Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
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Saturday, December 28, 2002
Weigel on Needed Development of the Just War Tradition
The current issue of First Things has a brilliant (I do not use the word lightly) essay by George Weigel adapted from his lectures on the topic of just war and entitled Moral Clarity in a Time of War. (First Things has made the essay currently available at its web site.) He points out by implication that many of the statements circulating on the possibly impending Iraqi war are based on "amnesia" about the just war tradition rooted in Thomism. He makes a persuasive case that to maintain the tranquillitas ordinis or "tranquility of order" governments have the moral obligation to take action against regimes who have demonstrated the intent to develop and use weapons of mass destruction. What Weigel's essay points out is that it is time to think, not the time to engage in emotional reflexive responses that serve only to replicate the misguided appeasement of the West in the nineteen thirties. We can all profit by pondering this essay.
Below is a review of George Weigel's The Truth of Catholicism.On Monday, we will have a review of Weigel's more recently published book focusing on the current scandals: The Courage to be Catholic. You can see a brief abstract of this forthcoming review at the Amazon Book Review link above.
The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored
By George Weigel (New York: Harper Collins 2001), 196 pp., $24.00
Reviewed by Oswald Sobrino, Esq.
Theologian George Weigel, best known for his celebrated biography of the Pope, Witness to Hope, has penned a short book treating ten controversies in and about the Catholic Church. Weigel’s stirring words at the end of the book show why these controversies are worth exploring:
"The brave new world tells us that we ought to settle for a middling happiness in a life free of trouble. Catholicism tells us not only that we are capable of greatness but that greatness is demanded of us. The brave new world is a world of rationally organized self-indulgence. The world of the saints is a world of radical, extravagant self-giving. The brave new world is flat, painless, essentially carefree. The world of the saints is always craggy and sometimes painful; it includes dark nights of the soul as well as moments of ecstatic love. Which is the more human world? Which is the more liberated world? Which is the world on which you would want to bet your life?"1
At every moment of our finite earthly lives, we are choosing what we are becoming and what we will be at our unexpected moment of death. These existential choices make these ten controversies worth exploring. In chapter one, Weigel points out that Christians are called to live beyond fear through “the resurrection of Christ, the ultimate conquest of the final fear that is death.”2 Living beyond fear means confronting what kind of person we will be at the moment of death. That confrontation requires facing these controversies.
The first controversy involves the modern secular view that theism is the prison of human freedom and flourishing. Weigel’s response is that God is the truth and reality of our human existence. Belief in God leads to authentic human freedom and maturity by giving us hope and beckoning us to flourish through self-giving. In the Incarnation, “the Son of God submitting his freedom to human binding in order to set us free,” teaches us that “self-giving and receptivity are the road to human flourishing.”3 Belief in God not only gives us hope of heaven after death but also hope of abundant life here on earth before death, consonant with the deepest longings of our human nature.
In teaching this truth, Catholicism is not just another denomination or human association. Weigel concisely describes what we Americans are all too familiar with: denominations that seem to adapt to the latest demands of secular culture. As Weigel points out, for a denomination, process is more important than fixed doctrine, “being nonjudgmental is essential to group maintenance,” leadership is bureaucratic management harmonizing opposing views.4 In short, a denomination is a club altered at will by a majority of its members.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is divinely instituted by Christ to pass on the teachings of Christ. The structure of the Church and her sacraments have been instituted by Christ. In short, the divine is present in the Church. Even the church building is not a mere auditorium or place for assembly; it is a place where God is specially present. Unlike denominations, the Catholic Church cannot become more liberal or more conservative to suit the cultural pendulum; the Church’s sole mission is rather to be faithful to the will of Christ. Thus, the Catholic Church challenges us with an authoritative Church that excludes certain options, instead of comforting us by accepting whatever we may find convenient.
This different and controversial view of what a church is takes on a dramatic aspect when we consider what liturgy is. For many Christian denominations, the Lord’s Supper is merely a memorial meal that can be celebrated by any suitable minister, male or female. Some do not even require any form of ordination. The controversy or scandal of Catholicism in the modern West is that the Catholic Church views the Eucharist as Christ’s “sacramental giving of himself . . . which requires a priest who can iconographically re-present Christ in his male donation of himself to his bride, the Church.”5 Again, the Church presents a radically different view of reality that challenges our modern culture.
Even more controversial is the Catholic view that there are binding moral rules that bind our consciences because they are true and appropriate to the fulfillment of our human nature. In a telling paragraph, Weigel describes the predominant moral philosophy of modern Western countries:
“ 'Affirm others as they understand themselves to be' is not a Catholic tenet. It’s a tenet of the therapeutic society, in which there is neither rule of faith nor rule of life. To empty the Gospel of its power to set a rule of life is not compassion, and it does not lead to anyone’s healing. Moral doctrine—the rule of life that embodies the rule of faith, which is Christ—makes real compassion possible."6
If the Gospel does set a rule of life, then the sacrament of confession is not a luxury. Like the Pope, Weigel views each Christian life as having the “interior structure of a drama” with dramatic tension between what we are and what we should be.7 Individual confession provides a golden opportunity for a Christian to have his unique personal drama reviewed with the help of a priest as a representative of Christ. The priest helps the penitent review “the unique circumstances of his or her personal drama with the aid of a fellow Christian.”8 That is why the Church reserves general absolution without individual confession for extraordinary situations such as wartime. Those clerics who encourage Catholics to avoid individual confession by substituting general absolution, in ordinary circumstances, not only violate the laws of the Church but also jettison the most valuable experience in the sacrament of penance—the dialogue between penitent and priest.9
In a chapter on sexuality, Weigel discusses various issues, including fornication, contraception, divorce, and homosexuality. The Church’s call to genuine sexuality is summarized when Weigel discusses the Pope’s first book Love and Responsibility (written prior to his becoming pope):
"The goal of genuinely human sexual expression is to deepen a personal relationship. . . . I am making a gift of myself to another in a profoundly intimate expression of who I am. That kind of gift, and the receptivity able to accept it, requires permanence and commitment."10
In other words, genuinely human sexual expression can take place only in marriage between a man and a woman. Today’s culture of fornication makes no pretense at expressing anything through sexuality. Sexual activity is viewed as just another meaningless exercise in a meaningless world. The Catholic view that sexuality must express truth, that sexuality must be an expression of personal integrity, is a radical challenge to the nihilism expressed by promiscuity and fornication.
