Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallows Eve

Let the festival begin on this All Hallows Eve! Let us not forget the "hallows" whom we will celebrate tomorrow, asking them to intercede for us, and the souls, for whom we will pray the following day: All Saints and All Souls. November is the month during which we remember our blessed and beloved dead. All of this reminds us that Jesus is the reason for every season. He is the One in whom, through whom, and for whom everything exists. In 2003, Blessed Pope John Paul II said, on All Saints Day, "We celebrate today the solemnity of All Saints. This invites us to turn our gaze to the immense multitude of those who have already reached the blessed land, and points us on the path that will lead us to that destination." In 1998, for the one thousandth observance of All Souls Day, he reminded us what that day is about, "For the souls in purgatory, waiting for eternal happiness and for meeting the Beloved is a source of suffering, because of the punishment due to sin which separates them from God. But there is also the certitude that once the time of purification is over, the souls will go to meet the One it desires."

 Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Year A Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Readings: Mal. 1:14b-2:2b. 8-10; Ps. 131:1-3; 1 Thess. 2:7b-9.13; Matt. 23:1-12

For all of us who are baptized there is only one vocation: to follow Christ. Hence, we acknowledge that there are different ways of following Christ. Nonetheless, as Catholics, when we think of vocations we think almost exclusively in terms of ordained ministry and religious life. It is important for us to remember that marriage, like holy orders, is also a sacramental vocation, whereas being a professed member of a religious order, a nun or a non-ordained religious brother, is not accomplished by conferring a sacrament on the one who makes her/his life-long, vows. Being a professed member of a religious order, regardless of the charism or ministry of the order, is no less important to the Body of Christ than bishops, priests, and deacons, or married couples. Likewise, many Christians are called to live lives that do not require ordination, marriage, or publicly professing solemn vows. For those of you who are single, you still have a vocation to follow Jesus Christ and make Him present in the world, in your work, in your relationships, in all you do. Your vocation, which you heeded in baptism, had strengthened in confirmation, and is renewed in this Eucharist, is no less important than any other vocation given in and through the Church for the salvation of the world.

A vocation is a calling. It comes from the Latin verb vocare, which simply means “to call.” In a Christian context it means a function, or way of life, to which one is called by God. Our call, our vocation, arises from within the Church, flowing as it does from our baptism. At World Youth Day earlier this year Pope Benedict XVI told the young people gathered around him that “following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. Anyone who would be tempted to do so ‘on his own,’ or to approach the life of faith with that kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.” Stated simply, being religious and spiritual are mutually reinforcing, not mutually exclusive.

Even as Catholics, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. The baptized constitute God’s priestly people. Of course, as Catholics, we recognize that there is a subset of God’s priestly people who are called to what is best-described as “the ministerial priesthood.” The word ministry is very important in this regard. Ministry refers to those tasks performed as a service to others. Christian ministry, that is, service performed in the name of Christ, is humble, self-sacrificing service, which is why Jesus, in our Gospel today, says, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). One of the most important titles of the pope is, “Servant of the Servants of God.” Forgetting this simple and basic truth is often what leads to the kind of the troubles we have experienced in the Church over the past decade. Hence, it is the job of priests, in communion with their bishop, and with the assistance of deacons, to put themselves wholly at the service of God’s people, not to lord over them, exercise power, or seek to exert worldly influence.

Earlier this month we observed the forty-ninth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which was a life-giving watershed for the Church. Perhaps the most over-arching call of the council, one that we are still very much in the process of realizing, was the universal call to holiness. This universal call is the vocation of all Christians everywhere. In his address at the opening of Vatican II, Bl. John XXIII, whose wholly unexpected and transformative papacy formally began fifty-three years ago Friday, reminded the Church that our Lord commanded us “to seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). Jesus, by telling us to seek the kingdom of God “first,” before anything else, is urging you to respond to your vocation by indicating “what the primary direction of all [y]our thoughts and energies must be.”

Bl. Pope John went on to say that we mustn’t forget what the Lord promises us, that if you put God’s kingdom first, then everything else “shall be given you besides” (Matt 6:33). This is done by adhering to what Jesus said in last week’s Gospel, first loving God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and loving “your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37.39). It is our job, yours and mine, to see that this divine injunction has an “impact on the various spheres of human activity—in private, family and social life.”

In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul wrote about exactly the kind of ministry Jesus calls us to engage in when he wrote about his ministry among them: “You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:9). His humble service is what gives the apostle creditability and authority. At the beginning of the passage he seeks to show that the toil and drudgery were endured out of love and without complaint: “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).

Archbishop George Niederauer, as happy a person as I have ever met

Today there are those among us who are still in the process of deciding the direction of their lives. So, I urge the young people here to make this a matter of discernment, that is, to listen to the Holy Spirit, making what you decide to do a matter of prayer, a matter of discussion with your parents, with your teachers, with your peers, and, yes, even our priests. Too often becoming a priest and/or a member of a religious order is dismissed out-of-hand, by young people and parents alike. According to many diocesan vocations directors, one of the biggest barriers to young people choosing (God never forces us into anything) priesthood and/or religious life is Catholic parents, who often have negative views of a Church vocation, and actively discourage young people from pursuing such a call, feeling that priesthood and religious life are less joyful, and fulfilling than other modes of life.

A friend of mine, who is a priest, sent me an email this week drawing my attention to a symposium that took place the first week of this month in Washington, D.C. The title of the symposium was, “Why Are Priests Happy?” I was very glad to read about a presentation given by Msgr. Stephen Rosetti, a theologian and psychologist, which confirmed my own personal experience, namely that U.S. Catholic priests “are demonstrably among the happiest, most job-fulfilled and satisfied men in the country.” The key reasons for this, according to Msgr. Rossetti, are their prayer life and the close relations they have established with God, fellow priests and laity in their parishes. We should be encouraged, not only that our priests are happy and fulfilled, but the reasons given for their happiness and fulfillment. Just we should not let popular culture shape the morals and values of our young people we should not let the popular media shape and form their view and understanding of the Church.

Bishop Wester has called us all to greater stewardship, which is but a reminder of our baptismal call to follow Christ in a concrete way by fulfilling our obligation to help provide for the needs of the Church, or, more accurately, to be Church, which calls each of us to freely and charitably give of our resources and ourselves. What Jesus is calling us to these past few weeks is to find practical and concrete ways to give ourselves in humble service to others for His sake and the sake of God’s kingdom. As Pope Benedict recently said, “What we believe is important, but even more important is the One in whom we believe,” the One who calls us to devote ourselves wholly to realizing God’s kingdom in practice, not only in theory.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

More on restricting communion under both kinds

Earlier this month I posted about the decisions in the dioceses of Phoenix, AZ and Madison, WI to place restrictions on when and under what circumstances all of the faithful, lay and ordained, may receive communion from the chalice in addition to receiving the host. Initially, the justifications given had something to do with the expiration of an indult that expired in 2005 and was not renewed. My post was about what that meant, which did not seem to be a valid basis for the decisions.

