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, September 13, 2003Liberals Worried About Longevity of Pope
Liberal Catholic columnist Peter Steinfels writes in the N.Y. Times "Beliefs" column (9/13/03; Nat'l section) that the Church should seriously consider provisions establishing a procedure to follow when a pope is incapacitated due to age or other reasons. Two sensible inferences can be made from this lengthy and detailed column by a prominent liberal Catholic: 1.) liberal Catholics are anxious that, in spite of his physical problems, the Pope may last several more years; and 2.) that the aging liberals, whose misinterpretation of Vatican II has brought widespread damage to the Church and to the spiritual lives of many, are themselves entering the twilight years. After reading so many articles by and interviews with liberal Catholics, I am beginning to see the rhetorical pattern: advance the agenda of dissent by feigning a serious concern for Catholic verities.
The recipe appears to go like this. If you want to advance the agenda of women's ordination, then feign an earnest concern, not with the ordination of women, but with the availability of the Eucharist for American Catholics. Yet, between communion services, a proliferation of Eucharistic ministers going here and there, and the great mobility of Americans, talk of the unavailability of the Eucharist due to a priest shortage in the United States is highly exaggerated. We Americans travel thousands of miles by car for work and leisure. We can travel a few extra miles to attend Mass, if need be. But, of course, the argument about the unavailability of the Eucharist need not be well-founded. It is just rhetoric to mask heresy with a feigned concern about the Eucharist. If these liberals are so concerned with the central role of the Eucharist in Catholic life, they could actively promote more Eucharistic adoration to make up for times when a priest may not be available to say Mass. In my opinion, their failure to take up that challenge exposes the insincerity of their rhetoric about the Eucharist.
In my opinion, Steinfels is following the same recipe of feigned serious concern about an issue that, on the surface, might be of concern to many Catholics, but is really a way to advance an agenda that is not considered important by many Catholics. I submit that Steinfels' column is not really about the abstract issue of incapacitated popes, but rather about getting the long lasting John Paul II out of office as soon as possible. But, of course, such a direct plea would not be taken seriously, and so the need to present this agenda under the guise of a noble concern for the common good of the Church.
What can we call this earnest rhetoric of concern and noblesse oblige used to cover up the liberal agenda for the Church? Let's speak bluntly in the language of the streets: this rhetoric is a con job. When telemarketers call up with their latest con job, we hang up. It is time to hang up on the aging liberals of the post-Vatican II era. They have done enough damage to last a lifetime. Or we could give them a dose of their own medicine: how about the New York Times adopting provisions for replacing aging, dated columnists whose time has long since passed?
The Pope and the Cult of the Body
Credit: BBC NEWS.
Dr. Gianni Pezzoli, an Italian expert on Parkinson's disease, said that the pope's health was not served by physically draining trips like this one, which began Thursday and is scheduled to end on Sunday. "We are dealing with a patient who is hardly compliant," said Dr. Pezzoli. "We have to expect his health to worsen."
N.Y. Times online, Sept. 13, 2003 (Intern'l section: Europe).
The expert expects the Pope's health to worsen. Well, in the long term, that is certainly not a bold prediction. Everyone expects that as time goes by and death approaches, the Pope's health will decline further. That is indeed a natural stage as we approach our climactic encounter with Jesus. And, of course, this expert, like all experts, has no certain knowledge of the future. The Pope may pass away today or several years from now. It is in God's hands. As I recall, dire predictions about the Pope's imminent demise have been routine since the mid-nineties. The media sharks have been circling for years now, planning their coverage of the event and its aftermath. Political tracts about a future conclave, masquerading as serious books, have been written which are now woefully dated. In effect, a "death watch" industry has flourished for years around the issue of the Pope's health. Today, many people much younger and much healthier than the Pope will die. That is an iron clad certainty.
Yet, there is something to learn about the Pope's dramatic final years. As others have eloquently pointed out, the physically suffering Pope is a statement about human dignity and worth. Our dignity does not depend on what we can do physically. Although the Pope's mental abilities are, according to all reports, fully intact (would that many who are much younger and healthier could say the same!)-- as shown by his recent completion of a new book now in the process of translation-- our human dignity does not even depend on our mental abilities. Our human dignity and worth is a gift from the Creator, a gift that no one has the right to assault or take away. The Pope, as a physically limited person, is a model and inspiration for those who are physically ill or disabled. One recent media report even noted that sick people in Slovakia who were not planning to attend a papal event stated that the Pope's courage inspired them to get out of their homes and see him. That is a feat which few, if any, medical experts could ever claim credit for. It is as if the Pope's example is repeating the command Jesus made through others to the blind man at Jericho: "Take heart; rise, he is calling you" (Mk 10:49, RSV translation). Likewise, the Pope is telling all, both the infirm and the robustly healthy, that Jesus is calling each of them.
