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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Lay Involvement in the Church: The Classic Analysis
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Saturday, March 06, 2004Lay Involvement in the Church: The Classic Analysis
In today's Boston Globe, there are two opinion pieces on the involvement of the laity in the affairs of the Catholic Church. One, authored by activists associated with the Voice of the Faithful, argues for greater lay involvement but also openly argues for ordained female deacons (see article). Of course, the advocacy for ordained female deacons is simply an oblique way to push for priestly ordination of women. The activists know that the Sacrament of Holy Orders is one and that to ordain women deacons logically entails the ordination of women priests and bishops. That is why you will never see an ordained female diaconate in the Catholic Church.
At best, there may be a recognized non-ordained female ministry. Yet, even that makes no sense. Why have a non-ordained, lay ministry limited to women? Why exclude married men or other men from such a non-ordained lay ministry? The crux of the matter is that we already have extensive, recognized, and even certified non-ordained lay ministry throughout the Church for laity of either gender. The bottom line is that you cannot ordain female deacons because the Sacrament of Holy Orders is one and indivisible and is limited to males by the choice of Christ Himself. And as to a non-ordained female ministry, it already exists and there is no need or sense in accentuating an exclusively female branch of such a lay ministry, unless you hope to eventually transform such non-ordained and exclusively female ministers into ordained ministers.
Fortunately, the liberal Boston Globe did include a companion piece by a local priest pointing out the extensive lay involvement that already exists in the governance of the Church. So, in the end, the article by Voice of the Faithful is arguing for a lay empowerment that already exists and is continuing to grow without the involvement of Voice of the Faithful. The only new matter raised by the Voice of the Faithful article is its advocacy of ordained female deacons which, in my view, is theologically impossible and merely exposes that a central, and now open, part of the Voice of the Faithful agenda is advocacy for women priests. It is now clear to all that Voice of the Faithful is not about lay empowerment and mere bureaucratic reforms, but rather about theological revisionism.
This discussion raises the crucial question presented or implied by liberal activists and their media sympathizers, such as John Allen of the heterodox National Catholic Reporter: can lay people be involved in "electing" bishops, as they allegedly were in the early Church? Even Allen's thumbnail sketch of Church history, in the above link, on the selection of bishops fails to make the case for lay selection of bishops. What he catalogues is, for all practical purposes, clerical "selection" with papal approval (see sample of a papal letter confirming the election of a bishop in the 1200s by a cathedral chapter). (The other process described in Allen's article is selection by a secular government followed by papal confirmation. I doubt anyone will seriously argue for bringing that process back, except maybe Hans Küng.) In the end, Allen's own historical summary can yield only a vague and amorphous argument for some kind of involvement of the "local community," an involvement that in no way requires putting the power to select bishops in lay hands.
The classic Catholic answer already addresses involvement by the "local community," even by lay members of that local community. Classic Catholicism long recognized that lay people can nominate or recommend candidates for bishop, but that the actual choice or election of a bishop is the prerogative of the clergy excercising apostolic authority. At this point, an excerpt from the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia is worthwhile:
In particular, the laity (and by this word we here include the secular authority) cannot bestow ecclesiastical jurisdiction on clerics under the form of an election properly so called, conferring the right to an episcopal or other benefice. An election by the laity alone, or one in which the laity took part, would be absolutely null and void (c. lvi, "De elect.") (see ELECTION). But this refers to canonical election strictly so called, conferring jurisdiction on the right to receive it; if it is merely a question, on the other hand, of selecting an individual, either by way or [sic] presentation or a similar process, the laity are not excluded, for the canonical institution, the source of spiritual jurisdiction, is exclusively reserved to the ecclesiastical authority. That is why no objection can be raised against the principle we have laid down from the fact that the people took part in the episcopal elections in the first ages of the Church; to speak more accurately, the people manifested their wish rather than took part in the election; the real electors were the clerics; and lastly, the bishops who were present were the judges of the election, so that in reality the final decision rested in the hands of the ecclesiastical authority. It cannot be denied that in the course of time the secular power encroached on the ground of spiritual jurisdiction, especially in the case of episcopal elections; but the Church always asserted her claim to independence where spiritual jurisdiction was involved, as may be clearly seen in the history of the famous dispute about investitures (q.v.).
Source: Catholic Encyclopedia article (emphasis added).
The laity alone can never select a bishop, and any lay recommendation must be confirmed by the clergy. But you will see in the arguments of liberals an inherent ambiguity that fudges all these issues. Older generations of Catholics took pride in making precise distinctions in the terms used in analysis and argumentation. Modern liberals, on the other hand, fudge distinctions to advance the "agenda" in a display of smoke and mirrors. In sum, it appears that the thrust and evolution of Church history is that lay people are free to make known their preferences for bishop but that the choice or election of a bishop rests on the ordained. This lay writer and many others like him make their preferences known, consistent with this tradition. For example, many of us would be thrilled to see Archbishop Chaput of Denver replace the disappointing Cardinal Mahony as archbishop of Los Angeles. I would not be surprised if many in the "local community" of Los Angeles would also agree. But the choice is not ours.
