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 Future Pope on Death and Suffering
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Tuesday, May 31, 2005The Future Pope on Death and Suffering
The Joseph Ratzinger of 1977 wrote a small volume entitled Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Catholic Univ. of America Press), as part of a series in dogmatic theology co-authored with his confessor Johann Auer. The pocket-size book aims at giving an overview of the issues of death, immortality, resurrection, judgment, heaven, hell, and purgatory--in other words, the "last things" of eschatology.
In an eloquent series of passages, the future Pope focuses on the Christian response to pain, suffering, and death. Like John Paul the Great, Ratzinger effectively portrays the drama of the human challenge posed by the inevitable encounter with these realities.
In suffering, "man is forced to face the fact that existence is not at his disposal, nor is his life his own property" (p. 96). Man can respond either in anger to this reality or choose the Christian approach in which:
man can respond by seeking to trust this strange power to whom he is subject. He can allow himself to be led, unafraid, by the hand, without Angst-ridden concern for his situation. And in this second case [or response], the human attitude towards pain, towards the presence of death within living, merges with the attitude we call love.
Ratzinger, p. 96.
Ratzinger proceeds to tie this recognition, in the experience of suffering, that life is not at our disposal to our need to be loved:
Love is the soul's true nourishment, yet this food which of all substances we most need is not something we can produce for ourselves. One must wait for it. The only way to make absolutely certain that one will not receive it is to insist on procuring it by oneself. One can attempt to shake it off, and reduce it to the satisfaction of those needs that require no adventure of the spirit or the heart for their filling. Conversely, we can accept this situation of dependence, and keep ourselves trustingly open to the future, in the confidence that the Power which has so determined us will not deceive us.
Ratzinger, p. 96 (original emphasis).
So when we realize that life is not at our disposal or under our full and complete control, we face a choice: respond in "either the pattern of love, or the pattern of power" (Ibid.). Here, Ratzinger gets to the core of the question:
This claim of death upon us which we come across time and again in media vita [in the middle of life]--are we able to receive it in the attitude of trust which will usher in that fundamental posture of love? Or would this just be to throw up life's glittering prizes in exchange for "Waiting for Godot" [a famous play by Samuel Beckett]: a something that either does not exist at all or, at any rate, does not exist in the form in which we imagine it?
Ratzinger, p. 97.
Ratzinger sees the answer in our union with Christ's death where God "fulfilled the pattern of love beyond all expectation, and in so doing justified that human confidence which in the last resort is the only alternative to self-destruction" (p. 97). By dying "into the death of Christ himself," the Christian sees that the "uncontrollable Power that everywhere sets limits to life . . . . is a love that puts itself at our disposal by dying for us and with us" (Ibid.). Ratzinger sums up the Christian response to death and to all forms of suffering in this way:
The Christian is the one who knows that he can unite the constantly experienced dispossession of self with the fundamental attitude of a being created for love, a being that knows itself to be safe precisely when it trusts in the unexacted gift of love.
Ratzinger, p. 97.
What Ratzinger calls the "attitude of trusting love" is the Christian response to the limits, uncertainties, frustrations, suffering, and death that are inevitable in life (p. 97). This Christian pattern of response is so fundamental that Christians of very divergent backgrounds necessarily recognize it and articulate it, albeit in very different ways. What Ratzinger describes is the choice each of us makes, when faced with our limits, to trust that God will get us through the suffering or the challenge or the problem. I heard the very same thing that Ratzinger describes set forth in a very different manner by an African-American radio preacher. The Protestant preacher made clear that the Christian is the one who confesses his powerlessness and asks the Lord to carry him through, to work out the problem that the Christian cannot solve on his own.
Both Ratzinger and the radio preacher are in the end saying the same thing borne of intimate Christian experience: hand it over to God, refuse to worry about it (whatever it may be) anymore as if events were in our hands, surrender all our limits in trust to God who is love itself.
Monday, May 30, 2005"The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against It" (Mt. 16:18b)
The Real Compulsives
For a long time, it has now been a trite expression of those wishing to mock Christianity, especially in its Catholic form, that traditional Christian morality is obsessed with sexual acts. Even some so-called but false Catholic moral theologians present this criticism by claiming that the Church's teaching against contraception and the immorality of certain sexual behavior is too "physicalistic" or "biologistic"--that the teaching exalts the importance of purely physical behavior over the overall personal intentions and lifestyles of the individuals involved.
Not surprisingly, the exact opposite of this trite criticism is true. It is the secular and heterodox mocker of traditional Catholic sexual morality who in reality shows signs of obsession with sexual acts. The heterodox, liberal Catholic moral theologian is intent on justifying virtually every sexual act imaginable and works backward from this predetermined goal and conclusion to conjure up justifying reasons that falsify the Catholic tradition. The secular mocker is more forthright because he need not falsify the Catholic tradition. He just plainly rejects it without the occupational need to engage in casuistry.
The real sexual compulsives are those moral theologians and secular writers who cannot say no to virtually any sexual act imaginable. Is the real compulsive the person who washes his hands only in appropriate circumstances, such as before a meal or before surgery--the person who can say "no"? Or is the real obsessive compulsive the person who just has to wash his hands virtually all the time, in all circumstances--the person who always says "yes"?
The sexual revolution has spawned legions who can't limit sexual behavior to appropriate circumstances. Their compulsion recognizes no boundaries and no limits. Any purported limits are merely tactical in nature until the real goal of unbridled sexual behavior is achieved. The Church, on the other hand, clearly says an absolute no to certain types of sexual behavior. The Church brings sanity and reason to our sexual lives. The moral relativists, both secular and pseudo-Catholic, bring the chaos of an obsessive compulsive view of sex that rejects any taboo.
Saturday, May 28, 2005Fr. Solanus Casey (1870-1957)
Fr. Solanus Casey--he took the name "Solanus" from a Spanish Franciscan saint of the 16th century--was a Capuchin friar who was the doorkeeper of St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit for about twenty-one years. In 1995, John Paul the Great declared Fr. Solanus "Venerable." He is buried at the Detroit monastery where he was doorkeeper or porter. The burial site is part of the Solanus Center visited by thousands of people annually. You can access the center's website at this link.
What was so great about Solanus Casey? Like the Curé d'Ars, Fr. Solanus' alleged lack of academic abilities put his fitness for priestly ordination in question. But impressed with his "moral qualities," his superiors approved his ordination with the condition that he could not hear confessions or give doctrinal sermons--conditions not even imposed on the beleaguered Curé d'Ars. Because of those restrictions, Fr. Solanus' Detroit apostolate took place over the porter's desk at the monastery where he met with thousands of individuals seeking healing and counseling. Many received both.
So the ordaining bishop made a very wise decision: this man was fit for the priesthood in spite of his apparent inability to jump through the academic hoops of the time, which included studies in German, Latin, and Greek. Yet, Fr. Solanus counseled people with great wisdom and empathy. Yet, Fr. Solanus was saintly. Yet, Fr. Solanus wrote with wit, wisdom, and even eloquence that displayed a first-rate intellect. All of these traits should put us on guard when judging anyone by conventional academic standards. It could be that the child or young student considered "disabled" or "slow" may in fact be a treasure that teachers and standard curricula are simply incapable of recognizing or nurturing. We should be on guard for committing the inanity of blaming the student for the unexamined defects of teachers and their methods. All students and teachers should remember this danger and avoid giving up on anyone.
Here are some of the quotes from Fr. Solanus that struck me as I recently visited the Solanus Center in Detroit and browsed through some related books:
"Man's greatness lies in being faithful to the present moment."
"God, who loves tiny beginnings, will know as He always does know, how and when to provide development."
"We do God's will best when we obey, and crucify self-will every day."
"Who can fully appreciate the privilege that God has given us of the possibility of our helping God in the work of redemption. Our lives are blended with God's."
"Let us thank God ahead of time for whatever he forsees is pleasing to Him, leaving everything at His divine disposal, including, with all its circumstances, when, where, and how He may be pleased to dispose the events of our death."
"Shake off anxiety. Last year it was something that you smile about now. Tomorrow it's about something that will not be serious if you raise your heart to God and thank Him for whatever comes." [Quoted in Br. Leo Wollenweber, O.F.M., Cap., Meet Solanus Casey, p. 123].
"Shake off excessive worry and show a little confidence in God's merciful providence." [Ibid.]
"Many are the rainbows, the sunbursts, the gentle breezes--and the hailstorms--we are liable to meet before, by the grace of God, we shall be able to tumble into our graves with the confidence of tired children into their places of peaceful slumber." [Ibid., p. 127]
Friday, May 27, 2005Fr. Rob Johansen on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Fr. Rob Johansen has compiled a list of Catholic congressmen of both parties who recently voted to fund embryonic stem cell research ("ESCR"). You can find his excellent analysis and the related list at his blog Thrownback.
