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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Spain Weeps and Demonstrates
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Saturday, March 13, 2004Spain Weeps and Demonstrates
Demonstration at Plaza Colón ("Columbus Square"), Madrid, Spain. Source: AFP/File/Pierre-Philippe Marcou.
The terror bombings of rail commuters in Madrid have sparked an extraordinary series of peaceful demonstrations by millions in all regions of Spain, even in the Basque and Catalan regions which have traditionally had a tense relationship with the central government in Madrid. There have also been demonstrations in the rest of Europe, in the U.S., and in Latin America, especially among the Spanish diaspora in Latin America. For many Hispanics in the U.S., there remains a deep emotional tie to Spain. For many of us, when we think "mother country," we think Spain, la madre patria, not England. So for many in the U.S., an attack on Spain is an attack on an extended family member. For the papal reaction, see the Zenit article recounting the Pope's communications with the cardinal archbishop of Madrid who interrupted his work in Rome to return to his archdiocese in the wake of the bombings (see "Pope Calls Condolences to Cardinal of Madrid," Mar. 12, 2004). As is typical with spectacular terrorist attacks, the nation targeted becomes more united, even overcoming past internal quarrels in the face of grief.
U.S. Delegation Pushes to Remove Pro-Abortion U.N. Language
Catholic World News features an article (availabe to non-subscribers) hailing a pro-life victory in the U.N. The controversy involved proposed language seeking to protect the so-called "reproductive rights" of women and girls. That phrase is code language for abortion. Apparently, the pro-life forces have won the fight to omit this language from the text of a document on gender equality, with the U.S. delegation playing a key role on the pro-life side. You can take it to the bank that, in contrast, a Kerry administration delegation, following the precedent set by the Clinton administration, would instead have been on the pro-abortion side of the debate. This episode is another reminder of the growing number of reasons for Catholics to vote Republican in November.
Friday, March 12, 2004Bush Reaffirms Support for Marriage Amendment and Pro-Life Stands
In an address to a gathering of Protestant evangelicals, President Bush strongly reaffirmed his support for a federal marriage amendment that would be immune to tampering by the U.S. Supreme Court, in contrast to state measures and state constitutional amendments that can always be invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. You can read the story at the N.Y. Times online, Washington section, "Bush Assures Evangelicals of His Commitment to Amendment on Marriage," Mar. 12, 2004 (free reg'n required). In addition, the Bush administration is considering requiring the addition of a warning to condom packaging stating that condoms do not protect users from all sexually transmitted diseases. The concern centers around a widespread virus called HPV that can cause cervical cancer. For more details, see this A.P. story, "Bush Administratin Weighs Condom Warning," Mar. 11, 2004.
These stories remind me why, if Clinton can be called by some the "first black President," we can appropriately call the evangelical George W. Bush "the first Catholic President," especially in light of the disappointing Kennedy legacy and its heirs like John Kerry.
Thursday, March 11, 2004Next Major Update: Monday, March 15, 2004
Aramaic Is Alive & Well in the United States
Editor's Introduction: Mel Gibson's movie on the Passion has brought attention to the language spoken by Jesus--Aramaic--which was and is closely related to Hebrew. News articles have tended to focus on Aramaic as a dwindling language hanging on by its fingernails in a few remote villages in present-day Syria. But the truth is not so negative and not so far from home. The following article is by an Aramaic-speaking Chaldean rite Catholic living in the United States who notes that, contrary to the impression made by some news reports, the language of Jesus used in the movie is alive and well in the United States. It is with great pride and devotion that many Chaldean rite Catholics have flocked to see the movie.
The Passion of the Christ has brought Protestant evangelicals and Catholics closer together by fostering a greater appreciation for our common Christian identity and for the role of Mary in our salvation. It can also bring Western or Latin rite Catholics closer to some of their Eastern rite Catholic brothers who are also in full communion with the Pope. John Paul II has urged the Church to breathe with "both lungs," that is, to make use of both her Western heritage and her Eastern heritage. An appreciation of the living reality of Aramaic brings us closer to that Eastern heritage as present in the Chaldean Catholic rite.