Friday, March 05, 2004One of the Most Insightful Reviews of the Passion by UPI's Uwe Siemon-Netto
My guess is that the best religion journalist writing today is UPI's Uwe Siemon-Netto (who happens to be Lutheran). He has again done justice to that accolade with his highly insightful review of The Passion of the Christ. Here is the link to the review entitled "Bleeding Christ vs. empty cross," courtesy of an attentive Catholic Analysis reader.
The Passion Affirms the Resurrection
Another aspect of the Passion of the Christ movie that seems to be overlooked by some critics is the role of the Resurrection of Christ. At the end of the movie, we see the Risen Christ emerging from the empty tomb. By including the Resurrection, the movie testifies to the essential Christian fact that has been denied for decades by modern liberal or "demythologizing" theologians who view the Resurrection as somehow originating solely in the subjective reflection of the early Church. Von Balthasar takes aim at this denial of the historical Resurrection as exemplified by, among others, Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976), who remains even today a strong influence on biblical studies.
Taking Paul's affirmation of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 as his starting point, Balthasar comments on the relation of the Resurrection to the Cross:
Already in this most ancient formula [that is, 1 Cor. 15:3-8], the death on the Cross and the burial are bound together with the Resurrection and the appearing of the Risen One in a single profession of faith. Even so early--and this is important--the Cross is understood within the horizon of the Resurrection as an atoning death 'for our sins', while the two realities, the death and the Resurrection, become intelligible within the total horizon of Scripture [the Hebrew Scriptures] just as they provide Scripture with its definitive illumination.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale (Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 193 (emphasis added).
For Balthasar, we cannot separate the Passion on the Cross from the Resurrection. As a result, Balthasar must reject Bultmann's disavowal of the historical nature of the Resurrection:
Balthasar, p. 193 (emphasis added).
If the Resurrection is not an objective, true, and historical event, then the Cross cannot redeem us. The passion of Jesus then becomes just another example of man's longstanding cruelty and savagery to man. The Passion is understood, as Balthasar said, in the horizon of the Resurrection. Maybe that is why liberal Protestants and liberal Catholics who either reject or downplay the historicity of the Resurrection as an objective event will find the movie's reminder of the gruesomeness of the Passion to be a nuisance because that gruesomeness reveals the necessity of affirming the historical objectivity of the Resurrection of Christ.
Thursday, March 04, 2004U.S. Bishops Support a Federal Marriage Amendment
If anyone was wondering, the U.S. Bishops today reaffirmed in a letter to Congress their support for a federal amendment to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. You can read the text of the letter at this link.
The Passion of the Christ: One View
Last night I saw the movie that some people I know have already seen again or are already planning to see again. The Passion of the Christ is the exact opposite of what its media critics have said. Instead of inciting violence, the movie makes one abhor violence as you take in the lengthy cruelty shown toward Christ by Roman thugs drunken with their own orgiastic cruelty. Some of that cruel madness is in most of us everytime we let anger control us. I believe the movie will make people less violent because the cruelty depicted is so repugnant. In fact, the movie does not contain the generic violence that permeates so much American entertainment such as battle scenes and catastrophes. Rather, in my view, it is more accurate to describe the movie as depicting cruelty, not violence. By cruelty, I mean the gratuitous concupiscence of murderous wrath directed toward the innocent. That is what the movie depicts.
It is absurd to even suggest that the movie is anti-Semitic. Of course, one is naturally repelled by the smug Jewish prelates seeking to crush Jesus. But during the questioning before the Jewish leadership, at least two of the similarly garbed Jewish leaders strongly condemn the proceedings against Jesus as a sham in clear and forceful terms. These two Jewish leaders are forcibly ejected from the questioning so that the kangaroo court can proceed. In no way are Jews presented as being monolithically evil, just as the Romans are not presented as monolithically evil. No group is presented as monolithically evil.
But most important of all is the thoroughly Marian character of the movie. The dignified and beautiful face of Mary is framed in a white-trimmed black head covering reminiscent of a traditional nun. You see an unforgettable representation of Mary Ever-Virgin. The quiet dignity and self-possession of Mary give a new dimension to gravitas. As is probably true for many others, I found that the most affecting scene occurs when Mary races to obtain a moment to embrace Jesus as he carries the cross and tells him, "I am here." At that moment, there is a flashback to Mary running to comfort Jesus when he fell as a small child. She is there again as he falls again--this time under the weight of the cross.
