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, February 25, 2006Next Major Update: Monday, Feb. 27, 2006
Friday, February 24, 2006Orthodox Look to Rome
In a recent N.Y. Times article, a Russian Orthodox bishop attending a meeting of the World Council of Churches spoke out plainly and bluntly that liberal Protestantism had fallen off the edge of Christianity. He noted that the Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church were on the same side of the divide: the divide between liberal, believe-what-you-want Christianity and traditional Christianity. In other words, a divide between heresy and the real thing. Here are his comments:
"The gap between the traditional wing, represented mainly by Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church, and the liberal wing, represented by many Protestant churches, is only growing day by day," he said. "We," referring to the Orthodox and Roman Catholics, "are on the same side of the divide."
He added: "Traditional Christianity's very survival is in jeopardy. We have no right to delay this strategic alliance, because in 20 to 40 years it will be too late."
N.Y. Times, "Orthodox Ties to Catholics Seen as Vital," Feb. 21, 2006 (emphasis added).
In my personal opinion, as a matter of custom and courtesy, it is certainly fine to refer to Protestant houses of worship as "churches" in daily life. I personally consider such customary courtesy a living sign of the links arising from common history (all Protestant traditions were preceded by a common Catholic Church) and from a common Trinitarian Baptism. (In some cases, as in, say the British isles, the actual physical buildings called "churches" are actually medieval Catholic churches taken over during the Protestant Reformation.) But this daily usage in everyday life is not intended to make an exact theological statement but in effect is just shorthand for referring to a house of Christian prayer. In this daily usage, the term "church" is simply being used to mean the same thing as "meetinghouse." But, when speaking of denominations as a whole, in strictly theological terms, the better usage is to say "ecclesial community" rather than "church" because of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief in the Eucharist.
Language matters because precision in thinking and analysis can help us avoid entanglements that are just too compromising and confusing. To witness to the truth means that we wish to be as clear as possible. I hope the outspoken comments of the Russian Orthodox bishop are a harbinger of much greater clarity in the future.
Thursday, February 23, 2006Praying With Assurance
I found this quote in a venerable old Protestant devotional book:
"The prayer of the Pentecostal age was like a cheque to be paid in coin over the counter."
Sir R. Anderson, in Cowan, Streams in the Desert (1923) (Mar. 21st entry).
The reference to the "Pentecostal age" is apparently to the era of the Acts of the Apostles. The point of the quote is to beckon us to pray with assurance that God will answer our prayers: "praying with assurance that one has been accepted and heard, so that one becomes actually aware of receiving, by firmest anticipation and in advance of the event, the thing for which he asks" (Ibid.). The roots of this thought lie in this Gospel passage: "Therefore I [Jesus] tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24, English Standard Version).
The monetary metaphor about the "cheque" being paid in coin should not lead us astray. Neither I nor, I think, the quoted writer is talking about the strange, so-called "prosperity Gospel" that is popular in many Protestant circles in which there is an unseemly and unevangelical emphasis on materialism. The check metaphor is meant, like Jesus' own commercial metaphors in the parables, to bring home the message in a blunt, practical, and intuitively understandable way, namely, the message that God's promises are even better than the checks we rely on in our daily transactions. God's promises never bounce. Of course, being extremely limited and flawed in our perceptions and desires, we can never fully anticipate exactly what God will do. God is full of surprises, especially for creatures like ourselves who have great difficulty discerning his will and his ways.
In fact, the reality that God surprises us in answering our prayers should give us great comfort because we know that we ourselves are unfit to solve and resolve the many difficult circumstances that face us. In far too many cases, the difficult circumstances have arisen precisely because of our own obtuseness in the distant or recent past. The mature believer learns to look to God for guidance because the believer is aware that he has made a hash of his own life when God was blithely left out of the equation.
The Pentecostal age is not over. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to accompany us and to be our advocate for us down into the present age and beyond. Our prayer should be a "Pentecostal" prayer of firm assurance that God in his wisdom, which is beyond our full understanding and, thankfully, beyond our manipulation, delivers the greatest good for us and others, well beyond our own limited vision, with a certainty far greater than the certainty with which we act in our daily transactions.
