dissipate energy)." Emphasis mine.

The intense realism typical of saints is a phrase that is so accurate and deep that it can easily serve as a point of departure for meditation. In short, Fr. Rutler is a man who knows how to use the English language and understands, as a pastor of souls (he is pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in New York City), why it matters.

As to Orwell's continuing relevance, I highly recommend Christopher Hitchens' Why Orwell Matters. Christopher is the agnostic Hitchens. Whereas, his brother, Peter, also a popular writer in the U.K., is a very devout Anglican (guess who is who in the photo). Anyway, for those interested here is a link to an odd exchange between the brothers Hitchens in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper from May, 2005.

A Prayer for Tuesday

God our Father,
hear our prayer this day
and let the radiance of your love
scatter the gloom of our hearts.
The light of heaven's love has restored us to life:
free us from the desires that belong to darkness.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Canonical Monday continues: the case of Marcial Maciel-

In the post I refer to below regarding Sexual Abuse in the Church and Rod Dreher's response to it (i.e., leaving the Church), I allude to the case of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi , the order's lay branch. The Legionaries publish the National Catholic Register and operate the on-line Vatican news service Zenit. The allusion has to do with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's decision, given in May 2006, with the approval of the Holy Father, not to pursue a canonical trial against Maciel to resolve allegations of sexual abuse against the 86 year-old priest, but inviting him "to a reserved life of prayer and penance, giving up all public ministry." The Congregation's statement also called upon Maciel to renounce his option to have a canonical trial.

As regards the last, I wrote that "with much feigned piety, Fr. Maciel and his Legionaries with words about cross-bearing and enduring injustices patiently, that make the truly humble blush, obeyed knowing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has the goods on Maciel and his predatory ways that would be made use of in any further canonical process. " A more objective view is given by R. Michael Dunnigan, JD, JCL in an article entitled For Every Case Its Proper Course Canonical Observations on the Maciel Communiqué, which appears in the St. Joseph Foundation's, 29 June 2006, Christifidelis newsletter:

"The important point is that the Congregation probably needed Maciel’s consent to 'renounce' the trial. (I say 'probably' because it is not known what procedure the Congregation followed in the Maciel case. However, it appears that the right of the accused to grant or withhold consent would have applied in any procedure [see Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, proc. norms, art. 26].) The canonical principle at issue is that an accused person should have the option to allow the trial to go forward to have his name cleared of the accusations against him. Thus, although the promoter of justice is the person who can decide to renounce the process, the renunciation is invalid unless the accused accepts it (can. 1724 §2). As a result, it is quite possible that Maciel implicitly agreed to the measures described in the communiqué. Agreeing to the renunciation of the canonical process is not exactly the same thing as agreeing to the measures contained in the communiqué. However, there is little difference in actual fact, because it seems clear that Maciel could have insisted on having the trial proceed if he had found these measures unacceptable."

Dunnigan also credits Pope Benedict XVI who, as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, in 1999 made the decision to shelve the case and pursue it no further. His approval of the Congregation's invitation to Maciel as Supreme Pontiff is the completion of a change-of-mind regarding his 1999 decision. Dunnigan, citing a report of Sandro Magister from May 2005, still-Cardinal Ratzinger, in 2004, instructed Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the Congregation's promoter of justice "to pull all of the cases from the Congregation’s shelves that had not been adjudicated. 'Every case must take its proper course'". Among these cases was Maciel's. It was not until May 2006, 13 months after ascending to the chair of St. Peter, that action was taken, but it was characteristically decisive.

Monday Canonical Monday

Given my recent flurry of activity, I plan to take it easy this week on the blog. In other words, unless I am overcome by inspiration, it will be catch-as-catch-can this week with some addenda, commentary, and brief musings. I would be interested in receiving comments on my recent postings. I am especially curious to read any reactions to my Friday penance posts.

Going a bit deeper on the recent conversion of Rod Dreher to Russian Orthodoxy, to which I provide a link in my post
A Church in need of an thorough examination of conscience, I offer a Roman Catholic canonical opinion, written by Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD, on his blog In Light of the Law, and entitled Some canonical thoughts on Rod Dreher's case. I do so for a few reasons: 1) as a follow-up to my post and a reminder that emotions should never be the final arbiter of our decisions. 2) to familiarize readers with certain aspects of canon law not related to annulments.

Dr. Peters holds the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair in Faculty Development at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, the Seminary for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Dr. Peters, in his post, seeks to "highlight some of the canonical issues I think might be raised by Dreher's actions. Of course, Dreher and those who agree with him might find little of interest in my remarks, but I offer them as evidence that, if nothing else, canonical laws do correspond to real life situations."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Happy ‘Id al-Fitr

On 24 October 2006, Muslims will mark the end of the month of Ramadan by celebrating the feast of ‘Id al-Fitr. On the Islamic calendar, which is often called Hijra, after Mohammad's emigration from Mecca to Medina, Hijra meaning exile, ‘Id al-Fitr is celebrated on the first day of the month of Shawaal, which is the tenth month. ‘Id al-Fitr is a day of joy and thanksgiving. On this day, Muslims show their joy for the health, strength and opportunities of life, which Allah, the word also used by Arabic-speaking Christians for God, like Maronites, since long before the advent of Islam, has given them to fulfill their obligations of fasting and other good deeds during the month of Ramadan. It is considered unholy to fast on this day. It is also a day of forgetting old grudges and ill feelings towards others.

