Friday, April 30, 2010

"in the factories and mills, in the shipyards and mines..."

Dropkick Murphys Worker's Song is our pre-May Day, pre-Feast of St. Joseph the Worker traditio. It is dedicated to the executives at Goldman Sachs and all those who don't "get" the common good. "By the common good is meant the sum total of those conditions of social life which allow people as groups and as individuals to reach their proper fulfillment" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 407).

St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us. Dorothy Day, pray for us. César Chávez, pray for us. Madeleine Delbrêl, pray for us.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Christ "creates within us a capacity to desire"

"Christian hope creates within us a capacity to desire and to receive what by ourselves we would be unable to desire, receive, or even to recognize. Before we recognized the unheard of gratuity of faith, the interior life of grace was often for us simply the most precious part of our own life, a part 'set apart,' and in a certain sense autonomous.

"The contact with Communists and with atheists in general, shows us that the place of God's gift is the whole of what we are and nowhere else, that our whole being must become the living soil for his mysterious seed. We begin to discover that the interior life is internal to a life and, to the constant breathing of this life. We breathe in order to live. There is no particular age or hour for breathing. We don't quit breathing so that we can work" (Madeleine Delbrêl We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, pg. 225).

Christos Anesti

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The "passive-aggressive death threat"/"informal fatwa" must be culturally resisted

There are so many things going on presently, including the daily doses of hubris on Capitol Hill from Goldman Sachs executives and one arrogant young man, dubbed by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, Wall Street's Mr. Fabu-less, also known as Fabrice Tourre, mastermind of the scheme that succeeded in getting Goldman Sachs sued by the S.E.C., and author of such e-mail missives as, "The whole building is about to collapse anytime now. Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab . . . standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities!!!" Okay, enough about all that, monstruosities, indeed!

I now turn my attention to a most troubling development: the assault on free speech by on-line jihadists right here in the United States. I am referring to Comedy Central's decision to censor the recently re-broadcast Super Best Friends episode of South Park due to commercial pressures, which still resulted in a threat by one Zachary Adam Chesser, a twenty year old convert to Islam, who lives in Virginia, and who now goes by the name Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee. Al-Amrikee simply means "the American" in Arabic. Due to the fears of the not-so-brave folks at Comedy Central, you can't even livestream Super Best Friends from According to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who knows a bit about death threats from the Islamic fringe, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Zach found this installment of South Park, "which trotted out many celebrities the show has previously satirized, also 'featured' the Prophet Muhammad: He was heard once from within a U-Haul truck and a second time from inside a bear costume," offensive and issued what Hirsi Ali calls an "informal fatwa" against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on, which seems to have subsequently gone off-line. While I readily admit to not being a huge South Park fan, I do enjoy it from time-to-time. Most recently I thoroughly enjoyed Make Love, Not Warcraft, which I saw for the first time, despite the fact it originally aired in 2006, just to give you an idea.

Hirsi Ali, citing Zach's missive, writes that he reckons for their blasphemy Parker and Stone "will probably end up" like Dutch film-maker, Hirsi Ali's collaborator on the film Submission, Theo van Gogh. "Van Gogh, readers will remember," continues Ayaan, "was the Dutch filmmaker who was brutally murdered in 2004 on the streets of Amsterdam. He was killed for producing 'Submission,' a film that criticized the subordinate role of women in Islam, with me." You can watch Submission on-line, beginning with part one below:


Coming from my cultural and religious background, this film also depicts very well why I am a staunch opponent of plural marriage as practiced among certain groups and, at least here in Utah, often indulgently tolerated.

Of course, Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch parliament, while not, as it turned out, exactly in the Netherlands legally, having lied on her asylum application, all of which has since been resolved; she remains a Dutch citizen, though now living in the U.S., requires 24 hour protection, much like Salman Rushdie, who has lived under a fatwa, issued by the late Ayatollah Khomeni, since 1989.

Both Ross Douthat and Kathleen Parker weighed in on the side of free speech.

I am on-board with Ms. Hirsi Ali's proposals:

1)"One way of reducing the cost is to organize a solidarity campaign. The entertainment business, especially Hollywood, is one of the wealthiest and most powerful industries in the world. Following the example of Jon Stewart, who used the first segment of his April 22 show to defend 'South Park,' producers, actors, writers, musicians and other entertainers could lead such an effort." Given my very small sphere of influence, I will use my blog to stand in solidarity with Parker and Stone. Rather than castigate Coemdy Central, let's stand together.

2) "Another idea is to do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with." Because I am a Christian, whose faith is routinely ridiculed, caricatured, and degraded, and because I have a healthy respect for Islam and Muslim friends, I will not do anything to insult the sensitivities of true Muslims, those hundreds of millions of devout men and women, who seek to surrender themselves to the will of Allah, which is the Arabic word for God, the same word used by Arabic-speaking Christians to call upon the Almighty. As Nostra Aetate, promulgated by Vatican II, says: "The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God" (par. 3). Nonetheless, I do not hesitate to push for reforms in Muslim countries and the abolition of many so-called Islamic practices that are neither in the Qu'ran nor the hadiths, but primitive cultural accretions that pre-exist Islam, like female circumcision and other unjust and cruel practices against women.

I agree with Douthat when he writes: "if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there’s enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down." I am glad that he mentioned last year's controversy at Yale University Press over its fear-driven decision to publish the book The Cartoons that Shook the World, edited by Jytte Klausen, which is an anthology of academic essays regarding the 12 cartoons by different artists published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper back in September 2005, without the cartoons appearing anywhere in the book and over the stringent objections of the book's editor. It was these cartoons that sparked widespread violence and attacks in 2006-07 in Europe and parts of the Muslim world.

Christos Anesti

Monday, April 26, 2010

The U.S. financial system needs reform now

The Washington Post reported today that the majority of people in the United States back two of the three main parts of the financial reform legislation that the Senate will vote on this week. The two major pieces people support are greater government oversight of consumer lending and, as significant; they support the creation of a fund to be paid into by companies that will cover the cost of shutting down failed institutions, which closures present a risk to the economy. Incomprehensibly, at least to me, is that when it comes to proposed reform and oversight of the buying, selling, and trading of derivatives only 43% support it, while 41% oppose it, with the remaining 16% expressing no opinion. Frankly, given that even people who buy and sell derivatives don't understand them, I am surprised that only 16% essentially did not know.

I really believe if the Obama Administration had led with this much needed reform, which really is more urgent than health care reform, the first year of his presidency would not have been such a ringing catastrophe, at least on the domestic policy front.

Fareed Zakaria, who can always be relied upon for intelligent and dispassionate commentary, also writing in the Washington Post today about the allegations made in the S.E.C.’s recent lawsuit against Goldman Sachs, leaves me feeling ambivalent, that is, both convicted and vindicated. I have to say, I feel more vindicated than convicted. I admit that my posts on Goldman Sachs have been passionate responses to an organization that I feel embodies all that is wrong with our current financial system, one that has steadfastly refused to learn those lessons, as the tidal effects of the still unfolding Greek debacle continue to be felt throughout the E.U. monetary union and beyond amply demonstrates. I would write about Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, too, except that, largely due to behind-the-scenes manipulations by the likes of Hammerin’ Hank Paulson and other Goldman insiders, who control the levers of governmental financial regulation and policy-making, they no longer exist. I had friends who worked on Wall Street at Bear, who predicted the collapse to me long before it happened. Things were, indeed, rotten in New Amsterdam for a long time.

