Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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The Pope and Aging
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Saturday, March 05, 2005The Pope and Aging
Some of the news coverage of the Pope's health problems seems to have "got it." Contrary to the conventional outlook, these same health challenges may be the Pope's finest moments. St. Paul wrote about God's power being manifested in weakness (2 Cor. 12:6-10). Many of us can see God's power manifested in the very human physical weaknesses that have beset John Paul II and that will beset all of us, sooner or later.
Here is St. Paul on what we are seeing and what we ourselves will experience:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Cor. 4:16-18 (English Standard Version).
Paul's confidence is based on a concrete, real, historical fact: God raised Jesus from the dead (see 2 Cor. 4:13-14). So our bodies that are wasting away are to be transformed into infinitely better bodies. The bodies that break down will become bodies that never break down. The bodies that, in some way or another, have been instruments of sin in the past will be transformed into unfailing instruments of authentic love.
Yet, it is interesting to recall that the risen body of Jesus still bore the marks of his suffering and death (see Jn 20:24-29). What marks, if any, will our bodies bear? We do not know. But the fact that the marks of the suffering of Jesus were still present in his risen body tells us something about the value of our own suffering. Suffering in self-giving agape has eternal value. And so we can even look at our suffering Pope today and already see the risen body that he will receive in the future. We can nod our heads in agreement with what Paul wrote so long ago about having "this treasure [the light of the gospel] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:7; ESV).
Friday, March 04, 2005Even NPR Is Taking Notice of the Bush Vision
When Daniel Schorr, who carries the pompous title of senior news analyst at National Public Radio, writes a brief comment saying that Bush "may" have been right that the Iraq War would transform Iraq into a beacon of freedom for the rest of the Middle East, forgive me when I say the world may be turning upside down. NPR is interesting. It is literate. It can be funny. It is better listening that many other things on the radio. But it is not objective.
NPR is proof that stubborn obtuseness can masquerade under the cover of highly articulate, intelligent-sounding discussion. NPR accepts the liberal world view hook, line, and sinker. That is why NPR is not a reliable window on national and world events.
But here is Daniel Schorr, the commentator who tends to simplistic pontification with a sleep-inducing voice, now telling us that Bush "may" have been right. I guess that statement is another way of saying that Schorr and NPR "may" have been wrong about Iraq. You can read Schorr's commentary at this link.
Thursday, March 03, 2005Judge Pryor Should Be Confirmed
One of the Bush judicial nominees blocked by Senate Democrats is Judge Bill Pryor of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. His current judicial appointment is a temporary one because of a filibuster mounted by Senate Democrats. Today's Online Opinion Journal has an article by a newspaper columnist from Pryor's home state of Alabama that questions why Pryor is being targeted at all since he is viewed by all sectors of Alabama society--white, black, Democrat, Republican--as a man of integrity and fairness. I, for one, knew him as a law student when we worked at the same New Orleans law firm, and I can affirm that he is a man of character and consistent principle. In addition, he is a strong Catholic from a strong Catholic background. He is unabashedly pro-life. In my opinion, the Democrats are blocking his permanent appointment because they fear an intelligent, young conservative who could go even higher than the 11th Circuit. The Senate Republicans should not let this Democratic charade stand even if it means changing Senate rules. Please contact your Senator if you agree after reading the Opinion Journal article.
Tom Wolfe's Insight: Crazy as a Cat
A regular U.K. reader sends me this link to an excellent book review of Tom Wolfe's already famous I Am Charlotte Simmons. The reviewer is Peter Berkowitz, a fellow of the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford University and a law professor at George Mason University in Virginia. Berkowitz is insightful and incisive. You should read the entire review. In a nutshell, the reviewer points out that the novel tells us one big truth about culture: the sexual revolution has made us crazy. Our culture has lost touch with reality in the most intimate acts we can ever engage in as human beings.
