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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grad Students: Start a Blog

Here is an excerpt from Scientific American:

People with good writing and research skills are rare. People who cross disciplines and read widely are rare. But don’t we need these people for academia to thrive? After all, many times, the greatest innovators are those who bring in fresh eyes and the perspectives of fresh disciplines: they are less likely to be myopic and be constrained by lines of thinking that are area-specific—and more likely to see patterns and connections that are invisible to the insiders.

The single best training and preparation I could have possibly had for writing my dissertation was the exact training and preparation I received in my career as a blogger and a writer. I just hope that others can have that same experience, and that in the future, my path will be the rule rather than the exception.

Source Link.

(Image below from this source)

Monday, April 29, 2013


That's certainly one of the meanings of the rich term "Catholic." I saw it over the weekend when I attended a seminary graduation in the Midwest as a faculty member. What (better "whom") did I see? What did I hear?

1. Several Africans receiving licentiate degrees (these are ecclesiastical or church degrees midway between an American M.A. and Ph.D.);

2. The first biblical reading at the graduation Mass was in Spanish;

3. I spoke in Spanish with a Central American member of a religious order;

4. I saw a large Chaldean family happily being photographed with their son who is on the way to ordination (Chaldeans are the original Christian inhabitants of Iraq--there before someone else came along).

I am sure I missed others whose origins are also very international. But I saw enough to delightfully re-confirm that the Catholic Church is very expansive in its breadth.

(Image in public domain)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Perils of Instant Judgment

The Instant Judgment Culture

In the Gospel, we are told not to condemn others and to remember that the degree of scrutiny that we apply to others will be applied to us. Given that warning straight from the mouth of the master, it is amazing how so many jump to quick judgments--even about the Pope when he carries out a very biblical and highly defensible act, like the washing of the feet of juvenile prisoners, both male and female. That is just one recent but glaring example. You can find many more examples of instant judgment that bears no fruit (just turn on talk radio or the internet equivalents, whether secular or religious). In talk radio, you also have to take into account that the more instant the judgment, the faster the cash flow.

Gospel wisdom is not something that floats down from the air, something not rooted in the soil of this life. The wisdom of not judging too quickly is the wisdom of humility: we do not know everything, we cannot know everything--so let issues percolate, let them simmer, ponder them. Why so much hurry to react to the lastest thing on the news? The survival and well-being of the world do not depend on our instant reactions. We are not the saviors of anything. Follow the rhythm of that old Latin word: paulatim, gradually, little by little.

After pondering, you may find that it may actually be better to say, of all things, nothing at all. And, after pondering, you may find out that you might say something more nuanced, more intelligent, something more comprehensive and more comprehending of the entire situation.

Instant judgment is not a gift of the Holy Spirit. Instant judgment is the folly of deceptive certitude and of an exaggerated sense of the importance of our own opinions. And remember that some of the most certain are among the most insecure. Situations develop over time. So should our judgments, especially when made in the public arena.

The Ad Modum Argument

Now, some might say: "Well, I know my arguments are correct. I have known all about this issue and have dealt with it for years. You are just making an ad hominem argument that is irrelevant to my logical point." 

My criticism of instant judgments is not ad hominem at all. My observation is an ad modum argument: pointing out that the mode or manner of argumentation is too sure of itself because it is too quick and so fails to take into account all of the relevant circumstances surrounding an issue. An ad modum argument is highly relevant in all discussions because it points to the causes of weakness in an unpersuasive conclusion: hastily made assumptions and insufficiently examined, over-simplistic, arbitrarily narrow premises. The way (modum) one argues is highly relevant to any discussion--in contrast to a genuinely ad hominem point (such as, "you have freckles").

A Thoughtful Alternative: An Example

What mode or manner of argument allows us to avoid the silliness of instant judgments that are all too common in the "fast" media (radio, TV, and internet)? I suggest a wide inductive approach: observe and gather alot of information first. Then digest the information before deciding. In contrast, most fruitless instant analysis labors under the illusion of a purely deductive approach: these are the two or three things I have to know, I know them, here is the only conclusion possible. Yes, if you narrow the scope of what you consider, you will get a quick and snappy conclusion--but do not be surprised if you lose many others in the process and fail to be persuasive, even if those others cannot exactly articulate what is missing in your analysis. They will still sense that something important has been overlooked.

For example, not a few Catholics love to fight about liturgical rules. The incident of the recent papal foot-washing is a good example. What inductive approach would apply to this issue? Look at the text of the rubric or liturgical rule. Look at it as if you had never seen it before: notice what someone with a different view of the matter would notice. Aquinas left us a great legacy of giving the best possible exposition to an opposing view. In my old textbook on symbolic logic, this approach is called--even by secularists--the principle of charity to be applied in interpreting any argument. You give the other side the best you can give for its view. Sometimes, you may, as a result, adopt the other view. So what? After all, the issue is not winning or saving face or sticking to our past answers but rather getting closer to the truth.

Continuing our liturgical example, then you ask: what is the purpose of the rule? Does the rule itself tell us? At this point, in the foot-washing example, it would be useful to go back and read the chapter in the Gospel of John where the foot-washing takes place. What is the purpose and meaning of Jesus' action?

