Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Remembering Karl Rahner

I am remorseful because I was remiss. Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ. Rahner was a giant of Catholic theology before Vatican II, a major contributor during the Council, and a force after it. As Fr. Joseph Komonchak, writing over on dotCommonweal, observes, Rahner's star has been eclipsed somewhat in recent years by that of Hans Urs Von Balthasar. As with many things, I am conflicted and ambivalent. While I came to Balthasar very much on my own, I have been taught Rahner by professors who are not only very learned people, but fantastic teachers, and people of deep holiness. Their immersion in Rahner is a component of their goodness because they understand that grace is the very air we breathe. Fr. Komonchak himself has been kind to me by sending along articles on which he is working, especially some recent writings about Vatican II. In his post, Karl Rahner, 25 years after, he writes something that is funny because it is true:

"A Balthasarian accused Rahner of compromising the divine transcendence by his anthropocentric approach. I thought this odd coming from a disciple of the man who claims to know an extraordinary amount of what passed between God the Father and God the Son on Holy Saturday!"

I certainly have to agree with Fr. Komonchak when he retorts: "I don’t know of any theologian who more than Rahner stressed the transcendence of the divine Mystery to all our feeble efforts to understand it. He embodied the Augustinian adage: “Si comprehendis, non est Deus” (If you can grasp it, it’s not God.)"

One of my favorite books by a disciple of Rahner is Bill Huebsch's A New Look at Grace: A Spirituality of Wholeness. I also have great memories of reading Faith in a Wintry Season: Conversations & Interviews with Karl Rahner in the Last Years of His Life. The best book on prayer I have ever read, one that I read over and again, is Rahner's own The Need and Blessing of Prayer:

"Man does very many diverse things. He does not have the gift of always doing one thing, although he bears a secret, perhaps unacknowledged and semiconscious longing always to do just one single thing; something that is everything and worth the effort, the heart's final exertion of love."
For Rahner, this one single thing that satisfies is prayer. I think Rahner's ecclesiology remains a completely beautiful vision of Church.

If you are really interested in Rahner, please listen to the America magazine podcast with Fr. Leo O'Donovan, SJ, a doctoral student of and friend of Rahner, as well as the long-time president of Georgetown University.

Last evening I read an article by one of the people who taught me and who is well-versed in the theology of Rahner, as well as that of John Macquarrie, Macquarrie being the one who helped me bridge the gap between philosophy and theology with his Hensley Henson lectures, given in Oxford and published as Heidegger and Christianity (Rahner studied briefly under Heidegger), and who is both an academic teacher and a life teacher, Dr. Owen Cummings. Deacon Owen is the Regents’ Professor of Theology at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. The article, one in his series on popes of the 20th century, on the marvelous Bl. John XXIII, appeared in the excellent periodical published by the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, an order whose goodness to me cannot be exaggerated, Emmanuel.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Year B 5th Sunday of Lent

Readings: Jer. 31:31-34; Ps. 51:3-4. 12-15; Heb. 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus "learned obedience from what he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). It was by learning obedience through suffering that our Lord was able to accept His passion and death, which cup he prayed the Father to take from him, as the primary purpose for which He became incarnate. Indeed, the Incarnation of the Son of God is the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy that God would establish a new covenant with Israel because of their unwillingness and inability to live up to the covenant previously established. In other words, Christ accomplished in His own person what Israel was unable to do, which was to be faithful to the covenant through perfect observance of the Law. The heart of God’s covenant with us is concisely set forth by Jeremiah: "I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33).

By virtue of our faith, expressed in baptism, we can be considered the friends and even the relatives of Israel to whom the prophet refers in this passage. For the covenant was established, beginning with Abraham, for the purpose of blessing "all the nations of the earth" (Gen. 22:8). Indeed, as we reflected on the First Sunday of this Lent, from the very beginning, God has only sought one covenant with humankind, whom He made in His image and likeness solely for the purpose of communion. Understanding this leads us to realize that St. Paul’s teaching is derived from the heart of the Jewish Scriptures when writes in Romans, "For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh"(8:3). So, through faith in Christ, all can share in the one covenant.

The essence of the covenant God has established with us is forgiveness. This is what God communicates through his prophet, when Jeremiah writes: "All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:34). The reason that forgiveness is the heart of God’s covenant with us is our inability, even our unwillingness, to abide the precepts of the Law, which are summed up by our Lord in the two Great Commandments: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:26-27; Matt. 22:36-39). St. Paul, again writing to the earliest Christian community in Rome, which, at least at this early stage, was comprised largely of Jewish Christians, tells us that "the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Rom. 13:8).

Love makes no greater demand on us than to forgive. It stands to reason that when most of us think of the word grace, we rightly think of God forgiving us our sins. My friends, this is the Good News: there is nothing for which God cannot and will not forgive you! Nothing! Fr. Albert Haase observed: "Praying for forgiveness is a vivid reminder that God frees us from debilitating guilt and forgets our past. No sin is written with indelible ink" (from Living the Lord’s Prayer: The Way of the Disciple). Often the person we have the most difficult time forgiving is ourselves. Like some among the children of Israel, to whom Jesus alluded in our Gospel last week, who refused to even glance at the brazen serpent Moses was holding up in a last desperate attempt to stay alive after being bitten by a poison serpent, we refuse to accept that through Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven. Not being able to accept God’s forgiveness results in our inability to forgive others. We have a beautiful scene of God’s forgiveness on the west side of our Cathedral, above the chapel of Our Lady, the scene in which a sinful woman, a prostitute, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. Of her, the Lord says: "her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:47). We can forgive and love only because we are first loved and forgiven.

Frederick Buechner, writing about the petition from the Our Father in which we pray to God to forgive us as we forgive others, observes that "Jesus is NOT saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others" (from Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC). The reason Jesus cannot mean that, Buechner insists, is because "forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all" (ibid). He goes on to say that our unwillingness and our inability to forgive are things for which we most need God’s pardon. So, he concludes, "[w]hat Jesus apparently is saying is that the pride that keeps us from forgiving is the same pride that keeps us from accepting [God’s] forgiveness" (ibid).

There are very many things we do to each other that cause serious and traumatic suffering: rapes, murders, physical and verbal abuse, neglect, lies, fraud, etc. As Christian people, who have died, been buried, and been raised to new life in Christ, if we don’t live forgiveness, even as it pertains to the most unimaginably horrible things we to do each other, fully recognizing that we cannot do this without God’s help and the support of others, then we deny the very basis of our new existence. From time to time we see positive signs of this, like the State of New Mexico’s recent elimination of the death penalty.

Perhaps the best reason for the sacrament of penance is that it allows us to say what we have done wrong out loud to another person and to have that person, a priest, respond: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Rite of Penance). These are words of life and liberty. Besides, to believe that our sins are bigger than God’s mercy given us in Christ, far from being an attitude of humility, is one of of arrogance, just as to state that by entering a church God will cause it to collapse is to overestimate one’s self and reduce God to an all too human, that is, unforgiving father. We are finite and God’s mercy is infinite. As human beings in a fallen world, though one in the process of being redeemed and sanctified, very often God’s infinite mercy stands in stark to our experience.

