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)
E-Mail Catholic Analysis: email@example.com
Academic Book Series: Point to Covers to See Titles
Links below do not necessarily imply blanket endorsement of their contents or sponsors.CrispAds Blog Ads
Google Custom Search
Catholic Analysis Google Search EngineBook Reviews
Saturday, February 11, 2006Not a "Doormat" Religion
For many, Christianity and the Gospel lack credibility because in a world full of evil, abusive, and sometimes just plain obnoxious persons, many view the Gospel as encouraging us to be "doormats"--people who will just get run over by the bullies that are everywhere, even within families and religious settings. Last night, I listened to a riveting talk by Sister Ann Shields of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the difficult topic of forgiveness. She is a wonderful and powerful speaker associated with Renewal Ministries. You can listen to her daily radio program at www.RenewalMinistries.net. Her radio broadcast schedule for your listening area is also available at the above link. Sister Ann is the superior of a religious order, the Servants of God's Love, and formerly taught at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
At the talk, she distributed a small pamphlet entitled Why Forgive?, which should also be available at the Renewal Ministries website. The pamphlet covers the same ground as the talk I heard. I will not repeat all her points, but I will offer something for those who reject the Gospel as the "doormat" prescription that merely encourages people to put up with abusive and bullying personalities. She pointed out how, in Matthew 18:15a, the Gospel tells us: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone" (RSV). Of course, this famous passage goes on to tell us in further detail how to resolve conflicts within the Christian community. But let me linger on the one verse quoted above: if you are sinned against, raise the issue! Don't just put up with it. Don't just ignore it. Don't just "accept" it. Rather, confront it, raise it, bring matters to a head. We do no one, least of all the offender, any favors if we just swallow our injury. Yet, many, including many Christians, seem to be under the misconception that we are indeed called to be "doormats."
Yes, treat others as you would like to be treated. If we are offending, don't we want others to bring it to our attention so that we can change our behavior? Some will say no because they don't want the confrontation or the discomfort. But the Christian way of approaching someone is not to be insulting or derogatory. There is indeed a gentle, diplomatic, compassionate but forceful way to correct. It is then up to us to reflect seriously and with humility on the validity of the correction and respond to it maturely. I say it again: we do no one a favor by looking the other way and enabling bad behavior. And no one does us a favor by ignoring our own bad behavior. That is not a "doormat" religion. The religion offered by the Gospel is one that requires boldness, courage, and frankness, not the dysfunctional denial that we feel most comfortable with in so many settings. So I would offer a new characterization of the old time religion that is quite different from the "doormat" stereotype: the Gospel prescribes loving assertiveness.
Friday, February 10, 2006Do the Headline Experiment Today
The Associated Press has a long article detailing how Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid was closely associated with now convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff whom Democrats have been using as a political issue against Republicans in Congress. The lobbyist's firm also raised funds for the Democratic Senate leader. Here is the AP link. The AP article was out yesterday. Today, if you go to the N.Y. Times or Washington Post online, there is no trace of this major story--at least that I could find. If any readers find the Reid story in either paper, please let me know. I certainly didn't see it today in the online frontpages of either paper (I just saw a micro-listing of AP headlines at the Washington Post site that mentioned Reid; Update: the N.Y. Times is now also listing the A.P. story in its National section, but still has not posted its own news report on Reid and Abramoff). Instead, I saw more of the same: beating the Katrina dead horse to somehow find that the White House was responsible for the ineptitude of the state and local governments of Louisiana, talking about Bush meeting with the same lobbyist Reid worked closely with, or a strange analysis of anxious conservatives when in fact we just had the greatest conservative victory in years with the successful confirmation of Justice Alito. Oh, and I almost forgot, more stories on the deadest of dead horses: intelligence data and leaks concerning the invasion of Iraq.
What can we make of this? More red-in-the-face hair-pulling and rage at obvious liberal bias? Let's try something different. Remember in your college days the student-run college newspaper whose sole purpose was to find anything, however trivial, with which to needle the college administration? Well, the same immaturity that confused spleen with news runs political coverage by the major newspapers. My gut instinct is that the major newspapers are chock full of the journalism-by-spleen, or better "journalism-is-spleen," types. Contrary to stereotypes, I think that the mainstream newspapers are more transparently biased than the best bloggers, many of whom have no journalism background.
