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, July 02, 2005Supreme Court Fall Battle Is Set
We pray and hope that President Bush will, true to form, not conform to the liberal mantra for a "mainstream conservative" nominee to replace Sandra O'Connor. The President has consistently thought outside the box of political correctness--in replacing the genocidal regime of Saddam Hussein, in refusing to approve the new destruction of embryos, in backing a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, and in signing the ban on partial birth abortion. Now is the time to continue that pattern and nominate a justice who will finally bury Roe v. Wade, which some have correctly called an "abomination" in constitutional law.
Contrary to what others like to say, Roe v. Wade is not settled law. The settled law prior to Roe v. Wade was that each state could determine its own position on abortion. Roe radically unsettled the law by imposing a uniform abortion-on-demand regime on the entire nation. In the end, empirically speaking, there is no such thing as "settled law" in our judicial system: judges change the law when they want to change it, as history has shown again and again. To those who repeat the mantra of "settled law," we can reply that it is time to return to the settled law prior to Roe v. Wade.
As the recent Supreme Court decisions on the display of the Ten Commandments show, there is no inherent logic or consistency to the outcomes of Supreme Court decisions: they are merely highly political decisions voted on by an exclusive committee. How else can you explain simultaneous rulings that a stone monument to the Ten Commandments is fine, but that framed copies hanging on a wall are not? Supreme Court decisions are politics by another name. And the outcome depends on the number of votes on your side. There are potential nominees out there ready to return to what was indeed settled law. I look forward to one of those persons becoming an additional vote on the side of life sometime this fall.
Friday, July 01, 2005The Overlooked Gift of Independence
As the lucky American-born son of refugees fleeing Communism who were welcomed to the United States, I am drawn to be explicit about my gratitude for this free country. The truth is that the United States has treated millions far better than their own native nations and governments have. You have heard it before, but it is true. In the U.S., we can reinvent ourselves and flourish.
And so you come to a country that, yes, does have its own class structure; yes, does have its snobs and pretentious people; yes, does have its elite and exclusive educational, social, and cultural institutions. And, yes, a country that like all countries has unfair advantages for some, assiduously cultivated by elite networking and inherited wealth. But, in spite of all of that, there is more. And that more is crucial, and that more is missing from many, many other nations. That more is opportunity to flourish apart from the privileged.
We tend to overlook what newcomers cannot take for granted. I recall my own immigrant father remarking how remarkable it was that a penniless but working immigrant could buy household appliances on easy credit terms to furnish his new family home. In spite of the privileged that indeed do exist in our country, the "unprivileged" have a real chance to make their own life apart from the privileged. The "unprivileged" newcomer has a real chance to be happy and be blithely oblivious of the privileged. Maybe, that is why the Marxist doctrine of class struggle never took hold on these shores. The privileged classes are not in our faces, so to speak. We can live full and happy lives independent of them and roll our eyes in indifference.
In the Europe that many of our ancestors came from, the local, arrogant gentry always had its boots firmly planted on the poor. The same is still true in many parts of Latin America. And, of course, Communist countries perfected the system of an elite keeping people oppressed under an iron boot. In America, you have real opportunity to get out from under that boot and breathe free, with dignity.
And so, in the end, what sets America apart for many newcomers is that those who were here much earlier and had or have a certain measure of privilege based on their earlier immigration here really do not matter. On Independence Day, we should be thankful that we can live independently--and with happy indifference--toward the avarice and arrogance of the privileged. Many other, much older countries are still waiting for that day of happy independence to arrive.
As Christians, we can see this American space for living in dignity apart from the oppression of the privileged as a legacy of the Gospel, the Gospel that pioneered communities in which the poor and the slave could flourish in the midst of the brutal, merciless, and highly stratified Roman Empire. Communities in which privileged converts stopped being oppressors and instead became brothers and sisters in Christ of the poor and the slave. That revolutionary evangelical seed surely is responsible for what we enjoy today in the United States.