Deacon Greg, over at The Bench today, under the seemingly appropriate heading, Oops, posted this short quote from the Diocese of Madison: "The reports from the Phoenix Diocese concerning the expiration of an indult regarding Communion under both kinds seem to have been mistaken…" Deacon Greg goes on to note that the diocese still plans to restrict communion under both kinds, employing a different rationale.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The present and the persistent Presence

In Robert Musil's novel, The Man Without Qualities, Ulrich, who is "the man without qualities," answers the question posed to him by his cousin, Diotima, "And what would you do if you could rule the world for a day?" by saying, "I suppose I would have no choice but to abolish reality." Diotima retorts with no little disdain, "I'd love to know how you'd go about it." Ulrich says,
I don't know... I hardly know what I mean by it. We wildly overestimate the present, the sense of the present the here and now, like you and me being here in this valley, as if we'd been put in a basket and the lid of the present had fallen on it. Even a year from now we may be able describe how we were standing here. But what really moves us - me anyway- is always - putting it cautiously; I don't want to look for an explanation or a name for it - opposed in a sense to this way of experiencing things. It is displaced by much here and now, so much Present. So it can't become the present in its turn

I'm not really sure why, but reading this passage last night made me think of something I recently read in The Religious Sense, where Don Giussani insisted that "faith is the fundamental gesture of freedom, and prayer is the perpetual education of the heart, the spirit in being authentically human, in being free, because faith and prayer are the full recognition of that Presence which is my destiny; and the dependence on this presence is my freedom"

"Swim out past the breakers and watch the world die"

Our tradtio for today is Everclear's Santa Monica and for no reason other than I have always liked this song. Besides it goes well Social D's Ball and Chain.

I'll walk right out into a brand new day/Insane and rising in my own weird way/I don't want to be the bad guy/I don't want to do your sleepwalk dance anymore

This song is like my Zombie resistance tune.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

One God, three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit

I originally wrote this in September 2007 and I am re-posting it slightly edited.

Tonight I will be discussing God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the adults in our parish who are preparing for baptism. confirmation, and Eucharist. It is always important to keep in mind that using human language to discuss or describe God is perilous to some degree. Nonetheless, we are confident that we can really say some things about God that are true, that are reasonable. This is made possible by two things: we are created as beings capable of reasoning; God has deigned to reveal Himself to us (i.e., God wants to know us and be known by us). In other words, by relying on faith and reason. So, getting to the heart of language in speaking of or writing about God as a communion of persons, in the Greek hypostases, the origin for which we must go back to the Arian controversy of the third and fourth centuries, which culminated in the Council of Nicea in AD 325.

But let's jump ahead several centuries to St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican synthesizer and systematizer. Though it does not originate with Aquinas, in his writings we uncover two distinct modes of discussing God: God qua God, perhaps best summed up by St. Anselm's deceptively complex so-called ontological proof of God's existence; God as Trinity, as a community of persons revealed in Jesus Christ. These two together represent the old way of discussing God immanently and economically.

It is also important to keep in mind the analogia entis (i.e., the analogy of being) when reading Aquinas. In fact, Aquinas believed that we can only understand God qua God by way of analogy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church deals with this quite well:

40 "Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking.

41 "All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man, created in the image and likeness of God. the manifold perfections of creatures - their truth, their goodness, their beauty all reflect the infinite perfection of God. Consequently we can name God by taking his creatures" perfections as our starting point, 'for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator'.

42 God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, imagebound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God --'the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable'-- with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God.

43 "Admittedly, in speaking about God like this, our language is using human modes of expression; nevertheless it really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity. Likewise, we must recall that 'between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude'; and that 'concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him.'"

In other words, when seeking to know about God and use language to discuss God, we start with what we know/experience. I believe it was Nicholas Lash (if not him, then it was John Macquarrie) who once said, "A theologian is one who watches her/his language in the presence of God". In stating this Lash is not referring to swearing, but taking care and recognizing the limits of our language, which means accepting our finite nature and ontological limitations of our understanding and, hence, of our language.

The big breakthrough on Christian terms in knowing God and knowing about God is, of course, the Incarnation of the Son of God, which makes it possible for us to move beyond "the God of the philosophers" to the "God of Jesus Christ". Hence, as Christians we do not hesitate to state, based on both faith and, to a lesser extent, reason, that God is not just a person, but a community of persons, a trinity. Hence, the personalization of God. Speaking of God as a community of persons is a distinctly Christian way of talking about God, a very scriptural way of talking about God, which means that such Godtalk stems from God's self revelation in the (very human) person of Jesus Christ, who personalizes God by calling God "Abba"- Father.

Stepping back in this theological two step of faith and reason, Scripture and tradition, we can note that our Trinitarian understanding of God is rooted deeply in Greek philosophy, but it takes as its starting point the paradoxical datum of scripture (i.e., Jewish Scriptures and the NT), from which we learn that there is One God ("Hear, O Israel! . . . Deut 6:4) and (yet) three divine persons (i.e., Father, Son, and Spirit- Jn 17:22; Jn 14:26). So, understanding God as a community of persons flows directly from this paradoxical datum, which is part and parcel of God's self-disclosure. Hence, we would not know that God is Father, Son, and Spirit had God not revealed this to us. So, this belief in God as a community of persons is, properly speaking, a belief of faith, not of reason. However, even what we hold on faith is reasonable (i.e., it is not illogical or contrary to reason). Faith and reason working together, even in the interpretation of Scripture (nothing can be said to have been read and not interpreted) is how we arrive at our understanding of God. Whether Greek philosophy is the only way of making sense of this fundamental datum of God's self-disclosure is a discussion for another day, however.

It seems to me that fundamental error of many Christian theologies is the divorce of faith from reason. This error was exacerbated by Kierkegaard in the nineteenth century and, to a lesser extent, by Barth in the twentieth. Besides, as Balthasar showed in his The Theology of Karl Barth, Barth's substitute for the analogia entis, his analogia fidei, in the end becomes the analogia entis because we cannot escape our humanity. We cannot escape our contingency or our reasonable nature, our in-built need and desire to make sense of things, of finding out about ultimate reality. This divorce is highly destructive. The danger of this divorce is the main point of Pope Benedict XVI's controversial Regensburg lecture of sveral years ago.

I have read recently where somebody set forth the notion that God, according Scripture, is not a person. At least in light of the books we know as The Bible, this bold assertion cannot be sustained. After all, as previously noted, did Jesus not call God Father and invite us to collectively do the same? So, from a Christian perspective this thesis is not only problematic, but erroneous. Being a bit less obtuse, I admit that there is a sense in which (the sense of talking about what I termed God qua God at the beginning of this post) a case can be made for this assertion from the Jewish Scriptures. On closer examination, taking our cue (sticking with popularly accessible authors) from Jack Miles' God: A Biography and Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative, along with his The Five Books of Moses , and the writings of Jacob Neusner, with whom Pope Benedict has carried on a years long dialogue, at the end-of-the-day I cannot even accept the proposition "God is not revealed as a person in the Jewish Scriptures". However, being careful about our Godtalk, we must not conflate person (i.e., hypostasis) and human person. Theologically, Jesus Christ is but one person, the second person of the Trinity, in whom two natures (two physis-one human/one divine) are united. The adjective human makes a universe of difference and is what I think is at the root of the statement "God is not a person", even according to Scripture. I can therefore accept the proposition "God [qua God] is not a human person".

