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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Friday, September 23, 2005Next Major Update: Mon., Sept. 26, 2005
A Conservative/Catholic Vision of Social Justice
That is what Republican Senator Rick Santorum and a conservative British politician have in effect outlined in a joint article at OpinionJournal.com. They seek a "new vision of social justice," a "social justice conservatism" that "can produce societies more humane than anything liberalism could accomplish." This article fits in well with several recent posts on this site seeking to explain the social teachings of the Church. In their joint opinion piece, the authors emphasize building up the "little platoons" of society--families, neighborhood associations, and other civic groups--consistent with Catholic social teaching. It is time to liberate the idea and phrase "social justice" from the Babylonian Captivity of socialists and other leftists who offer more emotion and misguided recipes than realistic approaches to social problems.
Thursday, September 22, 2005Report on Homosexual Clergy Issue
The Associated Press is reporting that the Vatican plans to release a document in "coming weeks" that rejects the ordination of homosexuals as priests (here is the link). The story cites an anonymous source--therefore the report should be taken with a grain of salt. But the analysis offered for banning the ordination of homosexuals makes sense: it is just too risky. The scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in the U.S. have clearly been homosexual scandals, although there is a strange attempt by some to deny the obviously homosexual nature of the overwhelming majority of the molestations that took place. In my view, this strange denial is the same denial that led to these horrible acts occurring in the first place. As for me, I favor banning the ordination of homosexuals as a matter of prudence. I have listened to arguments on the other side of this particular issue and respect them, but I still beg to differ. There are many other ministries available for chaste homosexuals that are far less risky to all involved, including homosexuals themselves. The outcry will be that such a move will worsen the shortage of vocations. I disagree. I predict that there will be more vocations as the image of the priesthood as a homosexual enclave dissipates and is thus rehabilitated. The rehabilitated image of the priesthood will make heterosexuals feel more comfortable about entering seminaries. And everyone will have more confidence in the priesthood; there will be a renewed respect for priests and seminarians. For me, the bottom line is that the risk of harm is too great to allow the current approach to stay in place.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005The Grace of Writing
I received an e-mail the other day from an editor of a new Catholic literary journal for young Catholic writers. The journal is called Dappled Things and is planning its first issue for December 2005. The deadline for current submissions is October 15th. You can get more details about manuscript submission at the journal's attractive website by clicking this link. I encourage eligible writers and aspiring writers to take a look.
The e-mail announcement of the new journal prompts me to wonder why so many of us like to write. I recently saw a quote by the late Catholic novelist Graham Greene. Here are Greene's words: "Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint . . . can manage to escape the madness which is inherent in the human situation." I don't know about composing or painting, but I can say something about writing.
For me and I think for many others, writing is not so much an escape from reality as a way into reality. In writing, we order the jumble of thoughts and desires inside of us--I am excluding those who practice the "stream of consciousness" form of writing which seems to me more akin to painting or composing. The act of writing brings order and logic which reveals new depths to what we think. In the act of writing, value is added, something new emerges that was not present before the laptop was opened. That something new is insight and enlightenment.
For the secular, writing is therapeutic because it expresses and releases our feelings and desires. But for the Catholic or Christian it is much more. For the Catholic, writing is a way of praying, of listening to God. We try to order our thoughts, all along, asking the Holy Spirit to be our muse, as John Milton (1608-1674) did in the beginning of Paradise Lost. That invocation is why for many of us writing is a sort of sacrament with a small "s": we discover things we did not know before we began writing. Our writings are certainly not infallible; but if we invoke the only true Muse, we should expect some progress, however gradual and halting, in attaining wisdom for ourselves and others. So the new journal is a good thing. If done right, it will be a catalogue of "prayers"-- if the writers follow Milton's example. May the young writers of this new journal share Milton's ambition and his humble invocation of the Holy Spirit:
Sing heavenly muse, that on the secret top of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how heaven and earth
Rose out of chaos: Or if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly thou O spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou knowest; thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satest brooding on the vast abyss
And madest it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the height of this great argument
I may assert eternal providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Bk. I (added emphasis; dated 1658-1665).
Tuesday, September 20, 2005The Logic of Miracles
Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg wrote a very interesting book The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP, 1987), in which he indeed argues for the historical reliability of the gospels. On the issue of miracles, Blomberg again demonstrates that in this age of overwhelming information, data, and expert opinions, logic, simple logic, remains indispensable. Trial attorneys know this very well. Expert witnesses can overwhelm juries with jargon and credentials, but common sense and logic will test the opinions and assumptions of even the best credentialed expert. And many times the experts come woefully short in their logic.
