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, December 10, 2005Harmful "Catholic" Universities
Now there is a second major study, this time in Australia, supporting the view that secularized Catholic colleges and universities actually harm the faith of their students. No surprise here for my generation. But there is a very hopeful surprising hint at the end of the article that Pope Benedict may be planning to start declaring some of these secularized institutions no longer Catholic--the term applied is "evangelical pruning." Here is the link.
Friday, December 09, 2005Purity/Chastity Rings Becoming Popular
Here's a great and surprisingly unbiased story in yesterday's N.Y. Times on purity or chastity rings--rings worn by young people vowing to save their bodies for their future spouses. What a great way to witness to genuine love or agape: seeking the good and the best interest of the spouse you have not yet met, instead of acting as if one's future spouse does not matter and is irrelevant to the present. And when these lucky young people do meet that future spouse, they have already proven that they know the meaning of authentic love: seeking the good of the other. Here is the link. Today's post is short due to final exams, but this news story highlights how simple it is to give hope and dignity to people and to maximize the chances of future happiness and mental and emotional health. How much we have lost, how much we can gain. The ring is also a good Christmas gift-giving idea for parents, grandparents, and even older siblings to consider for teenagers in the family.
Thursday, December 08, 2005Bureaucratic Games in South Bend
Recently, I wrote, upon request from a friendly editor, an article on the "Notre Dame Queer Film Festival" held annually (apparently every February) at the revered South Bend institution (here is the link to the official festival website). The gist of my article was pointing out the abuse of the language involved in associating the phrase "Notre Dame/Our Lady" with something celebrating sodomy as love. Now either the phrase "Notre Dame" really does refer to the Virgin Mary and so we have unadulterated blasphemy; or that phrase's primary meaning, at least in South Bend, no longer is to refer to Mary but to whatever goes on at this particular American educational institution. Either way you slice it, the words "Notre Dame" are being grievously misused: the ancient title for Mary is either being abused blasphemously, or is being deceptively altered in meaning by changing its primary historical reference to Mary.
Now, as we speak, the university is planning and discussing the third annual "Notre Dame Queer Film Festival" for next spring. Under the new presidency of a Fr. Jenkins, the university is apparently trying to find a way to rein in the controversial public relations aspect of this third annual event. But from one recent local news report there appears to be no move afoot to just plain stop hosting the event on university property and to stop several university departments from sponsoring and organizing it (see link). This same news report indicates that an effort may be afoot to try to say that, although hosted at the university, although sponsored and organized by several of the unversity's academic departments, the film series or festival is not "sponsored by the university." Here is an excerpt from a local South Bend newspaper report:
Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D'Arcy sent a letter to the South Bend Tribune on Feb. 10 calling Notre Dame's willingness to host the event "an abuse of academic freedom."
The administration has countered this argument by explaining that the event is not University-sponsored but housed under specific academic departments. Last year, the Festival was sponsored by the FTT Department, the Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College (GALA ND/SMC), the English Department, the Anthropology Department, the History Department, the Counseling Center and the Gender Studies Program. Films were shown in the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts.
The Observer, 12/6/05, at this link (bold emphasis added).
Now forget about this particular university for a moment. What we see here, as a warning to all of us, is further absurd abuse of language in trying to have us believe that an event taking place on campus and organized by the departments and faculty of the unversity is somehow not "university-sponsored." That is a Machiavellian attempt at hoodwinking people. It is further deceptive abuse of language on top of the original outrage of associating a title of Mary with sodomy.