Returning to Goldman Sachs, Senator Carl Levin, commenting on e-mails from senior executives at Goldman Sachs from 2007, detailed over the weekend by London's Daily Mail, including e-missives from our friend Lloyd Blankfein, pretty much hits the nail on the head: "Banks such as Goldman Sachs...bundled toxic mortgages into complex financial instruments, got the credit rating agencies to label them as AAA securities, and sold them to investors, magnifying and spreading risk throughout the financial system, and all too often betting against the instruments they sold and profiting at the expense of their clients." Now that the heat is on, as the New York Times documents, Mr. Blankfein is singing a different tune, claiming the Goldman did not bet against their investors. All I can say is "See you court" and hope the porn-loving regulators at the S.E.C. weren't swept away in on-line fantasies, or some such thing, while they should've been preparing the people's case.

As I have stated repeatedly, I am not interested in the legal aspects of the S.E.C. case against Goldman Sachs, like Zakaria, I understand that "Wall Street practices [that] seem dodgy, or unethical," are not necessarily illegal. I, too, value a "system of governance… characterized by fair play and equal justice -- even for people making $10 million bonuses." I am interested in the moral and ethical dimensions because of the huge impact of these shenanigans on the lives of all of us. I very much like that Mr. Zakaria points to Robert J. Samuelson’s argument, which amounts to stating succinctly the argument I have been making for well over a year, namely "whether or not Goldman did anything illegal, this kind of casino gambling should be more tightly controlled". I am even toying with an argument that derivative-like securities be outlawed altogether because investing should not be the same as a weekend in Vegas or Atlantic City. I say that because, like many, I work too hard to gamble my money (gambling being one bad habit I never picked up). I largely agree with the financial reform legislation now before the Senate, which, according to Sen. Shelby, the Republicans unanimously oppose.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am alright, more than alright, with a negotiated solution that is truly bi-partisan, as long as it isn’t watered down to the point where it amounts to no serious reform at all. I will admit this is where I begin to suspect that Republicans are looking out for those making $10 million bonuses more than the vast majority of their constituents who do not and who are the victims of schemes that result in this kind of profit-taking, not necessarily waving the bloody shirt, but the shirt stained with something more reminescent of the Clinton presidency, given the Grassley/Issa leak late last week.

Our current regulatory system was designed for and around what Zakaria dubs "the old Wall Street," which was characterized by "firms [that] were once partnerships in which the managers were betting with their own money and served as trusted advisers to clients. The new companies are big players in the markets and have subordinated their advisory functions." As the S.E.C. lawsuit against Goldman Sachs alleges, they now bet with your money and mine, even playing us for suckers by getting us to take the bad bet and betting against us. Their advisory function has, indeed, been subordinated on the new Wall Street and is characterized by "wildly skewed" incentives and compensation, which values "short-term profits and risk-taking" over "long-term strength." Whether we care to attend to it or not, the immorality engendered and allowed by our current system and the gross injustices committed as a result is a major moral and ethical issue of our time.

Christos Anesti

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Year C 4th Sunday of Easter homily excerpt

This week I am only posting an excerpt from my homily. The point is that our vocation is holiness, the rest of it is just so many means to that end.

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

It is in Jesus’ statement that he and the Father "are one" that we find the synthesis of today’s readings (John 10:30). Though united in Godhead, the Father and the Son, as well as the Spirit, are distinct. This tri-unity is the foundation of all unity, the very force that created the universe, a creation that can rightly be called both "a universe" and "a cosmos" because it is orderly and crackles with life and purpose. Just as works constitute the concrete form of faith, so the "heavens declare the glory of God" and "the sky proclaims its builder's craft" (Ps 19:1). Turning again to Von Balthasar, we see that it is in and through the Incarnation that "God has engraved his name upon matter," and has "inscribed it so deeply that it cannot be erased." Nonetheless, the most unstable part of God’s creation is the human part. We are the most unstable and chaotic part because we possess freedom, which is necessary in order for us to fulfill the end for we which we are created, namely communion. A rock has no choice but to be a rock, a tree must be a tree; an otter can be nothing other than an otter. It is only the human person who can reject her/his part in this Theo-drama. Along with Dostoevsky, Georges Bernanos saw that the "scandal of Creation [isn’t] suffering, but freedom." He further observes that "moralists like to regard sanctity as a luxury." Far from being a luxury, he insists, sanctity "is a necessity."

Like the nameless child, who is the main character in Flannery O’Connor’s short story A Temple of the Holy Ghost, who says, "I could never be a saint but I think I could be a martyr if they killed me quick,"* it is the lukewarm Christian who, Von Balthasar observed, "allots himself a measure that seems appropriate to him and considers anyone who gives more to be a professional saint.” “It is important to realize," he continues, "that the genuine saint never sees h[er] offer to God as something beyond the norm, as a work beyond what is required." The truth of this assertion is proven by Dorothy Day’s response to someone telling her she was a saint: "Don't call me a Saint," she retorted, "I don't want to be dismissed that easily." It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be a saint, people close to her remember her many times quoting Léon Bloy to the effect that "There is only one unhappiness-not be a Saint." It’s just that too often we look at people like Dorothy Day, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and St. Gianna Molla thinking and saying things like "They did remarkable things – they are saints - but it's not for me." One may believe that the era of the saints is over, but it is always the era of saints until Christ returns in glory, when "the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and . . . will wipe away every tear" (Rev. 7:17) as they, having "survived [their own] time of great distress," join the white-robed multitude. I don’t know about you, my friends, but my prayer is- "Lord, how I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in!"

* This quote is often used to get a laugh, but it is not funny as it appears in the story. I feel very good about not using it to get chuckles in this homily.

Christos Anesti

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Too good not to share

While basking in the late night glow of my beloved Jazz beating the Nuggets decisively in Game 3 of their first round play-off series yesterday evening, I tuned into ESPN's SportsCenter to catch up on my Oakland A's, who are off to a surprisingly good start. During the program, I saw this great ad:

I think we face this situation a few times a day.

Happy first birthday to Quaerere Deum, where I am inspired, that is, filled with breath, daily. Ad multos annos!

Christos Anesti

Towards a politics of personal reconstruction

Like many I am becoming very frustrated with the opposition to President Obama because many people are simply going off the rails. Anger is not capable of producing reasoned arguments, let alone principled opposition. I see way too many people urging us all to set aside our Christian convictions because the situation is so dire. Don't get me wrong, opposition is essential to any healthy democracy, or, as is the case here in the U.S., representative democracy. For example, I am glad that the Republicans have steadfastly refused to get on-board with the health care reform that was passed, with the non-stimulating stimulus, and other expensive programs that expand the government and cost way too much, but I really have a low tolerance for personal attacks on the president.

While I disagree with many of his policy initiatives, nowhere more so than in foreign policy, which happens to be an area I know something about, I think he is a good man, a well-intentioned man. I am heart broken and dismayed, for instance, at his kicking Israel whenever the opportunity presents itself and, conversely, molly-coddling Iran and other despotic regimes in the Middle East. Taking all of this into consideration, I see how seriously he takes his responsibilities as a husband and father. This is all the more impressive given that he grew up without a father. I know how challenging this can be because my Dad largely grew up without a father. So, forget everything else, this alone speaks volumes about his character and integrity. I think it is important not to forget that he is a Christian, which makes him my brother.

