By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Survival of the Fittest"?

Yes, the phrase is now a cliche and hence ubiquitous. You will hear that Darwin did not invent it but rather that Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher of the 19th century, coined it (see this link to learn more than you likely ever wanted to know about this phrase).

Yet, the idea behind the cliche is part of the mental furniture of many. But I have a few (really two) questions:

1. Question the very notion of "survival." Is that all that you are seeking?

2. Question the notion of the "fittest." Is it really the one with the most toys or the most power or the most sexual partners?

My counterproposal is this: the "flourishing of the humblest," in the sense that mere survival is too meager a goal for human beings who are endowed with so many wonderful gifts and that the key to such flourishing is exactly the very opposite of what we assume from our social, and even family, conditioning. We assume that the grasping individual who leaves no stone unturned in maximizing his or her possessions and pleasure is the model for our success, the model we must live up to in our lives. Many follow this model and pay secret allegiance to it, even though they would not want to admit to this deep allegiance in public. For one thing, admitting it in public may create difficulties for many individuals who pretend to be quite pious and religious or who pose as upright in secular settings.

The more I reflect on what I see and what I experience the more I conclude that the key to human flourishing is, ironically, humility. Pride is a prison. Humility is the freedom of the open air. Nothing fazes the truly humble. Many of you reading this post know that already and can confirm it. Spread the word. It makes for a better world.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bonhoeffer on the Bible

I have to share an extended excerpt from the recently published biography of the German martyr.  The biographer quotes directly from the writings of Bonhoeffer:

First of all I will confess quite simply--I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. . . . . Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us alon[e] with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible . . . .

If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament . . .

And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way--and this has not been for so very long--it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.

Source: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as quoted in the biography by Eric Metaxas.

Now these are not the "ravings" of another fanatic. Bonhoeffer was extremely cultured and educated, even "aristocratic." He reached the top of the academic world in Germany in the first half of the 20th century--which is no mean feat. He was not a fundamentalist by any means. He bears listening to carefully. He rubbed shoulders with and was friends with some of the icons of liberal theology in Germany. Yet, he was very different.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Christian Martyr for Our Times

Read the elegant and instructive book review at this link of a new biography of this Lutheran martyr. He combined orthodox belief with action: orthopraxis. It's a scary thing to do, but we are indeed challenged to do it. Do we dare to respond to the challenge?

Another Irish Bishop Steps Down: Evidence of Change

The Pope accepted the resignation of another Irish bishop implicated in the catastrophe:

"[The Pope] Accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin, Ireland, presented by Bishop James Moriarty, in accordance with canon 401 para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law." 

Source: Vatican Info. Service, April 22, 2010.

The expectation is that the Pope will be accepting more such resignations in the not too distant future.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Law Professor Points Out Very Misleading, Unprofessional Media Report on Pope

The professor's analysis puts the reporters in a very, very bad light. Any fair-minded person, regardless of theological belief or lack thereof, should be very disturbed by this type of unprofessional media coverage.  See link (which was referred to me by our Rhode Island friend).

Let us hope that this exposure will have a chastening effect on journalists covering these matter. These are matters that certainly should be covered and not ignored by the media; but accuracy and careful research are always required and essential, especially when dealing with such explosive implications and allegations.

To its credit, the media has helped the Church face up to these unignorable problems. But, of course, media distortions contribute nothing positive to anything, but actually set back the case for serious reform by distracting us from what needs to be done and giving some an excuse to ignore the media. We do not need to be diverted into another "culture wars" polemic. There is too much real work to do. More fundamentally, it is a very grave thing to destroy the character and reputation of a decent person, even if he is the leader of an institution that is highly unpopular and unfairly demonized in some circles.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Fountain of Youth (Or What Ponce de Leon Had Under His Nose Before Going to Florida)

File:Kard Špidlík Tomáš CoA.jpg

[Emphasis and bracketed comments added by blogger]

VATICAN CITY, 20 APR 2010 (VIS) - This morning Benedict XVI delivered the eulogy at the end of the funeral of Cardinal Tomas Spidlik S.J., who died on 16 April at the age of 90 [for biographical background, see this link ; also see the link to the Pontifical Oriental Institute with which the late cardinal was associated]. The funeral Mass was celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals.

  "The will of Jesus coincides with the will of God the Father and, along with the action of the Holy Spirit, represents a kind of secure, strong and sweet 'embrace' of man, leading him to eternal life", said the Pope.

  "I believe that the great men of faith live immersed in this grace, that they have the gift of perceiving this truth particularly clearly, and that they can thus undergo harsh trials, just as Fr. Tomas Spidlik did, without losing their trust; rather, they retain a sense of humour, which is certainly a sign of intelligence but also of inner freedom".

  Benedict XVI went on: "In this context, there was an evident resemblance between the late cardinal and the Venerable John Paul II: both were wont to make jokes though having suffered difficult, and in some ways similar, personal circumstances in their youth. Providence led them to meet and work together for the good of the Church, with the particular aim that she might learn to breathe fully 'with both her lungs', as the Slavic Pope liked to say.

  "This free and ready spirit had its objective foundation in the Resurrection of Christ", the Holy Father added. "The hope and joy of the risen Jesus are also the hope and joy of His friends, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit. Fr. Spidlik demonstrated this regularly in the way he lived, and his witness became ever more eloquent with the passing of the years because, despite his advanced age and inevitable health problems, his spirit remained fresh and youthful. What is this, if not friendship with the risen Lord?"

