Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Highly edited semi-scientific post-script

Yesterday, Joe C., in a comment, brought up the Freedom of Choice Act. Fr. Joseph Komonchak, writing over on dotCommonweal, provides a valuable service in his post FOCA.

On an couple of unrelated notes, over on Vivre l' Evangile, our parish RCIA blog, I also posted today Being religious vs. religulous. I do want to see Bill Maher's film Religulous. On that score, listen to today's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She interviews Maher and the movie's director, who also directed Borat, Larry Charles. Terry Gross drew my attention to a youtube clip in which Sarah Palin is recorded participating in a religious practice that is troubling to say the least. To see the clip, click here. Lest you think Maher too partisan, listen to the audio clip from his film in which he is talking to Democratic senator David Pryor of Arkansas that you hear at the beginning of the Fresh Air interview. Fr. Reginald Foster, Vatican latinist, does not come off too well. According Maher and Charles, Fr. Foster does not believe "the Jesus story". Perhaps over forty years as Vatican latinist will rob you of your faith. Look, you probably get tired of reminding people that appartus, when used as a noun, is of the fourth declension. Hence, in the nominative case, two or more apparatus do not become apparati. I look forward to a cinematic event soon.

Like Alex of Vitus Speaks and and Deacon Greg of The Deacon's Bench, I am also a long-time fan of P.J. O'Rourke. I disagree with him a good deal of the time because he's much too Libertarian for me, like William F. Buckely. Like Buckley, who died this year, I find him smart. More than that he is tremendously funny, even though Tony Hendra, who I also admire a great deal, apparently does not like him much. I am especially fond of his book Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut. I remember reading excerpts from this book out loud while my wife was in labor with our second child. I am not sure she liked it as much as the attending doctor (her OB) and I. I also loved his Rolling Stone pieces on politics, the economy, and foreign affairs. Anyway, he has an article in the L.A. Times worth reading. A diaconal bow to Alex and Dcn Greg. Plus, I can relate when he writes, "I'm not promising that the pope will back me up about all of the above. But it's the best I can do by my poor lights about the subject of mortality and free will."

Miscellani o' rama- from a commencement address DFW did at Kenyon College, Paul Newman's alma mater, that I lifted from a tribute posted by one Namir Y over on McSweeney's:
"But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down."
Oh, and just to go on record: I am not missing the X96 Mavrick Big Ass Show next year, especially for something as counterproductive as my preaching! Once again dear readers, I look to you to hold me accountable.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Papa Luciani

I am pleased that I was ahead of curve, posting a lovely video of Pope John I that I have seen appearing today to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his death in 1978 way back in February 2007. In fact, Papa Luciani has featured in these pages more than this day. So a Καθολικός διάκονος retrospective:

Pope John Paul I on "this most delicate matter"

The Goodness of Papa Luciani

"Have I become the hollow man I see?"- in which a lovely prayer of his appears. Sorry, the video no longer works.

There are a few other references to him sprinkled around in various posts. If you are interested the blogspot search function is very good and fast.

In 1978 I was 12 years old, turning 13 that November. I used to stay with my maternal grandma a lot. I remember vividly both conclaves that year. Back then, before twenty-four hour news, you had to stay up late to see coverage, which, given the time difference, was late afternoon or early evening in Rome. It was the first time I thought about being Catholic. I had a reading for fun class. I remember reading a biography of Pope John XXIII between conclaves.

Blog o' natin'

Patrick Gallagher, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, offers a very insightful look and commentary on the Catholic blogosphere, not to be confused with Teilhard's noosphere. In addition to his own insights, Gallagher interviews Fr. Jamie Martin, SJ, of America magazine, who offers his insightful analysis on the state of said sphere. The article, No blog is an island -- A guide to the Catholic blogosphere, is well worth your time.

It is useful to take a step back in order to gain perspective, which usually leads to humility, which, at least for me, leads to a certain amount of relief. So, writing this I was reminded of a post from about a year ago: Blogging: An aided reflection, came to mind.

Gallagher concludes:

"Fr. Martin suggested that blogs let us meet our 'fellow Catholics.' I find that blogs can be enlightening, infuriating, dispiriting, enriching and informing. A lot like my fellow Catholics." To which I reply- Amen!

Holy Mary, Mother of God- pray for us
Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels, on this your feast- pray for us
St. Isidore of Seville- pray for us
St. Stephen- pray for us
All holy women and men- pray for us

Year A Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ezk. 18.25-28; Ps. 25,4-5.8-10.14; Phil. 2,1-5; Matt. 21,28-32

The root of our English word mercy comes from Latin. It comes from the word meaning merchandise, or, something for which a price is paid. The price of God’s mercy was the life of his only begotten son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Lest this fact become too mundane and, I daresay, even meaningless, it is good to note that Jesus Christ, as we profess in the Credo, is the only begotten son of the Father. We are sons and daughters of the Father only through adoption. We are made by God, not begotten of him. We are adopted, through Christ Jesus, in baptism.

In our second reading today, St. Paul exhorts the church at Philippi to “[h]ave in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” (Phil.2,5). What is this attitude we are to have? This question can be answered with one Greek word, taken from the very next verse, kenosis. Kenosis simply means an emptying. In the case of our Lord, he emptied himself of his divinity by not regarding his “equality with God as something to be grasped,” that is, held onto (Phil. 2,6). For our sakes he let it go and took “the form of a slave” in order to humble himself, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2,7-8). What does having an attitude of emptying mean for us?

The answer to this question is also one word: obedience. Obedience is the word that sums up Christ’s attitude to the Father. Hence, we must obey Christ just as he obeyed the Father. Obedience requires mortification, by means of which we empty ourselves, die to ourselves. Such obedience requires us to let go of our desire to be self-determining, to be, in effect, our own god, arbiters of morality, doing what we want. It requires everything of us, even when it does not make sense. Christ was obedient to the Father “even when the Father permitted him to be killed, which was an unjust thing” (Is It Possible to Live This Way: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, Vol. 1, pg. 127). His inability to comprehend the Father’s will, the Father’s reason why, is manifested in his plea to the Father in the garden that “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26,39). Indeed, the Father’s allowing this, at least in human terms, is unjust and unfair. In a word, it is mysterious.

Because we are Christians does not mean we renounce our right to be puzzled, even troubled, by the mystery of our redemption, by such a gruesome spectacle as the crucifixion. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard did not renounce this right when he wrote Fear and Trembling, which tackles this issue obliquely by examining the story of Abraham’s taking Isaac to Mount Moriah in order to sacrifice him in obedience to God’s command. Just as we ultimately make peace with Jesus’ horrific death because of the resurrection, so we find the violent premise of this story palatable only because, as the story reaches its dramatic peak, as Abraham “took the knife to slaughter his son,” an angel said to him "Do not lay your hand on the boy" (Gen. 22,10.12). After the angel’s intervention, God provided a ram and Abraham sacrifices it instead of Isaac, whose name, strangely enough, means laughter.