Let us see: are the football games not "university-sponsored" because organized by the Athletic Dept.? Are Masses not "university-sponsored" because scheduled by campus ministry or the department of residential life? Are diplomas for English majors not "university-sponsored" because certified by the faculty of the English Department? What does this university sponsor? Or does the "university" really exist? It seems to me that we see here an example of the disintegration of the concept of a university, especially a Catholic university, precisely because there is no unifiying and coherent vision of reality. It seems that this problem does not exist at Franciscan University in Steubenville or Ave Maria University in Florida. Those universities are not phantoms so hard to pin down.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005Michael Barone on GM's Problems
Because I plan to record a radio interview today with Catholic radio station WLCR AM 1040 in Louisville, Kentucky (host Paul Clemens), today's post is abbreviated. The show should run between 4 and 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
But, fortunately, this situation gives me the opportunity to bring to your attention, in lieu of my regular longer post, a column by Michael Barone, who is originally from the Detroit area, on GM's problems. Barone gives fascinating background on the socialist aspirations that motivated the UAW leadership during the heady days of the fifties and sixties. Here is the link.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005Jesus the Radical
As I wrap up a course on the Synoptic Gospels, I have read and reread the three gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, along with assorted commentaries and background readings. But, in the end, it is the canonical text of these Gospels that counts. The picture I get is of how radical Jesus was and of how much we have domesticated and coopted him.
In a Jewish world, where ties to one's biological family were considered sacred, Jesus pointed to a new family of followers that took priority: let the dead bury the dead; do not turn back once you put your hand on the plow; these are my relatives: those who do the will of God; if you do not "hate" mother or father or child, etc., you are not worthy of me. All of that means that the kingdom of God takes priority over everything and everyone else. Today, Jesus would be the subject of some website trying to expose his cultist brainwashing of someone's children, reminiscent of much the same treatment that Opus Dei gets.
As to possessions, don't worry about what you will eat or wear, seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be provided. Sell all that you have and follow me--although in the Gospels this demand is not made of all. How hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead of riches being the validation of an admirable life--again part of the older Jewish view, Jesus tells us that riches are highly dangerous to your life.
As to the cultivation of lust that has always bedeviled humans and which our current society has made into an obsession, do not even gaze on a woman with the intention to use her sexually. What God has put together in genuine marriage, let no one take apart. In a Jewish culture, where marriage and child-bearing were extremely revered, Jesus remained single until his death in his thirties. He even spoke of those who become eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven in which there would be no marriage or giving in marriage. The romantic myth of our modern Western culture is not enshrined or preserved in the new life to come.
As to power, those who seek power will end up being last. Those who seek glory or honor must serve others. God reveals himself to the lowly and humble, not to the proudly wise or learned. Many who call me "Lord, Lord" will not enter the kingdom. Do not be seeking the highest place in a banquet or greetings in the marketplace or wearing robes that mark your prestige. Those hooked on ambition without reference to the kingdom will lose their lives.
All of these ideas are highly disturbing to us now, even if we are Christians or Catholics. These sayings were quite shocking to Jesus' contemporaries. But, as to be expected, we have become quite adept in taming Jesus and making him a non-threatening, innocuous figure who always looks the other way and never judges. How comfortable that is because this coopting enables us to do with Him whatever we want to do with him. We go ahead with our careers and plans with Jesus waiting in the wings in case we need to manipulate others into stepping out of our way. Jesus then becomes an instrument to further our own agenda, not his. If we offend, then Jesus requires that you have to let us have our way--we don't need to make a radical change at all.
This false and safe Jesus that we have created out of the Gospels does not look anything like what the Gospels really tell us. The safe Jesus becomes the lubricant for all our pre-existing plans and agendas. That is why, I believe, St. Jerome told us that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. Every Christian needs to return regularly to the Gospels that amazingly and credibly preserve a Jesus that does not fit our human prejudices and agendas. How amazing it is that the early Church did not water down the radical figure in the Gospels. The integrity of the Gospels we have received is further proof that here was God in the flesh whom his disciples did not dare sugarcoat. No human would have made up such a figure who is so upsetting of so much that is convenient to us. In many ways, the Christian life is one of continuous wrestling with that authentic figure of the Gospels who still disturbs all of us today.
