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.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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The Necessary Catholic Vote
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Saturday, January 17, 2004The Necessary Catholic Vote
The 2004 presidential election is on November 2nd, which is also All Souls Day. On that day, Lord willing, millions of Catholics will perform their civic duty and vote, as I hope to do. Two sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are appropriate for consideration. Section 2442 makes clear the obligation of the laity to participate in the political processes of society:
It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens.
Catechism, 2442 (original emphasis).
Section 899 reinforces this special Christian obligation of the laity to participate in civic life:
As John Paul II and American bishops have pointed out repeatedly, the right to life is the most fundamental of human rights. It is the threshold to all other rights. In the encyclical Evangelium Vitae or The Gospel of Life, John Paul II makes this priority clear:
John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, 71.3, in J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., ed., The Encyclicals of John Paul II (OSV Publishing 2001), p. 737 (emphasis added).
When President Bush signed the ban on partial birth abortion, previously vetoed twice by President Clinton, he said in part the following which matches the teaching of Evangelium Vitae quoted above:
President Bush's Address on Signing the Ban on Partial Birth Abortion, Nov. 5, 2003, available at this link.
In March of 2001, at the dedication of the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., President Bush also made clear his agreement with the Pope's teaching against abortion:
The Pope reminds us that while freedom defines our nation, responsibility must define our lives. He challenges us to live up to our aspirations, to be a fair and just society where all are welcomed, all are valued, and all are protected. And he is never more eloquent than when he speaks for a culture of life. (Applause.) The culture of life is a welcoming culture, never excluding, never dividing, never despairing and always affirming the goodness of life in all its seasons.
Remarks of George W. Bush at the Dedication of the John Paul II Cultural Center (emphasis added), March 22, 2001, available at this link.
When the crowd rose in applause at the President's defense of the unborn child, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was also present at the dedication, conspicuously refused to rise from his seat (see media article at 4th paragraph).
We live in a society that routinely and deliberately violates the fundamental right to life for legions of unborn and partially born innocent children (liberal activists have tied up the ban on partial birth abortion in court). It is the burning issue of our time, just as slavery was the burning issue for America for most of the 19th century. It cannot be evaded or denied.
In the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Pope explicitly repeated the Catholic teaching on abortion:
John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 62.3, in Miller, p. 729 (original emphasis).
Direct abortion involves the intentional killing of innocent human life. It is a "grave moral disorder."
As we look around the American presidential contest today, there is not one, I repeat not one, Democratic or third party candidate who is pro-life, who rejects this grave moral disorder. In fact, all of the Democratic candidates celebrate abortion as itself a fundamental civil right. The undeniable fact and reality is that, as of this writing, President George W. Bush is the only pro-life candidate for president in 2004, as confirmed by his remarks quoted above. The implication is clear. We have an obligation as laity to take the initiative in permeating our society "with the demands of Christian doctrine and life" as stated in the Catechism. Because the right to life is, as the Pope has said, "first and fundamental," that should be the determining factor in our vote in 2004. For that reason, on All Souls Day 2004, I plan to vote in honor of the souls of the unborn by casting my ballot for George W. Bush for president. Based on my reading of the Catechism and the Pope's encyclical on life, it is also my moral and conscientious obligation as a lay person to state, in all charity, that intention openly for the benefit of others and as a witness to hope.
Update: It should be noted that the same Sen. Kennedy, who refused to join in approving of the President's pro-life reference to the Pope, is the most prominent backer of Democractic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Democratic frontrunner de jour as of January 20th.
Friday, January 16, 2004Recovering Evangelical Energy
The term "evangelical" today automatically means "conservative Protestant" to most people, and I have no problem with that usage. But Catholics should not hesitate to apply "evangelical" to themselves in a broader, older usage as relating to the vigorous embrace and preaching of the Gospel. To say that the Church is essentially missionary is to say that the Church is essentially evangelical. The missionary enterprise is nothing but the preaching of the Gospel. It also involves the corporal works of mercy as an intrinsic part of that Good News, but the missionary enterprise can never be separated from the Gospel proclamation. In that sense, Catholics can profit by taking an ecumenical look at the evangelistic energy of conservative Protestants. These Protestants are not shy about planning to bring the Gospel to non-Christians--whether atheists, the merely unchurched, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. There are no politically correct barriers to evangelism in conservative Protestant circles. This evangelistic fervor is especially evident in a significant way among Protestants in Latin America (at the expense of Catholic numbers) and in that sleeping giant, China. Their should be no such politically correct barriers in Catholic circles.