In contrast to these congressmen, President Bush said that he does not support killing lives in order to save lives. Our Methodist president has a better grasp of Catholic moral theology than these Catholic congressmen who voted to fund ESCR. It is a fundamental principle of Catholic morals, founded upon Scripture (cp. Romans 3:8; see Encyclical Letter The Splendor of Truth [Veritatis Splendor], 80) that we are not to do evil to achieve good. Obviously, these particular congressmen have lost their bearings.
As yesterday's Catholic Analysis post noted, we have exiled religion and morality from our government-funded educational system. As a result, we have made religion and morality irrelevant to many in government so that we end up with bad government. At least, President Bush has threatened to veto the bill funding ESCR. Let the record show that those of us who voted last November for President Bush did not waste our votes. And let those represented by these particular congressmen take notes in time for the 2006 congressional midterm elections.
Thursday, May 26, 2005What Happened?
As you walk on the campus of the liberal University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, you come across a handsome old building with a bold inscription on granite emblazoned across the top:
"Religion, Morality, and Knowledge, Being Necessary to Good Government and the Happiness of Mankind, Schools and the Means of Education Shall be Forever Encouraged."
The words come from the Ordinance for the Government of the Northwest Territory.
I found the exact same quote in the heart of downtown Detroit inscribed in another beautiful old building--this time inside the downtown branch of the Detroit Public Library. What happened?
Why is it now taken for granted and assumed that neither morality nor religion has any place in government-sponsored schools or educational and cultural institutions like public libraries? Obviously, this new convention is a radical departure from the culture of those who came before us. Clearly, the builders at the University of Michigan had no qualms about religion and morality in education. Clearly, the Detroit Public Library's trustees had no qualms, at least in the first half of the twentieth century. We have gone from religion and morality being central to education and culture as an unquestioned truism to the conventional notion that religion and morality can never be part of state-sponsored educational and cultural institutions.
And so there is a big hole in our culture. If we look closely at the language of the inscription, religion and morality are deemed necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind. What have we gotten since the rejection of both? We have gotten a rotten judiciary that gives us the absurd Roe v. Wade decision that has liberally sprinkled our nation with death clinics. We get a Florida court murdering a woman by starvation with all other courts just standing by watching. We had a President Clinton who brought us so low, with a wink and a nod, that we seem not to have grappled fully with the cultural ramifications of this blatant dishonor. And, in Congress, we now see an unthinking race to fund the destruction of human embryos.
But it is not only good government that we have lost. The quote also speaks of the "happiness of mankind." Without religion and morality, family life, both nuclear and extended, is a shambles. We have gone from courtship to hook-ups. Marriage has been made into a joke first by shacking up and now by the gay agenda. When a woman delivers her second child in the hospital, the nurse pipes up to ask her if she now wishes to be sterilized.
Instead of happiness, we pursue, as one author put it, mere "diversion": buy, buy, buy, experience this, try that. We go from diversion to diversion to cover up quiet desperation. And, in the end, we die--with the specter of more and more deaths being precisely timed and carried out by others in the name of "compassion." But we are experts at covering all of this up from others and even from ourselves. We have gotten ourselves into a senseless hole. It is time to climb out. I, for one, am not waiting for the rest of the culture before climbing out.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005A Catholic Inventory
Sometimes many of us wonder why some prominent and not so prominent persons still identify themselves as Catholic. Here is my suggested "litmus test" for Catholic identity--oh, but since "litmus tests" are politically incorrect, let's call it a "Catholic inventory." If a person can't answer "yes" to these blunt questions, then there are problems with one's Catholic identity.
1. All other things being equal, is a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Moslem or a Jew or a Protestant (including Anglican) or even an Eastern Orthodox Christian better off becoming a Catholic?
2. Is Natural Family Planning preferable to contraception?
3. Is entering marriage as a virgin preferable?
4. Is heterosexuality preferable to homosexuality?
5. Is the ordained priesthood a calling through the Church that no individual is by right entitled to demand?
6. Should Roe v. Wade be reversed?
7. Can a normal man or woman live a fulfilling life without sexual activity?
Readers can add their own questions to this self-administered Catholic inventory in the comments section below.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005Great Introduction to Benedict XVI
Our Sunday Visitor's in-house papal expert Matthew Bunson--who also prepares the same publisher's highly useful Catholic almanacs--has written an excellent account of the great events of last month, including the funeral of John Paul the Great, the conclave, and the inauguration of Benedict XVI. The book is entitled We Have a Pope! Benedict XVI. Even more valuable, Bunson gives us a close and accurate look at the life of the former Cardinal Ratzinger, his priorities, and the likely themes that will emerge in this new, grand papacy.
Many other publishers will also put out their books on the conclave and on the new Pope. But beware--some will have an axe to grind in spite of disclaimers to the contrary and some will be penned by the same people who have erred grievously in their past analysis of events in the Church. But, with Bunson, you are on safe and reliable ground.
Bunson is reliable because he interprets and analyzes from within the mind of the Church. That thinking with the Church is a tremendous advantage for reliability and realism in analysis. Those who reject Church teaching, those committed to theological revisionism, those who view the Church as having to catch up to secular society can never fully or reliably grasp what the Spirit is doing in the Church because they lack the connaturality--the innate empathy of mind and spirit--that enables one to recognize what the Holy Spirit is really doing in Christ's Church.
In other words, to get the best view of recent events in the Church and of the new-born Ratzinger papacy you need to rely on theologically orthodox Catholic writers. I recall reading or hearing someone say once that the best way to study the work of a particular philosopher was to take a course with a professor who was sympathetic to that particular philosopher. In that way, you would get a full, empathetic treatment of the life work of that philosopher that would set the basis for real understanding and productive critical evaluation. That's why the best interpreters of the Scriptures are those who live and think within the Church, along with the Church, and so view the Scriptures as the living Word of God that cannot be cut up into incoherence.
Moral theologian Germain Grisez makes a similar point when he emphasizes the dialectical method in Catholic moral theology. Grisez defines dialectical method as exploring "from within the reality in which one lives--one tries to understand the meanings and relationships which comprise the expanding and unified framework of one's life" (Christian Moral Principles, Vol. 1, p. 7, Franciscan Press, 1983). That is the way Bunson writes about the papal funeral, papal conclave, and the new Pope. Bunson obviously lives the reality of a faithful Catholic who is not crusading, whether openly or in disguise, for revisionism of any kind. And so Bunson is able to open up the reality of the great events of April 2005 in the Catholic Church.
So what about the book's contents? Bunson begins with the papal funeral and the days before the conclave. He rightly notes that "[w]hat was most striking about the coverage in the majority of media outlets was the apparent disconnect between the speculation of experts and what the Cardinals and world's bishops were discussing at their ordinary and extraordinary gatherings in the final year's of Pope John Paul II's reign" (p. 69). As an example, Bunson quotes the words of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia spoken at the bishops' Synod of 2001:
The bishop dominated by fear will not be the man of the Gospel, nor the man of hope. Scared in front of public opinion, he does not preserve the faith with the opportunity for correction . . . The bishop as teacher educates, as a leader corrects, as a liturgical person celebrates the divine cult; as a leader he is firm when facing abuses, as a teacher he preaches morals, as a leader he unveils and corrects failures and keeps traditions. The bishop, leader of the diocesan community, does not stop committing himself so that Christ's thinking may find a place in public life.Quoted in Bunson, pp. 70-71.
There, in the words of the Colombian cardinal and friend of then Cardinal Ratzinger, we have the profile of our new Pope and of the types of bishops he will seek to appoint. Amen. But since that type of bishop is not what secularists or revisionists want, much analysis of the papal conclave was dealing in fantasy from the very beginning. But, as early as 2001, the pre-conclave trend was captured eloquently by one of the most powerful cardinals in the Vatican.
Bunson even provides a separate chapter analyzing the issues in the conclave. Interestingly, he mentions the challenge of China--and we are now beginning to hear talk of a potential papal trip to China in the midst of a reported thaw in relations between the Vatican and China (p. 82). Once he gets to the outcome of the conclave, Bunson does not mince words: "The message from the College of Cardinals was clear: the papacy was entrusted not to some caretaker pontiff" (p. 98). Clearly, the cardinals did not choose mediocrity or tepidity. They chose a new Pope who would in no way be merely transitional. Like John Paul the Great, the conclave was not satisfied with mediocrity.
And so we have Benedict XVI whose homilies are already indisputable gems of genuine Christian eloquence. You see in the book's rich photos of our new Pope the profound joy of our new universal pastor. You see the boldness of that joy in his words to the young--words that really speak to all regardless of age: "Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open wide the doors to Christ--and you will find true life." (p. 116).
