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

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Thoughts

I write tonight from the Washington, D. C., area, on this Memorial Day weekend. (For readers not from the U.S., this holiday is focused on commemorating those who have died in the various wars in which the U.S. has been involved. It began as a commemoration of the dead from the American Civil War. See link.)Like many other Americans, over the course of my life, I have visited the nation's capital several times. The first time was as a child in 1974--the last summer we had President Nixon before he resigned that August. I recall touring the White House back then in 1974. Today, I was unable to tour the White House because a reservation through one's congressional representative is now needed. I assure you that, back in 1974, we simply got in line and got in, without a reservation. I also recall my father taking me and my brother into the Library of Congress reading room, where he proudly showed us a book mentioning his small business. Today, I also visited the Library of Congress--only people with special permission are now allowed in the reading room. The general public has to view the magnificent main reading room from a glass-enclosed balcony.

Yes, the Washington of 1974 was a simpler time with no concrete barricades or closed streets around the White House. It would be too easy to bemoan the loss of access. It seems that the government has endeavored to strike a balance between security and the right of the people to see the assets that the people own--although the lack of direct access to the Library of Congress reading room seems, to me, an overreaction.

Patriotism is certainly a Catholic and Christian virtue, expressing gratitude to the land of our birth or nationality and all the blessings that derive from it. Yet, let me be "perfectly clear" (recall that little phrase from President Nixon) that Christianity does not exalt any one nation or culture over any other and that no Christian gives a blank check to any nation, even the nation of his birth or nationality. Having given these needed disclaimers, let me give a few thoughts as a Catholic who happens to be of American nationality.

If you meet individuals from other nations who need to understand what America is all about, I can think of no better advice than this: tell them to visit our national landmarks in D.C. They will see evidence of a great and dignified history of astoundingly sublime personalities. The cumulative impression is of a vigorous, free people who are a bracing, refreshing presence in world history. In my opinion, Washington and Lincoln stand alone on the first rung of American greatness. Lincoln's memorial is, in my view and likely that of many others based on my observations, the most impressive in the entire capital city. It is in fact a memorial temple inscribed with Lincoln's greatest words--words that can be fully appreciated only by those familiar with the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Our history is inseparable and unintelligible apart from those two books. That, my friends, is not a theological statement. It is, rather, a statement of historical and cultural fact.

Think of Lincoln especially. Out of all our presidents, I can think of none who came from a more economically and socially deprived background (history buffs, feel free to correct me--I propose Andrew Jackson as a close second). He literally came out of nowhere. He never graduated from any kind of school. Yet, except for Churchill, I am aware of no political leader with words of similar eloquence in the English language. Frankly, I rate Lincoln far above even the great Churchill--for in Lincoln, I sense a lucid simplicity that shines forth like a brilliant, self-contained flame. And all of this from a self-educated man from the rough frontier, whose father was barely literate and a mother apparently born out of wedlock who was not much more literate than his father. His family were frontier Baptists (I am reminded of the little rural Baptist churches I have recently seen while driving through Virginia, the same state where Lincoln's mother was born). Lincoln's genius is a testament to the enduring American embrace of equal opportunity and hostility to elitist distinctions (a hostility not present in our many prestige-obsessed political elites--take, for example, the Ivy League dominance in the Supreme Court exemplified by the latest Court nominee ).

As a Catholic who happens to be American, I am grateful for being born in a nation which has offered generous opportunity to so many from so many places. I am aware of no other nation with a matching record. I am aware of no other nation matching America in her fascinating attraction for so many immigrants seeking a better life.

At the Lincoln Memorial, which I visited today for the third time or so in my life, I read again his Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address inscribed on the walls of this national temple. I reprint below the Second Inaugural Address. It is undeniably a biblical and theological address testifying to the Judeo-Christian reality of American culture and history:

Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln
[Emphasis and Biblical Citations Added]



At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh" [Matthew 18:7]. If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" [Psalm 19:19]. 

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Source link.

Update: A friend from Rhode Island let me know, after this post was written, that the Lincoln Memorial was in fact dedicated on the traditional date for Memorial Day, May 30th, in 1922.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting The Inside Edge: A Contemporary Social Commentary

Many Catholics are familiar with the word "concupiscence"--the fancy, Latinate word for the various lusts that can dominate our behavior (certainly, not limited to the notorious sexual dimension--in many cases, it almost seems that, if we look more deeply, sexual pitfalls are merely the means used to fulfill bigger "lusts" such as the desire for status, affirmation, control, security, and power in our personal lives; any cure for those pitfalls requires looking more deeply). One aspect of concupiscence is the desire to be part of the "in crowd," the crowd "in the know." I recall C.S. Lewis describing this reality, in his usually effective way, in one of his books.

I was reminded of this dimension while speaking to a friend about my confusion when I see people obsessed with organic this or organic that and yet stuffing their bodies with highly intrusive or damaging chemicals, whether for birth control or to get a transient "high" (or painting their bodies with those chemicals in the form of tattoos). That contradictory reality among some raises the question about what is at stake in the desire,  just to take one example, for the best organic foods among those who also use damaging or highly disruptive chemicals. Is the desire for healthy food manifesting a consistent concern for health, or really something else? If it were a true health concern, we should be seeing a consistent rejection of chemicals in other areas--contraception and substance abuse. Many do not take that consistent route.

