Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Theology Geek joke

Like the argument for God's existence from a Bach organ composition, either you get it or you don't.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

". . . lust isolates, while love unites" Archbishop George Niederauer's Keynote Address to the Lighted Candle Society

"Pornography is not a new challenge to single-hearted human love and to respect for the dignity of human persons and human sexuality,” said Archbishop George Niederauer recently during his keynote address at the Lighted Candle Society's annual Guardian of Light supper. “However, the explosive increase in the accessibility and availability of pornography is new and deeply troubling. Pornography is now way beyond a problem with films and magazines. Every computer terminal is its pipeline, and cell phones and other hand held devices, many of them marketed to children and young people, literally deliver pornography everywhere, to anyone." He termed this an "electronic tsunami".

Wonderfully typical of the pastoral approach of the Archbishop of San Francisco, who serves as chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Communications and a member of the Pontifical Council on Social Communications, he doesn't primarily focus on the what, but the why, which is always more important:

"What should motivate us most profoundly is not the amount of pornography there is, but the kind of harm it does. Pornography assaults human dignity and commodifies people and human sexuality. Porn starves the human soul in its spiritual dimension.... The human person, an irreplaceable gift, becomes a throwaway toy."

(Quotes from the The Intermountain Catholic, where you can read the entire article)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Living the Gospel in the real world

Linda Thomson, writing for the Deseret News, one of our two Salt Lake City newspapers, reports good news, or, dare I write, Good News!, in a story about forgiveness.

"A grieving father and husband told the man who killed three members of his family that he'd forgiven him and gently rebuked a community that hadn't embraced the same sentiment. 'I want Carlos to know I forgive him,' said Gary Ceran during today's sentencing of Carlos Rodolfo Prieto, 25.

"Ceran tearfully explained that if Prieto could look him in the eye, shake his hand and promise such tragedy wouldn't be repeated, that would be enough.

"'Hasn't there been enough suffering,' he added, saying that if a Caucasian legally in the United States had been driving sober but still ran a red light the results would have been the same.

"'We hope people are praying for him as well as us.'

"Prieto, who pleaded guilty in April to three third-degree felony counts of automobile homicide, was ordered to serve two consecutive terms of up to five years in prison and another term was set to run concurrently. In issuing the sentence, 3rd District Court Judge Vernice Trease said she had to balance the gravity of Prieto's crime against his lack of any criminal record, his demonstration of remorse, his own role as a good father and what he's done since he was jailed Christmas Eve.

"Police said Prieto was driving drunk, ran a red light and smashed his pickup truck into a car carrying the family of six. Cheryl Ceran, 47, and her son, Ian Ceran, 15, died at the scene. A daughter, Julianna Ceran, 7, was flown to a hospital, but died later. Gary Ceran, 45, had minor injuries. Caleb Ceran, 12, and Clarissa Ceran, 19, were also injured. The survivors were in the back seat of the car.

"Since being jailed, Trease noted that Prieto had embraced responsibility for his actions and taken part in six courses, including alcohol rehabilitation and mental health counseling.

"Prieto, who said he prays nightly about what happened, was crying through most of the sentencing. 'I want to thank this wonderful man for forgiving me. I know what I have done. I am taking my responsibility. I wish I could give my life so he could have his happiness back.' He added that he struggles with his lack of ability to change what did happen. 'I wish I could do something to ease their pain, heal their hearts. There is not a day I don't think about it ... I'm saying this from right inside my heart.'"

My Gram Parsons project, part I

"Love hurts/love scars/love wounds/it mars/any heart not tough, or strong enough to take a lot of pain/take a lot of pain/Love is like a cloud that pours a lot of rain. . ." Nonetheless, "I know it isn't true. I know it isn't true that love is just a lie made to make you blue."

Although a signature song of the Scottish group Nazareth, let us not forget Gram Parsons, who wrote it and to whom this is a tribute. The beauty of this version is that it returns the song from rock ballad to twangy country tune. Our hearts are fickle and weak, but "You have made us for Yourself," O Lord, "and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Truly catholic

The B-Movie Catechism is a blog after my own heart. EegahInc has encouraged me to continue in my effort to reconcile my Catholic faith with my love of popular music. Therefore, coming tommorrow, part one of a projected five part Gram Parsons Project: a surprising duo singing Parsons' Love Hurts, a song made popular by the Scottish group Nazareth. Installments will be posted on Fridays.

(Diaconal bow to Fr. Erik for his post)

PP. Iohannes Paulus Secundum, ora pro nobis

O Blessed Trinity
We thank You for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II
and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care, the glory of the cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him. Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you. Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore, hoping that he will soon be numbered among your saints.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Maintaining the Communion of Saints

Over on Deep Furrows Fred answers the question, Why Pray to the Saints?.

I don't mind sharing that one of the most beneficial things I do each day is invoke my personal litany, as well as pray to particular saints for particular needs. Here's my list, which I share by way of encouragement: Saint Stephen, my patron; St. Martin of Tours, my other patron; St. Mary Magdalene, my patroness; St. Joseph, Sts. Francis and Clare; St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (i.e., Edit Stein); Blessed Teresa of Calcutta; Pope John Paul II, whose intercession I am invoking right now on a deeply personal issue, and whose canonization, along with Blessed Teresa's I pray to God for, along with that of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Further, I frequently invoke St. Lawrence, St. Philip, St. Augustine, St. Faustina, Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, and as of quite recently, St. Benedict and St. Gianna Molla.

Popes John Paul II & Benedict XVI and the neocons

Stephen Hand, writing for Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports, offers a cogent critique of Catholic neo-conservatives, like George Weigel, Michael Novak, and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Hand deals with the refusal of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to conform to contemporary political ideologies, like that of these neocons. Hand does so by dealing with the Iraq war, which Weigel inexplicably continues to defend and support, and on war and the application of force in general. Weigel has actually tried to show how pre-emptive war, about which then-Cardinal Ratzinger, after Novak's failed trip to Rome, that Hand chronicles, pointed out is not found in the Catechism, is consistent with Just War Theory. Needless to say, Weigel's effort was dead on arrival and justly ignored, though published in First Things, of which, for the purpose of full dislcosure, I am an avid reader.

Hand also shows that economically both popes explicitly reject the lasissez-faire model espoused by the neo-cons, with their consistent critiques of capitalism and Marxism, the most recent being Pope Benedict's statement to the bishops of Latin America.

While Hand's conclusion is rather sweeping and a bit over wrought, as it applies more to some of these neo-cons than to others (i.e., more to Novak than Weigel or Neuhaus, and more to Weigel than to Neuhaus), it is worth quoting: "The Catholic Church has thus disappointed Neoconservatives precisely because they wedded themselves to the present age. The Church transcends time-bound materialist political systems and its wars, opting rather in favor of just principles which foster the common good---which is far more than a materialist concept---and the dignity of the human person, who 'God so loved,' that he 'gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life'(Jn 3:16)."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The non-paradoxical thrust of Pope Benedict XVI's magisterium

On 11 May 2007, the same day on which the Holy Father addressed the assembly of Latin American bishops to open CELAM’s conference in Brazil, his vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, gave an address at a Book Fair in Turin, Italy. This address reveals even further the tone deafness of those commentators, like John Allen, who fail to grasp the very foundation of what Vatican expert Sandro Magister has called "the great magisterium of Joseph Ratzinger." In fact, it is Magister’s post "The Best Hypothesis": The Humble Proposal of the Church of Ratzinger and Ruini, that gives us the complete text of Cardinal Ruini’s address. I will not re-post the entire address, for those interested, follow the link and read it. I will merely focus on those parts that reaffirm that Pope Benedict was neither being insensitive nor thoughtless in remarks about the Christian faith purifying the native religions of the Americas.