Lest we forget, those on the left side of the political divide, which sadly widens by the day, attacked Pres. Bush in many of these same ways, calling him a Nazi, et. al. I feel the same way about him as I do about Pres. Obama; he is a good man, a devoted husband and father, who had a genuine conversion when he was about 40 years-old. All we wanted to discuss were his low points, who cares about the fact that Christ took pity on him and rescued him, changing him forever? Like Pres. Obama, he is a Christian, a brother. There are plenty of issues that I vehemently disagreed with Pres. Bush on as well. If anyone cares to look back in the archives of my blog, you will see this. I am a centrist. I am the kind of Democrat who no longer exists for the most part. I come by this legacy honestly because it was how I was raised in a working class household. I appreciate very much Pres. Clinton's remarks this week about our degraded public discourse, something about which he also expressed concern during George Bush's presidency. It was Bill Clinton who first called out those who practice the politics of personal destruction.

I take exception to people who demonize the government. I am a career civil servant. My friends, the government consists of your friends and neighbors, people in your parish, or congregation. I know many smart, well-educated, highly motivated and conscientious women and men who have dedicated their lives to the common good by working in civil service. Not a few of these could actually do better for themselves in the private sector, but stay because they like to serve. I am glad that Pres. Clinton pointed to the Murrah Federal building bombing in Oklahoma City as the logical result of mistaking rage for reasoned discourse, or seeing the situation as being beyond the corrections of a functioning democratic system of government.

In my house it was a given that the Republicans, by and large, looked out for the rich (this explains my reaction yesterday to Sen. Grassley's and Rep. Issa's shenanigans on behalf of Goldman Sachs) and that northeastern and California liberals were hellbent on undermining the foundations of society. People forget that as late as the 1970s Utah was a largely Democratic state, but these Democrats were strong on national defense, socially conservative, but looking out for the common man, types like Scoop Jackson, Frank Church, Harry S. Truman. Calvin Rampton was governor, succeeded by Scott Matheson, and Gunn McKay was the representative of our first congressional district, Ted Moss was one of our U.S. senators, and both houses of the legislature had Democratic majorities. In Ogden City proper back then, it was pretty rare for a Republican to be elected anything. Beyond that I grew up thinking highly of JFK and RFK, the latter of whom was certainly no liberal, at least as we employ the term today, and the former was quite clear-headed about what justice really meant and who was more than capable of making crucial distinctions, an ability which surviving members of the Kennedy clan seem to have lost, which I believe can be attributed to their practically wholesale abandonment of church teaching.

I am now a registered independent, which means I am excluded from Republican primaries, but, should I choose, I can vote in what are usually open Democratic primaries, though I normally do not. I am proud to say that I have never voted a straight party ticket. The father of a friend of mine growing up, who served in our state legislature and was a Democrat, called the box at the top of each party's ticket on the ballot, the one you check to vote straight party, "the idiot box."

My dear friend Tami incisively asked yesterday on Facebook in response to my joining the group Petition to remove facebook group praying for President Obama's death, What is wrong with peoples' hearts? Well, a lot, mine being no exception. Let's be mindful that as Christians we are obligated to pray for those in authority and, at least in my parish, we do so every Sunday: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:1-2). As I have a Lord and Savior, I don't look to politicians to save me, to save the country, or even the world. Living in the light of this truth is what gives me enough detachment to be charitable, as St. Paul writes, without love- agape- "I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). Especially in my right ear these days, there seems to be a lot of banging and clashing.

Being president of the United States is one leg of Barak Obama's path to destiny. It is a tough one, like that of the Holy Father. As brothers and sisters we love each another by loving the destiny of the other. To love another's destiny means, at least in part, to challenge those we love, just as the Lord challenges and provokes us. As long as we keep our challenges honest and loving we do something good, not only for the one we are challenging, but in the realm of political and civic discourse, we contribute to the common good. As the still very relevant book, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, might advise, it is not always, perhaps not even usually, what I say, but how I say it that matters. As a Christian, how I say something is at least as important as what I say (re: banging gong, clashing cymbal). I think here of Archbishop Niederauer's frequent exhortation to disagree without being disagreeable. Admittedly, this is not always as easy as it sounds, kinda like loving God and loving my neighbor as I love myself.

For those who regularly read my blog, it should be clear that this is not a plea to politically disengage, to stand on the sidelines quietly, to not bring our faith onto the public square, quite the contrary. It is an exhortation to engage more constructively, more charitably, and to stop acting like politics is eschatology. As the Israelites learned through two exiles, God still reigns. As the early church learned, along with the churches of Russia, eastern, and central Europe, through persecution and brutal repression, that no matter what happens politically, Christ is still risen and at God's right hand, as well as present to us by means of their Holy Spirit. He is our hope first, last, and always. To live in any other way is to practice idolatry. The fact that church survives the rise and fall of great nations and empires, including the loss of the Papal States in the nineteenth century, which was a blessing, is a great testament to the truthfulness of living this way.

This brings me write about the things with which I agree with the president: immigration reform, which is basically the same bill Pres. Bush tried to pass during his second term; eliminating private lenders from the student loan program, given the track record of financial institutions, a reform that, I believe will save the government money and make the program better; and comprehensive reform of laws, regulations, and enforcement of the banking and finance industry. I liked the confrontational speech Pres. Obama gave in New York the other day, it was not lofty rhetoric, but tough and challenging words urging these large institutions, many of which are still engaging in practices that undermine, rather work toward, the common good, to get on-board, to play a constructive role in reform.

In addition to being dismayed by the on-going revelations about the bad national and international citizenship of Goldman Sachs, which I have hammered on relentlessly, a USA Today article this week (I know, USA Today doing solid reporting?- this is good news) pointed out that banks that received TARP money (Hammerin' Hank the Goldman Sachs enabler, one of the financial geniuses who publicly still claim not to know what happened, along with his Democratic counterpart Robert Rubin- my vehemence here shows that I have work to do in this regard) reduced lending and increased salaries, Banks receiving government aid cut loans.

Christos Anesti

Friday, April 23, 2010

Not much of a moral dilemma

Ed O'Keefe, who writes the Federal Eye blog for the Washington Post revealed today in a post, SEC porn investigation nets dozens, that Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa leaked to the press a Securities and Exchange Commission inspector general report that detailed several disturbing instances of SEC employees and senior staff using their government-provided computers to view and store internet pornography. Of course, there is nothing classified about this, but the timing of the leak, along with the failure to leak other like reports from other agencies, seems to be aimed at casting doubt on the integrity of the SEC, which filed a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs last week. I honestly don’t know which is more obscene, being obsessed with porn to the point you ogle it at work or with protecting a company that seeks to operate outside or on the fringes of the law to great detriment of the common good. Of course, neither one is morally acceptable, but I’d say the latter is at least as immoral as former, probably more so.

Shame on the SEC porn dogs and shame on Sen. Grassley for leaking this to the press in a ham-fisted attempt to protect a company that adds little or no value, but reaps huge profits anyway. The latter is more disturbing to me because the SEC inspector general was doing its job, the investigation was successful and no doubt consequences would have happened without Grassley's leak. Rep. Darrell Issa who, like Grassley, is a Republican, albeit one from California, is complicit, seemingly using this as an opportunity to bash the SEC not only in an effort to help Goldman Sachs, but to forestall much needed reform of the financial industry.