Despite the happy endings, we, like Kierkegaard, are left with a few questions, like what kind of God would command and/or permit such things and what kind of father would carry them out? If we permit ourselves to ask such fundamental and disturbing questions, we can move beyond mere sentiment to faith, which, in turn, enables obedience not only in the face of uncertainty, but of incomprehensibility. Only then can we have the same attitude as Christ, only then can prayer become a self-emptying, only then can we pray without calculating self-interest, “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26,39).

Just as we talk about the inverse property of multiplication whereby 2x3=6 and 3x2 also =6, we can talk about the inverse property of our redemption in which Easter x Good Friday= Redemption and Good Friday x Easter also = Redemption. Stated less academically, just as it is necessary to see Good Friday from the perspective of Easter morning, it is equally important at times to see Easter morning from the perspective of Good Friday. Looking at things from this latter perspective is very often a good description of our lives here and now, the reality of our fallen world. The failure to recognize this reality results in the complete disconnection of faith from life. This failure also results in faith becoming a fantasy, an escape from reality, instead of a straight-on grappling with life. In the end, both of these responses amount to short-circuiting the mystery of faith, the mystery we have been chosen, according to God’s mysterious will, to embody.

This same kind of what we might call theo-logic is found in today’s Gospel when Jesus says to the chief priests and the elders: “When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him” (Matt. 21,32). My dear friends, by virtue of the fact we are gathered here, we, like prostitutes and tax collectors, are the ones who have changed our minds, which is what the word repentance truly means.

This brings us to the issue of fairness, which is our central theme this Sunday. The point is that God is not fair, at least in the sense in which we typically conceive of fairness, namely getting what we have coming to us. Let today’s Psalm be for us a correction and our plea- “Remember your mercies, O Lord” (Ps. 25, 6). God is merciful, even if that mercy, in the case of the crucifixion, is brought about in an unfathomably violent manner, and, in the case of the resurrection, in a way that seems too good to be true. The word we use to denote God’s mercy is grace. “Grace is God’s free and forgiving self-communication that enables [us] to share in the trinitarian relationship of love” (Mary C. Hilkert, The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, pg. 577).

Let us pose one last question: Do you desire justice or mercy? I like very much what Bono, of the band U2, had to say on this matter in an interview when comparing grace to karma, which, if you believe bumper stickers, frequently runs over our dogma. Of course, karma is a Hindu concept that explains the system of reincarnation in which beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions and harmful effects from past harmful actions. In other words, karma means what goes around comes around, getting what you deserve. Bono makes clear that the grace is preferable to the cosmic hit-and-run represented by karma: “I'd be in big trouble,” he says, “if Karma was going to finally be my judge . . . It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own [righteousness]” (Christianity Today, August 2005). The Father is merciful, purchasing us at a very high price. So, keep karma. Along with St. Paul, let’s prefer Christ and him crucified. After all, it is the cross that marks the boundary of the limit divine mercy has set to evil in the world.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman RIP

Paul Newman at rally for Senator Eugene McCarthy,
during McCarthy's presidential bid

I just learned that Paul Newman died. My Mom liked Paul Newman a lot. Hence, I grew up watching a lot of his films, which were usually great. My four best memories of Newman are going to see the film Absence of Malice on New Year's Day with my Mom and the great movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. After all, Butch Cassidy was a Mormon outlaw who captured my imagination. I remember visting the house in which he grew up and being almost as awed as I was by the movie. I also really like the version of Our Town in which Newman appeared back 2003 as part of Masterpiece Theater's American Collection series.

Probably my most vivid memory is an excerpt from an interview he gave to Barbara Walters many years ago, which is my most endearing memory of this great actor and humanitarian. During the interview Walters asked Newman why he raced Formula One cars, to which Newman responded, while chuckling- "Because it's a kick in the ass!"

Friday, September 26, 2008

Things to remember when voting

UPDATE: I like Glen Warhol's suggestion to Let Sarah be Tina. I also found this Morning Edition profile on Sen. Biden, Biden Logs Many Miles for Democratic Ticket, interesting.

After tonight's debate, it is important to refocus. I do have to state that it bothers me that in 90 minutes of debate, during which Sen. Obama found at least three things to commend Sen. McCain for, that Sen. McCain could not find one thing for which to commend Sen. Obama. He did not look at Sen. Obama, at least not much. He did have a Bush-like nervous tick, beginning far too many sentences with "What Sen. Obama does not seem to understand . . ." Only to have this refuted by Sen. Obama's grasp of the issues. Why can't you just have an honest disagreement? The first words I heard at the end of the debate were by Sen. Obama who said: "Good job, John".

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin is working hard to claim the mantle of the least coherent and least articulate politician from the sitting president, who vied with Donald Rumsfeld for years for this coveted honor. If you can't string together two coherent sentences, how can you lead? This is not to excuse Sen. Biden whose (in)famous verbosity is not helping his cause much. All of this makes next week's vice presidential debate must watch tv! I look forward to guffawing and cringing in equal measure. I appreciate Matthew Boudway's post on dotCommonweal in which he comments on conservative columnist Kathleen Parker's recent call for Gov. Palin to bow out as VP candidate. Boudway observes: "While President Bush makes Biden sound like Churchill, Palin makes Bush sound like Patrick Moynihan".

Anyway, let's turn to Mary Ann Walsh, writing in America magazine, specifically her article Conscience and the Catholic Voter: Ten things to remember this fall. It is one more reason (as if you needed more reasons) to subscribe to America. So, with very little commentary, here are the ten things. I specifically like number 5.

1. Not all issues are equal- Life issues are paramount. The paramount life issue in this campaign, the life issue that the next president will have a lot of sway and say about, is fetal stem cells. Sadly, on this issue it is a tie: both candidates have a flawed perspective on this issue.
2. You have to work to become informed.
3. God speaks through our hearts and minds.
4. Fidelity to conscience is more important than party loyalty.
5. Simplistic reasoning is simpleminded.
6. Gut feelings may be your conscience speaking. - maybe Mary Ann has been talking to Suzanne.
7. Politics is the art of the possible.
8. Your neighbor can be an ocean away.
9. The political process begins long before you pull the lever in the voting booth.
10. We hear God in prayer.

Appease my longing, II

LANGUAGE WARNING: At the end of the song

Liberation is good. Besides, Social D is better than Sunny D, which is gross, even when used to make screwdrivers or mamosas. Yes, I know this from experience, though not recent experience.

It's a twofer with Flogging Molly:

I am feeling rather Celtic this evening. Hey, at least I spared you the DropKick Murphys.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Appease my longing"

An eighteen year-old Frederich Nietzsche wrote this lovely poem to Jesus:

Thou hast called me:
Lord, I hasten to thy throne and there remain.
Blazing with love to thy compassionate eyes
Gaze sorrowfully into my heart:
Lord, I come.
I was lost, perplexed and dejected,
Destined for Hell and torment.
But I saw thee from afar,
And thy glance, intense with life,
Lighted constantly upon me:
Now I come gladly to thee.
I am filled with horror at the dark power of sin,
And I cannot look back.
I must not lose thee,
At night, terrified and oppressed, I see thee,
I see thee and I cannot let thee go.
Thou art so gentle, true and kind,
So loving, thou dear Saviour of sinners!
Appease my longing,
Let my soul and my thoughts rest in thy love
And remain forever with thee."