After taking time to absorb all of the above, then consider whether canon law is of help in this matter or whether it is a matter for liturgical analysis only. Can we find principles in canon law that can help us to fruitfully analyze the Pope's action? When I followed this process, I thought of the canon law principle of custom--whereby a custom can in some special circumstances overturn an explicit rule. The idea of custom overturning a written rule tells us alot about the Church as a community: the practice of the community is considered to be very important. That idea should not be surprising since canon law itself originates in the first place with the customs and practices of Christians. Remember the old saying: how we pray reflects what we believe ("lex orandi, lex credendi": the rule of praying is the rule of believing). Thus, at the root of a true Catholic analysis there is a profound regard for what the community concretely and actually practices on the ground.

If all of the above steps had been followed by many, the papal foot-washing would have been a teaching moment for all of us, not another occasion for empty polemics. Cast out the net and take in the information. Then, ponder. Then, speak publicly. We will all make mistakes, even specialists. The key is to continue to be open to new information and to continue to think. As the Gospel tells us in many ways, cast your nets widely in order to make a great catch.

(Image in public domain)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

USA=The Substance Abuse Society

That's the warning I give my kids. Based on my observations and stories I have heard, American culture is a substance abuse culture--abusing alcohol with abandon, along with prescription drugs and illegal drugs (and now with quasi-legal drug use evident in the farce of "medical" marijuana as the worst generation, the baby boom generation, seeks to have the government subsidize its coping mechanisms).

Of course, substance abuse is a symptom of deep unhappiness. People who need a chemical (whether legal or not) to feel good, to have a "good" time, to make it through the week, are deeply unhappy. They have no purpose in life that makes sobriety and self-preservation worthwhile.

And, among Catholics, we see an epidemic. Too many with a Catholic cultural background have been taught from very young that immoderate use of alcohol is fun and glamorous. It is neither. Hopefully, changing cultural demographics among U.S. Catholics will change this situation for the better.

But, of course, the problems go beyond Catholics. Just go to any major American university where you can see a cross-section of all types of Americans deep into substance abuse.

And the problem goes beyond liberal and conservative, black and white. You will find epidemics of drug abuse in rural, Republican areas that on the outside pretend to be Mayberry but that, on the inside, have more in common with the inner city: family breakdown, child abuse, rampant promiscuity, illegal drugs. The only differences with the inner city are that gun violence is not as frequent as a daily reality and that there is a heftier dose of denial.

The U.S. is a substance abuse society and culture. The U.S. is a deeply unhappy culture. We could talk for years about the causes. But the problem is clear.

I recall in a discussion of Spanish literature years ago a professor mentioning the concept of "intrahistoria"--the history of the cotidian, of the daily realities of life, as opposed to the history of election results, revolutions, and celebrities (most prominent politicians today fit into that celebrity category, ever since the JFK era). When we look at the "intrahistoria" of U.S. life, we see a substance abuse culture very distant from the civic pieties we like to mouth and pretend to believe.

(Creative Commons License image via Wikimedia Commons)

Monday, April 22, 2013

More From Ovid

At the end of March, I posted various quotes from Ovid's Ars Amatoria (link).

Here are some more Ovid quotes for your pleasure:

1. "Leve fit, quod bene fertur, onus": "The load is light which is carried well." (Amores I.ii.10).

2. "Fugere pudor verumque fidesque": "Chastity and truth and good faith fled." (Metamorphoses, Book I, line 129). This line describes the iron age of mankind as humanity degenerated from the golden, silver, and bronze ages. In the United States, I date the iron age to circa 1968, with premonitions of its arrival in the 1920's. I see the great good of the Civil Rights Movement as the last gasp of decency and idealism coming just before the iron age arrived in full force. Many do not realize this period is now "iron" because they are too young to remember or are and were simply oblivious to the moral earthquake that struck. We now have to reinvent the wheel for many of our friends in the iron age.

3. "Sterilem sperando nutrit amorem": "He nourishes his fruitless love by hoping." (Metamorhoses, Book I, line 496. This line refers to the god Apollo's love for Daphne.

4. "Pia sunt nullumque nefas oracula suadent": "The oracles/prophecies are holy and they urge nothing unlawful." (Metamorphoses, Book I, line 392. I recommend this line to all theologians, liturgists, canon lawyers, and the self-anointed, varied magisteria of the internet. For "oracles," we Christians can say "the Gospels." Nothing proposed by the Gospel is unlawful. If an interpretation of a particular law or doctrine seems to undermine the Gospel, the interpretation cannot be right. We need to think about the matter again--even if it is hard, time-consuming, and inconvenient to think again and even if it is much easier to be superficial and "shoot from the hip." This canon, this rule, of interpretation is supreme. And it is not antinomian at all: for the Gospel is the New Law that is universally and supremely binding.

(Image of Apollo and Daphne in public domain)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

An Innumerable Multitude

Periodically, in Catholic circles, there is an ongoing discussion about how many may end up in heaven or elsewhere. With that in mind, I was struck by this weekend's Sunday Mass reading from Revelation Chapter 7:

(Douay-Rheims Bible)
After this I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands:

Revelation 7:9.

(Image in public domain)

Churchill Fairly Annotated

I saw a quote by Winston Churchill today: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

My gloss:

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average elected official.

For the record, democracy is still the best of all forms of government--maybe, with term limits added.

(Image in public domain)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hollywood Violence Not a Cause But Cannot Help Matters

The overnight events in Boston--the wild violent chase and resistance by two brothers --is surreal. A few weeks ago I was on a treadmill in a local gym. I never watch TV, but the inevitable TV screens were on in the gym. What I saw was part of a 2010 movie about two friends and their gang terrorizing Boston in an astoundingly violent chase sequence in which they murdered police and rammed police cars with abandon. The scenes were intended to shock, and they did.