“A widely held historical-theological hypothesis,” Cardinal Ruini observes at the beginning of his address, “maintains that the unilateral insistence upon this distinction [between reason and faith], which asserted itself in the ‘second scholastic’ period, or at the very beginning of the modern age, contributed to the marginalization of Christianity and theology from cultural developments, by involuntarily providing this [exaggerated distinction] with theological legitimacy.” Recognizing “the divine and transcendent character of Christian revelation, above all in its center which is Jesus Christ,” is what permits us to understand properly the necessary distinction between faith and reason, the natural and the supernatural, God and man, which means neither selling it short nor pushing it too far. This is what clears space for theology, which is faith seeking understanding.

With this we go to the heart of what Cardinal Ruini offers in support of the basic thrust of Pope Benedict XVI’s magisterium:

“The profound stripping of illusions produced in the area of liberation theology by the events of 1989 [the collapse of the Eastern Bloc countries and demise of Marxism-Leninism to which many liberation theologians had hitched their wagons] drove a number of its exponents toward positions marked by relativism. So many of these, together with not a few other theologians, moved in this direction that the results took on a variety of names such as ‘the theology of religions,’ according to which fundamentally not only Christianity, but also the many religions of the world, with the peoples and cultures that make reference to them - and which are imagined to have been often the object of both political and religious imperialism and colonialism on the part of Christians - are thought to constitute in reality, next to historical Christianity, autonomous and legitimate ways of salvation.

“Thus is abandoned the fundamental and truly foundational truth of the faith, which is highly evident in the New Testament and is the primary source of the Church’s missionary dynamism in the first centuries, and according to which Jesus Christ, in his concrete identity as Son of God who became man and lived within history, is the only Savior of the entire human race, and even of the entire universe.

“The declaration 'Dominus Iesus’ from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, in forcefully reaffirming this truth, did nothing more than give expression to the Church’s essential mission. The book that I have already cited by then-cardinal Ratzinger [Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions, Ignatius Press, 2004] brings to light how in specific forms of the theology of religions there is at work the principle of ‘latet omne verum,’ which in certain aspects ties together the relativism now widespread in the West and the approach to the divine found in the great Eastern religions, and also in the thought of late antiquity that opposed Christianity precisely in these terms. In various theologians this relativistic shift is accompanied by the assertion, still not abandoned, of the primacy of praxis; this alone is held to be decisive for salvation, and dialogue, or even the unity among religions, should resolve itself through this.”

Moving forward on the issue of inculturation: “From this last point of view, the then-cardinal Ratzinger advanced (op. cit., pp. 57-82) a proposal that was rather innovative with respect to the theological hypotheses most widespread today, and for me it is truly convincing: to abandon the idea of the inculturation of a faith that is culturally neutral in itself, which would be transplanted into different cultures regardless of their religions, and have recourse instead to the encounter of cultures (or “interculturality”), based upon two strong points.

1) “On the one hand, the encounter of cultures is possible and is constantly taking place because, in spite of all of their differences, the men that produce them share the same nature and the same openness of reason to the truth.

2) “On the other hand, the Christian faith, which was born from the revelation of the truth itself [Jesus Christ], produces what we might call the ‘culture of faith,’ the characteristic of which is that it does not belong to a single specific people, but can subsist in any people or cultural subject, entering into relation with the individual culture and encountering and co-penetrating it. This is concretely the unity, and also the cultural multiplicity and universality, of Christianity.”

Finally, looking back to Joseph Ratzinger’s habilitation thesis on revelation according to the Franciscan, St. Bonaventure, Cardinal Ruini refers “to the analysis of the nature of divine revelation that Joseph Ratzinger had elaborated in the study of Saint Bonaventure by which he intended to attain his academic teaching qualifications and is summarized in his book Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (Ignatius Press, 1998). That is, revelation is above all the act by which God manifests himself, and not the objective (written) result of this act. In consequence, the very concept of revelation includes the subject who receives and comprehends it - specifically, the people of God in the Old and New Testament - given that, if no one perceived the revelation nothing would have been unveiled, no revelation would have taken place.

“Thus revelation precedes Scripture and is reflected in it, but it is not simply identical with it, and Scripture itself is linked to the subject that welcomes and understands both revelation and Scripture, or the Church. Concretely, Scripture is born and lives within this subject.”

All emboldened, underlined and bracketed words are mine.

Worth reading

"Is Christianity Good for the World?"

Christopher Hitchens, who we can safely call the Humanity Department's Richard Dawkins and theologian Douglas Wilson, a brilliant Reformed theologian, who penned a cogent answer to Sam Harris' book-length freshman paper, Letter to a Christian Nation, entitled Letter from a Christian Citizen - A Response to "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris, both seek to answer the question.

Monday, May 21, 2007

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, being himself

Click here to see the Holy Father with children in rehabilitation and recovery from drug addiction. He prophetically spoke to those who traffic in drugs while visting this Franciscan farm, a place of healing and wholeness, in Brazil to which he gave $100,000.00.

His Holiness said to "1,500 recovering addicts wearing white shirts with yellow sleeves, representing the Vatican's flag, that they must become 'ambassadors of hope:' "'The Lord has given you this opportunity for physical and spiritual recovery, so vital for you and your families. In turn, society expects you to spread this precious gift of health among your friends and all the members of the community.'" Sounds like an admonition not just for those in recovery, but for all Christians!

Where do we find Jesus? For those possessed of His Spirit, who are the ones who see Him, in places like Fazenda de Esperanca, just as palpably as those who saw him ascend to heaven.

A heartfelt shout out to my brother, Alex Vitus, for the collage link!

Year C, Solemnity of the Ascension

After giving this homily at the early Mass yesterday, I received a very gracious compliment from one of our many steadfast parishioners, who said to me: "Thank you for reminding us that Catholics don't do the rapture." All I can say is, Amen!

On another note, not toot my own horn too much (having a blog is sufficient to that task!), the portion of this homily I am most happy with is the part on Confirmation. Just as the Holy Spirit is the least discernible Person of the Blessed Trinity, Confirmation is the least understood and the most misunderstood of the seven Sacraments. I have been preparing six Catholic adults for Confirmation this past month. So, my mind has been engaged in thinking about this most wonderful gift from our loving God and Father. In my opinion, the reason that Confirmation has lost much of its sacral character in the minds of many Catholics is its being ripped from its proper order (i.e., after Baptism and prior to First Communion) and placed, literally, out on a flimsy limb by itself. I am happy that here at the Cathedral we confirm at the same Mass (Penetcost) at which children receive their First Communion. Yes, we have a several weeks worth of classes for the parents of these children.

Instead of reading, you can listen to and watch the homily, the entire Mass if you want (I'd listen just for the choir personally), courtesy of our diocesan newspaper, The Intermountain Catholic, which is one of the best diocesan papers going, just link to Broadcast of Mass from the Cathedral On Demand. I'll warn you, it is not one of my best deliveries and I am not all that dynamic to begin with.

Readings: Act 1,1-11; Ps 47,2-3.6-9; Eph 1,17-23; Lk 24,46-53

“Men of Galilee why are you standing there looking at the sky,” asks the one of the men arrayed in white in our first reading. “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1,11). On this Ascension Sunday we venerate Christ’s Glorious Ascension into heaven forty days after his resurrection, during which time he appeared to the apostles speaking to them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1,3).

As indicated in our reading from Acts, Christ's Ascension is closely tied to his return in glory. Both of these are dogmas of our Catholic faith, as we cite them both in the Credo. While it may be easy to set aside our hyper-rationalistic view of the world in order to believe in our Lord's Ascension some two millennia ago, it is difficult for many of us to do so in order to grasp his return. At the outset it is important to note that when the apostles gathered around the Lord, "they asked him, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority" (Acts 1,6-7). Hence, as to the day and hour of the Lord’s return, no one knows, "not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matt 24,36).