Much the same can be seen in those who rule out the possibility of miracles when they approach the Gospels. But Blomberg shows how Christian apologists expose the illogic of those who bring an unexamined anti-supernaturalism to the table:
Most defenders of miracles today . . . do not deny the validity of the regularities of nature. Instead they deny that a miracle must be a violation of such ‘laws’. Despite all the marvelous advances of physics, no one has yet proved, if God as traditionally conceived by Jews and Christians exists, why he might not occasionally suspend or transcend the otherwise fixed regularities of nature. No physical principles need be violated if a new causal agent is introduced. Norman Geisler, a leading American Christian apologist, puts it this way: ‘belief in miracles does not destroy the integrity of scientific methodology, only its sovereignty. It says in effect that science does not have sovereign claim to explain all events as natural, but only those that are regular, repeatable, and/or predictable’. There is an important analogy here with human behaviour, since persons, even with their finite powers, by freely choosing to start or end various actions, regularly bring about new events which otherwise would not have occurred by natural forces alone. If persons can change the physical world, how much more ought God to be able to do so!
Blomberg, p. 75 (original emphasis).
The extended excerpt above is important because the common assumption is that scientific regularity excludes miracles. You see this same assumption in those who say that evolution excludes divine causality. To overturn these false assumptions, we must go back to the most fundamental foundation of genuine science: you must be humble enough never to go beyond the evidence. To rule out the possibility of miracles or the supernatural is to violate that fundamental postulate of scientific humility. So a true scientist who follows the evidence and only the evidence can affirm without hesitation that science does not exclude miracles.
Yet, even the term “miracle” can be problematic. As N.T. Wright points out, in English the word “miracle” has “overtones of invasion from another world, or from outer space” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God [Fortress Press, 1996], p. 188]. Wright points out that the words used in the Gospels for Jesus’ mighty works-- “paradoxa, things one would normally not expect; dunameis, displays of power or authority; terata or semeia, signs or portents [and] . . . . [t]he closest we come to ‘miracle’ . . . the single occurrence of thaumasia, ‘marvels’, in Matthew 21.15”—point to a very different worldview (Wright, p. 188; original emphasis). These biblical words show us a worldview indicating “that something has happened, within what we would call the ‘natural’ world, which is not what would have been anticipated, and which seems to provide evidence for the active presence of an authority, a power, at work, not invading the created order as an alien force, but rather enabling it to be more truly itself” (Wright, p. 188).
Wright’s description of the biblical worldview matches the point made by Blomberg that miracles or mighty works of Jesus point not so much to a violation or invasion of the natural order but to the action of a new causal agent. So next time someone starts spouting against miracles, try gently to clear the air by getting the term itself defined. Defining terms is the indispensable contribution of indispensable logic. Advocates know that. Juries appreciate it.
Monday, September 19, 2005Bush Doctrine II
After September 11th, the Bush Doctrine on foreign threats was born: we would no longer wait for terrorist threats to gather; we would go out and get the terrorists. And we did in Afghanistan, which has just completed another democratic election. We are doing the same in Iraq where U.S. forces are battling Bin Laden's terrorist forces. Better there than here. With Katrina, now comes the Bush Domestic Doctrine, the upshot of which is that instead of ignoring persistent inner city poverty, we will take action to help unleash the enterprising potential of the inner city poor.
There is now a potential for a major domestic revolution of sorts, just as there was a complete turnaround in the attitude of the U.S. toward terrorist threats from overseas. You will see the same liberal sniping and vituperation against the Bush domestic doctrine as you still see against the Bush overseas doctrine. But the truth is that major change is coming domestically as it has come in foreign affairs. This President is not a "presider"--he is a transformer. Events and crises have left him no choice.
The Democrats are at a loss. Destiny has given Bush the opportunity to transform both foreign and domestic policy in a major and radical way. In foreign affairs, appeasement will no longer be an option. In domestic affairs, the forgotten of the inner city will get a new chance to lift themselves up, instead of remaining indefinitely as a stagnant, hopeless Democratic voting bloc. Democrats, like the Clintons, know it and see it: history is giving Bush the chance to make transformations that will endure long after the Bush administration is over. History has favored Bush and has made the Democrats and the Clinton years irrelevant. Maybe that is why the headlines are now telling us that former President Clinton has decided to attack the Bush administration in his frustration. History favors the bold, and Bush is bold.