As with the Hindu/Jain/Buddhist/Sikh feast of Diwali, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has issued a message to Muslims as the holy month of Ramadan comes to an end. It is similar in tone to the Council's Diwali message, to the Pope's message to representatives of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, and to the Holy Father's Regensburg lecture. Let's look at see the similarities by examining the core of the Council's message, contained in the following two paragraphs:

"The month of Ramadan which you have just completed has also undoubtedly been a time of prayer and reflection on the difficult situations of today’s world. While contemplating and thanking God for all that is good, it is impossible not to take note of the serious problems which affect our times: injustice, poverty, tensions and conflicts between countries as well as within them. Violence and terrorism are a particularly painful scourge. So many human lives destroyed, so many women widowed, so many children who have lost a parent, so many children orphaned . . . So many wounded, physically and spiritually . . . So much, which has taken years of sacrifice and toil to build, destroyed in a few minutes!"

"Our two religions give great importance to love, compassion and solidarity. In this context, I wish to share with you the message of the first Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), which echoes the most characteristic ‘definition’ of God in Christian Sacred Scriptures, 'God is love' (1 Jn 4: 8). Genuine love for God is inseparable from love for others: 'Anyone who says, "I love God", and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen' (1 Jn 4: 20). In recalling this point, the Encyclical underlines the importance of fraternal charity in the Church’s mission: love, to be credible, must be effective. It must come to the aid of everyone, beginning with the most needy. True love must be of service to all the needs of daily life; it must also seek just and peaceful solutions to the serious problems which afflict our world."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Creation and Evolution- Again!

This blog all began with the big hullabaloo over Christoph Cardinal Schöborn's oped in the New York Times on evolution during the summer of 2005. So, here we are again, dealing with the same topic. The pot-stirrer? Richard Dawkins, who demonstrates shameless intellectual pretensions and no philosophical acumen. If his arguments to Stephen Colbert don't strike you as specious and contradictory, you need a course in elementary informal logic. If you are really interested in pursuing the matter, I suggest you read Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life, by Alister McGrath. As both a scientist, he has a Ph.D. in biophysics, and Oxford University Professor of Historical Theology, McGrath, writes biochemist, Michael Behe, in his rather negative and anti-intellectual, review of the book in First Things, a little over a year ago, "shows Dawkins to be an intellectual featherweight on religious topics." Taking but one instance, "Dawkins berates Tertullian as anti-rational for saying of the Christian Gospel, 'It is certain because it is impossible.' Yet McGrath demonstrates that this single quote was torn badly out of context, and that Tertullian’s real attitude was that 'there is nothing that God does not wish to be investigated and understood by reason.' McGrath concludes that 'Dawkins’ views on the nature of faith are best regarded as an embarrassment to anyone concerned with scholarly accuracy.' Points are also scored on historical grounds. Darwin’s views on religion were much less negative than Dawkins’. R.A. Fisher, a founder of theoretical evolutionary genetics, was a strong Christian who pictured evolution as God’s ongoing creation."

Equal in interest to McGrath's book, are theoretical particle physicist, Stephen M. Barr's, articles on Dawkins' not very scientific metaphysical fulminations. To give just two references, Barr's review of Dawkins' Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder and his article in the February 2006 issue of First Things, entitled The Miracle of Evolution, in which he really skewers the arguments of both Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. At the end of the day, nobody does it better than Colbert, who, I might add, is a practicing Catholic. The take away line being " . . . but if the universe is not intelligently designed, then you're saying the universe just naturally came into existence, continues existence, through natural laws of nature, through physics, thermodynamics, the laws of gravity and energy, produced you, eventually, and then through you produced this book that proves that it has no natural intelligent design."

Only God Satisfies our Hunger and our Thirst

Once again dear friends, Friday is almost upon us. Sunset is at 6:41 pm this evening, thus, liturgically, beginning Friday. With this week commemorating World Food Day, it seems opportune to either fast or abstain from meat and give our savings to the poor. I recently found a great on-line resource on these issues that reference relevant Church Documents Fast and Abstinence on the Women for Faith and Family website. To make it as covenient as possible, here are the basics, but remember it is not a matter of law, but a choice made freely. If you do it as a matter of law, you are missing the whole point and will derive very little, if any, benefit from it. Again, fasting and/or abstinence should also include prayer and almsgiving.

Fasting is only applicable for those who have reached the age 18 and are not yet 60. Abstinence means no meat on those days for those who are age 14 and older. It is my personal opinion that children younger than 14 will not suffer from abstaining from meat for 24 hours. General canon law says that all Fridays are days of abstinence -- no meat -- but if you want to eat meat, you should substitute some other form of penance. Fasting can include one small meal, but still no meat. If you are just beginning to fast, try it for 12 hours, eat a small meal, then go another 12 hours. In that way you can, in just a few weeks, should you choose, go 24 hours drinking only water. Should you choose to fast completely (i.e., no food or drink) know what you are doing. It is possible and people do it, but like anything else physical, you will need to train and build up to it. Now, if you have health reasons that fasting would exacerbate DO NOT FAST! However, you can still abstain, eat simpler meals, pray, and give to the hungry and needy. Like kneeling in Church, fasting is not a case where he who fasts longest and more completely wins. God is our focus, worshipping Him and drawing closer to Him. These practices are to allow us to focus more completely on God, to increase our hunger and desire for God, to literally hunger and thirst for holiness, knowing that, in God, we will be satisfied (Matt 5,6).

Of course, we can fast/abstain from other things besides food. For example, alcohol and, for married couples, by mutual consent, sexual relations. If you're not married sexual relations should not be an issue for you. If it is, you have more urgent spiritual issues than fasting and abstaining from meat, but do so as anyway. Nonetheless, God loves you and wants to show you His mercy. So, examine your life and go to confession. This is not a bad idea for any of us, even if we are not struggling with sins of grave matter.