In School of Community, having finished the third volume of Giussani’s Is It Possible to Live This Way: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, which is on the theological virtue of charity, we are now reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate, in which we find in the Introduction this: "Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of ‘all of us’, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society. It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it. To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity… In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations, in such a way as to shape the earthly city in unity and peace, rendering it to some degree an anticipation and a prefiguration of the undivided city of God" (par. 7).

Further on the Holy Father addresses precisely what is at stake in the on-going saga of Goldman Sachs: "Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty. The economic development that Paul VI hoped to see was meant to produce real growth, of benefit to everyone and genuinely sustainable. It is true that growth has taken place, and it continues to be a positive factor that has lifted billions of people out of misery — recently it has given many countries the possibility of becoming effective players in international politics. Yet it must be acknowledged that this same economic growth has been and continues to be weighed down by malfunctions and dramatic problems, highlighted even further by the current crisis" (par. 21).

God's work, indeed, Mr. Blankfein, but only if you serve mammon.

Christos Anesti

"But the heartache's in me till this day"

The Clash was a great band. I still find it incomprehensible that Joe is dead. I typed this at 5:30 AM this morning and erroroneously wrote that Mick Jones was dead. Everyone will be relieved to know that he is not. Thanks to Stephen for his gentle query about this. Train in Vain is our Friday traditio. It's a pretty mellow groove for these guys, but works on a rainy spring morning.

"Now I got a job
But it don't pay
I need new clothes
I need somewhere to stay
But without all of these things I can do
But without your love I won't make it through"

Random access memory brings to mind these lyrics: "Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come." Where's the connection? It is precisely here- because it is my path to destiny and I am grateful to have so many companions on my way. By companions I mean those who love me by loving my destiny, too, who, in the words of the traditio for this week, stand by me, especially the One who is always present to me.

Those who know me, especially those who know me well, understand that I live intensely and push a lot of envelopes. In some ways I have paid quite a high price, but it pales in comparison to the cost of my conscience and integrity, which is the due I owe to the One gave Himself for me, the same One who said: "I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16). Consequently, I have had many not stand by me. You know what? I'm glad you can't run from yourself, though it's tempting to try because I certainly make no claim to always get it right. In other words, I need to work on being both wise and innocent because sometimes I am neither, but I never need companions more than when I lose my footing. With Him I can stand in front of reality, not defiantly, but quite humbly, without averting my gaze, or even flinching. When I flinch, I'm still standing, even if it's only because He's holding me up. Passion is, indeed, a fashion. I know that it is not one suited to everybody.

I don't mind saying that I have packed about three months worth of stuff into these past two weeks. Once I am done preaching this weekend, I am going to chill, thesis-writing mode. Getting my steely-eyed, academic pedant on.

Christos Anesti

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'The Turn to Transcendence'

Dr Glenn Olsen, a brilliant man whom I consider a friend and something of a mentor over many years, has written another book. His latest is entitled The Turn to the Transcendence: The Role of Religion in the Twenty-First Century. Catholic University Press is publishing this book, which will available in early June.

I spoke with Dr. Olsen last evening and Turn to Transcendence will be a Cathedral Book Club selection come this fall with Dr. Olsen leading the discussions. This is something not only to look forward to, but to be excited about.

Among his other published books is Beginning at Jerusalem: Five Reflections on Church History. Which consists of five very good essays, which began life as annual lectures he delivered in New York City. This collection was published in 2004 by Ignatius Press. It contains some fine lines about the angels in our lovely Cathedral of the Madeleine (link is to 3D viewer of the Cathedral). Referring to what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about angels, Dr. Olsen observes:

"This is the best statement of why angels exist. God wishes to share his goodness and gifts. One may hope that others follow the lead of Msgr. Francis Mannion in preserving angels in the restoration of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in which I worship in Salt Lake City. The restored cathedral is full of angels. Especially striking... are eight great angels painted on the ceiling at the transcept crossing above the altar. It is difficult to worship in this church without being reminded of the company of the angels, that God has been much more prolific in his dealing with the universe than early modern science suggested...Every person who enters the cathedral in Salt Lake City is reminded of such a perspective, and this church stands as an alternative to our current impoverishment in matters liturgucal and architectural."
Dr. Olsen, who is an emeritus professor at the University of Utah, my alma mater. He is an internationally known and respected historian whose particular area of study is medieval intellectual history, but he has published in area of patristics, as well as the history of law, and history of sexuality. In addition to teaching at Utah, he has taught at Seattle University, and Fordham University. He has been a visiting professor at St. John's University, Collegeville, MN, the University of Notre Dame, Vilnius University (Lithuania) and Franciscan University in Austria.

I am always hesitant to mention people who have generously taken the time to help shape and form me for fear that it will somehow make them complicit in the on-going internet crime against human sense and sensibility that is this blog. Nonetheless, this post affords me the opportunity to mention how fortunate I was in the mid-90s to work at the Cathedral of the Madeleine and to associate with people like Drs. Olsen and Lindsay Adams, the latter of whom taught me ancient history at the U, particularly the history of Greece and of Rome. I can tell you from experience that it is a daunting thing to mount the ambo during Mass and commence preaching to two of your very distinguished professors! Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, who is largely responsible for me being a deacon, having made the mistake of telling me one day as we were processing into Mass (I was the Cathedral MC then) "I think you'd make a good deacon," was my boss and the one who facilitated my association with these fine men. Additionally, Deacon Owen Cummings and Gregory Glenn have been very indulgent towards me over quite a few years. Without exception, all these people have only ever encouraged me in the most positive ways. I consider it a great privilege to know each of them. This goes some distance towards explaining why I am so excited by Dr. Olsen's latest book.

Even if you're prone to judge a book by its cover, the cover of The Turn to Transcendence features El Greco's painting of St. John.

Christos Anesti

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hierarchy update

It was announced today that the Holy Father accepted the resignation of Archbishop John Favalora of Miami. It was also announced that Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Florida will replace him. Archbishop Favalora is 74, that is, about six months away from mandatory retirement. Apparently, he retired a bit early due to poor health. The fact that his replacement was named immediately means that his resignation had been in the offing for sometime.

Now-Archbishop Wenski is 59, originally a priest of the Archdiocese of Miami, he has been bishop of Orlando since 2004, having been named coadjutor of that same diocese in 2003.

The Holy See also announced today that Bishop Thomas Paprocki, 57, an auxiliary bishop in Chicago, was named as bishop of Springfield, Illinois, a see that has been vacant since its former bishop, George Lucas, became archbishop of Omaha, Nebraska last summer.

This leaves four Latin Rite dioceses vacant in the United States: Harrisburg; PA; LaCrosse, WI; San Antonio, TX; Orlando, FL. There are three Latin Rite ordinaries serving at or past 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to submit their resignations to the pope: Bishops Higi and Skylstad of Layfayette, IN and Spokane, WA respectively, along with His Eminence, Justin Cardinal Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia.

