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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The AIDS Prevention Issue & Condoms

Here are the Pope's words from the recently published book interview:

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
The Pope has since clarified that his remarks were not limited to the actions of a male prostitute only, but also referred to anyone of any gender.
Here is a related essay by an Opus Dei priest, Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, who is a moral theologian teaching in Rome. The essay was published in 2004 and thus predates the Pope's just published book interview. (Thanks to a Rhode Island reader for reminding me of this essay.)
Here are some other related discussions from 2006 that also predate the just published papal book interview. Here is a 2006 essay by Prof. Janet Smith at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary on issues raised by Fr. Rhonheimer.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful, Even in Unprecedented Disaster

Image from

That's the testimony of Haitian Catholics in the U.S. awash with grief over the destructive effects of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. And the power of their faith is manifestly charismatic:

[C]hurches like SS. Joachim and Anne [in New York City] can point to their response to this dark year: a redoubled commitment to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a 43-year-old movement, growing fastest in Latin America and among immigrants in the United States, that makes Haitian Catholicism distinctly vibrant even as some American Catholics complain of a church gone lukewarm.
Charismatics, both Catholic and Protestant, seek an ecstatic state open to unmediated communion with God. They dance, sing, speak in tongues, issue prophecies and even, they believe, heal the sick. They call these spontaneous acts gifts — charismata in Greek — from the Holy Spirit. Catholic charismatics holler and weep beneath their stained glass like Pentecostals in their storefronts, but they begin and end with rosaries and Hail Marys.
Haitians have long embraced charismatic worship. But never have they needed so much to warm themselves in its heat. To watch it carry a community through an unthinkable calamity, swaying and clapping and sending noisy thank-yous to God, is to see faith working to heal the hurts of the year, and to save itself.
As in any religious movement (and surely secular movements also), you must prudently avoid the "nutty" personalities; but there are also plenty of "nutty" personalities in more staid, less emotional, and more disciplined religious and secular movements.
In my view, the authentic charismatic power of Christianity, permeated with prudence and not divorced from reason and shrewd common sense, is a powerful answer to secular despair and to the aridity of harsh, aggressive, legalistic religious traditions.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mammon Fails, Again

Flags of the European UnionImage via Wikipedia
The Pope has commented previously on the lessons of the financial collapse. Mammon continues to fail. First, Greece needed a bailout from the European Union (EU). Today, Ireland. Tomorrow, maybe Portugal and possibly Spain (the first big fish). And who knows? The U.K. is not in such great financial shape either. Neither is France.

The U.S. has its own problems. GM got a bailout, so have many financial institutions. The state of Michigan, for example, has been in economic free-fall for years now.

Money gives an aura of success that is quite deceptive. I can think of some individuals whose lives have an outward sheen of success because they got advanced degrees and higher paying jobs. Yet, the unseen, inward, toxic disaster of their personalities and emotions persists. The same can happen to entire nations, but in nations we call the "personality" culture.

Yet, even without financial ruin, individuals and nations can still be "soul failures." Financial collapse can expose our false cover. Yet, continued financial prosperity can simply continue to disguise it. We are seeing life lessons for each of us as individuals and for nations as a whole.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My View From the Middle

pilgrim to CompostelaImage by Isidr☼ Cea via Flickr
In the middle of life, these are the pointers I look to as the hopefully long descent (better and also hopefully said, "ascent") begins. The following is also good advice for teenagers and younger adults--in fact, for everyone of any age.

1. Enjoy each day and each phase of your life. Look back at different times of your life and notice how fruitless were your worry and anxiety about things that never came to pass, things that actually turned out to be good fortune and not tragedy as initially thought, and how even undeniably bad events were not ameliorated one bit by your anxiety but simply made worse and given wider, premature scope in time.

2. Build relationships that yield peace and joy. Do not waste your time on situations that simply bring darkness and turmoil. You were not made for that. If the relationship or situation yields joy and peace, than that is a good sign of God's will for you. Make that an evaluation to be made between you and God, without the noise of confused, manipulative, or egotistical people who pursue agendas that are not in your best interest. The blind cannot lead you out of the pit. They simply want to pull you in with them. They do not realize that they are in a pit.

3. Never give up. While you breathe, hope. God is full of surprises. Be ready for them, expect them, and look for them. God is good and wants the best for you. Look, look, look.