Undoubtedly, part of our problem is the end-time mania to which our society is so prone, especially when this mania, driven by un-Catholic and even anti-Catholic explanations of the end times, spill over into popular culture. Among these is the multi-volume Left Behind series, which "is nothing more than a simple-minded fictional rendition of a bizarre eschatology called Dispensational Premillenarianism" (Amy Wellborn, Left Behind: Anti-Catholic, non-Scriptural and Rotten Writing, Of Course it's a Hit!).These books are the most recent catalyst for much of the speculation regarding this mystery about which our Lord himself claimed no knowledge. However, we must not act as if our Catholic faith tells us nothing about these matters. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that since his Ascension, "Christ's coming in glory has been imminent" (CCC, 673). It is true that the first few generations of Christians lived in expectation that Christ would return shortly. We see this expectation expressed most particularly in certain passages from a few of St. Paul’s letters, most explicitly at the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, when writes the Aramaic word maranatha, which most exegetes believe means, "Come, O, Lord" (1 Cor 16,22). Closely linked to this is a passage at the end of the book of Revelation, which reads, "Come Lord Jesus," written in Greek (Rev 22,20). Evidence also suggests that maranatha was used as a greeting between the earliest Christians.

The Catechism also affirms that prior to "Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers" (CCC,675). As we observed a few weeks ago when considering the white-robed multitude of Revelation who survived the time of great distress, in this veil of tears, one would be hard-pressed to think of a time that Christ’s Church was not dealing with some kind of peril, either internal or external. In other words, such pronouncements, like those of our Lord himself when addressing this matter, are deliberately vague and ambiguous.

This deliberate vagueness is verified by the admonition given to the apostles as they watch Christ ascending into heaven. The point is that we are not to spend a lot time, effort, and energy speculating about, fearing, and, like disciples of Cassandra, being prophets of doom. Rather, like the story told about St. Francis of Assisi who, while working in the vegetable garden, was asked what he would do if the Lord were come right then, to which he replied: "I’d just keep working," we, too, are called to keep living in the manner of disciples of the Risen One, each of us cultivating the small portion of the Lord’s vineyard with which we have been entrusted and inviting others to join us in this opus Dei, this work of God. This is made even clearer in our Gospel today. Jesus, as he is ascending says that he suffered, died, and rose on the third day so "that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Lk 24,47). Beyond that, later in this Gospel passage and in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is promised for the accomplishment of this work, this mission, which is entrusted to us, who have come to believe as a result of the labors of those who were "witnesses of these things" (Lk 24,48). Besides, the end of time for each one of us is our death.

According to Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jesus’ "disappearance from the world [began] with his Passion and [ended] with his Ascension." After he was laid in the tomb only those possessed of "the Spirit of Christ" were able to see him. By contrast, the Lord’s coming to us "starts on Easter morning, where he meets one disciple after another; continues throughout the Forty Days and is brought to its fulfillment at Pentecost, when he pours out his Spirit over the Church and thus fills her with his own innermost being." Therefore his presence does not change into his absence; "what changes," according to Balthasar, "is the mode of his presence" (You Crown the Year with Your Goodness).

The "Holy Spirit is the mode of Jesus’ resurrection presence to the world." The word Spirit, exegete Luke Timothy Johnson reminds us, "does not suggest a weak, derivative, vestigial sort of existence, as it might in [our] post-enlightenment world in which spirit and spiritual tend to connote 'ideal' rather than 'real,' mental rather than physical. In the symbolic world of the New Testament, the opposite is the case: the realm of the Spirit is regarded as more real and powerful and 'substantial' than the world of materiality" (Living Jesus, pgs 15-16). In no way is Jesus made more really and substantially present by the Holy Spirit than in the sacraments; in the bread and wine that become, by the power of the Spirit, Christ’s Body and Blood; in the waters of Baptism, in which we are washed clean, buried and reborn to resurrected life; in the Sacred Chrism with which we are anointed and, through which anointing, like the apostles during the Church’s first Pentecost, we are sealed with the Spirit of Christ that empowers us to make Him present in the world, through this anointing we are confirmed in our baptismal identity as sons and daughters of God; in the hands extended in blessing, accompanied by the words, "I absolve you of your sins;" in Christian marriage, when lived in fidelity, that is "the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church" (CCC, 1617). Like the men of Galilee, it is the task of the Church, of God’s priestly people, consecrated by Baptism, anointed in Confirmation, healed and renewed in Penance, and nourished by the Eucharist, to make Christ present to the world, to be co-workers with God in his work of restoring creation, disturbed by sin, to its original order.

Therefore, on this Ascension Sunday, "Let us give thanks to God the Father, to God the Son, to God the Holy Spirit from whom, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, we receive all the blessings of heaven," the first of which is this Eucharist we are gathered here to celebrate and share. Therefore, let us be firm in our "desire to attain the fullness of charity, in the conviction that holiness is not only possible but also necessary for every person in his or her own state of life, so as to reveal to the world the true face of Christ, our friend" (PP Benedictus XVI, homily at the canonization of Frei Galvão) whose return we await in joyful hope. Maranatha!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"We're One, but we're not the same"

In sticking with the theme from last Friday, yet another version of One performed on Saturday Night Live by Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of REM with Larry Mullin and Adam Clayton of U2, and introduced by (have I died and entered heaven?) Dennis Miller!

"It's like living in the middle of the ocean"

I suppose one of the reasons for having a blog is do what one wants, to be exhibitionistic, at least to some degree, about what forms and informs one's world view, to let people see things from the perspective of the blogger. With that, by popular demand, Bethy is back!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Allen's imaginary papal paradox

Much has been made this morning of John Allen's weekly column, entitled The pope's communication paradox, describing what he sees as a flaw in the communication of the papal magisterium of Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger. I greatly admire John Allen and often, even usually, agree with him, but I'm going have to give him an assist in resolving this so-called paradox, which is illusion and not reality. I agree with Allen that the Holy Father is "an exceptionally lucid communicator." However, contra Allen, the Holy Father is not tone deaf.

Going back to his days as a professor of theology, Pope Ratzinger has been concerned with speaking the truth as clearly and as unambiguously as possible, often letting the proverbial chips fall where they may. As evidence, I offer the CDF's Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church. Hence, a major concern of the Holy Father, going back beyond his twenty-plus years of close collaboration with Pope John Paul II, has been and remains speaking the truth in love because the Truth is Love. In other words, he would never say something for the express purpose of offending any group, be it Muslims in his magisterial Regensburg address last September (which Allen continues to see as some kind of a mistake, which it most certainly was not, neither were his statements, whether what he said or left unsaid, at Auschwitz) or native groups that took offense to comments he made in Brazil last week. So, while we can be certain that it is never his intent to offend, fear of offense is not going to keep him from seeking to communicate the Truth, especially when speaking to the Church on a continent that is undergoing a crisis of the proportions the Church in South America is currently experiencing.

Make no mistake, whether it has to do with the differences among Christians, or between the Church and non-Christian religions, Pope Benedict XVI continues to see relativism, particularly the ontological and fundamental relativism that is becoming so prevalent, as the challenge facing the Church (i.e., his "dictatorship of relativism" homily just prior to the conclave). One result of this relativism is religious indifference.

By saying that native religions of Latin America were purified by the light of Christian faith, Benedict is saying what he also would and, in fact, has said, regarding the pre-Christian paganism of Europe and the Mediterranean basin, to include the Christian purification of Hellenistic Philosophy, which he sees as essential to the articulation of Christian faith. He also insists on seeing in Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the Covenant into which God entered with Israel, as delicate as that question understandably is. Put simply, contra Allen, Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger is not tone deaf to those "who don't share his intellectual and cultural premises." He simply and deliberately refuses to allow such groups to set the agenda for his papacy and to dictate the la règle du jeu, the terms of engagement and dialogue. No matter what non-Christian religions may profess that is good, true, and beautiful, none of which he would ever deny these traditions, they lack Christ, or at least an appropriate understanding of Christ and His Church.