Here is an excerpt from the review that makes the same point in a chilling way reminiscent of a parable:
The governing theme of I am Charlotte Simmons is introduced by Wolfe in an entry from (the fictitious) Dictionary of Nobel Laureates, 3rd ed. that he places at the front of the novel. In 1983, 28-year-old Dupont University assistant professor of psychology Victor Ransome Starling removes the amygdala, which controls the emotions in higher mammals, from 30 cats. This causes the cats to enter a state of hypermanic sexual arousal. When Starling opens one of the cage doors to show an assistant the results of the experiment, the cat leaps out, immediately wraps its legs around the assistant’s leg, and begins thrusting with its pelvis. But Starling is startled when the assistant points out that the desperate animal is actually one of the control cats whose amygdala has not been touched. Pondering the implications of the replication by the control cats of the amygdalized cats’ hypermanic sexual arousal, Starling is led to the discovery for which he is awarded the Nobel Prize, namely, “that a strong social or ‘cultural’ atmosphere, even as abnormal as this one, could in time overwhelm the genetically determined responses of the perfectly normal, healthy animals.”
Berkowitz review (emphasis added).
Let it be repeated: a strong abnormal cultural atmosphere can "in time overwhelm the genetically determined responses of perfectly normal, healthy animals." Look around. How many young women, whose real personalities, desires, and aspirations--once you bother to get to know them as persons-- are really quite consistent with traditionally chaste behavior, are leading or have in fact led lives of debasing debauchery merely because of social pressure from siblings, friends, and, of course, males pushing the view that fornication is maturity and that sex is not a morally significant matter.
And so the fictitious experiment in Wolfe's book has been replicated innumerable times in the lives of both young women and young men. Young men, who in another cultural setting would have no problem respecting a chaste "No" from young women, find themselves under enormous psychological pressure to take what they can get before someone else inevitably does. No one wants to be left out from what our strongly abnormal culture says is "normal," "healthy," "mature," and "sophisticated."
The result is that the really normal and healthy instinct for getting to know a person first over a long period of time is replaced with the socially-driven urge for quick sexual conquest and surrender. The really normal and healthy instinct to save oneself for someone you would want as the parent of your children is replaced with bracketing out completely the idea that the reality of sex is inherently tied to procreation. No pill or device can change that inherent link. The link between sex and procreation is not merely biological. The link is intrinsically personal. By that I mean that the link between sex and procreation is an expression of what it means to be a person. When we sever that link, we depersonalize ourselves. We become the desperate animal depicted in the excerpt from Wolfe's novel. We can do better than that.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005Paul's Motive
As one Scripture scholar pointed out, half of the books in the New Testament "have Paul's name attached" (Ray Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament [Doubleday, 1997], p. 409). Although I strongly disagree with parts of what Ray Brown said and wrote in his lifetime of scholarly output, I do recommend Brown's short chapter in his New Testament introduction called "An Appreciation of Paul" (pp. 446-55).
Brown points out that "in the whole Bible only Jeremiah matches Paul in self-revelation" (p. 446). Paul is personal, very personal. In 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, he speaks movingly of the hardships and sufferings of his ministry. In 1 Cor. 4, he points out how as an apostle he has become a fool for Christ. Paul was a martyr for Christ long before he was beheaded in Nero's Rome around 67 A.D.
Brown also points out how the towering figure of Paul was viewed back then by the society in which he lived. For "the sophisticated Gentiles" Paul was a "babbling ragpicker of ideas" (p. 448, citing Acts 17:18). The educated Athenians of the Areopagus brushed him off when he dared to talk of the unheard of: the bodily resurrection of a dead man (Acts 17:22-33).
But Brown is at his best in describing Paul's motivation for enduring beatings, lashes, shipwrecks, a stoning, for being ignominiously lowered in a basket to escape Damascus, and for being mocked and personally insulted. Paul knew that Christ loved him, and "[t]his love became the driving factor of Paul's life when he came to understand how encompassing it was" (p. 449, quoting 2 Cor. 5:14). Brown's remark reminds me of the story of how the great Pauline interpreter Karl Barth was once asked what was the most significant thing he had learned in his life as a theologian. Barth simply replied, like a child in Sunday School: "Jesus loves me." Paul said it much earlier: "The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, quoted in Brown, p. 449).