Mel Gibson's Icon Productions has given us a film version of the Stations of the Cross and a living icon of the Passion that is "moving" in both senses of the term. It is ironic that Mel Gibson from the margins of Catholicism has done through this moving icon more for evangelization and even ecumenism than many a priest or bishop in the mainstream of Catholicism. When I attended the movie, the theater was full of members of an African-American Protestant congregation led by their pastor. As the saying goes, God writes straight with crooked lines.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004The Battle is Joined
With a Bush versus Kerry general election now a certainty, the battle is joined. The question always arises for the Christian: how important is all of this? The New Testament presents a picture of spiritual battle in our own lives and in the wider world. Where does this election fit in? In my view, the question boils down to the virtue of fortitude. Even more striking is to say that it boils down to the New Testament Greek word parrhesia, which has various meanings.
According to one reference source, parrhesia means literally "all speech" and refers to "freedom of speech, unreservedness of utterance" (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words s.v. (listed under the words) "Bold, Boldness, Boldly") (hereafter "Vine's Dictionary"). A more interesting definition is that of "absence of fear in speaking boldly; hence, confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, without any connection necessarily with speech" (Vine's Dictionary). Interestingly, parrhesia also has the sense of acting conspicuously, openly, and publicly (Vine's Dictionary).
These uses can be found in chapter 4 of Acts. In this chapter, Peter and John are arrested and questioned by the Jewish authorities--who had only recently done the same with Jesus as a prelude to the Crucifixion--after the healing of the lame man at the Temple by Peter. It must have been a tense confrontation. Thoughts of their own crucifixion must have crossed the minds of both Peter and John given what they had just witnessed in the recent past. But something else had intervened: the Resurrection. And so Peter and John were bold: "Now when they saw the boldness [parrhesian] of Peter and John . . . they recognized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Later in Acts 4:29, the Christians celebrate with a prayer the release of Peter and John by the authorities asking that the Lord "grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness [parrhesias]." And so we have different forms of the same word parrhesia being used to describe boldness in the face of danger and confrontation.
In our own political circumstances, a personal decision on what to say during the course of this election is unavoidable. We live in a democratic society that protects and encourages the free and bold speech we have been talking about. We do not face the same type of danger faced by Peter and John (although some say that we may well do so in the future). In that sense, we lack any excuse such as would have been theoretically available to the Christians in Acts. The Christians in Acts spoke boldly in the face of real physical danger. Surely we can then speak boldly in the safety of a modern democracy that actually encourages free speech.
For Christians, it is not so much about Bush the politician or his personal political ambitions; in the end, those factors are clearly not important. It is about speaking the truth in the face of the great lie of the current Democratic Party. That great lie is that you can promote life by killing life, that you can promote happiness and fulfillment by undermining the natural law of marriage, and that it is best to immerse young people in the technology of promiscuity and moral relativism. For Catholics especially, there is another insidious and very specific lie at hand with Kerry as the Democratic nominee: that you can claim to be Catholic and affirm all of the preceding lies. We must speak the truth boldly, confidently, openly, and with cheerful courage. We cannot wash our hands of the matter.
Tuesday, March 02, 2004Kerry Plans to Fund International Abortions in his First Executive Order
Here is more evidence of what a Kerry administration would mean to the Culture of Life:
The Bush campaign comments on the Kerry promise as follows:
Source: Bush campaign e-mail, 3/2/04.
The choice in November for a faithful Catholic is obvious.
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A Case Study in Despair
Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a pleasant small city of about 130,000 people whose economy and life are dominated by the University of Michigan. It is a pleasant place for walking when the temperatures are warm. It has a bustling downtown: no shuttered or derelict inner city buildings here. It is an affluent city in which an astounding 64% of residents have four or more years of college according to the most current city guide published by a local magazine. Crime is low compared to nearby Detroit. But there is a deeper problem in Ann Arbor, and it is despair.
Many would wince in astonishment at this diagnosis. They see themselves as living very self-actualized, upwardly mobile lives. But self-appraisals are highly suspect. Denial is in our blood. Let's look at some evidence and make some inferences. If you look through the local, privately published city guide, you are struck with a full-page color ad that seems to come right out of the late sixties and seventies. It is an add for a "pipe" shop termed "The Best Head Shop" with Ann Arbor's "largest selection of pipes." The ad, with pictures of garish and strange pipes, also makes a point of noting that it also sells scales. There is a disclaimer saying that all "pipes are sold for tobacco use only."
If you continue browsing the city guide, you come to an ad placed by an office of the University of Michigan entitled "Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Affairs," apparently located in the university union building.
