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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Saturday, May 22, 2004Welcome Controversy on the Eucharist Across America
The current controversy over pro-abortion politicians and the Eucharist has taken a life of its own in the media. Recently, the Detroit News ran half a page of letters going back and forth on the issue. Of 14 readers' letters published, eight of the letters--over half--supported denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians. All of the letters in favor of denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians demonstrated knowledge of Catholic teaching. In contrast, the remaining seven letters that opposed denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion celebrities raised irrelevant points, demonstrated ignorance of Catholic teaching, or were clearly erroneous.
Two such letters argued that the sexual abuse scandal precludes bishops from protecting the Eucharist. Of course, that is a logical non sequitur--it just does not follow. Two wrongs don't make a right. One letter just gave no reason and merely stated its opposition to denying the Eucharist. Another letter argued that non-Catholics should not be obliged to follow Catholic teachings-- another irrelevant non sequitur. No one is seeking to impose Catholicism on non-Catholics. Rather a few bishops are seeking to teach Catholicism to people claiming to be Catholic.
Two other letters misrepresent Catholic teaching--as done recently in a letter signed by 48 House Democrats-- by arguing that advocating the death penalty and the Iraq war are on a par with advocating abortion. Fortunately, at least four of the letters supporting denial of the Eucharist pointed out this blatant misrepresentation of Catholic teaching which is commonly repeated by pro-abortion politicians and their supporters. It bears repeating that Catholicism does not absolutely prohibit the death penalty and that the Catholic Church allows Catholics to differ in good faith on whether the Iraq War is a just war--but the Catholic Church does absolutely prohibit direct abortion and does not allow a difference of opinion on the abortion issue.
But the letter that takes the cake, apparently from a Catholic writer, is so confused that it must be quoted in part:
Source: The Detroit News, May 21, 2004, Opinions section, p. 11A.
This confused argument is taking the route, advanced even by some clerics, that denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion celebrities means denying the Eucharist to anonymous Catholic parishioners. These persons argue against a practical and enforceable measure targeting pro-abortion celebrities by invoking the impossibility of knowing which anonymous Catholics in the communion line are in a state of mortal sin. The two situations are completely different because, in the case of the pro-abortion politician, you have an open and very public stand contradicting Church teaching, while in the case of the average, anonymous parishioner that is, by definition, not the case.
In addition, Catholic teaching tells all such persons-- the pro-abortion politician or voter, the practitioner of birth control, the unchaste, and those remarried outside the Church--to receive sacramental absolution before approaching the Eucharist. The teaching is already consistent and applies to all equally. But as to denying the Eucharist, that is an action that can obviously be taken only when there is public manifestation of such sins. If the head of Planned Parenthood or a celebrity who openly lives with an unmarried sexual partner approaches the Eucharist, then they too should be denied the Eucharist preferably after following appropriate canonical procedures. But if the person's conduct is unknown, then obviously denial of the Eucharist is not possible.
Moreover, the letter writer in this case is woefully misinformed because the letter gives the impression that divorced people cannot receive the Eucharist, while the Catholic teaching is that only divorced people who remarry outside the Church should not receive the Eucharist. The letter also gives the impression that persons practicing birth control or living unchastely are free to approach the Eucharist without previous sacramental absolution.
The only exception, that I am aware of, to the requirement of prior sacramental absolution for those conscious of grave sin is in rare cases where a person cannot, for good reason, go to confession beforehand, does make an act of perfect contrition beforehand, and is determined to go to confession as soon as possible (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1457; Code of Canon Law, art. 916).
The exact wording of the applicable canon follows:
Source: 1983 Code of Canon Law.
A leading catechetical work puts it this way: "If one who has sinned gravely has a pressing need to receive the Eucharist and has no opportunity to confess, he should first make an act of perfect contrition, an act which includes in it a promise to confess as soon as possible" (Lawler, Wuerl, & Lawler, eds., The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults, 3rd ed. [Our Sunday Visitor, 1991], p. 371 (with imprimatur)).
And, as to the confused letter writer's point that Sunday Mass will be empty, that can happen only when people are under the mistaken belief that participation in the Mass is meaningless without receiving Holy Communion. The Church advises the indisposed to make a spiritual communion in those situations. In fact, the Church encourages Catholics remarried outside the Church to continue to attend Mass and raise their children in the faith, while making a spiritual communion. The point about Sunday Mass being empty is evidence that there is a cavalier approach to receiving the Eucharist in too many parishes.