The New Testament itself is the best guide, as usual, for our efforts. In the Gospels, Jesus preaches first to the children of Israel, but there are already several positive run-ins with faith-filled Gentiles or non-Jews such as the Roman centurion with the sick servant, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Syrophoenician or Canaanite woman who spoke of the dogs eating the crumbs falling from the table. Of course, in Acts, we have Peter realizing by divine intervention that the Gospel is meant for the Gentiles also. Paul, of course, takes this truth and runs with it and begins the effort that will eventually turn the Roman Empire upside down. The clear New Testament import is that the Gospel is universal and knows no barrier of religion or custom.
On the other hand, we have liberal Catholics who argue that preaching the Gospel to those with non-Christian religious affiliations is undesirable and ultimately unnecessary. (The "unnecessary" part is reflected in the current mania for devising theologies that view other world religions as equal and independent means of salvation on a par with Christianity.) The liberals view preaching to members of non-Christians religions as pejorative "proselytization." Well, the only pejorative aspect captured by the term "proselytization" is that of coercion or duress in seeking converts. That has always been rejected by the Catholic Church as contrary to the Gospel message itself. But offering or proposing the Gospel even to those already practicing another religion is neither coercive nor intimidating: it is a proposal that is worthy of free individuals' consideration.
Here we come to the dysfunction at the heart of so many liberal and even moderate Catholics: the great hesitation to propose the Gospel. We see this hesitation abundantly in political life. The pro-abortion "Catholic" politico claims that she cannot propose banning partial-birth abortion because it would mean imposing her religious views on non-Catholics. The deception is in the word "impose." In our democratic society, nothing is "imposed": laws are made by legislation following constitutional procedures that require majority support. So a ban on partial-birth abortion would no more be an imposition than a ban on smoking cigarettes in government buildings. Some could even cogently argue that the crusade against smoking cigarettes reflects a religious agenda by those whose religious world view prizes protecting long-term physical health over the short-term gratification from smoking. Yet, no one would for that reason refrain from proposing anti-smoking legislation because there are abundant non-religious reasons for protecting the public health, as there are for protecting unborn human life.
The same deception surrounds the liberal Catholic allergy to the forceful preaching of the Gospel to those of non-Christian religious backgrounds. The truth is that preaching the Gospel is never an imposition-- it is a proposal to be freely considered, freely accepted, or freely rejected.
But the more troubling aspect of the liberal reluctance to be evangelistic comes from a contradiction. If one has himself accepted the Gospel and experienced its mercy and blessings, it is impossible to refrain from wishing to literally spread the Word. The tendency to completely substitute religiously neutral Peace Corps work for evangelistic missionary work raises the question of whether liberals have experienced and accepted the Gospel themselves. Evangelism is a fruit of conversion, and we shall know the tree by its fruit. The Catholic Church has a rich history of martyrs and saints overcoming great odds and distances to preach the Gospel far and wide to all peoples. We must recover that history and also welcome the beneficial example of our evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ.