The root of various inconsistent behaviors may simply be the elitist "I know better than you" compulsion. You eat that, I eat this. You went to that school, I went to this school. You live in that neighborhood, I live here. The consistent, logical thread running through many, often contradictory patterns of behavior may simply be the quest to feed our prideful desire to be above others in some way, even while being painfully aware that we are below others in other ways. The lesson from these observations may be this conclusion: do not necessarily take someone's rhetoric about this or that at face value, whether it's about healthy food or something else. The contradictions point to something deeper going on-- our well-known friend, the prideful, insecure ego peeping out behind the "I am smarter than you" veils we artfully put up for the world.

Monday, May 24, 2010

That High-Ranking Charismatic At It Again

[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 23 MAY 2010 (VIS) - Following this morning's Eucharistic celebration in the Vatican Basilica for the Solemnity of Pentecost, Benedict XVI appeared at the window of his study to pray the Regina Coeli with faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square below.

  In his remarks the Pope explained that "the mystery of Pentecost", which we identify with the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the Cenacle, "is the true 'Baptism' of the Church, but it does not finish there. In fact, the Church lives constantly in the effusion of the Holy Spirit without which she would exhaust her energies like a sailing ship without wind.

  "Pentecost", he added, "is renewed especially in certain particularly intense moments, both at the local and universal level, in small assemblies and in great gatherings". Among these, the Holy Father mentioned Vatican Council II, and "the famous encounter of ecclesial movements with the Venerable John Paul II here in St. Peter's Square at Pentecost 1994.

[Blogger comment: I can't imagine an SSPX adherent/sympathizer ever agreeing to the Pope's statement above about "Vatican Council II," without a great personal conversion by the SSPX adherent. May that great conversion take place!]

  "Yet", he went on, "the Church experiences countless 'Pentecosts' which enliven local communities: the liturgies, especially those experienced at special moments in community life, in which the power of God is perceived particularly clearly, infusing souls with joy and enthusiasm".

  "Thus, there is no Church without Pentecost. And, I would like to add, there is no Pentecost without the Virgin Mary. So it was at the beginning, in the Cenacle. ... So it is always, in all places and times. I myself witnessed as much a few days ago in Fatima, Portugal. What did that immense multitude experience on the esplanade of the shrine, if not a renewed Pentecost?".

  "This", the Holy Father concluded, "is the experience typical of the great Marian shrines (Lourdes, Guadalupe, Pompeii, Loreto) and of the smaller ones. Wherever Christians come together in prayer with Mary, the Lord gives His Spirit".


VATICAN CITY, 23 MAY 2010 (VIS) - At 10 a.m. today in the Vatican Basilica, the Pope presided at Mass for the Solemnity of Pentecost.

  Commenting on the Pentecost narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Father explained how "from the Son of God - Who died, rose again then returned to the Father - the divine breath, the Holy Spirit, now descends on humankind with unprecedented energy. And what", he asked, "does God's new and powerful self-communication produce? Wherever there is rupture and estrangement, He brings unity and understanding.

  "A process of reunification begins among the different and divided parts of the human family", he added. "People, often reduced to competing and conflicting individuals, having been touched by the Spirit of Christ, open themselves to the experience of communion, which can envelop them to the point that they form a new organism, a new entity: the Church. The effect of God's work is unity. Thus unity is the sign of recognition, the 'calling card' of the Church in the course of her universal history. Ever since the beginning, since the day of Pentecost, she has spoken all languages".

  "The Church", Benedict XVI explained, "is never a prisoner of political, racial or cultural boundaries. She must not be confused with other States or with federations of States because hers is a different unity; it aspires to cross all human frontiers.

  "From this, dear brothers and sisters derives a practical criterion of discernment for Christian life: when a person or a community close themselves inside their own way of thinking and acting, it is a sign they have distanced themselves from the Holy Spirit. Christians and particular Churches must always compare themselves, and seek harmony, with the one Catholic Church".

[Blogger comment: The above applies to many, not least to the SSPX.]

  The Holy Father went on: "The unity of the Spirit is expressed in the plurality of understanding. The Church is by her nature one and multiple, being destined to live in all nations, with all peoples, and in the most diverse social contexts. She fulfils her vocation of being a sign and instrument of unity of the entire human race, only if she remains independent of all States and all specific cultures. Always and everywhere the Church must be truly catholic and universal, a home with which everyone can identify".

  "At Pentecost the Holy Spirit appeared as a fire", said the Pope, noting "how different this fire was from that of wars and bombs. How different is the immolation of Christ, as propagated by the Church, from the fires ignited by dictators of all ages, even last century, which left behind them only scorched earth".