About a third of the book consists of a biography of the new Pope. We see that his efforts to purify the distortions found in liberation theology were rooted in his personal experience with the totalitarian threats of Nazism and Marxism to Christian truth (pp. 158-162). Bunson also corrects the distorted reporting of the 2000 document Dominus Iesus, a document which merely reaffirmed that Christianity is the true path of salvation willed by God for all people (pp. 163-166). Bunson also makes clear the pivotal role of Cardinal Ratzinger in the preparation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I agree with Bunson and others that the Catechism "may prove to be one of . . . [Ratzinger's] most lasting achievements" (p. 170). I would add only that it will also be John Paul the Great's most lasting achievement.
The only inaccuracy that I noticed in the book was the relatively unimportant observation that the current Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury was the first "leader" of the Anglican Communion to attend a papal inauguration when in fact Anglican Archbishop Donald Coggan did so in 1978 (p. 192). But the presence of the current Anglican leader, Rowan Williams, does make for a powerful contrast between liberal Protestantism and Catholicism. Williams attempts to lead, in a sort of muddling through, a communion that has radically lost its way. From what I have read, I have concluded that Williams himself rejects traditional Christian sexual morality. The Anglicans have lost the blueprint, much as many Catholics in the West lost the blueprint after Vatican II (cp. p. 136). Benedict XVI has not lost the blueprint.
Monday, May 23, 2005Pope Benedict's Books
I think the best gift I can give at this time to my readers is a list of Pope Benedict XVI's books available in English. Tomorrow, I plan to post my book review of Our Sunday Visitor's excellent new book on the new Pope: We Have a Pope! Benedict XVI by Matthew Bunson, that has just been published. I received my review copy just two or three days ago. The book has an appendix which lists books available in English by our new Pope. When you read the works of Cardinal Ratzinger, you experience the depth of Christian faith--the superficiality or peevishness of so many flat homilies that we have to endure in too many parishes is utterly absent from these masterful works of a great teacher. Here is the list, with credit to Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Company:
(Unless otherwise stated, all books are published by Ignatius Press.)
A New Song for the Lord (Herder & Herder, 1996);
Behold the Pierced One (1987);
Being Christian (Franciscan Herald Press, 1970);
Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (1996);
Co-Workers of the Truth (1992);
The End of Time?: The Provocation of Talking About God (Paulist Press, 2005);
Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1989);
The Feast of Faith (1986);
God and the World: Believing and Living in Our Time (2002);
God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (2003);
Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism: Sidelights on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997);
In the Beginning . . . : A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995);
Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994);
Introduction to Christianity (2004);
Journey Towards Easter: Retreat Given in the Vatican in the Presence of Pope John Paul (Crossroads, 1987);
Many Religions, One Covenant (1999);
Meaning of Christian Brotherhood (1993);
Milestones: Memoirs: 1927-1977 (1998);
Ministers of Your Joy: Scriptural Meditations on Priestly Spirituality (Servant Publications, 1989);
Nature and Mission of Theology (1995);
Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion (2005);
Principles of Catholic Theology (1987);
Principles of Catholic Morality (1986);
The Ratzinger Report (1985);
Salt of the Earth (1997);
Seeking God's Face (Franciscan Herald Press, 1982);
Seek That Which is Above (1986);
The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000);
Theological Highlights of Vatican II (Our Sunday Visitor/Paulist Press, 1966);
Theology of History in St. Bonaventure (Franciscan Herald Press, 1971);
To Look on Christ: Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love (Crossroads Publ. Co., 1991);
Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (2004);
Turning Point for Europe (1994).
Saturday, May 21, 2005Mary and the True Christian
I heard a favorite speaker from Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary last night on the topic of Mary and the Eucharist. In the question and answer period after the talk, I asked him about the typically Protestant inquiry, sometimes made quite insistently, as to whether Catholics hold that we can pray to Christ apart from Mary. In other words, do we need Mary in our prayer life?
He began with the obvious answer that the Tradition of the Church includes prayers addressed to each person of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But he went on to say that in his view a "true Christian," that is, a full and complete Christian, cannot ignore the intercession of Mary. As I recall from his answer and the rest of his talk, he noted that Mary as the Mother of the Church--the Mother given to the whole Church and to each of us as members of the Church by Christ from his cross in John 19:25-27--is always interceding for us. A true Christian cannot ignore that constant intercession and accordingly asks Mary to remember his or her personal situation.
This entire view assumes that the truest Christian is the one who has the fullness of the faith, sacraments, and tradition willed by Christ for his people. In other words, the truest Christian is the one who has this fullness of Christ's teachings and gifts in the Catholic Church and, to a virtually identical extent, also in the Eastern Orthodox churches, although these churches, for historical reasons, lack the Petrine primacy established by Christ Himself and apparently reject the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In sum, the Marian dimension is an inseparable and indispensable part of that complete and full Christian reality. It is not just icing on the cake. With the recent Catholic-Anglican statement on Mary which seems, from media reports, to reaffirm the Catholic view of Mary, my hope is that more Protestants will take a closer look at Mary's essential role. A recent Time magazine cover story indicates that some Protestants are indeed taking that closer look. As they do so, there will be one less barrier to crossing the Tiber.
Friday, May 20, 2005Crisis Editor on AIDS/Condom Issue
Brian St. Paul, editor of the Catholic magazine Crisis, has recently addressed the media hate campaign against our Church over the issue of condoms as AIDS prevention in Africa. Brian lays out the research showing that increased condom use has not reduced the rates of HIV transmission in Africa, but instead appears to have encouraged even more high-risk behavior. Brian also emphasizes that the effectiveness of condoms is only 90%, and I agree with his conclusion that anyone who is willing to take a 10% avoidable risk of contracting HIV is just, in my words, plain crazy.
The research showing the ineffectiveness of condoms in preventing AIDS makes sense. The problem in Africa is promiscuity. Promiscuous males are not interested in the niceties of using a condom--they are by nature and personality reckless individuals. We are dealing with extremely reckless behavior given the fact that the epidemic is well-known. This African reality parallels the current problem in the United States where media reports indicate that high-risk homosexuals seem to be abandoning any allegedly "safe sex" techniques. We are dealing with a malady of the soul and personality. The solution is to make reckless individuals less reckless by education. The solution in Africa is to empower women to stop allowing themselves to be the vessels for arbitrary male sexual gratification and to enforce laws against rape in support of the dignity of women. In fact, when all is said and done, the most effective response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa is precisely Catholic moral teaching backed up by governments willing to protect women from rape. In addition, it is worth noting that Africans are a religious people for whom a religious/cultural approach is going to be very persuasive.
The AIDS epidemic in Africa should be addressed within a moral, religious, cultural, and legal framework suited to the highly religious and tribal nature of Africa. The favored secular Western technological solution of inundating the continent with condoms is not working.
Here are the Crisis editor's comments in full with added emphasis:
Will Condoms Really Stop AIDS In Africa?
Special Crisis e-Report, May 19, 2005
If you've watched any of the mainstream news coverage of the Catholic Church in the past month, you've heard several charges repeated over and over: The Church needs to ordain women to address the vocation shortage... the Church needs to change its attitude on contraception and abortion to better accommodate modern realities... the Church needs to moderate its stance on homosexual behavior to be more inclusive... the Church needs to drop its claim to contain the fullness of salvation, since it hinders ecumenism. Chances are, you're already well equipped to address these objections.
But there's one charge that seems to throw Catholics for a loop. It goes something like this: By maintaining its ban on condom use, the Catholic Church is contributing to the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Condoms have been demonstrated to prevent infection 90% of the time. If the Vatican cared more about people's lives than a rigid doctrine that most Catholics reject, they'd make an exception to allow condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Such a move would do more for "life" than would maintaining a position that allows millions to die as a result of unprotected sex.
Sounds convincing at first, doesn't it? So convincing, in fact, that most Catholics have trouble addressing it.One approach, of course, would be to explain the Catholic moral/theological position on why contraception is inherently evil. But while absolutely true, that approach isn't terribly convincing to a non-Catholic, let alone a non-Christian. After all, logic and philosophy are easily dismissed as abstractions when human life is involved.
But the debate over condoms in Africa need never get to that point. In fact, the whole matter can be settled without ever bringing in moral theology. You see, the fatal flaw in the pro-condom argument is both simple and devastating: Condoms aren't working to stem AIDS in Africa. Take for example a March 2004 article in the medical journal, Studies in Family Planning (cited by the Zenit News Agency, June 26, 2004). Titled "Condom Promotion for AIDS Prevention in the Developing World: Is It Working?," the piece was a meta-review of the scientific literature on the question.The results shocked condom advocates. In the article, researchers Sanny Chen and Norman Hearst noted that, "In many sub-Saharan African countries, high HIV transmission rates have continued despite high rates of condom use." In fact, they continued, "No clear examples have emerged yet of a country that has turned back a generalized epidemic primarily by means of condom distribution."No surprise, then, that Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa -- the nations with the highest levels of condom availability -- continue to have the highest rates of HIV prevalence ("The White House Initiative to Combat AIDS: Learning from Uganda," Joseph Loconte, Executive Summary Backgrounder).