Thursday, January 15, 2004Political Bombshell for Clark: "Janus" Candidate Exposed
Democratic contender Wesley Clark is mentioned by many pundits as the Clinton candidate. Well, he appears to be the Clinton candidate in more ways than one. The Drudge Report is headlining congressional testimony given by Clark in September 2002--presumably under oath--fully supporting the Iraq war. In fact, Clark's testimony meshes perfectly with the position of the Bush administration (more documentation of testimony at this link). Yet, Clark the Democratic presidential candidate has emphasized for some time now that he always opposed the Iraq war-- in order to aid his efforts to obtain the Democratic nomination in which opposition to the war has become a litmus test among many Democratic voters. Two faces: which one is true? What is becoming increasingly clear is that Clark has become a caricature of the worst stereotype of a politician: someone who will say anything in order to win. That is the Clinton legacy which is nothing more than an offshoot from the Kennedy legacy. Even with the Clinton debacle, some just never learn. They appear to view politics as a game and a circus in which anything goes and in which you try to get away with what you can. This situation is another example of the crisis of integrity that has swamped modern America. It is a crisis that defies common sense: how could Clark himself not realize that his testimony would eventually be used against him? Integrity and the common sense insight and wisdom we seek in leaders are linked. You cannot sever them.
Update No. 1: To make his moral collapse complete, see this story which describes Clark as adopting the most extreme view of abortion possible. For Clark, "life begins with the mother's decision." Ever heard of conception, General Clark? By the way, Clark claims to be a Catholic who attends a Presbyterian church. Some bishop is, sooner or later, going to have to clarify Clark's religious identity for General Clark himself and for the rest of the country, especially for Catholics who attend Catholic churches.
Update No. 2: Some commentators have compared Clark to the mad General Ripper in the 1964 movie "Dr. Strangelove." This latest kooky statement by Clark gives a new meaning to the term "loose cannon":
Source: N.Y. Times On-line, "Clark Clashes With G.O.P. on Testimony About Iraq," Washington/Campaign 2004 section (free reg'n required)(emphasis added).
Although the N.Y. Times writer rehashes the lame defense of Clark's campaign operatives, the writer's inclusion of the Russian quote presents evidence that is, in my view, more disturbing than Clark's contradictions on Iraq. The clairvoyance that allows Clark to pontificate on Putin's personal religious convictions matches the lack of realism manifested by Clark's other statement affirming that, if he is elected president, the U.S. would never again suffer an event like September 11th.
Update No. 3: There is no end to the strange statements of the new Clinton, Wesley Clark. The only difference is that Clark is clearly not as smart as Clinton in knowing when to shut up. As noted beore, pundits are now pasting on Clark the moniker "Dr. Strangelove." If you think this is coming from right-wing pundits only, note the CBS News commentary appearing in September of last year in which a British writer commented that some in the British military applied the "Dr. Strangelove" tag to Clark back during the Kosovo conflict. See link. That seems to be to be a pretty objective overseas source for sizing up the new Clinton. For a similar assessment of Clark, see this Washington Times article which calls him plain "crazy" (". . . Mr. Clark gives every indication of a crazy man pretending to be sane"). The Washington Times writer is not the only one making the "crazy" assessment. Here is an excerpt from a current article in The Weekly Standard:
Matthew Continetti, "Does Clark Have a Prayer?", Weekly Standard On-line, 1/26/04, p. 2, available at this link.
Why write so much about Clark? When Clinton ran in 1992, many, in and out of the press corps, were aware of his lack of moral character and integrity; but they kept quiet and let the disaster happen anyway. Maybe, this time a fiasco can be avoided. Maybe, the Kerry and Edwards victories in Iowa can put an end to the new Clinton.
The "Hypothetical" Jesus of the Scholars vs. the Real Jesus of the Gospels
Historical criticism is defined as:
Peter S. Williamson, Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture (Rome: Pontifico Insituto Biblico, 2001), p. 394 (glossary).
The "historical-critical method" is historical in the sense "that it 'seeks to shed light upon the historical processes which gave rise to the biblical texts' " and critical in the sense of operating " 'with the help of scientific criteria that seek to be as objective as possible' " (Williamson, p. 395). What are these criteria?
In the so-called quest for the "historical" Jesus who lies "behind" the Gospels, some of the criteria used include the following:
John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (N.Y.: Doubleday, 1991), pp. 168-77.
Now, the general, non-specialist reader can be pardoned for viewing these historical criteria as being quite malleable and subjective and quite amenable to manipulation by those who reject the faith of the Church. This instinctive response is confirmed by the strange and anti-Christian books published by those claiming that the real Jesus was not as presented by the Church.
