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

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Year End Summary

You will see many reviews of 2013 in the coming days. Here is mine in list form.

1. Yes, Time magazine was right. Pope Francis is indeed the Person of the Year. From the first time I saw him step out on the balcony, my heart leaped as he bowed and asked for the blessing of the crowds waiting to see the new pope before he gave his own blessing to the same crowds.

The cardinals chose a translucent Christian. By that phrase, I mean someone who, like a sacrament, radiates Jesus of Nazareth (Webster's: "permitting the passage of light"--yes, of the Light). Now, there are millions of Christians and many, many Catholic clergymen. But not enough are translucently Christian. It makes a big difference. Too often, the conventionally devout and pious simply radiate judgment and "correctionitis" tinged with patronizing, self-righteous disdain and even cynicism. Even worse, often the alleged corrections themselves are mistaken.

2014 offers the opportunity to be translucently Christian like Francis. Or we can simply be "opaque Christians" (Webster's: opacity = being "impervious to . . . light"--the Light).

2. The Tea Party irrationality collapsed in an ignominious budget showdown with the Democrats. Fools were exposed. That is always a good thing. And, although I do not agree with any mandate that violates religious freedom, I, as the American Catholic bishops do, think that the greater availability of health insurance for those uninsured or underinsured is a good thing.

3. Finally, what cannot be described here are all the good things that happened in my life and in yours over 2013. They are not "newsworthy" for the world, but they are for us. So, fill in this space with your own great and good experiences in 2013. As for me, I again enjoyed my vocation of teaching and writing. I enjoyed the blessings of friendship. I enjoyed the opportunity to travel to wonderful places. As a lover of the humanities, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more and more about what matters in life.

2013 was a good year.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From Dickens for Year's End

“Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and calmly away.” – The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

And remember to spot and call out the many foolish statements "in a Pickwickian sense" that many idling minds will throw out in 2014. It is inevitable.

(Quote found at Oxford University Press Blog)

Monday, December 23, 2013

My Modest Proposal for the Supreme Court

Why not make the office of justice on the U.S. Supreme Court an elected position? Here is the logic. We really have three "houses" of Congress: the House of Representatives, the Senate, and, in practice, the Supreme Court. All three really participate in making law. In effect, the Supreme Court is a de facto part of the legislative branch.

At one time, Senators were not elected directly but by state legislatures. That changed in 1913 via the 17th Amendment. Thus, arguably, the logical next step is to extend the same principle of direct election to what is, for all practical purposes, the "third house" of Congress: the Supreme Court. And, after all, we are very used to electing state supreme court justices.

One benefit may be more educational diversity on the Supreme Court. The media have pointed out that the Ivy League is tremendously overrepresented, as are elite educational institutions in general (see N.Y. Times link). This educational elitism is not the mark of a great nation proud of its broad equality of opportunity for all. In addition, as the nation becomes more ethnically diverse, we may get more than one or two token ethnic justices with direct election.

Of course, this proposal, in spite of its logical basis, given the de facto law-making power of the Court and given the analogy with direct election of the Senate and of state supreme court justices, requires careful thought about whether this step should be taken at all.

Yet, the proposal is worth considering since the Supreme Court is really a small (and very political) legislative chamber in which law is made with a simple 5 to 4 majority vote. This proposal is simply a matter of legal and political realism: the Supreme Court makes law, just as the House and the Senate do.

(Image of Ivy League locations in public domain)

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Prediction: St. Francis of Buenos Aires

Or maybe St. Francis the Great? Who knows? But sainthood is my prediction.

And so we must ask: saints can make certain people uncomfortable, no? And we must reflect: what should those relative few do about that discomfort? Look and look again and see something new that is being done. He is doing something new. Blessed and happy are those who do not take offense.

Libertarianism Is Not Catholic

But, I guess, it could be Protestant since there is no definitive doctrinal authority in Protestantism, just different interpretations of the Bible to suit one's honest preferences. (I do not make that last statement flippantly; I am not denigrating the sincerely held views of others based on conscience. I have strong respect for my Protestant brethren.)

But Catholicism has a central authority which has rejected the libertarian perspective, in spite of the idolization of Ayn Rand by Paul Ryan in the U.S. Congress and other Catholics. This recent Commonweal article does a good job of setting forth the facts about the Catholic view of libertarianism--see link. I myself wrote on the mutual incompatibility of Catholic social thought and libertarianism in the article on "Libertarianism" found in Volume 2 of the Catholic Encyclopedia of Social Thought, which is carried by many university libraries throughout the U.S. and even overseas. Go to WorldCat and find the nearest library carrying the volume (link).