God is, indeed, the Father of mercies. As we continue our Lenten journey, let us pray with the Psalmist: "Give me back the joy of your salvation and a willing spirit sustain in me. I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall return to you" (Ps. 51:14-15). As transgressors ourselves, the willing spirit for which we pray can only be the willingness to forgive others, not because they deserve it, but in recognition of the fact that "while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). So, we need to forgive others even when we don’t want to, even when it causes us to suffer, because, like our Lord himself, our obedience is perfected through just this kind of suffering.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Forward Israel

Beating a 3 April deadline, Benjamin Netanyahu has finally succeeded in cobbling together a coalition that will allow him to become, again, the Prime Minister of Israel. When he left office the last time he was the most unpopular politician in the history of the State of Israel, largely due to his hard-line, bordering on obnoxious, stance towards the Palestinians and his often blatant disregard for agreements into which Israel had entered, especially regarding the establishment of settlements. Netanyahu becoming PM is something akin to Dick Cheney being elected president in 2012.

As predicted, Kadima is not part of the governing coalition. It was the agreement of Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, also a former PM, to join the coalition that allowed Likud to form a government. This decision has caused deep division within the Labor Party, which is Likud's political opposite in many ways.

The new coalition consists of Likud, Labor, Yisrael Beitneu, and Shas. These four parties together currently hold 66 seats in the Knesset, which is five seats more than they need for a majority in the 120 seat body. So, we'll see. For the peace of Jerusalem pray (Ps. 122:6).

I gladly and gratefully admit to being inspired by Rebecca to post a U2 song for this week's traditio. I love this song. I'll take (and give) grace over karma any day. "Grace makes beauty out of ugly things." Besides, doesn't this video just overwhelm you? It does me!

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, wrote in a letter to bishops last spring:
"In our time, during which in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of being extinguished like a flame that has run out of fuel, the priority that stands above all others is that of making God present in this world, and revealing to the eyes of men the path to God. And not to any sort of god, but to that God who has spoken on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in love to the end (cf. John 13:1), in Jesus Christ crucified and risen. The true problem at this moment in history is that God is disappearing from the horizon of men, and that with the extinguishing of the light that comes from God, humanity is seized by a lack of direction, the destructive effects of which are becoming increasingly clear."
What does John 13:1 say? "Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end."

I give a deep diaconal bow to my dear friend Sharon, whose postings inspire me daily, for the Holy Father's quote to my attention.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Then shall they be gods, because they have no end" (D&C 132:20)

My wife and I are watching Big Love on DvD. It was her idea, an idea that surprised me. She is a Gentile in Utah and one who has always been a bit wary of my religious background. Undoubtedly, she was intrigued, as were many people, by the controversial episode, which aired last week, in which Barbara receives her temple endowment. In all honesty I was not too interested in watching the show, but I have been surprised. Of course, were it not for polygamy, I would not be here. Maybe having to think about that is what caused my initial hesitation. The last time I even thought about contemporary polygamy was several years ago when I read God's Brothel. It is still the book I recommend for anybody who wants to know about contemporary polygamy, which is not as rare here in Utah as many would like to think. I do have a problem with portraying polygamy in the idealistic manner in which the show depicts it, as just one more way of living, a way that can be fulfilling and normal. Sadly, the Juniper Creek community is much more the norm than the Hendrickson's of the suburbs. Nonetheless, here along the Wasatch Front, there are many polygamists in our midst, both in the urb and the suburbs.

Back in 2005 a fellow from Salt Lake City, Scott Carrier, did a short guest radio documentary for This American Life, entitled Invisible Girl, about Elizabeth Smart. His piece was about how many people actually saw her around town during her "disappearance," but ignored her. His premise being that for those of us from around here, we know there is a reality among us, we see it, but we ignore it, tune it out.

I do not want to reignite a past controversy, but it is important to note that the LDS Church still accepts polygamy as a theological and eternal principle. For example, for a faithful LDS man, if his wife, to whom he is sealed for time and all eternity in the temple, dies, he can marry another woman for time and all eternity in the temple. This means that he can expect both women to be his wives should he attain exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Back in the early days of his presidency, LDS president, Gordon B. Hinckley, gave a number of interviews. In these interviews, with likes of Richard Ostling and other serious religion journalists, he was asked some very forthright questions, like whether the LDS Church allowed the practice of polygamy in parts of the world where it was legal to practice it. In at least one interview, President Hinckley indicated that they did not. Apparently, this turned out to not be exactly true. In fact, in one interview, Hinckley said of polygamy: "I condemn it as a practice. It is not doctrinal. It is not legal."

This question was premised on the fact that the reason the LDS eschewed polygamy, at least here in the U.S., as per the Manifesto, issued on 6 October 1890 by then-LDS president Wilford Woodruff, was only because it was contrary to the twelfth (of thirteen) LDS Articles of Faith, which states, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." Another factor was statehood for Utah and the continued threat of government seizure of church assets. In no wise does the Manifesto reject the doctrine of plural marriage, which the LDS believe to be revealed by God and part of the plan of salvation. The LDS doctrine of plural marriage is most clearly set forth in Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants, one of the four books, along with the Bible (KJV only for English speakers), The Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price, they revere as scripture. All citations in this paragraph are from lds.org, the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Being only six episodes into the first season of Big Love, it seems like the Hendrickson family's religion consists of nothing more than the practice of plural marriage and praying before meals. I am certain that it will be more fully developed as the show progresses (no spoilers!). It also seems that the creators of the show are not so subtly trying to make a case for permitting plural marriage, as long it is freely chosen and entered into by consenting adults, who can also choose to leave. If this were ever to happen, the question becomes would the LDS Church permit it to be practiced among the faithful here as it does in countries where plural marriage is allowed? Currently, in the U.S. and other countries in which it is illegal, LDS members are excommunicated for practicing plural marriage. It is fair to say that this is a question that would divide LDS people. So, in the end, it would depend on what direction would be given by any future president of the LDS Church, were it to become legally permitted. Given all this, I cannot but point out the irony I see in the LDS going to such lengths to support and advocate for initiatives, like Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to define marriage as being solely between one man and one woman. Several years ago we overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment here in Utah doing the same thing. Given all of the heat they are taking for their Proposition 8 advocacy, it seems to be a way of publicly repudiating plural marriage and seeking to enter more into the religio-social mainstream, which seems to me was the overarching objective of President Hinckley's tenure. In my opinion, Ostling's book, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, which he co-wrote with his wife, Joan, remains the best contemporary look at Mormonism.

In many ways, I remain culturally LDS. After all, we cannot change the reality of our lives, especially those things into which we were born. In my case, I have no desire to do any such thing. When our dear friend and long-time next-door-neighbor, Bessie, passed away a little more than a month ago, we attended her funeral at the ward just down the street from where we used to live. It was all so familiar to me. I knew all the hymns by heart and sang them. The funeral, like that of my uncle, who died back in January, was beautiful for its sincerity and simplicity. While God has moved me in a different direction, which movement began once I came to the difficult conclusion in the my early twenties that I could not believe what I had to believe to remain a member of the LDS faith, I have to state that beyond any inability on my part to believe what my reason necessitated I reject, the LDS religion did not meet the need that I am, that is, it did not correspond to my heart. Nonetheless, on that day I found myself giving thanks to God for my upbringing and the many wonderful people who helped shape and form me. Somehow, it is all part of His plan for me.