Now, some scholars like the Catholic biblical scholar John Meier, who is cited above, and others responsibly frame their quest for the historical Jesus by drawing a distinction between the historical Jesus and the real Jesus. Meier, like others, admits that, when all is said and done, "the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus, but only a fragmentary hypothetical reconstruction of him by modern means of research" (Meier, `p. 31). Meier even goes so far as to state that "[w]e cannot know the 'real' Jesus through historical research, whether we mean his total reality or just a reasonably complete biographical portrait" (Meier, p. 24). Instead, Meier proclaims that what the Gospels show us is the "earthly Jesus" in the sense of "a picture--however partial and theologically colored--of Jesus during his life on earth" (Meier, p. 25).
So in the end when you hear the phrase "historical Jesus," you should remember that, according to these distinctions, we are not talking about the "real Jesus" or the "earthly Jesus." Meier is being quite forthright with his readers and those who read about the "historical Jesus," but the problem is that in the English language when you say "historical" we naturally and properly think "real" or "earthly." We do not naturally carry these academic distinctions and subtleties in our heads. That is our real or earthly situation.
So if scholars have an obligation to be clear and honest with their readers, it would seem best to avoid using the phrase "historical Jesus" in such an artificial sense that requires several pages of explanation. Instead, use a few more words up front and be perfectly straightforward with the reader. It would be better to drop this strained use of the term "historical Jesus" that is misleading to the general reader. Instead, I submit that Meier and others should say what they mean: the "hypothetical Jesus." The general reader will thus be less likely to be misled into confusing the hypothetical Jesus of the historical critical method with the real Jesus or the earthly Jesus of the Gospels. He will know that the best way to find the real Jesus is to read the Gospels, not the latest volume from the radical anti-Christian academics of the Jesus Seminar who, unlike Meier, spend their time saying that the real Jesus is the hypothetical Jesus they have constructed as their plaything.
Why don't more responsible scholars then abandon the misleading phrase "historical Jesus" when describing their work? Just compare the results in a thought experiment. Would your academic work seem more important if it is about the "historical Jesus" or about the "hypothetical Jesus" or the "conjectural Jesus"? You know the answer. Sometimes considerations of ego and career prestige are more determinative of the phrases we use than the value of straightforward communication. Academic scholars, with their specialized knowledge, have a special moral obligation to see that the general public is not misled about the results of their work. Thus, critical biblical scholars should stop talking and writing about the "historical Jesus" and instead be honest that their quest is and can only be about the "hypothetical Jesus." It would put a lot of well-meaning people in the general public at ease.
Once straightforward scholars describe their work as relating to the "hypothetical Jesus," then another issue arises: why bother to construct a merely "hypothetical" Jesus? I can only answer for myself: out of intellectual curiosity or, as the mountain climber said, "because it is there." Jesus, the Son of God, is rightly such a fascinating and singular figure that we cannot help but use all of our human criteria and methods to analyze him. That compulsion to bring all forms of human research and knowing to the figure of Jesus is thus quite understandable because of who he is. In addition, as Meier, points out we can gain insights we might not have gotten otherwise, insights that may contribute to our interpretation of Scripture and to christology. But, in the end, what the critical scholars uncover is a "hypothetical" or "theoretical" Jesus. The real earthly Jesus, although not all that he said and did, is found in the Gospel accounts. Hans Urs von Balthasar wraps up the situation nicely when he writes:
that only the Scriptures of the New Covenant, taken as witnesses of faith and in their entirety, can produce a tangible and credible portrait of Jesus Christ, whereas every critical attempt to approach him from a position other than that of the faith witnessed in the Scriptures can only result in a pallid, distorted picture unworthy of belief (and hence devoid of interest).
Balthasar, Preface, Does Jesus Know Us? Do We Know Him? (Ignatius Press, 1983)(original emphasis).