But even more telling is that we can explain the coverage by the liberal newspapers by this simple theory: the stories are written to make liberals feel better. The stories are not written to portray reality--except when it comes to politically neutral events involving culture or travel--but rather to bolster the liberal world view. Yes, conservatives got Alito in, but the conservative movement is in "crisis." Yes, it's clear that the Democratic officials in Louisiana bungled the pre-hurricane evacuation, but we have to find a way to pin the blame on Bush. Yes, the Democratic Senate leader hypocritically leading the charge against allegedly corrupt Republicans was tight with the same convicted lobbyist, but let's just talk about the Republicans. So next time, you scan the headlines in the major liberal newspapers ask yourself this question: can I explain the mix of headlines by the theory of making liberals feel better? Try it, and see if this simple theory doesn't explain a lot of the political coverage.
Sunday, Feb. 12th Update: Today's Sunday N.Y. Times (print edition) made no mention of the Reid tie with convicted lobbyist Abramoff. As they say in the law, the fact-- in this case the silence-- speaks for itself. I guess such an article would cause too much dissonance in the liberal mind.
Thursday, February 09, 2006Gone With the Water: New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward
Today the N.Y. Times reports on a husband-wife team of photographers that chronicled the African-American experience in New Orleans' lower Ninth Ward which has been utterly destroyed by the great flood. Here is the link ("When the Lower Ninth Posed Proudly," by Deborah Sontag). The article sparks memories for me--obviously the relatively superficial memories of an outsider. But they are memories. In fact, I don't really recall ever spending much time in the lower part of the Ninth Ward. Because of the fear of crime, I never tarried long in the area. As a much younger, single person, I also did not pay much attention to boundaries, whether social, racial, or geographic. My memories could just as well be from nearby areas, such as the Seventh Ward or the Bywater neighborhood closer to the French Quarter. In any event, by the time I became an adult, all of these areas were primarily African-American and merged together in my memory and perception.
I recall distinctly realizing at one point as I looked over so many tightly squeezed, old, white frame, and extremely narrow homes that I was in a place more akin to Jamaica than the United States. I remember stopping by with youthful unabashadness, accompanied by my also white girlfriend, at a small black Baptist church to experience their worship service. I remember buying used tires from a rundown former gas station where tires sold in the single digits--I think I saw the same or very similar rundown tire business in the media in the aftermath of the hurricane doing a very brisk business. I even remember daring to buy a used refrigerator and lawn mower from a young man who ran a store in the area. I later had to get rid of the refrigerator because it was apparently infested with roaches. Life was real and raw here. It wasn't about manicured lawns to impress neighbors. Humble houses, hardworking people, social chaos, deep Gospel faith. And, yes, it was also dangerous. Murders and cruelty were frequent.
I do not seek to romanticize it at all. I think many of the inhabitants are far better off living in other parts of the United States than in the relatively Third World conditions of this formerly big part of New Orleans. But it did exist, as Pompeii existed. And, in the midst of all the problems, there was strong and genuine faith rooted in the Gospel, both written and sung. I am confident that same faith will carry the survivors far wherever they eventually choose to live. For the rest of us, appreciate and take note of what you experience as good, even in difficult and dangerous surroundings, because all of it is very fragile and transient. We learn that our peace is not in recapturing those long gone experiences but in the One who contains all the good that we sensed in those experiences.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006Caught In Between
As Christians and especially as Catholics, we are caught in between two powerful and destructive forces in the world. On the one hand there is the fanatical and radical Islam that is currently fueling riots throughout the world. This extreme and radical Islam justifies the killing of children as a political tactic, punishes those Moslems who convert to another religion, is hostile to the practice of other religions, and responds with violence to the least provocation. On the other hand, we have the corrupt forces of a globalized decadent Western culture of pornography and materialism passing itself off as entertainment and commercial advertising. Between these two destructive forces, the Christian witness stands alone as the sane, viable alternative. The authentic Christian witness joins faith and reason together, has a mature view of the relation between politics and religion, and seeks to protect the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. The most powerful version of this Christian witness is the Catholic witness which flows from the central teaching authority of the papacy missing from other Christian communities-- a papacy that again and again has gone against the grain of a decadent, morally chaotic West addicted to contraception, lust, death, and materialism. The papacy also reaffirms today in the face of the irrational violence of radical Islam and in the face of the Western desecration of human love and life the ancient Christian truth: Deus Caritas Est, God is Love. God does not want or will suicide bombs or riots or assassinations or blatant violations of freedom of religion. God does not want the deconstruction of marriage, the normalizing of self-destructive lusts, or the exploitation inherent in sex without marital commitment.