From this example, we can see that the debate about the Eucharist and pro-abortion politicians is exposing the ignorance of many Catholics at all levels, from politicians to the average citizen, of fundamental Catholic teaching on receiving the Eucharist. There is a lot of work to be done. The controversy, like all crises, is an apostolic opportunity.
Friday, May 21, 2004Action Alert: Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act
This is a congressional alert from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in Washington, D.C. Please forward this alert to all appropriate lists.
ACTION ALERT: Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act
WASHINGTON -- On May 20, 2004, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Ks.) and Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), with the strong backing of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), introduced a major new pro-life initiative, the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act (S. 2466, H.R. 4420).
"There are numerous laws to prevent cruelty to domestic and wild animals, but no law to prevent well-developed unborn children from suffering excruciating pain as they are torn limb from limb or crushed during abortions," said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson, who joined Brownback and Smith at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol announcing the introduction of the bill.
Statements endorsing the bill were also issued by the Family Research Council, Christian Medical Association, Southern Baptist Convention (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission), and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This bill would require every abortionist to provide, whenever a woman seeks an abortion past 20 weeks after fertilization, specified information about the capacity of her unborn child to experience pain during the abortion, after which the woman must either accept or refuse (by signing a form) the administration of pain-reducing drugs directly to the unborn child. The bill would apply to all abortions past 20 weeks, regardless of the method used.
The pain caused by the partial-birth method has been the subject of testimony during the ongoing trial before a federal judge in New York regarding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. For example, the Associated Press dispatch reported on April 7: "A type of abortion banned under a new federal law would cause 'severe and excruciating' pain to 20-week-old fetuses, a medical expert testified yesterday … 'I believe the fetus is conscious,' said Dr. Kanwaljeet 'Sonny' Anand, a pediatrician at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. … Anand said yesterday that fetuses show increased heart rate, blood flow, and hormone levels in response to pain. 'The physiological responses have been very clearly studied,' he said. 'The fetus cannot talk . . . so this is the best evidence we can get.'"
The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act contains a number of proposed congressional "findings" regarding the scientific evidence that unborn children would experience great pain during abortions at 20 weeks (and perhaps earlier). The findings also cite a number of existing federal laws that seek to diminish the suffering even of animals, such as restrictions on how livestock are slaughtered and restrictions on the use of animals in medical research.
In a Zogby poll conducted last month, the public supported "laws requiring that women who are 20 weeks or more along in their pregnancy be given information about fetal pain before having an abortion" by a 77-16 percent margin.
ACTION REQUESTED: Go to the NRLC Legislative Action Center, at this link to send e-mails to your lawmakers, urging them to cosponsor the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act. For those senators and representatives who are already listed as cosponsors, you can send already-prepared e-mails thanking them for their support for this important new pro-life initiative.
The full text of the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act will be posted on the NRLC website as soon as it is made available by the Government Printing Office, along with additional helpful documentation on the issue, at this link.
Madame Bovary's Priest
The great nineteenth century classic of realism, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), is about the unraveling of the two adulteries of Emma Bovary, a hedonistic, egocentric, and delusionary woman in provincial France. She ends her forays into adultery by killing herself with arsenic. Throughout the novel, she is addicted to exaggerated romantic expectations that trigger her adulteries. The novel is a sure antidote to our current culture's emphasis on feelings as the guide to action and the measure of marriage. Priests and deacons could do well to recommend the book to couples preparing for marriage in order to shock them out of the unrealistic egocentric expectations our culture imposes on marriage and which result in our high divorce rate.
Yet, I want to go beyond the main plot line of the novel and focus on Madame Bovary's priest. In a time when many clerics are rightly under fire for the homosexual abuse scandal and the on-going scandal involving pro-abortion celebrities, it is good to keep in mind the many priests who do their duties, without hint of scandal, day in and day out, and who stand up for the faith. One such priest was Madame Bovary's priest. From what I have read, Flaubert was not a practicing Catholic, yet the book, as a work of realism, captures the presence of Catholicism in the French region of Normandy in the 1840s. I submit that the picture of the Church and her priests that emerges is a powerful contrast to the reckless egoism of Emma Bovary. It appears that some critics simply refuse to see this favorable portrayal of the Church, a fact that may be due to the ideological prejudices of the critics. But it is easy for me as a Catholic to see it.