Christos Anesti

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI- Five years on

Five years ago this very day, after the announcement Habemus papam, Pope Benedict XVI stepped onto the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica. We are blessed to be led by a man as wise and humble as Joseph Alois Ratzinger. Ad multos annos! It is impossible to know how difficult walking in the shoes of the fisherman from Galilee is. So, we must pray for him daily. As I read the Gospel at Mass yesterday, these words, which come after the resurrected Jesus told Peter "Feed my sheep," words that Pope Paul VI quoted frequently in his personal journal: "Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go," struck me powerfully. Indeed, we can be quite sure that what has happened over these past weeks is not a path he would have chosen, but one he walks with confidence in the One who is leading him beyond where he does not want to go and which constitutes his path to destiny. I, for one, appreciate very much his personal witness, his humility, but above all his deep and abiding faith, from which the hope expressed in all his recent public statements is rooted. Let's not forget that it was the deep desire of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's heart to retire to his little house in Bavaria and write, pray, and reflect. File that one under if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Viva il Papa!

Christos Anesti

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Heads Goldman wins, tails you lose (and they win)

File this under the better late than never tab- Yesterday the Security and Exchange Commission, otherwise known as the compromised regulators who were asleep at the switch, announced yesterday that they were bringing a civil suit against our old friends, who, according to their chairman, Mr. Blankfein, do God's work in the world (just ask the Greeks), Goldman Sachs. The reason for the lawsuit is that it appears (brace yourselves) that Goldman was deliberately dishonest to their own benefit and the detriment of their clients.

The S.E.C. claims that Goldman sold securities related to mortgages that were designed to make Goldman a profit and stick investors with a loss. The investment vehicle, which is apparently a Toyota with a stuck gas pedal, was called Abacus 2007-AC1. Apparently, this specific product was a derivative-like instrument based on betting for or against the housing market. Goldman started Abacus in 2007 at the behest of one John Paulson, a hedge fund manager, who went on to make one billion dollars in this scheme. According to the New York Times, Paulson made an additional $3.7 billion by betting against the housing market in 2007.

Here's the rub, while Paulson held a stake in this investment scheme, Goldman told clients that an independent manager would choose the bonds. Here's what the S.E.C. alleges, as I understand it: John Paulson chose all the bonds, selecting those he thought most likely to lose value, this is how he made his money, by betting against the market. Whereas, Goldman allegedly sold these securities to foreign banks, insurance companies, and pension funds, but these institutions would only make money if the bonds, selected based on Mr. Paulson's "bet" that they would lose value, gained value! Get it? I mean this is the kind of scheme the mafia would be proud to hatch. Of course, Goldman Sachs made a profit while their clients lost their shorts because this, according to the S.E.C., was the intent. A Goldman Sachs vice president, Fabrice Tourre, is also named in the suit as the mastermind behind this scheme.

Goldman Sachs issued not one but two statements yesterday denying they did anything illegal. Much like the big financial cheeses, who Peggy Noonan recently took to task, they don't know how it happened that they made money on an investment on which their clients lost money. As one of the first bits of wisdom my Dad imparted to me goes: Figures don't lie, but liars can figure and often do. At the end of the day, it may turn out be yet another case in which there was wrong doing, but it was not illegal. Even this possibility demonstrates the need for a serious and comprehensive overhaul of financial laws and regulations, as well as an increased focus on enforcement and compliance.

I am glad that this is a civil suit because maybe the victims can reclaim some of what they lost. I am still waiting for there to be criminal charges filed based on the many schemes that led to our current melt down. I am sure the case hinges on many intricacies of security law, but I am not interested in that because there are enough attorneys to take care of the legal matter. I care about the gross immorality of playing around with insurance companies, banks, and pension funds. These are businesses and institutions on which the rest of us rely. We pay insurance premiums, we pay into 401ks, and we have our money in the bank. I really find myself asking, where is the concern about all of this?

Perhaps this is the beginning of a determination that will result in the decision that Goldman Sachs is too big and too destructive to succeed. In the meantime, maybe Goldman Sachs can brush up on basics, like revisting the defintion of the word fiduciary, which, according to, is "[a] person [inexplicably-corporations are persons under U.S. law] legally appointed and authorized to hold assets in trust for another person. The fiduciary manages the assets for the benefit of the other person rather than for his or her own profits" (underlining emphasis mine).

The Economist also has a concise piece the S.E.C. lawsuit.

Christos Anesti

Friday, April 16, 2010

"He couldn't make her love him/Couldn't make her stay"

Tom Waits' Get Behind the Mule is our hard won Friday traditio.

"I'm diggin all the way to China
With a silver spoon
While the hangman fumbles with the noose, boys
The hangman fumbles with the noose."

Christos Anesti

"being able to do penance is a grace"

"I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word 'penance,' which seemed too harsh to us. Now, under the attacks of the world that speaks to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is a grace and we see how it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is mistaken in our life, to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare oneself for forgiveness, to allow oneself to be transformed. The pain of penance, that is to say of purification and of transformation, this pain is grace, because it is renewal, and it is the work of Divine Mercy" Pope Benedict XVI in a homily at a Mass in the Vatican for members of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, 15 April 2010.

On this, his 83rd birthday, it humbles me to realize that I never doubted the Holy Father, not for one moment, which is why wrote this last Friday: "I can't pass up the opportunity on this Easter Friday to say that the resurgence of the sex abuse crisis, this time involving the Holy Father, is an opportunity for us to either show that we are serious about living this way or not. I think the jury is still very much out on this, the only issue that matters. I love the Holy Father very much and pray for him daily, more so these past few weeks. I have admired him since long before he became pope. Nothing has tarnished the high regard in which I have long held him. His silence at this point, I believe, is no accident. I really think he is taking it all as a penance. I stand in solidarity with his prudence."

Viva Il Papa!

I missed it a few days ago, but on 14 April 1990 I was baptized, confirmed, and received Christ in communion for the first time. So, twenty years of the life that is truly life, which is life in Christ.

Christos Anesti

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Experiencing Christ's unbounded affection for me

While watching the British sitcom After You've Gone, which, while funny, is not really very good as it is too much like a U.S. tv show for my taste and not in the good way, like Sanford and Son, I saw something that moved me. The main character, Jimmy, whose flaws constitute the heart of the show, has made a mistake. He is trying to explain it to his girlfriend, Siobhan, in a very self-justifying way. Cutting to the chase, she tells him, "You're an idiot." He pauses, thinking, then nods his head in the affirmative and humbly confesses, "Yes." Siobhan then does something very unexpected, she smiles a big, warm smile and gives him a big, affectionate, and affirming hug. I was moved because not only have I been there and done that, but I had a similar experience just last week. I am so blessed to have a wife who shows me the face of Christ so often that I can never really forget the great affection He has for me, His idiot deacon.

From after the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday until the Vigil the only music I listened to, apart from chant at Morning Prayer on Holy Saturday, was Tom Waits' Mule Variations. In this context one song stands out, Get Behind the Mule, which contains these lyrics: "Well the rampaging sons of the widow James, Jack the cutter and the pock marked kid, had to stand naked at the bottom of the cross and tell the good Lord what they did." It's significant that as He hung on the cross Jesus' arms are open in embrace. It is only an embrace instead of brutal torture because Jesus abandoned his own will in obedience to the Father. In the words of a little book written several ago by Max Lucado, He Chose the Nails and He chose them for me out of great love, the only power stronger than my sins and inevitable death. Being quite idiotic at times is part of who I am and I have no problem with this as long as I am Christ's idiot.

Christos Anesti

Dead to sin and alive in the Spirit

Today's Scripture reading for Morning Prayer is from St. Paul's letter to the early Christian community in Rome, a community he did not establish, a community he was heading to visit intially because he was going to start working his way west from there. As it turned out he made it to Rome, but not as a free man who was able to organize a mission westward, but as a prisoner making an appeal to the emperor, an appeal he lost.