Again, you might break your fast (this is just a suggestion) by attending Friday evening Mass and receiving the True Bread and Cup of Life. Also, pray. You can use the Jesus Prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner". And/or you can pray the Sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Let us, in the words of St. Paul, "to offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, [our] spiritual worship". In so doing may we "be transformed by the renewal of [our] minds, that [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect"
(Rom 12,1-2).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

An addendum

When I was working on my post entitled "You will know them by their fruits", in the paragraph in which I briefly wrote about the work of Fr. Jacques DuPuis, S.J., I was looking for a quote I had read sometime ago about Professor Joseph Ratzinger's engagement with Hinduism during his first teaching post in the Theological Faculty at the University of Bonn, which began before shortly before he turned 30. Anyway, here is the quote from an article in 30 Giorni, written by Gianni Valente, in the March 2006 edition.

"Another 'borderline' friendship marking Ratzinger’s years in Bonn was with the Hindologist Paul Hacker, whose qualities of genius are traced in strong colors in Ratzinger’s autobiography. Coming from Lutheranism, Hacker also became a Catholic, by a route made up also 'of whole nights' spent 'discussing with the Fathers or with Luther, in front of a bottle or even more than one of red wine'. Ratzinger benefited largely from Hacker’s boundless knowledge of Hinduism when he had to shape the lectures on the history of the religions that were part of the course of Fundamental Theology. It was precisely on Hinduism that Ratzinger’s interest in the world of the religions focused in those years. 'Some students', Kuhn recalls, 'complained jokingly about it. They said: Ratzinger is totally absorbed in Hinduism, he talks to us only of Rama and of Khrisna, we can’t take it any more'."

Observing "the gap" through real life

The article below is a great introduction to another member of my community of the heart, a member who really needs no introduction because she is in the hearts of many, many people. I do not know this for a fact, but I guess the cultus (from Latin for adoration) of St. Thérèse of Lisieux numbers in the millions. Apparently, she is in the hearts not only of Christians- Deo Gratias! The following is from 30 Giorni nella Chiesa e nel mondo (i.e., 30 Days in the Church and in the World):

The Muslims, the Jews and the miracles of Thérèse of Lisieux

In the weekly magazine Grazia of 18 July an article appeared about the Catholic Church of Cairo in Egypt dedicated to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. In the church there is a statue of the saint, surrounded by votive offerings in all languages. Frequenting the church, along with the Catholic faithful, there are also Muslims and Jews, attracted by the flowering of miracles through the intercession of the Little Saint of Lisieux. The article concludes thus: «"Saint Thérèse did her first miracle for a Muslim here", recounts the priest, "the second for a Jew. It is they who have begun to create publicity for the church of Shoubra [the area where the church is, ed]". Father Malek claims that the faith of Orientals is one that we Europeans cannot understand: "Europe wants to reason, to understand everything by reason. Here people have a feeling faith". The young boys in the priest’s study do not want to convert, they only want the priest to go to bless their home, in civilian clothes, so that the Muslim neighbors will not become suspicious. But Father Malek says that it is the heads of the mosques themselves who send their faithful to pray to the saint».

Fr. Malek uses the popular devotion to St. Thérèse in his Church in Cairo as a case-in-point of the gap Pope Benedict XVI identified in his Regensburg lecture, when he says, "Europe wants to reason, to understand everything by reason. Here people have a feeling faith." Contrary to what many think, this kind of thing is not all that unusual throughout the Middle East. Sancta Thérèse, ora pro nobis.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More Signs of Hope:Religion & Politics in Tap on San Francisco

Wow! It has been a busier than intended blogging day. I think I'll give it a rest after tonight for a day or two. But I just had to provide this link to Archbishop Niederauer's recent Theology & Politics on Tap, in a San Francisco Irish Pub no less. For me, next to a magnificently celebrated liturgy, that is the closest to heaven I could ever get, especially with the Archbishop leading the discussion. Watching this clip was bittersweet because it made me miss him. Nonetheless, I am so grateful that this is the man who laid his hands on my head and ordained me a deacon. At least he is still Salt Lake City's metropolitan archbishop.

So, with no further adieu, Archbishop George Niederauer. Grab a beer and enjoy! An Irishman can easily get in two beers while watching. It's part of having the requisite Celtic spirit.

A Church in need of an thorough examination of conscience

Those of you who know me, which, I am assuming is most of you, my small group of readers, know that I am as Roman Catholic as one can be. I love the Church with my whole heart. This love is not narrowing, but broadens us by always calling us forward, beyond ourselves. Further, I thank God that the spiritual leadership of our local Church over the years, particularly our bishops, has done a better job than many bishops across the country and the world in the prevention of and response to the few instances of sexual abuse committed by a few members of our clergy. Like Rod Dreher, to whose article I am providing the link, I am grateful that the chair of Peter is currently occupied by Joseph Ratzinger, a truly holy man, who is not afraid to confront issues head-on.