The first appearance of a priest in the novel is in the childhood of Emma's doctor husband, Charles Bovary. It is a comic appearance in which the village priest haphazardly attempts to be the boy's tutor. In a scene that the sexual abuse scandals have precluded in the United States, the boy comes to the priest's room to have some lessons:
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (W.W. Norton & Co., 1965), repr. in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Vol. 2 (W.W. Norton & Co., 1979), pp. 745-46 (the following page references will be to the anthology edition).
This scene is a far cry from the cruel Protestant schoolmasters depicted by Charles Dickens (1812-1870), another great realist novelist of the nineteenth century who was Flaubert's older contemporary. Yet, the figure of the priest emerges fully, years later, when Charles Bovary is a doctor of sorts in the town of Yonville whose curé is Abbé Bournisien. He too is caught up in the day-to-day duties of the village priest and cannot comprehend the neurotic state of emotionalism of Emma Bovary when she comes seeking some spiritual solace:
[The priest asks Emma,] " . . . And how is Monsieur Bovary?" She seemed not to hear him. And he went on . . . "Always very busy no doubt; for he and I are certainly the busiest people in the parish. But he is doctor of the body," he added with a thick laugh, "and I of the soul." She fixed her pleading eyes upon the priest. "Yes," she said, "you solace all sorrows." "Ah! don't tell me of it, Madame Bovary. This morning I had to go to Bas-Diauville for a cow was all swollen; they thought it was under a spell. All their cows, I don't know how it is . . . ."
Flaubert, p. 820.
The critics appear to take this scene as showing the obtuseness of the priest who cannot come to the spiritual aid of Emma. Yet, I see it as a wise contrast between a priest whose two feet are firmly planted on the earth and Emma, a self-isolated neurotic in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction who refuses to live the life she has been given. It is a contrast between the emotionally healthy and the emotionally sick.
Yet, the Abbé is not just an earthy and busy vicar. He has his moments when he speaks forcefully in moral criticism of post-Napoleonic France. His foil is the village anti-cleric, the pharmacist Homais, who even named one of his children after Napoleon and who tries to bait the priest. One of Emma's adulteries is reignited when she meets an old admirer at an opera performed in a nearby city. So it is interesting to see the priest make a prophetic analysis of the problem with these performances:
Flaubert, p. 898.
And so the priest predicts the very atmosphere that will eventually lead to the consummation of Emma's adultery with an admirer. And, for us today, the priest is a prophet of the moral disaster that Hollywood is. (Would that the present Cardinal of Los Angeles had a bit of Abbé Bournisien in him!)
In my view, Flaubert presents the priest as prophet. And so I differ with those critics who see the priest as a minor figure mocked by the author. And, in the end, when Emma is dying of her self-administered poisoning, it seems very likely that she has made an act of perfect contrition as the priest administers the last rites:
Flaubert, p. 977 (emphasis added).
Flaubert has a deep appreciation for the sacraments. He has the Catholic sacramental imagination, in spite of his own immoral lifestyle. He describes in detail the redeeming effect of the last anointing of the dying Emma by Bournisien:
Flaubert, p. 977.
And so the humble village priest, who had failed to come to grips earlier with Emma's moral sickness, now is the means of her salvation. It is what many imperfect priests do on a daily basis.
Yet, the village priest could also thunder as noted by the anti-clerical village pharmacist. Flaubert later describes the Abbé Bournisien who "thundered against the spirit of the age, and never failed, every other week, in his sermon, to recount the death agony of Voltaire, who died devouring his excrements, as every one knows" (p. 992). Bournisien was, as noted earlier by Flaubert, a kindly man, but he was no shrinking violet. We have seen a few such bishops recently in the headlines thundering against the spirit of the age.
The opposite of the village priest is, as said before, the anti-clerical village pharmacist, Homais, who metamorphoses into a figure we today are quite familiar with: the anti-Catholic journalistic muckraker. Flaubert disdainfully describes the burgeoning journalist:
Flaubert, p. 991.
Today, journalists have rightly exposed the sex abuse scandal, but that cannot erase the reality of anti-Catholicism that is the mindset of the major liberal newspapers of the United States. But remember, when the Homaises of today write, that somewhere an unknown, scandal-free Abbé Bournisien is saving someone--something the journalists cannot do.