We ignore St. Paul at our own peril as Christians. Paul passionately connects faith to life over and again, to the extent that if it has nothing to do with your life, if it does affect you and effect the way that you live, then it isn't faith. So, this morning the Church reads: "But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom. 8:10-11). What do I mean? Well, Paul writes that "if" the Holy Spirit, which is the mode of Christ's resurrection presence (i.e., the Holy Spirit is the way the resurrected Christ is present to us), is in you then your life will bear witness to this by the way that you live, which means living this way, in the manner of one who is dead to sin.

Of course, there is a very human tendency to immediately reduce this to morality. If I am dead to sin I keep the rules. Hence, being alive in Christ is about doing this and not doing that. St. Paul himself, even in Romans, exposes this deception. Any righteousness I have is given to me by God through Christ and realized by the power of the Spirit. It is important that Paul links this to resurrection, making dying and being brought to life something I experience now and not a dream, bordering on fantasy, that I defer until I die.

We die, are buried, and rise with Christ in baptism. We subsequently undergo many such deaths, this is inevitable. The question remains, do we continually experience being resurrected, being restored to the life that is truly life by the One who is "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6)? We call grave sins mortal sins because evil kills. Baptism, as we all know from experience, is not the end of our sinning because baptism, like Eucharist, is not a magic trick that God performs for our amusement. Our post-baptismal attachment to sin is called concupiscence. Elsewhere in Romans Paul reminds us of something that makes most everyone uncomfortable: "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom. 5:20). In the very next verse he points out that just "as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (5:21).

If looked only intellectually, which is to say in an abstract way, it seems puzzling and more than a little complicated, but certainly understandable. However, if we seek to verify this through our experience by acknowledging the great need that constitutes our humanity more than anything else, which we do by turning to the One who is "the life," then we not only see, but we are transformed, given new life, resurrected life. It is not too much to say that Christ killed Paul on the road to Damascus by blinding him. He killed him only to bring him to new life, true life, life everlasting. For Paul, this was truly an event that became for him a decisive encounter.

Christos Anesti

Monday, April 12, 2010

Living the sacrament of right now

I read something yesterday that made mention of the Jean Marie de Caussade's lovely book Abandonment to Divine Providence. I became familiar with this work when I was still a fairly new Catholic. It was brought to my attention by a Lebanese Maronite friend. Caussade was a French Jesuit priest who lived the eighteenth century.

For those who know me well, who have sat through many sessions on spiritual formation with me, you know that I am a bit disparging of the use of time-worn texts for spiritual formation. For example, personally I do not find either St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life or Br. Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God particularly relevant to the lives of contemporary Christian women and men. This is not to say these classic works are useless, it is just to say that their usefulness is limited and in need of some adaptation. Going out on a limb, I believe that the Carmelite spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, in order to be useful to most Christians, needs to be very carefully adapated. After all, there is a difference between living a cloistered existence and one in the world that does not permit hours of prayer and contemplation. I would say that the other Carmelite spirituality, that of the Little Flower, her little way is beatiful and very relevant to anyone. At the end of the day, the way of living written about in Br. Lawrence's little book is much like the little way of the Little Flower. De Caussade's book is of a different order and remains quite contemporary. The reason the Jesuit spirituality is translatable into lay spirituality, diaconal spirituality, is because the Jesuit life is a life of active apostolate.

It is in Abandonment that Caussade writes about "the sacrament of the present moment." This means that each moment of my life bears God's will for me. Hence, it is truly a waste of time to look for, to try to "discern" (scare quotes fully intended to capture the inauthentic nature of such a move), God's will for me over, above, or around what I am experiencing. Now, this differs from being fatalistic, just how it differs may be the subject of a later post.

The best description of a sacrament is a visible and tangible sign of Christ's presence in and for the world. What is more visible or tangible than what is right in front you right now? Of course, this is both the thrust and the vector of Giussani's method, though his language, thankfully, is a little less exalted.

Christos Anesti

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"...a matter of our fellowship with Christ..."

There many Christian teachers, preachers, theologians, and Scripture scholars that I admire both from the Christian East and from the various Protestant, including the Evangelical, traditions. Among those I admire are Richard Foster, author one of the best books ever on living as a Christian, Celebration of Discipline, which remains one of the books I give and advise people to read the most. I once did a whole year of weekly adult formation using this book. Foster is a Quaker, but Celebration is a very catholic book. Another person I admire greatly is Dr. Dallas Willard, who in addition to being a committed disciple of Jesus Christ and a great Christian teacher, is a distinguished philosopher who is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, as well as an ordained Southern Baptist minister. Willard is one of the leading expositors on the founder of the school of philosophy to which I most closely adhere, Edmund Husserl, father of phenomenology. Dr. Willard, to whom Foster turned as a young pastor for mentoring, is the author of The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, among other books, like The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God.

I have long been associated with Renovaré, an international ecumencial institute founded by Foster to, well, foster the practice of the disciplines. As anyone who has heard me teach on practicing the disciplines of the Christian life can attest, I always begin by pointing out the connection between the words discipline and disciple. All disciples have a master. For Christians our Master is Jesus Christ, but there are throughout the Christian tradition masters and mistresses of the spiritual life, which is nothing other than life in Christ. These women and men do not only demonstrate that it is possible to live this way (i.e., as a disciple of the Lord Jesus), but they teach us how. Willard is one such person.

Yesterday I received the latest issue of Conversations, which is the journal of Renovaré. This is always exciting for me, just like when Traces shows up either at the Cathedral rectory or in my mailbox at home. The theme addressed in the current issue of Conversations is How We Change, or how God transforms us through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many points of convergence between Communion and Liberation and the approach of those involved with Renovaré (keep in mind that the first thing I ever read by Msgr. Giussani was He is if he changes).

In this issue Dallas Willard is interviewed by Gary Moon. The interview begins with a discussion of the main theories of atonement. As Christians we believe that by dying on the cross Christ atoned for our sins. Various atonement theories have tried to explain how His death works to atone, to make amends, for our sins. The main historical theories are Ransom, Satisfaction/Penal Substitution, and Moral Influence. Wisely, Willard sees that each of these theories offer us an important insight into understanding what Christ did for us, but that none of the theories are capable of explaining this aspect of the Paschal Mystery completely. Willard begins by pointing out how these theories have caused division in the Body of Christ, which is needless and pointless. He continues by saying that "there is an objective pull here, and that objective pull is that Christ died for our sins. Now, that is the fact that each of the theories tries to explain, and when you have to deal with a stubborn fact, then your theories have a limited range." So, one is foolish to think that a theory with a necessarily limited range can satisfactorily explain a cosmos-altering event, like Christ's sacrificial death.

More importantly he emphasizes that we cannot severe Christ's death from either His life or His resurrection, which is the effect of any undue focus on any theory of atonement. Otherwise, we "tend to see [His] death as an isolated aspect of His life." We run into error when we take any one of these theories, or all of them together, as definitive, which, as Willard observes, "is the underlying mistake when you try to take a fact and force a theory onto it," which is "attractive because human beings want to control the fact, and they do that by developing an image or theory that makes sense to them, given the whole background of their ideas and social realities." In other words, there is the constant temptation to reduce faith to our measure. Even a cursory study of the development of doctrine in the Church will reveal that heresy most often consists of mistaking a part for the whole, or at the very least putting undue emphasis on some aspect of faith. Stated simply, heresy is most often a reduction of one kind or another.