Below are two links to other relevant posts on matters LDS:
Romney's primary problem is not being LDS

Are the LDS Christians? The red herring that won't go away

I am trying to wade cautiously and respectfully, but honestly, into these waters. I will state up-front that I am not coming at this as an outsider. So, I welcome comments as long as they are constructive and civil.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Annuniciation of the Lord

El Greco

Our present gathering in honor of the Most Holy Virgin ...It comprises a praise of women, a glorying of their gender, which (glory) is brought it by Her, She Who is at one same time both Mother, and Virgin. O desired and wondrous gathering! Celebrate, O nature, that wherein honor be rendered to Woman; rejoice, O human race, that wherein the Virgin be glorified. "For when sin did abound, grace did superabound" (Rom 5:20). The Holy Mother of God and Virgin Mary hath gathered us here, She the pure treasure of virginity, the intended paradise of Second Adam -- the locus, wherein was accomplished the co-uniting of natures, wherein was affirmed the Counsel of salvific reconciliation.

Whoever is it that ever saw, whoever heard, that within a womb the Limitless God would make habitation, Whom the Heavens cannot circumscribe, Whom the womb of a Virgin limiteth not!?

He born of woman is not only God and He is not only Man: This One born made woman, being the ancient gateway of sin, into the gateway of salvation: where evil poured forth its poison, bringing on disobedience, there the Word made for Himself a living temple, bringing in thither obedience; from whence the arch-sinner Cain sprang forth, there without seed was born Christ the Redeemer of the human race.

The Lover-of-Mankind did not disdain to be born of woman, since this bestowed His life. He was not subject to impurity, being settled within the womb, which He Himself arrayed free from all harm. If perchance this Mother did not remain a Virgin, then that born of Her might be a mere man, and the birth would be no wise miraculous; but since she after birth remained a Virgin, then how is He Who is born indeed -- not God? It is an inexplicable mystery, since in an inexplicable manner was born He Who without hindrance went through doors when they were locked. When confessing in Him the co-uniting of two natures, Thomas cried out: "My Lord, and my God..." (Jn 20:28) (Sermon of St. Proklos, Patriarch of Constantinople AD 434-447)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Martyria: On bearing credible witness

When done responsibly blogging is a communal enterprise. For the most part, I like the existence of and belonging to what is called "the Catholic blogosphere." By sphere, I think we mean space, even if cyberspace. I have made many wonderful friends through blogging. I am inspired, awed, humbled, informed, and corrected by other Catholic bloggers. Indeed, the expansion of communications technology makes it possible for many of us to express thoughts and opinions on various events and subjects and disseminate them via the worldwide web, or, to quote the poster I put up on my previous Lenten reflection on blogging that I found by means of employing a Google image search: "Now you can show the whole world why no one listens to you."

God is active in our lives. God almost always works through our experiences, the ordinary and everyday, through the people we encounter. So, the question becomes, Am I paying attention? I have no doubt that the two books that were set on my desk with a very kind note by a parishioner a few weeks ago were providential. I read them and I have written about both: Joe Eszterhas' book, Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith and Justin Catanoso's book, My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles. Apart from the experiences shared by the authors in these very personal books, I did not learn anything I didn't already know, but I was powerfully reminded about what is fundamental. Is this not the purpose of this season we observe year-after-year? It's not about knowing, about intellection or cognition, just as faith is so much more than mere belief. Both authors reminded me that God is not limited by our ideas, our expectations, and certainly not by our opinions. God is a God of surprises, of exceeding our expectations, expanding our opinions, and exposing the limited nature of our ideas, especially our ideas about Him.

Vietnamese martyrs

All of this has been a big wind up to draw attention to something posted by Deacon Greg Kandra, who is one of the cherished friends I have made through blogging, who writes The Deacon's Bench. It is a column by Archbishop Wuerl of Washington, D.C. The title of the article is Casting the First Stone. I encourage all of us who engage in any sort of on-line apostolate, punditry, and/or public reflection on matters of faith from a Christian point-of-view to take some time and read this column and reflect on it. We need to take to heart his reminder that "[t]he intensity of one's opinion is not the same as the truth." If you read his entire article, you will see that His Excellency is not trying soft-pedal our need to bear witness to the truth. Quoting Ephesians 4:15, he reminds us that the best way to bear witness to the truth is by how we live. As Fr. Carrón reminded us at the Communion & Liberation National Diaconia for the U.S. in January, it doesn't matter that we have the perfect doctrine of marriage if we fail to live it as Christian wives and husbands. To employ a tired but relevant cliché, if we talk the talk but fail to walk the walk, then our witness is only words, empty and lifeless, not to mention joyless. If we do not have joy, then our witness, no matter deeply felt, loses credibility. Joy can only come to us through living, that is, through experience. All of this reminds me of something I have heard Archbishop Niederauer say time and again: "We can disagree without being disagreeable." We can certainly disagree without trying to excommunicate each other! After all, what did the mutual excommunications issued by the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople in AD 1054 accomplish apart from dividing the Body of Christ?

Yesterday, I was looking up some information that led me to visit the website of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. I lingered there long enough to read two items. The first article was The honeymoon is over, by George Wesolek, who serves as the director of Public Policy and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. In this piece he captures very well the ambivalence I felt over last November's election. Before moving to his criticism, Wesolek takes the time to point out that many of the initiatives and policies the president is seeking to implement are good and laudable. Of course, his criticism is that, despite promises made to the contrary by Catholic Obama supporters, like Doug Kmeic, the president has done nothing to date "that would indicate a 'pro-life' openness or even a small move in that general direction." It is a good example of addressing something that is wrong, but doing it in a way that remains true to our commitment to follow Christ, by expressing what we believe in a charitable and straightforward manner.

The second article, written by the Archbishop, The faith witnesses, is about a recent trip he took to Vietnam. In it he writes about the kind of witness to which Archbishop Wuerl alludes. At the end of the article he writes: "From time to time witness to the Catholic faith is given through the shedding of blood, but always we witness by sharing out our lives day by day."

As Hans Urs Von Balthasar observed, Love Alone is Credible.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hierarchy update

Moving quickly to fill the vacancy created when His Excellency, Allen Vigeron, was named archbishop of Detroit, the Holy Father announced this morning that Bishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, who is currently serving as auxilary bishop in San Diego, is the new bishop of Oakland, California, filling the only vacancy in the archdiocese of which our diocese is a suffragan.

Bishop Cordileone is 52 years-old and a canon lawyer by training. In addition to English, he speaks Latin, Spanish, and Italian. Bishop Cordileone's appointment to Oakland is the seventh U.S. appointment this year. If credible sources are to be believed (i.e., Rocco over at Whispers), the Holy Father will be naming a new archbishop for St. Louis in the very near future.

With this appointment there are now five vacant sees in the U.S.: Cheyenne, Wyoming; Duluth, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Owensboro, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri.

The number of Latin rite bishops currently serving beyond the mandatory retirement age (i.e., bishops whose resignations the Holy Father has not accepted) is now twelve.

Archbishops Hughes of New Orleans; Curtiss of Omaha, NE; Brunett of Seattle, WA.

Bishops: D'Arcy of Ft. Wayne/South Bend, IN; Murray of Kalamazoo, MI; Moynihan of Syracuse, NY; Tafoya of Pueblo, CO; Cullen of Allentown, PA: Higi of Lafayette in Indiana, Carmody of Corpus Christi, TX. Peña of Brownsville, TX, Skylstad of Spokane.

While I am on matters ecclesiastical, with the institution of four new monsignori in our diocese last week, my brother deacon, Greg Kandra, who writes The Deacon's Bench, drew my attention to a post on McNamara's Blog on the first priest from the U.S. to be named a monsignor, Robert Seton, who was the grandson of the first U.S.-born saint, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Holy Father's words of hope to young people

I love these words of the Holy Father, spoken to all the young people on the whole continent of Africa. Indeed, God changes us and makes us new!