(From Nietzsche’s Wereke und Briefe: Historisch-kiritsche Gesamtausgabe, volume II, p. 80.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Integrity: Holding true to one's ideals

2008 The Republican Party Platform, under the heading Economy, sub-heading Rebuilding Homeownership states:

"We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself. We believe in the free market as the best tool to sustained prosperity and opportunity for all."

I guess it's a nice theory. Blind faith in the ability of markets to self-correct is what led to the Great Depression and the rush over the past several years to de-regulate financial markets. Once again, we're all Keynesians now. It is clear that due to unfathomable irresponsibility on the part of many at the top of leading financial institutions, that were poorly regulated, the free market needs the government's help.

I do not think that the Congress should just accept the plan presented, which carte blanche indemnifies Treasury, with no changes and little time to consider it. It seems like another naked executive power-grab by an administration that will use any situation to further consolidate power in the executive branch. I find it troubling that people, like Ben Bernanke, who smugly tries to be as Sphinx-like as his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, can speak so obliquely most of the time, but be so clear now- You must enact this plan as presented with no changes, or else . . ." Well, Mr. Chairman o' the Federal Reserve, the or else has already happened while you and many others kept reassuring us about the soundness of our economy. So, give our senators and representatives time to work this out.

A diaconal bow to David Gibson, specficially his post Tangled webs, in which you can read more about political responses to the meltdown.

Meanwhile, Fred posts about a debate of far more importance and, predictably, far less notoriety- reports on Albacete and Hitchens.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Saturday night shout out

Joe, you're missed. We miss Mick, too.

Abortion: a policy, not a posture

An anonymous commenter writes:

"It doesn't matter how many brilliant advisors (sic) you have, if you are trying to argue that 2+2=5. There's no amount of rationality or intellectual asistance (sic) that will get you to a fundamentally irrational argument.

"What you want in this situation is a marketing campaign that will make it appear that you are arguing that 2+2=4. Cuomo thought he had found that marketing strategy, but it collapsed under the weight of rational analysis. So now they need a better marketing campaign.

"Somehow, I don't think that relying on Augustine and Aquinas to justify policies that have led to the abortion of 50 million children is going to hold water.

"They need to consult PT Barnum, not Aquinas if they're going to have any luck at this strategy."

I respond:

I normally do not publish anonymous negative comments, but this one had to be published in order to stand as a monument to the emotionally-charged response this issue, understandably, provokes in people across the spectrum. Precisely because of what is at stake we have to keep our wits about us and act rationally, which does not mean acting without conviction and passion. After all, we want to be persuasive.

Abortion is wrong, except, possibly, in cases in which a woman's life is really and truly threatened by pregnancy, but even in such cases the intentional killing of the child is not permitted because such a deliberate (i.e., an act intended only to abort the child) cannot be justified under the principle of double effect as I understand it, which understanding is certainly subject to correction and improvement. Suffice it to say that nobody, least of all me, is arguing for a PR campaign to pull the wool over people's eyes and convince them that the current legal situation in the U.S. vis-à-vis abortion is morally acceptable. While it seems to be wholly lost on the anonymous commenter, the whole point of my post was to point out that the strategy on abortion being employed by the Democratic presidential ticket and by certain Catholic congressional leaders in the current election year is a failed one, not an argument for its effectiveness. Of course, I do not rule out the possibility that I am a bad enough writer to be entirely misunderstood. Neither am I advocating for the Obama/Biden campaign's Catholic Advisory committee, to use what has become a stupidly explosive metaphor, to put lipstick on pig. I am looking for them to advise in such a way that comments, like Sen. Biden's "personal and private," get corrected and that if you are going to err due to not knowing when life begins, to err in favor of life and to point out that you can oppose abortion without calling for or requiring an all-out assault on Roe.

When we look to change the situation with the intent of restoring justice we have to recognize that this can and will be done only incrementally. Evangelium Vitae recognizes this reality:
73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live" (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the midwives feared God" (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10).

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".98

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions. Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the sacrifice of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career advancement. In other cases, it can happen that carrying out certain actions, which are provided for by legislation that overall is unjust, but which in themselves are indifferent, or even positive, can serve to protect human lives under threat. There may be reason to fear, however, that willingness to carry out such actions will not only cause scandal and weaken the necessary opposition to attacks on life, but will gradually lead to further capitulation to a mentality of permissiveness.

In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).

To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are found in its orientation to the true and the good, would be radically compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essential right which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civil law. In this sense, the opportunity to refuse to take part in the phases of consultation, preparation and execution of these acts against life should be guaranteed to physicians, health-care personnel, and directors of hospitals, clinics and convalescent facilities. Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane.
So, looking at the current situation there are certain givens we must recognize in forming a well-reasoned stance against abortion.

1) Roe v. Wade, with its constitutional recognition (creation?) of the right to privacy, which extends to privileging a woman's privacy (i.e., her right to choose) over the right of her child to life, is the law of the land. It is undeniably an unjust law that abdicates the duty of the state to protect innocent human life. Despite this, it is a constitutional matter and cannot be legislated away by federal or state statute.
2) While I would support such an amendment, the likelihood of getting very far with a constitutional amendment severely restricting if not outright banning abortion is very improbable. The improbability is reinforced by the lack of initiative shown in drafting and seeking the ratification of such an amendment, even by those in office who forthrightly oppose abortion. Many such legislators content themselves with passing symbolic laws in order to satisfy their constituents knowing full well that such statutes will not pass judicial review, making these actions nothing but a waste of time.
3) Even many who consider themselves to be anti-abortion, would permit them in cases of rape and incest, not to mention favoring immoral ways of creating/harvesting fetal stem cells. So, there are problems even among many who oppose the current regime of abortion-on-demand. This would further hinder any effort to draft a constitutional amendment.
4) If Roe were overturned by the SCOTUS this Monday, it would not mean the automatic end of abortion on demand. It would de-federalize abortion laws and return the regulation of abortion to the states. The results would run the gamut from abortion being practically eliminated in some states to it being even more available in others.
5) One thing Sen. Biden was correct about in his MTP interview is that even among those who believe that life begins at conception, there are differences about exactly when conception occurs. Does it begin when a sperm fertilizes an egg, as the Catholic church teaches? Or, does conception begin when the fertilized egg implants on the wall of the uterus and begins rapid cell division/differentiation? This is a vital question and the reason that many who oppose late-term procedures are not opposed to very early term ones, like the RU-486 "morning after" pill, or birth control pills that sometimes and unpredicably act as an abortifacient.

So, in face of these realities and a few others, what can we do? This is where any reasonable political stance begins. If the Dems, especially Catholic Dems, were to pick up here they would overcome the arguments that expose the inconsistency and hollowness of their "personally opposed, but . . ." positions. The one issue that ought to play a part when voting for president or a senator, who must confirm appointments, is who they would appoint to the Supreme Court. I have written before that President Bush gets a solid A for appointing Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Nonetheless, the court has not accepted any cases that would necessitate a reconsideration of Roe. So, what would happen remains to be seen, especially given the chaos that would likely ensue should such an overturning occur.