An even more radical challenge to modern culture is the view that suffering itself has meaning and expresses truth. Again relying on the Pope’s teachings, Weigel declares that by “linking our suffering with his [i.e., Christ’s], our suffering, like his, becomes linked to love.”11 As St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians states, by linking our suffering to the redemptive suffering of Christ we mysteriously complete what is lacking in the world’s experience of redemption.12 When we share in Christ’s suffering, we also share in Christ’s love and are thus transformed. While our love impels us to relieve suffering as Christ did in his earthly ministry, our love is also expressed in accepting our inevitable sufferings as mysteriously rich in meaning. For Christians, tragedy is never the final word. Even in tragedy, we can find meaning and love and truth. Christianity thus offers the world the most magnificently defiant response to suffering available, in contrast to the pessimism, fear, and defeatism of the secular world.
In two later chapters, Weigel discusses the role of the Catholic Church in the world and within democratic societies. For the world, the Catholic Church is “the fullest, most rightly ordered expression in history of the Church of Christ, which transcends history.”13 The Catholic Church is not another denomination; it is the fullness of the Church of Christ on earth. Within democracies, the Catholic Church prophetically warns that the benefits of democracy will dissipate if democracies fail to pursue the moral truths integral to human nature. Especially in the area of life issues such as abortion and euthanasia, democracies must take seriously the inherent dignity of every human life or suffer the collapse of human rights.
The book ends with a very personal invitation for each one of us to pursue the adventure of our unique personal vocation from God:
"Becoming a saint means living out a unique vocation, a distinctive role in the cosmic drama that can be filled by no one else. Discerning that vocation, giving oneself to it, and then dying in it is the drama of the Christian life as the Catholic Church understands it."14
That is an invitation worthy of much thought and reflection.
(1) George Weigel, The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored, p. 180 (N.Y.: HarperCollins 2001) (hereafter “Weigel”).
(2) Weigel, p. 17.
(3) Weigel, pp. 33, 32.
(4) Weigel, pp. 38-39.
(5) Weigel, p. 68.
(6) Weigel. p. 88.
(7) Weigel., p. 89.
(8) Weigel, p. 90.
(9) At a recent Catholic Mass I attended, the priest invited his parishioners to attend a regional penance service in large numbers so that general absolution could be offered. The subtext of his invitation appeared to be that we don’t need individual confession. This type of astonishingly irresponsible behavior is an example of why there has been so much confusion about the role of the sacrament of penance among Catholics.
(10) Weigel, p. 97.
(11) Weigel, p. 121.
(12) Weigel, p. 122.
(13) Weigel, p. 135.
(14) Weigel, p. 172.
Friday, December 27, 2002
Note: In a time when there is talk of a permanent replacement for Cardinal Law, some have mentioned Archbishop Chaput of Denver as a candidate. Boston should be so fortunate. Personally, I prefer to see a Cardinal Chaput in charge of the Los Angeles Archdiocese as soon as possible, i.e., immediately.
A Bishop for All Seasons: Chaput’s Living the Catholic Faith
Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics
By Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Servant Publications (2001), 159 pp., $ 9.99.
Reviewed by Oswald Sobrino, Esq.
During the Jubilee year, Archbishop Chaput of Denver gave a series of lectures on Catholicism to the people and clergy of the Church in northern Colorado. The result is a highly readable and direct commentary on the essentials of the Catholic faith without evasion or equivocation. In fact, the book is an exemplary model of a bishop’s role as a messenger of the Gospel who puts truth above popularity or cultural correctness. Chaput states what many serious Catholics sense:
"[I]n fact, the teaching of the Church is the teaching of Christ. That’s
why the idea of “cafeteria Catholics” is such a contradiction. The
Catholic who picks and chooses his doctrines sets his own judgment
above that of the Church. In doing so, in a certain sense he removes
himself from her."1
In fact, Chaput the Franciscan draws a parallel between our current cultural and religious confusion and the confusion that gave rise to St. Francis of Assisi and refers repeatedly to St. Francis’ determination to follow the undiluted Gospel “without gloss,” that is, without
the qualifications that seek to tame the Gospel.2 The archbishop does not try to deny the upheaval and confusion of our times, but he remains optimistic about the possibilities of faith and renewal. And he recognizes that, in light of deficient religious education, that renewal must begin with rediscovering the basics.