The Pope's travels have always been dramatic. They are now especially dramatic because of his heroic conquest of his physical challenges. These challenges also raise questions hinted at by the expert quoted in the N.Y. Times: how far must we go to preserve our health?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church ("CCC") proves again that it is an inexhaustible treasury of wisdom:
Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.
CCC, section 2288 (emphasis added).
The Italian expert quoted in the media calls the Pope a non-compliant patient. Well, if being compliant means following every single instruction of a physician, there are times when we may be bound not to be so strictly compliant. The standard of care is not the strictest care but reasonable care. And, as the Catechism notes, reasonable care takes into account "the needs of others and the common good." The Pope has obviously made the decision that the needs of others and the common good require that he continue to make his pilgrimages to various nations and settings. Who can doubt the wisdom of that decision, given the state of the world in which authentic leadership is so widely missing and in which moral and religious confusion is epidemic? There is a wisdom that goes beyond the dictates of the Merck Manual. Even medical experts do not have the final word. That final word belongs only to God.
But the Catechism goes even further and throws out a challenge to us in the modern West who are obsessed with seeking toned and sculpted bodies, growing more hair, and increasing so-called sexual performance. It is my guess that women in the West must spend untold millions on cosmetic surgery and breast enhancements. Given the growing trend of narcissism, spending by Western men on cosmetic procedures and sex-related treatments, such as Viagra, is probably not far behind. As the years pass, the narcissim of the baby boom generation that was previously manifested in illegal drug use and promiscuity is evolving into the pursuit of legal anti-aging drugs and the prolongation of sexual activity into old age.
Here is the challenge of the Catechism to this narcissism:
If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports. By its selective preference of the strong over the weak, such a conception can lead to the perversion of human relationships.
CCC, sect. 2289 (first emphasis added).
It is interesting that in cities and universities where there is little genuine respect for the body, as shown by the widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs and by rampant sexual promiscuity, there is fanatical devotion to the success of sports teams. It is ironic that these licentious communities claim to celebrate the virtues of hard work, discipline, and perseverance in these sports teams while flouting them in everyday life. What is going on here?
The reality is that these licentious communities, both civil and academic, are not celebrating virtue or character. In reality, they are celebrating physical might and strength, power. College coaches will still talk about the virtues of discipline and perseverance, but the fans are worshipping raw power, not uncommonly in a state of intoxication. It is not even uncommon to read about rioting by fans after some athletic event, more frequently in anger but sometimes even in celebration.
Thus, athletics and physical fitness become for many a sign of the power and strength which are taken to be the supreme human value. As the Catechism says, this idolization of might leads to "the perversion of human relationships." Human relationships are perverted when males aggressively seek sexual conquest as a manifestation of their power, and many females oblige in a desperate attempt to find male companionship. In turn, now more and more females have learned to mimic the male abuse of sexuality by using their sexuality to manipulate males.
Human relations are also perverted when parents make academic or athletic success the condition of parental love--for might is also manifested in the status and prestige granted by academic success. The civic community is perverted when the character of politicians becomes irrelevant as long as economic indicators are rising. Even within the Church, relationships become perverted when pastors focus on income and numbers as opposed to preaching the counter-cultural truths of the Gospel that risk alienating parishioners and reducing financial contributions. And, of course, abortion and cloning become the ultimate perversion where adults pick and choose who is worthy of life or what traits are worthy of perpetuation.
The Scriptures and the Catechism give us the tools to truly see the prophetic drama being enacted by the Pope on his difficult journeys. That drama tells us that human dignity is God's gift, not the product of human power and performance.
Friday, September 12, 2003"Smiling From the Womb"
More visual scientific evidence emerges to batter the great deception and lie of legal abortion. Now "scanning techniques" show the unborn child smiling, according to a British media report. According to the report, the "experts" had thought children learned to smile by copying facial expressions after birth. The chasm grows wider and wider between the superstitious and obscurantist belief that the unborn child is not a person and the undeniable scientific reality that we are killing children with a shrug of the shoulders in the so-called advanced and enlightened nations of the West. See the report from British media.