  "The flame of the Holy Spirit burns but does not injure, and yet it achieves a transformation. ... However this effect of the divine fire scares us, we are afraid of being 'scalded' and would prefer to remain as we are. This depends on the fact that our lives often follow a logic of having, of possession and not of giving. ... On the one hand we want to be with Jesus, to follow Him closely, on the other we are afraid of the consequences this brings".

  We must, Benedict XVI told the faithful, "be able to recognise that losing something, losing ourselves, for the true God, the God of love and life, is in fact a gain, it means rediscovering oneself more fully. Those who entrust themselves to Jesus experience peace and joy of heart already in this life, things the world cannot give, and cannot take away once God has given them to us. It is worthwhile, then, to allow ourselves to be touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit. The pain this brings is necessary for our transformation".

  The Pope concluded by calling on the Holy Spirit "to ignite the flame of your love in us. We know this is an audacious payer, with which we ask to be touched by the flame of God; yet we know that this flame alone has the power to save us. We do not want, in order to defend our lives, to lose the eternal life God wants to give us. We need the fire of the Holy Spirit, because only Love redeems".

Sunday, May 23, 2010

You Interpret It

See full size image

The "it" is that on Thursday, May 20, 2010, I was attending Eucharistic Adoration at my local parish church (a regular, not charismatic, parish). The adoration was combined with a healing service. I attended with my fourteen-year-old son. While kneeling after the Benediction, I glanced to the right at my son.  (Note for non-Catholics: the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is the blessing given by the priest while holding the monstrance--often an ornate, golden cross and/or "sunburst" with the circular Eucharistic host or wafer exhibited in the center of the ornate cross in a small, round glass circle.)

I glanced to the right at my son and saw the following. His pupils rolled upward, and he promptly toppled unconscious at the pew while kneeling, as usual, on the cushioned kneeler;  he toppled like a sack of potatoes. I promptly awakened him and took him outside. Nothing was amiss. He has no history of such events whatsoever. He was not sick or ill at the time-- before, during, or after. He is not an epileptic.

Then I remembered that a year or so ago I had seen something similar at a healing service at a Catholic church in a Detroit suburb (I went alone; no one from my family was with me). When the people at this other church were blessed with the monstrance containing the Eucharistic wafer, some people just fell down and laid there. Catholics call this "sleeping in the Spirit," and many understand it as a form of quiet healing by the Lord.

My personal, private interpretation of what happened to my son: the same thing. Let me add that, unlike me, my son has never seen this toppling happen to others in Eucharistic Adoration (athough years ago, I think that he was present at a prayer meeting where this happened outside of Eucharistic Adoration, but I believe that he did not even notice it then in the very crowded prayer meeting; and I do know that he did not give it any significance whatsoever). And certainly he has never thought about any such thing happening to himself. His pure innocence concerning this phenomena makes it absolutely and conclusively clear to me that he was not faking the experience or seeking or desiring it in any way. He was not predisposed to having this experience occur. In addition, my view is that his upward roll of the eyeballs and instantaneous, abrupt toppling, with no attempt at self-protection, was not faked.

By the way, this "sleeping in the Spirit" has never happened to me--and I am not seeking it for myself. But, of course, as is appropriate, you are free to draw your own conclusions from this eyewitness report. Make of it what you wish. I have no personal agenda at stake. I report, you decide. By the way, Happy Pentecost!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Peter as First Bishop of Rome

A friend recently brought to my attention via email the latest rantings by writer Garry Wills in his quest to remake the Catholic Church to his own liking (a quest that, historically speaking, has always ended in failure; but history is, after all, the most ignored of teachers). The email reminded me that, a few years ago (2003), I had published an article refuting the contention of Wills that Peter could not have possibly been the first bishop, or any kind of bishop for that matter, of Rome. Here is the article link, with some minor typographical corrections brought to my attention by the same friend, plus some inevitable minor editing as I reread the text.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Life Slips Through the Fingers of the Greedy


VATICAN CITY, 15 MAY 2010 (VIS) - Made public today was a Message from the Pope to participants in the "Kirchentag", an ecumenical event being celebrated in Munich, Germany, from 12 to 16 May in the presence of Christians from various denominations, and followers of other religions.

  Referring to the theme of the event - "that you may have hope" - the Holy Father highlights how "over recent months we have repeatedly had to absorb news that seeks to extract the joy from the Church, casting a shadow over her as a place of hope".

  "Today, if we pay close attention, if we do not perceive only the darkness but also what is light and good in our time, we see how faith makes men and women pure and generous, and educates them to love", he writes. "Weeds exist also in the bosom of the Church and among those whom the Lord has called to His special service. But the light of God has not gone out, the good wheat has not been choked by the weeds of evil".

  "Is the Church, then, a place of hope?", the Pope asked. "Yes", he said, "because from her the Word of God comes ever and anew, purifying us and showing us the path of faith. She is a place of hope because in her the Lord continues to give Himself to us in the grace of the Sacraments, in the words of reconciliation, in the multiple gifts of His consolation. Nothing can darken or destroy all this, and so we should be glad amidst all the tribulations.