The rediscovery begins with speaking plainly about the heart of Christianity, “our daily relationship with the living person of Jesus Christ.” 3 There is no need for the Catholic Christian to allow evangelical Protestants to monopolize talk of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Such talk is the core of Catholic Christianity which, in addition, provides the best means to build that relationship: “the habit of daily Mass.”4
Drawing inspiration from the writings of John Paul II, Chaput goes on to outline five basic steps to grow in Christ. First, he recommends persistence in prayer because, “sooner or later, we’ll feel His presence.”5 The second step is to immerse oneself in Scripture—again, not ceding any preeminence in this area to non-Catholic Christians, but always with the guidance of the Church. The third step is to read about our Catholic faith to gain “key information that is missing from the culture around us.”6 It is noteworthy that Chaput finds that such reading can lead us to listen to God just like prayer and thus is not merely the accumulation of facts. The fourth recommendation is to become involved in the Church with priority being given to the family, the domestic church.
Finally, Chaput urges nourishment from the sacraments. Yet, he focuses dramatically on one sacrament that is particularly unpopular with the reigning culture:
"The most important single thing any of us can do to grow in Christ, reform our
hearts, renew the Church, and change the world is simply this: Go back to
Confession, regularly and sincerely. Forgive and seek forgiveness. Everything
else will follow."7
Unfortunately, such a dramatic plea is not commonly heard from our pulpits, to the great injury of many sincere Catholics receptive to a challenge.
In discussing the Eucharist and the liturgy, Chaput emphasizes that all the baptized are part of a “royal priesthood” whose prayers in the Mass are joined to the prayers of Jesus in the heavenly Liturgy.8 This royal priesthood of all the baptized is then served by the ministerial priesthood of ordained priests and bishops. The roles of the royal and the ministerial priesthood are “fully equal in dignity, but complementary in nature . . . and never purely functional or interchangeable.”9 By beginning his presentation of the Eucharist by emphasizing that all Catholics, men and women, share in a royal priesthood, Chaput exposes the confusion of those who agitate for the priestly ordination of women. I for one recall one protest banner proclaiming that “Women are a Priestly People.” Well, all the baptized, including women, children, and married men, are a priestly people. The ordination of women is not necessary for women to acquire the dignity of a royal priesthood. That dignity is already theirs by virtue of baptism. The plea implicit in the protest banner is moot and reflects another agenda alien to scripture and tradition.
True to his direct style, the archbishop calls attention to the culture war in both society and within the Church. In doing so, he does not mince words about some of the contradictions arising from the culture war, even daring to criticize the usually untouched Catholic politicians who are pro-abortion: "Politicians who say they personally oppose abortion, but then don’t work to change the laws in order to protect unborn life, are examples of the most damaging kind of secularism. Their faith life has virtually no effect on their public service."10 This stance resonates with the efforts of Catholic groups such as Catholics United for the Faith, for which Chaput is an episcopal advisor, to put an end to the scandalous advocacy of abortion by Catholic politicians.
Another issue thrown about in the culture war within the Church is the vocations crisis. Chaput hits the nail on the head by stating that the vocations crisis, whether we are speaking of the vocations of priest and religious or the vocation of the laity, is due to a lack of confidence in the Church.11 As he states, our “crisis of vocations results from the deeper crisis of faith in the Church.”12 A crisis of faith exisiting in many ways because of theologians who view themselves as a competing teaching authority or magisterium in the Church. Chaput clearly views theologians as lacking the authority to compete with the authority of bishops and as needing Church guidance.13 Yet, consistent with his view that living in Christ means not living in fear, he urges Catholics not to be afraid of “questioning and criticism in the Church,” which should be motivated by a respect and affection that does not seek rebellion.14
In the midst of this culture war, we are all called to evangelize. Chaput challenges the tendency of many Catholics to look inward as opposed to reaching outward to spread the faith. In a poignant question, he confronts our natural complacency:
"Here’s a simple question: Have you consciously tried to bring someone
outside your immediate family into the Catholic Church in the last year?
If you haven’t, you’re hurting your own faith by preventing Jesus from
reaching others through you."15
Again and again, the archbishop challenges our self-imposed limits and shows how a renewed Catholicism will not take second place to evangelical Protestants in devotion to the Bible or personal prayer or personal evangelization. In fact, this new evangelization is unfolding in the Archdiocese of Denver for all to see and emulate. And the example’s message is clear: “God doesn’t need anonymous Christians, Christians who blend in, Christians who don’t make waves. We’re here to rock the boat.”16 Now, that is a call to arms worthy of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Yet, in my opinion, the most significant chapter in the entire book is one entitled “Not a Burden, but a Joy.” Here, Archbishop Chaput preaches a homily on the radical truth and relevancy of Paul VI’s teaching on birth control in Humanae Vitae. It is a homily that has never seen the light of day in thousands of Catholic pulpits throughout our vast country. It is a homily long overdue and shamefully rare in Catholic churches. Chaput begins by describing the debacle in sexual conduct, marriage, and family life that has marked the thirty plus years since the encyclical was issued—a debacle prophetically envisioned by Paul VI. The solution is “revisiting Humanae Vitae with open hearts.” 17
Humanae Vitae teaches that the sexual act in marriage requires a complete and fully intimate self-giving between the spouses that includes their fertility:
"This is why the Church is not against 'artificial' contraception. She’s
against all contraception. The notion of “artificial” has nothing to do
with the issue. In fact, it tends to confuse things by implying that the
debate is about a mechanical intrusion into the body. It isn’t."18
For Chaput, contraception is a central issue because “if knowingly and freely engaged in, contraception is a grave sin . . .[which] distorts the heart of marriage and breaks apart what God created to be whole.” 19 All Catholics should read Chaput’s book. If short on time, they can jump to chapter nine on the issue of contraception which zeroes in on our contemporary crisis of faith and reiterates the themes of the entire book.
1. Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics, pp. 16-17 (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications 2001).
2. Chaput, p. 23.
3. Chaput, p. 31.
4. Chaput, p. 36.
5. Chaput, p. 49. The five steps are discussed in pp. 49-53.
6. Chaput, p. 51.
7. Chaput, p. 53.
8. Chaput, p. 59. The scriptural reference is to 1 Peter 2:9.
9. Chaput, p. 59.
10. Chaput, p. 69.
11. Chaput, p. 85.
12. Chaput, p. 85.
13. Chaput, p. 87.
14. Chaput, pp. 92-93.
15. Chaput, p. 131.
16. Chaput, p. 150.
17. Chaput, p. 142.
18. Chaput, p. 144.
19. Chaput, p. 147.
Thursday, December 26, 2002
There are some interesting news items for Catholics today in two establishment papers. In The Boston Globe, the "Ideas" section contains an article painting Cardinal Law's resignation as a "turning point" in the history of the Church. Quoting perennial dissident spinner McBrien of Notre Dame, the article seeks to make the case that Law's successor will have to put sensitivity to the laity over loyalty to the Vatican. Again, more liberal fantasy. Cardinal Law had to go because he was too lenient with outrageous instances of grave sexual sin and criminal activity. Period. His permanent successor will hopefully be someone who is thoroughly orthodox and will begin the task of rebuilding the archdiocese by teaching the fullness of Catholic sexual morality to both clergy and laity, by challenging them forcefully to be faithful to that teaching, and by enforcing it.
The other item is a New York Times article (International section) documenting the "plummet" in European fertility rates. The contraception mentality which has divorced the sexual act from procreation is wiping out the historic heartland of Christianity. That's why Africa, Asia, and Latin America are the future of Christianity, as Philip Jenkins of Penn State University has documented in his recent book,The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity(Oxford University Press, 2002).
The Ordained Male Priesthood: Icon of the Historical Incarnation
By Oswald Sobrino
There are many arguments proposed for and against the ordination of women in the Catholic Church. The highly regarded theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles has catalogued the reasons for concluding that tradition has rejected such ordination. Others have offered highly persuasive and credible theological reflections positively affirming the need for male priests to represent Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church and to be icons of Christ. George Weigel, the papal biographer, recently approached the issue by emphasizing as an entry point to discussion the sacramental nature of the ordained priesthood in the eyes of the Catholic Church, as opposed to the common Protestant conception of a minister as merely a functionary or delegate of the assembly.1 Thus, there is a rich and fruitful literature justifying the judgment of the tradition against the priestly ordination of women which was confirmed unambiguously by the Pope in 1994 as an infallible and unchangeable teaching of the universal Church. (Yet, this judgment does not change the teaching of the Church that women, like married men and children, share in the non-ordained or common priesthood of all Christians as a result of their baptism. The narrow issue in this article is ordination to the ministerial priesthood.)
All of these edifying reflections implicitly highlight the primary danger in the abolition of an all-male priesthood: a falsification of the Incarnation. The fundamental tension between orthodox believers and neo-modernists is history: is Christianity based on stubbornly particular historical persons and events, or is Christianity a form of evolving mythology?
The Judeo-Christian tradition has always been stubbornly focused on historical particularities: whether it is the scandal of a Chosen People singled out from so many grander alternatives, or of a shepherd boy like David as a candidate for royal rule in the Old Testament, or the continuing scandal of a Messiah born in poverty to a young Jewish woman in outwardly suspect circumstances. And, of course, the crowning historical events of salvation history: salvation through a gruesome Roman criminal execution and an empty tomb, followed by repeated appearances of a touchable Jesus who even ate with his followers.
In addition, Catholic churches offer virtually every day a continuing unfolding scandal and absurdity to modern eyes and ears: Jesus is made present in the Eucharist in countless churches, old and modern, in affluent neighborhoods and troubled neighborhoods, in ethnic enclaves and in anonymous suburbs, in English or in Spanish or Vietnamese or a myriad other languages throughout the world. In this regard, I recall the question asked by dissident Hans Kung in one of his books: would Jesus be comfortable attending a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica? What a question from a “Catholic” theologian! If you are Catholic, the question is not “if Jesus were there,” he is there in the precise form which he ordained at the Last Supper. Otherwise, the entire exercise would be a pointless charade.
All of which brings us to the scandal of an all-male priesthood, a priesthood in a certain continuity with the priesthood of Melchizedech and the Old Covenant and in stark contrast to the priestesses of ancient pagan temples and rites. And, today, when there is an urgency in the West to remove any taint of exclusivity from any activity, the all-male priesthood is an irresistible target that has become an obsession to some who still call themselves Catholic. Is the all-male priesthood worth fighting for? Yes, and a resounding yes, for it witnesses to the central scandal of our embattled yet indestructible faith: the Incarnation.