Snippets of news reports that I read today sound eerily like that TV series. When nuts decide to engage in violence, they are apparently looking for a sick thrill. When TV celebrates that violence and perversely makes it seem glorious, it can't help matters. TV or movies did not cause this disaster. But these and similar depictions could have given these fanatical psychotics an additional strange and twisted confirmation of the thrill involved in their fantasies. Extremely violent TV and movie scenes make such actions seem even more plausible, demonically glorious, and doable to committed fanatics.

But that realization implies that Hollywood must put commonsense restraint over profit. That won't happen as long as there is a public willing to pay plenty of money for extreme depictions of violence. Maybe, out of respect for all of the real victims, the public will experience a change of heart, a change in consumer preferences.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cicero: Let Them Talk

My forced march (magnum iter) through a Latin reading list brought me this gem from Cicero's Republic (yes, all philosophy already was a footnote to Plato, as Whitehead remarked):

Let what others say of you be their own concern; whatever it is, they will say it in any case [Loeb Classical Library translation by C.W. Keyes]. 
(Latin: quid de te alii loquantur, ipsi videant, sed loquentur tamen; my translation: "What others may say about you, let them see to it, and indeed they will still speak.")

Cicero, De Re Publica, "Scipio's Dream," Book VI.23.

Like all other aphorisms, you must apply this one in its practical context. In many contexts, what others will say should not be high on your list of concerns if you are doing the right thing.

(Image in public domain)

Richer in Assets or Richer in Life?

Personal Finance
Personal Finance (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)
When visiting a school concert today, I was impressed again by the great and obvious difference between lives: some live for money, others live to serve. 

I saw dedicated and enthusiastic teachers serving kids with challenging problems. I saw joy, exuberance, and success. I saw life.

I compare that to others who have staked all on the million dollar plus house in the prestigious suburb exercising a career in a profession that society thinks of as prestigious. At the end of the day, what do those who stake all on financial assets and status have? At the end of the day, nothing, nihil, nada.

The goal is not to be rich but to live a richer life. The richer life is, without question, the life of serving others and seeing them live better and happier because of you. What an obvious truth and how often ignored!

If you can influence someone in their choices, tell them the truth: the challenge is to find a richer life, not to be rich.
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box

Think outside the box... it's where the best i...
Think outside the box... it's where the best ideas live. (Photo credit: ArtJonak)
That's the good example Pope Francis is giving--an example that goes well beyond even the important topic of reform and governance in the Catholic Church. He sets up an advisory council of eight cardinals. As journalist John Allen recently pointed out, this step may change the entire way that people have viewed the governing structure of the Vatican--no longer may the post of Secretary of State be so splendid in its previously unique status. By the way, the Pope's holding of the Holy Thursday liturgy and foot-washing rite, with females included, in a juvenile jail is, in my opinion, another great example for all of us of legitimately thinking outside the box.

For each of us, thinking outside the box should be part of daily life. I have been amazed to see people bypass great opportunities to turn their lives around through education and training or just by associating with an entirely different type of social network. Through fear or just plain blindness or indifference, they fail to think outside the box. It is more comfortable to stick with the routine of the familiar, even if the familiar is a dead end.

When you face a problem or challenge, do not be afraid to wait for a solution that has not been tried before by anyone or by only a few. It often takes time for the new approach to germinate as our minds work on a challenge. But wait, make haste slowly (festina lente, as Augustus liked to say), and you may change your life, your world, and maybe the world of others.
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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stereotypes Falling

As a Hispanic who is very organized and efficient and abhors delay, I take exception to the stereotype of Latins as too lax. Well, our Italo-Hispanic Pope is putting that stereotype to rest with his swift action today naming an advisory group of eight cardinals, just one month after being elected Pope. You will find many other posts and articles giving you the details of his latest move (here is the NY Times story).

But I want to focus on the general stereotype I hear once in a while in the U.S. about "those Italians" failing to run the Vatican well. That type of remark comes from people in a country--our U.S.A.--where the Church has paid millions for scandals exacerbated by astounding negligence and obtuseness: scandals that have resulted in several diocesan bankruptcies. Neither Italy nor Spain has experienced anything remotely similar to that level of mismanagement.

And yet, we find American Catholics drawing up blueprints for Vatican reform. Well, that's chutzpah or, more accurately, a great denial of reality.

The Latins Ignacio de Loyola and Domingo de Guzman (St. Dominic) were quite efficient and effective. So was Josemaría Escrivá. So were and are many others I do not know. But I do know Jorge Bergoglio is in the class of the efficient, effective, and decisive. But Latin efficiency should really be no surprise. Caesar was known for his effective speed as he made his way around Gaul.

(Images of Julius Caesar, Dominic, and Loyola are in public domain. Image of Escrivá is used under Creative Commons License.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Today's Pope: Triumphalism Is A Temptation for Christians

We have not only a Pope but a Pope who says daily Mass with a homily/sermon for all of us. I reprint today's sermon from Vatican Radio (go to this link to get more sermons). The spirit of triumphalism is not of the Holy Spirit. Thus, triumphalism must come from somewhere else, either from our own egotism or even from the Accuser or a combination of both. We see a form of triumphalism in the pride of a few who posture as more Catholic than even the Vicar of Christ. We see triumphalism when being Catholic is not viewed as a challenge to our pride and egotism but rather as another way, among many other ways, to lord it over others or to immaturely try to impress others. Some even use triumphalism to compensate for their own basic insecurity and sense of inferiority. Ironically, the only salve for such insecurity is humility. With humility, we are always secure--we have thrown away the pride that is always vulnerable to being punctured by reality (and will be punctured by reality).