"God makes all the difference ... and more! God changes us; he makes us new! This is what he has promised: 'Behold, I make all things new' (Rev 21:5). It is true! The Apostle Paul tells us: 'If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled himself to us'(2 Cor 5:17-18). In ascending to Heaven and entering eternity, Jesus Christ has become the Lord of all ages. So he can walk with us as a friend in the present, carrying in his hand the book of our days. In his hand he also holds the past, the foundation and source of our life. He also carefully holds the future, allowing us to catch a glimpse of the most beautiful dawn we will ever see: the dawn that radiates from him, the dawn of the Resurrection. God is the future of a new humanity, which is anticipated in his Church. When you have a chance, take time to read the Church's history. You will find that the Church does not grow old with the passing of the years. Rather, she grows younger, for she is journeying towards her Lord, day by day drawing nearer to the one true fountain overflowing with youthfulness, rebirth, the power of life."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Who will carry the cross?

Last night I finished the book Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith, by Joe Eszterhas. It is the story of his return to the Catholic Church. I liked the book a lot because, in equal parts, it inspired and angered me, sometimes I was angered at him and sometimes angered with him at certain things, especially things that happen in the Church. I was glad that I balanced out reading this book by continuing to read Giussani, who never downplays the human dimension. It is a very authentic book. While it is autobiographical, it is not an autobiography. It is a conversion tale, a memoir of faith, as the sub-title indicates. The main theme is about what it means for Eszterhas to have new life in Christ. For most everyone there is what Giussani calls the determined moment, the moment when the scales fall off your eyes and you can see, the event that becomes an encounter.

My moment occurred in a bedroom in the house of a friend's parents. It happened while I was in college, after a night of pretty serious partying, while her Dad and Mom were out-of-town. It was in the fall. The backyard of the house abutted the Ogden City cemetery. The moon was full. I was lying on top of the bed and moonlight illumined the crucifix on the wall opposite the bed. I let my eyes look at it. I contemplated it. As I looked at the object, the corpus went from being a thing to a Him, a person. I started to reflect on my life, where I was going, what I was going to do. After a little while, I got off the bed, took a couple of steps, and knelt down. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. I cannot remember what I said exactly, but it was something like, "I believe in you. I know you love me. Show me where to go, what to do." I did not achieve any great insight in that moment, apart from the knowledge of God's love for me, shown in Christ's sacrifice on the cross, which is the most important insight in the world. It did not become clear to me what I should major in, what career or vocational path to pursue, but I was changed. The change did not become immediately apparent, even to me. I remember thinking the next day that something really happened, but I did not know what. Over the next year and half things unfolded in my life that I am sure now, as I was at the time, were happening as a result of that sincere moment.

What I like most about this book is that Eszterhas makes it clear that when you are converted, it is you who is changed, but not all at once, it is a process, a sometimes slow and even painful one. This means that when you come to faith in Christ Jesus all of your troubles do not go away. Again, what changes is you, how you deal with the circumstances in which you find yourself. Make no mistake, this once notorious Hollywood figure, author of Basic Instinct and Showgirls, experienced a miracle of healing. By the time his miracle occurs, he has come to see that this is not the greatest miracle he has experienced; the real miracle is what God has done for us in Christ and our faith in this fact. Looking back, he sees the incredible faith of his long-dead mother, who was afflicted with schizophrenia, who died a slow and painful death from cancer, but who was grateful and prayerful to the very end of a life of suffering, a life of carrying the cross.

Another, improbable exemplar of faith for him is a man he calls "Loody". Loody is a wealthy and successful movie producer, with whom Eszterhas had gone drinking, toking, snorting, and whoring. One Saturday evening, after his conversion, quite by chance, he runs into Loody at Mass while visiting California (he moved back to his native Ohio). It seems he never knew that his friend was a devoted Catholic, if not a particularly exemplary one. I laughed because for anyone who has dealt with people, people are always people no matter what situation they are in. One of the stories Eszterhas relates about his friend, with whom he wants to do a film on St. Juan Diego and the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to him, is when they went to supper in Palm Springs. Loody, who is tremendously devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, asks their Hispanic waiter if he believes in Our Lady of Guadalupe. The waiter answered that he did. As they were leaving, the waiter showed them a laminated card of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was attached to his key chain, and then he showed them pictures of his kids. Lastly, he kissed the image of Our Lady. Eszterhas' friend then reached into his pockets and gave the waiter all the money he had, which amounted to $200. The waiter tried refusing the money, but the giver was insistent. After prevailing on the reluctant waiter to take the money, he said, "Buy some toys for the kids. Nothing else, understand? No booze, no pills, no broads, no ponies, no Lotto. Just toys for the kids." The waiter agreed to the conditions and the generous friend said, "And thank Our Lady for it."

As a deacon, I cannot but relate a funny episode in the book that has to do with the deacon in Eszterhas' parish in Ohio. After Eszterhas had unsuccessfully launched a one man campaign to end the deification of LeBron James by Nike and his hometown Cavaliers, who were blasphemously promoting LeBron as the new messiah, Deacon Fred gave a homily actually comparing LeBron's visit to a Cleveland playground to Jesus visting the towns and villages of ancient Galilee, using the advertising slogans. Eszterhas, who ultimately develops a fondness for Deacon Fred, writes, "On my way home, I resolved that next Sunday I was going to bring my Cavs rally towel to Mass instead of my rosary. And they would say: 'Did you hear? Did you hear what happened? Did you hear the news? He strangled Deacon Fred with it. Right there in church!'"

It was one of two books given to me by a dear brother, a parishioner, who himself returned to the faith after many years away. Together, we are going to begin a ministry in our parish aimed at Catholics who have been away and now are either back, want to come back, or who are thinking about coming back. It is primarily going to be a listening ministry. I expect to hear more stories, like Joe Eszterhas'. Eszterhas gives one of the best rationales for the existence and necessity of the Church: "We must help one another with our crosses. Because every time we help someone with a cross, we help Him with His." This reminds me of a question I was asked after my talk in Seattle last fall. It was asked by a man, a computer scientist, finishing his Ph.d, who was worried about his co-workers thinking he was nuts for being a believer. He wondered if telling his skeptical co-workers that "The church is where I can hurt the way I need to" counts as evangelism. I told him I would be hard-pressed to think of a better definition and utterly incapable of a more honest one.

My dear friend, Riro, who is like a benevolent big brother to me, my link to Giussani, who is the lead vocalist on yesterday's traditio song, which he co-wrote, recently wrote to me: "We are blessed people - as screwed up as all yet chosen and blessed. So that above and beyond all our limitations and weaknesses the Human Glory of Christ is made visible in the world." The real miracle, one that Eszterhas also grasps, is that God chooses what, in the language of his book he would call "eff"-ups. The three of us are on solid biblical ground with this assertion: "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:7-10- underlining and emboldening mine).

