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, June 26, 2004"Cover" for Brave Bishops in Communion Debate
Liberal N.Y. Times religion columnist Peter Steinfels weighs in today on the bishops' recent statement on pro-abortion politicians and the Eucharist (See N.Y. Times Online, "Documents Add to Abortion Debate," June 26, 2004, Nat'l Section). As discussed previously on Catholic Analysis (6/18/04 post), the bishops' statement recognized a significant change in the status quo of the past in which bishops customarily did not take the route of denying Communion to these politicians. The official statement is a milestone because it makes clear that a bishop can indeed appropriately deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians, if the bishop so chooses.
Steinfels' column confirms that the statement's recognition that a bishop can indeed deny Communion in these cases is an important change. Steinfels writes that the statement gives "cover" to those few bishops who support denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. Because of this recognition--which is certainly a repudiation of the liberal view--Steinfels finds it necessary to dwell on the report of the bishops' task force on politicians. In contrast to the official statement, the task force report clearly stood against denial of Communion. The task force position is no surprise to anyone who has listened to the recent statements of the task force's leader, Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C.
What is a welcome development is that the task force stance never made it into the official statement approved by vote of all the bishops. The task force is merely a committee, and its report is not a statement of the bishops' conference as a whole. In this case, the bishops as a whole could not issue a statement adopting the task force recommendation against denying Communion. And so the McCarrick task force view on the issue remains just that: a view or opinion that is not binding on any other bishop. The result should not be a surprise given that no conference can tie the hands of an individual bishop. Nevertheless, it is good to see an official statement adopted by all the bishops that recognizes that the brave few have every right to be brave on this issue. We knew it all along, but it is good to see it confirmed.
Update: Catholic World News carries an analysis of the bishops' statement that supports my own positive assessment at this link (Catholic World News, June 29, 2004, "U.S. bishops rejected task force statement on Communion," by Culture of Life Foundation).
Devastating Column on Anti-American Michael Moore
Michael Moore, for those few who haven't heard, is a leading Bush hater whose propaganda film attacking Bush personally was released yesterday, to wide acclaim by liberal Democrats in and out of the media.
But the Democrats now have a big problem: Moore not only hates Bush, Moore also hates America. I, like many other Christians, parted ways with the Democratic Party over abortion, but now the Democratic Party is going one step further and is itself parting ways with America. For anyone with a sense of history, what the current national Democratic Party is doing in destroying the legacy of FDR and Truman is a breathtaking shame. The party of FDR and Truman is now the Anti-American party. All of this is documented in today's devasting column by mild-mannered David Brooks of the N.Y. Times (see N.Y. Times online (free reg'n required), Op-Ed Section, June 26, 2004, "All Hail Moore," by David Brooks). The column documents the anti-American--and even anti-Semitic--rhetoric Moore spouts in speeches to European audiences. I wonder what traditionally Democratic Jewish voters will think of a party that embraces a propagandist who condemns Israel and praises anti-Israel terrorists as patriots. I guess the new Democratic coalition no longer needs Jewish voters and is satisfied with pro-abortion radicals, gay marriage activists, and kooky Bush haters. How the mighty have fallen.
Friday, June 25, 2004N.Y. Times Spinning Again for Kerry
This time the goal of the spin is to try to hurt Bush's standing with conservative Catholics by falsely saying that the President is now promoting contraception in the fight against AIDS. A good post at the Catholics for Bush blog demonstrates that the President is doing no such thing. The N.Y. Times reporters are either inept or eager to spin for the Kerry campaign. Either way, the internet enables us to read the raw data--the transcript of the President's remarks--so we can make up our own minds about what the President really said. In short, the President's emphasis is on abstinence and fidelity in the fight against AIDS, not contraception, as his remarks show. Thanks to Catholics for Bush for fact checking the liberal media. For details, see their post for June 25, 2004, entitled "Condoms and Half-truths," at this link.