For those not familiar with Catholic rites, a rite refers to a distinct group within the one Catholic Church in full communion with the Roman Pontiff. These distinct groups "are held together by their hierarchy, and so form particular churches or rites" (Vatican II, Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, 2). Vatican II also noted that these "individual churches both Eastern and Western, while they differ somewhat among themselves in what is called 'rite,' namely in liturgy, in ecclesiastical discipline and in spiritual tradition, are none the less all equally entrusted to the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff" (Decree on Catholic Eastern Churches, 3). In other words, an Eastern Catholic church, such as that represented by the Aramaic-speaking Chaldean Catholic rite, is just as Catholic as the Latin rite that encompasses about 90% of the world's Catholics.
The following article was written by a Chaldean Catholic living in the United States and pursuing graduate studies at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary. The Chaldean Catholic rite traces its origins to the missionary work of St. Thomas the Apostle.
Aramaic Is Alive & Well in the United States
By Imad Thomas Jonna
Aramaic is one of the oldest languages known to the civilized world. It is alive and well in the United States and is being used by Chaldean and Assyrian Americans everyday as their first or second language. Their retention of this language does not reflect any hostility toward American English. English is rightfully our nation's national language, but our mother tongue is Aramaic. It truly gives the Chaldean and Assyrian Americans a proud Christian identity. The Chaldeans and Assyrians residing in the United States have taken advantage of their religious freedom to extensively use Aramaic at home, in the community, and in their places of worship as a hidden jewel. Although Aramaic was used by many nationalities, it was kept alive by the ancient Christian people of modern-day Iraq and Syria. The Christian inhabitants of these lands have found a refuge in Aramaic as their very own and dear language, the language of Christ, the voice of Christianity, in the midst of the Middle East, a part of the world that does not always look at Christianity in a favorable light.
Aramaic is a Semitic language that most likely developed in Aram, a country that was located in southwest Asia. Aramaic became the official language of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires, and it became the official language of the entire Middle East and Persian region. “It gradually became the lingua-franca of the ancient Near East from India to Egypt” (New Catholic Encyclopedia s.v. "Aramaic" [1967 ed.]). It is the sweet language spoken by the holy lips and tongue of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Linguistic historians usually break Aramaic down into four categories: 1) old Aramaic (900-300 B.C.); 2) Middle Aramaic (300 B.C.-200 A.D.); 3) late Aramaic (200 A.D.-700 A.D.); and 4) modern Aramaic (700 A. D. to the present). The Aramaic language has developed numerous dialects, but the most prominent dialect that is alive and well and used in the United States is the Syriac dialect. The Syriac dialect is usually associated with the Eastern form that was spoken by the Assyrians and Babylonians and the Jews who were in exile. The Syriac that is spoken by well over 100,000 Chaldeans and Assyrians is mostly associated with the late and modern Aramaic that sprang from Edessa in southern Turkey. Edessa was one of the centers from which Christianity spread to Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia. Syriac is also the language of St. Ephraem of Syria (306-73 A.D.), one of the most brilliant Doctors and Fathers of the Church (see Catholic Encyclopedia article). Tradition has it that he wrote one million pages of poetry and hymns for our Lord Jesus and His Most Blessed Virgin Mother. Syriac is also the official language of the Chaldean Rite Catholic Church, one of eighteen Eastern Rites that are in union with the Holy See, Rome.
Many modern scholars believe that Aramaic is no longer widely spoken, and they believe that the few remaining Middle Eastern villages that retain it use it only as a liturgical language. But nothing could be further from the truth. Aramaic is alive and well in the United States, in the Middle East, and in virtually every continent because the Chaldeans and Assyrians have migrated to all parts of the world. But the majority of Aramaic-speaking people still reside in the villages north of Mosul, in Nineveh, and in Baghdad, as well as in other parts of the Middle East. The Chaldeans and Assyrians are very proud of their native Aramaic language, but unfortunately the governments of these Middle Eastern countries do not recognize the Aramaic language, frown upon its use, and label it as a peasant language.
The Aramaic language found its way to the New World, specifically the United States, in the first decade of the 20th century, when a handful of Chaldeans emigrated to the United States and settled in the Detroit metropolitan area. The first Chaldean immigrants were very few in number, but by the mid-seventies there where a great number of Chaldeans coming to the United States, helped by the lifting of quotas by the U.S. government. The Chaldean and Assyrian population in the United States is well over 100,000, but unfortunately this number can never be verified by the U.S. census due to a faulty census process. However, the Vatican recognized the swelling numbers of the Chaldean, Aramaic-speaking community when His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1982 established the Apostolic Exarchate for the Chaldean faithful residing in the United States of America, and appointed Rev. Ibrahim Ibrahim as the new bishop of the eparchy or diocese. The Chaldean community has since then been granted by the Holy Father a second diocese covering the western part of the United States, with the Rev. Sarhad Jammo appointed to serve as bishop in California for the newly created diocese.