Below is the text of today's sermon:

Pope Francis: triumphalism is a temptation of Christians

2013-04-12 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) In following Christ, one walks with perseverance and without triumphalism, said Pope Francis in his homily during Friday morning’s Mass at Casa Santa Marta. The Mass was attended by personnel from Libreria Editrice Vaticana, including the director of the publishing house, Fr. Giuseppe Costa, as well as personnel from the Vatican pharmacy and perfume shop.

When God touches a person’s heart, the Pope said in his homily, he grants a grace that lasts a lifetime; he does not perform some “magic” that lasts but an instant. The Pope reflected on the climate of agitation immediately following the death of Jesus, when the behaviour and the preaching of the Apostles caught the attention of the Pharisees.

He picked up on the words of the Pharisee Gamaliel, cited in the Acts of the Apostles, who warns the Sanhedrin of the danger of attempts on the lives of Jesus’ disciples and reminds them how, in the past, the clamour generated by prophets found to be false subsided along with their followers. Gamaliel’s suggestion is to wait and see what will come of Jesus’ followers.

This “is wise advice even for our lives because time is God’s messenger,” Pope Francis observed. “God saves us in time, not in the moment. Sometimes he performs miracles, but in ordinary life, he saves us in time… in history … (and) in the personal story” of our lives.

The Pope added that God does not act “like a fairy with a magic wand”. Rather, he gives “grace and says, as he said to all those he healed, ‘Go, walk’. He says the same to us: ‘Move forward in your life, witness to everything the Lord does with us’ ”.

Pope Francis said “a great temptation” that lurks in the Christian life is triumphalism. “It is a temptation that even the Apostles had,” he said. Peter had it when he solemnly assured that he would not deny Jesus. The people also experienced it after the multiplication of the loaves.

“Triumphalism,” the Pope asserted, “is not of the Lord. The Lord came to Earth humbly; he lived his life for 30 years; he grew up like a normal child; he experienced the trial of work and the trial of the Cross. Then, in the end, he resurrected.”

“The Lord teaches that in life not everything is magical, that triumphalism is not Christian,” the Pope said. The life of the Christian consists of a normality that is lived daily with Christ.
“This is the grace for which we must ask: perseverance. Perseverance in our walk with the Lord, everyday, until the end,” he stated.

“That the Lord may save us from fantasies of triumphalism,” he concluded. “Triumphalism is not Christian, it is not of the Lord. The daily journey in the presence of God, this is the way of the Lord.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

If He Became Human, Why Don't We?

We Christians believe that God became human. So, then, why don't we become more human?

Become more humble.

Show more warmth.

Treat others as equals.

Be joyful.

Put our pride in our back pockets and move on.

Thaw personalities frozen by fear, arrogance, insecurity, pomposity, perfectionism, status-seeking, and absurd ethnocentrism.

Accept one's inherent dignity and abandon the yoke of inferiority complexes that blocks new paths.

Reject the worship of money and material possessions.

Remember that the meaning of your life is serving others, not serving or entertaining yourself.

We hear a lot about Mediterranean diets being good for our hearts.

Well, maybe our hearts themselves have to become more like the warm Mediterranean, more at ease with circumstances, our circumstances, wherever we are and with whomever we are.

 Let us become human.

(Van Gogh painting of Olive Trees in public domain)

Cardinal Wuerl Included Women in Foot Washing

The cardinal of Washington, D.C., who is one of the most prominent Catholic figures in the U.S. and known as an expert in catechesis and the teaching of the Catholic faith, has included women in the rite, as Pope Francis did. The cardinal is a member of the Church's top doctrinal body--the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The photo is from April 5, 2012, and can be found at this link.

This photo is more evidence of a widespread factual custom in the U.S. that the Vatican has on occasion explicitly approved and which has been tacitly permitted for years. Did Pope Francis' inclusion of women in 2013 signify papal approval? I think so. Let's see what the Pope does in 2014.

For more on this matter, go to the Canon Law Issues page link at the sidebar of this blog.

What a Gift!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Reminds Me Of . . . .

When I read the remarks of our new Pope, I am reminded of the way St. Josemaría Escrivá spoke in the videos we have of Escrivá speaking. What are the similarities? Simplicity, directness, warmth, yet at the same time there is gravitas. Maybe, this way of speaking derives from the common Spanish-speaking culture in which both men matured. Or, maybe, it is that both men share an impatience with beating around the bush with circumlocutions and "theologicalese."

I recall one video where Josemaría says to a group (my recollected paraphrase--this is the gist): I could give you a pretty little talk with great elegance. But I want to speak as if we are among family.

That's the way Francis speaks: as if he is among family and friends. How appropriate since he is the vicar of the One who calls us friends.

By the way, when you go to the Opus Dei site for Argentina, you see that the people of the Obra are delighted with our new Pope (if you read Spanish, here is the link). The Opus Dei headline in the link is: "The Authenticity of Papa Francisco Has Captivated Us."

(The priest celebrating Mass below is Cardinal Bergoglio on the feast day of St. Josemaría.)