4. Always be grateful to God and to others. Live the examined life on a daily basis. Find the gifts and note them carefully, purposefully, and punctiliously. The Bible wisely asks God to teach us to number our days. My paraphrase is this: teach us to account for our days and the gifts of each moment and the hints of future gifts (those good surprises) to come. Now, that's the way to "number" your days, each one of them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Same Blog, Same URL, New Title

I am experimenting with a new, shorter title that may remove some "barriers to entry" for those seeking wisdom. The blog URL stays the same. Although I am not a member of Opus Dei, I recall that "the Work" likes to use names for its works that do not necessarily broadcast immediately its Catholic identity. Is that a Machiavellian tactic? No. It just means that one wants to cast the net as wide as possible and invite and welcome all persons of goodwill to the table, to the symposium, whether Catholic or non-Catholic Christians or simply people of other religious traditions or no religious tradition seeking wisdom.

 Here is one definition of "logos" (whose Latin equivalent is "ratio"):

A principle originating in classical Greek thought which refers to a universal divine reason, immanent in nature, yet transcending all oppositions and imperfections in the cosmos and humanity. An eternal and unchanging truth present from the time of creation, available to every individual who seeks it. A unifying and liberating revelatory force which reconciles the human with the divine; manifested in the world as an act of God's love in the form of the Christ.
Source link.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Not Dumbing Intelligence Down

Boy with Down Syndrome assembling a book case.Image via Wikipedia
Classical Greek seems more precise than Latin, but Latin seems to me to be more precise than English. We can see this greater Latin precision when we consider what "intelligence" is. In a recent conversation, a friend and I marveled how our technologically advanced, very industrious Anglo-Saxon society, in practice, narrowly defines "intelligence" as what makes us efficient or productive in problem-solving, especially technical problem-solving. (This instrumental view of intelligence has even contaminated fields, like philosophy, which are traditionally viewed as part of the humanities.)

In contrast, in Latin, the verb "intellēgo" has various levels of meaning: to understand or grasp mentally, to become aware of, to understand thoroughly as a connoisseur, to understand a person's character, to judge, to appreciate, to be well acquainted with, and, even, to have good taste (see Cassell's Latin Dictionary).

My friend and I discussed how we often deride what we view as inferior or non-existent intelligence based on our reductionistic narrowing of intelligence to what is technically efficient and productive. The example he gave was of an autistic college student who was met with some resistance in his attempt to join a student housing cooperative. We also discussed how the distinctive kindness of individuals with Downs Syndrome exhibits a certain type of intelligence that is in many ways superior to the technical intelligence we tend to idolize.

Book CoverImage via Wikipedia
Psychologists are aware of the dangers of mistakenly (unintelligently!) narrowing our definition of intelligence. To get this point across, one popular book on this topic is entitled Emotional Intelligence. When we are tempted to compare intelligence levels or to view others as less intelligent, maybe the intelligent thing to do is to pause and ask more precisely, in a very Latin way, about what kind or level of intelligence we are speaking. Is it merely technically efficient intelligence? Or is it the intelligence of intuitive appreciation? Or the intelligence of discerning character, motives, and emotions? Is it the intelligence of good and refined taste? Or is it the most life-changing intelligence of all--the intelligence of appreciating the good, the true, and the beautiful, a form of intelligence that enters the realm of love? Why not ask intelligent questions about intelligence?

Friday, November 19, 2010

In Time for Gift-Giving Season: Give A Kindle Book

Amazon has just announced that you can give anyone with an email address a Kindle book. If the person does not own a Kindle, all that he or she has to do is download the free Kindle "app" for a laptop or other device.

What does this mean practically? Say I want to give the new $18 George W. Bush biography to someone. Well, the Kindle price is $9.99. I rest my case. In addition, as with all Kindle purchases, there is no shipping cost; and delivery is virtually instantaneous. Life just got simpler.

See this Amazon link for details.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Look Below the Surface

Joseph McCarthy History In An Hour via Flickr
We have many proverbs, generalizations, and rules of thumb that aim to guide us. Yet, we must be discerning and remember to look below the surface in their various applications. Even the book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible requires the application of judgment, not merely knee-jerk and slavish embrace of a superficial meaning. For example, here are two famous proverbs that require deeper thought to avoid direct contradiction:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26 (ESV).

Obviously, we have to discern the differing circumstances and settings in which each proverb is appropriate. For example, if an angry, hostile, slandering fool is trying to bait you before others, then do not imitate his hostile manner; or the fool will have thereby gained his goal of discrediting you before others. 

Yet, if a fool is causing outrageous scandal, then it is sometimes necessary to unmask him publicly and stop the bullying. There is a famous scene in American history of the nineteen fifties when an Army attorney put an end to the endless, demagogic bullying of Sen. Joe McCarthy by simply uttering these words at a televised congressional hearing: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" (see link).

We need to go below the surface. In a similar way, we need to be wary of making superficial judgments about others. We tend to assume blithely that "nice is good"--but not so fast. The person who seems so agreeable and eager to please may be operating on the basis of a gravely disordered, rather than a healthy, personality.  For example, a man who enjoys the company of a very compliant, eager-to-please, and accommodating woman may end up finding out that she has been and is too compliant with too many other men. From the other gender perspective, a woman who always gets her way with a man may find that, in the end, he is really not a "man" worth having at all but rather a spineless shell good for nothing.

