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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Catholic Revolution

When we return to the gospels, it is always a revolution. Pope Francis has launched the necessary revolution of a Church always renewing herself. For Christianity, revolution is not a rupture but always an anticipated and continual return to the Source--the Son of Man who taught with authority, challenged the religious legalists, and did good to those most in need and most forgotten.

Marshall McLuhan famously said that "the medium is the message." McLuhan (by the way, a convert to Catholicism) told us something about the gospel. How you teach, how you speak to people, how you encounter the other reflect your message. Jesus never imposed, always proposed--as he did with the rich young man who rejected him. Jesus reserved his ire for the arrogant and powerful religious elite. He reached out most forcefully to those lowest on the social scale: children, women, the poor, the unfortunate and maimed in life. He spoke strong words about the danger of riches. He proclaimed a kingdom which inverted the order of prestige and status which put the proud and powerful on top.

When that style--that medium--is missing or goes dormant, the message suffers. With Francis, the message is again going full throttle because the style is the style of the gospels. How you encounter people tells people what you think of them. Francis' style tells people all they need to know: the message is compassion for everyone, not lecturing or condemning from a podium. As Francis says, we are here to accompany others in the complicated journey of life. Like the Good Samaritan, we approach those who may disdain or dislike us. We show who we are by what we do.

(Image of Good Samaritan by van Gogh in public domain)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Traditionalists Exploiting the Vulnerable

In his recent interview with various Jesuit publications, Pope Francis expressed concern about the "ideologization" and "exploitation" of the traditional Latin Mass. (You can find the link in the Sept. 19th blog post below.)

Shortly after the interview was released, I received a call from a very elderly relative, a recent widow, from Miami. She has been very, very devout since childhood. She called me because she was concerned after reading an article by a member of a prominent, schismatic traditionalist group about the Catholic teaching concerning the salvation of those outside the Church.

I had to tell her the truth. Fanatics can easily scour the centuries of Church councils and documents and make any argument they want about any subject under the sun. And they can be very fanatically insistent and convincing, especially to the vulnerable--the pious, especially the elderly pious and others who have not had any formal theological training.

What they do to the pious is wrong. It is wrong to disturb and exploit the vulnerable with ideological and tendentious manipulation of Church documents.

Instead of providing comfort and light and peace to devout Catholics in the late evening of their lives, they sow anxiety and worry. I know what Pope Francis meant in his interview.

(Image of story of widow's mite used under fair use doctrine)

Idols: Making the Relative Absolute

We have plenty. X's mood varies when the U.S. News college rankings show that his favored university has been sliding down from the top ranks. Another thinks his own ethnicity is something that others should applaud or find impressive. Another is addicted to one political ideology or another, whether the Tea Party or a left-wing or nationalist cause.

Yes, we humans have a strong attraction to making what is relative absolute. There are many good colleges. Your favorite is one of many. It is not the center of the universe and never will be--and that includes Harvard. Your ethnicity is part of the diversity of mankind. It is really no big deal. All of us share in that diversity. Political ideologies are tools for manipulation. Never turn over your common sense or judgment to any political party, agenda, or politician.

Now, some things are absolute in their worth: the moral law, human dignity, compassion, love, and the God who, for us Christians, is love and the voice of conscience. Those are indeed the truly exceptional things whose absolute worth we need to emphasize. All the other trinkets--my school, my ethnicity, my politics, etc.--are of relative, very relative worth. Wisdom is living this difference.

(Image in public domain)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pope's Blunt Interview

It's blunt, because for so long we have grown accustomed to overintellectual talk that meanders here and there without making the point crystal clear. An essay can meander before getting to it's bottom-line point--that's part of the genre of the essay. But an interview should go straight to the heart of the matter, as the Pope does.

Here is the link. Read it for yourself and make your own judgments. You don't need me or any other blogger, whether liberal or conservative or "traditional," to prepare you for the interview or to provide a template for you. Just read and think for yourself.

(Image in public domain)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Big Changes

In 2007, Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis:

“The defining aspect of this change of epoch is that things are no longer in their place. Our previous ways of explaining the world and relationships, good and bad, no longer appears to work. The way in which we locate ourselves in history has changed. Things we thought would never happen, or that we never thought we would see, we are experiencing now, and we dare not even imagine the future. That which appeared normal to us – family, the Church, society and the world – will probably no longer seem that way. We cannot simply wait for what we are experiencing to pass, under the illusion that things will return to being how they were before."

See source link.

(Image of Shrine of Aparecida, Brazil, under Creative Commons License)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Nationalism, the Old European Curse

The old saying is that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Exaggerated nationalism is the last refuge of fools. We see that whenever any nation or ethnic group starts waving flags in the faces of other people. The most current example in the news is the foolishness in the region of Catalonia in northeastern Spain.