Update: My friend, Robert Gotcher, at the Classic Catholic blog (Jan. 15, 2004) mistakenly assumes that I view the Gospels as not giving us the real Jesus. Well, that is exactly the opposite of my view. The Gospels do in fact give us the real, earthly Jesus--an account of Jesus that is indeed historically accurate. I reproduce the last lines of my essay above as evidence:
The real earthly Jesus, although not all that he said and did, is found in the Gospel accounts. Hans Urs von Balthasar wraps up the situation nicely when he writes:that only the Scriptures of the New Covenant, taken as witnesses of faith and in their entirety, can produce a tangible and credible portrait of Jesus Christ, whereas every critical attempt to approach him from a position other than that of the faith witnessed in the Scriptures can only result in a pallid, distorted picture unworthy of belief (and hence devoid of interest).
I think that what Gotcher is getting at is that, as the Church teaches, the Gospels do give us an accurate and reliable historical portrait of Jesus--and I agree fully with him. I think the misunderstanding or miscommunication between us arises because of the pernicious misuse of the phrase "historical Jesus." When Meier uses the phrase "historical Jesus," most of us naturally think of the real Jesus. The problem is that Meier means by the phrase "historical Jesus" the portrait of Jesus reconstructed by historical critical scholars using what I view as highly subjective and imperfect criteria. The whole thrust of my essay is that
scholars like Meier should desist from using the phrase "historical Jesus" in such an artificial and misleading way and instead refer more accurately to the product of their critical methods as the "hypothetical Jesus." Then we can be free to use again the term "historical Jesus" in the natural sense to mean the real Jesus revealed by the Gospels. That seems to be the sense in which Gotcher uses the phrase "historical Jesus." It is also the sense in which I think the phrase "historical Jesus" should be used--after we rescue it from the biblical critics as urged by my essay.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004Stooping Low: The Da Vinci Code
Crisis magazine has a review of the best-selling The Da Vinci Code demonstrating that the book is a mish-mash of error and lies unworthy of any serious consideration by anyone. The book is not worth reading. What I gather from the review is that the book's author creates a gumbo from the false speculations and fevered imaginations--powered, of course, by the tiresome modern addiction of finding hidden sexual allusions everywhere--of anti-Catholics, occultists, and reckless "feminist" theories to denigrate Jesus Christ and the Church. The fact that the book is a best-seller and apparently taken seriously by some readers is a testimony to the mass ignorance of our affluent Western mass culture. The New York Times lists the book on its fiction list, yet some appear to view it as based on scholarly research.
The Crisis reviewer points out that, as is typical with those attacking Jesus Christ, the book's author relies on the esoteric theories of those who look to sources outside the New Testament for the real Jesus. The late biblical scholar Raymond Brown--who was by no means a traditionalist in his approach to Scripture and whose work I personally find highly unsatisfactory on various issues--noted a reality which is bad news for those concocting fables about Jesus Christ:
Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (Doubleday 1997), p. 829 (Appendix I)(N.B.: Do not confuse Raymond Brown the biblical scholar with Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code!).
In the genre of those who, like the author of The Da Vinci Code , seek to concoct a false Jesus, the apocryphal gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter are highly popular. (In regard to the Gospel of Thomas, Elaine Pagels' book The Gnostic Gospels is part of this trend and is mentioned by the Crisis article.) In contrast, Raymond Brown the scholar concludes that the Gospel of Thomas "casts no light on the historical Jesus" and that the Gospel of Peter "offers no independent information about the historical passion and death of Jesus" (Raymond Brown, p. 829). In other words, the canonical gospels and the rest of the New Testament canon are, for all practical purposes, our only significant sources of information about the historical Jesus in the first century or any century. (Some sketchy references are found in the Jewish writer Josephus who "is our only independent non-Christian source of information about the historical Jesus in the first century"; these references do not in any way contradict the canonical Gospels [John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Vol. 1 (Doubleday: 1991), p. 92]). In other words, the canon rules--that is precisely why it is the canon. Unfortunately, for the revisionists and fabulists, the Jesus of the New Testament is not to their taste.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004Immigration's Real Contribution to the USA: The Traditional Infusion
President Bush's announcement of a plan for temporary foreign workers has raised much concern, especially among conservatives. The concept is nothing new. Back in the 1950s, under another Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, there was also a temporary worker plan known as the "Bracero" program. The program began during the labor shortages of World War II and continued until ended by the Democrats in 1964 ( see link). The debate over immigration always raises the question of the benefits and costs of immigration. A few observations may be helpful to the debate.