Then you come to the Planned Parenthood ad which offers "All Birth Control Methods," "Sexually Transmitted Infection Testing and Treatment," and "Surgical and Medical Abortion." Strangely enough, right below the line pitching abortion is a pitch for "Prenatal Care."
And, of course, profusely cramming every page of the guide are ads for an overwhelming variety of consumer products and services.
Now this locally and privately published city guide must certainly not be unique among university towns. Boston and Berkeley must have more of the same. What do these ads tell the social observer or the armchair philosopher?
Well, the philosopher must have some prism by which to analyze. Let's use the classic Christian and Catholic prism: the capital sins listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These sins "engender other sins, other vices" (CCC, 1866). They include "pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia."
We can easily do the matching. The technology and dangers of lust are banally advertised by Planned Parenthood. The pipe ad is an appeal to gluttony, the gluttony seeking compulsive and slothful satiation. The university department ad ministering to unnatural inclinations is another testimony to the distorting effects of lust. The consumer ads in their excess are a testimony to lurking envy, avarice, and more gluttony. Pride is present in the proud ticking off of the educational attainments of the residents. The residents are a cut above the rest.
On the positive side of the scale, there is no ad appealing to wrath or hatred. It appears to be quite an amiable and civil culture. But I submit that the wrath, although not manifest in the ads, is also lurking. The wrath is directed inward: wrath toward one's own human body. What we have is a modern Manichaeism that effectively views the body as a burdensome evil. The body's natural reproductive capacity is to be manipulated with technology and twisted into strange sexual orientations. That does not sound like love for one's body. The body's (and mind's) fatigue is to be enveloped and drowned in a haze of ambiguously advertised pipe smoke.
Highly educated, apparently amiable, but self-hating because our bodies are a crucial part of who we are. That is the startling inference we can make about some of the most educationally and economically privileged people to have ever lived on the face of the earth. In the Christian view, we are destined to be embodied forever. So maybe hell will have similar advertisements.
Monday, March 01, 2004Gay Marriage: Wedge Issue for African-Americans and Hispanics
When President Bush made his announcement endorsing the federal amendment to ban gay marriage, the Democrats immediately made what I call a "motive" attack, that is, they did not engage the issue on substance but claimed that the President was acting purely for political gain. In my view, there is no doubt that President Bush, as an evangelical Christian, honestly views heterosexual marriage, as he has said, as the ideal. But there is indeed political gain to be harvested from this principled stand. And that is nothing to be ashamed of, just as Democrats have nothing to be ashamed of in gaining African-American votes by having a strong record on civil rights. When you take a principled stand, you take the good with the bad. There is nothing wrong with gaining political benefits from an honest and principled stand.
Two articles in today's media point to the real possibility that the President's leadership against gay marriage may drive up his vote totals among African-Americans and Hispanics. Here is a quote from an Episcopal priest who has served minority congregations in the Washington, D.C., area:
Source: Washington Times, "Episcopal pastor rebukes diocese," by Julia Duin (3/1/04).
The Washington Times article goes on to describe the conflict between minority Episcopal congregations in the D.C. area and their highly liberal, pro-gay Episcopal bishop.
The other article is from the New York Times and recounts how both sides of the gay marriage issue are courting African-American pastors. The article reports on how some African-American pastors have already taken sides and spoken out against gay marriage and have applauded the President's leadership on the issue. See N.Y. Times, "Both Sides Court Black Churches in Debate Over Gay Marriage," by Lynnette Clemetson, National section (3/1/04) (free reg'n required).
Why are African-Americans and Hispanics conservative on the gay marriage issue? The liberals will think, but never say out loud, that such conservatism is a legacy of ignorance and lack of education. My analysis is different. What we have on display is a manifestation of an ecumenical and biblical "sense of the faithful." The Bible is central to the devotion of many African-American Christians. The Bible is absolutely clear on the issue at hand. Marriage of Husband and Wife, Bridegroom and Bride, is from Genesis to Revelation a supremely important image and reality in the Bible. To redefine it is to "dam up" a central current of the Judeo-Christian faith reflected in the Bible from the Old Testament through the New Testament. As to Hispanics, the experiences of extended families and strong paternal authority are closer to the mentality of biblical culture than the non-Hispanic embrace of fragmentation, isolation, and spineless, indifferent fathers who look the other way. In addition, many Hispanics, whether Catholic or evangelical, also share a love of Scripture. It is ironic that Protestantism began historically with the self-appointed task of putting the Bible in the hands of the laity, but that now liberal Protestantism's greatest enemy is that same Bible read by lay people.
So while liberals privately marvel at the lack of theological sophistication and "backwardness" of minority Christians, I will marvel at the biblical "sense of the faithful" shown by minority Christians who will dominate the "Next Christendom."