Not just any incarnation, but God made man. Not just human, but, as recited in the Nicene Creed at Mass, specifically male--"the only Son of God." With its linguistic precision, Latin has two words we translate as “man”: homo for all human beings, and vir for a male human being.2 In the Nicene Creed, we recite that God became man (homo), but we also affirm that he did so as "the Son" (filius). In the Incarnation, God became not only human (homo) but also male (vir). What the abolitionists of the all-male priesthood will ultimately focus on is the abolition of the maleness of the Incarnate God. This same type of modernism has already assaulted the maleness of Jesus in liberal Protestant denominations to the point of altering traditional prayers and creeds and invocations of the Trinity. The offense and the scandal of God freely choosing to enter humanity as a male is a continuing offense to those who carry radical feminism to its logical and extreme consequences. God incarnate as a male is for these activists an affront. Thus, they must inevitably revise the historical witness of Christianity at its core by announcing that Jesus is not God the Son, but just one manifestation, among many, of God. For such radicals, Jesus cannot be the unique Savior of the world because of the stubborn fact that he was indisputably male. They seek to abolish the uniqueness of Jesus the male as the incarnation of God.
For them, the Incarnation is not culturally correct, in spite of the fact that the assent of a young woman was necessary for the Incarnation. Astonishingly, radical feminism fails to focus on the fact that God and woman cooperated in the Incarnation, without the physical contribution of any male, to produce the male Jesus. Thus, all of humanity is already present in the mystery of the Incarnation. There is no need to alter the sacramental witness of the all-male priesthood to the historical Jesus to achieve inclusion. Rather, unlike Protestantism, Catholicism has already witnessed to the full mystery of the Incarnation by venerating the woman Mary as the Mother of God, conceived without original sin and assumed body and soul into heaven. If Protestantism, with its historical rejection of veneration for Mary, needs women ministers or priests in order to be inclusive, that need is absent in Catholicism, given the prominent devotion to Mary as the Mother of the Incarnate God.
Heresies have tried and failed throughout Catholic history to dislodge the claim that Jesus is God incarnated in an individual, historically identifiable male, from the ancient Arians to neo-modernists. The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the most tangible witness to the truth of the Incarnation: God became human in history as a man (vir) to save all people, male and female, and continues his physical and divine presence in the bread and wine. Yet if the Eucharist is the primary witness, inseparably and inevitably bound to that witness is the male priest who reenacts the Last Supper as another Christ consecrating the bread and the wine. The male priest as the consecrator of the Eucharist, using the same unleavened bread (Exodus 12:8) and grape wine from that distant Passover celebration, specifically testifies about and focuses on Jesus the historical male person who long ago instituted this memorial feast.3 The New Passover cannot be separated from Christ the New Adam (Romans 5:14), or from the male lamb of the Passover feast (Exodus 12:5). The male priest stands in place of the New Adam to re-enact the Last Supper of the new Passover Lamb. All of the elements of the Eucharistic celebration are historically faithful and linked: the male celebrant, the bread, the wine, the words of consecration. Each link extends the historic core of Christianity to the present time as a coherent and accurate proclamation of the stubborn facts of our salvation history in different cultures and eras.
Music and translations and architecture may change. Missals may be revised, but the iconic core of the Mass remains as a male priest offering the New Passover with bread and wine. That is the historical core of Christian faith that is repeated in every Mass. The attack on the all-male priesthood is an attack on an historically inseparable component of the Lord’s Supper. In the end, it is an attack on God’s being born as a particular male infant to a particular family in a particular place and time. The Mass of the Catholic Church stands witness to that historical event. Today, for all practical purposes only the Catholic Church and Eastern churches maintain a Eucharist that is a complete witness to that event. A necessary mark of the fullness of the Church of Christ is her complete witness to future generations of the historical events that saved us.4 The Catholic Church and all Eastern churches hold that the male priest is a necessary part of that full witness.
1. Certainly, I am not arguing about the issue of ordination in Protestant ministries that do not share in the sacramental priesthood of the Catholic Church and the Eastern sister churches.
2. The New College Latin & English Dictionary, p. 431 (N.Y.: Bantam 1977).
3. Most, but not all, Eastern churches use leavened bread. The Roman Catholic Church requires unleavened bread. See the online Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) (at www.newadvent.org) for a discussion of the relevant history under the entry “Altar Breads.”
4. I use “historical” in the common sense of that term as meaning “really occurring,” although much ink has been spilled in theological and exegetical writings in making academic distinctions between what is “historical” and what is “real,” while at the same time setting aside the issue of what actually occurred.
Wednesday, December 25, 2002
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et HOMO FACTUS EST.
By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and BECAME MAN.
----from the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, 381 A.D.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
It is worth taking a look at a new Catholic blog by Patrick Sweeney called Extreme Catholic containing links to interesting news articles. He has a link (for 12/23) to a distressing news report about comments made by a New Hampshire bishop under oath concerning misconduct by a priest, that are emblematic of how all of this could have come about.
There is an interesting editorial in today's Washington Times entitled "Don't Say X for Christmas." Most of us realize that the use of "X" is merely referring to the first letter of the Greek word Christos, but the editorial writer, a newsman, believes the secular media is using it as a convenient way to avoid making any immediately obvious reference to Christ. This is another example that the majority faith in the U.S. is becoming the "Muzzled Majority." In an age of sensitivity to religious diversity, the majority faith is relegated to the back of the bus. All the more reason for Christians to drop any shyness about displaying our religious symbols in public.
The Catechism of Vatican II
By Oswald Sobrino
The Catechism of Vatican II is none other than the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its promulgation in 1992. John Paul II has called it the "Catechism of Vatican II" (Catholic News Service story, Oct. 11, 2002) because it fulfills the pastoral mandate given by Blessed John XXIII to the Council forty years ago: "The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously" (Pope John's Opening Speech, Oct. 11, 1962). That is precisely what has now been accomplished by the Catechism in its ten years of existence. In a way, the Catechism is truly the final and concluding session of the Second Vatican Council. Moreover, the Catechism draws explicitly on the documents of Vatican II in its presentation. Thus, the Catechism is also an invitation to the laity to go back to the unfiltered, actual texts of Vatican II.