  In choosing "ex toto corde" (with all my heart) as his motto, the cardinal placed "his life within the commandment to love, inscribing his entire existence in the primacy of love and of charity". The words "phos" and "zoe" (light and life) on the cardinal's coat-of-arms "are names of God", the Pope explained. "Thus the man who fully 'ex toto corde' accepts the love of God, accepts light and life, and becomes in his turn light and life in humankind and in the universe".

  Benedict XVI concluded his eulogy by recalling Cardinal Spidlik's membership of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). "In other words", he said, "he was a spiritual son of St. Ignatius who placed the contemplation of God in the mystery of Christ at the centre of faith and spirituality. In this symbol of the heart, East and West come together, not in a devotional but in a profoundly Christological sense".

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good, Reliable Closure on Various Stupidities Du Jour

Here is the overdue closure provided, to his credit, by journalist John Allen, who is not a "die-hard papist" by any one's definition of the term: click this link.

He is a correspondent for the left-wing National Catholic Reporter. 

By the way (I am no longer discussing the "stupidities du jour"), the Sunday N.Y. Times had a very interesting op-ed piece by (presumably non-Catholic) columnist Nicholas Kristof which said some true things and also said several misleading things:

1. I agree with Kristof in saluting the Catholics, clerical, religious, and lay, who do awesome work for the poor throughout the world. I admire his pointing them out for praise.

2. I  heartily agree with Kristof that nuns who serve the poor are "cool."

3. But there is no Manichean dualism within the Catholic Church--there is no "Vatican" Church versus a "Grassroots" Church. The papacy is, under Catholic theology, a gift of Jesus to provide a secure, doctrinal link back to the apostolic era and to his public ministry. Hence, from a Catholic point of view, it is absurd to try to concoct any sort of conflict between the papacy and Catholics in the pews or in the trenches serving the poor. It is all a seamless garment. Reform Yes, Rupture No.

4.  The fact that some non-canonical, gnostic documents praise Mary Magdalene (very, very old news) is not evidence of some kind of early, vibrant feminist Christianity that was somehow ruthlessly suppressed by an alleged orthodox patriarchal conspiracy. (In fact, my impression is that gnosticism was not necessarily "woman-friendly" or "body-friendly" or "Jewish-friendly" at all.) Kristof is making too much of too little in the way of the documentary evidence. I am all in favor of praising St. Mary Magdalene, but it is misleading to try to make her the basis for modern social or political agendas.

What we see here is what we see often in theological controversies: we tend to try to recreate the past in our own image. Kristof projects backward the ideological agendas of the present, agendas which are not rooted in the evidence we have of the apostolic and the immediate post-apostolic eras. For example, my own research on the issue of "deaconesses" indicates that they did not exercise a liturgical, sacramental role at the altar on a par with deacons (but if you know something I don't, please put it in the comment box).

All in all, we as Catholics should welcome our notoriety as an opportunity to communicate our side of things, even if that notoriety includes the necessity of having to try to remedy misleading statements by putting matters in their proper context. Remember that every misleading statement is an opportunity to set the record straight--and to do so respectfully and kindly in our common pursuit of the truth. Let us not retreat into a bunker mentality. Rather let us engage joyfully, with a sporting spirit.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


April 18, 2010

Pope Meets With Sex-Abuse Victims in Malta

VALLETTA, Malta — In his first such encounter since a sex abuse scandal broke in the Catholic Church last month, Pope Benedict XVI met on Sunday with a small group of victims of sexual abuse by priests and expressed his “shame and sorrow” at their plight.
The pope “was deeply moved by their stories and expressed his shame and sorrow over what victims and their families have suffered,” theVatican said in a statement after Benedict met with eight Maltese men who say they were molested by priests as children in a Maltaorphanage.
“He prayed with them and assured them that the church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future,” the statement continued.
Among the men to meet with Benedict on Sunday was Lawrence Grech, 37, one of 10 men who in 2003 filed a criminal suit against priests they say molested them when they were growing up in an orphanage in Malta.
“Today I feel much better because I just met the pope,” Mr. Grech said after the meeting. “It’s fantastic. I can’t explain.”
Mr. Grech and others have complained that the Malta diocese has been investigating the case for seven years and has not yet determined how to proceed against the priests.
Benedict met the victims for 20 minutes in the chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature here in this harborside city, far from the eyes of the media. Two local bishops and several members of the papal entourage were also present. The climate that was “very intense but very serene,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a news conference afterwards.
It was Benedict’s third such meeting. He also met with abuse victims in visits to the United States and Australia in 2008.
In the news conference, Father Lombardi did not elaborate on the measures mentioned in the statement and said the meeting was a “symbolic” event more than a “legal” one. Father Lombardi said he did not think the visit would set a precedent for Benedict to meet with victims in every country he travels.
The Vatican statement said that “in the spirit” of Benedict’s March 20 letter to Irish Catholics, who are reeling from reports documenting decades of widespread abuse and a government cover-up, the pope “prayed that all the victims of abuse would experience healing and reconciliation, enabling them to move forward with renewed hopes.”
Benedict traveled on Saturday evening to this Catholic island midway between Sicily and North Africa to mark the 1,950th anniversary of the shipwreck of Saint Paul on Malta and to underscore the Christian roots of Europe and the challenge of illegal immigration.
In spite of the cloud of volcanic ash spreading south from Iceland, the pope was able to fly out of Rome on Saturday evening and was expected to return again on Sunday evening.
Later on Sunday he was expected to meet with a group of young people on a boat in the harbor. A loudspeaker announcement at the news center here reminded journalists to sign an insurance waiver before embarking on the boat.
Throughout the visit, Benedict recalled the plight of Saint Paul, who is said to have taken shelter on Malta after his ship encountered storms en route to Rome.
Speaking before the pope at an open-air Mass on Sunday morning, the archbishop of Malta, Paul Cremona, on Sunday, said that the church [has] to be “humble enough to recognize the failures and sins of its members.”
N.Y. Times Source Link. [Thanks to our fellow reader from Rhode Island. Emphasis  and missing word added by blogger.]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yes, Very Grateful to be Catholic