N.Y. Times Caught Misleading On Iraq, Al-Qaeda Ties
See Slate's Mickey Kaus column for June 22, 2004, for the N.Y. Times' deception on the issue of ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden (scroll down to last paragraph for June 22nd). A document has now emerged showing that Iraq actively sought an alliance with Osama Bin Laden. This is the Iraqi regime that was a grave and gathering threat. This is the Iraqi regime that a just war overthrew. Catholics believe that we have a moral obligation to seek the truth. Given the misleading and partisan news coverage of the pro-Kerry N.Y. Times, that obligation takes on greater urgency. More and more it seems to me that history will look back at Bush and see him in much the same position as Lincoln during the Civil War: savagely mocked and villified, but heroically unwavering. Take a look at U.S. history during the Civil War, and you will see some enlightening parallels. The reputation of Lincoln's Secretary of War even parallels that of Rumsfeld today as a blunt and controversial figure. History is in the making, but the liberal media is doing its best to cover it up.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004Next Major Update: Monday, June 28, 2004
"The Politics of Pain"
A female Lutheran pastor converts to Catholicism and becomes an opponent of the ordination of women. That scenario does not fit into the "progressive" tide of history that is the fantasy of Catholic liberals. Yet, the scenario is true--and she is not the only female Protestant minister who has taken this path. Zenit recently ran an interview with this convert, Jennifer Ferrara, on the issue of the all-male priesthood. The following excerpt from the interview is, in my view, the crux of the matter:
Source: Zenit.org, June 22, 2004, "Former Lutheran Pastor Defends All-Male Priesthood (Part 2)."
Here, as many others have pointed out, is the problem endemic in Western societies and surely in the United States: psychology is reality. As others have noted, we abort the innocent at will because we have come to define a "human person" on the basis of psychology by referring to levels of consciousnessness, instead of defining a human person on the basis of a God-given rational nature. We have transformed conscience from the serious search for objective truth into a mirror of our momentary and irrational feelings and urges.
In a book that I enthusiastically recommend, British Franciscan Alban McCoy captures this deformation of conscience under the label "subjectivism" which he defines as:
Alban McCoy, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Catholicism (Continuum, 2001), p. 49.
A prime and contemporaneous example of this are the literary confessions of Bill Clinton. Excerpts of the Clinton autobiography explain his Lewinsky scandal as the end result of his childhood in an abusive family. Surely, that sort of unfortunate childhood would certainly influence one's future behavior. But the scandal in the Lewinsky matter is not that, like all of us, Bill Clinton has weaknesses, some of which may stem from very early experiences. The scandal is that the behavior was objectively wrong, immoral, exploitive, and destructive. The behavior was inhumane in the sense that it assaulted the humanity of the young intern he exploited. (By the way, it all did begin when Lewinsky was an intern and not a regular employee, as finally admitted in the new book, an admission that contradicts Clinton's prior sworn testimony to a grand jury [see CNN report, "Clinton Revises Timeline of Lewinsky Affair," June 23, 2004, Inside Politics section].)
So the important issue is not the psychology of Bill Clinton that may have influenced his behavior. The important issue is that sexual exploitation is gravely wrong. But instead of focusing on the objective standard or truth, Clinton focuses on his feelings. One cannot help but suspect that all this psychologism is an attempt to excuse his own conduct and to persuade us to also excuse it in spite of claims of taking responsibility. Clinton is practicing the same "politics of pain" mentioned by the former Lutheran pastor in her interview.
A Clinton who focused instead on the objective standard that was violated would recognize that he had a lot more to address in his book. I have yet to hear in any media excerpts of the book any mention of Juanita Broaddrick, the woman who, in a highly credible manner on national television, accused Clinton of raping her when he was Arkansas' attorney general (see Washington Post story, "Clinton Accuser's Story Aired," by Howard Kurtz, Feb. 25, 1999). If Clinton had focused in his musings on the objective standard that sexual exploitation is wrong, then surely he would address that credible allegation at some length. That there apparently is no serious explanation of this matter in the book leads me to conclude that Clinton still does not get it, and that his claims of remorse for his past conduct have more to do with his being caught and humiliated than with his doing what was objectively wrong. In other words, Clinton is understandably remorseful, as we all have been at times, because he has suffered the pain of humiliating exposure. Yet, in traditional Catholic language, this remorse may not even rise to the level of imperfect contrition because there is a failure to recognize that an objective and general moral standard also applicable to other incidents was violated.
This psychological morality is why our contemporary debates seem to go nowhere. Gays cannot understand why some of us would deny the objective status of marriage to their feelings of intimacy. Fornicators cannot understand why their consensual relations should be a matter of scandal to anyone. The defenders of abortion thunder that the government should have no role in a woman's "private" decison to abort. The real pain of caregivers gives rise to the demand for unrestricted embryonic stem cell research. Blinded by feelings, the blind lead the blind; and, when they run into an objective standard, all they can do is curse it.