For my money, apart from John 17:20-26, the most profound statement of God's personhood in all of sacred scripture, which our Holy Father took as the starting point for his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, is 1 John 4:8-16. Because "God is love" and because love is other-centered, God cannot be a lone monad existing somewhere on the fringes of the physical universe, a non-relational non-person.

As already stated, rejection of understanding God via the analogy of being, or any other human mode, is to rest content in a weird form of agnosticism that is untrue to human desire. As with all Godtalk, so much more can/should be written (a literally infinite amount), but this will have to suffice for now from me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Moral miscalculation on Libya

My recent engagement with the political and economic thought of Phillip Blond, a trained theologian who is now the director of the U.K. think-tank ResPublica, includes reading an interview with him that appeared today in the English language version of the on-line publication Il Sussidiario, a publication for which I am a regular contributor, BLOND/Some reflections on the killing of Gaddafi and the European Union. I have enjoyed greatly reading his attempts to update and make relevant the economics of distributism, but I was utterly appalled to read his response to the first question posed by the interviewer: "What do you think about the killing of Gaddafi and its consequences for the UK and other Western countries?"
I think that no Christian should celebrate the death of another human being, but nevertheless, I think Gaddafi was a deeply corrupt, murderous individual whose removal is clearly a good thing. I think that Britain and France acted well. I think Cameron and Sarkozy both showed European military leadership, which was sorely needed
I think Peter Hitchens stated the matter in a more Christian, that is, morally honest manner when he wrote that "no decent person can approve" of Gaddafi’s murder by a mob. Hitchens proved further correct when he wrote that the murder of Gaddafi "is typical of the sordid revolution," which NATO, led by the U.K. and France (the U.S. "leading from behind"), aided and abetted. Hitchens went on to note that a "new state that begins with such an event will poisoned and polluted by it ever afterwards."

Blond gets it just as wrong when he insists that in the case of Libya, Europe and NATO are "on the right side of history, moving against a dictator, who undoubtedly would have killed thousands and thousands of his own people and who has now been removed." This statement shows great ignorance of the on-going atrocities committed by those who banded together to oust Gaddafi, who was certainly no benevolent ruler. Human Rights Watch reports that in the days following Gaddafi's capture and murder, the revolutionaries summarily executed 53 of the late dictator's supporters at a hotel in Sirte. One can argue quite effectively that NATO's intervention prolonged Libya's civil and war greatly increased violence. The end result will likely present more long term strategic difficulties for the West than Gaddafi, even in the days prior to his rapprochement with West and accepting responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. The Islamists, who have already seized power and announced that shar’ia law will constitute the fundamental law of the new Libya, are now set-up to continue more than four decades of repressive rule in that country.

Indeed, the new rulers of Libya are summarily torturing and killing prisoners. I agree with Peter Hitchens that "all those who supported this ill-advised intervention will share responsibility for every lynching, whipping, unjust detention and miserable dungeon in the New Libya they helped to make." It doesn’t help to have Christian theologians, like Phillip Blond, give moral approbation to these atrocities. This brings me to Blond’s answer to the second question, which reveals the source of the confusion so clearly evident in his first answer when, in light of all this, he insisted that in the case of Libya, "All we can do is act well, within the horizon of what it means to act well." To take the cake, he insisted that “one cannot engage in moral sophistry when facing the murder of innocent civilians.”He began his second answer by insisting he is not a utilitarian and does not take action by first calculating outcomes. Apart from the fact that this is not utilitarian in any recognizable sense, he seems to lead with this to justify NATO intervention against the regime of Gaddafi despite the fact that what the alliance hoped to accomplish "may fail," that is, "the democracy policy may fail to be established."

The failure of the "democracy policy" seemed to be a given up-front, even prior to Hitchens’ insistence that a state that begins with lawless violence doesn’t have very bright prospects moving forward. Any morality rooted in reason has to calculate outcomes beforehand, looking at likely and probable outcomes. Now, it is not the only calculation to be made, but it is certainly a necessary one, especially when the course of action itself is a violent one. In short, he couldn’t be more wrong when he magisterially opines that NATO’s intervention in Libya "fulfills the just war document." Such an assertion is, to put it prudently, highly debatable. I, for one, would not want to be on Blond’s side in that debate.

To demonstrate explicitly that Blond is incorrect in his assertion that NATO's intervention in Libya met just war criteria, just war theory holds that not only must the ultimate goal of a just war be to re-establish peace, but, more particularly, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

All I can say is that this strikes me as moral relativism borne of political expediency. I guess it's for Blond to decide whether he wants to be taken seriously, or is content to be Prime Minister David Cameron's court theologian and social theorist.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Some notes on conservatism and the priority of culture

Inevitably it's back to politics and economics. I don't loathe politics anymore than I loathe gravity. Politics is a natural and necessary part of being human because a natural and necessary part of being human is being part of the larger human community. Like many of my posts these days, this one very much ad hoc and off-the-cuff.

I am not a liberal nor am I what often passes for a conservative, which means, at least in the United States, a classic liberal. This holds true on both social issues and economic issues. The publication yesterday of the Note on financial reform issued by Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and about which there is plenty of commentary, leads me to simply state that conservatism that dares speak its name is not economically liberal, that is, rejects laissez-faire economics, as does the Church's social teaching reaching back at least 120 years to Pope Leo XIII's Rerum novarum, up to and including Pope Benedict XVI's most recent encyclical, Caritas in veritate.

So, what's a person to do? Well, what I do is to use a three-fold criteria: life issues, the importance of marriage and family, and religious freedom, which, as we are coming to find out the hard way, is not merely the freedom to worship as I choose, or not at all. Conservatives understand that religion matters and that, as Bruce Anderson, writing in The Independent a few years back in contrasting Lady Thatcher's classical liberalism with conservatism, "religion requires faith" and "secular matters [require] scepticism." On my Facebook profile my stated political view is "socially conservative and economically suspicious." This remains highly accurate.

Anderson went on to note that conservatives "know that freedom is not a panacea and that the social order requires more than anarchy plus the constable," which tends to be the view of the classical liberal who is  identified in contemporary politics as a conservative. Anderson touched on another contrast between the classical liberal view and that of the conservative, namely if you get government "out of the way" and let "people to run their own lives, most of them would be successful." Classical liberals, like Lady Thatcher, about whom Anderson was writing, do not understand nor sympathize with people who are unable to succeed, seeing it as "their own fault for not trying hard enough." Traditional conservatism, Anderson observed, "is much more humane, much more attuned to human weakness and to the plight of those trapped at the bottom of the heap." Stated theologically, classical liberals who claim the conservative moniker are effectively Pelagians. True conservatism is inherently compassionate. Because classical liberalism is not inherently compassionate, tending as it does towards both laissez faire capitalism and being socially liberal, which, in my estimation, is the worst combination of any of the ideological possibilities, George W. Bush used "compassionate conservatism" as a political slogan in 2000.

Most importantly for me, conservatism is not economically deterministic, deplores the crass commercialization and commodification not only of every aspect of life, but of religion and even human beings.