A First Century Pope
Clement of Rome, saint and martyr, was bishop of Rome from about 88 to 97 A.D. Although, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), the title "pope" became a "distinctive title of the Roman Pontiff" only in the 4th century, Clement was, as a successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome who carried on the primacy of Peter. In other words, Clement was a first century pope. That is the testimony of tradition.
Clement has remained most famous because of his First Epistle to the Corinthians in which the Church of Rome intervenes to bring peace to the Church in Corinth that had removed certain presbyters or "elders" from their rightful positions in the local church. As in the New Testament itself, this epistle appears to use the terms "presbyters" (elders) and bishops interchangeably (see I Clement XLIV.4-5, trans. Kirsopp Lake [Loeb Classical Library repr. 1998]; hereafter references are to the Loeb edition ). In the first century Church, it appears that the term "bishop" had not yet become the exclusive title of the one man who presided over a local church. Instead, there appears to have been a group of presbyter-bishops out of which one man would emerge as the head or chief presbyter-bishop whose name would be preserved by tradition. Eventually, yet relatively quickly, only that chief presbyter-bishop would be left with the title of "bishop." The rest of the presbyters would then assist the one bishop. Even today, we refer to the priests in a diocese as the presbyterate.
Clement testifies to the apostolic succession which is the bedrock of authority in the Church when he writes that the apostles "preached from district to district, and from city to city, and they appointed their first converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of the future believers" (I Clement, XLII.4). In a later section, Clement is even more explicit in describing the apostolic succession when he states that the apostles "appointed those who have been already mentioned, and afterwards added the codicil that if they should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministry" (XLIV.2). Here in the first century, in a document commonly accepted as arising in 95 or 96 A.D., we have an explicit description of the basis of the authority of all bishops, including that of the pope. This document is so significant so early in the tradition that some portions of the Christian world treated it as part of the New Testament (see introduction to Loeb Classical Library edition, p. 6).
More significantly is the fact that Clement as bishop of Rome and in the name of the Church at Rome is intervening to bring peace and order to the local church at Corinth. As noted earlier, certain presbyter-bishops in Corinth had been ejected from their ministry, making it necessary for the Church in Rome to restore order and unity (I Clement XLIV.6). In doing so, Clement orders those responsible for the "sedition" to submit:
You therefore, who laid the foundation of the sedition, submit to the presbyters, and receive the correction of repentance, bending the knees of your hearts.
I Clement, LVII.1.
This order is coupled with a warning:
But if some be disobedient to the words which have been spoken by him [Jesus Christ] through us, let them know that they will entangle themselves in transgression and no little danger . . . .
I Clement, LIX (emphasis added).
In addition to claiming authority from Christ, Clement ascribes Rome's correction of Corinth to the Holy Spirit when he writes how "you will give us joy and gladness; if you are obedient to the things which we have written through the Holy Spirit, and root out the wicked passion of your jealousy according to the entreaty for peace and concord which we have made in this letter" (I Clement LXIII.2).
Thus, many have long noted the true significance of I Clement: this is the first written evidence we have of the exercise of primacy by the Church in Rome over other churches. It is a matter of primacy because the Roman Church is intervening forcefully to bring order to a distant church. Why is all of this significant? It is significant because many over the years have sought to diminish the force of this plain text by raising all sorts of doubts about its plain meaning. The best antidote to these manufactured doubts is to read the lengthy epistle oneself. After doing so, most readers will see that this epistle is an undeniable exercise of primacy by the Roman Church in the first century by the first of the Apostolic Fathers.
Some of the manufactured doubts encountered in scholarly commentary will center on who Clement was. Many will view him as no more than a mere letter-writer, a sort of secretary, for the Church in Rome, thereby downplaying his role as bishop of Rome. This "correspondence secretary" theory appears to be loosely based on a reference in a possibly later work from Rome called The Shepherd of Hermas in which the author refers to a Clement whose duty it is to send written material to "the cities abroad" [The Shepherd, II.IV.3, Loeb edition]. Needless to say, to infer that Clement was merely a secretary from this cryptic reference is reading too much into this passage from Hermas.