Being grateful is very different from any sort of triumphalistic and worldly pride or spiritual self-righteousness. But, yes, very, very grateful to be Catholic. Why? In the Catholic Church under the universal shepherd who is Bishop of Rome lies the fullness of truth flowing to us from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and subsequent Tradition. In that fullness, we find truth, the truth which is the only thing in this world that is genuinely liberating.

There are many forms of escapism. You know them very well as my fellow sinners. You do not need me to catalogue them for the sinners' gallery, of which all of us are very experienced members. But there is only one form of liberation: the Truth who is the Person, Jesus of Nazareth, who has graced us, the most unworthy, with the fullness of his revelation in the Catholic Church. So be grateful, very grateful. As to the terrible scandals, remember that the one true Church of Jesus Christ under the Bishop of Rome (in the sense of the one visible Church on earth bearing the fullness of divine revelation--others certainly, undeniably, and thankfully have extremely significant and profoundly extensive chunks of that same divine revelation) is well worth deep and very painful, and even ruthless, purification.

We are not better or more deserving than anyone else, but we should be the most grateful of the undeserving. Remember all of this in the coming months and years.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Grammar of Forgiveness

Recently, I heard a paper presented by Prof. Sarah Beckwith of Duke University (see her professional information in the appendix below); she will publish sometime next year a book entitled Shakespeare and the Grammar of Forgiveness (forthcoming from Cornell Univ. Press). I look forward to the book's publication. In her talk, these are some of the points that struck me (note: my articulation of these points does not necessarily reflect the views of the speaker in question). She spoke about how in the transition from the Catholic Sacrament of Penance to the Reformation something was lost, namely, the objectivity of a known means of seeking and receiving forgiveness (although she noted that the Church of England did maintain the external forum of ecclesiastical courts). In place of that objective venue, the element of contingency now entered more than ever into the inevitable challenge and problem posed by issues of forgiveness among human beings and between human beings and God.

I was struck at how she described the impact that the rejection of the Sacrament of Penance had on Shakespeare and his contemporaries. I was also struck by how many of us Catholics may very well fail to fully appreciate the great treasure that we have in the humble, often maligned, but powerful Sacrament of Penance. One point, also raised in her talk, a point which I think Catholics need to rediscover is the aspect of  "satisfaction" that is integral to the Sacrament of Penance. We are so used to simply doing a penance of a few prayers after confession that we forget that authentic contrition manifests itself-- and freely desires to manifest itself-- in seeking to mitigate the harm caused by our sins. For example, if we steal or waste money, the call is for restitution, returning the stolen or wasted funds to the rightful owner in some way. If we damage someone's reputation with untruths, we can, instead, notify people of our error and of where the truth actually lies. If we have carried on an unchaste relationship, we may need to apologize to the person involved (when prudent--that is, when it will not, practically speaking, exacerbate the harm already caused to others); or we may have to make special efforts in the future to warn others not to follow this harmful example.

People who are truly contrite or sorry for their sins wish to mitigate or reduce their harmful effects on others; they wish to perform some kind of restitution to the community for our bad acts. Even if the priest-confessor does not explicitly direct you toward this path of restitution, mitigation, and satisfaction for our harmful acts, we can, on our own, think creatively about how to accomplish this aspect of our penance. We have an objective venue for confession and forgiveness, a venue which should lead us to find practical ways to mitigate the harm we have caused to ourselves, to particular individuals, and to the wider community. We should seek to make satisfaction for such harmful acts. To borrow the famous phrase of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "cheap grace" is not enough in a real world where real acts cause very real harm.


Sarah Beckwith, Marcello Lotti Professor of English and Professor of Religion and Professor and Chair of Theater Studies, Duke University, is the author of Christ's Body(1993), Signifying God (2001) and Shakespeare and the Grammar of Forgiveness (in press). She was for several years editor of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies and has recently co-edited Premodern Shakespeares for JMEMS. She is also one of three editors overseeing a new series with the University of Notre Dame press called Re-Formations. She works on medieval and renaissance drama, medieval religious writing and culture, Shakespeare, and ordinary language philosophy (the work of Austin, Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell). She is currently working on two essays, "Shakespeare's Private Linguists," and an essay on morality plays called "Language goes on Holiday," as well as a book project on Shakespeare and "changes of the heart."

Source link.