As an example, take the case of the sickening scourge of clergy sexual abuse. As Pope, Benedict XVI has acted decisively in the very prominent case of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a case that was unconscionably delayed and dissembled about during John Paul II's final years, when Fr. Maciel was protected by Angelo Cardinal Sodano, the recently retired Secretary of State. In May, Pope Benedict, in a move that did not surprise anybody who knows him, called on Maciel, through the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which has responsibility for sexual abuse cases, "to renounce the [further option of a] canonical process" and to "invite" him "to a reserved life of prayer and penance, giving up all public ministry." The CDF's statement ends abruptly with: "The Holy Father has approved these decisions". Of course, with much feigned piety, Fr. Maciel and his Legionaries with words about cross-bearing and enduring injustices patiently, that make the truly humble blush, obeyed knowing the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has the goods on Maciel and his predatory ways that would be made use of in any further canonical process. Maciel is bearing a cross of his own making. His cross is light and still does not rise to justice. The mercy was shown because Maciel is 86 years-old.

Nevertheless, there is still a stench in many chanceries, male religious houses, and seminaries. Because many bishops are implicated in the messes which cause this smell, we are still a long way away from cleaning it all up. This all leads up to this examination of conscience written, no doubt with a broken, but healing heart, by Mr. Dreher, whose article I learned about from reading Fr. Neuhaus' posting on the First Things blog. Here is the link to Orthodoxy and me.

Fr. Neuhaus writes that Dreher's "decision is in large part reactive. But he is reacting to very real corruptions in the Catholic Church. I hope every Catholic bishop and priest will read his essay, and especially those bishops and priests who are inclined to heave a sigh of relief that we have weathered the sex-abuse scandal. And every Catholic engaged in the standard intra-church quarrels, whether on the left or the right, should take to heart what he says about Catholics being more preoccupied with church battles than with following Jesus." As a Roman Catholic deacon, I appreciate very much his writing what needs to be written, not just pertaining to the sexual abuse crisis, but the deeper, underlying crises of liturgy, to include preaching, as well as catechesis and evangelization. In short, a Church that is intimidated by a largely hostile culture.

I pray that God continues to richly bless Rod and his family, especially through the sacraments. I cried as I read about Eric Patterson and his brokenhearted parents. It is time, way past time for people like the Pattersons, for us as a Church to squarely face the truth about the abuse and the cover-up, which is on-going, as well as the sad state of liturgy and catechesis, the Catholicity of Catholic education, the list goes on. To paraphrase then-Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book length interview with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, more than anything else, the Church needs saints.

Signs of Hope

This is just beautiful. It is from the family of Charles Carl Roberts, IV, who shot 10 girls in an Amish schoolhouse before killing himself on 2 October. I was alerted to this by Fr. Erik Reichstag, the other blogging cleric of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, on his blog, Orthometer. If our new bishop is a blogger, along with you the readers, Fr. Erik and I, we can have our own virtual diocese. Anyway back to this sobering, but hopeful post; Fr. Reichstag, in turn, read it on The Dawn Patrol. It is worth the widest possible dissemination.

Published: Oct 13, 2006 2:22 PM EST

The text of the release is as follows:

"From the Roberts family:

To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:

"Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.

"Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives."

Loneliness, Belief and the God who is Love

The word atheist, like many of our theological terms, comes from the Greek language. The Greek word athos does not immediately denote a person who does not believe in God, it means a person who is lonely, a person whom God (in its original Greek context- the gods) has abandoned. This certainly rings true for us Christians. We believe that faith, which is our response to God, is a gift from God. As such, it is a theological virtue, along with hope and love. We believe that it is by God's grace that we come to faith, not by any decision we make. Of course, as with any gift, we must receive it. Nonetheless, there is a very real sense in which we just believe. This sense takes us beyond the resolution of intellectual issues and beyond the wondering, at times, whether there really is a God who loves us, who knows the numbers of hairs on our heads, and who is deeply concerned about us and involved in our lives.

By contrast, there are those who just do not believe. Such people bear no hostility toward those who believe in God. They tend to be suspicious of religion, as are many who believe. Of course, such a suspicion is certainly understandable. I do not intend to tackle formal atheism in this post with such logical arguments as the difficulty, or impossibility, of proving a universal negative like There is no such being as God, etc. Conscientious atheism and conscientious belief have a lot in common, as Archbishop Bruno Forte brilliantly pointed out in his J.H. Walgrave Lecture, given earlier this year at Louvain University, that I was made aware of by Rocco Palmo over at Whispers. It is entitled, Theological Foundations of Dialogue Within the Framework of Cultures Marked by Unbelief and Religious Indifference, which he concludes with these words:

"And, perhaps for the same reasons the thoughtful non-believer becomes conscious of the fascinating paradox of the prayer he cannot stop himself from saying: 'Grant us, o Lord, the paradises of nothingness, the gardens of your springtime. Lord, you make the night into a morning, the morning we pay for with the glittering coins of the stars, the stars of the night, guide of the wanderers, of the wanderers towards the infinite': what is heaven if not the infinite that journeys towards nothingness? What is nothingness if not a return, your return? What is the infinite if not a return?' In the restlessness of questioning, the faith of the believer meets the invocation of those who would like to believe: on the ground of a common poverty and of a common search, but also on the basis of listening to the other who dwells in the depth of both partners of meeting, dialogue between believers and non-believers is one of the highest and most enriching challenges of the cultures marked by unbelief and religious indifference, that are particularly those of our post-modern Europe. Shall we be ready as believers and as Church to accept this challenge without fear, with spirit and heart, trusting in the faithful God? On this question we must verify ourselves to make our choice in order to follow today, in our historical context, as persons and as Church, Jesus the living Lord."