In a recent talk, I recall George Weigel talking about the choice the world faces: which of the current world views on offer is the best for mankind? It is becoming increasingly obvious, even in some cases to avowed atheists and agnostics, that the Christian and Catholic way is the world view that offers the most coherent and genuine humanism to the world, a Christian humanism that challenges us to be better and does not appeal to our worst instincts. The other choices are clearly giving a blank check to the evil that lurks in the hearts of mean. Look around for the sane alternative. Sooner or later, you will look to Rome for the combination of reason and faith that a world in turmoil needs.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006Opus Dei in the Mainstream Media
The N.Y. Times has a fascinating article today on Opus Dei, the Catholic organization for lay Catholics and priests, that became a personal prelature (meaning it has its own superintending bishop who answers directly to the Pope) in 1982 under John Paul the Great. Opus Dei was founded in Spain in 1928 by now St. Josemaría Escrivá who died in 1975 and was canonized in 2002, also under John Paul the Great.
Why all the attention? Opus Dei apparently has a major role in the anti-Christian book The Da Vinci Code. Much as the newly Protestant England of centuries ago saw the Jesuits as a nefarious and subversive force, so now the secular, anti-Catholic, anti-Christian West has found a perfect successor to the threatening Jesuits in the form of Opus Dei. Nature abhors a vacuum. The Jesuits are no longer threatening to wider Western society because, unfortunately, not a few Jesuits, at least in the United States, are more than ready to embrace and crusade for causes dear to the secular culture, including the gay agenda. And so enters Opus Dei as the successor to the role of a threatening and highly disciplined Catholic organization that was once held by the Jesuit order in another, very distant age.
It seems that the biggest "rap" that comes even close to being pinned on Opus Dei is that some of its members (and there are various categories of membership described in the linked article) regularly impose corporal punishment on themselves as a form of mortification and penance. Here is the N.Y. Times description, which seems fair to me based on what I have read elsewhere (I invite correction by readers):
In reality, numeraries [celibate members of Opus Dei who do not live independently] do wear a "cilice," a chain with points, under their pants for two hours a day. Once a week, they beat their backs with a small cord while reciting a prayer. Opus Dei says corporal mortification is an ancient Catholic practice that promotes penance and identification with the suffering of Christ.
Laurie Goodstein, "Catholic Group Says of 'Da Vinci Code' Film: It's Just Fiction," N.Y. Times, Feb. 7, 2005.
I will be straightforward. Such practices are not my cup of tea. But the truth is that if more of us had practiced as devout Catholics some form of mortification (not necessarily what is described in the article) in years gone by, many of us would have avoided making some very bad decisions with whose long-term consequences we have had to deal. But, in any event, we are all free men and women--you are free to join Opus Dei or not. You are free to join it and then leave it if you don't like it. And here comes the other "rap" on Opus Dei: the allegation that the organization forces members to break off contact with family members and the rest of the outside world. I do not know enough to judge what exactly is the merit, or lack thereof, of this contention. But one thing does seem plain to me: if you don't like the organization, leave it! I have yet to hear any allegation that Opus Dei puts its members under forcible house arrest or engages in false imprisonment. You are always free to leave.
What can those of us who are not associated with Opus Dei take from all of this controversy? I submit that we take a look at the writings of St. Josemaría Escrivá. You can find them in any good Catholic bookstore (but not likely the liberal variety of outlet) and, of course, online. He has a collection of three small books that catalogue his short sayings on various topics. They are called The Way, Furrow, and The Forge. They are published both separately or together in one volume. My one-volume copy is published by Scepter Publishers. In my experience, the sayings are worthwhile. They are not sugary and sweet like so much stereotypical religious writing. The sayings have all the vehemence, passion, blunt pragmatism, and zeal that are part of the Spanish character of Escrivá. In many ways, Escrivá is a modern analogue to the same passion, zeal, and practicality of that other Spaniard, the Basque Ignatius of Loyola (whose surname was really Lopez). Personally, I see Opus Dei as a successor to the old genuinely "Ignatian" Jesuit order of long ago. One analyst quoted in the N.Y. Times (an analyst who, by the way, does not have, in my opinion, a good track record as an analyst) seeks to minimize the impact of Opus Dei by saying that its approximately 85,000 adherents are a drop in the bucket compared to the huge size of the Catholic Church. What the analyst misses is that today the reputedly highly influential Jesuit order probably numbers less than 20,000 worldwide. The big difference is that the bulk of Opus Dei adherents are lay, not clerical. Maybe, that is the sign of the times that the quoted analyst again is blind to: that, in the wake of Vatican II, the new "Ignatian Jesuits" found in Opus Dei are primarily lay, while the exclusively clerical Jesuit order of today continues to lose its salt in fragmentation, especially in the U.S. (By the way, here is the link to the Opus Dei website, which also contains excerpts from the writings of St. Josemaría Escrivá.)