Update (4/15/10): Pope speaks of the importance of penance in the current climate (see news story).

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Blog I Most Recommend

It's the new Vatican Information Service blog at this link.

Sane Analysis

Our Rhode Island friend sends us this link to an interview with a senior Vatican cleric involved in the prosecution of sex abuse cases. It is well worth reading. The monsignor interviewed points out again a deep problem with a culture of silence that views any criticism of clergy as a betrayal of the Church. I still see evidence of that inbred culture of silence among some Catholics who, by now, should know better.

There is still hesitation to call a spade a spade in cases where it is obvious that a cleric has severe problems that have been objectively corroborated in different situations. Let's set the record straight: it is not a sin to point out the defects of clergy. They are in effect public figures in the various parishes they serve. If their behavior is consistently bad in one situation after another in their relations with parishioners and with fellow clergy, then it is absolutely necessary for people to stop denying it and to seek a constructive remedy from the proper supervising authorities (as opposed to simply engaging in unproductive, superficial gossip that in effect trivializes and tolerates the bad behavior).

We should have certainly learned by now that the shuffling of problematic priests from parish to parish is surely not the solution when the pattern of bad behavior has been objectively established. In some consistently egregious cases, it is actually necessary and obligatory to let others know that there is a problem because, otherwise, harm is done to individuals who are unaware of a pattern of bad behavior and are susceptible to deception (and I am speaking of all kinds of bad behavior, not simply sexually related). For example, I am thinking of cases where clerics with serious personality disorders are giving spiritual guidance or direction to individuals (especially young people who lack the maturity to discern if the older adult is emotionally healthy or not) or spouting misinformation, exaggeration, and distortion from the pulpit or on the internet. To properly challenge problematic clergy is to protect our fellow Catholics, to actually be of charitable service to the problematic priest himself by no longer enabling his self-destructive behavior, and thus to strengthen the Church. How should it be done? It requires maturity, firmness, going through the proper channels, and giving necessary warnings to others. It requires courage.

Finally, there needs to be a new emphasis on developing and fostering the charism of discernment among all Catholics. We need to become better judges of character in all areas of life. We need wisdom from the Holy Spirit to stop being naive, irresponsible, and foolish in tolerating and excusing the intolerable in a warped and distorted caricature of Christian charity that feeds our egos. One of the serious problems that all of these crises point to is the virtual absence of the charism of discernment among too many Catholics, both lay and ordained--even among those who claim to be "charismatic," even among those running our seminaries and officially recommending the ordination of individuals to our bishops.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Life Is a Ricochet"

That's a phrase I heard yesterday from retired University of Michigan professor Ralph Williams at a symposium on the occasion of his retirement (see link for some good downloadable lectures). What does he mean? I understood his remark as saying that life is a series of chance but significantly impacting interactions with other human beings, interactions that enrich and bestow meaning and pleasure on our lives. Does he believe in providence in these matters? I do not know.

But I do believe in providence in these matters. Tolkien's works contain teasingly wise insights on fate, luck, chance, opportunity, destiny, and providence. One of his commentators  wrote how the hobbits depicted by Tolkien believed that you had to grasp your chances and opportunities with "both hands" (see p. 146 of the Amazon book link at left; you can search for the passage I have in mind without buying the book). Providence provides occasions and opportunities--but our active and proactive response is an essential part of the equation. This complementary view (providence plus personal initiative) fits our Christian view of divine providence and of our free will and responsibility.  So, from a Christian perspective, if life is a series of  "ricochets," those encounters are not a matter of pure chance--unless we allow them to become merely matters of pure chance. A divine script is imbedded in the outwardly "chancy" looking ricochets. What do we then do with these encounters with others? Do we ignore them, do we fail to see opportunity, or do we dare to produce good from them?

If divine providence provides us (as I personally believe) with such opportunities on a daily basis, then we should practice awareness, vigilance, and boldness to grasp such opportunities with "both hands" when they come. Let's practice that daily "opportunism" for good before it is too late to do anything about such passing "ricochets."

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Guest Posting from the Vatican

[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 9 APR 2010 (VIS) - Given below is a text entitled "Following Holy Week, Holding Our Course", written by Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. and published today on the website of Vatican Radio.

  "The debate concerning sexual abuse, and not only that committed by the clergy, continues with news items and comments of various kinds. How can we sail through these stormy waters while maintaining a secure course and responding to the evangelical motto 'Duc in altum - Put out into the deep'?

  In the first place, by continuing to seek truth, and peace for the victims. One of the most striking things is that today so many inner wounds are coming to light, wounds that also date to many years (sometimes decades) ago, but evidently still open, Many victims do not seek financial compensation but inner assistance, a judgement on their painful individual experiences. There is something that we have yet to fully understand; perhaps we need a more profound experience of events that have had such a negative impact on the lives of individuals, of the Church and of society. One example of this, at the collective level, is the hatred and violence of conflicts between peoples which are, as we see, so difficult to overcome in true reconciliation. Abuse opens wounds at a deep inner level. For this reason, certain episcopates were right when they courageously resumed developing ways and places in which victims could express themselves freely, listening to them without taking it for granted that the problem had already been faced and overcome by the workshops established sometime ago. For this reason also, other episcopates and individual bishops were right to intervene paternally, showing spiritual, liturgical and human concern for victims. It seems certain that the number of new accusations of abuse is falling, as is happening in the United States, but for many people the road to profound healing is only now beginning, and for others it has yet to start. In the context of this concern for victims, the Pope has written of his readiness to hold new meetings with them [spelling corrected by blogger], thus sharing in the journey of the entire ecclesial community. But this journey, in order to achieve profound effects, must take place in respect for people and the search for peace.