To answer the question about what can we do, or what has been done, there are court-upheld restrictions on abortion, some by states and some by federal statute, most notable among the latter is the ban on partial-birth abortions, which amounted to infanticide, and in the former category are the enactment of parental notification laws and laws against crossing state lines with a minor for the purpose of obtaining an abortion, etc.

None of this is even remotely akin to trying to make 2+2=5. In short, there is too much ambiguity in too many arguments both against and in favor of abortion. Reason demands that we be clear and that we account for reality without formally cooperating with evil, which is never permissible.

At the expense of exhausting your patience

In my back-and-forth on election issues that matter, which is a necessary part of proportional reasoning with the objective of reaching a prudent judgment, I want to draw attention to an article in the conservative The Weekly Standard by Joseph Bottum, who is the editor of First Things. The piece is entitled More Catholic Than the Pope: Joe Biden's and Nancy Pelosi's ill-fated ventures into theological disputation.

While more partisan in tone than I would ideally care for, Bottum, as is his wont, pulls no punches and so ruthlessly seeks to refute the position that Democratic Catholic politicians have sought to take, with some variations on the theme, since Governor Cuomo's famous personally opposed, but . . . speech at Notre Dame way back in 1984. Near the end of the article, Bottum, turning his sights to the vexing issue of fetal stem cells, also critiques McCain's inconsistency. He ends where Angelo Matera begins:

"And yet, there remains that question of abortion. Things have tightened over the last few years, the Catholic position is firmer in the public's mind--firmer in the Catholic mind, for that matter. McCain was a long way from the pro-lifers' first choice for a Republican nominee, but the Democrats this election cycle are determined to force the issue. They've pushed, and they've pushed, and they've pushed, until Catholics are falling off the cliff. Poor Doug Kmiec and his sad question, 'Can a Catholic Support Him?' As a matter of good conscience, the answer looks increasingly like no, a Catholic can't support Obama. And as a matter of political fact--well, that's starting to look like no, as well, isn't it?"
While I do not accept Bottum's conclusion that a Catholic cannot in good conscience vote for Sen. Obama, I do think the question he sets forth at the beginning of the article is something for the candidates and campaigns to ponder: "What impulse makes Catholic politicians try to argue theology with their own church?" I know that the Obama/Biden campaign has a Catholic Advisory Committee that includes a good many people I admire, including theologian Richard Gaillardetz and legal scholar/theologian Cathleen Kaveny. Is the advice of these advisers being actively sought? If not, why? It seems that Sen. Biden, being a Catholic himself, would eagerly consult such an impressive group who have signed on to help. As a Catholic and a Democrat, I am interested both in the frequency that any of these advisers are consulted and what mechanisms exist to solicit their inputs on an on-going basis.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hello Seattle!

Okay, I am blushing, but thanks to Alex for making me sound good! An Event that Becomes an Encounter, hopefully not a riot! I can promise, I won't do a Dylan à la Dewey Cox:

Speaking of engagements, what I would give to witness Christopher Hitchens debate Lorenzo Albacete. See Fred's God at the Pierre.

Why Governor Sarah Palin makes me nervous

UPDATE II: Maybe that Press Embargo of Sarah Palin is a Good Idea, by Prof. Daniel W. Drezner.

UPDATE: There is this from my local paper- Onetime Alaskan backer-turned-foe is 'shocked' by Palin's pick as McCain V.P.

I am going to come right out with it- Sarah Palin scares me. Apart from the tremendous commitment to life and love she showed as a mother, giving birth to her son earlier this year, I really cannot think of one reason to vote for her. She reminds me very much of one President George W. Bush, who is easily the worst president in my lifetime. I was born during the Johnson Administration. In fact, I have a Christmas card sent by Lady Bird Johnson to my father-in-law, who served as photographer, hanging in my den. I fully recognize that the results of President Carter's efforts were miserable, but you can at least give him credit for being well-intentioned and for caring. The thing that bothers me the most about the current administration, with a few exceptions, like SECDEF Robert Gates and Treasury's Henry Paulson, who are a badly needed breaths of fresh air and too little too late, is the moral smugness. I felt even more repelled after listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross this past Tuesday about the VP Cheney, who makes me more nervous than anybody, but for reasons very different from those that give me pause about Gov. Palin.

Instead of going deeply into why Gov. Palin scares me, I offer an article and two blog posts. The article, from The New York Times is an investigative piece, not an editorial- Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes. Even more troubling than the NY Times piece is the blog post by Damian Thompson, editor of the U.K.'s The Catholic Herald, which is something like National Catholic Register in this country when contrasted with The Tablet, which is more akin to the National Catholic Reporter. He is undoubtedly a conservative on matters religious and political, but a very harsh critic of what he aptly calls counterknowledge, an example of which is creationism, which he critiques in a post called Creationism and the advance of counterknowledge. He is an astute guy and a tenacious journalist. He shows how being a conservative, especially a religious conservative, differs in Europe. His post, written on his blog Holy Smoke, which appears courtesy of the U.K.'s Times newspaper, is entitled The battle for Sarah Palin's soul.

I am pretty much at ease with Sen. McCain. However,I do think he chose Gov. Palin to shake things up and to generate excitement, especially among the paleo-conservatives who constitute the hard-core of the Republican Party and who view him with suspicion, not for any qualifications she brings. This, I believe, is yet another result of stacking his campaign with the Blossom's boys. Hence, he took a big risk that, so far, seems to be paying off, but my well prove a bust. Part of the risk was how much about Gov. Palin's record can be definitively verified before the election. To wit: most, if not all, raised concerns can be brushed off as innuendo and smear tactics prior to the election. Undoubtedly, some reports are just that, but not all. A little over 60 days isn't much time to sift the wheat from the chaff. This brings me to blog post two, from The Deacon's Bench: I quite agree with the usually correct, if blunt, Peggy Noonan. I do not think Noonan's MSNBC comments in any way undermine her credibility, as my comment on the post makes clear.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Being about both communion & liberation

I appreciate very much this guidance and the great care that Chris and everyone took in preparing it. It is sound guidance. The initial draft, which I read yesterday, corrected me by confronting me with what fundamentally matters. If we miss the importance of the so-called first things, then the rest is but an ad hoc guessing game, not a reasoned and prudent judgment.

Full revised text of CL USA statement on the upcoming elections:

As the Holy Father taught in Deus Caritas Est, "The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful" (no. 29). This duty is more critical than ever in today’s political environment, where Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church’s comprehensive commitment to the life and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death. Yet this is not a time for retreat or discouragement; rather, it is a time for renewed engagement. ("Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).


As lay Catholics struggling to be faithful to the call of our bishops, we have arrived at the following judgments. When going to vote, what lies closest to the heart surfaces: we hold most dear the experience of the fact of Christ, present in the Church. We do not hope for salvation from politics or politicians. Nevertheless, we understand the critically important role that politics plays in our common American life. For this reason, two concerns matter most to us and we will vote according to which candidates and parties demonstrate an authentic care for these concerns.