Thursday, May 20, 200448 House Democrats Seek to Intimidate Church on Eucharist
The story of the letter signed by 48 House Democrats and addressed to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C., is in today's Washington Post ("48 House Democrats Warn Bishops' Stance Could Spark Bigotry," by Alan Cooperman, 5/20/04). The article reports that the Democrats oppose denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians 1.) because this action will revive anti-Catholic bigotry; and 2.) because it will gravely harm the Catholic Church. What they are really saying is that if the Church takes such action, they, the Democrats, will be harmed politically. That is not a persuasive argument for allowing profanation of the Eucharist. In fact, there is no persuasive argument for allowing profanation of the Eucharist by anyone at anytime.
What is really going on is that the pro-abortion Democratic Party is deeply worried, surprised, and alarmed that some Catholic bishops have woken from their traditional decades-old slumber and decided to defend the sacramental discipline of the Church. Even Kerry, yesterday-- in a typically confused, manipulative, and misleading statement intended to cynically play all sides of an issue-- found it necessary to say that he would consider appointing anti-abortion judges to lower courts only. He reaffirmed that he would never appoint anyone to the Supreme Court who would reverse Roe v. Wade. Here is the Associated Press on the latest Kerry Waffle:
Source: Associated Press, "Abortion-Rights Supporters Stick by Kerry," by Nedra Pickler, 5/20/04.
Thus, we have two virtually contemporaneous signals that the Democrats' internal polling probably shows that they are being harmed politically among Catholics by being the national party of abortion. The easy way for the Democrats to repair the political damage is to become a national pro-life party, but they will never do that because they view Roe v. Wade as a civil rights landmark on a par with the recently celebrated Brown v. The Board of Education. The pro-abortion lobby is an essential pillar of the modern national Democratic Party, along with the pro-gay lobby that opposes a federal amendment to protect the traditional definition of marriage.
The Democrat letter claims that any action to deny the Eucharist will revive anti-Catholic bigotry. It does not need to be revived. Anti-Catholic bigotry is alive and well as documented by Philip Jenkins' recent book The New Anti-Catholicism (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003). Here is a recent example of anti-Catholic bigotry pushed by the national Democratic Party:
Jenkins, p. 81 (emphasis added).
The national Democratic Party is the party of anti-Catholic bigotry.
As to the Democrats' ominous warning of harm to the Church, faithful Catholics can only laugh. Persecution has always strengthened the Church, that is a verity inscribed on the pages of centuries of Catholic history. The issue is harm to the Body of Christ and compromise of the truth. Those matters are not negotiable. They are not subject to political bargaining or horse trading.
What will be the impact of the letter? Well, Cardinal McCarrick has already signaled that he is too fearful to stand up to these politicians. But, thank goodness, Cardinal McCarrick does not control his fellow bishops. Each bishop, according to Vatican II, is a vicar of Christ in his own diocese. And some brave bishops are taking that role seriously and not waiting for a politically compromised document from Cardinal McCarrick's committee that will likely find a way to succumb to the intimidation of the Democrats. In the end, the Democrats' letter is a welcome sign that they are being hurt politically by their embrace of abortion. It will encourage Republicans to speak out even more forcefully in favor of life. Our witness is having an impact. The witness of a handful of courageous bishops is having an impact. Imagine the impact if all the bishops would find such courage.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004Bishop Wenski's Full Column
After reading Bishop Wenski's recent pastoral statement, you will see that the statement, entitled "Politicians and Communion," begs to be reprinted in full because it concisely captures the essential issues surrounding pro-abortion celebrities and the Eucharist:
Any Catholic on this side of Judgment Day can call himself a “practicing Catholic”. After all, our earthy pilgrimage in this “valley of tears” is our one time opportunity to “practice” Catholicism until we get it right. But “getting it right” for a practicing Catholic means conforming oneself to the will of God as revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition and as definitely set forth by the teaching authority of the Church. A practicing Catholic cannot invoke “conscience” to defy or disregard what the Church definitely holds as true – for a practicing Catholic doesn’t create his own truth but forms his conscience according to the Truth.
Source: Diocese of Orlando website.
Florida Bishop Parts with Cardinal McCarrick's Passivity
Coadjutor Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, has issued a pastoral statement that disagrees with the passive approach to pro-abortion celebrities and the Eucharist favored by Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C. You can read the details at LifeSite. The article points to the relevant section of the pastoral statement:
Source: LifeSite, "Florida Bishop Rebukes Pro-Abortion, Communion Receiving Catholics," May 18, 2004.