  Alongside concern for victims we must continue to implement, decisively and truthfully, the correct procedures for the canonical judgement of the guilty, and for collaborating with the civil authorities in matters concerning their judicial and penal competencies, taking the specific norms and situations of the various countries into account. Only in this way can we hope effectively to rebuild a climate of justice and complete trust in the ecclesiastical institution. It has happened that a number of leaders of communities and institutions, through inexperience or unpreparedness, have not had a ready understanding of the protocols and criteria for intervention which could have helped them intervene decisively even when this was very difficult or painful for them, also because they were often surprised by the accusations. But, while civil law intervenes through general norms, canon law must take account of the specific moral gravity of an abuse of the trust placed in persons who hold positions of responsibility within the ecclesial community, and of the flagrant contradiction with the conduct they should show. In this sense, transparency and rigour are urgent requirements if the Church is to bear witness to wise and just government.

  The formation and selection of candidates for the priesthood, and more generally of the staff of educational and pastoral institutions, is the basis for an effective prevention of the risk of future abuses. Achieving a healthy maturity of the personality, also from a sexual point of view, has always been a difficult challenge, but today it is particularly so, although the best psychological and medical knowledge is of great help in spiritual and moral formation. It has been observed that the greatest frequency of abuses coincided with the most intense period of the 'sexual revolution' of past decades. Formation must take account of this context and of the more general context of secularisation. In the final analysis, this means rediscovering and reaffirming the sense and importance of sexuality, chastity and emotional relationships in today's world, and doing so in concrete, not just verbal or abstract, terms. What a source of disorder and suffering their violation or undervaluation can be! As the Pope observed in his Letter to Irish Catholics, a Christian priestly life today can respond to the requirements of its vocation only by truly nourishing itself at the wellspring of faith and friendship with Christ.

  People who love truth and the objective evaluation of problems will know where to seek and find information for a more overall comprehension of the problem of paedophilia and the sexual abuse of minors in our time, in different countries, understanding its range and pervasiveness. Thus they will be able to achieve a better understanding of the degree to which the Catholic Church shares problems that are not only her own, to what extent they have particular gravity for her and require specific interventions,and, finally, the extent to which the experience the Church is going through in this field may also be useful for other institutions or for society as a whole. In this context, we truly feel that the communications media have not yet worked sufficiently, especially in countries in which the Church has a stronger presence and in which she is more easily subject to criticism. Yet, documents such as the national US report on the mistreatment of children deserve to be better known in order to understand what fields require urgent social intervention, and the proportions of the problem. In the U.S.A. in 2008 alone, 62,000 people were identified as having committed acts of abuse against minors, while the proportion of Catholic priests was so small as not to be taken into consideration as a group.

  The protection of minors and young people is, then, an immense and unlimited field, which goes well beyond the specific problem concerning certain members of the clergy. People who sensitively, generously and attentively dedicate their efforts to this problem deserve gratitude, respect and encouragement from everyone, especially from the ecclesial and civil authorities. Theirs is an essential contribution for the serenity and credibility of the education and formation of young people, both inside and outside the Church. The Pope rightly expressed words of great appreciation for them in his Letter to Irish Catholics, though naturally with a view to a vaster horizon.

  Finally, Pope Benedict XVI, a coherent guide along the path of rigour and truth, merits all respect and support, testimony of which is reaching him from all parts of the Church. He is a pastor well capable of facing - with great rectitude and confidence - this difficult time in which there is no lack of criticism and unfounded insinuations. It must be said that he is a Pope who has spoken a lot about the Truth of God and about respect for truth; and he has become a credible witness of this. We accompany him, learning from him the constancy necessary to grow in truth and transparency, continuing to open our horizons to the serious problems of the world and responding patiently to the slow and gradual release of partial or presumed 'revelations' which seek to undermined his credibility, and that of other institutions or individuals of the Church.

  This patient and solid love of truth is necessary, in the Church, in the society in which we live, in communicating and in writing, if we wish to serve rather than confuse our fellow men and women".

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Cure for Death

It's good to go to the gym and workout, but you are still going to age and die. Period.  So take a look at the Christian proposal, a proposal made through the signal event of the Resurrection of One Man in history ahead of any general resurrection of the dead, a proposal made in this distinctive and unique by no other religion known to humanity--and certainly by no human philosophy or metaphysic.

[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 3 APR 2010 (VIS) - At 9 p.m. today in St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope presided at the solemn Easter vigil, which began in the atrium of the basilica where he blessed the new fire and lighted the Easter candle. This was followed by the procession towards the altar with the singing of the "Exultet". During the course of the Baptismal liturgy, the Holy Father administered the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation to six catechumens from various countries.

  After the Gospel reading, the Pope pronounced his homily which he began with a reference to the apocryphal Jewish book "The Life of Adam and Eve", an account of Seth's journey to Paradise in search of the oil of mercy to heal his father Adam. This "legend lays bare the whole of humanity's anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us", said the Holy Father, referring also to "man's resistance to death. ... Somewhere - people have constantly thought - there must be some cure for death".