First, the United States is in an immensely better position than Europe on the issue of immigration as a matter of simple geography. Across the Mediterranean from Europe loom millions of North African Moslems in addition to Moslem Turkey. This demographic fact, coupled with the collapse of European birth rates, means that Europe is likely to undergo a process of gradual "Islamicization" unless European birth rates rise or immigration is radically restricted. Such a process, if left unchecked, will, needless to say, undermine European civilization. Or better put, such a process will hasten the demise of a European civilization already undermined by homegrown European secularism. It is astonishing that usually perspicacious social observers fail to connect the perilous state of Europe with the embrace of contraception. The social observers cannot see the problem because they have defined it out of existence in their uncritical embrace and faith in contraception. In view of this willful self-blinding, it is ironic that the highly secular Europeans are the ones immersed in a superstitious faith, a faith in contraception as a fundamental, unquestioned, and harmless part of their lifestyle. Liberal Catholic clerics have joined in that delusion.
The U.S., on the other hand, is in a much better geographic position: the millions peering over the border are not Moslems but Christians, mostly Catholic but increasingly also evangelical Protestants. In addition, they are heirs of a quintessentially Western culture, the Hispanic culture, that, of course, originated in Europe. Thus, immigration for the United States does not pose the civilizational threat that immigration means for Europe.
Another factor that may be helpful in discussing immigration in the United States is what can be termed "Traditional Infusion." As older American ethnic groups have assimilated, they have abandoned traditional religious and cultural values. Catholics are a prominent example. Many polls indicate that Americans of Catholic background, a large portion of which are descendants of not too distant European immigrants, have succumbed to a secular lifestyle no different than that of the descendants of "old stock" Protestant Americans who predated the waves of Catholic immigration. It is no coincidence that many of the leading voices of Catholic dissent come from the ranks of the most assimilated ethnic groups who migrated much earlier to the U.S.-- just look at the surnames of some of the leading dissidents in liberal Catholic universities and in groups like Voice of the Faithful.
Immigrants bring a sorely needed periodic infusion of traditional values: family unity, extended family ties beyond the small nuclear family, patterns of traditional courtship and marriage, and stronger religious identity and practice. This traditional infusion has strong economic benefits for the U.S. The extended family unit has proven to be a powerful vehicle for economic growth and entrepreneurship. In addition, durable families, as opposed to broken families, are able to accumulate and preserve the capital necessary for economic growth and investment.
The traditional infusion also props up birth rates, reduces divorce and abortion, and forms a bulwark against the self-destruction evident in the glorification of promiscuity, and now the gay lifestyle, that we are currently witnessing. From a religious point of view, immigration also forms a bulwark within Christian denominations against the liberal revision of traditional Christian belief and practice. Vatican II was prescient when it "pointed out that many nations, poorer in economic goods, are quite rich in wisdom and can offer noteworthy advantages to others" (Gaudium et Spes ["Joy and Hope"], 15 [Dec. 7, 1965]).
In the end, immigration has undeniable costs, but for the United States it also has real benefits, especially from the perspective of those who espouse traditional family life and religious belief. I submit that the ones who should be most troubled by immigration are the social liberals. Maybe, that is why the social liberals are so adamant about spreading the practices of contraception and abortion worldwide. In a way, this global crusade for population control is the liberal version of "preemptive war," waged in the liberal form not against terrorists and mad dictators but against Third World babies.
Update: Political commentator Dick Morris of the New York Post has an interesting political perspective on Bush's new immigration proposal and its ties to the future of the Republican Party.
Monday, January 12, 2004"Voice of the Faithful" = "Call to Action"
If any further confirmation was needed that the disingenuous "Voice of the Faithful" is in reality another version of the dissident "Call to Action" crowd which advocates women priests, Protestant-style denominational democracy, and revising the moral teachings of the Church (see Call to Action website), Crisis magazine provides it in an exposť written by a former high-ranking member of the Long Island, New York, branch of Voice of the Faithful.