Living at the Hotel a Stroke of Papal Genius

Boy, the pundits have had a bad run with this Pope. First, they never saw him emerging as the quick choice of the conclave. According to most pundits, the conclave was looking like a deadlock. And so much for age as a minus in the minds of the cardinals. Second, in all the pundit proposals for Church reform, none of the "geniuses" even thought to say that the new Pope should stay--permanently--at the St. Martha's House hotel used most famously to house cardinals during the conclave and otherwise used to house Vatican officials and visiting prelates. Yet, with this simple decision, the Pope has managed to tap into the informal flows of information that are present in any organization, as he says daily Mass, chats, and eats with his fellow hotel occupants.

I saw a picture today of the Pope with Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles (the largest archdiocese in the U.S.) who was staying at the hotel. Thus, the contact goes beyond the formality of the every-five-year ad limina visits by bishops. Most importantly, the Pope is exposed to different sources of information and is not at the mercy of a gatekeeper. That is a good thing for any top executive or administrator.

And the liturgy is at the center of this move--for the Pope celebrates daily Mass in the hotel chapel. We get to hear a daily Mass homily from the Pope. Instead of the private chapel in the papal palace, we have a more open setting, one to which he has been methodically inviting various groups of Vatican workers. This daily outreach is a way to reach the hearts of those who are crucial to the organization that needs reform. It also seems to me that, if I were a Vatican official living at the hotel, I would be on my best behavior with the Pope as a fellow resident and fellow diner in the hotel dining room.

In retrospect, the Pope has made a major change from a quasi-hidden, aloof papacy to an accessible papacy. The advantage of the change now seems obvious, but all good decisions seem obvious in retrospect.

So, a very simple act and preference is very fruitful in opening up lines of communication and flows of information for the man at the top. A very simple act lets the new Pope get to know his employees better. A very simple act allows contact with visitors to Rome from all over the world. A very simple act makes the daily papal Mass a reality for everyone.

Surely, staying at the Domus Sanctae Marthae (Latin for the "House of St. Martha") is also a gesture demonstrating this Pope's "preferential option for the simple and the humble." Let's hope that preferential option becomes very influential for future Popes. But choosing a new residence is also a great management decision--one that escaped all of the analysts with their know-it-all prescriptions for curial reform. Oh, and this reform was not even proposed by an American, although some Americans take up the posture of expert consultants in managing the universal Church--although several American dioceses have filed for bankruptcy due to scandal and some other dioceses have paid out large sums!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Good Analysis on Hispanics

It's at the Oxford University Press Blog (in my opinion, the best blog around anywhere) at this link. Here are some excerpts:

The Hispanic world is in the news lately, and the news is mostly good. Latinos in the United States are a growing political force, and developments in Latin America are at the forefront of world affairs.
To start with, Latinos, the largest minority in the United States (approximately 57 million strong and slated to double by 2030), are acknowledged to be the deciding factor in Barack Obama’s re-election. After years of political stagnation, a record number of Hispanics cast ballots for president this year, finally assuming the political power long promised to them. It is fair to say that after the 2012 presidential election, the United States is no longer the same in large part because Latinos have taken their place as a mainstream force in American politics and society.
. . . . 

Argentina, known as a factory of trendsetters in the region (think of Jorge Luis Borges), has recently offered a new type of trailblazer: a Pope. Who would have thought that the first non-European leader of the Catholic Church to be elected would be from the place known as “el sótano del mundo” (the world’s basement)? Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, a Jesuit known now as Pope Francis (after Francis of Assisi), has already made a profound impression by making the role less pompous, more down-to-earth. He identifies with the poor, not with the ecclesiastically powerful.
And he is described as a conciliator, a quality that should come in handy as the bankrupted [Blogger: this language is excessive] hierarchy of the Vatican tries to clean up its act after decades of accusations of child molestation. Pope Francis’ humility is particularly striking when one considers that Argentines have a reputation in Latin America as manufacturers of pomposity and self-aggrandizement. Maybe that’s why his first few weeks in office have been as surprising as they are refreshing in the Spanish-speaking world.

(The map below is in the public domain; portions of the U.S. should also be in green.)

News in Latin

Here is the N.Y. Times story link.

Here is the link to the Finnish State Radio Latin broadcast.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Bergoglio Effect

Here is an excerpt from the Italian press:

It’s the Bergoglio effect. While some scholars and websites – who were declared papists up until a month ago – continue to criticise the new Pope, whose sobriety in comparison to Benedict XVI has not gone down well with them, the wave of fondness for Francis has also not stopped.

Source link.

Go to the link and read more.

So much for the self-anointed magisteria of the internet! My advice: if you like the Pope, honk! By that, I mean express your views in comment boxes in major media outlets, both Catholic and secular.  As to the super-conservative, quasi-traditionalist sites, I would not make them a priority. 

Interesting Ad!

Summary of Foot Washing & Pope Blog Posts

Update: I have added a new "Canon Law Issues" Page to the blog, which you can access at this link or at the sidebar under "Pages."

Below is a list of blog posts relevant to Pope Francis' washing of the feet of two females on Holy Thursday, 2013. The posts address the canonical issues in great detail based on my study of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, based on the commentary published by the Canon Law Society of America along with the text of this Code, and based on consultation with two canonists (one American and one European). Some of the posts also address broader points of significance.