Or we may thrill to see someone stubbornly defiant in the midst of challenges and unwaveringly persistent in achieving personal goals. Yet, is such "toughness" really so admirable when in the service of self-aggrandizement? Think of all the tyrants of history and the petty tyrants of the more mundane settings of daily life.

We also have to be wary, at times, even of "family values." Unfortunately, in some situations, some family members need to be avoided. In the famous television series "I, Claudius" about ancient Rome, produced in the nineteen seventies, Tiberius, the future emperor, would have been better off having nothing at all to do with his evil, scheming, and manipulative mother. Her actions led to the abject and debauched disintegration of his own personal honor, sanity, and happiness, not to mention the terrible effects inflicted on others. She was a parent that should not have been honored with either obedience or deference or cooperation. 

There is no substitute for looking below the surface before applying our trove of generalizations about people and how to relate to them. Analytical reason needs to resist the urge to embrace the superficial and false response. We will save ourselves and others a lot of trouble.

Further Reflection:

The question that recurs, at least for me, is this: "Is it really good?" The "it" can be anything that many people think or assume is fine and desirable. Is what we work so hard for really good? Are the habits we have really good? Is the way we dress or allow our children to dress really good? We can get more specific and concrete. Is abortion on demand really good? Is flaunting in public what only a spouse should see really good? Is the automatic resort to alcohol to relax and have a good time really good? Is turning a blind, tolerant eye to sexual chaos really good? Is associating with certain people, with whom we are expected to associate, really good? Is a revered cultural trait, maybe in our ethnic background, really good? Or is it time to say that the emperor has no clothes and liberate ourselves from bad assumptions?

Monday, November 15, 2010

4 Key Points on the Bush Biography

Having just finished the newly published biography of former President George W. Bush (hereafter "W."), I wish to recommend it to others and to note a few points that struck me:

1. Some of you may recall that during the summer prior to 9/11, W. made a major decision on embryonic stem cells. He decided that federal money could not be used to finance the new destruction of embryos. His decision was objectively vindicated later when scientists were able to make a major breakthrough on using adult stem cells to accomplish what was previously thought to be possible with embryonic stem cells only. Like the abortion issue, on this issue, ideologues and researchers who disregard life issues simply refuse to dispassionately focus on the scientific facts and on reasonable alternatives that do not assault human life. It is curious that so much of the self-styled intelligentsia adopts such a philistine approach to, of all things, science.

2. Based on my reading, the politician who comes off the worst is Democratic Nevada Senator Harry Reid, especially on his premature and irresponsible declaration that the Iraq War was lost. Today, while Iraq is still, admittedly, a very tough and distressing place, the democracy there is still intact in the very heart of the Middle East. Stable democracy--apart from the Jewish state of Israel--is rare in the Middle East.

3. W. says at one point (and, for what it's worth, I agree) that his greatest ("most meaningful") accomplishment was that during his eight-year term of office there was never another successful attack on the U.S. after 9/11. That's an objective accomplishment that even the Bush-haters cannot and will never be able to efface. That another successful attack would not occur was certainly not a foregone conclusion after 9/11.

4. My final "take-away" is as follows. I and surely many others like to read biographies because they can give us lessons on life--a predicament that we all share! One major and old lesson that I take from this particular biography is that it is wise to put little stock on what others think about your decision, as long as you have done your best to make the right decision after responsibly and maturely reflecting on the matter at hand. Too many voices are compromised for a decision-maker to put much stock or weight on their knee-jerk criticisms. W., like Truman, knew that lesson.

P.S. The Amazon Kindle edition of this book is only $9.99.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The World Must Act Against the Islamist Genocidal Campaign Against Iraqi Christians

You have likely heard the news of the recent genocidal massacre of over 50 Iraqi Christians during Mass in the Assyrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq. The genocidal attacks continue. The goal is to annihilate Iraqi Christians. The French Ambassador hit the nail on the head:

French ambassador Gerard Araud said recent attacks against a Christian cathedral and other targets in Baghdad [were] part of “a deliberate will to destroy the Christian community.”

Source link.

The U.N. Security Council has condemned the attacks:

The UN Security Council was “appalled by and condemned in the strongest terms the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Iraq, including today’s,” said British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant reading a council press statement.

Source link.

So we hear from France, from the U.N., and from the British ambassador to the U.N. I, for one, have not seen a similarly strong statement from our President or the Secretary of State, although I do my best to keep up with world news on a daily basis. If you find such a statement, let me know so I can update this post and give our leaders their due.