Another, rather poignant, observation along these lines comes, once again, from Orhan Pamuk, who was last week awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, from his novel Snow, in which Necip, a young aspiring writer, says to Ka, the poet, "A man could be at the coffeehouse every evening laughing and playing cards with his friends, he could have so much fun with his classmates that there is never a moment when they aren't exploding into laughter, he could spend every hour of the day chatting with his intimates, but if that man has been abandoned by God, he's still be the loneliest man on earth". To this Ka replies: "It might be of some consolation to have a true love." To which Necip sagely retorts, from the depth of an unrequited love he harbors for a beautiful girl "But only if she loved you as much as you loved her."

We long for love, not just to be loved, but we all really want to love with our whole selves. True, it is hard and it hurts to love, which makes it seem impossible a lot of the time. This why we must be reminded that God doesn't merely love us, "God is love" (1 Jn 4,8). Our deep longing to love, far from being unrequited, is always already there waiting, wooing, and yearning for us. God loves us, not only as much we love God, God is not so limited! Everyone, without exception and regardless of their beliefs or commitments, "who loves is begotten by God and knows God."
Matthias Gruwald's Crucifixion shows that the love, which is God, is not a syrupy, sappy, sentimental, unworthy love that ignores the darkness, abandonment, or cruelty of real life. No! With outstretched arms God embraces it all, he collects all misery and suffering, even death itself. Jesus, the High Priest, arms in the orans position, collects our loneliness that, at times, leads us to despair. He cries out with us in our agony, Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani!

Let St. Francis' prayer to the Crucified Jesus be our prayer today:
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before Thy face I humbly kneel; and with burning soul pray and beseech Thee to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, true contrition for my sins and a firm purpose of amendment. While with great love and tender pity I contemplate Thy five wounds, pondering over them within me, calling to mind the words which David, Thy prophet, said of Thee, my Jesus: "They have pierced My hands and My feet; they have numbered all My bones."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fiat Panis= Let there be bread

Today marks World Food Day. World Food Day is an annual event sponsored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), located in Rome. It falls each October 16th as a commemoration of the founding of the FAO in 1945.
"Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery", thus spoke John F. Kennedy almost 45 years ago. Yet, in the following decades more people lack sufficient food and access to fresh drinking water than ever before. At the same time our technological mastery of the environment has only increased. To highlight even further the absurdity of the situation, I quote Nicholas Cage's opening lines from the film Lord of War: "There are over 500 million fire arms in the worldwide circulation. That is one fire arm for every twelve people on the planet." It is here that we depart from the script because "The only question is" not, "How do we arm the other eleven?" Rather, the question is, to paraphrase General George Marshall, How do we eliminate the hunger, poverty, and desparation that leads to violence and chaos?

The proliferation of weapons throughout the world serves to demonstrate that we use much of our technological mastery and manufacturing efficiency, not for good, but evil. This is not only true in our manufacturing and disseminating weapons, but in also biotechnology. True, some of this mastery has been put to use in order to increase the amount of food we are able to produce. The global problem of hunger is not a Malthusian problem. In other words, the world produces enough and more than enough food to feed everybody. Hunger is more a problem of bringing about a more just distribution of the earth's bounty. As Dr Jacques Diouf, General Director of the FAO, said recently, "Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice."

General George Marshall, five star Army Chief-of-Staff during WWII, later Secretary of State and first Secretary of Defense, after whom the Marshall Plan, the comprehensive plan for European reconstruction after WWII, was named because he was its main architect, said of that endeavor: "Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos." These words should still resonate with us today as General Marshall's plan for winning the peace sounds like a great geo-political strategy for the twenty-first century.

What can we do? Well, we can fast this week and donate what we would've spent on food, say, $20-30, to a non-profit organization that works to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, etc. The Cathedral of the Madeleine's Good Samaritan Program, St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen, Catholic Relief Services, Inter-faith Hospitality Network are all worthy organizations to which you can donate. We can also get involved as volunteers to aid these organizations and actually help people ourselves. Finally, we can add to our fasting and almsgiving our prayers for world leaders, Christians, and all men and women of good will to recognize and begin to work to alleviate hunger, thirst, and illiteracy. All of this is so very traditionally Catholic; we know them as the corporal works of mercy. They could just as easily be called Works of Justice. There are seven, the same as the number of sacraments. I can think of nothing more Eucharistic than sharing food, especially with those who lack it.

Corporal Works of Mercy
1. Feed the hungry
2. Give drink to the thirsty
3. Clothe the naked
4. Shelter the homeless
5. Comfort the imprisoned
6. Visit the sick
7. Bury the dead

Read Matthew 25,35-40.

Overcoming hatred with love on the feast of Diwali

This Saturday, 21 October, marks the feast of Diwali. The word Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit Deepavali and refers to the earthen lamps that people place around their homes as part of the observance of this feast. For the Hindu faithful, the light from the lamps "represent," according to Candace Murphy, whose article on the feast appears on the website of the Hindu American Foundation, "the dispelling of ignorance, and the illumination of truth."

Diwali falls on the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik, or the last day of the last month in the lunar calendar. Hence, as with all lunar holidays, like Easter, it does not fall on the same day of the solar calendar from year-to-year. In addition to being a celebration among Hindus, Diwali is also observed by Sikhs and Jains. The significance of the feast for Sikhs is a celebration of "the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir." Jains, meanwhile, commemorate Diwali as the day Lord Mahavira, the last of the Tirthankaras, attained Nirvana after his death in 527 BC.