T.S. Eliot

As put over and against liberalism qua liberalism, conservatism does not imagine that all people are equal in every respect. It doesn't take very much experience to realize the falsity of such a pie-eyed utopian claim. All people are, of course, equal in dignity and, therefore, equal before the law and are endowed by God with certain inalienable rights. People should certainly be given an equality of opportunity to succeed, but success cannot be guaranteed. So, all of the expensive societal schemes that seek to obtain equal results can only do so by lowering standards and making everyone mediocre.

All of this before even touching on that increasingly endangered institution, the two-parent family. For a conservative, the state is neither theocratic nor agnostic, but favors faith over and against unbelief, the opposite of Western liberal democracies, which seek a de facto a-theism. Conservatism is not libertarian in any regard. I was reminded this week of a book by David L. Schindler we read quite a few years ago in our now-defunct Salt Lake Communio group: Heart of the World, Center of the Church: "Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation. Reading and discussing Schindler's book, which began with his critique of Neuhaus, Novak, and Wiegel, the so-called Catholic neo-cons, was very eye-opening for me. Hence, I am looking forward to the release of Schindler's latest book, Ordering Love: Liberal Societies and the Memory of God.

In a recent post on his blog, the Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen, who is, undeniably, a very controversial figure, but a man who, like all conservatives, understands the importance of culture, quoted T.S. Eliot on culture:
An individual European may not even believe that the Christian Faith is true, but what he says and makes and does will all spring out of this history of European culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Nietzsche or a Voltaire. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. And I am convinced of that not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology. If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready-made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.
Sounds a lot like much of what Benedict XVI says in his travels across Europe.

I have to say that I have really only gained an appreciation of Eliot over the past few years. Growing up how I did, in a cultural vacuum, I still have a lot of catching up to do.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reflection on the Sunday readings

My reflection for this Sunday's readings is simple, requiring little commentary. Looking at the first reading, from twenty-second chapter of Exodus:
You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans (verses 20-23)
As with my remembrance of Bl. Pope John Paul II, this passage strikes me as very timely because here in the U.S. we are grappling with the economic difficulties everyone is facing as well as entering into (yet) another election cycle, which seem to me to get longer and longer. I surmise that pretty soon we will just have a perpetual campaign!

As regards this particular passage, we often hear it said that to treat immigrants well is "a biblical injunction." Well, now you know at least one passage of Scripture that explicitly supports that claim, from the Torah no less.

Last Sunday, in his homily at The Cathedral of the Madeleine, Bishop Wester strongly encouraged everyone to read the USCCB's Faithful Citizenship document. Our bishops have established a Faithful Citizenship website. With all the rhetoric and invective already flying about, I urge everyone to take some time at least read the basic document.

A good exhortation arising from this passage of Scripture is found is this passage from the document:
What faith teaches about the dignity of the human person and about the sacredness of every human life helps us see more clearly the same truths that also come to us through the gift of human reason. At the center of these truths is respect for the dignity of every person. This is the core of Catholic moral and social teaching. Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square. We are called to practice Christ’s commandment to “love one another” (Jn 13:34). We are also called to promote the well-being of all, to share our blessings with those most in need, to defend marriage, and to protect the lives and dignity of all, especially the weak, the vulnerable, the voiceless (par. 10- underlining emphasis mine)

Bl. Pope John Paul II for today

Today marks the Church's first observance of the liturgical memorial of Blessed Pope John Paul II. Where does one begin? I choose to remember him today in a manner that is not sentimental. After all, I can get pretty emotional watching Papa Wojtyla in his moving and dramatic moments, some of which I have captured here on my blog.I guess the best place to start is our present circumstances, that is, with the unrest caused by the current state of our national and global economy, an unrest that is manifest on both the political left and the political right. One observer stated that one looks for salvation from the market and the other from the government. The sad reality is that while we unquestionably need far-reaching economic reforms based on the fundamental axiom that the economy, such as it is, exists for people and not people for the economy, neither is the ultimate source of human happiness and fulfillment.

In his encyclical letter, Centesimus annus, promulgated in 1991, just a few years after the fall of communism, to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's Rerum novarum, the encyclical established the foundation of the Church's modern social teaching, John Paul II sought to lay down for us the fundamentals of morality for the economy according all the factors of reality, most importantly factoring in the structure of the human person.

It's here where we cut to the chase of the current unrest. The struggle seems to perennially be between "capitalism" and "collectivism," or socialism. Like Hilare Belloc in his still relevant book The Servile State, John Paul II seeks a middle way, which Belloc contrasts with capitalism by calling it distributism, whereas John Paul II seeks to clarify what we mean by the word "capitalism":
If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative (par. 42)
While on the need for a strong(er) "juridical framework," the Holy See announced that on Monday it will release a document proposing reforms of the international financial system.

As Fr. Thomas Reese observed in a blog post (to which I am indebted for this part of my own post), it is safe to say that these proposed reforms will be closer to the aims of the more moderate OSW protesters than to the Tea Party, or the more fringe elements of OSW. Undoubtedly, this document will take its cue directly from Pope Benedict's encyclical Caritas in veritate. In this too little read and commented on encyclical, very different from his first two, the Holy Father asks us to rethink our reasons for engaging in economic activity in the first place and posits a system in which profit is not the main motive, a system based on an ethics centered on the human person and concerned first with the common good. In this vein, the Holy Father notes that profit should not be an end-in-itself, but a means of achieving the common good.

Pope Benedict observed, "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 That certainly proved true by the economic greed and reluctance that caused the recent recession" (par. 21). I would be hard-pressed to think of a more succinct way of diagnosing the cause of the meltdown of the global economy several years back and the folly of trying to re-build things on this ruined foundation.

Prescinding from my post on Cardinal Reinhard Marx, I have sought to show how unfettered capitalism, that is, in the negative sense as defined by John Paul II, is not a conservative force. I want to wrap up by returning to Centesimus annus and noting that a human being can only be "understood in a more complete way when he is situated within the sphere of culture through his language, history, and the position he takes towards the fundamental events of life, such as birth, love, work and death. At the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God. Different cultures are basically different ways of facing the question of the meaning of personal existence. When this question is eliminated, the culture and moral life of nations are corrupted. For this reason the struggle to defend work was spontaneously linked to the struggle for culture and for national rights" (par. 24). This is precisely why it is never a strictly or simply a matter of economic policy. Any system that destroys culture ultimately destroys humanity. Rampant consumerism, as much as anything, is a cause of great disharmony in the world, as some cultures actively resist being drawn into the orbit of McWorld, not wanting the Disney-fication, or, worse yet, the porn-ification, of everything and everyone. Our failure to recognize this resistance for what it is will only serve to perpetuate and exacerbate these global problems.

These issues are just as important as the other moral issues we are always going on about. It seems to me that polarization in the Church results from self-styled conservatives, who refuse to be provoked by the Church's social teaching, clashing with equally determined liberals, who care very little about things like personal sexual morality in their quest for what they call "social justice," a term that is often remains ambiguous, especially when applied to the issue de jour. Of course, these polarities can be reversed.