The writer notes the dissident speakers invited by VOTF to its gatherings, notably Richard McBrien of Notre Dame who is as committed to revising Catholicism as the gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire is committed to revising historic Anglicanism. The article also notes Jesuit Raymond Schroth as a speaker--someone I recall from my days in New Orleans. From my experience and observations years ago, Schroth, in my opinion, is someone lacking in common sense and judgment. As faculty advisor in the early nineties to the college newspaper at Loyola University, New Orleans, Schroth, in my opinion, utterly failed to guide his charges in responsible journalism. The result was a big campus controversy when the college newspaper published a column insulting Puerto Rican--and by extension other Hispanic--students at the college. Schroth was reprimanded for his conduct by the university's Jesuit president. It appears that Schroth is continuing his clueless behavior by associating with VOTF and apparently praising dissident Garry Wills. (You can read an account of the Schroth incident from 1991 in an article written by one of his cronies--yet, in spite of the bias in favor of Schroth in the name of the First Amendment, the article still manages to provide strong evidence for Schroth's lack of common sense as a faculty advisor for student journalists. By the way, contrary to the assumption of Schroth's defender, the First Amendment blocks government interference with the press, not reprimands made by a private university that publishes and owns its own college newspaper. A newspaper publisher is always free to manage his newspaper as he wishes.)
Another interesting observation made in the Crisis article on VOTF is the age of the VOTF participants. The writer notes the middle-aged and elderly nature of the VOTF partisans. Another striking observation is the alarm and contempt voiced by the VOTF elders over the rise of orthodoxy among younger Catholics and seminarians. It is clear that VOTF is a rehash of older dissident groups. I would not be surprised at a large amount of overlap in membership and contributors. The Crisis article even closes with a reference confirming the overlap: the Michigan chapter of the dissident Call to Action is sharing meetings with the local VOTF chapter.
It is deeply ironic that an organization that so severely criticizes lack of candor among bishops over the homosexual abuse scandal is itself so deeply mendacious and false. VOTF is the typical dissident exercise in deception and internal subversion by false posturing and strategic ambiguity. The problem is that we have seen this con game before, and the rising generation of Catholics is not interested in those who merely repeat the deceptions of our secular society under the guise of being wounded Catholics. You can read the article at this link (Danny DeBruin, "An Inside Look at Voice of the Faithful," Crisis magazine, Jan. 8, 2004).
Sunday, January 11, 2004Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Titus 2:11-14;3:4-7; 3:15-16, 21-22
John the Baptist offered a baptism of repentance from sin, but Jesus, the sinless one, submitted to the baptism of John. That is always the paradox that surfaces most prominently on this feast. When John Paul II says that Jesus is the answer to the question which is every human life, yours and mine, the Pope is offering us a way to mine the riches of this feast. Isaiah paints an unforgettable picture of divine care and providence, a picture of the Divine Shepherd carrying his lambs in his bosom and "leading the ewes with care." That divine care and providence extends to each person born into this world, but of course each person must accept the mission entrusted to him by God.
As part of that very particular individual divine care, Jesus becomes our paradigm and exemplar in finding our mission. He submits to the baptism of John just as all the other people who were baptized, and in that baptism Jesus' identity is publicly manifested--an identity previously hidden in obscurity. So for us, our baptism is what reveals our true identity and mission. The problem is that too many of us spend years running away from that mission, instead of embracing it. I suspect that for many it is a matter of plain incredulity that we, of all people, could have a divine mission and mandate to fulfill. Yet, that each of us is called to a divine mission is a central part of the Good News that contradicts the hedonistic and nihilistic view of human life.
So St. Paul writes to Titus that God has saved us and is "training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age . . . eager to do what is good." Our baptism, "the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit," discloses that mission by which we "become heirs in hope of eternal life." This feast points to each of us individually and raises the question of when we will accept our particular divine mission in place of worldly desires.