I also want to point to two other good things today: with a deep diaconal bow to Fred, whose steady friendship I cherish, Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up, sung in duet by Sinead O'Connor and Willie, as well as Sharon's post on the whole dust-up over condoms and HIV transmission in Africa. I guess the empiricists aren't so empirical after all, this is what happens when you are in the grips of a preconception. You become ideological when your abstractions and theories discount and reduce the humanity of others. Pray for the Holy Father, who is surely a servant of the Truth and who speaks out of love.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Keep on believin' in me"

I must've listened to this song 20 times yesterday. It moved me because it helps me at this moment to describe something that I am experiencing. The Things That I See is our Friday traditio

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Placing the Christian scandal before the world

With his letter, A Mercy Challenging Us, Fr. Julián Carrón has, indeed, challenged me, that is, my hard-heartedness, my desire to be right and my zealotry for justice. This is just one event in an entire Lent that has become for me, even if reluctantly and unexpectedly, a springtime. It is a time of new, if painful, growth and, God-willing, maturity. I have been challenged by these simple and direct words of this man, this priest, who I both love and follow. I have been challenged by the Christian scandal both with regard to the Holy Father's merciful gesture towards the Society of Saint Pius X and by the stance in favor of life taken by the His Excellency, Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho, O. Carm., of the Archdiocese of Olinda e Recife, in the heart-breaking case of the 9 year-old rape victim. The stances necessitated by Love in both of these instances place, as Fr. Carrón writes, "the Christian scandal before the world". Referring to the letter written by the Holy Father to the world's bishops in the wake of the uproar caused by his merciful act, Carrón says that when you read it "it is difficult for the words of Jesus not to come to mind: 'Blessed is he who does not take scandal at me,' addressed to those who were angered because he ate with tax-collectors and sinners." I have been guilty of taking scandal as to the response to these cases. I am grateful to those few whose patience and kind corrections have not only challenged me, but who have been witnesses of the One I seek to follow. Indeed, as Fr. Carrón writes:

"Only mercy challenges our hard-headedness like no other reprimand. Jesus said that he who is forgiven much, loves much. Man is sensitive to no other gesture as he is to mercy. After all, it was the method Jesus used, as St. Paul recalls, 'When we were still sinners, Christ died for us.' The Pope’s letter affirms that 'the overriding priority is to make God present in this world,' an incarnate God whose name is 'mercy,' who shows himself by means of the 'unity of the believers.'"

The hardened crust that encased my heart was cracked last night when I read the first and last items published in the current issue of Traces. This monthly publication of CL seems to arrive at the moment I need clarification. The editorial on page one begins, "There are moments when the impact of reality becomes more violent. Think of the barbarities surrounding the case of Eluana Englaro, the thunder of war in the Middle East, the grip of the economic crisis. They seem to be placed there on purpose, all together, to shake us with their reverberations. In these cases, the normal effect is a reaction and, in many ways, this is rightly so." The editorial goes on to say that our reactions are good signs that we have not grown numb. Nonetheless, a reaction is not "enough fill the heart". These events issue us a "deeper challenge". While we must stand-up, using all the methods and tools and at our disposal, this is still not enough. "We need Christ, and witnesses who make Him present." This is not "just a spiritual discourse". It is "exactly the opposite". It is the opposite of empty, pious, pie-in-the-sky "spiritualism" because "it doesn't make you abandon the battle, but rather, it makes you enter the field with even more will to fight. It makes you enter into the heart of problems with more acumen, taking into account all the factors. Even more important, it frees you from fear, making you certain and thus free, because hope, the one hope, is only born from the certainty that He exists".

Then, at the very back of this issue, page 52 to be exact, in his Inside America column, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete writes that "it is clear that, without faith in Christ, violence is done to reality, to our humanity, even when pursuing the most noble ideas. Without Christ, human life is cruel.

"But why don't we say this publicly? Why are we afraid to say these things publicly?

It makes me think of Fr. Giussani's answer to T.S. Eliot's question about whether man has abandoned the Church or whether it is the Church that has abandoned man. Both are true, Giussani said. And when asked when the Church abandoned man, he replied: 'When it became afraid to proclaim Christ.'

"Today, we are living the consequences of this fear of proclaiming the fact of Christ. At the same time, the painful circumstances through which our society is living now represent a wonderful opportunity to proclaim Christ, this time without the fear of saying that without Christ human life is cruel. In the name of Man, let us proclaim Christ. Only He is."
May we, like the first Christians living in Rome, who Albacete points to as our example, "not seek protection from [our] culture." Rather, let's engage "with it at all of its levels," thus humanizing it by "inserting into it [our] experience of the dignity of the person, the greatness of reason, and the possibility of mercy and forgiveness." This does not happen, as the editorial points out, "as the result of political strategies, but as a fruit of [our] efforts to respond to [our] encounter with Christ- that is, as the fruit of [our] faith."

With all that, I want to draw attention to Marie's lovely post Love bids us, give it up.

More vexation on the Feast of St. Joseph

A friend from Brazil, Adriano, writes in reply to my first post on the very troubling series of events in Brazil:

"Fisichella did a bad work.

"He was not well informed about what was really going [on] here in Brazil. He was right when he talked of the need of protecting the girl and her family, but he was [poorly] informed about the rest.

"Our pro aborti[on] politic[ian]s, doctors and activists will keep his letter to justify their future 'social abortions'.

"The message sent: the church is a mess, with poor communications, abortions are endorsed in th[ese] cases.

"Dom Jose was trying to save the 3 children. Last week a girl [who was] 11 gave birth here, helped by the local church, she is well. She was raped, too.

"The doctors who performed the abortion, were from a staff of abortists, with political connections and interests.

"Only they say she was immediatly in danger."

To which I replied:


Thank you for further enlightening us from your closer view of the matter. I would urge you to read my follow-up post on this very troubling series of events. In the end, the thing that Fisichella spoke out against was the very public way in which the local ordinary handled the matter. He conceded that those who procured and performed the abortions were excommunicated latae sententiae. I think, as you suggest, he was asking to see and hear more compassion for the 9 year-old girl, who is a victim many times over in this horrid series of events. As with here in the States, all that was likely heard in Rome was the archbishop's condemnation.

Also, after looking into things further, I cannot reconcile the abortions even using the principle of double effect because the good effect (i.e., saving the girl's life) went through the bad effect (i.e., the abortions). At the end of the day, I regret posting anything on this at all. However, I do not want to be a revisionist. So, I will leave these posts confusions and convolutions and all. I am grateful for you and Joseph for constructively engaging me. So, thank you for your clarification and correction. Like Archbishop Fisichella, I do not want to encourage those who do not look at human life from the proper perspective.

Adriano also passes along the link to a letter written and signed by the Archdiocese of Olina and Recife's chancellor, vicar general, archdiocesan seminary rector, attorney, and the priest within whose parish the abortions were conducted, in response to Archbishop Fisichella's article, setting forth the pastoral care and concern taken for the girl, her mother, and everyone involved, as well as making some clarifications and corrections as to matters of fact to the L'Osservatore Romano article .

On this, the Feast of St. Joseph, let us pray to him on behalf of this young girl and on behalf of her step-father, whose rape was the cause of all that followed. Let us ask for his intercession on our behalf that we, like him, when he learned his bethrothed was with a child that was not his, might do the right thing in any all circumstances.