This statement confirms that there is a trend for the better among American bishops. May it continue. (The article also contains a link to the entire pastoral statement.)
Question of the Day
Today, the first U.S. soldier was sentenced to jail time for prisoner abuse. So the question of the day is: Can you name one Iraqi soldier sentenced to jail by Saddam Hussein's regime for abusing a prisoner?
Update: A video of the brutal mutilations and murders under Saddam Hussein has now surfaced. It includes a beheading. The details are in the Washington Post for May 21, 2004 ("Hussein-Era Videos Released to Contrast Prison Scandal," by Peter Slevin, World section). Expect more to come out at the criminal trial of the ex-dictator himself, yet many here in the U.S. and in Europe still think he should have been allowed to stay in power. The reality is that the only way the dictator would have been overthrown was through an invasion. Those not living in Iraq have the luxury of thinking otherwise.
The Paralysis of Fearing Risk
Today, N.Y. Times columnist William Safire has a must-read column capturing the "Four Noes" of defeatists on the Iraq War, as summarized below:
William Safire, "Sarin? What Sarin?," N.Y. Times Online, May 19, 2004 (free reg'n required).
And add today the absurdity of a Senate committee calling in all three top U.S. military commanders from a highly active war theater to testify about prisoner abuse. Can you imagine Congress calling in Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Admiral Nimitz at the height of World War II for a hearing on prisoner abuse? Obviously, the senators, in spite of the obvious evidence, do not really view the Iraq War as being an urgent part of the world war on terror. Apparently, only another 9-11 or worse will refocus them. It is an amazing spectacle of defeatism.
But what lies behind this defeatist streak in our culture? My own analysis looks to the fact that we are rich. Compared to the rest of the world, even a working class American is rich. Compared to the rest of the world, even a poverty stricken American on government aid is rich. We want security at all costs. We don't want wrinkles or grey hair. We don't want to age. We endlessly overmedicate ourselves, and we endlessly tinker with different faddish diets while obsessed with new culinary experiences. We have prenuptial agreements, and we have an insatiable appetite for contraception because we fear "unplanned pregnancies." We fornicate at will because we don't want to "jeopardize" our advanced education with the financial risk of committing to marrying and raising a family. We don't want to rock the boat for ourselves, or risk confronting others by rocking the boat. We avert our eyes from the routine slaughter of abortion and from the irrationality of a crazed pornography industry because these realities meet so efficiently our desire for convenience. You can see this exaggerated risk aversion even among clerics who can find no reason to dare to deny the Eucharist to anyone who approaches them in church. They will not risk confrontation or disrupting the "mood."
The virtue of fortitude is lacking on the homefront, while the vast majority of soldiers displays it on a daily basis on the warfront. In my view, the roots of this risk averse culture lie in the conviction that all we have is the here and now. When there is no genuine belief in an eternal destiny beyond the grave, much less in an eternal judgment after the grave, there is little incentive to risk. The result is a culture of hoarding in which we seek to grab as much pleasure, popularity, security, and money as possible in our tightly clenched fists.
The risk averse culture is the opposite of the Man on the cross who stretched forth his arms between heaven and earth. As noted by C.S. Lewis, courage is not optional:
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter XXIX, para. 6 (original emphasis).
Our risk averse culture is the opposite of the open hands nailed to the cross at Pilate's order. Instead, we dare nothing for justice or chastity or integrity. The problem is that by daring nothing we will win nothing and lose our souls in the process. Fortunately, not all of our leaders are reflexively risk averse. Not all of our leaders see nothing worth fighting for.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004Pope Reaches 84th Birthday: He Marginalized Heterodoxy
Today, John Paul II reaches his 84th birthday. Needless, to say, a relative few will be disappointed, while many will rejoice. His pontificate has transformed several generations of Catholics who have rejected the confusion and revisionism of the seventies. His full legacy is yet to be felt as all of these generations mature. History will remember that when the Catholic Church was at great peril from internal heresy and heterodoxy, especially in Western Europe and North America, but also from neo-Marxists in Latin America, God gave us a pope who reversed these trends. And, of course, how can we not think of his role in the destruction of Soviet Communism whose atheism and amorality were echoed by social liberals in Western societies. Today, the forces of heterodoxy are in worldwide decline. They can offer only an echo of the empty shibboleths of secular society and an imitation of the dying relics of liberal Protestantism. In spite of continuing disappointment at surviving remnants of heterodoxy in the Church and at many bishops who seem incapable of apostolic boldness--disappointments that will always accompany and have always accompanied the Church on her journey from the very beginning-- the trend line is positive. The trend is upward.