Monday, December 05, 2005Real Social Justice
The Sunday N.Y. Times had a wonderful column by lawyer and economist Ben Stein celebrating the life of his old friend and mentor economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman who became famous at the University of Chicago while teaching there from 1946 to 1976. Friedman celebrated the virtues of the free market and is now in his nineties. Yes, he celebrated the virtues of the free market--I still recall my father carrying a copy of Friedman's 1980 bestseller Free to Choose--but Friedman, in my view, is one of the leading proponents of social justice today. Why? Friedman back in the nineteen fifties was, I believe, the first to propose school vouchers as an alternative to the public education monopoly of public money. He is still, in his nineties, crusading for that long overdue social justice reform.
Many fancy themselves great proponents of social justice in our society. In my opinion, the two greatest social justice issues in American society today are ending legal abortion and making school vouchers available to as many parents as possible--in that order. Yet, many who pride themselves on oozing with social compassion for the poor and the weak refuse to attack legal abortion and turn up their noses at school vouchers. In this world, things are not as they appear; and rhetorical self-description is highly suspect.
In his column praising Friedman, Stein gives us a grand example of the deceptive character of our high-flown rhetoric:
In about 1965, the whole world was worshipping at the altar of John F. Kennedy's words, "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." Professor Friedman, in his writing, said that neither was a fitting question in a free society. People should be asking what they can do for themselves and their friends and communities, not how they can serve the state or what they could get as wards of the state.
Ben Stein, "On Milton Friedman's Birthday, We Get the Present: Him," N.Y. Times, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2005.
Personally, I never "took" to Kennedy's famous rhetoric from his inaugural speech. I could not quite put my finger on it, but the high-flown phrase, nay command, always seemed empty and vacuous to me: words in search of elusive content, the sort of thing you would expect a politician or an aggressive salesmen to say. Sounds good, but what does he really mean? What is he trying to get me to do? Do I want to do what he is ordering me to do? Is his agenda really the agenda I want? To me, the phrase always seemed more manipulative than enlightening. (By the way, the Ronald Reagan of 1961 also had a similar reaction; he referred pejoratively to Kennedy's rhetoric as "statism," in spite of its glamorous presentation.)
So when I read Friedman's analysis of the absurdity of the Kennedy rhetoric, I can say "Eureka!," like Archimedes of old. The state is not our focus and should not be our focus. Catholic social justice teaching points precisely to what Friedman pointed to: ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, our civic and cultural associations, our local schools and places of worship. I cannot give my love, affection, and loyalty to the abstract state. My country is not a state; my country, my patria, is the social web of friendship and affection that flourishes well beyond the state and, in many cases, in spite of the state and, nowadays, in great tension with the state. The state is, at its best, merely the framework for all of that to flourish. Our primary affection is not to the necessary and sometimes oppressive framework that is the state but to the content protected by the framework.
For too long, many of us have reflexively fallen for the vacuous rhetoric of those who, in seeking the levers of power over us, give encomiums to the state. For too long, the superficial and deceptive glamour first brought to American politics by Kennedy has clouded reality. That is why today it is still a shock to many that, if we want to look for the real crusaders for social justice, we need to look in some places we may have wrongly viewed as unlikely focuses of compassion. We need to look at those who are willing to address the leading social justice issues of our time: ending legal abortion and putting school vouchers in the hands of as many parents, especially inner city parents, as possible. Surprise of surprises: we do better in embracing social justice by looking to the education reform long proposed by the conservative Jewish economist from Chicago than to the rhetoric of the ostensibly Catholic pol from Boston. But, then again, the truth has a way of surprising us. It's a funny image: maybe the inner city poor should hang a picture of the balding and bespectacled Professor Friedman next to that of the tanned and well-coiffed glamour icon of the sixties!
Note: For the record, I am not aware of Friedman's position on abortion and disagree with Friedman's apparent proposal for drug legalization. But on school vouchers, I am with Friedman all the way. Here is a link to the Friedman Foundation website for the curious.