The Iraqi government cannot or will not ensure the survival of its Christian citizens. As an American citizen, I urge the President to direct that U.S. troops move in to protect the Christians. If the President won't act, then maybe the new Republican House of Representatives should make its sentiments clear.  We cannot stand by while this genocidal campaign advances with impunity. The lesson from the Holocaust is clear: if we do not stop the genocide of others, we are merely making it more likely that we ourselves will be the next target down the road.

If a group of Catholic fanatics were massacring non-Catholics, Catholic bishops would, sua sponte (on their own initiative), be loudly and vociferously up in arms in condemnation. Where is a similar scale of reaction from the leaders of Islam around the world? I am aware of no other religious tradition that is currently spawning such systematic, persistent genocidal evil. The representatives of that religious tradition should be the loudest and most aggressive in condemning and putting an end to this Islamist genocidal campaign to destroy Christianity. In the meantime, in my opinion, the U.S. Marines, preferably as part of a U.N. police action, have a job to do.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Impact of Spain

Camino de Santiago Map. All the European routes Map. Via de Arles, Via de Vezelay, Via de Le Puy Maps.

Image source link.

In Spain today, Catholicism is not merely an ancient source of tourist attractions. Note that the Pope on his just completed trip dedicated a significant church in Barcelona that is still not completed. The age of building great churches in Europe is not over, at least not in Spain. (As a side note, even the cathedral of Madrid was just dedicated in 1993 by John Paul II--European Catholicism is not merely a matter for tour guides and historical preservationists.)

Here is the Vatican Information Service article looking back on the Pope's trip:

[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 10 NOV 2010 (VIS) - During his general audience, held this morning in the Paul VI Hall, Benedict XVI reminisced about his recent apostolic trip to the Spanish cities of Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. "I went there", he said, "to strengthen my brothers and sisters in the faith, and I did so as a witness of the Risen Christ and a sower of the hope that does not disappoint and does not fail".

  From the beginning of the trip, during the welcome ceremony at Santiago de Compostela, "I was able to experience the affection the people of Spain feel towards Peter's Successor", he said. "In this Holy Year of Compostela, I wished to become a pilgrim, along with the many others who have journeyed to that famous shrine".

  In the cathedral of Santiago, "where with great emotion I gave the traditional embrace to the saint, I thought how that gesture of welcome and friendship is, in fact, ... a powerful sign of the desire to conform ourselves to the apostolic message. This message, on the one hand, commits us to being faithful custodians of the Good News the Apostles transmitted, without succumbing to the temptation to alter it, diminish it or distort it to other interests while, on the other, it makes each of us tireless announcers of faith in Christ, with the word and witness of our lives in all fields of society".

  The Holy Father then turned his attention to the reasons that make so many people leave their daily lives to follow the Route of Santiago. "In moments of confusion, of searching, of difficulty, and in the desire to strengthen their faith and live more coherent lives, the pilgrims of Compostela follow a profound itinerary of conversion to Christ Who took the weakness and sins of humanity, the misery of the world, on His own shoulders, and carried them to where evil no longer has any power and where the light of goodness illuminates all things. They are people from all over the world who walk silently, rediscovering the ancient mediaeval and Christen tradition of pilgrimage as they pass through towns and cities permeated by Catholicism".

  "It is faith in Christ that gives meaning to Compostela, an extraordinary spiritual place which continues to be a landmark for Europe today. ... Openness to the transcendent, and fruitful dialogue between faith and reason, between politics and religion, between economy and ethics, will enable us to build a Europe which, faithful to its vital Christian roots, can fully respond to its vocation. ... Thus, certain of the immense possibilities of the continent, and trusting in its hopeful future, I invited Europe to open itself to God and so favour prospects for authentic and respectful encounter, united with peoples and civilisations of other continents".

  Benedict XVI then spoke of the second stage of his apostolic trip, which took him to Barcelona where he consecrated the church of the Sagrada Familia and declared it as a minor basilica. Contemplating the beauty of that building, "which invites us to raise our gaze and our souls to heaven, to God, I recalled other great religious buildings, such as the cathedrals of the Middle Ages which have profoundly marked the history and appearance of the major European cities.

  "That splendid work, rich in religious symbolism, ... almost like an immense stone sculpture", he added, "draws us to the true shrine, the place of authentic worship, heaven, where Christ entered to appear before God on our behalf. The great architect of this magnificent temple brilliantly represented the mystery of the Church into which the faithful are incorporated by Baptism as living stones in the construction of a spiritual edifice".