Wednesday, February 22, 200615 New Cardinals
Sometimes a blogger does best by letting the big news of the day take center stage with little or no comment. Today is such a day, as Pope Benedict XVI named 15 new cardinals. The College of Cardinals is looking better every day! For Americans, the big news is that Boston Archbishop O'Malley will now be a cardinal, as is customary for Boston (is this a milestone in the scandals?). Others worth noting: John Paul the Great's right hand man (Archbishop Dziwisz) is on the list, as is Archbishop Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. For those interested in biblical studies, the Pope also elevated biblical scholar Albert Vanhoye, S.J., as one of the new cardinals over the age of 80. Here is the Vatican Information Service story:
VATICAN CITY, FEB 22, 2006 (VIS) - After the general audience today, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Benedict XVI announced the names of 15 prelates who will be created cardinals in a concistory due to be held on March 24.
Following the March 24 consistory, the first of his pontificate, the College of Cardinals will number 193 members of whom 120, under the age of 80, will be electors.
In announcing the names, the Holy Father affirmed that today's feast is "a particularly appropriate day" to announce the concistory because cardinals "have the duty to help and support Peter's Successor in carrying out the apostolic task entrusted to him in the service of the Church."
"The cardinals," Benedict XVI went on, "constitute a sort of Senate around the Pope upon which he relies in carrying out the duties associated with his ministry as 'permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion'."
The Holy Father also made it clear that with the new appointments he wished "to make up the number of 120 cardinal electors, as established by Pope Paul VI."
Given below is a list of the new cardinal electors:
- Archbishop William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- Archbishop Franc Rode C.M., prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
- Archbishop Agostino Vallini, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
- Archbishop Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino of Caracas, Venezuela.
- Archbishop Gaudencio B. Rosales of Manila, Philippines.
- Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, France.
- Archbishop Antonio Canizares Llovera of Toledo, Spain.
- Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, Korea.
- Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley O.F.M. Cap., of Boston, U.S.A.
- Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland.
- Archbishop Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy.
- Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun S.D.B. of Hong Kong, China
The Pope then announced that he had also decided to elevate to the dignity of cardinal "three prelates over the age of 80, in consideration of the service they have rendered to the Church with exemplary faithfulness and admirable dedication." They are:
- Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls.
- Archbishop Peter Poreku Dery, emeritus of Tamale, Ghana.
- Fr. Albert Vanhoye S.J., formerly rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
The new cardinals, said the Pope, "well reflect the universality of the Church. In fact, they come from various parts of the world and undertake different duties in the service of the People of God. I invite you to raise a special prayer to the Lord for them, that He may concede them the grace necessary to carry out their mission with generosity."
In closing, the Holy Father expressed his intention to preside at a concelebration with the new Cardinals on the day following the concistory, March 25 and Solemnity of the Annunciation. "For that occasion I will invite all members of the College of Cardinals, with whom I also intend to hold a meeting of reflection and prayer on March 23," the day prior to the consistory.
Update: Probably, the most significant name on the list is that of Bishop Zen of Hong Kong, China. According to this N.Y. Times link, Bishop Zen has been a stalward supporter of democracy in Hong Kong and in the rest of China and has been involved in efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China. There are apparently 10 million Catholics in China.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006More on Fr. Solanus Casey (1870-1957)
On May 28th of last year, I wrote on Capuchin Fr. Solanus Casey of Detroit who is credited by many with favors granted during his lifetime and after his death and bears the title "Venerable." Here is the link to that introductory article. What I am publishing today is an anecdote received recently from a reader. The story relates to a Capuchine confrere of Fr. Casey. I also recently received a blog comment from another reader testifying to the help of Fr. Casey in dealing with some learning and speech challenges as a student. Apparently, Fr. Casey is still "working." Here is the anecdote about Br. Ignatius, a colleague of Fr. Casey. It is an anecdote plain, simple, and direct, as was the ministry of Solanus Casey himself:
"Years back, Brother Ignatius, who worked side by side with Fr Solanus, was working 'on the desk.' This meant that he was the porter or the one who greeted you when you came to the monastery office. One day, Brother Ignatius Milne was on the desk and a man came and robbed the monks at gun point. Later he was caught and Brother had to go to the court as he was the only witness. Leaving the court, he was told to wait since he had a check coming. It was for twenty-five dollars for witness expenses.. As the Brother left the building, he thought, 'I have the vow of poverty and I am carrying this money.' He decided what he wanted to do. He went across the street to the jail and talked to the cop on the desk. He endorsed the check and left it in the prisoner's account. A long time later, Brother is again at the desk. He looks up to see a familar face...it was the man who had robbed the monks. He had come to apologize. He was ashamed that he had robbed the very people who were there to help the needy. As he talked to the Brother, he related something that he thought very unusual. He told the Brother that while in jail, someone, unknown to him, had come and left twenty-five dollars for him. Brother nodded, "I know....it was me." The man was so moved that he began to cry and could not say another word. He reached over and put his hand on the Brother's shoulder and turned and left. True story."