  "To speak of the Church as a place of hope that comes from God", he adds, "involves an examination of conscience. What must I do with the hope the Lord has given us? Do I really allow myself to be moulded by His Word? What weeds grow in me? Am I willing to uproot them? Am I grateful for forgiveness and ready, in my turn, to forgive and to heal rather than to condemn?"

  The Pope explains how "we ourselves cannot achieve the greatest things (friendship, love, joy and happiness), they come to us only as a gift. ... Today almost no-one speaks of eternal life which, in the past, was the true object of hope. Since people no longer dare believe in it, they must hope to obtain everything in this life. Setting aside hope in eternal life leads to greed for life here and now, which almost inevitably becomes selfish and, in the end, unattainable. Precisely when we want to take possession of life as a kind of treasure it escapes us".

[Blogger Comment: That perspective--maximize what you can possess and experience--is the de facto, unconscious basis of the lives of many, including many believers. It is hard to escape that perspective of furiously getting more and experiencing more because, in the face of our encroaching mortality, we and the rest of society reflexively react with a ferocious busyness and avarice for more of this or more of that. This mode of more and more is actually a symptom of despair. ]

  "God is alive. God loves us. In Jesus Christ He became one of us. I can address Him and He listens to me. For this reason, like Peter, in the confusion of our own times which encourage us to believe in many other paths, we say to Him: 'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God'".

  In closing his Message, the Holy Father expresses the hope that everyone at the Munich meeting "may be overcome with the joy of being able to know God, to know Christ. ... This is our hope and our joy in the midst of the confusion of the present".

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gold Nugget: More Americans Pro-Life

Take it from this liberal columnist in the N.Y. Times (I like to cite my ideological opposites for these gold nuggets since they are not predisposed to exaggerate what for them is bad news, unlike those who are predisposed to fanatical, often unreliable advocacy of a view I favor):

And Gallup released a poll on Friday entitled “The New Normal on Abortion: Americans More ‘Pro-Life.’ ” It buttressed the finding from last summer when, for the first time since the question began being asked in 1995, more people self-identified as “pro-life” than as “pro-choice.”

Source link.

The liberal columnist goes on to deride conservatism as being bereft of ideas. Well, as a Catholic, I do not vouch for American political conservatism per se or for the political agenda of any one group, even one calling itself conservative--but I do know one powerful intellectual, logical idea that pro-lifers are not bereft of: the simply truth that "if in doubt when life begins, then it must come out--alive and kicking." Anything else is to risk murder.

This post is also a good opportunity to clarify the boundary, as I see it, between being a loyal Catholic and the conservative political agenda here in the United States. The two circles (loyal Catholic and American political conservative) may overlap on some or even many issues, but they are definitely and emphatically not fully overlapping or identical. For example, Catholic social doctrine strongly favors providing help--if necessary, by the state--for the most economically and socially vulnerable among us. Catholic social doctrine is also not libertarian, an ideological streak prominent among U.S. conservatives. Catholic social doctrine also does not deify the maximization of monetary profit, whether corporate or personal. In sum, on many social issues, loyal Catholics do have a lot in common with many political conservatives. Yet, that common ground is not the whole story, by any means. The lack of complete ideological agreement is why, more and more, I think of myself, for example, as a Catholic social conservative with strong economic, social justice concerns for the poorest among us. I am not a typical "American conservative"; and, in my opinion, neither should my fellow Catholics be "typical American conservatives." The Gospel always comes first; and the Gospel does not worship the free market, even though I have studied the free market closely as a graduate student and appreciate its tangible benefits.

Social Justice Demands School Choice in the Inner City

Even some liberal sectors are waking up to the obvious reality that school choice is the best way to liberate inner city students from the choke hold of mediocrity (undeniably fostered by teachers' unions) that outrageously denies them opportunity in, of all things, an opportunity society. See this article documenting how some liberals are joining the civil rights movement that is school choice. Maybe, school choice is, in the long run, a superior (not necessarily the only) route to genuine heath care reform: more education, more economic advancement, more ability to afford private health insurance.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Charismatic Pope--Again and Again

He has to be, just as every Catholic is by virtue of his or her reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. In the days preceding Pentecost, one of the best Catholic bloggers around gives a fine overview of the indisputable charismatic dimension of Benedict XVI. (I think this particular blogger is one of the best because he presents a "catholic," that is, a comprehensive, view of the Church and is not a narrow "Johnny-one-note.") Here is the core of the man who is now Pope. Go to the Whispers in the Loggia blog at this link  and at this link and see what I mean. Recently, at Fatima, the Pope again prayed for a "new outpouring of the Holy Spirit." Note below that he did not pray for more Latin (although I myself enjoy the old imperial language of my ethnic and spiritual ancestors and use it often). He prayed for what is most fundamental and what will take care of all other concerns, liturgical and otherwise, that often seem to obscure and distract from the fundamentals.

In his recent prayer addressing the Virgin Mary at Fatima, the pontiff said it again:

Repeat to the Lord
your efficacious word:
“They have no wine” (Jn 2:3),
so that the Father and the Son will send upon us
a new outpouring of
the Holy Spirit.