Finally, I myself am living proof that Aramaic is alive and well in the United States. I came to the United States with my family from Iraq at the age of two, and Aramaic Syriac is commonly spoken in my own home. My Latin rite friend and I often pray the Holy Rosary in both Aramaic and Latin. Ironically, these two languages are both considered by many scholars to be dead languages, yet they are alive when we pray, because God’s Church is universal and uniting. The Church unites all from east to west, and it unites all languages as the whole Church celebrates one Holy Eucharist which is Christ Himself who speaks all languages to all Christians. In closing, I sincerely ask all who read this article to please pray for all the inhabitants of the Middle East and especially for the Christian people living in the Middle East.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004Political Blockbuster: 325,000 Michigan Voters Petition to Ban Partial Birth Abortion
Last year, pro-abortion Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm vetoed a bill to ban partial-birth abortion. But Michigan Right to Life and the Catholic bishops of Michigan did not sit on their hands. They initiated this past January a petition drive to override the governor's veto. About two months later, they have had stunning success. Today's Detroit Free Press reports that the petition drive has garnered 325,000 signatures of registered Michigan voters, well above the approximately 255,000 signatures needed to override the governor's veto. Now the measure to ban partial birth abortion will go back before the state legislature. If it passes again, as it surely will, the ban becomes law automatically without the governor's approval.
This scenario is a stunning populist defeat of an extremely pro-abortion governor who even dares to claim to be Catholic. Hopefully, the same registered voters who signed the petition will remember her stand when she comes up for re-election in the future. Hopefully, the same registered voters will remember the extremist pro-abortion position of the Democratic Party in this November's presidential election. We also hope that the Catholic bishops will follow up with a ban on Governor Granholm's receiving the Eucharist and distributing the Eucharist as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion (as she has done in the past; see story). Such action by the bishops is all the more needed because she is openly claiming in the media that her Catholicism is consistent with her pro-abortion views: she is usurping the teaching role of the bishops by publicly teaching her own version of Catholicism. She has pushed her views by acting in effect as a heretical countermagisterium. It is a direct challenge to the role of the bishops.
It will be interesting to see if the mainstream media gives any prominence to this story. Imagine if 325,000 voters had overridden the veto of abortion rights legislation by a conservative pro-life governor. The New York Times would be trumpeting the populist surge in pro-abortion sentiment. I doubt the New York Times will trumpet Michigan's populist surge in pro-life sentiment. Yet, the surge in pro-life sentiment in Michigan, an important Midwest swing state in the presidential election, is a fact.
Common Sense Breaking Through
As a Catholic writer, I am usually in the position of bemoaning trends in American culture. But, once in a while, you see the breakthrough of common sense, however tentative or imperfect the breakthrough may be. Today's USA Today online carries an article trumpeting that more married, highly educated, professional women are opting to have what is considered today a "large" family: three children ("For more parents, 3 kids are a charm: Professional, educated women lead the trend," by Haya El Nasser, Mar. 10, 2004). Certainly, this tentative embrace of more children does not meet the Catholic view that we should remain open to all the children God wills for us to have. But it is a welcome beginning as we turn back to common sense. The article implies that the trend toward more children is most prominent among Hispanics. Again, not a surprise. Less educated immigrants from traditional cultures have not yet imbibed the "advanced" secular notion that children are "bads" and not goods. But the centerpiece of the article is the increase in additional child-bearing by relatively affluent, non-Hispanic whites who for a long time did increasingly embrace the view of children as unmitigated burdens.
After the lengthy propaganda effort and lies of seventies feminism, more and more women are waking up to the fact that children are a great good worth the trouble and the sacrifice. As the article points out, economic security is a key to this change in attitude among non-Hispanic whites. Society is leaning more and more toward making it easier for parents to take time off to care for their children. We should continue to focus on advancing such pro-family policies instead of the current mania to redefine marriage. The Catholic idea of a "living wage" is central to this effort.
Some of the quotes from the women interviewed are worth recalling because they reflect the common sense that is finally emerging among the most educated and privileged people the world has ever seen. As a former lawyer, I can only nod my head in recognizing the fundamental truth behind the remark by a former female Justice Department lawyer that she will "never litigate again" when she eventually goes back to working outside the home. Her adamant refusal to return to her legal work is a sign that many educated people have discovered that "high prestige" careers can be sullenly unfulfilling. Another great secular lie exposed (although, in fairness, it must be stated that others do find fulfillment in some of those same careers).