  The church of the Sagrada Familia was conceived by its architect, Antoni Gaudi, "as an immense catechesis on Jesus Christ, as a hymn of praise to the Creator. ... Indeed, the extraordinarily expressive and symbolic capacity of the artistic forms and motifs, as well as the innovative architectural and sculptural techniques, evoke the supreme Source of all beauty", said the Pope. He then explained how Gaudi's own life, "from the moment he accepted the commission to build the church, ... was marked by a profound change" as he felt "the need to prepare himself spiritually in order to succeed in expressing the unfathomable mystery of God in material reality".

  The Holy Father went on: "In Barcelona I also visited the 'Obra Benefico-Social Nen Deu', ... where handicapped children and young people are cared for with love and professional skill. Their lives are precious in the eyes of God, and they are a constant invitation to us to abandon our own selfishness".

  Also in Barcelona, "I prayed intensely for families, the vital cells and the hope of society and of the Church. I also recalled people who suffer, especially at this time of severe economic difficulties. My thoughts also went to the young, ... that they may discover the beauty, value and commitment of Marriage in which a man and a woman form a family which generously accepts life and accompanies it from conception until natural end. Everything done to support marriage and the family, to help people in need, everything that serves to enhance man's greatness and his inviolable dignity, also helps to perfect society".

  The Pope concluded his remarks by rendering thanks to God "for the intense few days I spent in Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona". He expressed his gratitude "to the King and Queen of Spain, to the Prince and Princess of Asturias, to the authorities, ... to the archbishops of those two particular Churches", and to "everyone whose efforts ensured my visit to those two marvellous cities was fruitful. They were unforgettable days which will remain inscribed in my heart".

  Before this morning's general audience, in St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope had received a group of pilgrims from the Italian town of Carpineto Romano who had come to Rome to thank him for his visit there in September commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of Pope Leo XIII.

  Also in the basilica, the Pope then greeted a group of pilgrims from the Czech Republic, who had likewise come to Rome to return the visit the Pope had made to their country in September 2009. "I pray to the Lord", he told them, "that He will cause the grace of that journey to bear fruit, and I hope that the Christian people of the Czech Republic many continue to bear courageous witness to the Gospel, with renewed enthusiasm and in all places".

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Inconvenient Facts for Anti-Israel Political Correctness

Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (We...Image via Wikipedia
Here are some points to consider:

1. There has never, ever been a Palestinian nation or state in the Holy Land until very recently as, ironically, the modern Jewish state of Israel has cooperated in laying the foundations for an independent Palestinian state for the very first time in Middle Eastern history. Before the modern state of Israel, the Holy Land was part of the Ottoman Empire and, before the Ottomans, part of other Islamic empires. There never was an independent Palestinian nation or state during all of that time.

2. It is clear that the Holy Land is indeed Israel--an Israel that fought against the oppression of Assyrian, Babylonian, and Hellenistic rulers and was ultimately crushed by the Romans (followed by the related Byzantines) who were the first to begin calling the land "Palestine" in an effort to efface the troublesome, rebellious historic Jewish identity of the patch of land known as Judea. Interestingly, the name "Palestine" derives from the Philistines who likely entered the area by crossing the Mediterranean and who concentrated in the region that is now known as Gaza, not in the heartland of the Holy Land. Israel has, to my knowledge, never laid claim to the Gaza region. Readers of the Bible will recall the Philistines as the longstanding enemies of the ancient Israelites. (Interestingly, modern archaeologists and historians today stress the native, Canaanite origins and roots of the Israelites, a troublesome twist to the agenda of those who persist in wishing to view Jews as aliens to the region.)

3. The Jewish state of Israel represents the recovery of an ancient homeland by people who were unjustly denied their freedom and independence and who were targets of national suppression, much as Poland was in later centuries. This recovery of the ancient Jewish homeland is a victory for social justice in the face of centuries of oppression in the Holy Land and elsewhere.

So, today's controversy over the right of a the Jewish state of Israel to exist in the Holy Land is not a conflict, as often misrepresented, between "European" Jews coming to usurp an assumed pre-existing Palestinian nation--a nation that never in fact existed. (The emphasis on the European geographical origins of Jewish settlers also fails to take into account the very important Sephardic component from other parts of the Middle East in modern Israel. Moreover, DNA studies have confirmed a persistent Semitic, genetic component among Ashkenazic Jews who are thus genetically distinguishable from many other inhabitants of Europe.) The Jewish state of Israel represents a liberation of the ancient Jewish homeland from centuries of foreign Islamic domination. It is not really a conflict between Jews and Palestinians--we are in fact witnessing a conflict arising from a just rollback of Islamic imperial conquest and oppression, an anti-imperialistic rollback that is anathema to most (not all) of the Islamic world with its belief in the manifest destiny of Islamic imperial expansionism and exceptionalism.