So, rather than the Holy Father being tone deaf, it seems to be that groups with axes to grind are often obstinately obtuse and/or deliberately deaf to his words and make what amounts to wild and ignorant claims about what he says or implies in his statements. To take the case at hand, there is nothing in what the Holy Father said in Brazil as regards native religions that even implies that he endorses what Pope John Paul II acknowledged were mistakes in the evangelization of the Americas, to include slavery and genocide. To be fair, Allen acknowledges the fact that there was no intent to offend in what the Holy Father said. Rather, Allen asserts, as he continues to do regarding Regensburg and Auschwitz, that the Holy Father did not fully understand or carefully consider what he said. We must keep in mind, however, that in his writing and speaking about inter-religious dialogue going back many years, the Pope has always been quick to point out that there are fundamental areas of divergence and that these have to be taken seriously. If these fundamental differences are not taken seriously, according to Ratzinger, no true dialogue occurs. The fundamental profession of Christian faith is the profession Jesus is Lord. This central Truth can never be negotiated away or left ambiguous.

The only paradox that exists, therefore, is that in the minds of commentators, like John Allen. We can be quite certain there is no paradox to be resolved in the mind of Pope Benedict XVI, who is the Doctor Caritatis because, in the first instance, he is the Doctor Veritatis.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the bond who can never be broken

"Time and time again we broke your covenant, but you did not abandon us. Instead, through your Son, Jesus our Lord, you bound yourself even more closely to the human family by a bond that can never be broken" (EP Preface for Reconciliation I).
(This is the 365th post on my blog. So, I suppose, it is something like a one year anniversary)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On a personal note

I feel a bit badly that my posting as of late has not consisted of much more than putting up the best of what I have been reading. I am not that apologetic, however, about posting a lot of what the Holy Father said in Brazil. As is characteristic of him, what he said is so relevant, so current, and yet so timeless. Nonetheless, I have had a bevy of other things going on as well (i.e., family, work, yard work, parish ministry, etc.). Not least among these is my preparation for my first summer residency for my master's degree in Pastoral Ministry. There is a lot of reading and I also have several writing assignments due. I hope that I can begin to incorporate some of my reflections on all this reading here on the blog.

Of most interest right now is my reading of Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez's The God of Life . Gutierrez is now a Dominican, he was formerley a priest of the Archdiocese of Lima, Peru. What you may not know is that Gutierrez is the father of liberation theology. Liberation theology now is best described as liberation theologies, but the whole movement began with Gutierrez's groundbreaking A Theology of Liberation. Now, lest we paint with a broom, Gutierrez's theology has always remained loyal and faithful to the magisterium. In this book, The God of Life he does deep, biblical theology. It is the kind of book that immediately engages me on a very deep level. It changes you as you read it, not in some superficial way, but in a deep way, a way that doesn't just inform, but forms.

"Resistance, Rebellion, and Death"

Albert Camus wrote about the necessity of what he termed metaphysical rebellion; rebellion in the face of existence's absurdity. We live in a time during which absurdity abounds. Metaphysical absurdity, what might better be termed ontological insanity, is the rule of the day fuelled by an apparently limitless subjectivity bordering on and sometimes extending into a nihilistic solipsism. In no way is this manifest more than when it comes to so-called life issues. Of particular concern in our present milieu is the harvesting and obtaining embryonic stem cells for research. The most common methods proposed for obtaining these stem cells are immoral and unconscionable. Using stem cells taken from aborted fetuses and creating human life for the purpose of destroying it in order to harvest stem cells are under no circumstances morally or ethically acceptable. It is even more absurd that people who claim to be speaking and acting on behalf of science buy into fetal stem cells as a miracle cure, if only those damn Christians would step aside and unblock the portal to the brave new world, all the world's maladies would be cured.

Anyone possessed of a properly formed conscience is duty-bound to resist, to push back, to oppose this diminution of human life, to oppose the culture of death and to create, not just a culture of life, but of love. Well, this morning I was gratified to read a wonderful push-back: A Lutheran Pastor Says ‘Here I Stand’ in Delaware, thus challenging the wisdom of the age. There is no way to make a pro-life argument in favor of harvesting and experimenting with fetal stem cells extracted from aborted fetuses or from zygotes created in a laboratory without committing a gross and deadly contradiction. Reason matters, logic matters, as both inform morality. Morality is not, in the first instance, a matter of revelation, of faith, of affectivity, of one opinion among many. It is a matter of applying right reason.

As to the false promises made by modern day peddlers of snake oil, I offer, from the Καθολικός διάκονος archives, Embryonic Stem Cells: Why Not?.

In his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II wrote to "all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life." It is to us that he made "this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love" (no. 6).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Canonical Straightalk

Dr. Edward Peters, JD, JCD, professor of Canon Law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, the seminary for the Archdiocese of Detroit, gives us a straightforward canonical account of Catholic politicians and abortion, appropriately entitled, A primer for those who prefer knowing to opining.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"the Church is holy and imperishable"

One section of the homily delivered to the Bishops of Brazil at Vespers, 11 May 2007, by His Holiness, the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI:

"Certainly the present is a difficult time for the Church, and many of her children are experiencing difficulty. Society is experiencing moments of worrying disorientation. The sanctity of marriage and the family are attacked with impunity, as concessions are made to forms of pressure which have a harmful effect on legislative processes; crimes against life are justified in the name of individual freedom and rights; attacks are made on the dignity of the human person; the plague of divorce and extra-marital unions is increasingly widespread.

"Even more: when, within the Church herself, people start to question the value of the priestly commitment as a total entrustment to God through apostolic celibacy and as a total openness to the service of souls, and preference is given to ideological, political and even party issues, the structure of total consecration to God begins to lose its deepest meaning.

"How can we not be deeply saddened by this? But be confident: the Church is holy and imperishable (cf. Eph 5:27). As Saint Augustine said: "The Church will be shaken if its foundation is shaken; but will Christ be shaken? Since Christ cannot be shaken, the Church will remain firmly established to the end of time" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 103, 2, 5: PL 37, 1353). A particular problem which you face as Pastors is surely the issue of those Catholics who have abandoned the life of the Church.

"It seems clear that the principal cause of this problem is to be found in the lack of an evangelization completely centred on Christ and his Church.

"Those who are most vulnerable to the aggressive proselytizing of sects—a just cause for concern—and those who are incapable of resisting the onslaught of agnosticism, relativism and secularization are generally the baptized who remain insufficiently evangelized; they are easily influenced because their faith is weak, confused, easily shaken and naive, despite their innate religiosity.

"In the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I stated that 'being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction' (DCE, no.1). Consequently, there is a need to engage in apostolic activity as a true mission in the midst of the flock that is constituted by the Church in Brazil, and to promote on every level a methodical evangelization aimed at personal and communal fidelity to Christ. No effort should be spared in seeking out those Catholics who have fallen away and those who know little or nothing of Jesus Christ, by implementing a pastoral plan which welcomes them and helps them realize that the Church is a privileged place of encounter with God, and also through a continuing process of catechesis.

"What is required, in a word, is a mission of evangelization capable of engaging all the vital energies present in this immense flock. My thoughts turn to the priests, the men and women religious and the laity who work so generously, often in the face of immense difficulties, in order to spread the truth of the Gospel. Many of them cooperate with or actively participate in the associations, movements and other new ecclesial realities that, in communion with the Pastors and in harmony with diocesan guidelines, bring their spiritual, educational and missionary richness to the heart of the Church, as a precious experience and a model of Christian life.