How could this be? After all, we're told that condoms are 90% effective. And that's precisely the problem.This claim -- so prevalent in condom-promotion literature -- is actually a tremendous strike against using condoms to reduce AIDS. Think of it: Assuming that the 90% figure is accurate (a highly contested point), that means that 10% of the time, condoms don't offer protection against transmission. That's one out of ten. If you and I were to go skydiving, and I told you, "Don't worry... the parachutes work 90% of the time," how comfortable would you be making that jump? Now, of course, the fact that a condom fails to "work" doesn't mean the person will automatically contract HIV/AIDS.
Nevertheless, this is hardly the solution to the crisis. You see, the pro-condom lobby's exaggerations over the effectiveness of its product is actually making the problem worse, for one simple reason: Condoms provide a false sense of security to those who use them. Being convinced of their effectiveness and feeling invulnerable, users will simply continue -- or actually increase -- their high-risk behavior. In this way, the claimed 90% effectiveness rate plummets in proportion to the increase in self-destructive behavior. This phenomenon is borne out in the countries that focus on condom distribution to fight the disease.
But while condoms clearly won't solve the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa (or anywhere else), there is an approach that will: abstinence. Indeed, in African nations -- where HIV/AIDS is transmitted almost exclusively through sexual contact -- abstinence is the obvious solution. And better yet, it has been proven effective. Uganda at one time had the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. Starting in the mid to late 1980s, their government instituted a program to teach abstinence before marriage and fidelity to one's partner afterwards. They only reluctantly advised condoms for high risk groups (like prostitutes) whom they knew would not accept the other two approaches. Billboards, radio announcements, print ads, and school programs all promoted the virtues of abstinence and fidelity to prevent HIV/AIDS.The results were astonishing. In 1991, the prevalence rate of HIV was 15%. By 2001, it had dropped to 5%. It was the biggest HIV infection reduction in world history. Among pregnant women, the drop was even more dramatic (as reported by CNS News, January 13, 2003). In 1991, 21.2% of expecting mothers tested positive for HIV. By 2001, the number had plummeted to 6.2%. Compare this with the 2001 numbers from Kenya (15%), Zimbabwe (32%), and Botswana (38%). All three countries focus on condom distribution, and all three countries continue to see their rates rise.
But wait, the condom advocates object. The Ugandan "miracle" is simply the result of more widespread condom use. Not so, says Dr. Edward C. Green, an anthropologist at the Harvard University School of Public Health. Dr. Green was a strong proponent of condom distribution to stem HIV/AIDS... that is, until the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hired him to study the reasons behind the success in Uganda.The results of his research left him little doubt. "Reduction in the number of sexual partners was probably the single most important behavioral change that resulted in prevalence decline," he noted. "Abstinence was probably the second most important change" (testimony before the Subcommittee on African Affairs, as reported by Joseph Loconte)."It is a very indicting statement about the effectiveness of condoms," he told Citizen Magazine. "You cannot show that more condoms have led to less AIDS in Africa.... I look at the data and I see that what might be called a more liberal response to AIDS -- more and more millions or billions of condoms -- has simply not worked, especially in parts of the world with the highest infection rate, Africa and the Caribbean."
Unfortunately, not everyone was pleased with Dr. Green's conclusions. USAID shelved his study and enlisted a well-known condom advocate and employee of ETR Associates (an organization dedicated to "safe-sex" education) to write a new one. Apparently, USAID wasn't concerned with the apparent conflict of interest. This is especially tragic, as the effectiveness of abstinence and fidelity education has been demonstrated by numerous research groups. As Loconte notes, evidence for the success of Uganda's approach has come from "USAID, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Harvard Center for Population and Developmental Studies, the Ugandan government, and numerous independent studies published in medical journals. "Yet we're still told condom distribution is the solution to the AIDS crisis in Africa. And the Catholic Church is an easy media bogeyman, standing in the way of that effort. Ironically enough, Uganda's successful approach is very close to that recommended by the Church. The only exception, of course, is the African country's concession to giving condoms to prostitutes. But if the people of that nation -- and indeed, of the world at large -- took seriously the Catholic notion of the dignity of women and the nature of sexual intercourse, that last point would be addressed as well.
But what about allowing condoms for faithful married couples, where one partner is HIV/AIDS positive? Isn't that reasonable? Actually, it's not reasonable at all. Love requires sacrifice. And a person who claims to love another would never knowingly put his beloved in danger. But that's precisely what this approach does. Imagine if I get drunk one night and drive my wife around town. That's not a loving act. And it doesn't suddenly become loving just because I tell her to put on her seatbelt. When an HIV/AIDS positive person has sex with someone who's free of the disease, he puts that person at grave risk. That's not love... that's selfishness.In a marital situation where one spouse is HIV/AIDS positive and the other negative, the loving thing to do is to abstain from sex. In those cases, love must be shown in other ways, like the self-sacrifice that abstinence requires.It's not easy, but real love rarely is.
I'll talk to you next week,
Brian [St. Paul, Crisis Editor]
Thursday, May 19, 2005Pascal and Faith
Blaise Pascal (1623-1670) will always fascinate: a scientific genius, a passionate Catholic with a passionate conversion or series of conversions, homeschooled by his retired lawyer father. Most of us are familiar with Pascal's wager by which Pascal attempted to show merely "that the will is reasonable only in making this bet," namely, that it is better to bet on the infinite gain of eternal life through faith in God than to reject the possibility of this infinite gain because of the finite loss of an earthly life lived apart from God's commandments (see Jean Menard, Pascal [Univ. of Alabama Press, 1969], pp. 49-50). American philosopher William James (1842-1910) made harsh comments on Pascal's wager as if Pascal intended this wager to be the seal of a conversion (see James address). As Pascal scholar Menard notes, Pascal intended the wager only as a first step in approaching the prejudices against Christianity of the atheist or the merely indifferent (Menard, pp. 52-53).
But it is ironic that James was so apparently hostile to the reasoning of Pascal because Pascal goes on to formulate prior to James a psychological principle for which James himself is famous. It is a principle you will probably find in almost any introductory college psychology textbook: to feel an emotion act as if you are already experiencing that emotion. Many of us have heard this principle in the homely wisdom that if you want to feel happy or friendly start smiling and acting in a happy or friendly manner and eventually the feeling will follow.
Pascal formulates the prototype of this homely wisdom in these words of advice to the person struggling to acquire faith:
You wish to find faith [Pascal noted] but you do not know the way to it; you wish to cure yourself of lack of faith and you ask for the remedies thereof. Learn from those who, like yourself, were in bondage and who now wager all that they possess; they are people who know the path that you would like to follow, and who have been cured of an ill of which you wish to be cured. Follow the method by which they began: it is by behaving as though they believed, by taking holy water, by having masses said, etc. Naturally even that will make you believe and will soothe you.
Blaise Pascal, quoted in Menard, p. 53 (emphasis added; parenthetical expression in original).
Now, is Pascal asking us to deceive ourselves, to lull or hypnotize ourselves into religious faith? I think not. Pascal envisions a person sincerely struggling with faith, a person suffering from lack of faith. Certainly, today with rampant secularism and mockery of any religious faith by modern Western culture, that struggle with anti-religious prejudice is real for many of us. But notice that what Pascal recommends is the use of a sacramental ("taking holy water") and participation in the Mass ("by having masses said"). The non-Catholic reader would tend to glide over these recommendations as incidental to the main message of the passage. I would dare say that even as brilliant a non-Christian as William James-- with a nineteenth century Protestant cultural background that viewed Catholic sacramentals and saying of Masses as so much papist superstition-- would likely not put much stock in the mention of holy water and Masses.
But Catholics know that sacramentals do not produce faith, but dispose us to faith as a form of prayer and invocation of God's grace in union with the entire Church. So the person struggling with faith who takes holy water is praying for faith, for grace from God. In participating in Mass, the person struggling with belief is by his or her very presence seeking the gift of faith. Although the person struggling with faith cannot yet receive the Eucharist, that person is, in a way, making a type of spiritual communion by which one seeks the grace to believe. Just this past week, we have heard or read in the liturgy the famous exclamation of the man seeking the healing of his son in the Gospel: "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24 RSV). The person who begins, in doubt and struggle, to take holy water and attend Masses is saying the same thing.
So following Pascal's advice is not some type of psychological self-deception. Pascal's advice is really to pray the prayer of the despairing man in the Gospel. The difference that gives Pascal's formulation a distinctive flavor is the Catholic difference: a system of sacramentals and sacraments that help the unbelief of creatures like us who are attuned to physical gestures and signs as avenues of grace. In the end, following Pascal's advice succeeds only because a transcendent God responds to these prayers.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005Vatican Says Terri Schiavo Murdered
Terri Schiavo's parents met yesterday with a leading Vatican cardinal who called the court order denying Terri nutrition and hydration "murder." Today, the parents attended Pope Benedict's general audience. There is no doubt where the Church stands on Terri Schiavo's court-ordered murder (see Zenit story, 5/17/05). Just as the Roman Empire discredited itself in its execution of Jesus and in its persecution of his followers, so the American court system has similarly discredited itself in the Schiavo case.