The great urgent mission to the Gentiles that took him from Asia Minor to Greece to Rome and likely to Spain, the westward limit of his world, was the "inevitable translation into action of the overflowing love that he had experienced" (p. 449). Brown sums it up when he notes that Paul's communication of "his love for Christ is often unforgettable. . . . [and that] [i]n the whole library of Christianity it is hard to match his impassioned eloquence" (p. 451).
So there we have it: passionate, eloquent Paul motivated by his love for Christ founded on Christ's personal love for him. No wonder we still pour assiduously over the writings of this so-called "babbling ragpicker of ideas."
Tuesday, March 01, 2005Now Lebanon is Defying the Stereotypes
On January 30th, millions of Iraqi voters defied the terrorists. The Democrats were, as usual, wrong in their pessimism. Today, Lebanese citizens have toppled the pro-Syrian government. It is clear that Syria must leave Lebanon. And it is also clear that the Baathist party in Syria must fall, sooner or later. And, crucially, the Bush administration is in full and open support of the Lebanese people power.
The Bush Doctrine is simple, not simplistic: people want freedom. Freedom means free elections which lead to responsible governments that can negotiate peace in good faith. All of a sudden people have a future to look forward to and a reason not to follow the terrorists.
And in Lebanon a leading role is being taken by Maronite Christians--Catholics in union with Rome. Catholics in the U.S. must ask themselves: if this isn't social justice, what is? The tired left-wing, anti-Bush rhetoric of Catholic liberals is out of steam. It turns out that the self-appointed paragons of a mythic social justice have in fact worked hard to block democracy in the Middle East. Real social justice begins with dropping your ballot in the ballot box. That is what the Bush Doctrine is all about. The liberal Catholic view of social justice is very close to a fatalistic view of inevitable dictatorship for certain parts of the world.
Mark Steyn at the online U.K. Telegraph sums it up very crisply, as usual (see "The Arabs' Berlin Wall has crumbled," Telegraph.co.uk). He agrees that Bush was right after all.
Monday, February 28, 2005Is the Wall Coming Down in the Middle East?
That is the question you have to ask yourself when you read Michael Barone's commentary "Minds are Changing" at this link. In the article, one quote is particularly impressive:
[Washington Post reporter David] Ignatius interviewed Walid Jumblatt, the [Lebanese] Druze leader long a critic of the United States. Jumblatt's words are striking: "It's is strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."
Michael Barone, "Minds Are Changing" (emphasis added).
The Druze are members of a religion prominent in both Lebanon and Syria. The sect is an offshoot of Islam that completely broke off theologically and has suffered persecution in the past for heresy. The Druze leader's comments are precisely what the President has aimed for in his Middle Eastern policy: to bring democracy to the breeding grounds for terrorism. Barone also quotes from a German journalist who blurts out the politically incorrect thought that maybe Bush, like Reagan before him, was right after all.
We have heard so much about Iraq and what a mistake it was. The big mistake seems to lie with those who failed to understand that all people of every shade and religious background desire freedom. You would think that everyone in a nation like ours that has received immigrants from every imaginable culture in the world yearning for freedom would know that already--especially in New York City where the left-wing cultural elites reign supreme.
But, alas, the left always fails to take direction from the real world experience of ordinary people--as shown by the disastrous experience with welfare. The left ends up showing its true colors as the enemy of the freedom of ordinary people to choose their own future, whether we are talking about the freedom of ordinary people in other nations to elect a government, or the less dramatic freedom, closer to home, to use a school voucher.
Sunday, February 27, 2005Surprise!
More character in his little finger than all his critics combined. We love him. Our Lady of Czestochowa, of Fatima, and of Guadalupe, protect your son. This picture was taken today in Rome.