Here is a passage, a reprise, from my homily for the Holy Family:

"When we consider the Holy Family it is easy to become sentimental. In recent years, however, we have recovered the human context of the Incarnation from the perspective of Mary, an event that made her, for a time, an unmarried, pregnant teenager. But in order to see the bigger picture, we need to recover the perspective of St. Joseph, too. He was betrothed to a young woman, with whom he had not had relations, but who turns up pregnant before coming to live with him. Despite this, he did not abandon her, but accepted the will of God, which, even though made known to him by an angel, must have remained incomprehensible and difficult for him, especially in the months leading up to the birth of the divinely conceived child. It is the kind of manliness exemplified by St. Joseph that we desperately need today. After all, the collapse of the family falls disproportionately on women and children, crushing many. The need for this kind of responsibility is reflected in the divine command to ancient Israel to care for the widow and the orphan, something for which they were frequently chastised by God through the prophets for failing to do. The crisis of fatherhood today, which results in the grave sin of men failing and refusing to provide materially, emotionally, and developmentally for their children, stems from our rejection of the family as an institution ordained by God through nature and grace."
To all the Josephs out there, including Msgr. Joseph Mayo, my pastor, and Msgr. Joseph Terrence Fitzgerald, our tireless vicar general, happy day!

An honor well-deserved

Last evening in The Cathedral of the Madeleine, at a vespers service on the Vigil of the Feast of St. Joseph, Bishop Wester formally conferred the honor of monsignor on five deserving priests of our diocese, including our Cathedral rector, now-Monsignor Joseph M. Mayo. There was another papal honor conferred by our bishop, the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (i.e., For Church and Pope) medal. It was given to Deacon Silvio Mayo. Deacon Silvio was in the first class of deacons ordained for our diocese by Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal on 26 December 1976. Deacon Mayo is the very first permanent deacon in the U.S. to serve as chancellor of any diocese, a service he began when Bishop William Weigand, who recently retired from the Diocese of Sacramento, was our ordinary.

His career as diocesan chancellor followed his first career and the raising of his family. He said something to his wife, Mary, last night that struck me. He said, "I'd like to thank Mary who has sat down there in the pews for the last thirty-three years all by herself. I don't think she'd know what to do if I sat by her." I can tell you that wives of deacons make a lot of sacrifices, ones that they choose to make because a married man cannot be ordained a permanent deacon without his wife giving written approval to the bishop for him to be ordained. In addition, Msgr. Joe Mayo is his son.

Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal

Silvio is a great mentor, he teaches by what he does and he does a lot without much fuss and without drawing attention to himself. In fact, when given the chance, he gladly deflects attention. I remember several years ago, after he had heart surgery, I was deployed to Iraq at the time of the surgery and did not arrive home until a month or two afterwards. The first time I saw him he was getting out of his car and he looked great. I told him so and asked him how he was feeling. He said: "I haven't felt this good in twenty-five years!" After the service, when we were in the vestry, I saw the medal sitting in its box on a chair. So, I asked Silvio if I could look at it. He said something like, "Sure and then you can write on your blog that you saw the real thing." Well, I did and it is not the medal. Thanks for all your dedicated service and hard work and for your wonderful example. I hope I am still going strong into my eighties

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Patience takes time; being patient costs us time, but it is well spent

Patience is a word that gets bandied about a lot. Patience is, indeed, a virtue. Patience is something that I need to work on. In all my various activities I encounter people of every stripe and persuasion. For the most part, I enjoy this aspect of my life. While I am fairly realistic when it comes to people, I am not a misanthrope, nor am I a curmudgeon. I am far too aware of my own short-comings to be too judgmental of others. In fact, I tend to be brutal on myself, especially when I do not pray enough. So, in the first instance, I need to be more patient with myself.

In the next instance, I need to be more patient with my lovely wife, who is one of the most patient people I have ever known, which is why she puts up with me. I also need to be more patient with my oldest son, who is really a great young man. It is funny that reflecting on it shows me that it starts with me, moves to the one closest to me, then the next, etc., moving outwards in concentric circles. The bigger the circle, the more patient I am. In other words, it is easy to be really patient with people with whom I do not have much to do.

I am fascinated not only by words, but by language. Our word patient finds its etymological roots in the Latin word patiens, the present participle of pati to suffer; which may bear some relationship to the Greek word pēma, which also refers to suffering. There are five standard uses of patient. Of these, the one I am thinking about this morning is not being "hasty or impetuous". Being patient means slowing down, taking time. We cannot make time. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, sixty minutes in an hour, and sixty seconds in a minute. We must also realize that this way of dividing up time, while not arbitrary, is an imposition over the flow. It was the pre-Socratic, Heraklitos of Ephesus (ca. 500 BC), who Plato in his dialogue Cratylus paraphrases as stating "you could not step twice into the same river". It is easy to see that Heraklitos' doctrine of flux and unity of opposites results in logical incoherence, but there is a deep insight gained by this early Greek thinker, the first in the history of Western thought to posit more than a physical theory of being and who looked for the metaphysical foundation of being and sought moral applications. With regard to the river, time is, indeed, a function of change.

Anyway, we are there through all the moments that constitute our lives. Time forces us to make choices, to decide. We talk about spending time. We only spend that which has value. Something has value in proportion to its scarcity. If time is a function of change, then there is hope because we can change, given time. On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of the finite nature of our mortal lives. In the second reading for that day, St. Paul appeals to us to have the proper sense of urgency, when he wrote: "Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Metanoia, which is the Greek word we translate as repent, means to have a change of mind, a change in perception. At the most practical level, to repent means making different choices about what we do with our time, about how we spend it. Far from being abstract, I can think of nothing more concrete than how we choose to spend our time. Our Lord himself tells us not to "be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (Matt. 6:25-27).

"But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance"(2 Pet. 3:8-13).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A vexing question

I have been able to read further and deeper into the article written by Archbishop Fisichella for L’Osservatore Romano on the very difficult case of the pregnant 9 year-old girl in Brazil, who was impregnated as the result of being raped by her step-father. In the article, His Excellency emphasizes that abortion is "always condemned by moral law as an intrinsically evil act." The term "always" is pretty definitive, definitive to the point of negating any appeal to the principle of double effect. Further, he seems to accept the latae sententiae (i.e., automatic) excommunications as set forth in canon law, specifically, canon 1398: "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication" and the preceding canon. His criticism of the local ordinary seems to be limited to his contention that there was no "need… for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically." I agree that the public nature of the initial denunciation and pronouncement of excommunication, especially judging from the public outrage, was imprudent at best.

The difficulty of applying the principle of double effect is with the fourth criterion, that the good effect cannot be achieved by going through, as it were, the bad effect. Obviously, the saving of the 9 year-old girl’s life was achieved by aborting the in utereo twins. This what the Compendium has to say with regard to abortion as something forbidden by the fifith commandment:

"direct abortion, willed as an end or as means, as well as cooperation in it. Attached to this sin is the penalty of excommunication because, from the moment of his or her conception, the human being must be absolutely respected and protected in his integrity" (par. 470).

Dr Olímpio Moraes, the doctor who performed the abortion, told the Brazilian newspaper, O Globo: "There are two legal justifications for abortion envisioned by the law, which are rape and risk to life. She [the girl] falls within the two and, as a doctor, I could not let a girl of nine years be submitted to this suffering and even pay with her own life."

Here's my solution, I am going to pray to St. Gianna Molla for her intercession on behalf of the local bishop, the doctor, the mother of the 9 year-old, and the girl herself.

St. Patrick's Day

Nothing says the Emerald Isle to me like The Chieftans, even performing a Bob Marley song with Bob's son, Ziggy. Of course, the Irish were long an oppressed and repressed people. So, happy St. Patrick's Day!

Patrick is truly a trans-Celtic figure. While the exact place of his birth is a matter of dispute, the consensus is that he was born and hailed from an area of southeastern "Scotland known as Strathclyde, a former Celtic kingdom and Welsh-speaking at the time" (Wales on Britannia). It is also important, in of light my song choice, to note that St. Patrick, prior to returning as a missionary, had been captured and taken as a slave to Ireland.