What is the significance of a matter that to outsiders may seem trivial? I think the significance is the same as that present in the Gospel stories in which Jesus "changes" and "disregards" the law to achieve his mission. In place of "changes" and "disregards," read "fulfills." I especially recall the story in which Jesus allows his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath because of their hunger. Here is the story from Mark 2 (1899 Douay-Rheims translation):

23 And it came to pass again, as the Lord walked through the corn fields on the sabbath, that his disciples began to go forward, and to pluck the ears of corn.
24 And the Pharisees said to him: Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
25 And he said to them: Have you never read what David did when he had need, and was hungry himself, and they that were with him?
26 How he went into the house of God, under Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the loaves of proposition, which was not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave to them who were with him?
27 And he said to them: The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.
28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord of the sabbath also.

It is clear that, according to the Pharisees, Jesus "broke" the law (back to this issue shortly). Jesus does not deny what he has done, but rather points to the precedent of David who also "broke" a law for, let us say, "pastoral reasons"--namely, that his men, like the disciples of Jesus, were hungry. It is also sensible to say that Jesus was not concerned only with the issue of going hungry on the Sabbath but was also making a wider point summed up by the famous words: "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath."

I strongly believe that this same principle is what Pope Francis is restating as the vicar of Christ on earth, especially to those who overemphasize rubrics (and who believe that overemphasizing rubrics is an impossibility). This Gospel story also tells us about the methodology for interpreting the New Law in the New Israel: look also to precedent and circumstances and pastoral reasons, not only to the isolated letter of the rubric. In Christianity, church law distinctively and appropriately contains an internal tension, the purposeful tension imposed by a determined founder who subjected all rules to the test of saving and healing. This tension fulfills the critique of ritual and sacrifice that began with the Old Testament prophets and is a distinctively Christian treasure.

But, back to an earlier point in the story, did Jesus really "break" the law? Of course not, because Jesus is the law--He is the Torah, the Logos. Did Pope Francis really "break" the law? Of course not, because the Pope as the duly chosen vicar of Christ is the supreme legislator holding and wielding the keys granted by Christ. If that scenario--like the Gospel scenario--makes some of us nervous because of our compulsive and understandable need for stability as insecure and vulnerable human beings, then so be it. Faith, hope, and charity can handle any sense of instability or disorientation that we experience.

This latter observation is not an illegitimate ad hominem argument, but simply highlights that legalism as exhibited by the Pharisees arises from extra-logical emotional and spiritual sources (that point is the whole thrust of Jesus' critique in the Gospels of many of the Pharisees). The legal logic and analysis of Jesus was impeccable in pointing out the precedent of David and in pointing out that the ritual institution of the Sabbath must always be applied with the institutional purpose of the divine legislator in mind. That approach of Jesus is impeccably logical and legal--but it is not legalistic.

The logic of Jesus against legalism does not need to rely on an ad hominem argument--and neither do the plausible arguments that the Pope acted in accord with what canon law and pastoral discretion in liturgical matters consider possible. A doctrinaire refusal to at least acknowledge (even if not agreeing with) that plausible legal alternative would be, in my view, rooted in something that goes beyond the logical. To point out that extra-logical bias is to alert readers that sometimes what is presented as purely logical and objective analysis is often fueled by other influences. Thus it has always been with human nature, both mine and yours; and there is no need to engage in denial about this human spiritual reality. Most of us are too old and experienced for such blinders. If, on the other hand, we bring our biases into the light and examine them, then we can argue better. Logically speaking, biases are relevant in identifying, questioning, examining, and evaluating our logical assumptions and premises. A true ad hominem argument would be to say that your liturgical or legal analysis is wrong because you have brown eyes. We are not dealing with such trivialities here.

In sum, this is what we have: Jesus "disregarded" a ritual or liturgical law as it was imperfectly understood and, by doing so, revealed the true, fuller law in the matter. So has Pope Francis. The Gospel is the interpretive key (we pedants like to say "hermeneutical" key) to the entire foot-washing episode. And, by the way, the Gospel is the New Law. The rubrics relate to the Gospels in the same way that a statute relates to the U.S. Constitution. The key to interpretation and application lies in the magna charta. In the liturgy, we don't stand up for the rubrics--we stand up for the Gospel, the ultimate rubric, the rubric of rubrics.

Update: At least two liturgists from England have taken public exception to the Pope's inclusion of females. As I understand them, their reasoning is that in the Holy Thursday liturgy the foot-washing is "intrinsically" tied to the ordained priesthood. When such critics say "intrinsically," I assume that they mean "exclusively." But they cannot prove that at all; and, upon further reflection, their view gives us an absurd conclusion (reductio ad absurdum). 

They are indeed correct that connection to the ordained ministry is certainly one of the meanings of the rite: ordained leaders as persons wielding authority are especially called to humble service, but so are all other Christians and certainly ordained leaders are called to serve both men and women (obviously those served are the persons whose feet are washed). 

Yet, to conclude from the above that therefore there is an exclusive connection to the ordained only--as those whose feet are washed--is to commit a logical non sequitur ("it does not [necessarily] follow"). It makes more sense to contend that the one washing the feet always be ordained (as a representative of governing authority); it really makes no sense to say that only the ordained, or only those who as males can be hypothetically ordained, can have their feet washed. It is as if one said that only those who hypothetically qualify for the highest positions of authority can have their feet washed. That view really seems absurd.

The Pope has, sensibly and reasonably, chosen to apply the broader and richer meaning to include serving (washing the feet of) those who cannot be ordained because they are females--and it is undisputed that he has the legitimate authority to do so. The ordained are called to serve (wash the feet) of all sorts of people, not just of those who can be ordained--maybe, especially of those who cannot be ordained and thus are furthest from the possibility of governing others in the Church.