The clamor by some for the Catholic ordination of women follows the same pattern. Some women claim to feel called to Catholic ordination and rebel against the psychological pain and frustration due to denial of this privilege. It is psychology, not theology, as the Zenit interview notes. It is one more instance of what George Weigel calls liberal religion--religion we make up as opposed to revealed religion which we receive from God. This psychologism or subjectivism is also at the heart of the liberal morality, exemplified by the Clinton memoir and so many other trends in our society, a morality that assumes that emotion is morality.
The Washington Times lists the roster of women not mentioned in Clinton's autobiography (see Washington Times, "The missing Clinton women," by Jerry Seper).
Tuesday, June 22, 2004Optimism, Hope, & the Presidential Race
One liberal cable TV commentator writes that the winner in the presidential election is the candidate with "the sun on his face," that is, the one perceived as optimistic (see National Review Online's "Kerry Spot" section for June 21, 2004, "The Man With the Sun on his Face"). The review of the Reagan years confirms that line of thought. So now comes the question: who has the "sun on his face" in this race? Kerry or Bush?
Superficially, the TV image of Kerry would tell us that the answer is surely not Kerry. In the age of TV, pioneered in presidential campaigns by Kerry's hero John Kennedy, the "look" of the candidate counts. Without descending to the petty and personal, Kerry just plain looks glum. Bush, on the other hand, has a cheerful demeanor. So, on the superficial level, Kerry loses the "sun on the face" test.
But, even if you go to a deeper and much more significant level of analysis, Bush emerges as the optimistic candidate. Recently, conservative columnist David Brooks noted how Kerry criticized the anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba for their protests by labeling the protests as counterproductive (N.Y. Times online, "Kerry's Cruel Realism," 6/19/04). Brooks correctly contrasted Kerry's abandonment of these freedom fighters with Reagan's strong inspiration and support for dissidents in the Soviet Union. In contrast to Kerry's dark foreign policy realism which views dissent against dictators as counterproductive, Bush has tightened sanctions on the Castro dictatorship and not wavered from the vision of a free Cuba. The effectiveness of the Bush message is verified by the stream of vitriol against Bush that is still issuing from Castro as this is written. Bush believes that a free Cuba is well on the way. Kerry opts for a softer approach that is pessimistic that dissidents can bring liberation.
And, of course, even more significantly, the striking contrast in mood emerges in Iraq policy. Bush fervently believes that freedom is a possibility for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. He has not wavered in his vision of a free and sane Iraqi government. In nine days, Iraq will have its first sovereign government run by sane people after decades of the mad rule of Saddam Hussein. The same will happen one day in Cuba after over 40 years of the mad rule of Fidel Castro. Both dictators imprisoned a talented, educated, and enterprising population in the whims of one emotionally disturbed man. Bush rejects that insane spectacle, while Kerry is willing to live with it. The Kerry view is that Bush erred in going to war in Iraq. This means that Kerry thinks it was wrong to overthrow Saddam Hussein. That is the inevitable conclusion. As in Cuba, Kerry is more comfortable with the dictatorial status quo. No greater contrast with the optimism of Ronald Reagan is possible.
Domestically, you can see the same pessimism on the issue of stem cell research. Bush is holding the line on research based on the new destruction of human beings-- which is what human embryos are. Instead, Bush points to the promise of research on adult stem cells. Characteristically, Kerry is pessimistic about adult stem cell research and so unthinkingly throws the door wide open on creating human life so that it can be destroyed to buy an extended life or a better quality of life for other human beings. All human life is equal. You cannot make that barter or trade between human lives. With all due respect to the late President Reagan, he lived 83 self-fulfilling years full of tremendous achievement and accomplishment. That the last ten years to age 93 were marked by the misfortune of Alzheimer's is no excuse for destroying other human life. Reagan, as this website has documented, would be the first to reject this bartering of one powerless human life for the benefit of other human life. Without vision, Kerry succumbs to the pessimism of those who settle for the worst solution. He is doing it on stem cell research, as he has done it on Cuba and Iraq.
And, of course, the pessimism is the foundation of the Kerry embrace of abortion. He settles for a Culture of Death as inevitable. Bush, on the other hand, has proven again and again that he is not satisfied with the status quo and seeks to transform our culture into a Culture of Life. Bush will not settle for the darkness of abortion on demand that Kerry sees as a permanent part of American life to be celebrated as a fundamental right.