First: Freedom of Religion. Political power must recognize faith’s undeniable contribution to the defense and broadening of human reason and its promotion of authentic human progress. This is a guarantee of freedom for everyone, not only for Christians. And this freedom must include the freedom to speak, convince, act, and build in the public square; religious freedom relegated to one’s private life is not religious freedom at all.

Second: The Common Good. Those who hold political power must do so as a service to the common good of the entire nation. We consider the recognition and defense of three self-evident truths regarding human beings the minimum commitment to the common good: the right to life from conception to natural death; the irreplaceable value of the family, founded on the marriage between a man and woman; and the right of every human being to be born into and educated by that family formed by his or her parents.

For the common good, we further seek politicians and political parties that value subsidiarity, a partnership between the public and private sectors facilitated by a robust non-profit sector. At the same time, we seek persons engaged in politics who recognize that subsidiarity can never annul the solidarity we owe to all our brothers and sisters living in this nation. There is no care for the common good that ignores basic human needs of millions in our nation. These judgments will determine our support for particular candidates and political initiatives in the upcoming elections.

"if the basis of all that exists were but a confusedly fermenting element . . ."

Re: Søren allusion from yesterday: "I'll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I'm not crazy about. I'm pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I'm not seeing how we can get together on the issue, he and I . . ." ( Infinite Jest, pg 40).

So, (audibly) eat Cake.

This is the traditio a day early. Friday this week amounts to nothing. Let's hope, maybe even pray, that Auden was correct when he wrote that "[t]he God of language forgives all crimes". But the following is not a crime:

"The Film Adaptation of Peter Weiss's 'The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade'" in which "the documentary's chemically impaired director . . . repeatedly interrupts the inmates' dumbshow-capering and Marat and Sade's dialogues to discourse incoherently on the implications of Brando's Method Acting and Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty for North American filmed entertainment" (from note 24 of Notes and Errata IJ).

I know all of this is more than a little disjointed. It is even stranger that I started this jag with what should be its culmination- the post Faith and reason. It's little like a mathematical equation or a logical proof; you can have the answer at the beginning, but the point of the exercise is to work your way to it. It is wholly superfluous to point out that I have more work to do! Very often it is not easy to be reconciled to the truth.

While I'm all disjointed/out-of-sorts/I-don't-know-what-all, if you don't think this is cool there is something seriously wrong with you.

Einstein's theory of insanity revisited

Of all the election analysis pieces I've read this one hits the nail on the head. It is over on Godspy written by Angelo Matera, and is called The Democrats are Blowing the Election—and the Catholic Vote. It begins:

"The best thing about how the Democratic Party is kicking away what should be an easy victory in the November presidential election is that it might force them to finally reassess their support for abortion and gay marriage, positions that are unpopular with working class voters, their natural constituency. A subplot here is how the Dems were actually making inroads among faithful Catholics fed up with George Bush—until Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden opened their mouths in public about Catholic moral theology."
I thought that a lesson had been learned in 2006 when so many socially conservative Democrats won House seats in what had been Republican districts. I was wrong. The arguments that, rightly, have failed to convince a majority of voting citizens before are still failing to convince. You cannot deprive people of fundmental rights, like their right to life, without which no other right has much meaning, by exalting another person's choice and at the same time invent new "rights", like any two consenting adults (why not three or more?) in an arrangement can be "married". This is not irony. It is absurdity, irrationality.

The state has always seen marriage as something that, because of concern for the common good and recognizing that marriage pre-dates the state, is regulated to conform to its true nature. The family is the first society. Hence, it is the backbone of society. One does not have to be a social scientist to understand that the demise of the family, of fatherhood in particular, is a root cause of many of our society's ills. So, for the government to ignore the common good and common sense on this matter is inexcusable. It is taken for granted, not only in our federal constitution, but all state constitutions, that marriage is between one man and one woman. Look at all the hubub that resulted from Utah becoming a territory, even while the LDS practiced plural marriage. They had to renounce the practice to be admitted to the union. There are also laws against incest and marrying within certain degrees of consanguinuity, laws that require mental competency in order to get married, etc. To wit: if a so-called "right" does not and cannot be extended to all human beings, it is not a human right.

People are smarter and more moral than to fall for such specious reasoning, even if they have to concede a number of other important points. How can you keep your morality personal and private in the face of reality? Does morality have no bearing on our life together? It is not a question as to whose morals, we have a pretty far-reaching societal consensus on marriage and a majority of people, while they would not take the full-blown Catholic view on abortion, do not favor abortion on demand.

I am always happy to give credit where it is due; the Republicans have remained pretty rock-solid on abortion and marriage and, to a larger extent than the Democrats, on the creation/harvesting of fetal stem cells. Sen. McCain supports the latter, which is inconsistent with his long-time opposition to abortion.

UPDATE: Matera is hugely wrong when he writes that in the areas of the economy and foreign policy the Democrats are offering the same as the Republicans. Last week, in response to an article in the WSJ by Fouad Ajami, I posted "The Foreign Policy Difference," in which I agreed with Ajami that the two candidates could not be more different from one another. I disagreed with him about McCain's foreign policy, which is an extension of the failed policies of Pres. Bush, being the superior of the two. I think many people, perhaps a majority given the past eight years, favor the Democrats when it comes to these matters. Nonetheless, for morally serious voters, despite their misgivings about the Republicans' pro-business bent and American exceptionalism when it comes to international relations, the proportionality does not add up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Threads of memory

I read something today that changed me. Now, one could argue the we are changed by everything we read. I suppose I can live with that banality as long as I am allowed to make a sophomoric distinction between changed and altered. Since learning of David Foster Wallace’s death over the weekend, I have been making periodic and random stabs at his novel Infinite Jest. Just because I am a person of faith, a Christian, does not mean that I renounce my right not only to point out life’s absurdities, but the absurdity of human life itself, just as Kierkegaard did not. God is a risk-taker, if an oblique one. I mean, look what he allowed to happen to his son! I don’t want to make any inflated claims to originality. So, I freely admit that another thing I read that altered me forever was Fear and Trembling, a long time ago.

I am sorry for the digression. The thing that I read that altered me, is from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, which is an oasis of sanity in the virtual desert. It is by one Sam Paranofski and is part of a thread of memories of David Foster Wallace

Church, state, and society

His Excellency, Archbishop John Favalora of Miami, writes a very wise pastoral letter to his people about the role of the church in society as it pertains to elections, namely that it is not the role of the church to tell you for whom to vote, or vote against. He tells his beloved people: "Your duty as Catholics is to listen to [the Church's] teachings before making rational, informed, conscientious decisions regarding whom or what to vote for".

This comes in the wake of the Holy Father's Elysee address on church/state relations. More to follow when the full text becomes available. Thanks to Rocco, over at Whispers, for both items.

Deacon Greg gives us a look at The Church through the eyes of a young French priest:

"Even if French people don’t go to church as often as they used to, the Catholic Church still has a reason to be, he says. 'The Church responds to three essential demands: to be listened to, to be loved and to be comforted. That’s what makes the reality of Christ, not some theory.' According to Father Cornudet, the proportion of French people – practicing catholic or not – who are attached to the Church’s values is rising, even if they don’t agree with everything.