The mix of The Chieftans and Ziggy Marley also seems like a nice way to bid the Holy Father a happy Apostolic journey to the continent of Africa, on which he embarks this very day. St. Patrick pray for us, especially for the success of Pope Benedict's apostolic journey to Africa!

The IC has humorous take on the history of Irish oppression- in the words of Bill Murray from Stripes: "lighten up Francis".

Monday, March 16, 2009

Another amateur attempt at moral reasoning

I held off commenting on this highly-charged moral issue until the dust settled a bit. As most people know, last week in Brazil, a nine year-old girl turned up pregnant with twins. Her pregnancy was the result of her step-father repeatedly raping her. It is difficult to imagine a case that would provoke more emotion. Add to this the public announcement that Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho, of Recife and Olinda, excommunicated the girl's mother and the doctors who performed an abortion to save the life of the pregnant 9 year-old.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella
The dust settled for me over the weekend when the voice of reason and conscience was raised in the Vatican by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, in an article he wrote for yesterday's edition of the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. As with most high-ranking prelates in the Vatican, Archbishop Fisichella is not just any old someone. He is the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Expressing the same concern as did the girl's doctor, namely that the life of pregnant 9 year-old was endangered, not just by giving birth, but by carrying the twins to a point at which they could survive on their own, His Excellency wrote that the excommunications were unwarranted because her mother and doctors did it in order to save the life of the 9 year-old.

Predictably, far from settling the dust, this pronouncement has stirred things up once again, especially among those who, while staunchly pro-life, are unfamiliar with the Church's moral teaching. I surmise that the moral principle under which the abortion was performed was the principle of double-effect, which sets forth the criteria for acting in a way that has both good and bad consequences (i.e., a "double effect"). It states that an action having an unintended, harmful effect (e.g., an early death) is defensible on four conditions as follows:

 the nature of the act is itself good (e.g., its nature is to relieve someone of pain or distress);
 the intention is for the good effect and not the bad;
 the good effect outweighs the bad effect in a situation sufficiently grave to merit the risk of yielding the bad effect (e.g., risking a patient's death to stop intolerable pain); and
 the good effect (relieving pain) does not go through the bad effect

Here is where my amateur attempt comes in: If I understand the reasoning in this case correctly (I readily admit that I may not), the four conditions were met in something like the following way:

 The abortions were performed to save the life of 9 year-old mother, as it is certainly mortally dangerous for a girl of that age either to give birth naturally or carry the children in her until such a time as they can be born and live
 the intention is to save the life of the 9 year-old mother, who is the victim of a horrible crime, not to take the lives of the twins, whose survival was doubtful at best
 the good effect in this case certainly outweighs the bad effect, as it is, again, likely that none of the three would survive, at least by doing this the life of the 9 year-old girl is saved
 in this case, while the good effect goes through, as it were, the bad effect, it is mitigated by the fact the lives of all three were seriously imperiled anyway

This is a moral judgment far superior to what appears to be an unfortunate reaction on the part of the local ordinary. It is a judgment that is in perfect harmony with authentic Christian morality. Archbishop Fisichella's judgment is not one determined by a false sense of mercy, by sentiment, nor is it caving in to public opinion. With words directed to the little girl in the center of this storm, Archbishop Fisichella wrote: "There are others who merit excommunication and our pardon, not those who have allowed you to live and have helped you to regain hope and trust." Amen.

Thanks to Deacon Greg Kandra, writing over at The Deacon's Bench, for bringing this much needed clarification to my attention. This post began with comments I made in the discussion that resulted from Deacon Greg's post.

No matter what happened afterwards, this is just a heart-breaking event. Oh, the things we do to each other. I was moved by what yesterday's Gospel said of those who "began to believe in his name": "Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well" (Jn 2:23).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lent about half-way through

Lent is now about half-way gone. It is a good time to reflect on our Lenten journey this far. So, how is it going for you? I think, too, this Third Sunday of Lent is a good time to re-hack, especially if you are discouraged by any failures you may have experienced along the way. Remember, our Lenten objective is to be more conformed to Christ. Without a doubt, the first realization we need in order to achieve our goal is that we need help, divine assistance, also called grace. Any discouragement you might be experiencing is not coming from a good place. Opening ourselves to the mercy the Father has shown us in His only Begotten Son, Christ our Lord, is the best experience we can have.

How can you do this? Go to confession. Stop the hemming and hawing, stop the rationalizations, acknowledge your need for reconciliation by undertaking a thorough examination of your life since your last confession, even if it took place many years ago. I also think it a helpful reminder that, in addition to acting in persona Christi, the priest acts on behalf of the Church. So, the reconciliation that occurs in the sacrament of penance is cruciform, having both a vertical and a horizontal dimension. Like the graces we receive in communion, reconciliation is not something we keep to ourselves, but something we practice in our lives. After all, part of our baptismal vocation as God's priestly people is to help reconcile the world. As a wise priest told with me yesterday, a bit in tongue in cheek after I shared with him my choice to give up alcohol (excepting communion) during Lent, truly being reconciled with an enemy is worth many glasses of scotch!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"I always knew you'd take me back"

A belated Friday traditio, an oldie, Sometimes Always by Jesus and Mary Chain with an assist from the lovely Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. I love the echoes of Joy Division guitar strains in this song.

Hey, love is difficult and we are ambiguous and ambivalent creatures. That's why we need to be consicous and aware of God's faithfulness to us, especially when we have been unfaithful. Like the children of Israel, who, when beset by poisonous serpents, only had to look at Moses holding up the bronze serpent to live, all we have to do is look to Christ and Him crucified; look to the crucified One who stretched out his arms between heaven and earth in a sign of God's everlasting covenant with us (Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:9-14). The crucifixion of His only Begotten Son is the limit God has set to evil in the world. As to our own evil, God is always ready to give us one more chance. In the words of St. Gaetano Catanoso, echoing Job, words he would say to those he served, who were truly poor and knew suffering and hardship: "We must give thanks to the Lord both in joy and suffering, in success and failure because all things are from Him for our sake and our salvation" (My Cousin the Saint, pg. 24). I love that this song is a dialogue.

I gave you all I had
I gave you good and bad
I gave but you just threw it back

I won’t get on my knees
Don’t make me do that please
I’ve been away but now I’m back

Some good things for a Lenten Saturday

Over on la nouvelle théologie, Fred continues his exploration of faith. While all his posts in this series are very good, I particularly like the one he posted last night, entitled What Is Faith In Christ? My reason for liking it is fairly simple, last fall, especially in preparation for my presentation at Seattle Beginning Day, I focused a lot of attention on Giussani's five passages of faith, as they are given in the first volume of Is It Possible to Live This Way?