  "Today too, the search for a source of healing continues. Modern medical science strives, if not exactly to exclude death, at least to eliminate as many as possible of its causes, to postpone it further and further, to prolong life more and more". Yet, the Pope asked, would it be good to postpone death indefinitely? If we did, "humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die, and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation.

  "The true cure for death", he added, "must be different. It cannot lead simply to an indefinite prolongation of this current life. It would have to transform our lives from within. It would need to create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity: it would need to transform us in such a way as not to come to an end with death, but only then to begin in fullness.

  "What is new and exciting in the Christian message, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was and is what we have been told: that this cure for death, this true medicine of immortality, does exist. It has been found. It is within our reach. In Baptism, this medicine is given to us. A new life begins in us, a life that matures in faith and is not extinguished by the death of the old life, but is only then fully revealed".

  "What happens in Baptism is the beginning of a process that embraces the whole of our life - it makes us fit for eternity, in such a way that, robed in the garment of light of Jesus Christ, we can appear before the face of God and live with Him for ever. In the rite of Baptism there are two elements in which this event is expressed and made visible in a way that demands commitment for the rest of our lives. First is the rite of renunciation and the promises. ... We remove the 'old garments', which we cannot wear in God's presence. ... This renunciation is actually a promise in which we hold out our hand to Christ, that He may guide us and re-clothe us".

  The Pope explained how St. Paul calls these old garments "works of the flesh" and designates them thus: "'fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like'. These are the garments that we remove: the garments of death".

  In the early Church, those being baptised turned towards the east, the symbol of light, because "it is God Who clothes us in the garment of light, the garment of life. Paul calls these new garments 'fruits of the spirit', and he describes them as follows: 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control'", said the Holy Father

  Divested of his garments, the candidate for Baptism then "descended into the baptismal font and was immersed three times - a symbol of death that expresses all the radicality of this removal and change of garments. His former death-bound life the candidate consigns to death, with Christ, and lets himself be drawn up by and with Christ into the new life that transforms him for eternity".

  "In the course of the centuries", Benedict XVI concluded, "the symbols were simplified, but the essential content of Baptism has remained the same. It is no mere cleansing, still less is it a somewhat complicated initiation into a new association. It is death and resurrection, rebirth to new life. Indeed, the cure for death does exist. Christ is the tree of life, once more within our reach. If we remain close to Him, then we have life".

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hispanic Opus Dei Bishop to Take Over Largest U.S. Diocese (L.A.); Red Hat to Follow Eventually

The Whispers in the Loggia Blog has a good overview that confirms the very historic nature of the appointment as the Catholic Church in the U.S. enters a new demographic era (I am amazed that there is no matching story yet on the online frontpage of the N.Y. Times). Here is the link. Can Hispanic Catholics resist better than previous immigrant groups the relentless pressures toward religious indifferentism and excessive cultural homogenization? History will tell the story. An additional historical twist is that many Hispanic Catholics have become fervent Protestant evangelicals and Pentecostals (something that was not widespread among previous Catholic immigrants to the U.S.). Will that knowledge of a competitive alternative very close to home keep the Church in competitive trim? History will also tell that story in the coming decades. This appointment is also a big pat on the back for Opus Dei, which began in Spain. The accomplishment of La Obra ("the Work"; the Spanish nickname for Opus Dei) gives us a very different story line from the miserable one provided by the Legionaries of Christ debacle. Opus Dei had a true founder. It makes a big difference. We also get a very different story line from the massive abuse scandals under the current cardinal in L.A. Let us happily turn the page on these old story lines. For another article giving more background on the new cardinal-in-waiting, see this link.

Update Via Rhode Island: Our friend sends this N.Y. Times link on the new L.A. archbishop.

Monday, April 5, 2010

From Context to "Extext"

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (the shorter version, which is, very handy, if you do not wish to buy the very large twenty-volume full version for your home library; the shorter version still gives many of the famous historical examples of word usage), the word "context" derives from the Latin meaning "to weave together." The prefix "con" generally means "with" from the Latin "cum." The derivation fits our intuitive sense of the word. The context is what surrounds and accompanies our lives. We all live in a context. In my opinion, much of life's progress depends on our readiness and boldness in changing the various contexts of our lives. Many of you can think of your recent or long ago immigrant ancestors as good examples: they radically changed the contexts of their lives for the better.

A good exercise in this Easter season of new beginning is to itemize the various contexts in which we live our lives, and then to ask which ones should be changed or replaced with a new context. What we leave behind is a former context, something that remains part of our history (we cannot erase real factual events) but is no longer relevant as living context. We no longer live together with a context that we have abandoned; it is no longer woven into the very texture of our lives. So let's make up a new word for an abandoned context (in other words, let's find a neologism).

If a context is something woven with our lives, then the opposite may be called an alliterative "extext"--something woven out, taken out, of our lives (from the Latin "ex" meaning "out of" or "from"). What do you want to make an "extext" in your life this Easter season? Many examples from the complexities of life are at hand:

1. Is your life chained to some kind of addiction? Certainly, harmful addictions should become "extexts" so that they no longer govern our personal stories and harm ourselves or others.