The words of Franklin Roosevelt, near the end of his life, in his wartime 1945 inaugural address are apt. In the address, FDR quoted the words of an old teacher:
Dr. Endicott Peabody, a Protestant Episcopalian of the old school, was expressing a sort of All-American prep school Enlightenment optimism (see link for background information). But his words can resonate with those of us who instead see the hand of Divine Providence in His Church, the Catholic Church, the Sacrament of the unity of all mankind.
Postscript: Having quoted FDR, I am sure to get one or two e-mails telling me how immoral FDR was. I would point out preemptively (Bush-style) that quoting certain apt words--and in this case the quote is even of FDR quoting someone else--does not mean endorsing the moral character of the speaker, just as some who have no illusions about John Kennedy's moral character can still admire some of the speeches crafted by his speech writers.
Monday, May 17, 2004Preliminary Tests Show Weapon of Mass Destruction Found in Iraq
The syllogism is quite simple. Before the current Iraq conflict, it was undisputed that in the past Saddam Hussein possessed sarin gas. He agreed to destroy the chemical agent. The U.S. went to war in part because of Saddam's failure to account for such chemical agents. The chemical agent has now been found in Iraq. Case closed.
For details on the discovery of sarin and also mustard gas in Iraq, see this Fox news report. This discovery further bolsters the case that the Iraq war was and is a just war. Now watch the anti-war spin. It has already begun with former inspectors David Kay and Hans Blix dismissing the significance of the discovery. What will satisfy them? Nothing, because entrenched egos come first.
As for the rest of us whose egos are not tied to exonerating Saddam Hussein, we can make the inescapable, common sense conclusion: Saddam Hussein still had chemical agents at the time the Iraq War started. The current tests appear to be preliminary, but it appears that at least two U.S. soldiers suffered symptoms of chemical exposure. So it seems reasonable to believe, as of now, that some chemical agent was present.
Update: The N.Y. Times online provides a balanced and bias-free article on the discovery of a weapon of mass destruction in Iraq ("Army Discovers Old Iraqi Shell Holding Sarin, Illicit Weapon," Intern'l section, by Dexter Filkins, 5-18-04). If preliminary tests are confirmed, this discovery is the "smoking gun" that further justifies statements about WMD made by the Bush administration before the beginning of the war. As to those who sincerely believe it was a mistake to invade Iraq, I urge them to consider with an open mind this new evidence and also to consider that, without an invasion, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today torturing as a matter of unquestioned official policy completely immune from investigations or hearings of any kind, engaging in the widespread murder of Iraqis as a routine tool of governance, and possessing chemical weapons. To say that it was a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein comes perilously close to saying that Iraq would be better off today with Saddam Hussein still in power. I think the Kurds and Shiites would beg to differ. So would I.
Here is a quote from the N.Y. Times article: "The discovery of the sarin-filled shell appears to offer some of the most substantial evidence to date that Mr. Hussein did not destroy all of the banned chemical agent, as he claimed before the war last year." The article also notes the difficult challenge of discovering these weapons. In this case, the shell was not marked as containing a chemical agent. The Army found it by accident.
Update: Fox News reports on Tuesday, May 18th, that tests have confirmed the presence of the sarin nerve agent in the Iraqi shell. There must be a lot of network and print editors scratching their heads about how to report this new development.
Bush Again Calls for Federal Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage; Kerry Again Opposes
Gay marriages were legally solemnized today in Massachusetts. Gay couples will enter from other states to also be married. They will go back home and take legal action to have these marriages legally recognized. It is obvious that only a federal amendment can preserve the meaning of marriage in America. Bush has renewed his call for a federal amendment to define marriage as the union of one mand and one woman, as reported by the Associated Press. Kerry, of course, opposes such an amendment. In spite of Kerry's pro forma, tactical denials, in my opinion, the conclusion is inescapable that Kerry favors the gay marriage movement, as does most of the Democratic Party leadership. Another issue that makes Bush the clear Catholic choice on November 2nd.