As to the economy, the pessimism from Kerry continues even in the face of overwhelming economic evidence that the economy is booming. As a result, expect more rhetoric about "Two Americas," one prosperous and the other hopeless. That rhetoric will increase if Kerry chooses John Edwards as his running mate. Edwards is known for endlessly repeating the line of "Two Americas," true to his experience as a trial lawyer who knows that repetition is the key to emotionally enthralling a jury. In contrast, Bush believes in one America in which hope is the legacy of all. School vouchers, vehemently opposed by Kerry, are the best way to rescue millions from scandalously dysfunctional public school systems in the inner city. But with such a long overdue reform, the one America of hope for all will become a reality that does not fit the trial lawyer campaign rhetoric that depends on "Two Americas." The Democrats have a vested interest in preserving "Two Americas," while they brainwash millions of minority and union members into thinking that pessimistic Democratic policies will give them hope. It is a cruel deception. For Kerry, the world will always be divided between the noble elite, like him, who play with expensive toys in expensive Nantucket, and Democratic voters whose children are mired in hopeless public school systems.
The Catholic version of optimism is known as "hope." Catholic hope does not flinch from the worst situations. The most severely disabled life is still worthy of and capable of love and joy. Violence is not the answer to an unwanted pregnancy. The answer is to welcome life. The trials of aging are to elicit love and sacrifice by us, not the sacrifice of innocent human life created expressly for destruction. As shown in the Poland of John Paul II, Catholic hope does not see even the most powerful, ruthless, and long-lasting dictatorship as set in stone. Catholic hope inspires captive populations with faith and self-confidence to recover their cultural heritage from the clutches of mad dictatorships. That is what the Pope sought to do in visiting Cuba. Hope does not take the route of despair in the face of harsh realities. Hope, inextricably tied to love and faith, never gives up and never settles for mediocrity. It certainly never settles for evil, whether at home or abroad.
Monday, June 21, 2004Ronald Reagan and Christianity
At the end of the Reagan funeral ceremonies, one of his sons, Ronald Reagan, Jr., gave a eulogy with a veiled attack on President George W. Bush. In those remarks, Ronald Reagan, Jr., made the veiled comment that, in contrast to his father, some politicians wear their religion on their sleeves and claim a mandate from God for their policies. In contrast, Reagan's eldest son, Michael Reagan is an outspoken Christian who used the eulogy to communicate the greatest gift he received from his father: his Christian faith. Why the difference?
In a recent book, Hand of Providence by Mary Beth Brown, published before the death of former President Reagan, it looks like we have an explanation for Ron Reagan, Jr.'s crusade against George W. Bush:
Mary Beth Brown, Hand of Providence: The Strong and Quiet Faith of Ronald Reagan (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004)(foreword by Micheal E. Reagan), p. 200.
Ron Reagan, Jr., has worked in the past as a news commentator for MSNBC's political show "Hardball" hosted by liberal journalist and former Democratic congressional staffer Chris Matthews. During the coverage of the funeral, Matthews and liberal commentator Howard Fineman eagerly embraced Ron Reagan, Jr.'s veiled attack on the religion of President Bush. Matthews followed up in the coming days with a full interview with Ron Reagan, Jr. Apparently, more media interviews are in the works. Finally, the liberals had a nugget out of the Reagan funeral ceremonies to use against George W. Bush.
What Matthews and Fineman did not mention during the funeral coverage on Friday of that week is that Ron Reagan, Jr., apparently strongly rejected his father's Christian faith. Certainly, that long-standing rejection must contribute to his hostility to public expressions of Christianity by a president. And Matthews and Fineman, as far as I recall, barely mentioned the strong Christian eulogy given by Michael Reagan. It was as if the evangelical rhetoric of Michael Reagan was by its very nature unworthy of sustained attention. In my opinion, the MSNBC coverage showed the biased secularist mindset of the commentators.
But, more important than pointing to another example of distorting and misleading media bias against religion, is the fundamental question raised by Ron Reagan, Jr.'s eulogy: was President Reagan's rhetoric about religion really different from that used by George W. Bush?
Mary Brown's book answers no. In her book on President Reagan's religious faith, she quotes copiously from President Reagan's speeches in which he explicitly and generously states the importance for the nation of faith in God and in Christ. In fact, she points out that President Reagan pioneered the formation of the political coalition of Protestant evangelicals and Catholic voters united by their dislike of abortion and desire for a renewed moral consensus in American culture (see Ch. 11, "The Road to the White House"). This is the same coalition that is strongly supportive of George W. Bush in this election. And so the reality is that there is a striking continuity in the reliance by both Presidents on religion in their presidencies.