The above facts are highly controversial today, even on some college campuses in the United States, where there seems to have been no effort to understand the historical facts before jumping to ideological conclusions which absurdly view the overdue recovery of an ancient homeland by an ancient Semitic people from Islamic imperialism, as somehow being equivalent to an alleged new instance of European colonialism. A close study of history supports the case for the legitimate and permanent existence of the Jewish state of Israel, a state that is ready to cooperate in the formation--for the first time in history-- of a sovereign Palestinian state which has never before existed. How different this narrative is from what is often pushed by confused ideologues (of both the left and the right) looking for another "colonial, European" enemy to demonize. Yes, there have been many European colonial abuses in modern history; but the Jewish state of Israel is certainly not one of them.

Homily in Santiago de Compostela

[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 6 NOV 2010 (VIS) - At 4.30 p.m. today Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for the Holy Year of Santiago de Compostela in the city's Plaza de Obradoiro, so called because it once housed the workshops of the stonemasons who worked on the cathedral. The square was able to accommodate some 8,000 people while the rest followed the Eucharistic celebration on giant screens set up in the surrounding area. Among those attending the ceremony were the Prince and Princess of Asturias [the heirs to the Spanish throne].

  Before delivering his homily, the Holy Father pronounced some words in Galician: "I give thanks to God for the gift of being here in this splendid square filled with artistic, cultural and spiritual significance. During this Holy Year, I come among you as a pilgrim among pilgrims, in the company of all those who come here thirsting for faith in the Risen Christ, a faith proclaimed and transmitted with fidelity by the Apostles, among whom was James the Great, who has been venerated at Compostela from time immemorial".

  The Pope then began his homily by quoting a phrase from today's first reading: "'The Apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord with great power'. Indeed", he said, "at the beginning of all that Christianity has been and still is, we are confronted not with a human deed or project, but with God, Who declares Jesus to be just and holy in the face of the sentence of a human tribunal that condemned Him as a blasphemer and a subversive; God Who rescued Jesus from death; God Who will do justice to all who have been unjustly treated in history. ... Brothers and sisters, today we are called to follow the example of the Apostles, coming to know the Lord better day by day and bearing clear and valiant witness to His Gospel. We have no greater treasure to offer to our contemporaries".

  "Beside these words of the Apostle of the Gentiles stand those of the Gospel", the Holy Father continued. "They invite us to draw life from the humility of Christ Who, following in every way the will of His Father, came to serve. ... It is a service that is not measured by worldly standards of what is immediate, material or apparent, but one that makes present the love of God to all, in every way, and bears witness to Him even in the simplest of actions.

  "Proposing this new way of dealing with one another within the community, based on the logic of love and service, Jesus also addresses 'the rulers of the nations' since, where self-giving to others is lacking, there arise forms of arrogance and exploitation that leave no room for an authentic integral human promotion. I would like this message to reach all young people: this core content of the Gospel shows you in particular the path by which, in renouncing a selfish and short-sighted way of thinking so common today, and taking on instead Jesus' own way of thinking, you may attain fulfilment and become a seed of hope.

  "The celebration of this Holy Year of Compostela also brings this to mind", the Pope added. "This is what, in the secret of their heart, ... so many pilgrims experience as they walk the way to Santiago de Compostela to embrace the Apostle. The fatigue of the journey, the variety of landscapes, their encounter with peoples of other nationalities - all of this opens their heart to what is the deepest and most common bond that unites us as human beings: we are in quest, we need truth and beauty, we need an experience of grace, charity, peace, forgiveness and redemption. And in the depth of each of us there resounds the presence of God and the working of the Holy Spirit".

  "From this place, as a messenger of the Gospel sealed by the blood of Peter and James, I raise my eyes to the Europe that came in pilgrimage to Compostela. What are its great needs, fears and hopes? What is the specific and fundamental contribution of the Church to that Europe which for half a century has been moving towards new forms and projects? Her contribution is centred on a simple and decisive reality: God exists and He has given us life".

  "Tragically, above all in nineteenth century Europe, the conviction grew that God is somehow man's antagonist and an enemy of his freedom", the Holy Father explained. "As a result, there was an attempt to obscure the true biblical faith in the God Who sent into the world His Son Jesus Christ, so that no-one should perish but that all might have eternal life.

  "The author of the Book of Wisdom, faced with a paganism in which God envied or despised humans, puts it clearly: how could God have created all things if He did not love them, He Who in His infinite fullness, has need of nothing? Why would he have revealed Himself to human beings if He did not wish to take care of them? God is the origin of our being and the foundation and apex of our freedom, not its opponent. ... How can it be that there is public silence with regard to the first and essential reality of human life? How can what is most decisive in life be confined to the purely private sphere or banished to the shadows? We cannot live in darkness, without seeing the light of the sun. How is it then that God, Who is the light of every mind, the power of every will and the magnet of every heart, be denied the right to propose the light that dissipates all darkness?