The Élan of the Faithful
Pope Benedict has spoken in the past--as I recall, in his only English T.V. interview which was done with EWTN--about the "élan" of the faithful. What he was apparently referring to was the vibrancy of authentically Christian communities in the midst of secular or otherwise hostile societies. In his vision, it is from these vibrant communities that the Gospel will radiate outwards to enrich surrounding societies.
But vibrancy cannot arise from the "Catholic Lite" quest to please everyone and offend no one. That quest has led to Catholic parish after parish, Catholic college after college, Catholic high school after high school, where the challenge of the Catholic faith is neither preached nor taught. Instead, we get platitudes indistinguishable from what we hear in modern social welfare Western society: be a team player and be as nice and tolerant as possible. This mediocre version of Catholicism consists basically of exhortations to politeness to overlay the radically anti-Christian lifestyles of the surrounding secular society: let's just all get along.
But genuine Catholicism is not necessarily interested in everybody just getting along. Genuine Catholicism calls for communion, not just for strangers being polite to or tolerant of each other. Communion means that our personal relationships derive from our relationship to the Trinity: the vertical dimension defines and drives the horizontal dimension. The result is that we call others to a special communion that does not ratify everything under the sun as OK as long as it is OK for you. The Catholic challenge is much more than just getting along: it is an invitation to communion in the Trinity. That is where the élan and the vibrancy comes from: from people who want to share the power and the glory of Jesus Christ who, as John Paul the Great, whose birthday is today, was fond of saying, is the answer to the question that is every human life.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005The Real Agenda in the AIDS/Condom Controversy
As I have written recently, there is a relentless onslaught attacking our Church for refusing to distribute condoms in places like Africa that are suffering from an HIV/AIDs crisis. In the past, I have pointed out the fallacy at the heart of this attack against the Church: those who, in the first place, engage in sex outside of marriage in direct contradiction to Church teaching are not going to be kept from using condoms because the Church rejects condoms. But that is the absurd and fallacious chain of causality that the persecutors of the Church would have us believe with a straight face--that the fornicator or adulterer or sodomite is going to engage in all of these acts condemned by the Church but will in the course of engaging in these acts, all of a sudden, become very Catholic and refuse to use condoms because the Church condemns their use.
Last night, I heard Dr. Janet E. Smith of Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary speak at a local parish-- a parish, by the way, whose pastor recently moved the tabernacle back to the center of the church. As many of you know, Dr. Smith is probably the leading defender of the Church's teaching against contraception, as contained in Humanae Vitae. In her talk, she also pointed out the causation fallacy at the heart of the slander that the Church is somehow reponsible for AIDS deaths in Africa and other places. She rightly asked, as I have done on this site, whether the fornicators, adulterers, and those engaging in homosexual acts would start using condoms if the Pope suddenly says it is OK to use them. We think not.
In the question and answer session after the talk, I asked her what the real agenda of those slandering the Church with their fallacious reasoning was. She responded that the intent was to discredit the Church and make the Church look ridiculous on all other issues by focusing on the condom issue. She added that this effort to discredit the Church by any means possible is a way for those who reject Church teaching to "anesthetize" themselves from the Church's judgments on all moral matters. It is a way to protect one's lifestyle of choice.
She spoke eloquently and forthrightly. In my view, we as Catholics need to call a spade a spade. The pages of the N.Y. Times and other publications are filled with obsessive, hateful, and fallacious slander and attacks against the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is the loudest voice dissenting from the Culture of Death and the culture of sexual chaos. No other religion is subject to such ferocious attack by the mainstream media. Those living in darkness indeed relentlessly hate the light (cp. John 3:19-20).
Monday, May 16, 2005Levada Stood Up in San Francisco
As we all know, San Francisco is the unofficial capital of the gay movement. So it is interesting that Pope Benedict has chosen San Francisco Archbishop Joseph Levada as the new Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith--the post previously held by Pope Benedict, a post whose mission is to protect the doctrine of the Church. So what does an archbishop in San Francisco do when the gay movement begins its quest for "gay marriage"? As to be expected, Levada rejected this latest absurdity publicly; and, in my opinion, he did so courageously.
We all know from unfortunate experience that other bishops in the same situation, in the eye of the storm in, of all places, San Francisco would have found a way to do nothing. Levada acted. Here is the 2004 news release from the Archdiocese of San Francisco website describing a public rally for marriage sponsored by the Archdiocese at which Levada appeared with Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland, who is known as unquestionably orthodox from his years of service in Detroit:
MARRIAGE PRAYER RALLY IN SAN FRANCISCO -- SATURDAY, APRIL 3 IN SUPPORT OF PRESERVING MARRIAGE AS UNION BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Catholic group “Your Catholic Voice” -- headed by Ray Flynn, former Boston Mayor and United States Ambassador to the Vatican -- and the Archdiocese of San Francisco are sponsoring a Prayer Rally for Marriage on Saturday, April 3 at 10:00 a.m. in front of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco.
The church is located in the North Beach district of San Francisco on Filbert Street near Columbus Avenue and faces Washington Square.
The Prayer Rally will be preceded by a Mass, celebrated by San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada at 9:00 in Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Archbishop Levada will be joined at the Mass and rally by Bishop Allen Vigneron of the Diocese of Oakland.
Sponsors of the rally ask participants to pray for the protection and preservation of legal marriage as the union of one man and one woman, an institution designed to nurture and protect children. Marriage between a man and a woman has been the bedrock of society and the rally seeks to promote, preserve and protect this definition of marriage.
PRAYER RALLY IN SAN FRANCISCO SATURDAY – APRIL 3 AT 10:00 A.M. STS. PETER AND PAUL CHURCH FILBERT AT WASHINGTON SQUARE
Source: Archdiocese of San Francisco website (scroll down).
My own view is that the appointment of Levada as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ("CDF") means more attention to the problem of dissent in the United States. The appointment of an American also reflects the importance of dealing with sex abuse cases, a task which also is part of the mission of the CDF. As to Bishop Vigneron, I am optimistic that we will see him move on to bigger and better things--maybe, including a return to Detroit as a future cardinal.
Saturday, May 14, 2005Succumbing to the Culture
I am presently in a graduate seminar class on contemporary moral theology in which we examine various schools of moral theology. One of the "moral theologians" we are examining is the late Richard McCormick, S.J. (1922-2000), who was a proportionalist. A proportionalist is basically a moral theologian who believes that there are no intrinsically evil acts and that the moral act is the act in which the "proportion" of good outweighs the bad. The proportionalists will say that I have wildly simplified their views, but I stick to my characterization.
After all the Kant-like abstractions and multiplication of categories, proportionalism, in my view, comes down to old-fashioned nineteenth century utilitarianism or consequentialism: do an act if the good effects outweigh the bad effects, or if the result is a lesser evil. (If I change my opinion by the time the seminar is over, I will let you know.) Such a moral theory is woefully inadequate. In some situations, we certainly must use prudence to weigh the effects of doing or not doing something; but in many other situations we must clearly not do something, regardless of the consequences, because that something is intrinsically evil.
So, on a purely philosophic level, proportionalism just does not do justice to common human moral experience. We are willing to take a bullet for someone we love. We are willing to risk our lives in war. Policemen and firemen are willing to risk their lives for strangers on a daily basis. Some women are willing to die rather than abort their babies. Some women are willing to die rather than consent to sexual assault. Many people are willing to quit lucrative jobs rather than compromise their honor. Honor is the rock-solid moral intuition that we will absolutely not do certain things because those things make us less human. That intuitive and heroic sense of our self-dignity does not stoop to any utilitarian or proportionalist calculus.
But when we get to the realm of Christianity, proportionalism is even less adequate. We are called to be witnesses or martyrs. Any potential martyr could have easily come up with a "proportionate reason" to betray the faith, or to consent to sexual assault, or to allow desecration of the Eucharist. But a true witness to the faith is not interested in proportionate reasons. A proportionalist Christianity is a Christianity without martyrs. Certainly, Jesus himself could have come up with proportionate reasons for not drinking the cup of suffering of his crucifixion. The crucifix is not a proportionalist outcome. Maybe that is why some revisionist theologians claim that the crucifixion was not the will of the Father. Without a lot of dense philosophic debate, we can see that, whatever the worth of proportionalism may be, it is an ethical theory unsuited to common human moral experience and even less suited to Christian moral experience.
