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, April 08, 2006Decaying Church, Vibrant Church
To me, that's the story of the Catholic Church in the United States. I will be the first to say that my analysis may very well be wrong and off-base, but here it is. This analysis is the way one person sees the current situation. If it makes sense to you, keep it in mind. If it doesn't, forget it.
The decaying part of the Church is exemplified by recent events at prestigious Notre Dame University: a failure of nerve that refuses, in certain signal and crucial moments, just to BE Catholic. Without reopening the tiresome South Bend follies, there are some performances and depictions that are so vulgar and contrary to Catholic sensibilities, to the instinct and intuition of faith, that they must be rejected out of hand without Hamlet-like vacillation and overanalysis. We see that lack of Catholic sensibility in many decaying parishes and Catholic institutions. My thesis, based on my own impressions and experiences, is that this decay is taking place in the most affluent portions of Catholicism in America: in the affluent suburbs with parishes that denude churches of traditional Catholic elements, in Catholic schools that are really just private schools for the rich, in other educational institutions where the Catholic and Christian instinct has been lost. Demographically, I see this decay primarily in the descendants of Catholic immigrants who have taken what I call the Kennedy route: become more American than Catholic.
The vibrant part of the Church I see is precisely in those new immigrants, Hispanic, Filipino, Vietnamese, who retain a Catholic sensibility as shown by their devotional practices. I see that part growing and growing and re-making the Catholic Church in America. In my view, this demographic shift will change the face of the Catholic Church in America. More and more, the influence of those from earlier waves of immigration who have lost the Catholic sensibility after becoming so Americanized will wither. In its place, I see new faces, names, and cultural traditions that will revive the Catholic Church in the U.S. In the meantime, we will see the ugly part of the change: institutions like Notre Dame that keep falling apart, explosive scandals in traditional Catholic strongholds like Boston, parishes closing, seminaries empty. At the same time, we will see a new springtime with different faces, cultures, skin colors, and surnames. In a way, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is really like two churches: a declining one much like the declining churches of Western Europe, and a rising one much like the growing churches and Christian communities of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. So do not weep for South Bend. Something better may be coming to replace those institutions whose time has, in my opinion, clearly passed.
Friday, April 07, 2006Cardinal Newman Society Rejects South Bend University's Embrace of the "Vulgar Monologues"
Here is the full statement (emphasis added) of the Cardinal Newman Society (here is the link), an organization dedicated to fighting the collapse of Catholic identity at historically Catholic colleges and universities:
April 5, 2005) - The Cardinal Newman Society is a national organization to renew and strengthen the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. We have led the national protests each year that have dramatically reduced the number of Catholic campus performances and readings of “The Vagina Monologues” from 32 in 2003 to 22 this year. (For details, see www.cardinalnewmansociety.org.)
In his address to faculty on January 23, Fr. Jenkins rightly described “The Vagina Monologues” as antithetical to the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. He said:
[I]n “The Vagina Monologues” discussion of female sexuality, and in the community and culture it strives to create, there is no hint of central elements of Catholic sexual morality. The work contains graphic descriptions of homosexual, extra-marital heterosexual, and auto-erotic experiences. There is even a depiction of the seduction of a sixteen year-old girl by an adult woman. The experiences are often portrayed as leading the characters to the sort of positive embrace of the woman's body, sexuality, and self that the narrator wants to encourage. Yet these portrayals stand apart from, and indeed in opposition to, the view that human sexuality finds its proper expression in the committed relationship of marriage between a man and a woman that is open to the gift of procreation. Moreover, the repeated performance of the play and the publicity surrounding it suggest that the university endorses certain themes in the play, or at least finds them compatible with its values. (emphasis added)
In today’s statement, Fr. Jenkins simply ignores the facts. He imposes no restrictions on future performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” while still acknowledging the need for some exception to limitless campus free speech: “The only exception I can imagine would come in the case of expression that is overt and insistent in its contempt for the values and sensibilities of this University, or of any of the diverse groups that form part of our community.” Inexplicably, Jenkins now argues, “This sort of expression is not at issue in the current debate, nor do I expect it to be an issue in the future.”
Without any explanation, Fr. Jenkins has either come to a radically different perspective on “The Vagina Monologues,” or he has simply abandoned Notre Dame’s Catholic mission. “The Vagina Monologues” and its author Eve Ensler exhibit obvious contempt for the Christian values that the University of Notre Dame once fearlessly embraced, only a few decades ago. With his inauguration speech and campus addresses in January, Fr. Jenkins gave Catholics around the world false hope that Notre Dame would come to the same appreciation for its Catholic identity that has prompted leading Catholic institutions like the Catholic University of America, Marquette University, Providence College and Seton Hall University to halt performances of “The Vagina Monologues” this year. Fr. Jenkins has now given Catholics around the world reason to believe that the University of Notre Dame, “Our Lady’s University,” will remain substandard as a Catholic institution for the foreseeable future.