Thursday, June 30, 2005"Gay Marriage": The Newspeak of Spanish & Canadian Socialism
Today's N.Y. Times trumpets the approval by the Spanish parliament of "gay marriage" legislation that is equalled in its breadth only by the Canadian version recently approved by the Canadian parliament. As a socialist himself, the writer George Orwell (1903-1950) is a good guide as to what Western democratic socialists are up to in their currently fashionable "gay marriage" project: to brainwash the population by changing the language. In his famous novel 1984, Orwell wrote of "Newspeak" as "the official language of [his fictional] Oceania . . . devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism" ("The Principles of Newspeak," Appendix, 1984 [Signet, 1950]).
In the novel, it is interesting that Orwell conceived of extramarital sex as a form of rebellion from the complete control and dehumanization of marriage and personal life by Big Brother. My own observation as a Christian is that a system, such as that of Big Brother, that dehumanizes sexuality in the first place leads inevitably to other equally deviant expressions of sexuality in reaction. The reactions are just as dehumanizing as the original totalitarian system; they are not a human solution. So, in Orwell's dystopia, it is no surprise that the main character finds a desperate solace in extramarital sex. It is much the same situation we face today where the depersonalization of sex in Western culture leads to more and more desperate sexual behavior as fruitless attempts at personal satisfaction.
But back to Newspeak. In describing the totalitarian, party language of Newspeak, Orwell noted that "words which had once borne a heretical meaning were sometimes retained for the sake of convenience, but only with the undesirable meaning purged out of them" (p. 304). That is exactly what these two Western parliaments and their judicial systems are doing: they are retaining the word "marriage" with the now heretically distinctive meaning of the exclusive union of male and female left out. "Marriage" is reduced to a mundane legal contract between anyone and anyone else, a pure instrument of mutual convenience without any fixed purpose whatever.
And, of course, the other word in the new compound term "gay marriage" underwent its transformation even earlier. According to Webster's, the term "gay," originally referring to being merry or in high spirits, began to mean "homosexual" on or about 1953--a scant four years after Orwell first published his most famous novel. The process thus began by which the positive connotations of an old and venerable word were transferred to something totally unrelated. Again, we see another principle of Newspeak at work: the use of "short clipped words of unmistakable meaning which could be uttered rapidly and which roused the minimum echoes in the speaker's mind" with minimum thought, reflection, or complexity (pp. 307-308). And so today the dictatorship of promiscuity in college campuses also gives us the term "hook up" to refer to the most intimate act between male and female, an act formerly reserved for authentic marriage.
So what are Christians and others--who are now the social rebels--to do? We must pass on to our children the old language, the "Oldspeak," that rejects sodomy as an expression of joy and reaffirms that marriage is when a man and a woman join together spiritually and physically to found a family precisely because they complement each other spiritually and physically as male and female. Pass on and proclaim the "Oldspeak." In the West, we are now the rebels and the "deviants."
Wednesday, June 29, 2005Summary Compendium of Catechism is a "Laser-Guided Missile"
At least, that is my initial and hopeful impression based on Zenit's sampling of some of the 598 questions in the new Compendium at this link. If you go to the Zenit link and read the sample questions and answers, you will see why the Compendium is like a precision "laser-guided missile": it is concise, instead of requiring the reader to go from paragraph to paragraph-- sometimes in different parts of the Catechism itself-- to get a clear idea of Church teaching on a particular issue.
The concise answers are more precise and give an authoritative summary in, what I detect as, the insightful style of former Cardinal Ratzinger. Take a close look at the question and answer on the meaning of the phrase "no salvation outside the Church." The concise answer captures the truth in such a way that even a graduate theology student can appreciate. As a result, the truth is well served by the compendium. That is bad news for moral relativists and secularists. That is also bad news for the heterodox "Catholic Lite" crowd whose power to cause confusion and spread misinformation will be significantly diminished by empowering the Catholic faithful with this new, populist avenue to learn the truth.