Update: Here is the text of President Bush's statement on the issue:
Truth is Reality
In his small and wise book on prayer, philosopher Peter Kreeft makes a point in the early pages of the book that bears repeating: when we seek God in prayer, we are seeking reality, not escape or fantasy. Kreeft gives this reality as a motive for prayer:
Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners (Ignatius Press, 2000), pp. 16-17 (original emphasis).
Kreeft returns to this focus on reality near the end of the book:
Kreeft, p. 92 (original emphasis).
The truth that we are creatures whose very meaning, identity, and purpose derive from God makes prayer the most realistic and sensible thing we can do. This reality is what makes sense of renunciation. When we renounce some transient pleasure, it makes sense only if we are renouncing it in favor of our truth and reality which are given to us by God. The hedonistic, consumerist, and materialistic mentality of our culture is always anxious about "missing out" on some pleasure--the perks of high income, sexual indulgence, exotic travel, fame and attention. But to evaluate those things, we must go to God who made us.
And so, Kreeft writes that the realistic attitude toward our fellow creatures is that "we must love them as they are: as our equals, our brothers and sisters, not as our gods" (Kreeft, p. 93). That advice in itself would save many a marriage or other relationship from the ravages of disillusionment. Kreeft emphasizes the point to include not just other people but things: "They [other creatures] are not our God, and things are not our God, and we are not our own God; only God is God" (Kreeft, p. 93). Of course, the same realistic appraisal would apply to non-rational creatures or animals, in spite of the tendency to implicit idolatry of some extreme animal activists.
If we drift from focusing on God as the most real, we inevitably substitute some other god. And so the ambitious politician can end up evaluating everything in terms of his own ambition. The sensualist evaluates everything in terms of transient pleasure. The money-hungry keep buying or building palaces of conspicuous consumption. One's god is fairly easy to spot, sometimes in contradiction to one's outward religious observances.
Once we focus on God as reality, we acquire a trust and serenity in the midst of unpopularity or disapproval and can dare to defy conventional wisdom. And courage results. So those bishops who have bravely spoken the obvious about pro-abortion celebrities who should not receive the Eucharist are, in spite of their small numbers, the ones in touch with reality. No public opinion polls, no media coverage can shake the serenity of one who is in touch with reality. In fact, so much of the news and commentary in our society is nothing but illusion, as seen in the cliche that the "medium [not the truth] is the message."
Fortunately, illusions have a tendency to collapse. Many who were deluded by bad catechesis and preaching in the seventies have discovered through hard experience the eternal truths of the faith. That is why it is not uncommon to hear stories of successful businessmen or professionals who by the time they reach forty years of age have or are ready to enter the priesthood or serve the Church in some other capacity. Truth emerges because it is reality, in spite of the best efforts of many to hide it or run away from it. And that reality is God.
Sunday, May 16, 2004Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
Today's readings are quintessentially apostolic in character. They highlight the apostolic origins of the Church and the apostolic succession which is found in the Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox churches. In Acts, we have a picture of the early Church functioning with apostles and elders. The Greek for elders is "presbyteros" or presbyters. Our English word "priest" derives from this same word. Even today, in Catholic dioceses, the presbyteral council is an advisory council of priests, and the term "presbyterate" refers to priests. In Spanish language missals, priests are routinely referred to as presbyters or "presbíteros." Thus, we see in the New Testament the apostles functioning as bishops assisted by priests or presbyters. The conclusion in inescapable that the Acts of the Apostles portrays the Catholic Church. Contrary to the myth long pushed by biblical scholars, mostly from a Protestant cultural background, the book of Acts does not portray a pre-Catholic church later "corrupted" by Catholic elements that smothered charismatic vitality. The Catholic elements were present from the beginning. In the reading from Acts, the apostles and presbyters issue the first conciliar decree invoking the direct authority of the Holy Spirit to welcome the new Gentile converts to the Gospel. The picture could not be clearer once prejudices borne of the Prostestant Reformation are put aside. The apostles are the first bishops supervising the churches, assisted by presbyters or priests. As the apostles die, some of these presbyters will emerge to take their place as supervising bishops. Some, like Timothy, already acted as New Testament bishops during the lifetime of the apostles who appointed them.
This apostolic theme is consummated in the book of Revelation where the foundation of the New Jerusalem at the end of the age contains the "twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." The foundation of the Church is apostolic.
In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus reassures his disciples that the Holy Spirit "will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." This is the same Holy Spirit invoked by the council of apostles and presbyters in the Church's first conciliar decree. The Catholic system is the New Testament system.