All this is a lead-in to the statement issued today at the Vatican, by Paul Cardinal Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, to Hindus (Why not Sikhs and Jains? I do not know). The title of the message is Overcoming Hatred with Love. The core of Cardinal Poupard's message is found in this paragraph:

"God loves us all without exception and his love is unconditional. Our human response to God’s love must be spelt out in concrete stewardship of God’s creatures, especially to human beings. It is urgent and necessary that believers of different religions manifest jointly to the world that hatred can be overcome by love. In today’s complex societies, is it not possible for us to join hands and collaborate in seeking justice for all, working together on common projects, for the development of the downtrodden, the marginalized, the destitute, the orphan and the weak? 'Despite the great advances made in science and technology, each day we see how much suffering there is in the world on account of different kinds of poverty, both material and spiritual' (Deus caritas est, n. 30). Moral and spiritual poverty, which are caused by breeding hatred in one’s heart, can be eradicated by believers who are filled with love and compassion. Love creates trust, which in turn, promotes genuine relationships among believers of different religions."

In his message from a previous year, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, Cardinal Poupard's predecessor, now Papal nuncio to Egypt, wrote in one his Diwali messages:
"You will agree with me in recognizing that one of the purposes of religious feasts is to make us better human persons. During the season of Diwali, as you strive to overcome darkness through light, evil through goodness and hatred through love, I would like to propose to you, as one of your Christian friends, that we focus our attention on the evils in our society that afflict children: forced labor, forced conscription, break down of the family, trafficking in organs and persons, sexual abuse, forced prostitution, AIDS, the sale and use of drugs, etc."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Catholic Heaven, Simpsons style

Sticking with Calvin's dictum (the little boy from Calvin and Hobbs, not John Calvin, Protestant Reformer), that if something is funny once, it's funny a thousand times, I felt compelled to track down a clip from the same episode of The Simpsons in which Liam Neeson guest stars as Fr. Sean, that shows a very Catholic conception of heaven. Again, enjoy and laugh. I am quite certain that is what Jesus would have us do. Just to avoid confusion, not to insult anybody's intelligence, the Protestant reformation began on 31 October 1517, when the Augustinain friar, Martin Luther, nailed his 99 theses to the door of the Church in Wittenberg. Of course, there were prescursors and follow-on movements, just none at Lourdes over wet hair in Church. Also, contra Reverend Lovejoy, theologically-speaking, there is only one heaven and, while there will, please God, be many Catholics, many non-Catholics will be there, too. Let's invite everyone to join the fun.

Things Contemporary: Homer Simpson ponders the mysterium fidei

Since this blog is also "a place for me to muse about things contemporary", I direct you to Dawn Eden's wonderful blog, The Dawn Patrol. Dawn, along with Rocco Palmo over at Whispers in the Loggia, muses about things contemporary more and better than I do. This is probably because they're both younger and more hip than I am- no surprise there! Rocco writes about his contemporary musings a bit on Whispers, he does so mostly in his column, Almost Holy, over at Busted Halo, a great Catholic website run by the Paulists, who I revere every bit as much as I do the children of Sts. Francesco and Chiara. If I were looking for a religious order to join, it would be difficult to decide between the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle.

Among the many things I enjoy about reading Dawn, a recent convert to the Catholic faith, apart from her ability to write compelling, is her on-going and very personal engagement with the work of G.K. Chesterton, for whose beatification I urge everybody to pray. As an example, in a posting yesterday, Dawn quotes Chesterton on virtue in general and on the virtue of chastity in particular, from Chesterton's essay A Piece of Chalk. With all due credit to Dawn for retrieving this precious gem, read away!

"Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.

"Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc."

Since this posting is entirely a Saturday morning digression, I urge you over to Dawn's excerpt from an episode of The Simpons, featuring Liam Neeson as Father Sean, in which Homer goes to bawl Fr. Sean out for making Bart want to become Catholic and winds up being convinced himself. So, link over to Homer to Rome, read the dialogue and enjoy!

Friday, October 13, 2006

As the sun goes down, a singer and a song to bring Friday to a close

Day is Done

Day is done, but love unfailing
dwells ever here
Shadows fall, but hope, prevailing,
calms every fear.
God, our Father, none forsaking,
take our hearts of Love's own making
Watch our sleeping, guard our waking,
be always near.

Dusk descends, but light unending
shines through our night
You are with us, ever lending
new strength to sight
One in love, your truth confessing
one in hope of heaven's blessing
May we see, in love's possessing
love's endless light!

Eyes will close, but you unsleeping
watch by our side
Death may come, in love's safekeeping
still we abide
God of love, all evil quelling
sin forgiving, fear dispelling
Stay with us, our hearts indwelling
this eventide.

As this day of penance and recollection- recollecting what Christ did for us on the Cross- ends, let us to turn the Scripture, specifically to St. James' Letter, chapter 4, verses 7-10: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Friday is almost here, are you hungry for God?

As readers know, one of my main exhortations on this blog, a pet peeve, if you will, is Friday as a day of penance, just as Sunday is a day of celebration: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. To that end, I direct the curious toward my previous posts on this subject, one from last Friday and the other from Friday, 29 September. Since, liturgically, Friday begins at sundown this evening and ends at sundown tommorrow, it is time to think about a fast of some kind, charitable works and almsgiving to accompany fasting, or other works of penance. We have plenty of suggestions from our bishops, that are derived from Sacred Tradition. Along with charitable works and almsgiving, spiritually motivated fasting also requires prayer. But the relationship is fasting undergirds, supports and sustains prayer and almsgiving.

Let us take our inspiration and get our motivation from our Lord Himself by reading Matthew, chapter 6. Here are few salient excerpts from this chapter:

verse 2- "When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites 2 do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward."

verses 7-14- "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 'This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.'"

verses 17-18 - "But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."