My hope is that the Compendium will be assigned to seminary students, both those on track for ordination and for those planning to engage in lay ministry. My hope is that the Compendium will be used in religious education classes for young people. Those who prepared the Compendium have even expressed the hope that the text lend itself to appropriate memorization as a means of catechesis. In fact, I think every bishop and pastor should plan to hand a copy of the Compendium to every person that is confirmed. Even better, priests should present a copies to parents and godparents at every baptism.
The Compendium is about truth, the truth that sets us free and gives us peace. We should never underestimate the innate human attraction to truth; that attraction is a form of love no less passionate or "erotic" than the marital love of male and female. In fact, I would argue that the love of truth is even more passionate because the truth is the only thing that can ever fully and permanently satisfy our deepest human yearnings. Many young people who were ready and willing to respond to the truth were denied the chance to do so by misguided and gravely deficient religious educators, both inside and outside the home. Now we have the chance to make sure that young people have the chance, as is their right, to make a truly informed decision about Catholicism and not miss out on the recipe for authentic happiness and self-fulfillment.
Let us, therefore, eagerly await the English translation of the new Compendium and let us note how truly fitting it is that Pope Benedict, who supervised as cardinal the preparation of the Compendium, is the man chosen by God to promulgate it.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005Summary Compendium of Catechism Presented
The following is a reprint from today's Vatican Information Service bulletin:
COMPENDIUM OF CATECHISM OF CATHOLIC CHURCH PRESENTED
VATICAN CITY, JUN 28, 2005 (VIS) - The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was presented today. It was prepared by a special commission of cardinals presided by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was at the time prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The need for such a book emerged during the 2002 International Catechetical Congress, called to commemorate ten years since the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A suggestion was put to the Holy Father John Paul II that a compendium be prepared in order to meet two essential objectives: concision and focus on essentials.
John Paul II accepted the proposal and a year later instituted a special commission of cardinals who began work on the compendium. A first draft was sent to cardinals and presidents of episcopal conferences all over the world. Following the largely positive response to the draft, the commission proceeded to revise it taking into account the suggestions received.
The text being presented today has 205 pages containing 598 questions and answers, 15 images, an appendix (of the main Christian prayers and certain formulae of Catholic doctrine) and an alphabetical index.
Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B., secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained that the principal characteristics of the compendium are "its strict reliance on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, its text in the form of a dialogue, and its use of images for catechesis." He underlined the fact that this "is not an autonomous work and in no way aims to substitute the Catechism of the Catholic Church, on the contrary it constantly refers back to the Catechism, both by indicating reference numbers and by referring continuously to the structure, development and contents" of the Catechism. The new work, moreover, "aims to awaken a renewed interest and enthusiasm for the Catechism, which ... remains the basic text for ecclesial catechesis today."
The compendium is divided into four parts, corresponding to the fundamental laws of the life of Christ. The first part, "Profession of Faith," provides a brief summary of the "lex credendi," in other words, the faith professed by the Catholic Church on the basis of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, "the constant proclamation of which in Christian assemblies keeps the principal truths of the faith alive in memory."
The second part, "Celebration of the Christian Mystery," presents the essential elements of the "lex celebrandi," because "the announcement of the Gospel finds its authentic response in sacramental life, in which the faithful experience ... the salvific power of the Paschal mystery."
"Life in Christ" is the title of the third part of the compendium, dedicated to the "'lex vivendi,' through which the baptized manifest their commitment to the faith they have professed and celebrated, through their actions and ethical choices."
The final section, "Christian Prayer," summarizes the "lex orandi," the life of prayer. The Christian is called to a dialogue with God in prayer, one expression of which is the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus Himself taught us.
Referring to the fact that the text of the compendium takes the form of a dialogue, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted how this "makes the text notable shorter, reducing it to what is essential. This may help the reader to grasp the contents and possibly to memorize them as well."
In closing, Archbishop Amato explained the use of images in the book, inviting catechists to make use of the rich heritage of Christian iconography. "In the current culture of images," he observed, "a sacred image can express much more than words. ... It certainly has an aesthetic value, but above all its value is recollective (recalling the mysteries of salvation), catechetical (for teaching and instruction), and theological, because it presents in artistic form the facts and the various aspects of the doctrine of the faith."