"As a result, the number of Catholics who go to Sunday mass has dropped significantly, even among those who call themselves practicing Catholics. According to an August 2006 La Croix-Ifop poll, 65% of French people declared themselves Catholics but less than 5% of them said they went to mass.

"'Our society has turned faith into a private matter,' concludes Father Cornudet.
I find Fr. Cornudet's response to the reality in his country a very mature Christian response. Indeed, Christ's reality is "not some theory". While we might lament faith becoming a private matter, and rightly so, we also have to lament that too often, even now, the Catholic Church expends a lot of energy, too much in my humble opinion, trying to keep institutions afloat that have long since lost their sense of purpose and mission and do not contribute very much, if anything at all, to the Spirit-led reality of Christ the church is called to be. Hence, we contribute to the privatization and highly personal faith that sees essential things, like Mass attendance, as non-essential. Nonetheless, we keep on. At the back of the mind of every Catholic who does not attend Mass regularly is the assumption, the belief, the axiom, that Mass will be available when and where they choose to go. While that assumption is both a presumption and rather audacious, it is true, but becoming less so in a lot of places.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Faith and reason

I think what the Holy Father sought to communicate in France, as in Regensburg, is that faith and reason are not merely complementary, but that faith, in the words of Giussani, "is the apex of human knowledge, the apex of reason's knowledge" (Is It Possible . . . pg 130). Not just faith in some generic, nebulous, sense, but faith in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, who is not only the touchstone of meaning, but the reason that anything exists at all, the Logos. So, life cannot attain its full meaning without Him. He is God's love, He loves us so much that if we even get a brief glimpse we almost can't bear the gratitude, it explodes our heart. You know what? At least in those few luminous moments, everything else fades into insignificance: "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth" (Eph. 5,8). We are not called to bring light to life, but to be light, children of the light. So, the light we bring to life is nothing but ourselves becoming and being the people we are created, redeemed, and sanctified to be. This is what gives anything and everything we do any significance. As yesterday's readings show us, we are, metaphorically, snake bit in the valley of tears, which is why the Son of Man was lifted up.

Nonetheless, when we speak of faith and reason as complementary it is very often the case that we still privilege reason over faith, seeing faith, at best, as an inferior species of knowledge, at worst, as an irrational leap. In reality, as Giussani points out, it is the other way around; faith is the apex of reason and knowledge. This brings us to St. Anselm's fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding and his observation that "we do not seek to understand in order to believe, but we believe in order to understand". You see, faith is the apex of reason, the apex of knowledge precisely because it is "the gift of partaking in the Spirit with which Christ possesses the world and 'every living thing'" (Jn 17,2). it is derived directly from God, from the Logos, without whom there is nothing.

Along these lines, it is useful to ponder the apostle's words from the second chapter of 1 Corinthians.

I can't help but draw attention to Suzanne's memoriam for David Foster Wallace. I, too, was shocked when I learned about his suicide this past weekend. We have lost an important voice. It called up personal memories that are painful for me. It also made me remember when the brilliant Iris Chang killed herself. May God, who is Love, be merciful to him.

What it really means to follow Christ

The verse that precedes the first verse of yesterday's second reading, verse five of the second chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians reads: "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus". Don Gius, commenting on this verse and what follows, which is that great Christological hymn, a hymn of kenosis, self-emptying, said: "To follow Christ means to have the same feelings as Christ, the same feelings Christ had towards the Father". He continues by pointing out that "it was evident" to Christ "that the Father was God of Heaven and earth". Hence, for Christ and, in turn, for those who would follow Him, "He needed to adhere to the Father . . . even when the Father permitted Him to be killed, which was an unjust thing" (all quotes from Is It Possible . . . pg. 127).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What corresonds to our heart?

Our desire, that is, our hearts are greater than the world, but "God is greater than our hearts and knows everything"(1 Jn 3,20).

Friday, September 12, 2008

La disputá

UPDATE: David Gibson, writing in The Wall Street Journal offers insights on "Abortion's Foes -- on Both Sides of the Aisle".

During the 2004 presidential election, which featured a Roman Catholic candidate, Sen. John Kerry, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was then the archbishop of Washington, DC and the chair of an ad hoc committee of the USCCB that was, at the request of their fellow bishops, examining the issue of Catholic polticians whose public record on abortion, despite their personal and moral opposition, was at odds with church teaching, the text follows. It give us principles for using proportionate reasoning to arrive at prudential judgments. Hence, we may never formally cooperate with evil, but remote material cooperation is allowed for proportionate reasons.

Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles

1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one's worthiness to do so, according to the Church's objective criteria, asking such questions as: "Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?" The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," nos. 81, 83).

2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a "grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propoganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it" (no. 73). Christians have a "grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it" (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

4. Apart from an individuals's judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

6. When "these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible," and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, "the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it" (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration "Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics" [2000], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person's subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person's public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

After receiving this requested clarification from the Holy See, the ad hoc committee, chaired by Cardinal McCarrick, issued a report to their fellow bishops. After receiving this report, the USCCB issued a Statement on Responsibilities of Catholics in Public Life, which Archbishop Niederauer quotes in his public response. To wit:
"The question has been raised as to whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. Nevertheless, we all share an unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity and to preach the Gospel in difficult times."
Then, in 2006, reflecting further on the broader implications of these questions, the USCCB promulgated "Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper": On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily on the Eucharist.

By the way, let's not forget to fast one hour before Mass. To be safe, make it an hour before Mass begins. Otherwise, you're just guessing as to what time you may actually receive communion.

"Gloria...in te domine Gloria...exultate"

Yea, Gloria is traditio.

Suzanne knows a foul when she sees one and calls 'em like she sees 'em. You have to love those, like the anonymous author on the oddly named Catholic Culture website, who are more Catholic than either pope or bishop. I don't mean that in a snide way- you have to love them. I find it tremendously problematic that the attack piece is anonymous. Go figure! As many of my fellow bloggers know, most of the slash and burn comments to blog posts are also anonymous. What courage!

It also amazes me how many people are chomping at the bit to witness the spectacle of a bishop publicly denying communion to a prominent politician. To paraphrase something Cardinal McCarrick said back in 2004, the communion line in the middle of the church is no place to sort out these issues. Don't get me wrong, there are times when such an unfortunate denial would be appropriate, but it is never a matter to be taken lightly and,in the Catholic Church, such determinations are not left to just any ol' body.

It is fine, even healthy, to disagree with our elected leaders. In my opinion, it is not alright to question another person's motives or intentions. Further, I think it shows a distinct lack of caritas when Catholics challenge another person's faith, saying things like "He's not a Catholic", even when the person is baptized, confirmed, married in the church, attends Mass every Sunday and holy day, is a loving and attentive spouse and parent, generous with their time and resources, etc. Fred asked a good question not too long ago- Can a Catholic be confused? Yes! I daresay there are matters on which I am in need clarification and guidance. Does confusion bar you from communion? Generally, no. Otherwise who could receive? When it comes to those issues of grave importance, as a deacon, it is not my place to decide. The Catholic Church is hierarchical, which means sacredly ordered. In this ordering, some are given the responsibility of shepherding the flock. We can't only be hierarchical when the said hierarch, in this case a bishop, does what we think he should do in just the way we think it should be done. To think in such a way is to arrogate all judgment to one's self and to subject a bishop, who is an authentic teacher of the faith, a successor of the apostles, to your private judgment. How Catholic is that? Not very! Foul, indeed.