Willard wraps up this part of the interview with this keen insight- "I think you are always going to be troubled if you stay at the level of theories, even if you have several good ones, because atonement is, in the last analysis, a matter of our fellowship with Christ, the person."

Christos Anesti

Friday, April 9, 2010

"The future's in the air"

In all honesty I am not a huge Scorpions fan, but neither do I dislike them. For example, I have always liked their song Wind of Change. You can say a lot about rockers, especially metalists, but typically they have their political act together. The political and often cultural coherence of hard rockers was never more in evidence than during the Cold War. I mean, you didn't see too many hard rockers running around with Che Guevara t-shirts on and making excuses for the abysmal failure that was the Communist experiment, etc.

Wind of Change is a surprisingly mellow and moving song by the Scorps, who are otherwise one of the hardest rocking bands of the metal era.

"The wind of change blows straight
Into the face of time
Like a stormwind that will ring
The freedom bell for peace of mind
Let your balalaika sing
What my guitar wants to say "

Wind of Change, which I heard on the radio this week of an evening driving, is our Friday traditio.

I can't pass up the opportunity on this Easter Friday to say that the resurgence of the sex abuse crisis, this time involving the Holy Father, is an opportunity for us to either show that we are serious about living this way or not. I think the jury is still very much out on this, the only issue that matters. I love the Holy Father very much and pray for him daily, more so these past few weeks. I have admired him since long before he became pope. Nothing has tarnished the high regard in which I have long held him. His silence at this point, I believe, is no accident. I really think he is taking it all as a penance. I stand in solidarity with his prudence.

Christos Anesti

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Trying for perspective in the light of on-going scandal

Over on his blog, The Catholic Story, which is the companion website for his book, which he co-authored with Vince Tomkovicz, Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation, my brother deacon and dear friend, Eric Stoltz, shares a reminiscence of a pedophile priest who taught in his Catholic school in Southern California in the 1980s: one Richard Coughlin. Coughlin (who I refuse to refer to as "Father") was a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, one of those priests who Cardinal Law sent away to another diocese without bothering to inform the gaining the diocese about the crimes Coughlin committed against children in Boston. In Coughlin's case it was the Diocese of Orange in California.

So this doesn't remain abstract, along with Eric, I draw your attention to the memorial website for one of Coughlin's victims, Eric Zapala, who committed suicide in 2006, may he rest eternally in the peace that was stolen from him by Coughlin and his enablers.

UPDATED: I ask my readers to hold me accountable and I am always truly grateful when they do. To that end, a reader correctly pointed out that Murphy's case went to Rome prior to the time in 2001 when the CDF took over universal jurisdiction in all cases of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy (see the comments to this post). Nonetheless, it was the CDF, under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, that was involved in the Murphy case. Rachel Donadio's article in the New York Times, Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys, in addition to reporting the facts involved, provides links to many of the relevant documents. So, the point that Murphy's case went to Rome before all such cases were given over to the CDF is a narrow point and one that does not change the fact that it was an appeal made directly to then-Cardinal Ratzinger by Murphy himself that spared him canonical sanction. The gross misrepresentation the mainstream media is accused of amounts to no more than a little confusion on my part, but not confusing Murphy's case with other cases.

Indeed, the current controversy surrounding the Holy Father revolves around the cases of Lawrence Murphy, a priest who molested deaf boys in Wisconsin, and the more troubling case of Peter Hullerman a child rapist who committed gross crimes in the Diocese of Essen and later in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.  In all honesty the Murphy case, like that of master deceiver Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, does not bother me that much, given the circumstances, as by that time Murphy was in no position to victimize anybody else. This strikes me as a fairly prudent decision with a tinge of mercy for a dying man who had much to answer for at the divine judgment bar. I feel the same about Maciel's case.

I saw a lawyer for some of Murphy's victims on the News Hour last night. Of course, he now wants to sue to the Holy See for refusing to bring to a canonical trial a dying man who, by virtue of his health, was unable to engage in any kind of ministry or pose a further threat to anyone. This kind of charlatianism and money-grubbing on the part of attorneys, who circle whenever they smell blood in the water, and who disguise the wolf of greed in the fleece of the lamb of justice, along with sensationalistic reporting, needs to be acknowledged and eschewed.

However, the case of Hullerman continues to bother me. He was given permission by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who was archbishop of Munich and Freising at the time, to come to Munich from Essen to receive psychiatric care. It is of obvious significance that Hullerman admitted to child rape while in Essen. In fact, his diocese clearly spelled out in requesting him to come to Munich that he was dangerous, unlike Cardinal Law's setting up the dioceses to which he transferred troubled priests, most notably Coughlin and Shanley. Before Ratzinger left to go to Rome in 1981, Hullerman was already exercising pastoral ministry in his archdiocese. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger's vicar general notified him of this via a memo. Now, in fairness, it is unclear whether the then-archbishop ever read the memo. What is troubling, unlike Murphy, who at the point his case reached Rome, was no longer a threat to anyone, Hullerman went on to commit further crimes against children. He remained in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising after Ratzinger left for Rome. In 1986 Hullerman was tried and convicted in a German court of crimes against children. Even this was not enough to begin canonical proceedings against him. In fact, Hullerman remained in ministry until very recently.

I quite agree with Eric's well-stated position that the problem continues to be misdiagnosed. It is of course fallacious to mistake one or two instances for the whole, but Coughlin does not strike me as unusual. As the John Jay College on-going and comprehensive study into the scope and causes of these gross sins committed in the Church in the U.S. shows, the vast majority of abusers were pre-Vatican II priests. Most of them deeply crippled and malformed psychologically and lacking a healthy appreciation of human sexuality, which is to say they lacked what is called affective maturity, or the ability to recognize and maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. However, one of Coughlin's fellow Boston exiles, Paul Shanley, would've have been the polar opposite of Coughlin's trdaitionalism, and John Geoghan fell somewhere in between.

As the Catechism teaches: "Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept [her/]his sexual identity" (par. 2333). Further, the Church teaches that "[c]hastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being" (par. 2337). Hence, affective maturity with regards to one's sexuality is necessary for Christian maturity. For many people, regardless of sexual orientation or proclivities, this is a struggle, an agon, a battle for which much grace is needed in order to prevail; grace coming in the form of contrition, forgiveness, and on-going conversion.

In addition to accepting one's own sexual identity, affective maturity first and foremost means acknowledging that being sexual is part and parcel of being human and a good part at that! According to his Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, a post synodal exhortation promulgated in 1992 after the 1990 ordinary general synod of bishops considering the formation of priests in the present day, Pope John Paul II stated: "[s]ince the charism of celibacy, even when it is genuine and has proved itself, leaves one's affections and instinctive impulses intact, candidates to the priesthood need an affective maturity which is prudent, able to renounce anything that is a threat to it, vigilant over both body and spirit, and capable of esteem and respect in interpersonal relationships between men and women" (par. 44).

So, in the end, it is not so much about sexual orientation, which spans a fairly broad range, but about knowing one's self, which, in addition to knowing your sexual identity and seeing it as a gift, also means knowing where you are broken and vulnerable, plus having the ability to be honest about this to your spiritual director, your confessor, and/or other confidantes, who care for you and who strengthen you in your resolve to be chaste.