"In this work of evangelization the ecclesial community should be clearly marked by pastoral initiatives, especially by sending missionaries, lay or religious, to homes on the outskirts of the cities and in the interior, to enter into dialogue with everyone in a spirit of understanding, sensitivity and charity. On the other hand, if the persons they encounter are living in poverty, it is necessary to help them, as the first Christian communities did, by practising solidarity and making them feel truly loved.

"The poor living in the outskirts of the cities or the countryside need to feel that the Church is close to them, providing for their most urgent needs, defending their rights and working together with them to build a society founded on justice and peace. The Gospel is addressed in a special way to the poor, and the Bishop, modelled on the Good Shepherd, must be particularly concerned with offering them the divine consolation of the faith, without overlooking their need for 'material bread'. As I wished to stress in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, 'the Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the sacraments and the word'(DCE, no. 22).

"The sacramental life, especially in the celebration of Confession and the Eucharist, here takes on a particular importance.

"As Pastors, it is your primary task to ensure that the faithful share in the eucharistic life and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You must be vigilant to ensure that the confession and absolution of sins is ordinarily individual, inasmuch as sin itself is something profoundly personal (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 31, III). Only physical or moral impossibility exempts the faithful from this form of confession, in which case reconciliation can be obtained by some other means (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 960, Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 311). It is appropriate, therefore, to instil in priests the practice of generously making themselves available to the faithful who have recourse to the sacrament of God’s mercy (cf. Apostolic Letter Misericordia Dei, 2).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI on social and economic justice

First off, for anybody who wishes to read an informed, detailed, first-hand account of the Holy Father's Apostolic Journey to Brazil, you can do no better than reading John Allen's daily reports of the trip. Of all the wonderful coverage provided by Allen, building on my previous post regarding Archbishop Romero, I wish to draw attention to Pope Benedict's address to inaugurate the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM), convened, at his request, in Aparecida, Brazil, as reported by Allen.

The Holy Father has a rare ability to synthesize faith and its bearing on the totality of human life. In this address, avoiding, as he assiduously tends to do, ideology, he critiques both Marxism and capitalism from the perspective of the Gospel. In doing so he goes into more detail than he does in the second part of Deus Caritas Est , particularly number 26, when he addresses Marixist critiques of the Church's charitable outreach and programs. It also puts one in mind of Pope Paul VI's Populorum Progesso the fortieth anniversary of which we marked in March.

"Both capitalism and Marxism," the Holy Father told the assembled episcopate, "promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves; they declared that not only would they have no need of any prior individual morality, but that they would promote a communal morality." This "ideological promise has been proved false. The facts have clearly demonstrated it."

For its part, the Holy Father observed, "The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit. And we can also see the same thing happening in the West, where the distance between rich and poor is growing constantly, and giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness."

According to the Pope, modern globalizing capitalism does not offer a satisfactory response to the needs of society. He went to speak about "the risk of vast monopolies and of treating profit as the supreme value." Addressing their particular situation, the Holy Father said that "the liberal economy of some Latin American countries must take account of equity, because of the ever increasing sectors of society that find themselves oppressed by immense poverty or even despoiled of their own natural resources."

According to Allen, the "pope catalogued a series of what he sees as other dead-end roads, including 'secularism, hedonism, indifferentism, and proselytism by numerous sects, animist religions and new pseudo-religious phenomena.'"

The Pope acknowledged that proposing a religious solution to these systemic problems, like "accenting Christ, the sacraments, and the spiritual life" may seem like, using Allen's analogy, "putting one’s head in the sand."

Could putting the priority on Christ, the sacraments, and the spiritual life "not perhaps be a flight towards emotionalism, towards religious individualism, an abandonment of the urgent reality of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world, and a flight from reality towards a spiritual world?". Indeed, this is the accusation made by some liberation theologians against traditional forms of Catholic piety.

Such accusations, according to Allen's take on the Holy Father's remarks, presuppose "a vision of reality that marginalizes God."

According to the Holy Father, this just shows that the abject failure of Marxism and the on-going failure of capitalism to live up to its promises stem from the same source, the same "great error": "of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems." Both systems, according to this analysis "falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality, which is God." Continuing to repeat this error, the Holy Father concluded, is "recipe for destruction."

The Holy Father then insists on the Church as independent and not ideologically driven so it can be, to borrow a sociological term, a mediating institution, not a political one, but one that is interested in political matters as they bear on the proper ordering of society and the salvation of souls, which is nothing short of communion with God, with each other, and with the rest of creation, and the very reason we exist.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI on Archbishop Oscar Romero

In addition to his grossly misinterpreted comments on abortion and excommunication, Pope Benedict had some wonderful news that he shared with reporters. When asked whether Archbishop Oscar Romero's canonization process would ever result in this martyr of the faith and for his people becoming a saint, the Holy Father replied:

"I have no doubt he will be beatified. I know that the cause is proceeding well at the Congregation for the Cause of Saints," but told the reporters he did not have exact information as to when this would occur. His Holiness continued by saying, "He was certainly a great witness for the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who was committed to peace and against dictatorship." Then, recalling that the archbishop of San Salvador was assassinated during the consecration of the host while saying Mass, the Holy Father said Romero's was "an incredible death."

Just days prior to his murder Romero said to a reporter, "You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish." For more on Archbishop Oscar Romero see the article Oscar Romero: Bishop of the Poor, by Renny Golden.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Abortion and excommunication

It is a busy blogging day, which means that I probably will not post again at least until Monday.

In a post earlier this week, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, Departs for Brazil, I mentioned that when asked about the Mexican bishops' response to a law passed by the Mexico City legislature, allowing unrestricted access to abortion during the first tri-mester of pregnancy, Pope Benedict, in supporting the bishops, minced no words. Last night in RCIA we spent a good twenty minutes discussing the Holy Father's comments and the U.S. media's attempt to apply what he said about one specific situation (i.e., Mexico City) more broadly (i.e., the United States). Dr. Edward Peters, JD, JCD, professor of Canon Law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, the seminary of the Archdiocese of Detroit, seeks to clarify the Pope's comments in light of the ruckus these comments, made aboard the airplane during his flight to Brazil, have (predictably) caused.

Dr. Peters is the author of several books, the most recent of which is a book on excommunication - Excommunication and the Catholic Church: Straight Answers to Tough Questions. On his blog In Light of the Law, in a post named Legislating in mid-air? First thoughts: possible, but not likely , he clarifies what has become an entangled mess.

(Photograph: REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker)

More on Limbo

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of the journal First Things, offers his always cogent commentary on this Friday in a post over on Observations & Contentions, entitled Stirring the Potpourri. Among the issues he tackles at the end of this week is the International Theological Commission's recently released document The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, section 3 of which begins: "The idea of limbo, which the church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching. Moreover, the notion that infants who die without baptism are deprived of the beatific vision, which has for so long been regarded as the common doctrine of the church, gives rise to numerous pastoral problems, so much so that many pastors of souls have asked for a deeper reflection on the ways of salvation."

Fr. Neuhaus sums up the commission's findings concisely:

"Limbo was not a doctrine of the Church but a theological opinion that emerged from wrestlings with the question of what happens to babies who have been deprived of the 'ordinary' means of salvation in baptismal regeneration. The idea was that they dwelt in a state of eternal felicity, called Limbo, that is short of the Beatific Vision. The ITC report, to put it too simply, suggests that the idea of Limbo should be retired in favor of a permissible hope that all will be saved in ways known only to God." He also addresses an interesting footnote, number 72 to be exact, that resonates a bit with my post earlier this week The forthcoming of the this-worldly "new humanity".

His Own Words- Our Bishop Speaks to us, regularly!