  "This is why we need to hear God once again under the skies of Europe; may this holy word not be spoken in vain, and may it not be put at the service of purposes other than its own. It needs to be spoken in a holy way. ... Europe must open itself to God, must come to meet him without fear, and work with his grace for that human dignity which was discerned by her best traditions: not only the biblical, at the basis of this order, but also the classical, the medieval and the modern, the matrix from which the great philosophical, literary, cultural and social masterpieces of Europe were born.

  "This God and this man were concretely and historically manifested in Christ. It is this Christ Whom we can find all along the way to Compostela for, at every juncture, there is a cross which welcomes and points the way. The cross, which is the supreme sign of love brought to its extreme and hence both gift and pardon, must be our guiding star in the night of time. ... So do not fail to learn the lessons of that Christ Whom we encounter at the crossroads of our journey and our whole life, in Whom God comes forth to meet us as our friend, father and guide. Blessed Cross, shine always upon the lands of Europe!"

  The Pope went on: "Allow me here to point out the glory of man, and to indicate the threats to his dignity resulting from the privation of his essential values and richness, and the marginalisation and death visited upon the weakest and the poorest. One cannot worship God without taking care of His sons and daughters; and man cannot be served without asking who his Father is and answering the question about Him. The Europe of science and technology, the Europe of civilisation and culture, must be at the same time a Europe open to transcendence and fraternity with other continents, and open to the living and true God, starting with the living and true man. This is what the Church wishes to contribute to Europe: to be watchful for God and for man, based on the understanding of both which is offered to us in Jesus Christ".

  At the end of his homily the Pope again pronounced some words in Galician saying "may St. James, the companion of the Lord, obtain abundant blessings for Galicia and the other peoples of Spain, elsewhere in Europe and overseas, wherever the Apostle is a sign of Christian identity and a promoter of the proclamation of Christ".

  Following Mass the Pope greeted Mariano Rajoy, president of the People's Party and leader of the opposition, who was accompanied by his wife, then travelled back to the airport of Santiago de Compostela where his plane departed for Barcelona at 7.15 p.m.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What is the Center of Your Orbit?

The New Solar SystemImage by Lexinatrix via Flickr
Taking a recent trip to a planetarium reminded me of the powerful image of the great shift in our understanding of the planets and their orbits, a great shift known as the Copernican Revolution (named after a Polish priest) which removed the earth from the center of the orbiting planets and instead put the sun in the center. The philosopher Kant famously used the analogy with the Copernican Revolution to describe the effect that he wished to have with his own philosophical system. The notion of a "Copernican Revolution" is a fertile metaphor.

Although it may seem trite (who cares?), Christians can see a theological analogy: conversion is a sort of Copernican Revolution in which the self is replaced by the Son (trite pun intended). But we can approach the analogy in a more gradual way by simply asking the question that all who try to live the examined life recommended by the great philosophers should ask: what or who is at the center of my life?

Many choose the ego. Thus, the human panorama abounds with selfishness, narcissism, and exploitation. Some--maybe many more--choose to put others at the center. At first blush, putting "others" at the center sounds vaguely noble or Christian. Yet, if we look more closely, is putting "others" at the center really so good?

Is it good when individuals put some political leader or religious leader at the center of their lives in the sense of a submissive personality cult? The Nazi, Communist, and Islamist tragedies tell us otherwise, as does the more circumscribed tragedy, familiar at least to some Catholics, involving the Legionaries of Christ. More mundane and anonymous subjugations that we see in our offices, schools, and parishes also tell us otherwise.

Is it really good when an individual seeks to always please others? I have seen how such excessive "placebo" tendencies are often the product of profound emotional disorder that can easily lead to irreparably degrading and devastating consequences. As a result, I propose that, at the center, we should put neither the ego nor others. What or whom should we then put in the center?

Most who are philosophically minded would be able to agree that the truth or wisdom should be at the center and that such truth and wisdom should then dictate how we relate to the ego and to others, thereby introducing an intelligible order into our lives that replaces living in ad hoc anarchy.

You know the Christian proposal: put at the center of your orbit the One who claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you do not like that proposal, find me a better candidate. I am waiting.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pope in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Coat of arms of Santiago de CompostelaImage via Wikipedia
Your blogger being of Spanish and also Galician descent, you will find extensive coverage this week of the Pope's remarks in Spain, with emphasis added for those who need a "quick read."


VATICAN CITY, 6 NOV 2010 (VIS) - This morning Benedict XVI began the nineteenth apostolic trip of his pontificate, which is taking him to two places of ancient Catholic tradition in Spain: Santiago de Compostela, traditionally associated with the practice of pilgrimages to the tomb of the Apostle James the Great and currently celebrating a Jubilee Year, and Barcelona where the Pope will consecrate the as-yet-unfinished church of the Sagrada Famila, 128 years after building work began.