The regional leader, Artur Mas, is trying to get the Spanish prime minister to be an accomplice to breaking up the nation. It does not take an Einstein to see that if the Catalonian separatists get their way, the Basque region will start waving its own demands for independence in the face of Madrid.

As I understand it, the Spanish Constitution codifies the unity of the nation--a unity that cannot be broken by any single region's vote, much as Lincoln refused to allow the South to break up the union. So the Catalan separatists are basically asking the Spanish central government to become an accomplice to unconstitutional illegality. Today, the Spanish prime minister formally declined the invitation to join a conspiracy to break the law. No surprise there; but--hey--it's always worth trying to see if the other side is really that dumb!

In the case of Catalonia, the foolishness is emphatic, especially given the reality that at least 40% of the population originated in or has close ties with other regions of Spain. Interestingly, the ruling nationalist party in Catalonia (which favors the use of the Catalan language) is now conducting a P.R. campaign for separatism in Spanish (Castilian) in an apparent attempt to target that 40% that may not necessarily be too enthusiastic about finding themselves suddenly cut off from the rest of Spain. The use of Spanish is necessary since the Spanish or Castilian language is the one favored by a plurality (about 46%) of the people in Catalonia, in spite of a language policy in the schools favoring Catalan and the regional government's other efforts to promote Catalan.

You will see photos in the media of separatists holding up hostile signs saying,"Catalonia is not Spain." Although the disdain signalled by this message is repellant, the statement is indeed true in a sense that the separatists are too obtuse or too stubborn to see. Catalonia is not Spain. Catalonia is only a part of Spain. As such, under the Spanish Constitution, Catalonia cannot vote on secession. Only Spain as a whole can decide whether or not to preserve its national unity.

It would be very surprising if the European Union (EU) ever gave its blessing to welcoming a breakaway region that clearly violated the constitution of a member nation. Germany could find Bavaria one day splitting off, or France could find Corsica seeking the Catalonian route. Or, maybe, Italy could see a similar move in Lombardy. And, ironically, Belgium, where the EU headquarters in Brussels is located, may have a problem with its own Flemish-speaking Flanders region. It's a Pandora's box scenario that risks bringing chaos to the European Union. As I understand EU rules, every member nation must approve a new applicant for membership. I doubt Spain, an EU member since 1986, would approve a Catalonian application.

In sum, nationalism is the eternal curse of people who never learn, even from the bloody history of Europe.

(Image under GNU License)

Two in One: The Compassionate Father and the Angry Brother

Many of us will hear this weekend the old parable of the prodigal son, and we will again wonder about the different reactions of the welcoming father and the resentful older brother.

One way to think about the parable is to view both the welcoming father and the resentful older brother as two parts within each of us--two parts struggling with each other, inside one person.

Will I react like the compassionate one, or will I be hostile like the older brother?

Remember that the prodical younger brother had rejected his father by taking the inheritance and taking off. The younger brother had rejected his father's company, authority, and guidance.The father had every reason to take him to task once he returned. But the father did not care about the insult at all. The father spotted the returning son from afar, ran to him, and showed compassion, joy, hospitality, generosity, and warmth.

But the father could have--with great justification--been as hostile as the older brother. After all, the prodigal had rejected him and thumbed his nose at him and come to a bad end.

Many of us have abundant reasons to be resentful and angry at individuals who have treated us badly--who have "dissed" us. Yet, sometimes, we give people a pass and are gracefully magnanimous. It's a surprise both to us and to the recipients. It is a moment of grace or gift.

The parable points out that each of us faces that choice often: be the compassionate father or the justifiably resentful older brother. It's not so much that the elder brother is wrong. It is more that we can think outside the box of our valid resentments and do something new, daring, and surprising.

(Image in public domain)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Road Map to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke

A lot of education is, unfortunately, dumping immense amounts of data on students without giving them a way to "find a handle" to grasp the mass of material thrown at them.

In my own teaching of the Synoptic ("Parallel") Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, I use the theme of the New Exodus from the Prophet Isaiah to propose (not impose as exclusive or unique or infallible) a template for studying these gospels--a template rooted in the Hebrew Bible going back to the original Exodus (the "Pentateuchal Exodus"--the book of Exodus forming part of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible).

I owe my embrace of the New Exodus theme to the book by scholar Rikk Watts (see Amazon link).

Below is the image I use to illustrate my proposal for studying what I firmly believe are the most influential texts in world history.

For my own explanation of this New Exodus framework, see this link (p. 6 bottom to p. 8).

(Flowchart Image © Oswald Sobrino 2013. All rights reserved.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I Got the Pointer, After All

Teacher tells his seminary graduate students that he forgot to bring either his laser or metal pointer to class to help him point out parts of the class website projected on the class whiteboard at the front of the class. He remembered about the pointer after he had already left home.

A short while later the electricity goes out in the seminary building due to bad weather.