The Reason/The Why
Why? verses 19-21 - "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."

As Friday approaches, let us ask ourselves, Where is our treasure? What really matters to us?

Observing the gap through a literary prism

Today, which marks the one month anniversary of Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture, the Pope received, at the Vatican, a group from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). This Jewish organization, which was founded in 1913, aims at stopping the defamation of the Jewish people through appeals to reason and conscience and, when necessary, by appeals to law. Addressing the group in English, Pope Benedict, according to the Vatican Information Service, said to members of the ADL:

"In our world today religious, political, academic and economic leaders are being seriously challenged to improve the level of dialogue between peoples and between cultures. To do this effectively requires a deepening of our mutual understanding and a shared dedication to building a society of ever greater justice and peace. We need to know each other better and, on the strength of that mutual discovery, to build relationships not just of tolerance but of authentic respect. Indeed, Jews, Christians and Muslims share many common convictions, and there are numerous areas of humanitarian and social engagement in which we can and must cooperate.

"The Vatican Council II Declaration Nostra Aetate reminds us that the Jewish roots of Christianity oblige us to overcome the conflicts of the past and to create new bonds of friendship and collaboration. It affirms in particular that the Church deplores all forms of hatred or persecution directed against the Jews and all displays of anti-Semitism at any time and from any source."

These remarks, neither accidentally, nor incidentally, bear close resemblance to the core of his remarks at Regensburg last month. Today's remarks hearken back to the core of the Regensburg lecture, about which I posted earlier this week. It is certainly worth re-posting this core statement, in which the Holy Father prescinds from the fact that the vast majority of the earth’s over 6 billion people are deeply religious and that their cultures and societies are deeply rooted in their religions. These religions comprise the five great traditions, which, chronologically are: Hindu, Buddhist, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Many of these peoples, Eastern Christians included, view the West and its secularizing and immoralizing reach as a threat to their ways of life. It is this false gap that has developed between faith and reason Pope Benedict seeks to bridge when he said in his lecture last month that the West must overcome "the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable" that "we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."

In order to make some links between posts on this blog and, hopefully, bring some coherence to various observations, I offer a passage from Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk’s novel, Snow, which I recommended in my post Middle Eastern Sources, as a case-in-point from literature, which is a privileged gateway into any culture, of what the Holy Father is trying to communicate to the secularized and increasingly irreligious West. I read this last evening and was struck by how well Pamuk captures this real, but unnecessary, tension that seems to be rending the world apart. In an arguable case of synchronicity, just as I was typing this, at 10:16 am, I learned that Pamuk has been awarded this year’s Noble Prize for Literature, an honor richly deserved.

In this dialogue, from Snow, Pamuk masterfully shows, in a way unique to literature, the gap of which the Holy Father speaks of as needing to be closed, or at least narrowed. Ka, the main character in the novel, an agnostic, secularized Turkish poet, who has lived for many years in Frankfurt, Germany, is on a journalistic assignment in the remote northeastern Turkish town of Kars, represents Western reason in this dialogue. Whereas, Kadife, the recently Islamicized sister of the woman with whom Ka has fallen in love, takes the side of faith. Of the two, Ka comes across as the more shallow and predictable.

While walking with Kadife, Ka indirectly referring to the matter on which he is in Kars to report for a major Istanbul newspaper, the suicide of a local girl, Teslime, who killed herself instead of adhering to a governmental rule barring female students from state-run colleges from wearing the Islamic headscarf, the hijab: "I’m new to Kars . . . Even as I come to understand how things work here, I’m beginning to think I’ll never be able to make it clear to anyone on the outside. My heart breaks to see these people’s fragile livelihoods and their needless suffering." To this plaintive statement, Kadife responds: "The only people who worry about needless suffering are atheists who’ve never suffered a thing." She continues, "Because, after all, it takes only the tiniest discomfort for atheists to decide that they can’t bear life without faith anymore, and the next thing you know they’ve returned to the fold," thus making their conversation an intense one. Ka continues the dialogue by directly addressing the matter of the suicide of Kadife's classmate and friend by saying, "But Teslime’s suffering was so great that she left the fold and committed suicide." To this Kadife confidently gives a reply that Ka, the agnostic secularist does not expect. Why does her answer this surprise Ka?

I think it surprises him because it is not the silly, pat, poorly thought out, cut-and-dry answer that a person, such as Ka, expects from a provincial and religious person, like Kadife. She replies: "Well, if Teslime did indeed kill herself, it’s possible to say she committed a terrible sin. If you turn to the twenty-ninth line of the Nisa verse of the glorious Koran, you’ll see that suicide is clearly prohibited. But the thought that she might have sinned and killed herself is nothing next to the love we feel for her; there is still a corner of our hearts where we remember her with deep love and affection."

Not believing what he is hearing, Ka says, "So you mean to say that even if this luckless girl committed an insult against our faith," he calls it "our faith" apparently as a ploy to gain sympathy from Kadife, who is not fooled by such cleverness, "we still love her . . . We don’t believe in God with our whole hearts anymore," continues Ka. Getting to the point I am trying to make, Ka says, continuing the previously quoted sentence, "we no longer need to, because now, as in the West, we confirm our beliefs by reason and logic." He asks Kadife "Is this what you’re saying?"

Kadife gives another unexpected answer, "The Holy Koran is the word of God, and when God makes a clear and definite command it’s not a matter for ordinary mortals to question." She is not done, "But do not assume from this that our religion leaves no room for discussion. I will say only that I’m not going to discuss my faith with an atheist, or even a secularist." She concludes by shouting across the distance that separates faith from reason, "I’m not one of those Islamist toadies who go around trying to convince secularist that Islam can be a secular religion." (Snow, pgs. 112-113 in the Vintage paperback edition).