Monday, February 20, 2006Jane Austen's Emma
Having just finished reading what is called by some Jane Austen's masterpiece novel Emma, it's time to do some comparisons to our present state of relations between men and women. Austen (1775-1817) wrote Emma in the years 1814 and 1815, finishing it when she was thirty-nine years old. It was the last novel published before her death two years later. (For further background information, go to this link). The two main characters are Mr. Knightley and Miss Emma Woodhouse. Emma has vowed never to marry apparently because of the need to care for her widowed, hypochondriac father. Knightly is about 16 years older than Emma and has been a close, life-long family friend and personal friend to Emma. The two end up marrying after years in which Emma was singularly unconscious and unaware of her love for Knightley. Jealousy and discomfort over a female friend's interest in Knightley finally awaken Emma to the fact that she is indeed the one who must marry Knightley.
Several things strike a social observer in 2006 who reads Austen's masterpiece:
1. Knightley is a vision of masculinity that seems long gone. He is first of all a gentleman who is both considerate and generous without ostentation or show. The man knows restraint. One of the great scenes in the novel occurs when Knightley upbraids Emma for making a cutting remark in public about a garrulous, eccentric neighbor whose feelings are noticeably injured by the offhand remark. Knightley will not pander to Emma, but insists on correcting her when she is in the wrong. The second trait is that Knightley is given to speaking bluntly and decisively. He is clearly a man of principle who is a straightshooter. Emma knows and deeply appreciates this rectitude. Knightley exemplifies "honor" which is the principle and value that is shot through the social world of the novel. What vision of masculinity do we have today? Certainly, honor does not first come to mind. Let's be blunt, in the style of Knightley: the typical masculine ethos today is "Get What You Can Get" because someone else has already gotten it or will get it quite soon. The collapse of feminine chastity has left us with a Darwinian world of male-female social relations in which the rule is that he who exploits her quickest wins. It's quite ironic that the females in the novel seem equal to or superior to the males in the social respect they receive, while today the female is treated with tremendous indifference as just another one of the guys.
2. What can we say of Knightley's female counterpart, Emma? She is clearly less mature in both age and judgment compared to the older, paternalistic Knightley. But Knightley admires her thinking and there is a bond of fundamental empathy in thought and taste between them in spite of their differences in appraising various situations in the novel. To Emma's discredit, she is for most of the novel obnoxious in her social snobbery--she changes by the end and comes to judge people more by character than by social class. To her credit, she recognizes Knightley as the pattern of desirable male conduct. But what is most striking about Emma in comparison with female behavior that is common today is her sense of security and identity, obviously rooted in her comfortable and very fortunate social station. Yet, Austen has another female character who also displays a strong sense of dignity in spite of lacking the secure social base of Emma. That character is Jane Fairfax whose future course is to become a governess for some wealthy family before fate intervenes with an extremely desirable engagement and marriage. What strikes me about these two female characters is their own sense of dignity. These are not weak or appeasing women. They are strong-willed women who know their dignity and act accordingly.
What can we say about female manners today by comparison? In my experience, what seems quite common is the female who is desperate to entice and hold on to a male at all costs. The reserve, the strategic reluctance used to preserve dignity, respect, and one's value, the prudence and care that mark the best of the female characters in Austen is missing in too many cases today. Too many females today just hand themselves over to whomever is the latest one to ask. They have made a sacrilegious mockery of the Gospel saying "Seek and you shall find." Any male who seeks, usually finds; but what is found is too often not worth having to either party and so one or both parties go on to seek someone else, repeating the fruitless, irrational cycle.
In the end, it all comes down to honor: the honor of friends, of parents, of entire families that surrounds and penetrates the thinking of both males and females. There is a social consensus with clear expectations about honorable behavior. Honor is not vanity or arrogance. Honor is nothing more than respect for oneself and for all others. And respect is always considering the good of the other individual. But honor requires a moral code that defines honorable behavior with precise expectations for both males and females. When that moral code is rejected, we get the dishonorable, tawdry chaos that makes too many male-female relationships end in disillusionment and pain that is all too public and notorious today.