  Santiago de Compostela, the first stop on the Holy Father's trip, owes its name to the Apostle St. James (Santiago in Spanish) and to the Latin phrase "campus stellae" (Compostela), a reference to the star which, according to tradition, indicated the site containing the remains of the Apostle who, following his martyrdom in Jerusalem, was miraculously transported to Spain. At the site of the discovery of the saint's body, which took place in the year 823, King Alfonso II ordered a church to be built and entrusted it to the Benedictine monks, but in 997 it was destroyed by the Muslim troops of Almanzor. Rebuilt and transformed by King Bermudo II, it eventually became the third most important pilgrimage site after Jerusalem and Rome. In 1985 the city of Santiago de Compostela was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

  The Pope departed from Rome's Fiumicino airport at 8.30 a.m. and landed at Santiago de Compostela at 11.30 a.m., where he was welcomed at the steps of his aircraft by Their Royal Highnesses Felipe de Borbon y Borbon and Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, Prince and Princess of Asturias, and by Archbishop Julian Barrio Barrio of Santiago de Compostela.

  The welcome ceremony took place at the airport's southern terminal, inaugurated for this occasion, and was attended by authorities from the central government, the autonomous region of Galicia [blogger's note: this region is thought by some to have been where perpetual eucharistic adoration began in the city of Lugo in the sixth century], and the town hall of Santiago, as well as by Spanish cardinals, the executive committee of the Spanish Episcopal Conference and several hundred faithful. After the playing of the national anthems and a speech by the Prince of Asturias, the Pope addressed some words to those present.

Santiago de Compostela - Galicia - Spain. Publ...Image via Wikipedia
"I have come as a pilgrim in this Holy Year of Compostela and I bring in my heart the same love of Christ which led the Apostle Paul to embark upon his journeys, with a desire also to come to Spain. I wish to join the great host of men and women who down the centuries have come to Compostela from every corner of this peninsula, from throughout Europe and indeed the whole world, in order to kneel at the feet of St. James and be transformed by the witness of his faith. They, at every step and filled with hope, created a pathway of culture, prayer, mercy and conversion, which took shape in churches and hospitals, in inns, bridges and monasteries. In this way, Spain and Europe developed a spiritual physiognomy indelibly marked by the Gospel.

 "Precisely as a herald and witness of the Gospel", the Holy Father added, "I am also going to Barcelona, in order to nourish the faith of its welcoming and dynamic people. A faith sown already at the dawn of Christianity, one which blossomed and grew in the warmth of countless examples of holiness, giving rise to countless institutions of beneficence, culture and education. A faith which inspired the gifted architect Antoni Gaudi to undertake in that city, with the fervour and co-operation of many people, that marvel which is the church of the Sagrada Familia. It will fall happily to me to dedicate that church, which reflects all the grandeur of the human spirit in its openness to God.

  "I am very pleased to be once again in Spain, which has given the world a constellation of great saints, founders and poets, like Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Jesus, John of the Cross, Francis Xavier, among many others; in the twentieth century it raised up new institutions, groups and communities of Christian life and apostolic activity and, in recent decades, it has advanced in harmony and unity, in freedom and peace, looking to the future with hope and responsibility. Moved by her rich patrimony of human and spiritual values, she seeks likewise to progress amid difficulties and to offer her solidarity to the international community".

  Benedict XVI continued his remarks: "These contributions and initiatives which have distinguished your long past, as well as the present, together with the significance of the two beautiful places I will visit on this occasion, lead me to look also to all the peoples of Spain and Europe. Like the Servant of God John Paul II, who from Compostela exhorted the old continent to give a new impulse to its Christian roots, I too wish to encourage Spain and Europe to build their present and to project their future on the basis of the authentic truth about man, on the basis of the freedom which respects this truth and never harms it, and on the basis of justice for all, beginning with the poorest and the most defenceless; a Spain and a Europe concerned not only with people's material wants but also with their moral and social, spiritual and religious needs, since all these are genuine requirements of our common humanity and only in this way can work be done effectively, integrally and fruitfully for man's good", the Pope concluded. He then completed his remarks with some words in Galician.

  "Dear friends, I renew my thanks for your kind welcome and for your presence at this airport. I renew my affection and closeness to the beloved sons and daughters of Galicia, Catalonia and the other peoples of Spain. In commending my stay among you to the intercession of the Apostle St. James, I ask God to bestow his blessings on all of you. Thank you very much".

  Following the welcome ceremony, the Holy Father held a brief private meeting in the airport's VIP room with the Prince and Princes of Asturias, before travelling by popemobile to the city of Santiago de Compostela.