To honor Orhan Pamuk, Noble Prize winner, and to give yourself the treat of reading a great novel that takes you into another culture, go and read Snow. You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Regensburg Lecture- the Holy See's definitive version

As I noted and linked to in my first post yesterday, on 9 October 2006, the Holy See released, via its website, the definitive version of Pope Benedict XVI's controversial Regensburg lecture. The text itself contains no changes and just a few additions. The first addition is the addition of footnotes. Footnotes were not part of the first version, which was also posted on the Vatican’s website immediately after the Holy Father delivered it, as well as released publicly through the news media. At the time of the first release, a corrected version, with footnotes, was promised. So, this definitive version has been in the works since before the hubbub began.

In footnote [3], which is given at the end of the offensive part of the quote from the emperor, about Mohammed bringing nothing new, except what is "evil and inhuman," the Holy Father writes, "In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation. I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur'an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion. In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel II, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason. On this point I am in agreement with Manuel II, but without endorsing his polemic. The other footnote of note is [5], in reference to the emperor's observation that "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," the Pope writes, "It was purely for the sake of this statement that I quoted the dialogue between Manuel and his Persian interlocuter. In this statement the theme of my subsequent reflections emerges."

Apart from the addition of footnotes (the rest of which you will have to go to the Vatican link to read) the first addition to the text comes in the sentence immediately following the sentence in which the Pope quotes the Qur’an, sura 2, verse 256, which reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." The addition is made at the beginning of the very next sentence. The sentence reads as follows, with additions in emboldened italics, as all additions will be. "According to some experts." this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat." In this same paragraph the Holy Father adds words that further make clear that the words written by Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus regarding the fruits of Mohammed's revelation, in his dialogues with the learned Persian, are not his words and do not reflect his views about Islam. This sentence reads: "Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the 'Book' and the 'infidels,' he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'"

Continuing on to the next paragraph, in the second sentence we read another few words that make clear Manuel II does not speak for Joseph Ratzinger, even in matters of Christian faith: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. 'God,' he says, 'is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably ('sun logo') is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body.'" It should go without saying that the Holy Father certainly agrees that violence is incompatible with the nature of God and of the soul and that God is not "pleased by blood." My supposition is that, in this passage, the Holy Father takes issue with the dualistic idea, expressed by the emperor, that "faith is born of the soul, not of the body." Judging from the overreaction to his previous use of the quote from Manuel II regarding Islam, even making clear in the original text the views of the emperor are not his views, it seems he feels the need to distance himself from the emperor on any matter on which he quotes him.

So, on the whole, the definitive text gives a needed clarification about the origin of sura 2 (i.e., whether it was from Mohammed’s early Mecca period,when he was powerless, or from his later Medina period, when a community had formed around him), as well as pointing out more forcefully that he finds Manuel II Paleologus' statement that Mohammed brought only what is "evil and inhuman" and that Islam was spread exclusively "by the sword" unacceptably brusque and not reflective of his own views on Islam. He also distances himself from the dualism implicit in another quote of Manuel II's he uses to make his point that violence is contrary human beings rightly formed and informed by faith and reason.

It also bears pointing out, lest we give into the temptation to be smug, that Christianity has certainly had its historical moments during which attempts were made to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the sword, as Aref Ali Nayed, an Arab Islamic philosopher and theologian points out in a recent, very critical, response to Pope Benedict's decision to begin his Regensburg lecture by quoting Manuel II Paleologus.

A note on the first picture on this post

The painting of Mohammed on this post is from an Islamic source and is a reverent, artistic depiction of the Prophet on his prayer rug. It is Persian and dates from late medieval times, the exact date being uncertain. Depictions of Mohammad are not forbidden in the Qur'an and are matter of interpretation as the matter is addressed in the hadiths, which are the traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Prophet. Hadith collections are regarded as important tools for determining the way Muslims should live. Hadiths are accepted, but interpreted differently, by all traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence, both Sunni and Shi'a.

Artistic depictions of the Prophet, according to the U.K.'s Times of London, "were common during the Ottoman Empire, when the taboo on portraying him was less strong, although often his face was left blank. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has a 16th-century picture of Muhammad in a mosque, wearing long sleeves to hide his arms and hands. A 14th-century Persian miniature shows the angel Gabriel speaking to Muhammad, whose face is shown.

"Medieval Islamic pictures often echo Christian iconography. The University of California has a 14th-century Turkish painting of Muhammad in his mother’s arms, just as there are pictures of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ.

"The taboo is stronger in Sunni Islam than Shia and even today in Iran, which is mainly Shia, pictures of Muhammad can been bought illegally in markets.

"Even in the holiest Muslim city of Mecca, Muhammad has been depicted. Edinburgh University has a 14th-century miniature of him rededicating the black stone at Kaaba holy place in Mecca to illustrate a History of the World by Rashid al-Din."

Just as Christian Tradition is deeper and more diverse and, hence, richer than many Christians care to admit, the same is true of the richness of Islam. This does not mean anything goes, far from it! My point is that the richness of Islam provides it with internal resources by means of which Muslims can reclaim their religion from narrow-minded fanatics, who distort Islam for ideological purposes at odds with the message of the Prophet.

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-6; Ps 5:2-7; Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus, Ahab, or Jezebel? This is the question posed to us by our readings. What do yo...