It was great to learn yesterday that The Intermountain Catholic , our diocesan newspaper, has a new feature on their website, a podcast by Bishop Wester, His Own Words. This is an exciting development. So, join the party and go check it out! If the first podcast is anything to judge by, and I am quite certain that it is, we are in for a regular treat from Bishop Wester!

Kudos Barbara Lee and producer Christopher Gray, and, of course, to Bishop Wester for providing this timely feature!

Organ Donation

I had the privilege of being interviewed recently on organ donation for a wonderful article written The Intermountain Catholic's Christine Young, entitled Religious leaders share views on organ donation. Here is my excerpt:

"'The Catholic church views organ donation in a favorable light,' said Deacon Scott Dodge of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, who serves as a chaplain at LDS Hospital. 'According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Organ donation is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity" (2296).

"'Through organ donation, we foster life,' said Dodge. 'For it to be morally acceptable, the organ donor must personally give explicit consent by signing up as a donor. Individuals are encouraged to express their consent to family members before their death, because in the end the family of the deceased must also consent to organ and tissue donations.'"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

(Some) of you just have to see this!

This is really only for those who know me. For those of you who do not, please keep your sense of humor. Meanwhile, I will be compiling documentation for Deacon Payne's canonization process (laugh, breath): Deacon Payne goes to Mundelein

Take away line in preparation for a penitential Friday:
"My spiritual director always says that asceticism is at the heart of the spiritual life. I ask you, What can be more ascetical than a savage beatdown?"

(Diaconal bow to Fr. Erik)

Another 10 May milestone

Happy 47th Birthday to Paul David Hewson (a.k.a. Bono Vox)

In Memoriam: Bishop Lawrence Scanlan

Today, 10 May, marks the day ninety-two years ago when our great pioneer bishop, the Rt. Rev. Lawrence Scanlan "in the presence of attending sisters . . . raised his cross to his lips, kissed it, and peacefully died. Fittingly, in honor of his last request, he was interred beneath the sanctuary of St. Mary Magdalene's, the cathedral he helped to build." All Catholics in the Diocese of Salt Lake City owe a tremendous debt to this great man, who, in imitation of our Lord, emptied himself, poured out his life, for others, not just of his own day- though through his travels by horseback to administer the sacraments in small towns and mining camps he did plenty- but for those, like us, who, throughout generations, are beneficiaries of his work. He died quite uncertain about the future of the Church in Utah, how it must gratify him to look down and see what God has done through his labors. As St. Paul wrote to the Church he and Apollos established in Corinth: "neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God's co-workers; you are God's field, God's building" (1 Cor 3,7-9).

Of course, we are celebrating his life today at the Cathedral. As a priest and a bishop he had no biological children, but we are his children and, as such, we have a duty to remember and pray for him, just as we have an obligation to pray for all of our departed priests and religious, who have served us well and faithfully. It also behooves us to ask them for their prayers and intecessions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, Departs for Brazil

Let us keep the Holy Father in prayer as he travels to Brazil. Let us pray for the Church in this most Catholic of countries and throughout Latin America, for its bishops, whose plenary meeting the Holy Father is there to attend. Over at Whispers, Rocco reports on the Holy Father's airborne press conference, a traditional feature of papal trips, in which Pope Benedict minces no words in his support of the Mexican Bishops' response to the Mexico City law allowing unrestricted access to abortion in the first tri-mester of pregnancy.

Holy Mary, Mother of God- pray for us!


With the reversion of Dr. Francis J. Beckwith, president of the Evangelical Theological Society, to the Catholic Church, the blogosphere has been abuzz this week. This was balanced by news that Bill Cork, who, until very recently, was Director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, had reverted to being a Seventh Day Adventist, even going so far as, inexplicably, being re-baptized! Anyway, to that end, in a spirit of ecumenism and true interfaith respect, acknowledging the imonk for posting this and alerting me to it, I offer this letter of C.S. Lewis to a woman of his close acquaintance, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic. Notice the date, 10 November (the day before my b-day) is the birthday of Martin Luther!

Magdelen College,
Nov. 10th 1952

Dear Mrs. _________,

It is a little difficult to explain how I feel that tho’ you have taken a way which is not for me I nevertheless can congratulate you — I suppose because your faith and joy are so obviously increased. Naturally, I do not draw from that the same conclusions as you — but there is no need for us to start a controversial correspondence! I believe we are very near to one another, but not because I am at all on the Rome-ward frontier of my own communion. I believe that, in the present divided state of Christendom, those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than those who are at the fringes. I would even carry this beyond the borders of Christianity: how much more one has in common with a real Jew or Muslim than with a wretched liberalising, occidentalised specimen of the same categories. Let us by all means pray for one another: it is perhaps the only form of "work for re-union" which never does anything but good. God bless you.

Yours most sincerely
C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The forthcoming of the this-worldly "new humanity"

Romano Amerio, in his magisterial book Iota Unum, writes very critically about the anthropology espoused by the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. His critique focuses particularly on the end of number 30, the last sentence of which reads: "But this development cannot occur unless individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society; thus, with the needed help of divine grace men who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming." In response Amerio points out that the Catholic faith "knows of only three radical kinds of newness, capable of bringing about a new state of humanity and, as it were, of transnaturalizing it. The first is defective, and is the one by which man fell, by reason of a primordial fault, from a state of integrity and supernatural existence. The second is restorative and perfective, and is the one way by which the grace of Christ restores the original state of human nature and, indeed, elevates that nature above its original condition. The third is completive of the whole order of things, and is the one by which, at the end of time, man endowed with grace is also beatified and glorified in a supreme assimilation of the creature to the Creator, an assimilation which, in via Thomae just as much as in via Scoti, is the very purpose of the universe" (Amerio 112).

It is well known that apart from Lumen Gentium's identifying the Church as the "People of God," Gaudium et Spes is Pope Benedict XVI's least favorite document of the council. It must be noted that even its canonical status as a so-called pastoral constitution is unclear, kind of like a conciliar non-binding resolution. What is most problematic about this document is precisely its tortured anthropology. Especially in the 60s the moniker new man was associated with Marxist regimes beginning with the Russian homo Sovieticus, the idea that the Soviet system would create a new, better kind of person. There was also Ché Guevara's (a man who truly turned to evil, despite The Motorcycles Diaries- how could seeing the suffering of so many of South America's poor make a person undertake to worsen their plight?- is not worthy of the veneration given him by young people who know nothing of his camps and pogroms in Cuba)New Man- both of which were existentialist in orientation and were attempted in a brutal, repressive, and murderous manner.

It may very well have been the case that the Council Fathers were trying to re-orient this idea in a Christian direction. It was most certainly not the case that the socialist new man, or the methods of bringing him into existence, were in any way adopted or endorsed by the Council, but, as Amerio shows, there is nothing defective in the Church's Tradition on this matter and it is jettisoned or ignored to the peril of the faith, as it introduces many confusions. Along this same line aim is taken at number 24 of the Gaudium et Spes, during his exposition on the holiness of the Church. This number of the Pastoral Constitution reads in part that human beings are creatures willed for their own sake "rather than for [God's] sake." One can only affirm the former at the expense of the latter, Amerio insists, and only if one "indulges in the anthropocentric tendencies of the modern mentality and, to put it in theological terms, if one abandons the distinction between antecedent predestination, which concerns humanity [as a whole] and consequent predestination which concerns men [as individuals]" (Amerio 130). Please do not get overwrought at the mention of pre-destination. There will be more forthcoming on this doctrine. Suffice it to write for now, that I am not a Calvinist or a crypto-Calvinist.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Year C, 5th Sunday of Easter, Vespers

Reading: Rev 21,1-5a

As we make our way through Easter, we continue reading from St. John’s Revelation. Without doubt Revelation is the most misunderstood and over-interpreted book in all of sacred scripture. Indeed, St. John’s Apocalypse is a dense and opaque work. Nonetheless, like all books of scripture, it is God’s word for us and says not just something, but many things to us. Therefore, we interrogate our text in order to see what God, through this lectio, says to us.