In their Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press 1994) (cited herein as "Intro."), Cardinal Ratzinger and now Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (both of whom, by the way, are papabile) provided insight into the Catechism, shortly after its promulgation, that has been confirmed in the last ten years. Schonborn served as "editorial secretary" of the Catechism (Intro., p. 25). Cardinal Ratzinger was involved in the development of the Catechism as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Their insights include several points worth considering again today. The first point is that the Catechism relies heavily on the documents of Vatican II. The second point is that the Catechism seeks to infuse substance and content to the vacuous and defective "catechesis" of the seventies and early eighties. The third point is more surprising: the Catechism is not just a reference work. It is in many ways material for meditation and prayer. In a way, the Catechism lends itself as a resource for contemplative prayer that prompts personal meditation, and aptly so, because personal union with God is after all the whole purpose of any catechesis.
Where in the Catechism is the influence of the documents of Vatican II most prominent? There are four main parts to the Catechism: the Profession of Faith (the Creed), the Celebration of the Christian Mystery (liturgy and sacraments), Life in Christ (morality), and Christian Prayer. In the first part on the Profession of Faith, two conciliar documents are of major importance: Dei Verbum (the Constitution on Divine Revelation) and Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church) (Intro., pp. 66-67, 76-78). Dei Verbum is the model for the Catechism's "exposition of the themes of revelation and the transmission of revelation and Holy Scripture . . . ." (Intro., p. 66). The influence of Lumen Gentium looms large in the Catechism's discussion of the Church ("ecclesiology") and of the relation of non-Catholics to the Church (Intro., pp. 76-68). In the second part on the liturgy and the sacraments, the "detailed explanation of the three grades of the sacrament of Orders is largely based on texts of the Council" (Intro., p. 85). The conciliar text relied upon is again Lumen Gentium. In the third part of the Catechism on morality, the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) is prominent in the discussion of "social justice and solidarity" (Intro., p. 89). The highly significant universal call to holiness of Vatican II in Lumen Gentium is evident in the follow-up to the Catechism's discussion of grace and merit (Intro., p. 90). In part four on Prayer, the council document that appears to be most prominent is again Dei Verbum, especially in the discussion "that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture . . . ." (Catechism, article 2653). Yet, the above is the tip of the iceberg: the index to the Catechism lists almost five pages of citations to the documents of Vatican II.
All of the above citations are intended to drive home the point that the Catechism is indeed the Catechism of Vatican II. Catholics searching for the "spirit" of Vatican II need look no further than the official Catechism. The citations to the Council also disprove the canard that John Paul's pontificate has somehow been trying to "turn back" or reverse Vatican II. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The second point worth reflecting on today is how the Catechism came as a solution and response to the disastrous "catechesis" of the seventies and early eighties. As observed by Cardinal Ratzinger, the need for the Catechism arose from "the problematic situation of catechesis in the seventies and early eighties, when enduring content had in many instances become distasteful and anthropocentrism was the order of the day" (Intro., p. 14). In this regard, the populist nature of the Catechism comes to the fore as a counterpoint to those, including both clergy and lay teachers, who were responsible for defective catechesis. Ratzinger captures this populist role for the Catechism: "[I]t was a matter of principle that the work also be accessible to interested laymen as a tool of their Christian maturity and of their responsibility for the faith" (Intro., p. 18). As Ratzinger states, this access to the laity is in keeping with Vatican II's universal call to holiness. Ratzinger also shows awareness of what has been the personal experience of many laypersons who have had to undertake "remedial" catechesis on their own to make up for gaps in their religious education. Accordingly, the Cardinal paints an accurate portrait of the experience of many: "In the confusion generated by the vicissitudes of theological hypotheses and by their often highly questionable diffusion in the mass media, lay people want to know for themselves what the Church teaches and what she does not. It seems to me that the eagerness with which this book has been purchased is almost a sort of plebiscite of the People of God against those interests which portray the Catechism as inimical to progress, as an authoritarian Roman disciplinary act and so on" (Intro., p. 18).,
Ratzinger goes on to point out how liberal elitists are behind such criticisms of the Catechism by noting how "certain circles employ such slogans merely to defend their own monopoly on opinion-making in the Church and in the world, an arrangement which they do not wish to see upset by a qualified laity" (Intro., pp. 18-19). (These criticisms continue today as some liberals absurdly decry reliance on the Catechism as a form of fundamentalism.) The invigorated role of a qualified laity is now evident in numerous publications, especially on the internet, that embrace the orthodoxy of the Catechism. This orthodoxy founded on the Catechism is in sharp contrast to the relativistic musings of theologians like Hans Kung apparent in "many religion textbooks [that] no longer dare to affirm that Christ is risen, only that the community experienced Christ as risen, thereby leaving the question about the truth of this experience unanswered" (Intro., p. 30). Ratzinger unambiguously declares where the Catechism stands: "In contrast, the Catechism intended and still intends to declare quite openly that Christ is risen. The faith it professes is reality, not merely the content of Christian consciousness" (Intro., p. 30). His remarks revive my personal memory of how in the seventies a Jesuit teacher informed me as a young student that there was no need to believe that there was really a resurrection--a statement I found to be quite odd coming from a Catholic priest.