In contrast to this effort to minimize the significance of Clement in Rome, tradition proclaims Clement as bishop of Rome and successor of Peter, not as being merely a bureaucratic functionary. The foundation of the "anti-papal" thesis that minimizes the role of Clement is the stubborn embrace by Protestants and many liberal Catholics of the theory that the Church of the first century was purely collegial, that is, that governance was by a group of presbyter-bishops with no head or chief presbyter-bishop presiding over the group. Given the presence of the original apostles and the natural dynamics of human nature, personality, and leadership, this picture of pure collegiality in the first century is an exercise in fantasy. Leaders inevitably emerge out of any human grouping, especially in the aftermath of strong individual leadership as provided by the apostles in the first century.
In my view, this minimalist theory is due more to the ecclesiological agenda of the commentators than to any necessary evidence in the text. The best antidote to such theories is to read this document oneself. In it, you will see, already in the first century, the primacy of Rome plainly being exercised through Clement, the person tradition views as the chief or head presbyter-bishop of Rome at the time, usually listed as the fourth Pope coming after Peter, Linus, and Cletus.
Thursday, September 11, 2003Boldness and Prudence
St. Josemaría Escrivá (1902-75), the Spanish founder of Opus Dei, was like another great Spanish saint, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Society of Jesus, full of the boldness and daring of a true apostle. Here is Ignatius Loyola on boldness:
In the things of God, those who are over-prudent will hardly ever achieve anything great. For those who are always thinking about the difficulties, and who are constantly brooding and vacillating because they fear the possible outcomes which they foresee, will never turn their hearts toward things of real beauty.
Attributed to Ignatius Loyola by Pedro de Ribadeneira, Vita Ignatii, V, 11 (ed. Cologne, 1602), p. 662.
Ignatius' words should be recited aloud and emphatically at every ordination, especially that of a bishop.
Escrivá carries this tradition of Catholic boldness forward from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century:
The difficulties you have met have made you shrink back, and you have become "prudent, moderate, and objective". Remember that you have always despised those terms when they became synonyms for cowardly, fainthearted, and comfort-seeking.
Escrivá, The Furrow (Scepter Publishers 1998), nos. 101, 109 (hereafter "Furrow").
Escrivá continues: "Sometimes I think that a few enemies of God and his Church live off the fear of many good people, and I am filled with shame" (Furrow, no. 115). Echoing Ignatius' call to turn our hearts toward things of real beauty, Escrivá writes:
As we talked, he assured me that he never wanted to leave the hut where he lived, because he preferred to count the beams of "his" shack rather than the stars in heaven. There are many like him who are incapable of leaving their own petty things so as to raise their eyes to heaven: it is time they acquired a loftier vision!
Furrow, no. 116.
Amazingly, this bold spirit of Hispanic Catholicism arising at the time of the Catholic Reformation of the sixteenth century arose again in the renewal spearheaded by Escrivá through Opus Dei, which anticipated the call to holiness to all Catholics made by Vatican II. Today, at least 40% of the world's Catholics reside in Latin America. Without the bold missionary spirit and zeal of Hispanic Catholicism, Catholicism today would not be the largest single organized religious body in the world and possibly not even the single largest segment of Christianity.
We all know the problems in American Catholicism: overprudent bishops, priests fearful to offend parishioners and donors, laypeople frozen in passivity and dysfunctional deference to liturgical and doctrinal abuses. Recently, there was a meeting of conservative (read: observant) Catholics with some of the leading bishops in the U.S. Bishops' conference. One of the lay Catholics attending opined after the meeting that the bishops are fearful of any confrontation and react to those who complain. His conclusion is that observant Catholics need to complain loudly and insistently when the faith is compromised. His call echoes that of the two great Hispanic saints of Catholic renewal.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003The Boston Settlement And the Other Scandal
The on-line New York Times has the following revealing reaction of a Voice of the Faithful functionary to the news of Archbishop O'Malley's settlement of the abuse lawsuits in Boston:
"We don't know how he is going to be theologically," said Professor Bane, a Catholic who lives in the Dorchester section of Boston. "But a lot of things he has done are just right — not moving into the cardinal's fancy residence, not worrying about spending the money, and keeping his simple robes." Archbishop O'Malley wears the coarse brown habit of a medieval Franciscan over his sandals.
N.Y. Times (on-line National section), Sept. 10, 2003 (emphasis added).
Many of us have said all along that the so-called "Voice of the Faithful" has a heterodox theological agenda that includes dismantling the authority of bishops, diminishing the authority of the Pope, and advancing heresy in the form of the embrace of birth control and abortion rights, women's ordination, and a general dismantling of Catholic moral teaching. Here is one of the spokespersons of the group admitting, in the words highlighted in the quote, to a theological agenda--although the organization has repeatedly claimed that its only agenda is to increase participation by the laity.