Source link at the same above-mentioned blog (about the 11th paragraph of the prayer; emphasis added by me).

That is the prayer that should always be on our lips--both in times of crisis and in times of calm.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pope Calls For Vatican II Style Dialogue and Engagement With the World

His call does not fit the agenda and facile slogans of some; but what the Pope says is far more important than narrow, sectarian agendas. Here are some of his remarks in Portugal from May 12th:

"The Church must enter into dialogue with the world in which she lives", said Pope Benedict quoting Pope Paul VI. "Dialogue, without ambiguity and marked by respect for those taking part, is a priority in today's world, and the Church does not intend to withdraw from it. ... Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful".
  "Point out new worlds to the world", said the Holy Father quoting the poet Luis de Camoes, author of 'Os Lusiades'. You who are "forgers of thought and opinion", he told his audience, "have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, ... to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement. Do not be afraid ... to enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite Beauty!".
  He continued his address: "Precisely so as 'to place the modern world in contact with the life-giving and perennial energies of the Gospel', Vatican Council II was convened. There the Church, on the basis of a renewed awareness of the Catholic tradition, took seriously and discerned, transformed and overcame the fundamental critiques that gave rise to the modern world, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. ... The Council laid the foundation for an authentic Catholic renewal and for a new civilisation - 'the civilisation of love' - as an evangelical service to man and society".

Source link (VIS blog; emphasis added).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dublin Archbishop Calls a Spade a Spade: Uses the "C" Word

Here is the blog link. Very worth reading. He's blowing the cover of a highly inadequate, ethnic-based, folk distortion of Catholicism, a distortion certainly not limited, by any means, to the Irish. Apply his prophetic critique to your own corner and brand of Catholicism.

Update: My friend at college seminary in Minnesota sends this related link. It is amazing to read the Archbishop's assertion that "there are still strong forces" in favor of covering up the truth. It is obvious, at least to me, that a culture of such profound denial cannot be completely unrelated to the dysfunctional blight of alcohol abuse. Denial is one of the well-known, prominent traits associated with those who live with their own substance abuse or with substance abuse by those close to them. Denial is an irrational, despairing way to deal with such bad realities, a coping mechanism that gets extended, by force of habit, to other bad realities, such as sexual abuse. That's my intuitive hypothesis.

Pope Not Following the "Raise the Ramparts" Talking Points on the Web

Such an approach is very popular among some conservatives on the internet. It is about time that some of us conservative Catholics simply drop the irate, polemical approach which is tiresome, self-defeating, and, most important of all, simply not Christian. That tiresome approach is not the approach of the Pope. Here are his words. They remind me of Bonhoeffer's famous remarks condemning "cheap grace." The two Germans are thinking alike on this matter.

“This we have always known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way, that the greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside but is born from the sin in the church,” he added. “The church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice.”

Source link (thanks to our Rhode Island news source; emphasis added).

The last line is powerful and applicable in many settings. Too many have adopted an easy, superficial Christianity that supposedly gives them the license to say that they are forgiven without seriously and diligently desiring to embrace the obligations of justice which are the authentic signs of true contrition. If you want an easy "out," stick with your prior beliefs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Taste of Purgatory . . . Or A Taste of Hebrew Translation and Grammar?

You decide. But, following the Gospel injunction not to hide our work under a basket (Matt. 5:14-16), I am making available a recent paper I wrote translating Psalm 86 from the Hebrew Bible, along with detailed grammatical and syntactic [a big word simply meaning how the parts of a sentence fit together] analysis of each line. While I am only a mere beginner at such analysis, the paper does give one a taste of what specialists grapple with in making translations.  In any event, I have certainly found this great spiritual benefit (among others) from studying the Hebrew language, its grammar, and its syntax: the undermining of any personal intellectual pride and a sense of being unquestionably and consistently humbled. Here is the link for the daring and curious few coming from a general reading audience.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Amazon Kindle Store Does Not Require That You Own a Kindle Device

All of my books are now available in the Amazon Kindle Store. You need not own a Kindle device to shop at the Kindle Store; you can download Kindle books to your PC or laptop at this link so that you never pay for shipping, get your books immediately without waiting, and pay, for the most part, steeply discounted prices--and reduce the clutter of books lying around your house!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Green and Organic: Why Not Also Pro-Life?

Among many people today, especially young people, there is a healthy recognition of the need for not harming the environment and for seeking natural foods and other natural alternatives in a society flooded with chemicals. There is a concern for life and for preserving it. There is a concern for preferring the most natural route.

When a woman is regularly inseminated by a male, voila, nature often takes its course and there emerges the very natural and organic miracle of new life--life that is uniquely different than the separate individual contributions of the male and female. It is probably the most amazing thing that we humans can witness and in which we can directly participate. If you respect the environment and nature, then what could be more natural and environmentally sound than to respect that natural miracle of new life? If you are all for the organic, what could be more organic than the natural emergence of new life from the union of male and female?