So why would an otherwise brilliant man like McCormick, deeply educated in the classical Catholic tradition, succumb to this grave distortion of Christian moral theology? A friend of mine put it well: McCormick succumbed to the culture. It seems that in 1968--that truly annus horribilis-- McCormick, like many others throughout American society, just dumped the moral legacy of Christian civilization overboard. Here is how one of McCormick's admiring, but not uncritical, students puts it:
Events between 1965 and 1972, however, compelled McCormick to give increasing weight to teleological [read: proportionalist] thinking. Among these one has to single out the birth control debate that surrounded the publication [in 1968] of Humanae Vitae, the issues brought into consciousness by the Vietnam War, his increasing exposure to problems created by scientific and technological developments in various fields of medicine, and his dialogue and interaction with other theologians. Undoubtedly, the single most important catalyst was the publication of Humanae Vitae [in 1968].
Paulinus Odozor, Richard A. McCormick and the Renewal of Moral Theology (Notre Dame Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 96-97.
Humanae Vitae reaffirmed long-standing Catholic teaching that contraception is gravely wrong, and McCormick experiences an intellectual metamorphosis? Paul VI merely restated that the procreative aspect can never be separated from the unitive aspect of the marital act. Or to put it in a different way, the marital act is not unitive if the procreative aspect is assaulted. How can this unsurprising restatement of Catholic teaching have been so shocking to McCormick? My guess is that McCormick was driven to make Catholic moral theology acceptable to modern Western culture and that this quest for cultural acceptability was his proportionate reason for rejecting Humanae Vitae. He valued succumbing to the culture over witnessing to the faith.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas points to the same problem when he says that McCormick assumed a too smooth convergence of Christianity with the secular culture: "What, for example, would have been the result if Christians had approached their entry into Roman society with McCormick's presuppositions?" (Quoted in Odozor, p. 38). McCormick succumbed to the culture of the late sixties. That is why his proportionalist construct is woefully dated and fundamentally irrelevant to a new generation.
Friday, May 13, 2005John Paul the Great's Cause for Beatification Opened
Pope Benedict is wasting no time, as shown by his waiving today the normal 5-year waiting period for beatification in the case of John Paul the Great. What does the eventual canonization of John Paul the Great mean? It means confirming the legacy of his great pontificate. John Paul the Great will not just be a Pope that liberals wish to forget--the Church will recognize John Paul the Great as a pivotal figure for Catholicism for all time and for all Catholics. Here is the Vatican Information Service report:
BENEDICT XVI ANNOUNCES CAUSE OF BEATIFICATION OF JOHN PAUL II
VATICAN CITY, MAY 13, 2005 (VIS) - Benedict XVI today announced the opening of the cause of beatification of John Paul II, waiving the normal waiting period of five years after the death of a Servant of God. The Pope made the announcement in the course of a meeting with the Roman clergy in the basilica of St. John Lateran.
The rescript - or document authorizing the act - is dated May 9, 2005 and is signed by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins and Archbishop Edward Nowak, respectively prefect and secretary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
This morning, after traveling by car to the Vicariate of Rome, the Pope, in a ceremony in the Hall of Conciliation, greeted the staff who work there and visited the pontifical apartments.
Benedict XVI then went to the basilica of St. John Lateran where he met the clergy of his diocese. After a brief greeting pronounced by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, the Pope delivered his address.
He said that "the extraordinary experience of faith that we experienced with the death of our much-loved Pope John Paul II, has shown us a Roman Church profoundly united, full of life and rich in enthusiasm; all this is the fruit of your prayers and your apostolate."
After underlining the need "to always go back to the roots of our priestly calling," in other words, "Jesus Christ, the Lord," Benedict XVI pointed out that as priests "we are charged not to say many words, but rather to echo and to be bearers of a single 'Word,' that is the Word of God, made flesh for our salvation. ... We have to be His true friends, to share His feelings, to want what He wants and not want what He does not want."
The Pope invited the priests to make their own these words of John Paul II: "Mass is, in an absolute way, the center of my life and of each of my days." Speaking of obedience to Christ, he recalled that this "takes concrete form in ecclesial obedience, which for a priest is, in everyday practice, above all obedience to his bishop."
Benedict XVI also recalled what he had said in his homily prior to the conclave, when he referred to "holy restlessness; a restlessness to bring everyone the gift of faith." After highlighting that Christ "calls us to be His witnesses," the Pope mentioned the necessity of "being with God," of seeking "intimate communion with Christ," in order "not to give in to fatigue, but to resist and, even more so, to grow as people and as priests."
"Time to be in the presence of God is a true pastoral priority," he continued, "in the final analysis, the most important priority. John Paul II demonstrated this to us in the most tangible and luminous of ways in all the circumstances of his life and his ministry."
The Holy Father affirmed that "our personal response to the call of sanctity is fundamental and decisive. This condition is essential, not only for our personal apostolate to be fruitful but also, and more broadly, for the Church's face to reflect the light of Christ."
"My ministry as bishop of Rome follows in the footsteps of my predecessors, in particular taking up the precious heritage left by John Paul II. Dear priests and deacons, let us walk together along this path with serenity and trust."
After his address, Benedict XVI listened attentively to questions and reflections presented by various priests and religious, and thanked them for the remarks. He then returned to the Vatican by car.
Thursday, May 12, 2005An Alumnus Takes A Walk
Like many other alumni of Jesuit colleges, I have taken a walk. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and learning at Loyola University of New Orleans, both as an undergraduate and as a law student; but I have not given them a dime for years. I have no real desire to attend alumni gatherings. The institution where I spent so much time and for which I did a lot in the past as both student and alumnus is no longer part of my world of concern. Why?
The Catholic News Service is now running the story of how New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes is boycotting the upcoming May commencement ceremony at Loyola Law School (New Orleans) because the law school is planning to grant an honorary doctorate to an entire family, heavily involved in Democratic Party politics, that has long been connected with the school (see also more detailed and even more alarming local news coverage). The family is a longtime political player in both New Orleans and Louisiana Democratic politics. I have known a few of them personally. They are fine people on a personal level. The problem is that at least two prominent members of this political family-- one a U.S. Senator, another a lieutenant governor--are "pro-choice."
The Archbishop has done the right thing by drawing the line. Catholicism is not about cozy and convenient backscratching--it is, in the end, about witnessing to the truth even when the truth makes us unpopular and may even put an end to our careers in a particular political party that is obsessed with advancing abortion. My old Jesuit law school has not only unhinged itself from an authentic Catholic witness, but is in fact deceiving the public about the nature and truths of Catholicism. The honoring of pro-abortion Catholic politicians is fundamentally anti-Catholic. The U.S bishops last year rejected the propriety of such honors by Catholic institutions.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas asked a telling critical question about the accommodationist liberal moral theology of the late Richard McCormick, S.J., that also applies to this situation: "Isn't it possible that Christians, because of the ethos peculiar to their community, might find themselves in deep discontinuity with the ethos of a particular society?" (Reprinted in Odozor, Richard A. McCormick and the Renewal of Moral Theology, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1995, p. 38; emphasis added). Liberal Jesuits and their liberal lay followers wish to accommodate secular liberalism, but that approach has never been the distinctive Christian and Catholic way. We must be in "deep discontinuity" with the Culture of Death.
For many Jesuit college alumni, a parting of the ways with our old haunts is necessary. I have no hesitation about parting from a tragic shell of what used to be so promising. I know God is providing better alternatives to this sad corruption of what once was so good.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005More on Church, AIDS, and Condoms
Here is a link to a recent CatholicExchange.com article on the issue of condoms and the prevention of AIDS. Note that the author writes that the evidence shows failure to stop the AIDS epidemic in those African nations that have relied on condoms for prevention. Contrary to the mainstream media, condoms are not the panacea for AIDS prevention--education and change in behavior are the best means to save lives.
But, in my own view, what goes to the heart of the fallacy of the propaganda campaign against the Catholic disapproval of condom use is the false statement that the Catholic Church must be the distributor of condoms for condom use to increase. It is absurd to suggest that the only way to make condoms available to Africans is through the Catholic Church. What is at work here is anti-Catholicism which is seeking to destroy our Church--a totalitarian anti-Catholicism which seeks to coerce Catholic participation in an activity contrary to our religious beliefs. The liberals, the U.N., national governments are all free to distribute condoms and do so. There is no need to coerce Catholic participation in condom distribution. In the end, a condom culture will never solve or make lasting progress against the AIDS problem. Do not be deceived: the Catholic bashing on this issue is not about saving lives; it is about religious persecution seeking to destroy the Church.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005The Anti-Catholic Obsession of Liberals
Nicholas Kristof is a liberal non-Catholic, and apparently ex-Christian, columnist for the N.Y. Times who is again signaling his anti-Catholic obsession in today's issue of the N.Y. Times. Kristof and others want the Catholic Church to say "uncle" on condoms. It is not enough, as Kristof loves to point out, that he can find individual Catholics who favor and distribute condoms. Kristof will not be satisfied with that. He wants the Catholic Church, the cardinals, the Pope to embrace condoms and any other form of contraception with open arms and to distribute condoms themselves. This is the liberal obsession.