Collect for today:

O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that the Blessed John Paul II
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"One more song about movin' along the highway"

Sunday marks three months since the sudden passing of Amy Winehouse. So, in keeping a kind of kaddish for her here at Καθολικός διάκονος, our traditio for this Friday, which I'm posting a few hours early, is Carol King, one of Amy's favorite artists singing her favorite song, So Far Away:

I sure hope the road don't come to own me
There are so many dreams I have yet to find

"He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. Amen."

(Yes, that is the band Franz Ferdinand at about 2:58 waiting their turn and listening intently)

"Where eucharist in the ordinary happens"

We had a wonderful evening today. Holly wanted family pictures. So, we went to Memory Grove and enjoyed the beautiful and sunny fall weather. While we were there ran into several people we know, friends. It made us miss living in the city. Scott (not me) is being baptized on Sunday (I hope to be there) and married next Friday to Claudia, who is from Argentina. Another friend is back from rehab. She was walking her dog, with her parents who are visiting from Massachusetts, and her two children, who are friends with our daughters. We ate out, which was very enjoyable, parking and walking several blocks to and from the restaurant. It's one of those experiences that helps to me realize just how blessed I am.

So, my heart turns to poetry. The poem that came to my mind as I walked with my two lovely daughters and little Adam to our car from the restaurant was John O'Donohue's The Inner History of a Day:

No one knew the name of this day;
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that traveled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.

The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stacie Crimm: to love is to live

Yesterday, on the Feast of St. Luke, I looked at Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan in which the Lord holds up to His fellow Jews a Samaritan (of all people!) as an example of what He means when He says that in order to gain eternal life, in addition to loving God wholly, I must love my neighbor as myself. With the hope of conveying a better understanding of just how radical Jesus’ parable sounded to His listeners I suggested that in our day we might replace the Samaritan with a Muslim, or perhaps an agnostic, or atheist. So, how about an unwed mother?

In Oklahoma, forty-one year-old Stacie Crimm, who was told by doctors she could never conceive, did conceive a child out-of-wedlock, before being diagnosed with neck cancer. Knowing that chemotherapy, which was her only hope of beating the cancer, would kill her unborn child, Stacie refused the treatment in order that her daughter could live.

Stacie lived through 5 months of pregnancy and delivered Dottie Mae prematurely, via C-section. The baby weighed slightly over 2 pounds.

Dottie Mae

I realize that I have to be careful here and not unequivocally insist others "Go and do likewise" because this is an instance that presented a genuine dilemma, that is one of those rare cases that was either/or, making it one in which the principle of double effect, which holds that under certain circumstances it is alright to cause harm as a "double," or "side," effect to achieve a good end, might have been applied. The good effect, however, cannot be achieved "through" the bad effect. So, a direct abortion, for example, cannot be justified on this principle. In Stacie’s case, chemotherapy, which would have had the side effect of killing the unborn child, might have been performed to save Stacie’s life.

Stacie Crimm

According to a Daily Mail article, the day Dottie Mae was born, Stacie's brother, Ray, arranged for Stacie, who was rapidly expiring, to hold her newborn daughter. When the nurses brought the baby in, they "laid her right on her mother's chest. The two stared into each other's eyes for several minutes." Ray recalled that as this happened the room was very quiet. He said to his sister, "You have done a beautiful thing" before describing it as "the perfect moment." I’m inclined to agree with him.

Stacie Crimm’s obituary reads: "Dottie Mae was the light of her life and her greatest accomplishment. She chose to give this baby life instead of taking treatment for herself." It is just here that I will be unequivocal. In the ninth chapter of Luke Jesus insists that in order to save one’s life s/he must lose her/his life for the sake of the Gospel. As Jesus’ disciples, we don’t merely believe in a Gospel of life, we believe the Gospel is life, that to love is to live!

Nothing I write adds anything to the beauty of Stacie Crimm’s selfless love. So, my reasons for writing are that I am deeply moved by her love and I don’t want what she did to be forgotten, but to be remembered. May her memory be eternal! I can easily imagine my heavenly friend, St. Gianna Molla, greeting Stacie with open arms, tears in her eyes, and a loving smile because Stacie, too, "survived the time of great distress" (Rev. 7:14). To choose life is to choose Christ.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A few notes before observing the Feast of St. Luke

I am sorely tempted to "bust off" a long post on Phillip Blond's efforts to revive distributism and his convincing critique of our current political and economic system. However, given the lateness of the day and the fact that it is the Feast of St. Luke, the evangelist, I will refrain for now. Besides, I am currently running the risk of overwhelming myself with books. I need to do some more synthesizing.

On a wholly different note, I want to thank Dr. John Janero, whose doctoral thesis was on Karl Rahner and who, like me and so many others, shares in the charism given to Don Giussani, for graciously taking me up on my invitation to critically respond to my last post, which dealt with nature and grace and some implications for experience as articulated by Rahner and Giussani (if you want to read what he wrote just "add" me at Google+, find the post and read his comments).

One of the unique features of St. Luke's Gospel is that the author tells us up front (i.e., in the first four verses), that he is not an eyewitness of the events about which he writes, but "decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence..." (Luke 1:3). Since in our contemporary Western world there is so much going on regarding social justice, which, despite Glenn Beck's protestations, is not a code word for communism or even government-enforced collectivism, I want to focus on the really challenging aspects of the third Gospel. The way i see it, social justice is the way we recognize not only that we are our brother's keeper, but keep Jesus' commandment to love my neighbor as myself (Luke 10:27). In His teaching in Luke, Jesus says that keeping the law consists first of loving God with my whole self and then loving my neighbor as I love myself. To Jesus' Jewish listeners this would be nothing new as both injunctions are found in the law. The first in Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second in Leviticus 19:18.

So, where's the added value of having the Lawgiver re-iterate the law? This comes in the parable that follows; that of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews had a very hostile relationship. Samaritans inhabited the land that separated Judah, where Jerusalem is located, from Jesus' native Galilee. Samaritans were a mixed population of Jews and those resettled there by Assyrians in the 8th century BC, during the first Jewish exile. Like pagan peoples, Samaritans were considered unclean and inferior by most ancient Jews. The mutual hostility was no doubt increased by the fact that Samaritans continued many Jewish practices and customs. As we see in the Lord's encounter with the Samaritan woman in the fourth Gospel, they considered Mount Gerazim the proper place to worship God, not the temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus' parable is told as in answer to a question he is asked- "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29)

A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, "Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back." Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?
The Lord's interrogator responded, "The one who treated him with mercy." Then "Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise'" (Luke 10:30-37).

This is the challenge, the provocation, with which we are frequently confronted in reality, that is, in the circumstances we live. In a contemporary context, were Jesus teaching a crowd of "practicing Christians" in the United States, He might substitute for the Samaritan a Muslim, or perhaps even a humanitarian agnostic or atheist. Jesus is emphatic about acting in the manner of the Samaritan and is unequivocal that this is the way to life.

Scripture teaches: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20).

Almighty God,
you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
by the grace of the Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Collect from Anglican Morning Prayer)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nature and grace: Rahner and Gius

The past few days I have spent every spare moment intensively reading James Mackey's Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and Its Future among Religions, a one volume systematics that is unique in so many ways. However, it would be difficult understate how very provisional the rest of this post is. For too long Christians have seen nature and grace as two separate realities, with one (grace) being over and above the other (nature). Mackey, along with many others over the past sixty-five years or so, insists that for grace to be anything other than an abstraction, or a theory, it has to be detectable in and through nature, that is, creation. One would think that, at least for Christians, the Incarnation of the Son of God would be proof positive of this.