If you are averse to the unnatural, why not reject the unnatural instruments that contraceptive devices are? If you try to avoid the use of chemicals, why not also avoid the use chemical contraceptives? There are natural alternatives for responsible family planning that do not require either inserting devices or various types of barriers into the female body or using chemicals, whether in the form of gels, foams, or pills. If you are also a feminist, why not resist the unnatural invasion and manipulation of the natural metabolism of the amazing female body?

If we respect the natural processes of the environment, why do so many who do so advocate or complacently tolerate the barbaric invasion of the natural environment of the womb via abortion procedures--procedures certainly as brutal as strip mining a green hillside?

Nothing is more green, pro-environmental, organic, and natural than to respect the beautifully designed natural environment of the womb. The logical and reasonable conclusion of embracing the organic and the natural is to embrace the right of the unborn child to develop according to nature and to reject the invasion and tearing up of that natural environment. Those who harm the environment put their selfish, short-term desires above reverence for nature. That egotistical choice is exactly what abortion also does to the natural environment of the womb and its natural processes. That egotistical choice is the choice legitimated by pro-choice advocates and supporters. We rightly reject the egotistical choice of destroying the environment. Let us extend that admirable green logic to rejecting the egotistical choice that tears up the natural environment of the womb.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Remember the 2008 Campaign . . . And a Candidate Saying "That's Above My Paygrade"

Draw your own conclusions and inferences. Remember the 2008 American presidential campaign (see hint in the post title above) and read the excerpt below from the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I have been recommending these past weeks. But first let me set the scene. Before the brutal invasion of Poland in 1939 that would spark the Second World War, Hitler made clear to his generals that he planned the brutal extermination of many segments of the Polish population. The SS, not the German army, would do the dirtiest work in Poland. Hitler basically told the army generals to stay out of the way of the SS. Now, the excerpt follows:

There was something in the German psyche that responded to this sort of suggestion [namely, just do your military duty and ignore the SS] too well. But there were some brave souls who did consider the larger picture. Niemoller [a Lutheran pastor who strongly opposed Hitler and paid for it with lengthy imprisonment]. Now Canaris [the admirall in charge of German military intelligence] was another.  So he protested to Keitel [the field marshal who was head of the German military high command]. But in vain. . . . . Keitel did not concern himself with such things above his pay grade. He told Canaris: "The Fuhrer has already decided on this matter."
Source: Eric Metaxas in his biography of Bonhoeffer pictured above [at p. 352; emphasis added].

Think of the abortion issue and how some prominent politicians, and many others, say explicitly or in effect that the pressing moral issue of the taking of innocent life in utero is a matter "above their pay grade" and that the Supreme Court has already decided on this matter in Roe v. Wade and its progeny. The issue of the taking of life in the womb will not go away, no matter how much we wish it to remain hidden inside the walls of the clinics dotting this nation.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sorry, But It's Not Really Rocket Science

We make the abortion issue unduly complicated as a way to evade the uncomfortable. If Al Gore can call global warming an "inconvenient truth," the reality of widespread abortion on demand is the most inconvenient of facts and the truth that a human life--innocent to boot--is being snuffed out in abortion is the most inconvenient of truths for people intent on just making their jolly way in American society or elsewhere as socially correct troopers.

I have an atheist friend who likes to focus the debate on the fact that we do not know when life begins (no special focus on atheists; there are plenty of theists who go the same route). For the sake of argument only, I grant that point and respond: if you do not know when life begins, then resolve the doubt in favor of doing no harm. If you want to abort or to legally allow abortion on demand, then you, as an advocate of causing the gravest harm possible to human life, have the burden of proving that there is no life at stake. In contrast, if I oppose legal abortion on demand, then I do not have to prove when life begins--I merely say: if in doubt, let the baby come out--alive and kicking. Follow the first rule of the ancient medical profession: above all, do no harm (primum non nocere).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I think, would have agreed:

Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.

Quote from Bonhoeffer's Ethics, found in the above pictured biography at p. 472 (emphasis added).

Bonhoeffer is bold, but then again he is the same man who confronted Hitler and who paid for it with his own life shortly before the end of World War II.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

From the Younger Brother to the Elder Brother


VATICAN CITY, 4 MAY 2010 (VIS) - Benedict XVI has sent a message of congratulation to Elio Toaff, former rabbi of Rome, for his ninety-fifth birthday, which fell yesterday 3 May. The Message was read out by Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, personal secretary of the Pope, in the course of the inaugural ceremony of the Elio Toaff Foundation for Hebrew Culture.

  "I think", the Holy Father writes, "using the expressions of the Psalm, how the Lord restored your soul, leading you along the right path, even through the darkest valley, at the time of the persecution and extermination of the Jewish People. The Lord, in His mysterious plans, wished you to have a unique experience of His salvation, becoming a sign of hope for the rebirth of many of your brothers and sisters.

  "I am particularly happy to recall", the Pope adds, "your commitment to promoting fraternal relations between Catholics and Jews, and the sincere friendship that bound you to my venerated predecessor Pope John Paul II".

Fr. Robert Barron on the Scandals: A Reliable, Biblical View of Events

See his article at this link and take a look at his many other writings. He hails from Chicago.