2. Have you suffered great wrong a long time ago, or more recently, that still casts a shadow over your life? How can we make such injuries "extexts" that are no longer woven into our daily experiences and reactions to life and others? Certainly, forgiveness is a necessary key recommended by our Christian tradition. But in many serious cases, even forgiveness can still leave us suffering from the after-effects of past injuries, as must be true with victims of abuse whose plight is now, finally, receiving long overdue attention.

Certainly, the more serious the harm, the more professional and wise psychological counseling is needed. I certainly do not mean to flippantly seek to replace such necessary and essential approaches. Yet, many of us can change our toxic contexts by simply becoming more aware and conscious of such contexts in the first place and then explicitly deciding to abandon them, to make them "extexts."

Try the context inventory, and see what has to become an "extext." Prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and your local church community are there to help you in that process. And there certainly are wise and professional spiritual directors, psychologists, and others who can assist as appropriate, either directly or through their writings. Such sources of counsel can include even one's mature friends.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Papal Preacher's Good Friday Homily: Full Text [Emphasis Added]

"We have a great High Priest"
2010-04-02- Homily on Good Friday 2010 in Saint Peter's Basilica

"We have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God": thus begins the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews that we heard in the second reading. In the Year for Priests, the liturgy for Good Friday enables us to go back to the historical source of the Christian priesthood. It is the source of both the realizations of the priesthood: the ministerial, of bishops and presbyters, and the universal of all the faithful. This one also, in fact, is founded on the sacrifice of Christ that, Revelation says, "loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father" (Revelation 1:5-6). Hence, it is of vital importance to understand the nature of the sacrifice and of the priesthood of Christ because it is from them that priests and laity, in a different way, must bear the stamp and seek to live the exigencies.

The Letter to the Hebrews explains in what the novelty and uniqueness of Christ's priesthood consists, not only in regard to the priesthood of the old Covenant, but as the history of religions teaches us today, in regard to every priestly institution also outside of the Bible. "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come [...] he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:11-14).

Every other priest offers something outside of himself, Christ offered himself; every other priest offers victims, Christ offered himself victim! Saint Augustine enclosed in a famous formula this new kind of priesthood in which priest and victim are the same thing: "Ideo sacerdos, quia sacrificium": priest because victim."[1]

In 1972 a famous French thinker launched the thesis according to which "violence is the heart and secret spirit of the sacred."[2] In fact, at the origin and center of every religion there is sacrifice, and sacrifice entails destruction and death. The newspaper "Le Monde" greeted the affirmation, saying that it made of that year "a year to mark with an asterisk in the annals of humanity." However, before this date, that scholar had come close again to Christianity and at Easter of 1959 he made public his "conversion," declaring himself a believer and returning to the Church.

This enabled him not to pause, in his subsequent studies, on the analysis of the mechanism of violence, but to point out also how to come out of it. Many, unfortunately, continue to quote René Girard as the one who denounced the alliance between the sacred and violence, but they do not speak of the Girard who pointed out in the paschal mystery of Christ the total and definitive break of such an alliance. According to him, Jesus unmasks and breaks the mechanism of the scapegoat that makes violence sacred, making himself, the victim of all violence. 

The process that leads to the birth of religion is reversed, in regard to the explanation that Freud had given. In Christ, it is God who makes himself victim, not the victim (in Freud, the primordial father) that, once sacrificed, is successively raised to divine dignity (the Father of the Heavens). It is no longer man that offers sacrifices to God, but God who "sacrifices" himself for man, consigning for him to death his Only-begotten Son (cf. John 3:16). Sacrifice no longer serves to "placate" the divinity, but rather to placate man and to make him desist from his hostility toward God and his neighbor.

Christ did not come with another's blood but with his own. He did not put his sins on the shoulders of others -- men or animals --; he put others' sins on his own shoulders: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).

Can one, then, continue to speak of sacrifice in regard to the death of Christ and hence of the Mass? For a long time the scholar mentioned rejected this concept, holding it too marked by the idea of violence, but then ended by admitting the possibility, on condition of seeing, in that of Christ, a new kind of sacrifice, and of seeing in this change of meaning "the central fact in the religious history of humanity."

Seen in this light, the sacrifice of Christ contains a formidable message for today's world. It cries out to the world that violence is an archaic residue, a regression to primitive stages and surmounted by human history and -- if it is a question of believers -- a culpable and scandalous delay in becoming aware of the leap in quality operated by Christ.

It reminds also that violence is losing. In almost all ancient myths the victim is the defeated and the executioner the victor . [3] Jesus changed the sign of victory. He inaugurated a new kind of victory that does not consist in making victims, but in making himself victim. "Victor quia victima!", victor because victim, thus Augustine describes the Jesus of the cross.[4]

The modern value of the defense of victims, of the weak and of threatened life is born on the terrain of Christianity, it is a later fruit of the revolution carried out by Christ. We have the counter-proof. As soon as the Christian vision is abandoned (as Nietzsche did) to bring the pagan back to life, this conquest is lost and one turns to exalt "the strong, the powerful, to its most exalted point, the superman," and the Christian is described as "a morality of slaves," fruit of the mean resentment of the weak against the strong.