I think Mackey is utterly correct to note that attempts starting in the middle of the last century to to bring grace "closer to, if not fully into, the natural world and its history, where its presence and power would be more accessible to all," were truncated due to the suspicion heaped on them and increasingly even fear. The first such attempt was by Henri de Lubac's Surnaturel, which was promptly placed on the Holy See's Index of Forbidden Books with de Lubac himself being censured and silenced by the Holy Office, the precursor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. To be fair to the Holy See, de Lubac died a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, having been created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, along with both Yves Congar and Von Balthasar, the latter of whom died before the consistory at which he was to be elevated to the Sacred College convened.

Karl Rahner

What ran de Lubac afoul? Mackey states the matter rather succinctly: "for arguing for continuity between between nature and grace." Mackey, rightly I think, claims that Karl Rahner (de Lubac's fellow Jesuit), took a lesson from de Lubac's experince and posited "that nature was a 'remainder concept.'" What Rahner meant by "remainder concept," according to Mackey, is "that God had from the beginning of creation destined humanity for a supernatural destiny, a return to a union with God called the beatific vision, and for no other goal." Here is where we encounter Rahner's distinctive existential Thomism. The necessity for even grace to be existential, that is, part and parcel of the world human beings inhabit, is a sure sign of Rahner once sitting under the tutelage of Heidegger. Hence, the "supernatural existential," as Mackey puts it, is "the inmost thing in concrete human existence in all of its concrete history." In other words, positing a "nature" over and against "supernature" is what is superfluous, or remaindered.

In this regard, it is important to mention Teilhard de Chardin, who, even more than de Lubac and others, was firmly silenced. I think Lawrence Cunningham, in that other book that has transfixed me this past week, Things Seen and Unseen: A Catholic Theologian's Notebook, gets it quite right when he writes that he is ambivalent about aspects of Teilhard's theology and is even more accurate when he insists that because he was silenced and his works during his own lifetime were only available in a Soviet samizdat sort of way, "his ideas never got out into the theological marketplace where they could be critiqued." Indeed, had his writings been allowed to see the light of day, to be peer-reviewed and consequently refined, they certainly would contribute much more to this still important discussion.

Luigi Giussani

Mackey insists, again correctly, that Rahner's "sleight-of-hand" in this instance was very typical of his method, especially when he knew what he was saying might be taken exception to by Rome, particularly the Holy Office. In this case, the unacceptable idea "was that God's presence, power, light and grace was all of it detectable as an innermost existential in our history as part of the natural world." The fact that most of this seems quote uncontroversial to most of us now is evidence that he was on to something.

All of which made me think that while we might naturally assign an affinity between the method of Luigi Giussani and the theology of Von Balthasar, I find that Giussani's uncompromising teaching that the place to start, as it were, is one's own experience and that loyalty to and honesty about your experience is what reveals you to yourself and is the way to God, is very consonant with Rahner's thought and was equally as radical. This is precisely why it ran Giussani into difficulties with his bishop and resulted in him spending a few years in the United States. While in the U.S., he was able to see Evangelical Protestantism, aspects of which moved him and helped him see more clearly what his charism meant, up-close and personally. His was a method in advance of its time and it still is to some degree. It is very off-putting to insist that religion is not merely a source of comfort and rules about how to behave yourself, but the way to encounter reality!

I think both can rest confidently on the writings of St. Paul, particularly the first chapter of his Letter to the Romans and the first chapter of his Letter to the Colossians.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Bless your soul, you've got your head in the clouds"

Adele singing Rumor Has It, which is apparently about chit-chat, is our traditio on this particular Friday. While it may be about chit-chat, it is brilliantly done, as are all Adele's stylings.

But I'm guessing that's the reason that you strayed/
I heard you've been missing me/
You've been telling people things that you shouldn't be/
Like when we creep out and she ain't around/
Haven't you heard the rumours?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"You had fashioned my heart to your size"

Over on the sidebar of my blog, which is rather busy in what I hope is that uniquely Catholic (kitschy?) way, is a picture of Madeleine Delbrêl with the caption, "We, the ordinary people of the streets." The complete quote is, "We the ordinary people of the streets believe that the street, this world, where God has placed us, is our place of holiness." This sage observation is very consonant with that dense little note of Lawrence Cunningham's concerning Karl Rahner that I was so struck by just a few mornings ago. I was struck again this morning by seeing this whole sentence of my dear Madeleine, who is a charter member of my community of the heart, posted by a friend on Facebook. What struck me, as in palm-slap to the forehead, accompanied by the exclamation Duh?!, is that Delbrêl is a wonderful witness to invoke in these times of public protest and growing dissatisfaction with the status quo by people on both the right and on the left.

In his preface to the wonderful book, We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, which is an anthology of Delbrêl's writings, Prof. David L. Schindler notes that, like Dorothy Day and "[d]espite the inevitable differences of cultural-historical circumstance, these two remarkable women shared a radical life of witnessing to the Gospel at the heart of the world." He also notes that the radical witness they gave arose for both from atheism and that after their respective conversions, they dedicated the rest of their lives to being missionaries "to and among those suffering injustice - or indeed suffering in any way." Schindler is careful to note that both Day and Delbrêl lived lives " the spirit of St. Thérèse of Lisieux" and that Madeleine loved Good Pope John very much.

Madeleine Delbrêl

I think these words of our dear sister will suffice to address the present crisis:
We have come to realize what dry bread justice is when it is not preceded by goodness. When public funds are distributed on the occasion of an accident, when they come to provide assistance with the burdens of having children, when they accompany old age, these subsidies, pensions, grants, and benefits correspond to a kind of justice... What I am trying to say is that goodness achieves something else.

For a person to encounter the goodness of Christ in another person is in particular to encounter that person for what he really is...The goodness of Christ...teaches us that this is "who we are," which has been so manhandled by the world, possesses a value that is absolutely independent of wealth, power, smarts, influence, strength, and success
The following lines, addressed to God, were contained in a note found after her death:
You were alive and I was completely unaware of it. You had fashioned my heart to your size, you had made my life to last as long as you and, because you were absent, the whole world seemed to me tiny and ridiculous, and the destiny of man stupid and cruel. When I realized that you were living, I thanked you for having given me life, I thanked you for the life of the whole world
Indeed, after encountering Christ, her whole life became a Eucharist, a thanksgiving and a sacrifice offered by her to God and neighbor.

In this vein, I add an observation made by Msgr. Lorenzo in his article, Wall Street/Occupying the Kingdom: "The hypothesis we propose is that unease is the inevitable symptom of that 'set of needs and evidences' that forms every individual. If, in fact, we failed to perceive our own unlimited need for justice, truth or goodness, we would not identify any trace of it in the protesters and we would inevitably tend to propose social measures or employment policies in answer to their unease..." So, what do we propose? Back to you Madeleine: "For a person to encounter the goodness of Christ in another person is in particular to encounter that person for what he really is."