But, of course, labels are fuzzy things. You are likely to find individuals with their own highly adapted, mitigated, and modified version of libertarianism who will claim a Christian foundation for their embrace of libertarianism. As in Protestantism, there is no central authority available to define libertarianism. Thus, often, in a discussion, the anti-Christian character of libertarianism is evaded by clever, adhoc metamorphoses. (The question then remains whether it is libertarianism that is now really being discussed and whether that label now serves any practical use in the discussion. I am reminded of Proteus, the mythological figure who was hard to pin down--see image below. Hence, our word "protean" to signify the elusive.)

In contrast, authoritative, clear, and logical Catholic social teaching is easily located--just go to this Vatican link for an authorized summary of the Catholic view on economics and society at large.

(Image of Proteus below is in public domain.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad


Vatican City, 18 December 2013 (VIS) – Pope Francis dedicated the final general audience of 2013 to the birth of Jesus, “celebration of trust and hope, which overcome uncertainty and pessimism”. “And the reason for our hope is this: God is with us, and still trusts in us! … He comes to live with mankind, he chooses to dwell on earth in order to stay with man, and to be found there where man passes his days in joy or in pain. Therefore, earth is no longer merely a 'vale of tears' but rather the place where God Himself has pitched His tent, it is the meeting place of God and mankind, of God's solidarity with humanity”.

But in sharing in our human condition, there is something even more surprising. “God's presence among mankind did not take place in an ideal, idyllic world, but rather in this real world, characterised by good and bad things, marked by divisions, evil, poverty, abuse of power, and wars. He chose to take part in our history as it is, with all the weight of its limits and its dramas. … He is God-with-us … Jesus has always been God-with-us, and is always with us in all the suffering and pain of history. The birth of Jesus is the demonstration that God placed Himself once and for all on the side of mankind, to save us, to lift us up from the dust of our misery, of our difficulties, and of our sins”.

The great “gift” of Bethlehem is, therefore, “the spiritual energy that helps us not to collapse under the weight of our labours, our desperation, our sorrows. … The birth of Jesus brings us the good news that God loves us immensely and individually”. Two considerations may be drawn from the joyful contemplation of the mystery of the Son of God, born for us.

The first is that in His Nativity God shows Himself to be not as one who remains on high and dominates the universe, but rather He Who bows down, Who descends to our small and poor earth … if we want to be like Him we must not place ourselves above others, but instead lower ourselves, place ourselves in service, be small with the small and poor with the poor. It is sad to see a Christian who does not want to bow down, who does not want to serve. A Christian who parades around is not Christian – this is pagan! … Let us ensure that our brothers and sisters never feel alone”.

The second consequence is that God, through Jesus, became involved with mankind to the point of becoming one of us, which means that whatever we would do to our brother or our sister, we would do to Him. Jesus Himself reminds us of this: whoever nourishes, welcomes, visits or loves one of the smallest and poorest among man, does so also to the Son of God.

As we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, now approaching, the Pope encouraged us to pray to Mary “to help us … recognise in the face of our neighbour, especially in the weakest and most marginalised, the image of the Son of God made man”.

As indicated above, this was the final general audience of 2013, as it is the last Wednesday before Christmas. Since his election to the pontificate, Pope Francis has celebrated 30 general audiences for which the Prefecture of the Papal Household has distributed 1,548,500 entry tickets, although there have been at times more than one hundred thousand attendees and the crowds have often exceeded the capacity of the Square. On these occasions, maxi-screens have been installed in the adjacent Piazza Pio XII, and Via della Conciliazione has been transformed into a pedestrian zone.

(Image under Creative Commons License

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Disrespect for Pope by "Traditionalists" Is Telling

Here and there, I come across an immature flippancy and disrespect aimed at Pope Francis by English-speaking traditionalists who take strong exception to a Pope who has discerned that excessive emphasis on a legalistic and ritualistic approach to the faith is not in keeping with the Gospel. Pope Francis has also seemed to trouble some by discerning that the excessive embrace of right-wing "Tea Party" economic theory is also not in keeping with the Gospel.

Frankly, as a Catholic, I am amazed at the flippancy I have seen (what is even more disturbing is the mockery of the Pope and the accompanying sarcastic tone). Maybe, it's cultural. As a Hispanic, I am often struck at the immature and puerile way of speaking that permeates our shallow U.S. culture. I see that same juvenile, teenage-like immaturity in those flippant toward the Pope. There is a lot of shallow secular culture in the style of those who claim to be countercultural. In amazement, I exclaim to myself "Wow!" when I see this flippancy. (As an aside, it is interesting how often ways of thinking or acting do not match a self-professed ideology. I sometimes notice how some who are politically liberal think in a very individualistic way that, ironically, has a lot in common with the politically conservative-libertarian mindset they claim to dislike. Likewise, some who identify as traditional sure sound like typical examples of the superficiality of American popular culture.)

In contrast to the puerile, it is good to observe the style and conduct of Opus Dei. You will never hear someone from Opus Dei engage in such flippancy. In my mind, the sincere gravitas of Opus Dei sets the gold standard for imitation. When I think "Catholic," the Opus Dei way of thinking is what comes to mind, not the conduct and language of self-proclaimed protectors of tradition.