We have a welcome trend and return to common sense, but those with inquiring minds will seek to integrate their hard-won insights. The Catholic faith presents that full integration, a glimmer of which has become apparent to many educated women, even if at great personal and emotional cost to many.
Tuesday, March 09, 2004"The Hour of the Laity Has Struck": A Strike-First Policy
The words in quotes were the forceful words of John Paul II in November of 2000 during the Jubilee celebration. Little did the laity in the United States know that shortly the Catholic Church in the U.S. would be engulfed in a blockbuster scandal, now documented exhaustively as primarily homosexual, involving minors. Hundreds of clergy have been dismissed because of the exposure of this great evil. The evil is being purged and will continue to be purged under "zero tolerance." But there is much more work to do. The lay spokesman for the recent report on the scandal by the laity review board has publicly adverted to the problem of vows of celibacy being broken with other adults. That problem too should not be ignored. In addition, the mediocrity, silence, and even public heresy that is exhibited by some clergy must also be addressed.
If the hour of the laity has indeed struck, then orthodox laity have to take a leading role in rebuilding the Church. There must be a demand for bishops and priests to speak out forcefully in the face of the Culture of Death, the gay agenda to deconstruct marriage, and the culture of fornication. One of the best ways to make that demand is simultaneously forceful and tactically indirect: we as laity must plunge ahead and speak out directly against all the forces arrayed against the truth. We must set the example.
Mel Gibson has shown the way. He used his unique resources and talents to make a powerful statement directly to society. He did not write letters begging bishops to take action. If he had sought permission from the bishops' conference to make the type of movie he wanted to make, in my opinion, the bishops as a whole would have come up with a plethora of reasons and obstacles for not going forward. Happily, Gibson took action. As a result, the rest of the laity have responded and so have numerous clergy and bishops. It all began with one layman. Each of us has resources and talents that enable us to have a prophetic mission, however particular or humble. Few of us can marshal millions of dollars like Mel Gibson, but we can still be prophetic in our own dioceses, parishes, schools, families, and civic communities.
Boldness has a tendency to be contagious. For there to be an hour of the laity, the laity must strike and not wait for the clergy to strike first. If we wait for the bulk of the clergy to make the first move, we may wait for a very, very long time. Laity faithful to the magisterium can prompt the clergy to reassert vigorously their roles as defenders of the truth. So, in a way, the hour of the laity means that the laity will be leading the clergy by example, especially in an America where so many Catholic clergy seem cowed by or even approving of the secular culture. Caught between John Paul II and orthodox laity, significant segments of the mass of clergy in between can be shocked into action. Mel Gibson has given us a textbook example. I and others can testify to the results.
Monday, March 08, 2004Fr. Hardon's "External Graces"
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., passed away in 2000 after reaching his eighties. He labored mightily for the faith in the storm of heresy and dissent that overtook the implementation of Vatican II in the United States in the seventies and with whose effects we are still dealing. He did not mince words. An effort is already underway to have him beatified. On the prayer card fostering his cause, there is this quote from Fr. Hardon:
Fr. Hardon labored from his Michigan base, but his books are available to all. My own favorites are his Pocket Catholic Dictionary based on his larger Modern Catholic Dictionary, and his two catechisms, The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism based on his narrative-style Catholic Catechism. These books will detail aspects of the faith that many post-Vatican II revisionists try to hide or de-emphasize. But recently, I was particularly struck by a chapter in a more recently published book by Fr. Hardon, History and Theology of Grace (Ypsilanti, Mich.: Veritas Press, 2002) (imprimatur by Bishop Raymond Burke when he was in LaCrosse, Wisconsin) (hereafter "Hardon").
That chapter deals with "Actual Graces" or, as he defines it, "the special assistance we need to guide the mind and inspire the will in our pathway to glory" (Hardon, p. 205). Under the heading "actual graces," Hardon distinguishes between "internal" or "intrinsic" graces "in the strict sense of a special and direct illumination or inspiration that God directly produces in the human mind and will" and "external" or "extrinsic" graces (Hardon, p. 205; emphasis added).