The last part of the Catechism on prayer has a quite personal focus, so much so that Schonborn notes that "on occasion it has even been recommended that one begin reading the Catechism with this last part" (Intro., p. 95). Schonborn also points out that the "meditative reading" of the section on mental or contemplative prayer "is an intimate invitation to undertake with God's help the way of mental prayer for oneself" (Intro., p. 97). He makes a similar remark by pointing to the commentary on the Lord's Prayer, which draws heavily from the Fathers of the Church, as "another proof that the Catechism is also a book for meditation" (Intro., P. 97). Thus, the Catechism is in effect also the "prayer book" of Vatican II. In this last section, the Catechism's faithful implementation of Vatican II is most apparent because it reiterates the universal call to conversion and holiness.
As a result, the Catechism is the definitive expression of the mission assigned by Pope John to the Second Vatican Council to safeguard the deposit of faith and to teach it effectively. The Catechism is also especially suited to a modern Church beset with internal dissent among some clergy and many academic theologians. The Catechism empowers faithful laity in search of the truth in their own journey of personal conversion and prayer. It also empowers faithful laity to defend that truth based on an unambiguously authoritative document of the whole Church. Just over ten years ago, on October 11, 1992, John Paul II confirmed this authority when he declared the Catechism "to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion" (Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum). Close readers will note that October 11, 1992, was appropriately the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.
Monday, December 23, 2002
Today's Catholic News Service contains a story reporting that a recent Pew poll shows that, when compared to non-Hispanic white Catholics, a higher percentage of Hispanic Catholics agree with the Church's teachings on abortion, homosexuality, and divorce. Could this be the genesis of a provocative thesis? If the meltdown into dissent among non-Hispanic white Catholics continues in places like Boston (witness the intentional strategic ambiguity of the so-called Voice of the Faithful on official Church teachings), Hispanic Catholics may become the bedrock of American Catholicism. My own impression is that the ranks of dissenters and liberals in the Church are overwhelmingly white non-Hispanic, while some estimates say that Hispanics account for 40% of American Catholics. The liberal activism emboldened by events in Boston may be a hint of a widening demographic division within American Catholicism accompanying the already established divisions between those who embrace Church teaching and those who keep their distance from official Church teaching. Interestingly, in Boston, it appears from media coverage that Hispanics and other minority Catholics were the ones most likely to defend the Church from attack. The Hispanic demographic shift may bode well for orthodoxy. Keep an eye out for more survey data or, even better, on future controversies in the Catholic Church.
The Forgotten Texts of Vatican II
By Oswald Sobrino
Given the reflections on Vatican II that have circulated in the media during its 40th anniversary, it is highly appropriate to return to the actual words of Vatican II. All our reflections may be interesting, but there is no substitute for the real thing. The end result of an ecumenical council is its approved written product. As in Scripture, in a council the Holy Spirit works through the written word. George Weigel's recent and welcome comment on how, in the past, he, like other theologians, failed to focus on the texts of Vatican II highlights a central problem with any discussion of Vatican II. That problem is that too many of the self-appointed liberal guardians of Vatican II do not advocate and, in fact, contradict the written product of Vatican II. Yet, it is that collectively produced written product that is the witness for the ages of the intent of the ecumenical council, not the opinions of individuals.
We have seen the same parallel trend in the secular interpretation of legal texts and statutes. Liberal judicial activism is forever ignoring the actual words of legal statutes in an effort to conform to a highly amorphous and subjective spirit of the age, whether regarding abortion, the institution of marriage, or even the mundane topic of election rules and procedures. Unfortunately, not a few commentators reflecting on Vatican II base their reflections on this same liberal habit of thought, namely, substituting personal opinion for unambiguous and authoritative written words arrived at after collective and solemn deliberation.
A very brief survey will show the extent to which this liberal habit of thought has falsified the teaching of the council. Let us begin with the liturgy because Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963) was in fact the first document promulgated by the Council. In addition, most people see liturgy as the biggest change effected by Vatican II. Yet, the typical liturgy in a contemporary American parish is inconsistent with the words of the Council. The first inconsistency is the typical aversion to the presence of any Latin in the liturgy, however minute. In contrast, the Council specifically stated that "[p]articular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites" (SC, 36). The typical aversion to even the most minor snippet of liturgical Latin would have been incomprehensible to the council fathers. Their goal was to open up the ancient treasures of the Church to all the people of God, not to deny people their heritage of long-hallowed prayer: "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" (SC, 54). The council's goal was to encourage active participation in our great liturgical heritage, not to "dumb down" the laity's role. The failure of many parishes to liturgically challenge the laity with the liturgical riches of the Church parallels the modern tendency to engage in the social promotion of uneducated students to higher grades, leaving them ignorant of the fundamentals of education. Among these liturgical riches, which are the patrimony of every Catholic, is Gregorian chant: "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy; therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services" (SC, 116). Enrich the people with beauty. It is their right and an apt reflection of the fullest beauty, God. To point this out is not to in any way denigrate the great, continuing, and essential gift of the vernacular in the Mass. It is merely to be faithful to the Council. Fortunately, even some liberals are beginning to recognize the need to restore beauty to the liturgical experience by drawing on the liturgical treasures of the Church.