John, as he beholds the new Jerusalem, which we see so beautifully depicted in the apse of our Cathedral, with the saints of the new covenant to the right of our Crucified Lord and the holy men and women of the first covenant, which, like the new covenant, is everlasting (Rom 11,1-7), to His left, hears the loud voice say: "Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God" (Rev 21,3).

These words resonate through all of sacred scripture, across both covenants. In Genesis, God tells Abraham, our father in faith (Rom 4,16), that, in addition to giving his descendants the land of Canaan in which to dwell, He will be their God (Gen 17,8). In Exodus God tells the children of Israel "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God" (Ex 6,7). Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says to Israel: "Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you" (Jer 7,23). This promise is reiterated and reaffirmed at least four other times in the Law and in the prophets (Lev 26,12; Jer 11,4; 30,22; Ezk 36,28).

It has been God’s divine will since before the beginning of time, to make His dwelling with the human race. It is by becoming one of us in Jesus Christ that God fulfills His deepest desire. It is to make His dwelling with us that God created us, sent His Son to redeem us, and who now sanctifies and divinizes us, most especially in and through the Eucharist, which is the new and everlasting covenant (Matt 26,28; Mk 14,24; Lk 22,20; 1 Cor 11,25). At the beginning of the liturgy of the Eucharist, when pouring the water into the wine, the minister utters an inaudible prayer: "By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share our humanity." Hence, it is through the Eucharist that God makes his dwelling not only with us, but in us. In this promise, this covenant, we learn the meaning of the words of the “One who sat on the throne,” when said, "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21,5a).

Friday, May 4, 2007

Everybody hurts . . . sometimes

To borrow a quote from Michael Spencer: "Feeling screwed up at a screwed up time in a screwed up place does not necessarily make you screwed up."- Mark Hunter, Pump Up The Volume.

Author of Deep Furrows on why he loves von Balthasar

"Balthasar showed me that the beauty of the Western cultural tradition is Christ, a beauty Who is symphonic and thus capable of bringing together a dazzling pluralism of temperaments. In his survey of Theological Aesthetics (Clerical Styles, Lay Styles), Balthasar explores the breadth and depth of this tradition through its most original and lucid representatives: Irenaeus, Augustine, Dionysius, Anselm, Bonaventure, Dante, John of the Cross, Pascal, Hamann, Soloviev, Hopkins, and Peguy. This chorus of voices cannot be systematized, but together they sing the diverse approaches to Christian beauty found in other authors."

For the love of God (2): Why I love Hans Urs von Balthasar

Mary J Blige w/ U2: Unity in diversity

Words fail: U2 and Mary J. Blige


"It is appropriate here," writes Romano Amerio in his magisterial book Iota Unum in addressing "The deviations of the Middle Ages", "to formulate the law of the historical conservation of the Church, a law which also constitutes her ultimate apologetic criterion. The Church is founded on the Word Incarnate, that is, on a divinely revealed truth. She is also given sufficient energies to conform her own life to that truth: it is a dogma of faith that virtue is always possible. Nonetheless, the Church is only in danger of perishing if she loses the truth, not if she fails to live up to it. The pilgrim Church is, as it were, simultaneously condemned to imperfection in her activity, and to repentance: in the modern phrase, the Church is in a continual state of conversion. She is not destroyed when human weakness conflicts with her own teaching (that contradiction is inherent in the Church's pilgrim condition); but she is destroyed when corruption reaches the level of corroding dogma, and of preaching in theory the corruptions which exist in practice" (pg. 18).

Before proceeding it is important to point out a flaw in Amerio's reasoning on this matter, namely that because the "Church is founded on the Word Incarnate, that is, on a divinely revealed truth," who promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against her (Matt 16,18), she cannot forsake the truth and perish. Despite this easily discernible flaw, Amerio is quite right in insisting that institutional rationalization is just as damaging as individual rationalization. If the Church fails to insist on the truth, despite the failings of her children and even her ministers, then rationalization goes unchecked and uncorrected. Just as an overindulgent parent hinders a child's development as much, or even more than, an overly strict parent, Mother Church fails us, fails to love us, when she indulges our weaknesses, or accepts our rationalizations. To rationalize is to attempt to bring into accord with reason something that is unreasonable. Morality is rooted in what is true. Truth is logical and, therefore, is constitutive of reason. So, to rationalize our moral failings is to seek to make something reasonable that is objectively opposed to reason.

When a one year-old is denied something s/he wants, inevitably the child makes a fuss. In such cases parents are typically sympathetic. Why? Parents are sympathetic because the one year-old does not understand why s/he cannot have what is desired. Despite being sympathetic, the parent knows the child will never understand if s/he is not taught. Often, even though the child is too young to grasp it, the parent will comfort the child and explain why s/he cannot have the object of desire (i.e., it is dangerous, breakable, etc.). As the child grows and understands, far from being sympathetic, the parent does not get why the young person does not understand, why s/he is being so unreasonable.

Let us take a prevalent example as paradigmatic of our moral confusion: too often we seek to rationalize unchaste behavior, either within or outside of marriage. We demand, like teenagers, not be bothered about our "private" behavior. We insist, again like teenagers, that we are fulfilling "needs," that we be indulged, that our Mother not tell us the truth about these matters, that we know perfectly well what we are doing and (here's the kicker) it is good for us, or at least not bad for us- How can something that feels so good be wrong, the rat asked himself as he pressed the metal bar for another crack pellet? Such corruption increasingly finds support in teaching and preaching, in either explicit deviations, or by a deliberate failure to address the issue at all. The effects, both ecclesiastically and on society, are deleterious. Just as in the lives of individuals, it is not so much a matter of being perfect as recognizing and acknowledging our imperfections as imperfections, as deviations; recognizing our own need for on-going reformation and conversion. Put a bit more simply, it is alright not to be perfect as long as we do not seek to call what is evil good and what is good evil, or worse, old fashioned.

It would give the sexual libertines of the 1920s a laugh to hear twenty-first century young people say that chastity is old fashioned. At this point in time, as Dawn Eden points out in her book The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, there is nothing more old-fashioned than seeing so-called sexual liberation as a new way of living that will free humanity and usher in a new age! Mary Beth Bonacci shows the lie in this idiotic claim in her recent article entitled, Viagra: It's Not Just for Old Guys Anymore, in which she points out the conclusions of an increasing body of social science studies "on sexual satisfaction [that] consistently reveal the same results. The most sexually satisfied people in America--the ones who apparently have the best and most frequent sex--are highly religious married people who saved sex for marriage." Sex is best, she observes, when it speaks its authentic language, which is the language of self-donating, self-giving, selfless love. "And so it only stands to reason," she concludes "that it would be the most pleasurable when it takes place in that context."

However, it seems that in our pride we insist on thinking ourselves perfect. The trouble occurs when we seek to define morality down, either collectively or for our own sake. Sadly, the results of such pride and its resulting errors are not merely theoretical, but all too real.

Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis

From Deep Furrows: An Invitation to Hope: "Sin is less a dogma than it is a human experience." It puts me in mind of Malcom Muggeridge's observation that original sin is the most empirically verifiable fact in the world.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Sacramental vs. gnostic

Not long after Rowan Williams was named archbishop of Canterbury, George Weigel had a ninety minute conversation with him at his London office in Lambeth Palace, during which Weigel gave Dr. Williams "a copy of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II". The two then discussed Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. This led to a conversation about "the difference between 'sacramental' and 'gnostic' understandings of the human condition. The former insists that the stuff of the world – including maleness, femaleness, and their complementarity — has truths built into it; gnostics say it’s all plastic, all malleable, all changeable. The sacramentalists believe that the extraordinary reveals itself through the ordinary: bread, wine, water, salt, marital love and fidelity; the gnostics say it’s a matter of superior wisdom, available to the enlightened (which can mean, the politically correct). Dr. Williams seemed convinced that the gnosticism of a lot of western high culture posed a great danger to historic Christianity and the truths it must proclaim."