(I saw the link at this blog.)

Josemaria on Jews

A college seminarian friend sent me the Youtube video below which elicited a broad grin:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Offer My Beloved Son or Offer a Ram: A Profound Ambiguity in God's Command to Abraham?

It is the great story of Adonai instructing Abraham to sacrifice his only son, his beloved son. Among Jews, it is known as the Akedah, "The Binding," because Abraham bound Isaac to the wood to be used for the burnt offering. While taking a Syriac exam, I was translating this famous passage found in Genesis 22. The Syriac translation of Genesis 22 closely follows the Hebrew original. The translation exercise made me aware of something that I had not noticed before in Genesis 22:2. I translate this verse from the Syriac (a prominent dialect of Aramaic): "And he [God] said to him [Abraham]: 'Lead your son, your only one whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and lift him up  there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains that I will tell you.' "

In Syriac, as in the Hebrew, the word for "lifting him up" is a verb plus a suffixed objective pronoun. In plain English, the verb "lift up" has attached to it a suffix meaning "him," much as we say in informal English, "Get'im," as one word meaning "Get him."  In the same way, in both Hebrew and Syriac the pronoun "him," which is the object of the verb, can be attached to the verb to form one word.

So, in Genesis 22:2, we basically have God telling Abraham, "Take your beloved son and offer him as a burnt offering" (I paraphrase here and in the next quotation for the sake of economy). The text does not say: "Take your beloved son and offer your beloved son as a burnt offering." Rather, the text in both Hebrew and Syriac uses the masculine singular pronoun "him" to refer back to Isaac. Why could this be telling?

Further down in Genesis 22, we come to verse 13, which reads in pertinent part: "Abraham went and took the ram, and he lifted it up as a burnt offering instead of his son." We have again the same verb ('"lift up") plus the object pronoun "him." Since the ram is masculine, the same object pronoun is used for the ram as is used for Isaac in Genesis 22:2. The same is true in the Hebrew original.

This use of  the same masculine pronoun suffix-- that is as equally applicable to the ram as it is to Isaac-- means that, to a Hebrew or Syriac speaker hearing Genesis 22:2, there is some inherent linguistic ambiguity present (I paraphrase again): "Take your beloved son Isaac and lift him up." But it is the same "him" that grammatically applies to the ram.

In other words, we could translate Genesis 22:2 as follows to highlight this ambiguity for an English-speaking audience: "And he [God] said to him [Abraham]: "Lead your son, your only one whom you love, Isaac, and lift him or it up there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains that I will tell you." The "it" implies an animal as the offering. [The Hebrew text refers to a ram as being the sacrifice after the angel stops Abraham from slaying Isaac. Earlier, Isaac refers to the animal as a "sheep" when asking Abraham where the animal for the sacrifice is. The Syriac translation follows this Hebrew usage concerning what the animal is called.]

Strictly speaking, the same masculine object pronoun can refer either to Isaac or the ram. Thus, there seems to be an ambiguity here in God's command to Abraham: is Abraham to take Isaac with him and also offer Isaac up, or is Abraham to take Isaac with him but offer a ram up?

This ambiguity is bolstered by other verses. In Genesis 22:5, Abraham instructs his two servants to stay behind and wait, observing that "we will return to you" (in both the Hebrew and Syriac). In other words, the servants are told that both Abraham and a live Isaac will return after the sacrifice. To further add to the ambiguity, when Isaac asks Abraham where is the lamb for the burnt offering, Abraham replies that God will provide a "lamb" (in both the Hebrew and Syriac) for the burnt offering.

Is Abraham anticipating that God will indeed provide a lamb or ram for the burnt offering? It certainly seems to be the case. Otherwise, we have to interpret Abraham's reply to Isaac as being somewhat tricky and misleading. But, if we go back and see the initial ambiguity inherent in God's initial command to Abraham, there is no basis for finding any misinformation here: Abraham is holding out hope for the provision of a lamb to take the place of Isaac--a hope that is literally present, grammatically, in God's initial command to Abraham in Genesis 22:2. Other commentators have wondered about such a hope. This grammatical point makes me wonder about it also. It is certainly something to consider in this seminal story that, like the rest of Scripture, is inexhaustible in meaning.

Postscript: Muslims apply this story to Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabs, rather than to Isaac, the ancestor of the Jews. Surprisingly, I recently heard a prominent Muslim academic relate that some medieval Islamic commentators did apply the story to Isaac, as is recounted in the Hebrew Bible.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Time for Wise Logic and Reflection

Our Rhode Island reader and link source just sent the AP article below on the catastrophic end of the cult of personality that was the "Legionaries of Christ" (a very unfortunate name with a typically aggrandizing flair). One Lesson Learned: nothing healthy can be built on a personality cult centered on a fellow Christian, whether it's Legionaries founder Maciel or Luther or Lefebvre or anyone else. The only and exclusively legitimate personality cult in Christianity is that centered on the worship or cult of Jesus Christ, with his Mother Mary a close second but always second, as she herself would insist, and never receiving the worship or latria reserved only for the deity. [Of course, legitimate honor and veneration (dulia) of worthy, proven individuals is fine. And, it is certainly true that we can learn some valuable things even from the writings of very flawed historical personalities, as is the case with Luther; the value in the Lutheran tradition is confirmed in that very excellent Lutheran product, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose writings do not exhibit the personality flaws of Luther himself.]