Moreover, those who emphasize the wording of rubrics fail to note that the rubric (liturgical instruction) itself does not say "only" males. There is a very good Latin word (used when the Church wants to be absolutely clear) which means "only": tantum. That word was not used. So, even a literal and plain reading of the rubric does not foreclose the inclusion of women. 

Technically speaking, the rubric has left the matter open. An old rule of statutory construction (even in canon law) is that if a rule appears to impose a limit, then its wording should be strictly construed--that is, interpreted in a way that is least restrictive in its application. Applying strict construction in this case means that we take seriously the absence of the word "only" in the rubric. No one that I have read has yet to address this issue of wording in the rubric. My personal view is that the rubric on foot-washing should be changed to explicitly allow for pastoral discretion to admit females or children as persons whose feet may be washed. I think that pastoral flexibility is what, in any event, the Vatican has been permitting for years and what the Pope himself has embraced in both his actions, as archbishop and as Pope, and in the public statement issued by his spokesman Fr. Lombardi. In fact, the rubric for an optional foot-washing in the Holy Thursday liturgy explicitly states that the entire rite is, to begin with, available for pastoral reasons--so rubrical recognition of pastoral flexibility as to women and children is a very consistent and congruent step to take, especially since, in my view, the Pope has already canonically approved that pastoral flexibility by his conduct and by the public statement of his spokesman.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Great Blind Spot: Egotism

We see it very often. Even mature people practice the "blind spot" to some degree or another when they are shocked to discover that others have a legitimate problem with something they have said or done or failed to do. But, in this post, I wish to point out the more extreme cases, which, nevertheless, are quite common. In these more extreme cases, I suspect the individual has a persistent psychological problem; you could call it a form of narcissism which blinds the person to the negative effects of actions which are plainly forseeable by others.

1.) In the public spotlight, you will read about public officials who can't figure out how shocking their actions or inactions will appear to the general, common sense public. They will inexplicably fail to detect dereliction of duty that is obvious to most people. These examples of psychological blindness can include government officials but also other public figures--for example, scandals involving the actions of college coaches.

2.) In the more private spheres of life, on a much more trivial level, I have seen persons who cannot fathom that cancelling an appointment at the absolutely very last minute calls for at least some kind attempt at a pro forma apology. On a much, much more serious level, I have seen people hide extremely unseemly behavior from future spouses--who, often, eventually and inevitably will discover the past and are, understandably, shocked and unwilling to take it all in stride.

The great blindspot exists: not seeing the negative consequences of past and present actions on others, not anticipating that others--who are perfectly normal and reasonable--will be offended or even shocked, failing to understand what all the fuss is about in a particular matter. These are signs of very troubled people. Some of them have real mitigating circumstances because of their personal lives of turmoil. Yet, the reality remains that such persons create very serious negative consequences for others. As noted before, the psychologists may call it some form of narcisissm or self-absorption.

The rest of us just call it selfishness and, very sensibly, decide to avoid further repetition. In the public sphere, you vote out the public official. In the private sphere, you also get "voted out"--and sometimes those voted out do not even realize what has happened. Without overcoming this form of narcissism, people cannot really succeed or flourish regardless of external appearances. In both the public and private spheres, when they do get "voted out," the "voters" are doing them a favor by giving them this message: Wake up! Let's hope the message gets through--for their sake and for the sake of the rest of us.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

A Franciscan from a Galician Village

Galicia is a region of northwestern Spain best known for being the location of the famous shrine of Santiago de Compostela. Pope Francis' first major appointment is to make Friar José Carballo Rodríguez, currently head of the Franciscans, the secretary of the Vatican department overseeing religious orders (the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life). He holds degrees from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (Jerusalem; biblical theology) and from the Pontifical Biblical Institute (Rome). Here is an excerpt from an interview given by the newly chosen secretary in a Spanish newspaper:

– ¿Y la Biblia…? ¿También puede entenderla cualquiera?
And the Bible? Can just anyone also understand it?

– Sólo hay que saber escuchar a quien te habla a través de las palabras. Una persona como Francisco de Asís, que no tenía estudios, fue un gran conocedor de la Biblia, porque tenía un corazón de pobre y se colocaba ante el texto completamente desnudo, completamente disponible.

The only thing you must know is how to listen to the one who speaks to you through the words. A person like Francis of Assisi, who did not take academic courses, was a great intimate of the Bible, because he had the heart of a poor man and placed himself before the text, completely naked, completely open to its calling [Blogger: "disponible"--also a very Jesuit idea; see below].

– ¿Y la comprendió…?
Did he understand it?

– Supo captar como nadie los secretos del Reino. Como dijo Jesús, son los pobres, los sencillos los que llegan a conocer de verdad los secretos del Reino.

He knew how to grasp, like no other, the secrets of the Kingdom. As Jesus said, the poor, the simple are the ones who come to truly know the secrets of the Kingdom.

Source link: El Correo Gallego.


"Jesuits are asked to be, in St. Ignatius' Spanish tongue, disponible: available, open, free, ready to go anywhere. The Jesuit ideal is to be free enough to go where God wants you to, from the favela in Latin America to the Papal Palace in Vatican City." --Fr. James Martin, S.J. (source link).

Personal Note: Many people of Cuban descent count relatives from Galicia, Spain (including this blogger). One of the persons whom I found most likable during my childhood was an elderly, but vigorous and stout Galician lady--exuding a lively peasant simplicity--who was a friend of my grandmother. She was from the same province as Friar Carballo (Ourense, Spain). She was very devout and very simple, with not a scintilla of that prideful piety we see from time to time.