Monday, February 06, 2006God and Evolution
We are, as anyone who listens to the news knows, in the midst of a strong, emotional, and sometimes ugly and ad hominem debate on evolution versus intelligent design. The debate even takes place in some form or another within the Catholic Church. From what I have read and heard, plus my own common sense, it seems to me that the sensible Catholic position is that evolution as scientific explanation may very well be the best that natural science, at least for now, has to offer on the question of origins but certainly cannot rule out God or a universe created by an intelligent being with purpose and meaning. That position seems to be the gist of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church holds, namely, that the question of "the meaning of such an origin" is one that "goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences" (CCC, 284; emphasis added). The questions about meaning include these: "is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called 'God' ?" (CCC, 284). These questions are not answerable by natural science.
Then why all the fuss? The fuss is about the fact that within the natural science community some adamantly believe that the current theory of evolution is more ideology than natural science. That is a debate for the natural scientists to carry on and for us to peek into as highly interested spectators. And certainly no scientific establishment should fear any sort of debate or questioning, no matter how radical. After all, the glory of natural science is that anything goes when it comes to raising questions and doubts.
It seems that some of the natural scientists so angered by the very questioning of evolution have their own extra-scientific baggage tacked on to evolution--a baggage not required by evolutionary theory. Because of that ideological investment in a non-theistic or deistic universe, these scientists react with venom to their colleagues who dare to question evolution's status in natural science. It would be better for all if the defenders of evolution would act with the best virtue of natural science: an open mind allied with great tolerance.
Do we as Catholics have to get embroiled in this debate? As thinking Catholics, we should certainly follow the debate with great interest. After all, the debate is about human origins. But we should recognize that the most important question--the question of meaning--is extra-scientific, beyond the domain and competence of natural science. Evolution does not obligate anyone to abandon in any way the God who reveals himself in the Scriptures. In fact, some religious scientists point to the way an evolutionary view highlights things that are part of divine revelation. Here is an excerpt from an excellent article on the entire debate that appeared in Sunday's Washington Post:
Religious scientists and philosophers who believe Darwin is right on evolution are striving to reconcile the implications of evolution with their faith. Theologian John Haught argued that a loving God can be reconciled with the suffering inherent in evolution because divine love implies freedom, and freedom implies the possibility of suffering. John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge physicist and clergyman, wrote that the world's suffering is redeemed when God suffers along with creation: ". . . the Christian God is the Crucified God, not just a compassionate spectator of the travail of creation, but also truly 'a fellow sufferer who understands.'"
"Eden and Evolution," by Shankar Vedantam, in the Washington Post, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2006 (emphasis added).
How interesting that the suffering documented by evolutionary theory finds its answer in the Cross, in the God who suffers. Evolution poses no threat to divine revelation. What really poses the threat is the extra-scientific temptation of some scientists to play theologian and philosopher without admitting it. The bottom-line, at least for me, as I view this acrimonious debate between evolution and intelligent design is that under either scenario the coherence of the Christian revelation is not diminished. In fact, it seems that the savagery noted by Darwin himself in the processes of evolution draws our eyes and hearts more to the figure on the Cross. The other conclusion I reach is that it is about time that all scientists act like scientists and stop censoring and attacking colleagues with differing views. How ironic that some scientists are engaging in the same sort of persecution of new ideas that has been traditionally ascribed to religious fanatics.
Let me end with an excerpt from the writings of then Cardinal Ratzinger on the contention by some that we "are the product of haphazard mistakes":
What response shall we make to this view? It is the affair of the natural sciences to explain how the tree of life in particular continues to grow and how new branches shoot out from it. This is not a matter for faith. But we must have the audacity to say that the great projects of the living creation are not the products of chance and error. Nor are they the products of a selective process to which divine predicates can be attributed in illogical, unscientific, and even mythic fashion. The great projects of the living creation point to a creating Reason and show us a creating Intelligence, and they do so more luminously and radiantly today than every before. Thus we can say today with a new certitude and joyousness that the human being is indeed a divine project, which only the creating Intelligence was strong and great and audacious enough to conceive of. Human beings are not a mistake but something willed; they are the fruit of love.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 'In the Beginning . . .': A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 56-7.