The discredited Legionaries order was known for its rigid "orthodoxy" and rigid shaping of the personalities of its members. Does this catastrophic end mean that something is wrong with orthodoxy? Not at all, just as the abuses misusing the phrase "the spirit of Vatican II" do not in any way detract from the undeniable grace of the Holy Spirit that is found in the documents and authentic reforms of Vatican II. To my fellow conservative Catholics, especially those who tend toward the neo-traditionalist spectrum, I say: beware of following an illogical double standard--to demonize anything that smacks of Vatican II aggiornamento and ressourcement but to ignore or blithely excuse the excesses of the theological right. Below is the article in full with source link at the end:

May 1, 2010

Pope Names Envoy, Commission to Reform Legionaries

Filed at 10:39 a.m. ET
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican denounced the ''immoral'' double life led by the late founder of the Legionaries of Christ on Saturday and said a papal envoy and special commission would be named to overhaul the conservative order following revelations its founder sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least one child.
In a statement, the Vatican excoriated the Rev. Marciel Maciel for creating a ''system of power'' built on silence and obedience that enabled him to lead a double life ''devoid of any scruples and authentic sense of religion'' and allowed him to abuse young boys for decades unchecked.
''By pushing away and casting doubt upon all those who questioned his behavior, and the false belief that he wasn't doing harm to the good of the Legion, he created around him a defense mechanism that made him unassailable for a long period, making it difficult to know his true life,'' the Vatican said.
The Vatican assured the Legion's current members that it would help them ''purify'' what good remains in the order and would not be left alone as they undergo the ''profound revision'' necessary to carry on.
The Vatican issued the statement after Pope Benedict XVI met with five bishops who investigated the Legion for the past eight months, met with over 1,000 members around the world to determine its future after its founder, around whom the Legion had built a cult of personality, was so thoroughly discredited.
The pope's response is being closely watched because the Vatican is facing mounting pressure to aggressively confront abuse and provide pastoral care to victims. The Maciel case has long been seen as emblematic of Vatican inaction on abuse complaints, since Maciel's victims had tried in the 1990s to bring a canonical trial against him but were shut down by his supporters at the Vatican.
In the end, it was only in 2006 -- a year into Pope Benedict XVI's papacy -- that the Vatican ordered Maciel to lead a ''reserved life of penance and prayer,'' making him a priest in name only. He died in 2008 at age 87.
The Vatican statement was remarkable in its tough denunciation of Maciel's crimes and deception. It said the system of power, obedience and silence he created had kept ''a large part'' of the Legionaries in the dark about his double life. That raised questions about what would become of the current Legionaries leadership since many have questioned how they couldn't have known of his misdeeds.
The Vatican ordered an investigation into the order in 2009 after the Legionaries acknowledged that Maciel had fathered a daughter who is now in her 20s and lives in Spain. But it was only in March of this year that the Legionaries acknowledged that Maciel had also sexually abused seminarians and that two men are claiming to be his sons.
The late Pope John Paul II had long championed the Legionaries for their orthodoxy and ability to bring in vocations and money. Recent news reports in the U.S. Catholic publication National Catholic Reporter told of how the late pope's secretary and No. 2 intervened to protect Maciel and accept donations on his behalf.
But the Vatican on Saturday was unsparing in its criticism of him, although it didn't acknowledge the Vatican or its officials bore any blame in allowing his deception to continue.
''The extremely grave and objectively immoral behavior of P. Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimony, represent at times real crimes and show a life devoid of any scruples and any authentic sense of religion,'' it said.
The Vatican praised the missionary zeal of Legionaries priests and lay members, but said that same zeal blinded them to Maciel's misdeeds and led them to believe that the sex abuse accusations ''even as they became more insistent and widespread, could not be but slander.''
The Vatican set out an initial course of action: the pope would name a personal envoy and a commission of study to review the order's founding constitutions. In addition, the Vatican said the pope would name a special investigator to look into the order's lay arm, Regnum Christi, at the lay members' request.
Maciel founded the Legion in his native Mexico in 1941 and the order's culture was built around Maciel. His photo adorned every Legion building, his biography and writings were studied, and his birthday was celebrated as a feast day. Until recently, Legion members took a vow not to criticize their superiors, including Maciel.
The order now claims a membership of more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 22 countries, along with 70,000 members in Regnum Christi. It runs schools, charities, Catholic news outlets, seminaries for young boys, and universities in Mexico, Italy, Spain and elsewhere. Its U.S. headquarters are in Orange, Connecticut.
The revelations of Maciel's double life caused enormous turmoil inside the Legionaries and Regnum Christie, with priests leaving the order and Legion officials steadily announcing changes meant to demonstrate the movement was already reforming on its own.
Source link [Emphasis added by blogger].