As Archbishop O'Malley masterfully continues to repair the damage and rot in the Archdiocese of Boston, Voice of the Faithful is deflating. As the archbishop fulfills his mission of addressing the aftermath of scandal, the convenient cover of concern over scandal adroitly used by Voice of the Faithful will recede to the point that the heretical theological agenda of the group will become more manifest and open. That is a good thing. The deceptive stance of this organization that refuses to embrace the teachings of the Church will end, and all will see clearly that this organization is yet another revisionist activist group like Call to Action and FutureChurch. There is nothing new in Voice of the Faithful except for the circumstances of scandal that prompted its opportunistic birth.
The professor quoted above wishes to know where Archbishop O'Malley is going theologically. Many of us asked that question of Voice of the Faithful and received evasive answers. I believe there will be no evasive answers from the archbishop. He is going theologically where he has always been: in Catholic orthodoxy.
After the settlement process is finished and related matters are put in place, the archbishop will face the next hurdle: Boston as the center of dissent and heresy in the United States. The latest outrage is Fr. James F. Keenan, S.J., a Jesuit academic from the Weston School of Theology in the Boston area, testifying, according to reports, in favor of gay marriage before the Massachusetts legislature and blatantly falsifying and distorting the Catholic position on this issue (see Weigel column). Again, nominally Catholic politicians have been handed false theological cover to advance the liberal agenda, as was done previously on abortion. In addition, Boston College has made itself the pseudo-intellectual center of revisionist activism. Interestingly, the same Fr. Keenan who is touting gay marriage as required (!) by Catholic teaching is set to assume a professorship at Boston College next year, according to the George Weigel column linked above.
The archbishop will also have to confront the betrayal of Catholicism by politicians, mostly Democratic, who want to be Catholic on election day to benefit from an ethnic/religious bloc of voters, but who on all other days put the pro-abortion and gay agenda of the Democratic Party first and foremost as they advance their political careers. Reports have it that at the archbishop's installation Mass, the two outspokenly pro-abortion senators from Massachusetts, Kennedy and Kerry, received Holy Communion. If these reports are true (and I have no reason to doubt them), then the archbishop has to make emphatically clear to all Catholics everywhere that advancing the abortion agenda is a grave sin that bars reception of the Eucharist. That is the next scandal that the archbishop must tackle: the continuing scandal of pro-abortion politicians pretending to be Catholics in good standing.
No one who is advancing the pro-abortion agenda is a Catholic in good standing. To make that emphatically clear is the biggest challenge now faced by Archbishop O'Malley. To answer the professor's question, that is where many of us hope the archbishop is headed theologically. There is an older and more pervasive scandal still waiting to be addressed.
Tuesday, September 09, 2003The Crying Need for Modesty
Today's New York Times (Intern'l Section) contains another article on the issue of Muslim women wearing veils in Western schools. This time the controversy is in France-- a country which, by the way, legally recognizes gay partnerships--over Muslim girls wearing veils and covering "the shape of their bodies" in a private Muslim school receiving government funds. Recently, there was a story in the media about a Catholic high school in the Cleveland suburbs objecting to veiling by one of its students.
Here is the N.Y. Times' vaguely sinister description of the Muslim girls' dress:
. . . the four girls had covered their hair and necks with well-secured scarves, a practice normally banned in public schools. They hid the shape of their bodies under dark-colored knee-length coats and pants.
N.Y. Times, 9/9/03, Intern'l Section.
This controversy is going on in France, a country in which the media has reported that the natives are now having second thoughts about the proliferation of pornography on their television stations. As noted in an article by David Frum of National Review Online, France also has widespread heterosexual "shacking up" and about 40% of its children born out of wedlock. The relatively recent French recognition of gay partnerships comes in the form of the Orwellian sounding "civil solidarity pacts" in which any two persons can register at city hall and receive the rights and privileges of married couples. Yes, this is the same France worried about the "sinister" practice of Muslim girls covering the shapes of their bodies!