For those who need what I am saying to be even more concrete, please read Everything in an Embrace. As Madeleine, along with Nancy and Guido, clearly shows us, our encounter with Christ is provocative, urging us to be protagonists.

With the exception of tomorrow's traditio, I am off blogging until late Saturday, when I will attempt a coherent reflection on one of the Sunday readings.

A slave of Jesus Christ

To those who would argue that the Church changed her teaching with regard to slavery, I find an observation made by Hilare Belloc in his book The Servile State more than an adequate answer:
No dogma of the Church pronounced Slavery to be immoral, or the sale and purchase of men to be a sin, or the imposition of compulsory labor upon a Christian to be a contravention of any human right. The emancipation of Slaves was indeed regarded As a good work by the Faithful: but so was it regarded by the Pagan? It was, on the face of it, a service rendered to one’s fellowmen. The sale of Christians to Pagan masters was abhorrent to the later empire of the Barbarian Invasions, not because slavery in itself was condemned, but because it was a sort of treason to civilization to force men away from Civilization to Barbarism. In general you will discover no pronouncement against slavery as an institution, nor any moral definition attacking it, throughout all those early Christian centuries during which it nonetheless effectively disappears.
While true of Europe itself, it took more time in the New World to abolish slavery, but, there again, it was abolished under the influence of Christianity, even as many tried to defend it on biblical grounds. The so-called "change" occurred when the Church finally and formally condemned slavery. But is that a change? It is sort of like people who are scandalized that the canon of Scripture was not dogmatically defined, as it were, until the Council of Trent. Of course, it had not been called into question before that and represents no change, but a reinforcement of what was already believed and practiced.

This put me mind of one of the best books I read last year, Sarah Ruden's Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time. While her book is tremendously insightful, there are certain of her analyses with with which I do not agree. At the beginning of her chapter on Paul and slavery she makes it clear that while the apostle was not "for slavery" he did not oppose it, but just thought "that [Christian] slaves should just get on with their religious lives."

bas relief of Roman slaves

She rightly focuses her attention on Paul's letter to Philemon, which is an authentically Pauline composition. Additionally, unlike all of Paul's other writings that have been handed down, which were to communities, his letter to Philemon is a personal letter, plea on to Philemon on behalf the Onesimus, a slave who ran away to be with Paul and who the apostle, in verse twelve, calls "my own heart." (I posted on this when it was last read from the Sunday lectionary in September last year: Onesimus, Paul's own heart).

Both Philemon and Onesimus were Christians. Paul's dangerous idea, which he communicates in his written appeal, is that in Christ both master and slave are equals. I am much more inclined to agree to agree with N.T. Wright (someone it would be beneficial for Ruden, who is a classicist, to read), when he asserts, referring to what he calls in his book Paul In Fresh Perspective "Paul's Counter-Imperial Theology,"- that when reading Paul, "At every point... we should expect what we in fact find: that, for Paul, Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not." On this basis, it cannot be a question of Paul merely dismissing Onesimus, urging him, or Philemon for that matter, to "just get on with their religious lives."

In pleading with Philemon to welcome Onesimus back, the apostle reasons- Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord (verses 15-16). Continuing, Paul wrote: "So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me" (verses 17-18).

At least to me, this is an example of how theology triumphs over ideology. It also says something to us about what the nature of freedom, especially coming from one who introduced himself to the Christian community in Rome as "a slave of Christ Jesus" (Rom. 1:1), the Greek word being doulos.Perhaps the most common was the word δούλος, "a slave, a bond-servant." D. Edmond Heibert, in an article written a long time ago, "Behind the Word "Deacon": A New Testament Study," pointed out that the meaning of the word "δούλος" is "the opposite of a man who is 'free.'" A doulos, Heibert continued, is "one who belongs wholly to his master and is obligated to do his master's will." Most importantly for Paul's view of slavery, something very much in line with Wright's bold assertion, is that the ancient church "found [δούλος] a fitting term to express the spiritual reality that a believer belongs wholly to his heavenly Lord and consequently must obey Him in total submission."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thoughts on saints, life, and sanctity

Okay, I am completely taken with Lawrence Cunningham's Things Seen and Unseen: A Catholic Theologian's Notebook. In one entry Dr. Cunningham notes that Karl Rahner once observed "that the saint is the one who shows us that it is possible to be a saint in 'this' way." This thought prompted me to think that this should cause Christians to reflect on the fact that my way to holiness occurs in no other way than through my life, the circumstances I daily face, my own experience, not that of Mother Teresa, or anyone else. It seems that such an observation should be obvious, but very often it is not.

St. Margaret of Cortona

In a later entry, Cunningham notes that he reads the entry for each day from Butler's twelve volume Lives of the Saints. He makes note of an obscure Latin American saint, who is commemorated on 27 July, Mary Magdalene Martinengo, who, as a child, "decided to imitate everything she read in the lives of the saints." He then notes editor's wise commentary: "heroic but hardly a wise program for any age." The editor's went on to note that they left her personal penances out of earlier editions because they "would not necessarily lead to edification."

I remember a few years ago reading with my youngest daughter, whose baptismal patron is St. Rose of Lima, Bert Ghezzi's well-written little book Mystics & Miracles: True Stories of Lives Touched by God. In the introduction to his book, Ghezzi wrote that in the course of spending some time every day over the course of a few years with mystics, once in awhile he encountered one whose "extremism" made him "uncomfortable." He makes note of St. Anthony's desert penances, the fasts of Vincent Ferrer and Francis of Paola. He seemed particularly distressed by what he describes as "the self-mutilations" of Rose of Lima and Margaret of Cortona. He notes that when people praised Rose of Lima for lovely skin, "she damaged it with lye" and, Margaret, because her lingering sense of guilt about past sexual sins, "carved scars into her beautiful face." I agree with Ghezzi that "such actions have little to do with holiness," especially in reference to God, who is love and takes delight in me, even when I'm having a bad day.

On the other hand, I suppose that's why it took the reformed decadent, J.K. Huysmans, to write about Saint Lydwine of Schiedam and to write La-Bas. Can we say that the strangeness of sanctity, which brings it into proximity with all that is unholy, must, at least in some manifestations, equal or exceed all that is evil? Of course, Huysmans, even through his own painful death from mouth cancer, was a big believer in the efficacy of offering one's suffering for others through Christ, which is precisely why he wrote about St. Lydwine, whose story would make Ghezzi and many others, understandably, very uncomfortable.

I like that in matters of faith there is always an "On the other hand,..." However, sometimes I like being the contrarian too much.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Communion under both kinds?