When those serious issues arise, I suppose it depends on what you are confused about and what implications your confusion has on the way you live your life and the effect it has on the lives of others, and specifically on the church's communion. Of course, we are not to receive communion being conscious of having committed a grave sin or having committed sins with grave matter. In such cases, who knows but us, God, and whoever else may have been involved? We are left to examine ourselves. Our inward disposition is our responsibility, unless we are engaged in persistent, obstinate, and manifest, that is, public, sinful behavior. Whether the positions of an individual Catholic politician rise to the level of persistent, obstinate, and manifest is not mine to judge and it is not one-size-fits-all. It is not my place to question or impugn Sen. Biden's and Speaker Pelosi's stated personal and moral opposition to abortion. Besides, while the Catholic Church is dogmatically committed to ending abortion, we are not not doctrinally committed to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as Dennis O'Brien's article shows. How to end abortion, short of formally cooperating with evil (i.e., ends do not justify means), is a prudential judgment. We have to be able to distinguish between ends and means. To wit: Catholics, on the whole, are committed to ending the unjust situation of abortion on demand, but we have legitimate differences about the best way to accomplish this desired end.

In cases likes the ones involving quite a few Catholic politicians, bishops are presented with a complex, not a simple, pastoral problem. Pastoral solutions are not worked out in the news media, they are not spectacular, but worked out one-on-one. Which, as Suzanne astutely notes, is in accordance with the Lord's own teaching, which is what last Sunday's gospel was all about. Hence, Archbishop Niederauer's invitation to Speaker Pelosi to meet. It is great news she has graciously accepted his invitation.

Look at it this way, if you ran afoul on some important matter, would you rather your pastor asked you to meet with him privately or make an announcement at the end of Mass to the entire parish, or begin his homily with something like "I'd like to take this opportunity to let Deacon Scott know, as well as all of you, that he is up-in-the night regarding his unfailing support of the increasingly hapless Oakland Athletics baseball club year after year"?

I liked very much reading the retired bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, Bishop Mulvee's, take on the matter, saying that he prefers communication to excommunication. As Archbishop Niederauer pointed out, though more eloquently, a responsible shepherd, who seeks to imitate the Good Shepherd, does not use his crozier to beat his sheep.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Year II 23rd Monday in Ordinary Time- 9/11: Justice & Mercy

As a general rule I don't re-post, but today is an exception. Two years ago I preached at Holy Family Parish in my home town on this anniversary. I remembering getting up early and really struggling with what to say on such a day. This is the fruit of that labor. Looking at it now I probably have too many scripture citations, but I remember being very conscious of not wanting to merely give my opinion on such a grave matter.

Readings: 1 Cor 5,1-8; Ps 5, 5-7.12; Lk 6,6-11

"Lead me in your justice, Lord," we ask in today’s Psalm response (Ps 5,8). The Psalmist also sings: "For you, O God, delight not in wickedness; no evil man remains with you" (Ps 5,4). Indeed, it is appropriate to call to mind the Lord’s justice on this fifth anniversary of 9/11. The Lord our God is just in all his ways. More importantly to us sinners, God is merciful. We certainly ask God’s mercy to be upon those who perished in the unspeakably evil attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the third plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. We ask God’s healing mercy to be with those wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and close friends who lost loved ones on that horrible day. But, in light of our faith, which finds its perfect expression in the teachings of Jesus Christ, what should our attitude be toward those responsible for these attacks? Their wicked acts are to be condemned without a doubt, but what about our attitude to those who mean us harm, our enemies? This question is not asked, like Jesus’ questions in today’s Gospel, rhetorically, with the answer being obvious. Neither is it asked in order to receive a ready-made answer; it is asked as a question for each of us to ponder in our hearts this day on which we remember a horrible evil perpetrated by human beings upon other human beings, as we ponder "man's inhumanity to man."

A key to a Christian response to these questions is contained in our Gospel this morning. As with Saturday's Gospel, Jesus is violating Jewish Sabbath observance by healing a man with a withered hand. Prior to doing this, our Lord asks the Pharisees, "is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" It is easy to imagine Jesus asking this question and waiting for a few awkward moments for a reply, while the Pharisees shuffled around, looked at their feet, and mumbled. In this instance he receives no reply. So, he goes ahead and heals the man’s withered hand (Lk 6,9-10). Like all the words and actions of our Lord, there are many lessons to be drawn from this episode, especially from his questions. Let us consider just two. Let us first consider his question about the lawfulness of doing good rather than do evil on the Sabbath. For the disciple of Jesus it is obligatory always and everywhere to do what is good and avoid what is evil. The second point is that, life being sacred, we are always obliged to save life. In other words, we are to be healers.

In order to heal we have to be healed. To be healed, in each of our cases, means to be forgiven. In order to be forgiven, we must forgive. To forgive requires mercy. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matt 5,7). It is important to note that mercy does not cancel out justice. Because it does not sometimes in our fallen and sinful world justice requires resorting to the use of force. Our Lord tells us in his rhetorical question to the Pharisees it is better to save life than to destroy it. In the context of 9/11 and its aftermath, we must keep in mind that the ultimate goal of just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought. What this reinforces is that vengeance, which Paul, in concert with the Psalmist, tells us in Romans, is the Lord’s (Rom 12,19 ), plays no part in the Christian response to any evil, even one as horrific as the 9/11 bombings.

Regardless of where we stand with regard to certain "hot button" issues we know that peace and mercy begin with us. Therefore, we must practice both daily in all of our interactions, in our homes, in our places of work, and here in our parish, which should be a model of true justice brought about by mercy and resulting in peace. Because we have freely chosen to follow the way of the Lord Jesus, we are committed to acting intentionally in our efforts to adhere to the objective standards of morality clearly taught us by him. In other words, we obey Jesus because we love him (Jn 14,15 ). If our love for God is genuine, it leads to love of neighbor. Our neighbor, of course, is every person. Acting intentionally means knowing what our motives are. It also means knowing what our motives should be. This, in turn, requires us to pray, work, and cooperate with God so as to bring our will and our desires into conformity with Christ’s teachings.