Someone shared with me a statement attributed to Mark Shea that evil makes one stupid, very stupid. Well, sexual immorality and impurity has made French society and culture very stupid indeed. The secular Western project was supposed to be about human rights, the famed "Rights of Man," anchored in human dignity. That secular Western project has now reached the point where it is assiduously scrambling to codify any and all means for people to debase themselves by appealing to the lowest instincts of lust without commitment, fueled by a pornographic culture. The Western secular project pioneered by the revolutionary France of 1789 is ending its days by absurdly worrying about modestly dressed Muslim girls. It is a classic case of reductio ad absurdum that questions the very foundations of Western secularism.
We share the same problem in the United States. Having lived in the Cleveland area, let me tell you that in the Little Italy section of town, the local Catholic church found it necessary to post a sign warning people entering the church at the time of its annual religious festival about immodest dress. The level of ignorance--which I am sure is in certain cases completely unintentional and worthy of genuine sorrow--is so high that I recall an obviously immodestly dressed parent presenting a child for first Holy Communion during Mass. American cultural fashions are now inherently immodest. Even the clothing for young girls mass marketed in stores is apparently geared to encouraging an immodest taste in dress from a very young age.
There is no other term for this Western phenomenon: we are making prostitutes of our young women. If you ever watched old police shows in the seventies set in a gritty urban setting, you will likely remember that actresses playing the role of "hookers" wore a distinctive uniform: the short, tight skirt, and other obviously revealing clothing. You could easily pick out who was playing the role of the street "hooker." Well, today, that same uniform has been generalized and even radicalized. Tightness in female clothing is simply taken for granted as American fashion. Exposure of more and more skin--including tattoos in sensitive areas--is a commonplace. The goal is the opposite of that of the Muslim girls depicted in the N.Y. Times story: to expose as much of the shape and flesh of the female body as possible to any one passing by on the street. The Western age of women's liberation has become the age of women as courtesans.
And so the French are worried about veils, and a Catholic school in a Cleveland suburb, a suburb where immodest dress is an unquestioned fashion code, is also worried about the veil. The irony of it all is that the modest dress of these Muslim girls is in fact testifying to genuine human dignity as supposedly championed by the secularist ideology of France, and is in fact testifying to the Judeo-Christian vision of modesty supposedly championed by Catholic schools. The Catholic school in Cleveland should have used these students as models for modesty for their confused Catholic students.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the great good of modesty:
Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. . . . Modesty is decency. It inspires one's choice of clothing. . . . There is a modesty of feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressure of prevailing ideologies.
Catechism, paragraphs 2522 & 2523.
The prevailing secular Western ideology cannot apparently stand the sight of a modest woman. The prevailing secular Western ideology has shown itself to be an outstanding cultural failure.
Monday, September 08, 2003Zenit: "600 Clergy Reaffirm Vow of Celibacy"
That is the Zenit headline in an article for September 8, 2003. The news story discusses the rejection by the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy of the recent call for optional celibacy by a minority of priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The priests and deacons in the Confraternity reaffirmed their belief in celibacy. See the story.
Josef Pieper on Church and Liturgy
In his book In Search of the Sacred (Ignatius Press 1991 ), German philosopher Josef Pieper writes with pungent clarity about the essence of the liturgy. His thoughts are valuable because there remains for too many a fundamental confusion about what the Mass is. It is all too common for many to act as if the Mass is merely a communal gathering. This confusion is a matter of incompleteness, and, to be utterly frank, a tendency in the modern West to "protestantize" the liturgy. Protestantism and secularism are fruit of the same tree: a Western cultural emphasis on the functional and pragmatic. That practical tendency is so embedded in Western culture that it even affects the way some modern Catholics view the liturgy.
While looking at the origins of words is not a foolproof means to enlightenment, Pieper makes an essential point in emphasizing the origins of the English word "Church" and the related German word "Kirche":
I use the term Church in an entirely traditional understanding, by taking the literal meaning derived from its Greek root, kyriake: the historically conditioned actual existence of "the Lord's [Kyrios] holy people"-- in the world, yet not of the world.
Pieper, p. 93.
The Lord calls out and claims a people, that is the Church. We do not call each other. For in fact, many of us do not find a call from others-- most of whom we barely know-- as compelling enough to make us wish to assemble together. Pieper notes this reality when he quotes a friend of his who likes to repeat that he attends Church "not because of all the talking and preaching but because something happens there" (p. 125). Unfortunately, some ways of celebrating the liturgy give the impression that what happens in the liturgy is merely the outcome of human effort, talking, and participation. For many of us, that mere human effort would not be worth regular attendance.