The end of the Anglican Communion, by George Weigel

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Year C, Fourth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 13,14.43-53; Ps 100,1-2.5; Rev 7,9.14b-17; Jn 10,27-30

Today’s readings are about the universal nature and scope of the Gospel, about the depth and height of God’s plan. Today we read about what God has done in Jesus Christ for men and women of all nations, races, peoples, tongues, and times, including our own. These readings beckon us to step back and view the Paschal mystery from a panoramic perspective, to see it as the fulfillment of what God set in motion through Abraham, who is our father because of his faith (Rom 4,16), to view this mystery that has played out through his descendants, the nation of Israel, culminating in Jesus of Nazareth, through whom His covenant is made open to all. It remains for us to discern how all this bears on the here and now. Our Psalm, which is a hymn of praise summoning Israel to worship God, unifies the first two readings. This psalm has a universal dimension, it is a call addressed to "all you lands” (Ps 100,1). This call includes three imperatives: to serve the LORD, to come before the LORD, and to know the LORD.

In this same vein in his first encyclical Pope Benedict XVI writes: "The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)" (DCE, 25a). Indeed, the Church is the new Israel, the very fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham immediately following the episode with his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, when God tells him: "because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore" (Gen 22,16-17).

We see in our first and second readings faithful responses to this three-fold mission. Paul and Barnabas, in our passage from Acts, certainly demonstrate what it means to give witness and to preach, as well as to suffer for, the word of God, that "is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4,12). In this reading, Paul paraphrases a verse from the book of the prophet Isaiah, spoken originally to Israel affirming God’s universal call: "I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isa 49,6). We get an even longer glimpse of God’s ultimate plan in our second reading from Revelation in which John sees "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue, worshipping God" as they stand "before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands." One the elders of this white-robed multitude says: "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7,9.14), thus both serving and coming before the Lord after having known Him and having made him known to others by their witness.

Exegetes do not know exactly what is meant by "the time of great distress." Given the end-times mania to which our society is so prone, many take this to refer to the tribulation they believe will precede Christ’s return. However, in the context of the time in which Revelation was written, it more likely refers to the imperial persecution of Christians, like the Neronian persecution several decades earlier, which claimed the life of St. Peter. More practically, given the travails of life on earth in any age, it becomes apparent that for anyone to join this white-robed multitude, s/he, after having been washed clean in baptism, must survive times of great distress, not with their lives, but with their faith intact.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, but our readings today are more focused on the flock. In today’s Gospel our Lord speaks of his sheep hearing and heeding his voice. His sheep are given him by his Father. In turn, he gives his sheep eternal life. By expanding his flock to include all who hear and respond to his voice, belonging to the flock is no longer a matter of being a member of a race. It becomes a matter of faith, which, according to Hans Urs von Balthasar, "is a movement of the entire person away from himself, through the gift of grace." By moving away from ourselves, we lay hold of the mercy God gives us in Christ. Since through this movement it is our intention to abandon ourselves completely to divine Providence, it implicitly contains all the works that we ever will do. Good works "are not some second entity beside faith," they are the concrete form our faith takes, through which our faith becomes real.

It is in Jesus’ identifying himself with his Father that we find the synthesis of today’s readings; in the primordial divine union of the Trinity. Though united in Godhead, the Father and the Son, as well as the Spirit, are distinct. This tri-unity is the foundation of all unity, the very force that brought forth and created the universe, a creation that can rightly be called both "a universe" and "a cosmos" because it is orderly and reasonable, crackling with life and purpose. Just as works constitute the concrete form of faith, so the "heavens declare the glory of God" and "the sky proclaims its builder's craft" (Ps 19,1). Further, it is in and through the Incarnation that “God has engraved his name upon matter,” and has “inscribed it so deeply that it cannot be erased.” In and through Jesus Christ matter takes God into its innermost being (von Balthasar). Nonetheless, the most unstable part of God’s creation is the human part. We are the most unstable and chaotic part because, of necessity, we possess freedom in order to fulfill the end for we which are created, namely communion, which we are gathered here today to concretely enact. A rock has no choice but to be a rock, a tree must be a tree; an otter can be nothing than an otter. It is only the human person who can reject her/his part in this Theo-drama. The great Catholic writer Georges Bernanos wrote: the "scandal of Creation [isn’t] suffering, but freedom.” He further observes that “moralists like to regard sanctity as a luxury." Far from being a luxury, Bernanos insists, sanctity "is a necessity."

It is only by striving to be holy, by cooperating with God in bringing about His purposes for us and through us, that, like the white-robed multitude, like Sts. Paul and Barnabas, like St. Gianna Molla, that we become stable and fill our role in God’s great plan. St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian physician, began experiencing pain during her fourth pregnancy. It turned that she had developed a fibroma in her uterus. It was removed during surgery and her unborn child was unharmed. After her surgery, for the last seven months of pregnancy, despite pains and continuing complications, Gianna resumed her duties as a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus, as a wife, a mother, and a physician. A few days before the child was due, amid much concern, she told the attending doctor: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child - I insist on it. Save him.” On the morning of 21 April 1962, a healthy baby girl, Gianna Emanuela, was born. Despite every effort to save both of them, on 28 April, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of "Jesus, I love you," Gianna Molla died. She was 39 years old. She was canonized on 16 May 2004 by Pope John Paul II, with her husband and four children, including Gianna Emanuela, herself a physician, present to witness her being raised to the altar. 28 April is her memorial.

Grace is nothing less than our "participation in the [Trinitarian] life of God" (CCC, 1996). We see in the communion of saints a reflection of the unity in diversity of the Trinity. The unity we share is brought about by the Eucharist, which makes the Church and is the means through which we become, in all our diversity, the one Body of Christ.

Like the child heroine of Flannery O’Connor’s story, The Temple of the Holy Ghost, who says, "I could never be a saint but I think I could be a martyr if they killed me quick," it is the lukewarm Christian "who allots himself a measure that seems appropriate to him and considers anyone who gives more to be a professional saint." "It is important to realize," writes von Balthasar, "that the genuine saint never sees his offer to God as something beyond the norm, as a work beyond what is required." One may believe that the era of the saints is over, but it is always the era of saints until Christ returns in glory, when "the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and . . . will wipe away every tear" (Rev 7,17) as they, like St. Gianna Molla, having “survived the time of great distress,” join the white-robed multitude.

(Photograph of St. Gianni Molla from the Vatican website)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

New Mass Texts

ICEL has asked the source from which I obtained the new translation of the Credo, and all people posting Mass texts from the new Missale Romanum, to remove them. So, I pre-emptively removed the new translation of the Creed from this blog. I understand that it has all been done very nicely and courteously. Since the Missal seems to have been made public a bit early in South Africa, nobody was doing anything intentionally wrong or on the sly. So, we wait until World Youth Day in Sydney, when the Holy Father will publicly celebrate Mass in English using the new English translation of the Missale Romanum.

Bono & Tom Waits recite Bukowski

Despite Bukowski's repeated references to "the gods", this is intense stuff, not beautiful exactly, just intense. Pater Tom's chief criterion for music (as a monk he had penchant for jazz) as well as poetry was "Does it have any damn life in it?" Bukowski's poetry certainly does, life that at times is as beatific as some scenes from Kerouac's On the Road, and life as an existential horror. Of course, the 1987 film Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway, was based on the life of Charles Bukowski.

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...