(The first two images are of Fr. Carballo and his home village in the Spanish province of Ourense. The Roman bridge in the last image is in the provincial capital of Ourense, Spain, which goes by the same name as the province itself.)

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Bench is Deep

I saw this quote in an internet comment:

"Like those who oppose Jesus in the name of authentic religion, we could be blind to God and neighbors due to our self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and closedness or narrowness of mind. Ecclesiastical customs and persons, when naively or narrowly glorified, might become hindrances to true worship and compassion."

-Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines

Wow! Mature and Christian Wisdom on Foot-Washing Issue on the Internet

Dr. Jeffrey Mirus of has written a wise, prudent, and mature analysis of the whole liturgical foot-washing issue. (By the way, if we have to use labels, Dr. Mirus qualifies, in my view, as a Catholic theological conservative.) Here is the link. You will not waste your time reading it. I will quote an excerpt that I found striking, but please read the whole article to get the entire context:

It seems to me that there is ample warrant for permanently changing the liturgical rule which restricts foot-washing to males, as maleness plays no significant role in this context. The priest represents Christ; in washing the feet of those who depend upon him for spiritual good, he demonstrates the essential note of ministerial humility and self-abasement in genuine service. And any person who receives such service is called, in Christ’s name, to do the same for others.
But it remains to be seen whether Pope Francis intends to change this rule. Retaining the restriction has one value; it makes the current liturgical context seem materially more similar to the context of the Last Supper, even though the use of layman [sic] renders the scene theologically dissimilar, and this particular similarity or dissimilarity seems to be essentially irrelevant to Our Lord’s point. It is at least possible that restriction to males has become something of a patriarchal anachronism. It is certainly possible that insistence on this rubric actually now obscures what it was originally intended to clarify. But again, whether the Pope intends to change the norm remains to be seen.
Source Link. (End of Mirus excerpt)
Frankly, my analysis as a non-canon lawyer (although a civil lawyer trained in a secular Roman law legal system) and as a reasonably intelligent Catholic is that in fact the Pope has recognized the discretionary pastoral exception for bishops to include females if a bishop so desires (Canon 26 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law). Notice that there is nothing in any serious discussion of the matter about forcing a bishop to do anything. [N.B.: My analysis assumes that the canon law rules on custom (Canons 23-28) and on official interpretation of law (Canon 16) apply to this liturgical question. If these canon law provisions do not apply to this liturgical question, then the technical requirements of canon law are not binding, although they might possibly be analytically persuasive in evaluating this liturgical matter.]
But Dr. Mirus' reflections give us a great teaching moment about the tendencies toward Pharisaical attitudes that are all too common and seem to blossom on the internet. Reflection, restraint, self-control, maturity, kindness, courtesy, graciousness, yes, even, contemplation--what a wonderful way to approach the matter or any other matter in the future, especially if the matter involves the conduct of the Pope, your Pope. Or are those qualities too much to ask of individuals who identify themselves as devout? The Pope's actions have borne good fruit in unexpected ways for those willing to seize the occasion. Carpe diem.

(The image below showing Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well is in the public domain.)

More Evidence of the Pastoral Exception Re Foot Washing

Here is the link recounting Dr. Gregory Popcak's personal experience decades ago in the Diocese of Pittsburgh (when he was a seminarian). The anecdotal evidence is that Rome has been approving the inclusion of women in the foot-washing rite for quite a while. So, why the great surprise when Pope Francis does it? Could it be that the media are just following the lead of certain traditionalist blogs to get a juicy story of alleged Catholic disarray? I do not think the mainstream media was sufficiently familiar with and aware of the issue to notice it at all until traditionalist blogs  started venting.

By the way, Popcak describes outraged demonstrations by Catholics when the custom in Pittsburgh was changed to exclude women. Well, the existence of such outrage satisfies the canonical requirement that a custom that can acquire the force of law must be one that the community observes with the intention of introducing a law. Here is the commentary at pp. 90-91 of the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law: "If the community is disturbed by and objects to the attempted removal, the intention to have a binding norm is proven." More recently, in the Diocese of Madison (Wisconsin), since the bishop does not allow priests to include women in the foot-washing rite, at least two priests (one a monsignor) chose not to hold the optional rite at all rather than exclude women (see link). That opposition--the monsignor was applauded by the congregation of the largest church in the diocese when he announced his decision--is more evidence for the existence of this factual custom under canon law. 

Now turning to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the nation's "premier episcopal see" and oldest diocese in the U.S., we see at this link a 2012 liturgical publication (go to p. 14) which allows the inclusion of women in the foot-washing rite and cites in support the 1987 statement so allowing from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (and reaffirmed in 2007 according to this Archdiocese of Baltimore Office of Worship publication). 

The more I read the Code and the commentary to the Code, the more--in my mind at least--do the canonical objections raised against the Pope's actions collapse. Admittedly, reading Code and commentary is an acquired taste; but it is one that this controversy has given me to some degree.

Update: In the Archdiocese of Detroit, the custom of including women is alive and well. Below is a photo in the diocesan newspaper of a bishop washing the feet of a female on Holy Thursday, 2013 (see link). The other, older photo is from The Detroit News in 1992, and shows former Archbishop Maida (later made a Cardinal in 1994) washing the feet of a group including at least one female (see link). The last image is from 2007 and shows Bishop Boland of the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia (see link).

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