The compelling nature of the liturgy is that Christ's sacrifice happens again:
The decisive and essential substance of what "happens"in the celebration of the Christian mystery is not any speech, any sermon. It is that dynamic reality of which the proclamation of the word, at best, gives a commentary: it is, indeed, the renewed actualization of Christ's sacrifice, a "happening" entirely beyond the regular course of everyday life and absolutely unique. And Christ, as his real and tangible presence in the sacred bread has now come about, becomes one with those who partake of this meal in faith and devotion.
Pieper, p. 135.
Christ died once and for all, as the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, but the Mass re-presents that same sacrifice again: it is one, unique historical event that is made present again and again. Thus, unlike the Protestant understanding, Catholics have a tangible sense that we have not been left as "orphans" by Christ: Christ has ensured that he remains tangibly present with His people to the end of time. Without this core belief that Christ again becomes tangibly present, all liturgy becomes non-compelling, even the most medieval, elaborate, and sumptuous liturgy.
Many Protestants will protest that Christ is present spiritually at church gatherings. Well, when two or three gather in Christ's name, He is indeed present spiritually. And we can gather in His name at the family table or in a park or on a lakeshore with a few friends and experience the same spiritual presence of Christ. We can even pray alone and be in contact with our Lord. So, a mere spiritual presence that can be had in private or group prayer is not compelling enough to make a church gathering necessary for a Christian. Something unique that cannot happen elsewhere must take place to make going to the liturgy truly compelling. Otherwise, we can simply start our own "church" to suit our own tastes and convenience, which is, of course, what has happened again and again in Protestantism.
These remarks are not intended to show any disrespect to our Protestant brethren who are indeed brothers in Christ who enjoy the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but merely to show clearly the fundamentally different Catholic understanding of the liturgy and of assembling as church. And, let it be clear, that formal liturgies that appear Catholic and traditional are not enough. Some Protestant churches, especially in the Anglican tradition, have liturgies that on the outside may even appear in their display more "Catholic" than what you may find in a typical modern Catholic parish. What is necessary is the orthodox Christian faith that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and that this event is actualized "anew" in the liturgy (Pieper, p. 126). Ritual without that essential affirmation and intention of the Church rings hollow. In addition, the priest must be truly consecrated in apostolic succession, as is the case, primarily, in the Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox churches.
So in the end, for Catholics, the quality of the homily or sermon is not decisive. Neither is the tastefulness of the furnishings or actual physical structure in which we gather. What is decisive is that we behold again the Lamb of God really and tangibly present in our midst. We are not orphans.
Sunday, September 07, 200323rd Sunday in O.T.: Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37
As noted in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Isaiah emphasized the view of God as the Lord of history who held the destinies of peoples and nations in His hand. In today's reading, we have an eschatological picture of God's intervention in history in which the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame shall leap, and the dumb will sing for joy (Is. 35:5-6a). ("Eschatology" refers to the last things or times in which God will bring an end to history.) In Mark, Jesus heals the deaf and mute man so that the astonished people exclaim "he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak" (Mk 7:37).
What do these readings tell us about Jesus? Jesus is the agent of God's salvific intervention. In Jesus, we see "the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God" (Is. 35:2b). So that the earliest Christian creed becomes: "Jesus is Lord," and in the Gospel of John we hear explicitly that Jesus is God (Jn 1:1). So these readings tell us about Christ, what the scholars call Christology. Eventually, the early Church will explicitly define this Scriptural message in the doctrine of the Trinity.
What do these readings tell us about the Christian's existential situation? St. Thomas Aquinas, along with the other great Christian philosophers and theologians, recognized man's natural desire for perfection and for the transcendent. These passages tell us that God will fulfill those natural desires. We are not fated to eternal frustration and despair, as pessimistic atheist and agnostic philosophies of life tell us. All our imperfections of body and mind will be transformed by God who will make us perfect. The Resurrection of Christ, confirmed by the empty tomb and by Christ's appearances to his followers, is the historical basis of that hope.
This eschatological faith that in the "last things" God will transform us also changes our attitude to poverty and the poor. St. James condemns favoritism of the rich by Christians. This condemnation is based on the Christian belief in the ultimate transformation of all things: "Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?" (James 2:5). As Christians, we treat the poor preferentially because we view them through the lense of the last times when the poor will be "heirs of the kingdom." As stated in Matthew, "But many that are first will be last, and the last first" (Mt. 19:30). This aspect of Jesus' teaching was especially emphasized by the Jewish Christians who were part of the intended audience of both James and Matthew.