Where did Fr. Jenkins go wrong? We believe that his original instincts about “The Vagina Monologues” were correct and sincere, but he fell into the trap that has paralyzed so many other Catholic colleges and universities in the United States—he has insisted on defining “The Vagina Monologues” and arguably everything else that occurs at Notre Dame within the context of “academic freedom.” This is a play, a piece of entertainment and one-sided advocacy. It is not an academic event; it does not in itself offer substantial information or reasoned argument that would contribute to a discussion of sexual morality or violence. The academic departments sponsoring the play have little or no sincere interest in the play in relation to their coursework; instead they have sponsored the play as a way of getting around a ban on university approval for a student-sponsored production. Banning this play would in no way inhibit free discussion of the topics the play purports to address. Rather, banning the play is a means of demonstrating genuine commitment to reasoned dialogue on important issues, without the vulgarity, obscenity, disrespect for human dignity and one-sided demagoguery that prevent true academic discourse.
We conclude by citing statements made this year by two other Catholic university presidents and Notre Dame’s bishop, whom Fr. Jenkins has pointedly snubbed today. By their words, these individuals demonstrate a dedication to Catholic identity in higher education that is lacking in Fr. Jenkins’ statement today. Together with faithful alumni of Notre Dame and Catholics worldwide, we will pray that Fr. Jenkins will be filled with the Holy Spirit and have a change of heart.
I find the play crude, ugly, vulgar and unworthy of staging or performing at CUA in any manner whatsoever. I believe that CUA, its excellent Drama department, and the cause of promoting the dignity of women deserve much better than this play and can find much better expression than this play presents. In addition to the affront and offense posed to Catholic teachings and values by some aspects of the play, it has become a symbol each year of the desire of some folks to push Catholic campuses over the edge of good and decent judgment. Sooner or later, someone has got to simply say ‘enough,’ I am saying ‘enough’ and I’ll take whatever criticism is hurled my way as a badge of honor for CUA, its mission, its values and all that it represents. I took this position last year, this year and I’ll take it again next year and every year I am here.
Very Rev. David O’Connell, CM
The “Vagina Monologues” is “not appropriate for a school with our mission. ...First, far from celebrating the complexity and mystery of female sexuality, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ simplifies and demystifies it by reducing it to the vagina. …Second, the description of the play as a ‘new bible’ is an indication that its depiction of female sexuality is meant to displace the traditional Biblical view that inspires the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.” Answering critics who claim such productions on Catholic campuses are protected by academic or artistic freedom: “But artistic freedom on a Catholic campus cannot mean the complete license to perform or display any work of art regardless of its intellectual or moral content. Any institution which sanctioned works of art that undermined its deepest values would be inauthentic, irresponsible and ultimately self-destructive.”
Rev. Brian Shanley, O.P.
Pope John Paul II, a longtime professor in a Catholic university, explains that freedom must always be linked to the truth and the common good. The same principles apply to artistic freedom. As a university professor, the future pope presented a series of lectures on human love and sexuality in which he reflected how artistic freedom must always be linked to the whole truth about human love and sexuality. …Let us all turn to Mary, the patroness of Notre Dame and of our diocese, asking her to help Father Jenkins and her university through this difficult and historic moment, towards the light that is Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” I regret the sponsorship of this play by Notre Dame again this year, and pray it will be the last time.
Most Rev. John D’Arcy
Concerning the 'V. Monologues'
Here is the fine statement by Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, rejecting the decision of the University of Notre Dame to continue with the notorious and vulgar play called the "V. Monologues" (I use the abbreviation "V" for the female anatomical part vulgarized by the play; in fact, a better name for the play would be the "Vulgar Monologues"). I reprint the statement in full because it hits the mark. Also, notice the very strong quoted remarks (in red below) of another Catholic college president on why he rejected the staging of this vulgar play that has no place in an academic setting, much less a Catholic academic setting. The following statement was made in February 2006, but the Bishop has directed interested Catholics to find there his reasons for rejecting the latest decision of the university to keep embracing the "Vulgar Monologues." The statement follows in full (here is the web link; emphasis added):
Bishop John M. D'Arcy regrets Notre Dame sponsorship
Once again, many Catholic universities and institutions of higher learning are allowing the presentation of something called “The Vagina Monologues.” Alas, our beloved Notre Dame is presenting it for the fifth successive year under the sponsorship of two academic departments.