These external graces include "every creature which is not an internal grace of God" (Hardon, p. 205). Hardon thought that a better word for these external graces would be "extrinsic" graces because external graces can include the "internal experiences of the soul" in addition to any of our external, sensory experiences, whether involving a person, an event, a word "spoken or heard," ideas "communicated or received," or "circumstances of time and place" (Hardon, p. 216). In other words, as I understand it, extrinsic graces are God's assistance through our everyday experience, as opposed to the intrinsic or "internal" grace of direct illumination. As a result, Hardon concludes that "the ordinary way that God infuses graces is through the instrumentality of external ones" (Hardon, p. 216).
After these sometimes trying neo-scholastic distinctions, we can come to the startling heart of the matter which makes the distinctions worth the effort: suffering and evil can be sources of external graces. This perspective certainly requires a reorientation of our natural, instinctive appraisal of our daily experiences and lifetime misfortunes. And so let me allow Hardon to speak for himself:
Hardon, p. 219.
Many of us have noticed how an event or action that we initially--and initially may mean a period of several years--view, with certainty, as an unmitigated evil may later appear as a providential source of grace and blessing. In the twists and turns of our individual lives, there are times when we come to see the truth of this description. So that, using Hardon's terminology, external grace leads "to internal illuminations and inspirations from God" (Hardon, p. 217).
Hardon is even daring enough to extend this providential role to our temptations themselves:
Hardon, p. 219 (emphasis added).
The last italicized sentence in the quote is quite startling. But Hardon quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church as his authority. The Catechism in turn quotes Origen:
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2847 (quoting Origen, De oratione, 29).
Certainly, this insight does not mean that we seek out temptation. We are obliged to avoid the unnecessary occasions of sin and pray in the Lord's Prayer that we not be led into temptation (see Catechism, 2848). Yet, Hardon's analysis of external graces opens our daily lives to a supernatural perspective. It is not so much a matter of fearing unavoidable temptations, but of facing them squarely and looking for what God is saying to us through them. This perspective is all-embracing:
Hardon, p. 222.
Some of us may have been obligated to read in high school or later the pedantic musings of the young, precocious James Joyce in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in which the sensitive youth and aesthete experiences "epiphanies." How far superior is the experience of external grace that acknowledges God's hand and does not settle for a mere jumble of confused, amoral experiences. Father Hardon's books point us to the genuine epiphanies of external grace and are themselves external graces.
Sunday, March 07, 20042nd Sunday of Lent: Gen. 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil. 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36
Today's reading from Genesis recounts God's formation of his covenant with Abraham based Abraham's faith in the promise of many descendants. To fully understand the situation, we must go beyond the lectionary reading to at least two prior verses, Gen. 15:3-4, where Abraham complains that God has given him no offspring. God responds: "[Y]our own son shall be your heir" (Gen. 15:4; RSV).
In Philippians, St. Paul urges his Christian brethren to imitate him in the faith that Jesus Christ "will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body . . . ." (Second Reading). Just as Abraham responds in faith to the promise of an offspring, although Abraham's body is almost dead due to his old age (see Romans 4:19), we too must respond in faith to the promise of a glorified body even in the face of our current lowly bodies. In Galatians, Paul furthermore makes clear that the offspring of Abraham is Jesus Christ himself (see Galatians 3:16). So that the heir of the promise to Abraham is Jesus Christ who in turn has made us co-heirs with him of the promise made to Abraham (see Galatians 3:29). That promise is now not merely a promise of physical descendants but the promise of the resurrection of our lowly bodies.
In Luke, we have the Transfiguration in which Moses and Elijah converse with Jesus on the mountain, all offsprings of Abraham. The Father thereby announces the New Covenant through Jesus in fulfillment of the Old Covenant represented by Moses and Elijah. The Father proclaims that Jesus is his Son: Jesus the offspring of Abraham is also the offspring of the Father. Clearly, the Old Covenant is decisively transfigured. The promise of earthly offspring to Abraham is transformed into the reality of God himself becoming, through the Incarnation, an offspring of Abraham. Little did Abraham know that God himself would deign to become one of Abraham's own descendants. And, truly, through Christ as Abraham's offspring, Abraham receives the fullness of that first promise made in Genesis and becomes the father of all nations. So that we have a triple transfiguration, so to speak, of the Genesis promise to Abraham: not just the promise of a son in old age but the promise of bodily resurrection, not just human offspring but the Son of God himself as the offspring of Abraham, not just the father of many nations but the father of all nations.