Yet, popular conceptions aside, probably the most significant teaching of Vatican II is the "universal call to holiness" in Chapter V of Lumen Gentium. This call to holiness was in contrast to the tendency to view holiness as a special calling only for clergy and religious. Vatican II rightly recalled the gospel imperative calling all the People of God to holiness. Yet, rarely do you hear a liberal talk about this revolutionary, yet orthodox, emphasis of Vatican II. The reason is that the call to holiness is a call to conversion that absolutely requires the admission that we are sinners in need of redemption. There is no way around it: you need a sense of sin in order to even understand the call to holiness. The Council fathers thus stated: "Since truly we all offend in many things (cf. Jas 3:2), we all need God's mercies continually and we all must daily pray: 'Forgive us our debts' (Mt 6:12)" (LG, 40). Many other similar texts can be cited, but the above suffices to show that the neglect of the sacrament of penance typical of many parishes is a flagrant contradiction of that call to holiness. This sacrament, also called the sacrament of conversion, is the indispensable companion of the universal call to holiness. Needless to say, liberals who react in knee-jerk fashion against any words or gestures, such as kneeling, reflecting penitential devotion are subverting the Council's most significant teaching.
How about the liberal bias in favor of abortion, euthanasia, and contraception? The Council's words are decidedly and refreshingly "old-fashioned" compared to liberal trendiness: "[W]hatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction . . . are infamies indeed" (Gaudium et Spes, 27) (emphasis added). Contrary to liberal opinion, the intellectual origin of John Paul II's Gospel of Life lies in the words of Vatican II. Any study of the texts of the Council will immediately overturn the great liberal lie that John Paul II is somehow trying to overturn the Council or turn back the clock in some restorationist fashion. The Pope is not trying to restore the Church to a pre-Vatican II state. Rather, he is trying to restore to the Church the magnificent vision of Vatican II. Dissenters and liberal pundits notwithstanding, that is the truth of the matter as can be seen in virtually any document coming from the pen of John Paul II.
As to contraception, the call of Vatican II to conform to papal teaching could not be clearer: ". . .sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law" (GS, 51). The Council even cites the highly explicit teachings of Pius XI and Pius XII on birth control. This example illustrates how so much of modern defective catechesis has falsified Church teaching to the detriment of the personal lives of many Catholics. It is like a college student belatedly discovering that his teachers never taught him the rudiments of mathematics and feeling defrauded.
What does the Council say about that favorite liberal phrase "the sense of the faithful" tossed about to question these same teachings? Here is a response that liberals would find unintelligible: "...the whole people's supernatural discernment in matters of faith . . . is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the People of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the Word of God (cf. I Thes 2:13)" (Lumen Gentium, 12). As to dissent and the papacy, the Council teaches with great clarity: "In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church" (LG, 22). The Council goes on to say that "religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra ...." (LG, 25). Make an interesting thought experiment. If these words and the other quotes noted above appeared today in the guise of a new papal encyclical, what would be the liberal reaction? Undoubtedly, there would be howls of protest claiming that again a "reactionary" Pope was turning back the clock. Only a laity familiar with the actual words of Vatican II--which are the best evidence of the spirit of Vatican II--will know better.
Witness the howls of protest over the document Dominus Iesus. Now ponder the crystal clear teaching of the Council that is the basis of Dominus Iesus in which the Council avers that it teaches "that the Church . . . is necessary for salvation" (LG, 14). The Council goes on to say that "Christ . . . is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation" (LG, 14). For pointing out that we must never forget this basic teaching, Cardinal Ratzinger was and is lambasted, although the Council is fundamentally saying the same thing.
Other examples are instructive. Many liberals question the veracity of the doctrine of the virgin birth and still call themselves Catholic. Vatican II declares, with what liberals would label reactionary and naive fundamentalism, that the birth of Jesus "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it ...." (LG, 57). How does the Council refer to Mary? She is given the traditional title of "ever virgin" (see LG, 52, 69). The liberals' favorite council is an embarrassment to them. Maybe, that is why they seek a new council. The liberals have a big problem.
That great liberal problem is that any fair reading of the text of Vatican II confirms that John Paul II, assisted by Cardinal Ratzinger, has been engaged in a great program to restore fidelity to Vatican II. The Pope has made no secret that implementation of the Council is the key to his pontificate (e.g., Dives in Misericordia, 1.4). The words of the Council verify his claim. Just as lay access to the Catechism of the Catholic Church has undermined the propagation of liberal dissent, so can familiarity by the laity with the text of Vatican II expose its misrepresentation by so many liberals.
Sunday, December 22, 2002
Fourth Sunday of Advent: A Brief Meditation on the Scripture Readings
Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12,14a,16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.
In 2 Samuel, we have the prophet Nathan delivering to David the promise of the Lord that his house and his kingdom will endure forever. In Romans, St. Paul refers to the proclamation of Jesus Christ as "the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested .. . ." In the Gospel of Luke, we have the Annunciation where the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that the Lord will give her son "the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever . . . ."
David ruled circa 1000 B.C. Some scholars believe the text may date from the late 9th century B.C. (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 146). So after about 1000 years, a full millennium, at the Annunciation to Mary we finally have the Lord acting on the culmination of His promise made to David that his kingdom will endure forever. What a delay! As St. Paul says a "mystery kept secret for long ages." In our own lives, we experience the frustration of delay. Yet, at our Baptism, the Lord so to speak made a promise to each one of us that we would participate in the kingdom of Christ and even in Christ's royal role as King. As we await the Nativity, we await for the fulfillment of that promise in each of our lives, a promise that calls us to deeper conversion at Christmas two millenia after Christ's birth.