The liberals are shrewd enough to know that, if the Catholic Church embraces contraception, the Catholic Church will have been domesticated and tamed into being just another harmless liberal denomination. If contraception is embraced, then no one can argue against sexual activity unhinged from procreative marriage. The free-wheeling Western lifestyle of free prostitution for everyone will have been ratified.
The currently favored wedge now being used incessantly to promote this destruction of the Catholic Church is the AIDS crisis in Catholic areas of Latin America and Africa. The AIDS crisis really and obviously points to the unnatural character of promiscuity, whether homosexual or heterosexual. But, instead, the liberals want to turn the lesson of AIDS on its head and argue that the AIDS crisis means that we should forget about chastity once and for all.
In his column today in the N.Y. Times, Kristof is arguing that, if the Catholic Church does not embrace condoms, then there will be a schism in Latin American Catholicism on a par with the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth century Europe. There will be no schism, Kristof's feverish imagination notwithstanding. Latin Catholics unhappy with the Catholic Church will become fundamentalist Protestant evangelicals, as they have been doing so for decades. And they have been doing so not because of the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church but rather because of the very lack of such forceful and vibrant traditional teaching. Kristof, like most liberals, has it exactly backwards when he argues that more moral liberalism is the solution to the disenchantment of people with moral liberalism.
In addition, Kristof shows no feel for the Latin temperament. Even if the Latin Catholic does not follow all Church teaching in his or her personal life, the Latin Catholic knows that one's inevitable and all too human lapses cannot become the standard of moral truth. In contrast, the non-Latin Western mentality has a compulsion for official recognition, legislation, and codification of immorality, a complusion that cannot rest. The Latin culture, by and large, does not share that compulsion.
Not surprisingly, Kristof has no inkling that the Catholic Church is not a corporation governed by the latest demographic scenarios projected by newspaper scribblers and academics. Providence is in control. History casts grave doubt on the scare tactics of Kristof and others intent on destroying the Catholic Church. As Luther was nailing his 95 Theses on the church door in old Germany in 1517, divine providence had already provided the Catholic answer: the New World discovered by Columbus a scant 25 years earlier would become the home of the largest concentration of Catholics in the world.
And so today while liberal secularists like Kristof look for a Latin schism in the Catholic Church, divine providence likely has other things in mind. Just as Columbus discovered a New World that compensated for the loss of millions in the Protestant Reformation, as we speak, other "discoveries" are likely taking place that compensate for the scare tactic scenario concocted by Kristof. Could a Catholicism renewed charismatically with a greater biblical emphasis and with truly joyful worship be that new discovery? Will a Catholicism that combines the best of the vibrant worship and biblical emphasis of Pentecostalism with the beauty of traditional Catholic liturgy be the new thing God has in store for us? God is full of surprises, and it is reasonable to expect that He has more surprises in store for us, as He did for the old and disenchanted Europe of Martin Luther.
Monday, May 09, 2005A Gift-Giving Animal
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) is famous for saying that "man is by nature a political animal" in his work the Politics. Christianity gives a revolutionary twist to this true statement: "Man is a gift-giving animal." The most famous modern restatement of this fundamental Christian truth is that of Vatican II:
Gaudium et Spes ("Joy and Hope"), 24 (from The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, Pauline Press, 1999; added emphasis).
Mankind, that is, all humankind, finds itself through becoming a gift. How do we do that? We think of marriage in which we give our bodies to each other--by the way, this is another powerful image to emphasize further the great evil of premarital sex in which the gift proper to marriage is diminished and tarnished by being passed around in transient relationships. (I recall one chastity speaker making the point to teenagers by asking them if they would be happy to receive a used article, I believe a handkerchief, as a gift from their beloved.) We think of the priest giving everything to the Church--think of John Paul's famous totus tuus to Mary.
But it doesn't take much to see that the law of gift is inscribed by nature in our very being. The Catholic sees in nature vestiges and hints of our destiny and purpose. John Paul the Great clearly affirmed this Catholic view of our nature and of our bodies in his great encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) on moral theology (see Chapter II, sections 48-50). This inscribed meaning of our nature is why the sexual act finds its meaning in procreation and why as a result the whole idea of "gay marriage" is a great lie.
I have seen a small 4-year-old little girl busily preparing little paper valentines for her classmates in religion class. I asked her why she was taking the trouble to do that. In her innocence, she could give me no reason--she just instinctively did it with great pleasure and zest. Our instinct for gift-giving is another way we make ourselves a gift to others. And notice that in the innocent child the description of the fathers of Vatican II is exactly matched: an innocent gift is a "sincere gift" with no hidden agenda of manipulation or coercion. As the Gospel says, in so many words, give without expecting return (cf. Luke 6:35) . A likely sign that something has gone deeply wrong among us is disdain for gift-giving itself or manipulation masquerading as gift-giving.
Luke gives us the sermon of St. Paul that preserves for us the saying of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). We see the reward of giving in the giving itself. And, as soon as we receive, we ourselves are moved to give back to the giver or to another--unless we sense that the gift has a hidden agenda. We humans are gift-giving animals. We give objects, we give time, we give our very selves. I know of no other religion or even philosophy--except, not surprisingly, our mother faith of Judaism--which so captures the gift-giving essence of our humanity and draws out its implications so consistently and so thoroughly for all facets of our lives. But then again this distinctiveness should not be surprising: just glance at a crucifix.
Saturday, May 07, 2005John Paul the Great's Legacy
Today's post is a link to an excellent and passionate article. The article celebrates the legacy of John Paul the Great in a way that is packed with solid information. The article is a mini-education on the pontificate of John Paul the Great and provides a good roadmap for thinking about his papacy. The author, Eduardo J. Echeverria, is a philosophy professor at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary. As you will see, he is the type of Catholic more seminaries and Catholic universities need in the classroom. Here again is the link to the article published at NewPantagruel.com.
Friday, May 06, 2005Benedict XVI's Papal Coat of Arms
Thursday, May 05, 2005Memory and Identity: Part 2
With all the recent amazing events surrounding our new Pope, I can now complete my review of John Paul the Great's last book Memory and Identity (Rizzoli, 2005), a review begun on the very day Benedict XVI was elected. You can find the first part of the review at this Catholic Analysis link (4/19/05). What I consider the second part of JPG's last book (pp. 59-168) is studded with tremendous insights, only some of which I can point out in this post.
JPG points providentially in this last book to our current Pope Benedict in speaking about St. Benedict. In fact, Pope Benedict referred to this very book Memory and Identity in his funeral homily for JPG. John Paul points to St. Benedict and Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the patrons of Europe, as having carried out "the great work of inculturation that took place over the centuries, and reminding us that the Church in Europe must breathe with 'two lungs'" (p. 93). Already, Pope Benedict by choosing the name of St. Benedict has sent the message both symbolically and explicitly that he plans to challenge the secular relativism of Europe and to seek reunion with the Eastern Orthodox churches. In spite of the yearnings of the officials of the theologically chaotic Anglican Communion, the Catholic priority is reunion with all of the East, not with a liberal Western disfiguring of Christianity which even ends up rejecting "the Cross and the Resurrection" (p. 97). As to Europe, John Paul also considered the possibility that Europe would be re-evangelized by the churches of the developing world (p. 105).
John Paul also emphasizes that the message of the Church is Christ and makes clear that the "anthropology of the Second Vatican Council is rooted in Christology, and therefore in theology" (p. 113). Vatican II was not rooted in the secular social collapse of the Western world. JPG quotes Gaudium et Spes 22, as he did throughout his pontificate: "In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear." JPG says it also in his own words: "Without the Gospel, man remains a dramatic question with no adequate answer. The correct response to the question about man is Christ, Redemptor Hominis [the Redeemer of Man]" (p. 114).
John Paul also calls us to be more assertive citizens in protecting the role of religion in society:
a certain passivity in the attitude of believing citizens gives cause for concern. It seems as if their sense of their religious rights was keener in the past, when they were readier to defend them through the democratic means at their disposal. Today such reactions are much more muted and have virtually gone to abeyance, perhaps partly because of insufficient preparation of the political elite.
JPG, p. 120.
And John Paul did not mince words about the moral condition of Europe and, by implication, the rest of the West. He described this moral condition as "a devastation of consciences . . . affecting personal and social morality and the mores of family life," calling Europe "a continent of devastation" (p. 121). We can say the same thing about our own North American continent.
In the passage that has garnered the most media attention, John Paul rightly equates legal abortion with the Nazi holocaust:
[W]e must question certain legislative choices made by the parliaments of today's democratic regimes. The most immediate example concerns abortion laws. When a parliament authorizes the termination of pregnancy, agreeing to the elimination of the unborn child, it commits a grave abuse against an innocent
JPG, p. 135.