As to speaking about religion and Christianity in public, President Reagan did so many times. Here is one example:
Brown, p. 186.
Imagine if George W. Bush in this election year gave such a speech invoking God, religion, and the "Prince of Peace" born in a manger to speak up against abortion. The media, including Ron Reagan, Jr., would be up in arms, as it was when President Reagan made those remarks in 1984. The New York Times criticized the religious references in the speech by noting that "Americans ask piety in presidents, not displays of religious preference" (Brown, p. 181). Ron Reagan, Jr.'s veiled critique of George W. Bush is a repetition of the same misguided critique the N.Y. Times made of his own father in 1984.
It is said that President Reagan did not wear his religion "on his sleeve." Likewise, many of us who are deeply committed to religion don't wear our religion on our sleeves in the sense that we are not always using religious rhetoric in the routine interactions of our daily lives. To do so would be odd and inappropriate. Yet, we remain deeply committed to our faith and outspoken about it at the right time and place.
And so did President Reagan. Former Attorney General Edwin Meese, who was an associate of President Reagan dating back to his years as governor of California, put it this way:
Brown, p. 183.
Neither the record of President Reagan nor that of George W. Bush is one of wearing religion on one's sleeve, but history will show that both were deeply influenced by strong Christian beliefs and viewed their service in the presidency as part of God's plan for their lives. In that sense, both humbly claimed a mandate from God for their service in the White House, just as each of us tries to fulfill God's will for us in our own tasks. After all, "mandate" comes from the Latin mandatum meaning "command."
Every Christian has a mandate from God: God's will for his or her life. Here is President Reagan speaking about that mandate to a newspaper reporter when he was governor of California:
Brown, p. 136.
Likewise, George W. Bush believes it is God's plan for him to be President at this perilous time in our nation's history. That is the Christian world view. It is one not shared by Ron Reagan, Jr. The secularist criticism of Ron Reagan, Jr., apparently reflects his deep-seated lack of religious belief and own cultural bias. It is a secularist critique that would apply even more forcefully to the documented rhetoric of his own father than it would to the rhetoric of George W. Bush. The Reagan family, like many, many others, is divided by religion--not so much by different religions, as by the more fundamental chasm between secularist faith and religious faith. If you read the account in Mary Brown's book, you will see an extraordinary amount of documented evidence that the true President Reagan was the one described in the eulogy of Michael Reagan, the outspoken Christian. What we saw in the eulogy of the other son was instead a distorted picture concocted to take a cheap shot at George W. Bush. Keep that in mind as the interviews roll on and see if the interviewers raise the issue of Ron Reagan, Jr.'s personal hostility to religion.
Update: Not surprisingly, Ron Reagan Jr. admits that he is an atheist in the N.Y. Times Magazine for Sunday, June 27, 2004 ("The Son Also Rises," interview by Deborah Solomon). So it makes sense that he is very irritable and snappish about President Bush's straightforward and unembarrassed religious faith.
Sunday, June 20, 200412th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Zechariah 12:10-11;13:1; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24
On Father's Day in the United States, it is inevitable that we read the Scriptures with fatherhood in mind. In Zechariah, the prophet transmits the message of the Lord that the Chosen People shall mourn the one "they have pierced" like a father mourns an only son or a firstborn. This mourning will open a fountain that will purify their sins.
In Galatians, the Gentiles are told that through baptism in Christ we become children of God, descendants of Abraham, and heirs to the promise made through Zechariah. God becomes the Father of all people. That is the distinctive message preached by Jesus: we are called to become intimate sons of the Father who can call him "Abba."
In Luke, Jesus predicts his passion, death, and Resurrection. This was no upstart overwhelmed by events beyond his control. Jesus knew his mission from the Father and embraced the Paschal Mystery in obedience to the Father. He calls us to the same mission as sons of the Father: to take up our cross daily and lose our lives so that we may save them. The commitment of Jesus to his mission has him again and again tell the disciples not to tell anyone his true identity. In this way, Jesus can fulfill the mission from the Father, instead of the expectations of the crowd.
The theme that jumps out of these three readings on Father's Day is that we become the intimate children of the Father by obedience to the mission given us by the Father. Through our baptism, we have clothed ourselves with Christ, and so we reproduce the sacrificial form of Christ's life in our own lives. Many times we will ask the Father to let a certain cup pass as Christ did. And each time we must submit to the Father's will, deny ourselves, and so save ourselves and others. It is only by so doing that those of us who are males, whether married or celibate, become authentic fathers.