The seminary rector suddenly shows up at the classroom door to give the teacher a flashlight to use, if needed.

He points out that the flashlight also has a built-in class pointer that is easily extended from the front of the flashlight.

And so, I got the pointer after all; power returned to the building; and the rest of the class went very well.

(Image under fair use)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Horace for Bloggers

This line of Horace struck me as telling for non-celebrity bloggers like myself (there must be thousands of us): contentus paucis lectoribus ("contented with a few readers"; Satire I.10). In the context of this particular satire, Horace is advising writers to be content with a few readers (although Horace was surely proud of his fame).

As, I am sure, it is also true of many others, my motive for writing is self-expression and self-reflection. If others are interested, fine. If not, that is also fine. I do get satisfaction from sharing my reflections because someone else may also find them meaningful and useful. We are social animals, after all. We get satisfaction from encouraging or helping others.

For me, blogging is a sort of intellectual diary that I am willing to share publicly. This drive to share also reflects my passion for teaching and for communicating--I hope--clearly.

And so I am content, as Horace claimed to be content. I am not advancing a particular agenda or a movement. I don't need to stir anyone up or call anyone to arms or make a living from blogging.

(Image of the Roman poet Horace in public domain)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Let Them Go

I am reading the adventures of Don Quixote with one of my kids. The book we use is an adaptation for young people. This dialogue caught my eye.

Sancho said, "It must be full of prisoners." Freeing prisoners had become a habit with Sancho.
"Let's let them out," he suggested. "By all means," said Don Quixote.

Blogger comment: There's a lot of wisdom (and biblical theology) in that exchange. Our mission is to set the prisoners free--and imprisonment comes in many, many diverse forms.

(Image by Honoré Daumier in public domain)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Humble Economist Who Changed Both Law and Economics

Read about the economist Ronald Coase of the University of Chicago who recently passed away at this N.Y. Times link.

He disdained the "equation-heavy approach" that has ruined so much of graduate study in economics, especially for those of us who admire the old-fashioned but still highly relevant field of political economy. Prof. Coase was an insightful analyst--not a mere numbers cruncher. We need more like him in economics and in other fields.

(Image under Creative Commons license at Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Another False Cliche to Abandon

This one often makes the rounds in certain Catholic circles: the decline in priestly and other vocations, the decline in Mass attendance, the closing of parishes and schools are due to the rise of the ordinary form of the Mass (for those unfamiliar with this term, the ordinary form is the Mass that you normally hear in English or another modern language at most Catholic churches as opposed to the traditional Latin Mass).

Aside from the logical fallacy of post hoc, propter hoc blatantly present in this cliche (that is, the fallacy that just because event A happened after event B that therefore B necessarily caused A), the cliche is just plain silly to any observer of the nineteen sixties and seventies. The sexual revolution--or better stated, the birth control revolution--led to a rapid distancing of many from traditional Christian practices. This reality hit the Catholic Church hard in terms of celibate vocations and in terms of people fleeing the confessional. That deluge of moral collapse had nothing to do with liturgical updating in the aftermath of Vatican II. It was a moral collapse that would have happened regardless of any liturgical changes. (Certainly, the traditional Latin Mass did not persuade the most nationally prominent U.S. Catholics of the fifties and early sixties--the Kennedys--to reign in their personal behavior. In effect, the behavior of the Kennedys was an elite leading indicator of what would become more common among less elite Catholics as birth control gradually became widely available. The rich did not need to worry about birth control--one way or another, they would cover their tracks.)

It is surely quite ironic (and pleasing to Screwtape) that people blame legitimate liturgical renewal carried on by the Church rather than the Birth Control Revolution for the decline in various measures of Catholic practice. It is like blaming a teacher with better classroom equipment for her students' skipping school to go out boozing.

In fact, one can even more persuasively and compellingly argue that the decline experienced in Catholic practice would have been much worse if the liturgy had not been updated. The traditional Latin Mass would have had an even harder time keeping the interest and attention of people during these tumultuous times. A Mass that more people can more easily understand is an undeniable and obvious liturgical improvement. Blaming that improvement for matters caused by social changes beyond the control of the Church is missing the obvious reality of the late sixties and of the seventies--a reality that is now fully conventional and unquestioned in the West.

(Image used under fair use doctrine)

Let Them Lead

Maybe, the best recourse for the U.S. in the latest Mid-East crisis du jour is to wait and let the international community take the lead in addressing the chemical atrocities of the Syrian regime. Too often in the past, the U.S. quickly throws itself into these crises as the white knight, only to be subject to criticism usually saying that U.S. efforts are a cover for self-aggrandizement, such as seizing control of oil supplies in Iraq, etc.

Well, let the rest of the world take the lead with American input; and let's see what happens. Let's see what the international community is made of--it will be a learning experience for all that may be the best preemptive response to the irrational love of anti-American conspiracy theories.

(Image of U.N. in public domain)