I also want to draw attention to what Sara wrote about her convent visit. I ask you to pray for her as she enters a new phase of discernment between now and August. Since she is now planning to enter as a postulant on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which also marks the 100th anniversary of the initial dedication of our home parish, The Cathedral of the Madeleine, please pray to our Blessed Mother for her, also seek the intercession of her patron, St. Joseph, as well as that of St. Mary Magdalene and, of course, that woman for the ages, St. Chiara (i.e., Clare) of Assisi, beloved companion of St. Francesco, whose daughter Sara longs to be.
St. Gaetano Catanoso

Finally, I began reading a book last night given to me by a dear brother in our parish with whom I am starting an outreach to bring people back to the Church after Easter, a book that is just great. It is by Justin Catanoso and entitled My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles. So, in addition to the other recent saints and venerables, like St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Gianna Molla, Bl. John XXIII, Bl. Franz Jägerstätter, and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, and Bl. Zelie & Louis Martin, parents of the Little Flower, I have now added St. Gaetano Catanoso, a most humble and loving disciple of Jesus Christ, to those whose intercession I make recourse for my many intentions.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More on embryonic stem cells

I did succeed in finding the article by Dr. Maureen Condic, which was published in the journal First Things back in 2002. It is entitled Stem Cells and False Hopes

See also her articles:

The Basics About Stem Cells

Life: Defining the Beginning by the End

Whose View of Life? Embryos, Cloning, and Stem Cells

Stem Cells and Babies

What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells

Her latest, published in February of last year,

Getting Stem Cells Right

On a personal level, I am appreciative to Dr. Condic for gently reminding me that I have a responsibility to unambiguously defend life. Through a dialogue that she initiated with me, I reached a turning point, especially in my blogging, that takes this imperative as a pre-requisite. It is easy for me to get bogged down in legal technicalities, but the fact that the lives of the most vulnerable human beings are imperiled and that the infinite value of each and every human being gets lessened in our society as a result of policies like the Executive Order permitting embryonic stem cell funding, demands an unambiguous response. In light of what we see unfolding in the new administration, especially on life issues, it is important for me to realize how fundamental, how important, it is be for life. This is a positive stance, not a negative one. I am opposed to abortion because I am for life., I am opposed to embryonic stem cell research and to in vitro fertilization because I am for life. I am opposed to euthanasia because I am for life. I do not believe that there is, to coin a Nazi phrase, "life unworthy of life". It is important to remember what we learn in the Catechism :
356 Of all visible creatures only man is 'able to know and love his creator'. He is 'the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake', and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity:

'What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good.'

357 Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Holy Father's apologia for lifting the excommunications of SSPX bishops

Sandro Magister, writing on his blog Chiesa, provides the complete text of the Holy Father's letter to bishops explaining the reasoning behind, the extent of, and mistakes made when he lifted the excommunications of the four schismatic SSPX bishops, including the anti-Semite Williamson, all of whom, despite the Holy Father's magnanimous gesture, deliberately remain in schism. Pope Benedict XVI is a great man. Part of his greatness is his humility. In preparation for my next semester of graduate school I read what amounts to the most insightful thing I have ever read on conscience, a presentation called Conscience and Truth, given by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

In his letter, the Holy Father writes about some mistakes made both with regard to the decision itself, especially in light of Williamson's extreme and unreconstructed view of our elder brothers in the faith, which his faux and rightly rejected quasi-apology hardly changed, and as regards the clear communication as to what exactly was the extent of the Holy See's action.

In his letter to his brother bishops, the Bishop of Rome writes:
"An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church’s path.

"A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council – steps which my own work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support.

"That this overlapping of two opposed processes took place and momentarily upset peace between Christians and Jews, as well as peace within the Church, is something which I can only deeply deplore. I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news. I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.

"Another mistake, which I deeply regret, is the fact that the extent and limits of the provision of 21 January 2009 were not clearly and adequately explained at the moment of its publication."
Closer to the end of the letter, Pope Benedict writes:
"Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: 'Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself". But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.'

"I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this 'biting and devouring' also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love? "

UPDATE 1908 MDT: Rocco over at Whispers reports on what is likely to happen in the wake of all this.

Catholic politicians miss an opportunity

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, writing for Il Sussidiario addresses the president's decision to reverse government policy on funding embryonic stem cell research in an editorial entitled OBAMA/ Embryonic stem-cells, the abdication of the Catholics in government, which begins: "Fulfilling his campaign promise, President Barack Obama has revoked President George W. Bush’s order prohibiting Federal financial support for embryonic stem-cell research. From the political perspective this is not really an unexpected loss for those who oppose such a research, since the Republican candidate for President, Senator John McCain, had also promised to lift the ban against the use of taxpayers’ money to support the destruction of human embryos."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Lenten reflection on blogging

Blogging is a recent and rather strange phenomenon. I do not think it too much to assert that it is revolutionary. As with all such assertions, the revolution represented by the so-called blogosphere can be exaggerated and underrated. As far as I can tell, blogging makes one something of an editorialist, or a pundit. The truth be told, there are a lot of bloggers who are better informed and who have thought through issues and who subsequently have better informed and more intelligent takes than the oppressive punditocracy whose rise has been facilitated by the 24 hour news cycle. Conversely, there are bloggers whose viewpoints are not only very narrow, but rigid and fixed. Being human, we tend to gravitate toward those blogs that seem amenable to us up-front and we tend to stay there. Sadly, this often results in a bunker mentality, seeing things as us vs. them.

The blogosphere has its unique sections and sub-sections. For example, there is the Catholic blogosphere, which consists of blogs and bloggers with very wide-ranging, even divergent viewpoints. Even within the Catholic blogosphere, there are what might be called communities. I mean no one could fail to notice that I belong to a rather tightly knit and small community of Communion & Liberation bloggers. While I do not think you could confuse any of us for another of us, we do have a common starting point, a more particular one than being Catholics, namely our sharing in the charism of Msgr. Luigi Giussani.

One comes to share in the charism of Don Giussani by following the method he laid out in his writings and talks. An important part of that method is the necessity of starting from a positive hypothesis. This does not mean never being critical, but it does set forth the manner in which critical opinions are expressed. In other words, as Christians, how we say something is as important, sometimes it is more important, than what we say. For example, in the post preceding this one I took a very critical view of President Obama's decision to allow government funding for research involving embryonic stem cells. One further implication of this touches on in vitro fertilization. Most often it is from in vitro fertilization procedures that embryonic stem cells used in research come into being. So, in a way, as with President Bush's decision to continue to permit government funding for embryonic stem cell research on lines that existed prior to his decision, President Obama is trying to be pragmatically moral. So, I do not fault the president at level of intention. As with most of the people most of the time, his intentions are good, but no matter how well-intended an action or a decision, intention can never be the determining factor in the morality of an act.

What is the point of all of this? Besides the fact that it seems necessary for me every six months or so to post something that serves as a catharsis, as a reflection on why I blog, I want my blogging efforts to make a positive contribution in the small sphere in which it is read. I do not want to be divisive, or unnecessarily critical. I do want to tell the truth as I understand it. That last part, as I understand it, is crucial. I do not claim to be the infallible arbiter of truth. I can point to several things on which readers and/or subsequent research have served to correct me. I am happy to be corrected when I am wrong or missing something crucial. I am always happy to be engaged in discussions on the topics about which I write. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read what I write, to comment on what I write, and to correct me when I need it. While I certainly want to challenge both myself and those who read my blog, especially in areas that I see as being far too little understood, I do not want to become overly didactic, though I am afraid being a bit didactic is just part of who I am. Even when I am writing on matters of morality, I strive not to be condemnatory, but reasonable. I am committed to helping people see that Christian faith requires thinking and acting in ways that are often difficult. Engaging difficulties is the only way we can change, which is the meaning of the word conversion. It is by straight-forwardly engaging those areas we find difficult that we cooperate with God's grace, that we love God with all our "heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind and with all [our] strength" (Mark 12:30). It is my desire to seek to be informative, challenging, and encouraging. I think of the statement at the top of my blog as a supervening caveat for everything I write. As Red Green says, "We're all in this together."

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 ...