Unfortunately, however, the same culture of today that condemns violence, on the other hand, favors and exalts it. Garments are torn in face of certain events of blood, but not being aware that the terrain is prepared for them with that which is shown in the next page of the newspaper or in the successive palimpsest of the television network. The pleasure with which one indulges in the description of violence and the competition of the one who is first and the most crude in describing it do no more than favor it. The result is not a catharsis of evil, but an incitement to it. It is disturbing that violence and blood have become one of the ingredients of greatest claim in films and video-games, that one is attracted to it and enjoys watching it.

The same scholar recalled above has unveiled the matrix that sparks the mechanism of violence: mimicry, that innate human inclination to consider desirable the things that others desire and, hence, to repeat the things that they see others do. The "heard" [sic] psychology is that which leads to the choice of the "scapegoat" to find, in the struggle against a common enemy -- in general, the weakest element, the different one --, a proper artificial and momentous cohesion.

We have an example in the recurrent violence of youth in the stadium, in the bullying in schools and in certain square manifestations that leave behind destruction and debris. A generation of youth that has had the very rare privilege of not knowing a real war and of never having been called to arms, amuses itself (because it is about a game, even if stupid and at times tragic) to invent little wars, driven by the same instinct that moved the primordial horde.

However there is a yet more grave and widespread violence than that of youth in stadiums and squares. I am not speaking here of violence against children, of which unfortunately also elements of the clergy are stained; of that there is sufficient talk outside of here. I am speaking of violence to women. This is an occasion to make persons and institutions that fight against it understand that Christ is their best ally.

It is a violence all the more grave in as much as it is often carried out in the shelter of domestic walls, unknown to all, when it is not actually justified with pseudo-religious and cultural prejudices. The victims find themselves desperately alone and defenceless. Only today, thanks to the support and encouragement of so many associations and institutions, some find the strength to come out in the open and denounce the guilty.

Much of this violence has a sexual background. It is the male who thinks he can demonstrate his virility by inflicting himself on the woman, without realizing that he is only demonstrating his insecurity and baseness. Also in confrontations with the woman who has made a mistake, what a contrast between the conduct of Christ and that still going on in certain environments! Fanaticism calls for stoning; Christ responds to the men who have presented an adulteress to him saying: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7). Adultery is a sin that is always committed by two, but for which only one has always been (and, in some parts of the world, still is) punished.

Violence against woman is never so odious as when it nestles where mutual respect and love should reign, in the relationship between husband and wife. It is true that violence is not always and wholly on the part of one, that one can be violent also with the tongue and not only with the hands, but no one can deny that in the vast majority of cases the victim is the woman.

There are families where the man still believes himself authorized to raise his voice and hands on the women of the house. Wife and children at times live under the constant threat of "Daddy's anger." To such as these it is necessary to say courteously: dear men colleagues, by creating you male, God did not intend to give you the right to be angry and to bang your fist on the table for the least thing. The word addressed to Eve after the fault: "He (the man) shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16), was a bitter forecast, not an authorization.

John Paul II inaugurated the practice of the request for forgiveness for collective wrongs. One of these, among the most just and necessary, is the forgiveness that half of humanity must ask of the other half, men to women. It must not be generic or abstract. It must lead, especially in one who professes himself a Christian, to concrete gestures of conversion, to words of apology and reconciliation within families and in society.

The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews that we heard continues saying: "In the days of his flesh, with loud cries and with tears he offered prayers and supplications to Him who could save him from death." Jesus felt in all its crudity the situation of the victims, the suffocated cries and silent tears. Truly, "we do not have a high priest who cannot suffer with us in our weaknesses." In every victim of violence Christ relives mysteriously his earthly experience. Also in regard to every one of these he says: "you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).

By a rare coincidence, this year our Easter falls on the same week of the Jewish Passover which is the ancestor and matrix within which it was formed. This pushes us to direct a thought to our Jewish brothers. They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms. I received in this week the letter of a Jewish friend and, with his permission, I share here a part of it.

He said: "I am following with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism. Therefore I desire to express to you personally, to the Pope and to the whole Church my solidarity as Jew of dialogue and of all those that in the Jewish world (and there are many) share these sentiments of brotherhood. Our Passover and yours are undoubtedly different, but we both live with Messianic hope that surely will reunite us in the love of our common Father. I wish you and all Catholics a Good Easter."

And also we Catholics wish our Jewish brothers a Good Passover. We do so with the words of their ancient teacher Gamaliel, entered in the Jewish Passover Seder and from there passed into the most ancient Christian liturgy:

"He made us pass
From slavery to liberty,
From sadness to joy,
From mourning to celebration,
From darkness to light,
From servitude to redemption
Because of this before him we say: Alleluia."[5]


[1] St. Augustine, Confessions, 10, 43.
[2] Cf. R. Girard, La Violence et le Sacré, Grasset, Paris, 1972.
[3] Cf. R. Girard, Il sacrificio, Milano 2004, pp. 73 f.
[4] St. Augustine, Confessions, 10, 43.
[5] Pesachim, X, 5 e Meliton of Sardi, Easter Homily, 68 (SCh 123, p. 98).

Meditation on Suffering: The Book of Job

On Good Friday, when the Innocent One suffered on our behalf (pro nobis), I submit the outline for an upcoming talk on the book of Job, a talk about another "innocent" man who suffered horribly, at this link. The outline is based on a section of Peter Kreeft's fine, short book Three Philosophies of Life (Ignatius Press, 1989). To make best use of the outline, you should have a Bible in hand.