Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Saturday, May 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).