I have to say that a sincerely offered mea culpa goes a long way towards healing. I have long been an admirer of Fr Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal household, and continue to be, but I was stunned beyond belief by his Good Friday homily in which he likened the press reports on these matters to anti-Semitism. It is important to note that Fr. Cantalamessa has apologized for making this analogy. It is also necessary to point out that both as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as Pope that Benedict XVI/Ratzinger has done more than anybody at the highest levels of the Church to effectively eradicate this evil from our midst.

Finally, allow me to make an attempt at an analogy having to do with the Jewish people: as John Paul II called for with regards to our troubled relations with the Jewish people at the turn of the millennium, purification of memory begins with an honest recalling of what happened and true contrition for the sins committed, those of omission and comission. Circling the wagons and shooting at the media is neither an effective nor a particularly Christian response. The CL statement, Greater Than Sin, remains the best response to all of this, putting forward Who really matters and how He works in the world through the Church, like St. Paul, sometimes most profoundly through our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Christos Anesti

Hierarchy update

It was announced some time ago by Cardinal Mahony himself that he would receive a co-adjutor this year, thus allowing him to retire next year when he turns 75. Today the Holy Father announced that His Excellency Archbishop José Horacio Gómez, who currently serves as archbishop of San Antonio, will be that co-adjutor. A co-adjutor bishop is something of an auxiliary bishop, but with the right of succession.

Archbishop Gómez is a priest of the prelature of Opus Dei. Prior to being named archbishop of San Antonio, he was an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Denver. His Excellency, a native of Mexico, is 58 years old. I do not like to editorialize about episcopal appointments. So, suffice it to say that by naming Archbishop Gomez as the next archbishop of Los Angeles, the Holy Father is steering Los Angeles in a more traditional direction.

Cardinal Mahony turns 75 next February. With his successor now named and soon to be in place, expect his resignation, which has to be submitted to the Holy Father on his birthday, to be quickly accepted.

With Archbishop Gómez's appointment to Los Angeles there are now four vacant Latin Rite dioceses in the United States: Harrisburg, PA; LaCrosse, WI; Springfied in Illnois; San Antonio, TX.

Additionally, there are three prelates serving past 75 with two more turning 75 later this month.

Christos Anesti

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2010



Cantemus Domino: gloriose enim magnificatus est.
"Let us sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!" (Liturgy of the Hours, Easter, Office of Readings, Antiphon 1).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I bring you the Easter proclamation in these words of the Liturgy, which echo the ancient hymn of praise sung by the Israelites after crossing the Red Sea. It is recounted in the Book of Exodus (cf 15:19-21) that when they had crossed the sea on dry land, and saw the Egyptians submerged by the waters, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, and the other women sang and danced to this song of joy: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed wonderfully: horse and rider he has thrown into the sea!” Christians throughout the world repeat this canticle at the Easter Vigil, and a special prayer explains its meaning; a prayer that now, in the full light of the resurrection, we joyfully make our own: "Father, even today we see the wonders of the miracles you worked long ago. You once saved a single nation from slavery, and now you offer that salvation to all through baptism. May the peoples of the world become true sons of Abraham and prove worthy of the heritage of Israel."

The Gospel has revealed to us the fulfilment of the ancient figures: in his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has freed us from the radical slavery of sin and opened for us the way towards the promised land, the Kingdom of God, the universal Kingdom of justice, love and peace. This "exodus" takes place first of all within man himself, and it consists in a new birth in the Holy Spirit, the effect of the baptism that Christ has given us in his Paschal Mystery. The old man yields his place to the new man; the old life is left behind, and a new life can begin (cf. Rom 6:4). But this spiritual “exodus” is the beginning of an integral liberation, capable of renewing us in every dimension – human, personal and social.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, Easter is the true salvation of humanity! If Christ – the Lamb of God – had not poured out his blood for us, we would be without hope, our destiny and the destiny of the whole world would inevitably be death. But Easter has reversed that trend: Christ’s resurrection is a new creation, like a graft that can regenerate the whole plant. It is an event that has profoundly changed the course of history, tipping the scales once and for all on the side of good, of life, of pardon. We are free, we are saved! Hence from deep within our hearts we cry out: "Let us sing to the Lord: glorious his triumph!"

Christos Anesti

Chistos Anesti/Alithos Anesti

"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Christos Anesti

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Christos Anesti

Alithos Anesti.

The strangeness of Holy Saturday

"I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you" (from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday- Office of Readings).

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday traditio

With a deep diaconal bow to my dear friend Sharon, who first posted this on Quaerere Deum, this lovely musical setting of the De Profundis (i.e., Psalm 130) accompanying Georges Rouault's Miserere cycle of paintings is our Good Friday traditio.

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani

Good Friday

"He mounted the Cross to free us from the fascination with nothingness, to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral."- Msgr. Giussani

I am preaching the final three of Jesus' 7 Last Words, the words He spoke as He hung upon the cross. I went ahead and prepared a brief reflection on the fourth of our Lord's Seven Last Words "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani" from Matthew 27:46:

Godforsaken, desolate, devastated; these are words we use to describe our experience of suffering. Jesus’ question as He hangs on the cross in the throes of an excruciatingly painful death is understandable and very human. His death on the cross is the kind of cruel death undergone by tens, if not hundreds of millions of people, over the course of history.

In Scripture, these words occur at the beginning of the twenty-second Psalm and are followed by this cry: "Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief." Likewise, do we not often call out like this in the midst of our own suffering? Suffering causes us to feel helpless because, in addition to the pain, we realize how little we actually control. This realization causes us to fear. Coming to realize how little we control forces us to ask whether anyone is in control. As we consider our own suffering, which for most of us, if we are honest, pales in comparison to the suffering of so many, we tend to either conclude,  looking at our own situation and the state of the world, either that nobody is in control, or that God is in control.

This move in favor of God being in control can be very inauthentic if we make it only to avoid asking why. The question why is the most human question we can ask. By asking why, we demand meaning. To be human is to require meaning. Suffering forces us to ask why with great fervor. Indeed, perhaps the biggest obstacle to believing in God for many people is the amount of suffering in the world, not to mention in their own lives and the lives of those near to them. Refusal to believe in the face of so much human suffering is certainly a more authentic response than the pragmatic move of believing to avoid asking the question.

All of this is just to set-up an intellectual problem, which is an exercise in abstraction. The Buddha’s assertion that to live is to suffer is correct. We know this through our own experience. We want to believe that all this suffering has a point and a purpose. The point and purpose of suffering is revealed to us by the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. But this, too, can be for us nothing more than an abstraction.

It is only through our own experience of suffering that we come to see that God is never more present to us than when we suffer, when we struggle, when we're down. This is how resurrection becomes something experiential and not just something we wish for, not really believing it. As we immerse ourselves in our own commemoration of the Paschal Mystery let us take the opportunity to see how this great mystery plays out in our individual lives and in our life together as Church. Dying is a limit, a horizon beyond which we cannot see. Yet, we believe that because of Christ we will be resurrected. In order for this to be more than a mere wish, we have to follow Christ, which means daily dying to ourselves. It is only by following Christ that I truly understand the great mystery of, not only how God brings life from death through Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, but I see how God brings me from death to new life through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani

On loving like Jesus loves

Readings: Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48; Ps 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17 In the first reading for today, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, t...