The rationale most often given for the recent decisions of two bishops to restrict Communion under both kinds for the lay faithful is that from 1975 until it expired and was not renewed by the Holy See in 2005, Communion under both kinds was only regularly offered to the laity by way of an indult, which is perhaps best described as something like official permission granted by the Holy See to do something against established ecclesial law. However, if my reading of the most recent edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (popularly known as the "GIRM"- pronounced "germ"), particularly number 283, which deals with Communion under both kinds, is correct, the diocesan bishop is empowered to authorize reception under both kinds for everyone. In my estimation it seems that the reason the indult was not renewed is that current edition of the GIRM with particular adaptations for the United States, with a copyright of 2010, allows bishops and even pastors to deal with the matter locally. However, individual pastors must abide by the teaching of their bishops. Here is what the GIRM says regarding this matter:
The Diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds for his own diocese, which are also to be observed in churches of religious and at celebrations with small groups. The Diocesan Bishop is also given the faculty to permit Communion under both kinds whenever it may seem appropriate to the Priest to whom a community has been entrusted as its own shepherd, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and that there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament or of the rite’s becoming difficult because of the large number of participants or for some other cause (emboldening and underlining added by me)
The GIRM goes on to the reference the Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, which, in turn, cites the GIRM to the effect "that the diocesan Bishop may lay down norms for the distribution of Communion under both kinds for his own diocese, which must be observed" (par. 24).

While I fully respect and make no judgment concerning the recent highly publicized decisions by the bishops of Phoenix, Arizona and Madison, Wisconsin to restrict communion under both kinds for the lay faithful of their dioceses, it seems false to argue that this is something that must be done, or that Church teaching unequivocally demands such a restriction when it clearly does not. Individual bishops are certainly free to establish such norms within their own jurisdictions. I think for the sake of unity we have be careful about erroneously claiming to be doing things "right" with the unavoidable implication that those dioceses who continue to regularly offer Communion under both kinds are doing it "wrong" and so are not in conformity with Church teaching.

Both the GIRM and the USCCB’s Norms establish that the faithful should be well-catechized about the Eucharist. In number 25 of the Norms for Distribution, it is established that prior to Communion being offered to everyone under both kinds “and also whenever the opportunity for instruction is present, the faithful should be properly catechized on the following matters in the light of the teaching and directives of the General Instruction:

a. the ecclesial nature of the Eucharist as the common possession of the whole Church;

b. the Eucharist as the memorial of Christ's sacrifice, his death and resurrection, and as the sacred banquet;

c. the real presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements, whole and entire--in each element of consecrated bread and wine (the doctrine of concomitance);

d. the kinds of reverence due at all times to the sacrament, whether within the eucharistic Liturgy or outside the celebration; and

e. the role that ordinary and, if necessary, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are assigned in the eucharistic assembly."

It seems to me that a. is sufficient justification for offering Communion under both kinds to all the baptized.

While we're on the subject of the far-reaching and much needed reforms that happened as a result of the Second Vatican Council, today marks the forty-ninth anniversary of the opening of that great event by Bl. John XXIII. It is also the liturgical memorial of Blessed Pope John. Bill Ditewig has a great post on this event, which, at least in my opinion, is too little remarked upon: What a Day! Pope John XXIII and Vatican II!. Dr. Ditewig also posted something wonderful about John XXIII, at whose tomb he remembered the diaconal community of my diocese as we were gathered together for a retreat, from his recent visit to Rome: Reflections on Buon Papa Giovanni.

I also encourage one an all read, or re-read, the address given by Good Pope John XXIII to open this grand council

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lawrence Cunningham: passion and compassion

A couple of Sundays ago, after preaching the early morning Mass on Sunday, a dear friend of mine approached me and said, "I've been reading a book that reminds me of you. It's Lawrence Cunningham's new book. Don't buy a copy I have one for you." Then, at our deacons retreat last weekend, our retreat master, during one of our conferences, said essentially the same thing, except that he'd not bought copy for me. So, it was very exciting to arrive at the Cathedral yesterday morning, open my mail drawer and find a large manila envelope containing Cunningham's Things Seen and Unseen: A Catholic Theologian's Notebook.

I had ample time last night, even with watching Megamind for the first time (more on that maybe later), to read from it. For those who are unfamiliar with Cunningham, he holds the John O'Brien chair in theology at Notre Dame. He also writes the venerable column "Religion Booknotes" for Commonweal magazine, which, at least for me, along with John Garvey's columns, make subscribing worthwhile. The book is even better than I anticipated. Cunningham has taken extracts from notebooks, in the French cahiers tradition, thus making them different from diaries or journals, and put them together in a book.

Dr. Larry Cunningham

I was particularly struck by a passage on my dear Wittgenstein, who long-time readers know I highly venerate. Studying the writings of Wittgenstein is very beneficial to anyone who undertakes it. Good ports of entry into his thought are Ray Monk's biography, The Duty of Genius, which Cunningham rightly praises. Our first Christmas married, which was when I first began graduate studies in philosophy, The Duty of Genius was the only thing I wanted for Christmas, which was good because it was about all we could afford. The other book that serves well as an introduction to W is Monk's book, written with Simon Critchely, How to Read Wittgenstein. I have posted several times on my dear W, but not for more than a year and-a-half; my last two posts coming in January of 2010, the first of which looks at How to Read Wittgenstein: Wittgenstein revisited and Wittgenstein on ethics. Here is Cunningham's extract (W makes you see things this way):
Among the many promises I have made to myself that I have not kept is to study the writings of Wittgenstein more carefully with respect to his spiritual (can we call it that?) search. As a person, he reminds me of Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Simone Weil-utterly serious profound searchers; seekers of wisdom but, at the same time, tortured, unhappy, driven souls. Here, for instance is a passage from LW's notebooks from 1914 to 1916: "What do we know about God and purpose in life? I know that this world exists. That I am planted in it like my eye in its visual field. That something about it is problematic, which we call its meaning. That this meaning does not lie in it but outside it. That life is the world. That my will penetrates the world. That my will is good or evil. Therefore that good and evil are somehow connected with the meaning of the world. The meaning of life, i.e., the meaning of the world, we can call God and connect with this the comparison of God to a father. To pray is to think about the meaning of life."

Ludwig Wittgenstein

It's funny that he mentions the seriousness and unhappiness of Weil, Kierkegaard, Pascal, and W because the same friend who bought Cunningham's book for me once asked me if there were any happy theologians, which is a fair enough question. I mentioned Edward Schillebeeckx, who had not yet passed away, even recommending his lovely little book I Am a Happy Theologian and a mutual acquaintance, Dr. Owen Cummings, whose book Thinking about Prayer, I put up there with Things Seen and Unseen. Despite having read him a lot, I didn't mention Lawrence Cunningham.

In addition to Cunningham's honesty, what I find it moving in these reflections is the compassion he has for those unhappy seekers. In another reflection, this one about the enigmatic figure of Simone Weil, about whom he records that someone once said should be admired but not emulated, which he remembers is something St. Bonaventure more or less observed about St. Francis, writes, "Every once in a while I teach Simone Weil, but most commonly Weil terrifies the students. I have an intense admiration for her, despite her rather unsmiling seriousness."

Simone Weil

The final note I want to share from Cunningham's cahiers is about St. Ida, who lived in Ireland in the 500s: She held "that the three things God loves most are faith in God with a pure heart; a simple life with a grateful spirit; and generosity inspired by charity." Conversely, she taught the "three things God most despises are a mouth that spews hatred for people; a heart harboring resentment; and" perhaps most appropriate for right now, "confidence in wealth." Oh! Also his short note about Borges who apparently once wondered what The Imitation of Christ rewritten by James Joyce would sound like.

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 ...