Beatification of John Paul the Great with Web Address
The following is a reprint from today's Vatican Information Service bulletin:
CAUSE OF BEATIFICATION OF JOHN PAUL II OPENS
VATICAN CITY, JUN 28, 2005 (VIS) - This afternoon, eve of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, in the St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome, the opening session will be held of the diocesan investigation into the life, virtues and fame of saintliness of Servant of God John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla).
On May 13, in the course of a meeting with the Roman clergy held in the same basilica, Benedict XVI announced the opening of the cause, waiving the normal waiting period of five years after the death of a Servant of God.
The diocesan tribunal of Rome is responsible for the first phase of the process (an analysis of the life and writings of the Servant of God, and the hearing of witnesses). If a positive verdict is forthcoming, the case will pass to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints where, following a fresh examination of the material, extraordinary favors that may be miracles will be studied with the help of doctors and experts. Following the certification of a miracle, the Pope could order beatification.
The official Internet site for the cause of beatification of John Paul II is: www.JohnPaulIIBeatification.org . The postulator of the cause, Msgr. Slawomir Oder, explains that the site will soon "offer a space for giving testimony of grace received, ... personal encounters with John Paul II, and prayer meetings throughout the world in support of the cause of beatification."
The site also contains, in various languages, the prayer approved by the vicariate of Rome to implore the intercession of Servant of God John Paul II.
"O Blessed Trinity. We thank You for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care, the glory of the cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him. Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you. Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore, hoping that he will soon be numbered among your saints. Amen."
The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI
That is the subtitle of Dr. Robert Moynihan's brand new book entitled Let God's Light Shine Forth (Doubleday, 2005; 197 pp.). The book, like Gaul, is divided into three parts: a fascinating overview of the vision of the new Pope based on interviews and personal contact with the new Pope; an anthology on diverse topics with snippets of the thoughts of the new Pope; and finally a reprinting of the new Pope's eloquent first messages and homily from that extraordinary month of April 2005.
The author is a highly qualified Vaticanista or Vatican specialist who runs the monthly magazine Inside the Vatican from Rome. He is obviously sympathetic to the views of the former cardinal and new Pope which shows in the book and in the fact that Moynihan has interviewed Benedict "more than twenty times," according to the dust jacket. And, by the way, Moynihan has a Yale Ph.D. in medieval studies. From all indications, Moynihan is not an outsider, is not a thinly educated journalist, and, most important of all, takes the Church seriously as a divine institution that transcends political, economic, or sociological analysis. In other words, unlike many other pretenders, Moynihan has the qualities of a reliable observer of Church matters.
The book is a good introduction to the new Pope for those who do not have the time to start wading through his long list of past publications. What themes should the reader look for in reading? One major theme is liturgy. The book shows that the new Pope is serious about the restoration of the role of Latin, along with the vernacular, in the liturgy of the Latin rite (see the Catholic Analysis post for June 27th). In addition, the new Pope believes "that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in large part on the collapse of the liturgy" (p. 28). You can see the basis for this view in the fact that Benedict considers the worship of God the most important activity for mankind (p. 64) and even considers liturgy "the great theme of the Scriptures" (p. 34). In fact, he advocates a "liturgical-ecclesial reading of Scripture" (p. 34).
And speaking of biblical interpretation or exegesis, Moynihan quotes some great and wise lines from the new Pope on the reductionist scholarly search for the historical Jesus that supposedly is hidden somewhere in our Scriptures:
[T]his "historical Jesus" is an artifact, the image of his authors rather than the image of the living God. The Christ of faith is not a myth; the so-called historical Jesus is a mythological figure, self-invented by various interpreters.
Ratzinger, at p. 91.
In addition to the central theme of liturgy, I was struck by the repeated references to dignity both in Moynihan's efforts to help us understand the Pope and in the Pope's own words. Here are some of these references. The role of the family as understood by the Pope is, in Moynihan's words, to inculcate in the child "the sense of his dignity and uniqueness--a chief task of all parents, brothers and sisters" (p. 7).