And so I end with a quote from St. Josemaría Escrivá to mark the birthday of Pope Francis:

"For me, in the hierarchy of love, the Pope comes right after the Most Holy Trinity and our Mother the Virgin."

Now, that strikes me as Catholic, in contrast to the superciliousness of some claiming to uphold tradition.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Diagnosis When There Is No Prophecy: Hyperlegalism (a/k/a Hypernomianism)

"When there is no prophecy in the people of God, the void it leaves is filled by clericalism: In fact it is this clericalism that demands of Jesus: ' By what authority do you do these things? By what law?'. And the memory of the promise and hope to move forward will be reduced only to the present: no past, no hopeful future. The present is legal: if it is legal you go forward.”

---Pope Francis, see Vatican Insider link.

The Gospels make the diagnosis. St. Paul views prophecy as the foremost charism. It all adds up biblically.

(Image in public domain)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Catholic Salutes Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"

It's a great hymn that you even sing, at times, in Catholic churches. I heard it today in concert in the fourth movement of Mendelssohn's Fifth Symphony (the aptly named "Reformation Symphony"). It was exquisite. You do yourself a favor by finding a recording of the hymn (see link). Below is the text of the old hymn--whose majestic German title is "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott." The hymn is based on Psalm 46. For more information on Mendelssohn's related symphony, see this link.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Source link.

(Image below of Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-47, in public domain)

Friday, December 13, 2013

EU Council President on Latin, Christianity, and Ortega y Gasset

The President of the European Union Council, Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium, spoke yesterday in Madrid where he received an honorary doctorate from a Spanish university. The speech is interesting for various reasons: the current state of the European Union (including a reference to the situation in the Ukraine) and also for the scattered historical and cultural references in the speech.

These references include tributes to the role of Latin and Christianity in European cultural identity and to the role of Spain in Europe, both in the past and today. In addition, Rompuy lauds my favorite philosopher Ortega y Gasset whom Rompuy cites as an early influence in his thinking about Europe.

Here is the PDF link to the speech given yesterday, December 12, 2013, in Madrid.

[Image below is of Rompuy in very distinctive (!) academic garb and Mariano Rajoy, the current Prime Minister of Spain.]

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Don't Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

From Time magazine:

"[If] somehow by his own vivid example Francis could bring the church into a new relationship with its critics and dissidents—agreeing to disagree about issues that divide them while cooperating in the urgent mission of spreading mercy—he might unleash untold good. “Argue less, accomplish more” could be a healing motto for our times. We have a glut of problems to tackle. Francis says by example, Stop bickering and roll up your sleeves. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good—an important thing for the world to hear, especially from a man who holds an office deemed infallible."

Read more: TIME's Person of the Year 2013 Pope Francis, The People's Pope | link

Pope Francis is Time Person of the Year

According to Reuters, only John XXIII and John Paul II were previous recipients of this honor (they will also be canonized next year).

What can I say? We are living through a historic time of Catholic renewal. Pope Francis shows what compassion, a natural decency, and humility can achieve. These traits should not be a surprising formula--this modus operandi was pioneered by the Founder of the whole thing, a Founder who did not cling to divinity but humbled himself to the depths (see Philippians Chapter 2).

Now, let's hope (but don't hold your breath) that the neo-Pharisees, both religious and political, will join the renewal. But, whatever happens, the train has left the station.

Friday, December 6, 2013

When the Label ¨Pious¨ Is Too Narrow

Those familiar with Vergil's Aeneid know that Aeneas, the Trojan hero who struggles to finally be the founder of the future Rome, is given the constant epithet or description of being pius or pious, a term that had a very different meaning for Vergil and his contemporaries than it has for us today.

Today, we, for the most part, think of a pious person as one given to external displays of religious devotion. That modern view of piety is only part of what the Romans of Vergil's time would think about a pious person. For the ancient Romans, the pious one was primarily the dutiful and responsible person who endured hardship for the sake of fulfilling his obligations. And, yes, Aeneas was also very dutiful in religious ritual and prayer.

What makes me pine for the Roman definition is that all we have today is the label "pious" primarily applied to those given to external religious exercises and devotions. The problem is that we see too many people given to external religiosity who are also not given to responsibility.

Here are some examples of non-pious (non-responsible) religiosity:

1. We think of marriage as primarily for the personal satisfaction of the spouses instead of putting the welfare of the children first;

2. We think of ritual observance as having priority over compassion for others;

3. We think of the religious person as one who is busy with religious meetings, conferences, and workshops, rather than as one who heroically endures and bears her many responsibilities.

I suggest that we need to recover the old Roman view that piety involved much more than merely external displays of religiosity. Too many of the conventionally "religious" are just too plain irresponsible when it comes to their duties to others to be truly "pious."

(Image of Aeneas and his son finally reaching Italy is in the public domain.)