Near the end of the book, John Paul makes the connection between the Eucharist and the word "memory" that is in the book's title:
[I]t is through memory that our sense of identity forms and defines itself in the personal psyche. . . . Christ was acquainted with this law of memory and he invoked it at the key moment of his mission. When he was instituting the Eucharist during the Last Supper, he said: "Do this in memory of me" . . . . Memory evokes recollections. The Church is, in a certain sense, the "living memory"of Christ . . . . This "memory" is accomplished through the Eucharist. It follows that Christians, as they celebrate the Eucharist in "memory" of their Master, continually discover their own identity.
JPG, pp. 144-145.
Christ through the Eucharist gives us the memory that is our true identity.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005Forgetting Terri Schiavo
Not surprisingly, the N.Y. Times has forgotten Terri Schiavo. Today, the newspaper has a story of a severely brain damaged New York state fireman whose family was given the "worst prognosis." But, after 10 years of being nonresponsive, the fireman has just now begun to speak again to his family and friends (see "Brain-Injured Fireman's Recovery Takes Science Into a Murky Area"; free reg'n required). The physicians are amazed. Yet, similar physicians refused to countenance even the possibility that Terri Schiavo had any minimal consciousness and gave her too the "worst prognosis."
The point is not that the fireman's previous condition for 10 years and that of Terri Schiavo were identical--it appears the fireman would sporadically say the words "yes" and "no" in the past. The point is that, as the headline notes, science itself is in a "murky area": the scientists and physicians are just absolutely unable to give a certain prognosis about recovery. And, when human life is at stake, probabilities are not enough.
In any event, the Catholic view is that, whatever the condition and prognosis of a brain-injured patient, you must never deny nutrition and hydration--a position explicitly affirmed by John Paul the Great in March of 2004. The wisdom of that Catholic view is confirmed again today by the astounding recovery of the severely brain-injured fireman. But the N.Y. Times story makes no mention of the Terri Schiavo analogy that is so obvious and unignorable. The Culture of Death hates to make the common sense and scientific connections that unmask its blatant illogic and false premises. The Culture of Death is a culture of self-imposed moral and logical blindness.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005Sin and Fear
Where there is smoke, there is fire. Where there is sin, there is fear. As I think about my own experiences and those of others, the more I can see that fear is at the root of many sins. In Genesis, Adam and Eve feared that God would not have their best interest at heart. Much sexual sin, especially by women, is motivated by the fear that no one will love them. People cut ethical corners in business and academia out of fear of failure. Much compulsive behavior is at root masking a deep-seated fear of one kind or another, such as fear of abandonment or of rejection by others.
Where there is sin, there is fear. The fear does not eliminate our moral responsibility, but recognizing the role of fear can be part of the solution. The great revelation that Jesus loves each of us and that as Christians we are the adopted children of a God who hovers over each of us in His providence is the antidote to our existential fear. The gifts of the Holy Spirit include joy, peace, faith, and self-control, gifts that crowd out fear. Faith includes trust that God will do what is genuinely best for each of us (cp. Romans 8:28). With that outlook, fear has no power over us. The power of fear is broken.
John Paul the Great said this:
Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.
JPG, The Life and Legacy of Pope John Paul II (Coincide Publishing, 2005), p. 57.
The night prayer of the Church quotes Proverbs 3:24-26:
When you lie down, you need not be afraid, when you rest, your sleep will be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden terror, of the ruin of the wicked when it comes; For the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from the snare.
Some people try to build their confidence with exercise or cosmetic surgery or by seeking out dare devil experiences such as skydiving. But the Scripture says "the Lord will be your confidence." Ultimately, we cannot be the source of our own confidence. We are too small and weak.
Monday, May 02, 2005Double Standard or Double Trauma?
One of the biggest lies perpetuated by secular feminism is that female promiscuity is a liberation from the shackles of male domination that provides a bracing equality for women. The Catholic tradition begs to differ vehemently. And, intuitively, many persons know the Catholic tradition is right--especially persons from more traditional cultures that have not suffered the sheer collapse in moral standards that has wiped out any intuitive sense of taboo in the United States and Western Europe. But how to articulate the intuitive certainty that the biggest victims of promiscuity are women themselves?
Philosopher Alice von Hildebrand does it quite well in a small but explosive book called The Privilege of Being a Woman (Sapienta Press, 2002) (108 pp. of text). It is common to hear the Western secularized woman defend her promiscuity by attacking the "double standard" that condemns only female promiscuity. Catholics would agree wholeheartedly that male promiscuity is just as sinful and debasing as female promiscuity. No disagreement there. But what is the sense of making the argument in the first place in order to defend female promiscuity? It is much like a drug user defending her drug use because her parents are alcoholics. It's a dead end argument that makes no sense and begs the fundamental question: is your promiscuity self-destructive or not?
Here the Catholic tradition says yes loud and clear. Instead of talking evasively about a double standard that no serious Catholic defends, let's talk about what is really going on today in the West and has been going since at least 1968: not a double standard, but a double trauma.
This double trauma means that the self-destructive effects of promiscuity fall more heavily on the female. We see this quite easily and tragically in the simple fact that only women have abortions, not males. Because the feminine is inherently maternal, killing the child is a tremendous psychological and even physical self-injury. No male, however promiscuous, experiences that. In addition, some women have actually lost their fertility due to sexually transmitted diseases or to harmful contraceptive devices. No male is going to lose his fertility by using contraception.
But even for the female who avoids abortion or an STD or loss of fertility, there is still a loss and a grievous loss at that: psychological self-desecration. And here is where Alice von Hildebrand is quite relevant. According to her, the fact that the sexual organs of the female body are "hidden" and "veiled"--in contrast to the male sexula organs--means that the female sexual organs partake of both "mystery and sacredness" (p. 83). Von Hildebrand sees in the very biological distinctiveness of the inherently maternal female body a unique sacredness not found in the male body--the sacredness of the womb. In a more prosaic way, I myself like to capture the sacredness of the womb by calling it the "nest of the child."
In the Catholic mentality, the womb is especially sacred because God became man in the womb of Mary--with no male participation, to boot. Von Hildebrand points out that just as the tabernacle in our churches is "veiled when the divine host is present," so each female is born with a literal physical "veil" that is a sign of virginity, that is the gate protecting the enclosed garden spoken of in the Old Testament book, the Song of Songs (pp. 82-83). And so von Hildebrand sees extramarital sex as creating a "metaphysical disharmony" in the very heart of a woman. These are her own words:
[T]he biological make-up of women indicates that their reproductive organs are stamped by sacredness and belong to God in a special sense. Hence, woman's mission is to be the guardian of purity. . . . When a particular mission is confided to some persons, and these persons fail to respond to its demands, it creates a greater metaphysical disharmony than when the same failure is to be found in someone who has not received this special calling.
Von Hildebrand, pp. 83-84 (original emphasis).
The sacredness of the womb also stems from the fact that in procreation God makes direct contact with the womb when He creates the soul of the new child. As von Hildebrand writes,
"[t]his implies a direct 'contact' between Him and the mother-to-be, a contact in which the father plays no role whatever" (p. 86). For von Hildebrand, this "divine 'touch' is once again a special female privilege that every pregnant woman should gratefully acknowledge" (p. 86).
Some will respond that the male body is also sacred. They are right. But there is a difference. If someone mutilates a Bible and also mutilates the Eucharist, both acts are grave sins of sacrilege because both the Bible and Eucharist are, in different ways, the sacred Word of God. But which desecration is worse? For Catholics, God is uniquely present in an incommensurable and supreme way in the Eucharist. Desecration of the greater is worse. Similarly, desecration of the uniquely maternal female body is worse.
And so, while no one seriously argues for a "double standard," there is indeed a "double trauma": extramarital sex is more traumatic for females than for males. A true feminist would find that quite interesting. And yet the trauma is not just for women, but for the Church and for society as a whole (p. 85). All of us should find that quite interesting.
Sunday, May 01, 20056th Sunday of Easter: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
All the readings focus on the Holy Spirit. If you take anything away from these readings, pray that you receive more and more, each day, the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Acts, we see the Sacrament of Confirmation in full play: the apostles lay hands on the baptized so that they "might receive the Holy Spirit." The early Church grew explosively because of the power of the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit will bring similar results today.
In 1 Peter, Peter points out that Christ our model was "[p]ut to death in the flesh" but "was brought to life in the Spirit." But Christ is far more than a mere model: in our baptism, we have actually died and risen with Christ (cp. Romans 6:1-4; Colossians 2:12). The power of the Holy Spirit manifested itself in the Resurrection of Christ. It should manifest itself again in our own lives because we have risen to new life--new life that will culminate in our own bodily resurrection at the end of the age.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus promises the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, rejected by the world. That is the Spirit that empowers us to observe Christ's commandments, an observance that is the best proof of our love for Christ. Without the Spirit, we are out of the truth. One writer noted that even the good that people accomplish is deceitful if the Spirit is not present. Much of the personal, social, and moral chaos around us can be explained by the absence of the Spirit. The world is blind to truth without the Spirit--a Spirit "whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him."