What a startlingly different conception of the family's purpose from what we unfortunately see so often: indifference to sexually provocative dress, indifference to premarital sex, indifference to sexual cohabitation. To instill a sense of dignity and uniqueness is to instill the great and essential virtue of chastity. Loving parents and siblings do not stand by, with folded arms, while family members, especially highly vulnerable females, prostitute themselves. Instead, a truly loving family takes a strong and assertive stand and witness, regardless of the outcome, for the dignity and uniqueness of those entrusted to them by God-- even after children pass the age of 18.
Another reference to the true basis of human dignity is evident when the Pope reflects on his own father:
My father, even if he had little formal education, was a person who, intellectually speaking, was absolutely superior, of great superiority even in comparison with academics. He had his convictions, which he deepened through study, of course.
Ratzinger, p. 12.
Many of us have met such persons, whether in or out of our own families. Our dignity does not come from formal academic training, honors, or degrees. Many of us have met highly immoral persons with all of these achievements on proud display. Dignity comes from superior convictions.
Dignity is also one of the bases for the Pope's opposition to the now common method of in vitro fertilization: "Such fertilization is in itself illicit and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and of the conjugal union, even when everything is done to avoid the death of the human embryo" (Ratzinger, p. 59; emphasis added). The Pope also finds that seeking to "create human beings has turned man into a kind of merchandise" that results in "profoundly debasing human dignity" (p. 106; see also p. 143).
Dignity (in Latin, dignitas meaning "worth" or "worthiness") is a key concept in the Christian tradition that emanates directly from the facts of creation in God's image, the Incarnation, and the bodily Resurrection of Christ. Specifically feminine dignity in the Christian tradition also arises from the fact of Mary's role in the Incarnation, her immaculate conception, and her assumption into heaven. Christian revelation is "shot through" with our worth, our dignity. What much of Western secularism offers, instead, is a despairing and panicked egotism that insults our own worth and that of others.
In contrast, the vision of Benedict XVI calls us to defend our own worth and that of those around us. That concern with dignity and worth is also central to what we have noted above concerning liturgy: liturgy must reflect the worth of God who is perfect beauty, truth, and goodness. And so it is not surprising that shoddy liturgy has gone hand in hand with shoddy morals--for our own worth is ultimately derived from the worth we ascribe to God. If we play loosely with God, we will play loosely with ourselves and with others.
Monday, June 27, 2005A Latin Revival?
Dr. Robert Moynihan of the magazine Inside the Vatican has written an absorbing little book on our new Pope, just published by Doubleday called The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI: Let God's Light Shine Forth. The first part of the book consists of an overview of the life and views of the former Cardinal Ratzinger. Moynihan bases his work, in part, on various conversations he has had over the years with Ratzinger. Moynihan was obviously chosen to author this book because of his longstanding personal contact with former Cardinal Ratzinger.
At one point, Moynihan quotes the former cardinal on Latin as a liturgical language:
He [Ratzinger] insisted that the Council statements allowed "the vernacular, as is right, but the Council also said that the primary language of the liturgy is and will always be Latin." . . . . [He also] believes that along with the new, the old Latin liturgy "must always be protected."
Moynihan, pp. 70-71 (quoting Ratzinger).
As usual, Ratzinger put his finger exactly on the problem created in the aftermath of Vatican II--a problem in direct contradiction with the text of Vatican II and a 1974 directive under Paul VI mandating a minimum repertoire of Latin Gregorian chant in the modern liturgy ("Letter to Bishops on the Minimum Repertoire of Plain Chant, " April 14, 1974):
[E]ven from a purely sociological point of view, if a society regards something that a short time ago was the thing that was most holy, and most essential, and most to be venerated in this society, if from one day to another this venerated thing is prohibited, and comes to be considered the thing most to avoid and most to exclude: this is the self-destruction of the society!
Ratzinger, quoted in Moynihan, pp. 70-71.
I expect some changes in the not too distant future.