So, while our faith enables us to discern what is good and what is evil, it also teaches us that we are sinners, who have done evil ourselves and who have been forgiven. God’s justice was satisfied in the act of ultimate mercy; Jesus Christ nailed to the Cross for our sins. Of all people, Christians understand that we must be mericful because we have received mercy. In a few moments we will pray the Our Father, the prayer taught us by our Lord himself. In this prayer we will ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Scripture tells us, "judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas 2, 13). Let these reflections be the background against which we consider the questions raised by justice and mercy on this day during which remember so great an evil.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Marx's return and dream fulfilled

When asked if new technologies have further simplified his already technologically straightforward approach to filmmaking, reclusive French filmmaker, Chris Marker, who is now 87, replied:

"Definitely. To be able to make a film, The Case of the Grinning Cat, with my own ten fingers, without any support or outside help . . . and then to go sell the DVD myself at Saint-Blaise flea market . . . right there, I admit to feeling triumph: direct from producer to consumer. No surplus value. I have fulfilled Marx's dream."
Surplus value! Now there is a man who has spent some time in the trenches, as did I some 15+ year ago, of Marx's Das Kapital. To wit:
"Our capitalist has two objects in view: in the first place, he wants to produce a use-value that has a value in exchange, that is to say, an article destined to be sold, a commodity; and secondly, he desires to produce a commodity whose value shall be greater than the sum of the values of the commodities used in its production, that is, of the means of production and the labour-power, that he purchased with his good money in the open market. His aim is to produce not only a use-value, but a commodity also; not only use-value, but value; not only value, but at the same time surplus-value" (Section 2 of Chapter 7, of vol. 1 of Kapital "The Production of Surplus Value").

Marker's comment brought to my mind an interesting article that appeared in the New Yorker back in 1997, entitled The Return of Karl Marx.

I am very interested in thoughts about the implications of Marker's view of unsupported, straight-to-the-people, filmmaking both to culture and to economics. This is reflected a bit in the clip. Is owl to cat what angel is to man? Is the erasing of the cat from the church wall in any way equivalent to the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas, if not, why? If so, how? Is culture only something inherited, a deposit, something passed on, or can it be added to, deepened, enriched? What constitites a legitmate addition, deepening, or contribution to culture? In other words, is there something like St. Vincent of Lérins' two rules for culture?

On a tangentially related note, for the same reasons that Lorenzo Albacete landed on the side of the atheist during a panel discussion on science and faith at NYU, I am betting with Stephen Hawking against the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, the hypothetical particle from which the universe derived its form. According to the BBC, the hypothetical bit of matter or energy, "because it is so fundamental in shaping the universe" is called the God particle. The experiment is being conducted at the European Centre for Nuclear Research, which has a superconducting super collider of the kind envisioned in this country some twenty years ago. It is known as the Big Bang experiment.

A worthwhile rant

As a DRE I very much appreciate the Ironic Catholic's rant this morning about Youth Ministry, which is also applicable to children's religious education. It makes me happy that I am purposefully the least programmatic religious educator I know. Nonetheless, I empathize with the discouraged Youth Minister. The trouble is that as catechists we often accept more responsibility for the people we teach than we ought to, especially young people who have Christian parents. This why I love the IC's point, which isn't emphasized enough and can't possibly be, that as parents we are the primary catechists of our children. This cannot be abdicated or delegated, but only augmented by parish and school catechetical programs, which, at best, provide us with some structure, form, and content. Parish and school programs can never replace parental responsibility and were never meant to.

It is a grave error with staggering consequences that too many parents, catechists, catechetical leaders, and even pastors think that these programs are the primary means of passing on the faith to new generations. Well, all who think that are wrong. To be a Christian is to be baptized, immersed, into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to receive new life from God, who is Love. Hence, it is a way of life, not a set of propositions to be mastered, or a certain number of service hours to be accumulated. A way of life cannot be communicated in a classroom an hour at time either once a week or several times a week.

In order to have children baptized as infants, the church makes it a condition that the parents, along with the godparents, both profess their own faith in Christ and solemnly promise to raise their child in the practice of their Christian faith. It is a promise made several times throughout the rite. Hence, it is important that these promises not become pro forma. This is what makes the suggestions put forward by the IC so very vital, that is, necessary for life, Christian life, abundant life. What shall we communicate as parents? I suggest this: "for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who (indeed) is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 Jn 5,4-5)?

I will confess to worrying about how to reach young people, especially those who are on the margins of the church, the ones whose parents rarely attend mass, etc. This is why, increasingly, I see our adult programs as more important than our children and youth programs. Teach the Gospel, strive to live as a disciple of the Lord by practicing the spiritual disciples, which I plan to revisit on this blog in a big way soon, no later than Advent, communicate your joy in knowing Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit deal with the rest. That is my prayer today.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I owe a debt of gratitude to Prof. Rusty Reno today for helping me by Putting Politics in its Place, which post appears over on the First Things' blog Observations & Contentions.

"All the ephemera of the campaign season—the sound bites, the spin, the counter-spin, the endless layers of media meta-spinning comments on spin, the polling, the focus groups, the reporters interviewing swing voters, indeed, the very concept of a swing voter—all of this and everything else that will clog the airwaves for the next two long months serve this basic goal: to win for the sake of our often inchoate, often inarticulate, but always passionately felt sense of the purposes and dangers of our collective life."
Inchoate means formless. Prof. Reno is correct in both his assertions that what forms our sense of purpose ought to be deeper than politics and that we often invest too much in political outcomes. Rocco over at Whispers has the scoop on the USCCB v. Biden. In other words, the USCCB's correction to the senator in the wake of his "personal and private" comment made on NBC's Meet the Press last Sunday.

Thanks also to Deacon Greg over on The Deacon's Bench for drawing my attention to this article about one Skye Denno that appeared in the U.K.'s Daily Mail: Lager-loving punk who dresses as a dominatrix is appointed village curate. Now, let's not be too quick to dismiss, too quick to smugly chuckle and self-righteously belittle, lest we miss something important. In order not to do that we have to momentarily set aside concerns about whether her "partner," by whom she has two children, is her husband and, as Catholics, the whole issue of female priests. Now, the argument that such possible disconnects between faith and life might flow from being immersed in too non-Christian, even un-Christian, a milieu, are not lost on me. Indeed, we are "like sheep in the midst of wolves," which is why we must "be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves" (Matt. 10,16). With that being acknowledged, let's return to the something important that is all too easily missed, to the way of seeing this that does not allow us to be smug or permit us to be outraged. As Christ's body, we must try to serve everyone, to be present in all places, in pubs, prisons, and punk clubs, especially in the post-Christian, God-haunted societies of the west, the emptiness of which spawns many such places and what goes on in them, places and doings in which people seek that which corresponds to their heart. I can relate to some of her experiences, like praying with and/or for someone in a club, all too well. Besides, her musical preferences are great: "The Cure, Sex Pistols, Clash, Sisters of Mercy and Last Dance". The Pistols, of course, more for the spectacle than any music or message. After all, what other Catholic blog has posted a video of a Dead Kennedys song?

Oh, and just in case you're wondering, yes, in the sex industry, which is where Pink Cross Ministries and XXX Church are.

Martyria, along with leitourgia and diakonia express the church's deepest nature

Christians refugees fleeing the violence in Orissa state

From Paper Clippings, a comment on the martyrdom of Christians in India: "What one sees in many stories about persecution is that Christianity is hated because simply by affirming the value of the person it is the greatest threat to the powers that be." Amen.

Jesus said: "Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name" (Matt. 24,9). Let us abide in love and prayer for our persecuted sisters and brothers as well as for their persecutors.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...