The bishop is the teacher in his diocese and has the serious responsibility of bringing the light of the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of the church to bear on the moral issues of the time. This obligation takes on a special seriousness when the souls of the young are in danger of being drawn into a state of moral confusion.
Thursday, April 06, 2006"Notre Dame's President Allows 'Monologues' and Gay Films"
That's today's N.Y. Times headline. So, Fr. Jenkins, the university president, the much-touted great "Catholic hope" for the prestigious South Bend citadel, crumbles. But, let's backtrack a moment: isn't it already a major, major problem when a supposedly Catholic university needs to hope against all hope, in the first place, for a president to be the great "Catholic hope" for reform? In my opinion, this collapse in leadership means that this particular institution has no crediblity within the Catholic Church. We should give no more credibility to whatever emanates from this institution than we would give to any secular university--maybe less, since there is a strong dose of hypocrisy involved! Catholic parents, take note: there are many better places to send your tuition money.
Update: Here is the link to the statement of the Bishop of the diocese where South Bend is located. The Bishop rejects the decision of the university president and gives links to his previous statements explaining his problems with the university president's latest decision.
Another Gnostic Gospel
The N.Y. Times on-line has a report today on the discovery of another Gnostic gospel called the "Gospel of Judas" that is apparently a copy dating from about 300 A.D. of an earlier document possibly dating from the second century A.D. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a Church Father famous for writing against heresy, already referred to this heretical document on or about 180 A.D. So, from the first, let's get a few things straight as the media cycle gets into gear:
1. This so-called "gospel" is a heretical document so labelled by an early Church Father.
2. The document is post-New Testament. This means that the document uses and depends on the New Testament as a source and proceeds to distort it in fanciful ways as was and is the Gnostic custom. In no way, does this document provide an alternative, direct route to the historical events recorded in the New Testament.
3. The apparent blockbuster headline is that this heretical and Gnostic document claims that Jesus encouraged Judas Iscariot to betray him. As a scholar quoted in the N.Y. Times story states, it is already clear from the canonical Gospels that Jesus did not wish to block Judas Iscariot because Jesus was knowingly seeking to fulfill his mission to die for our sins. So for a Gnostic, apocryphal "gospel" to conjure up imagined dialogues in which Jesus supposedly encourages Judas' betrayal is much ado about nothing.
Having said all that, it is surely wonderful to discover more ancient documents that reveal the heresies and disputes among early Christians. These heresies and disputes are still going on today. We should take encouragement that even way back then heretics were a dime a dozen. Today's heretics will, of course, see what they want to see in this fanciful document. But that is nothing new. They already do it with the canonical Scriptures, as we know all too well.
Let's end this post with a quote from the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J., as he defined Gnosticism in his Catholic dictionary:
The theory of salvation by knowledge. Already in the first century of the Christian era there were Gnostics who claimed to know the mysteries of the universe. They were disciples of the various pantheistic sects that existed before Christ. The Gnostics borrowed what suited their purpose from the Gospels, wrote new gospels of their own, and in general proposed a dualistic system of belief. Matter was said to be hostile to spirit, and the universe was held to be a depravation of the Deity. Although extinct as an organized religion, Gnosticism is the invariable element in every major Christian heresy, by its denial of an objective revelation that was completed in the apostolic age and its disclaimer that Christ established in the Church a teaching authority to interpret decisively the meaning of the revealed word of God.
John Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary under "Gnosticism" (emphasis added).
That last line in Hardon's definition is crucial: Christ established the Catholic Church to interpret authoritatively the meaning of the Scriptures. Luther was famous for saying, "Here I stand. I can do no other." Well, we Catholics say we stand on the Church founded by Christ, not on our own opinions or imaginations. We refuse to be so foolish as to do otherwise.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006The "Brokeback Mountain" Subculture Breaks Out
Yesterday, I walked into Wal-Mart with my kids to buy the new Chronicles of Narnia DVD that finally was available (at a very good price at that!). But another very popular DVD came out at the same time: the infamous Brokeback Mountain DVD. In fact, the posters anticipating the release of the DVD's were face-to-face as you entered Wal-Mart in the last few days or weeks. It's amazing to see how Hollywood can make anything "normal" in American society. For those not familiar with the plot, here is what I gather from news reports concerning the gay cowboy movie (henceforth I will refer to it as "BBM" for Brokeback Mountain).
As I gather from the august N.Y. Times reporting, the BBM plot involves two homosexual cowboys who are also married to women and even have children. Let's cut to the jugular and tell it like it is. Hollywood is pushing the bisexuality line to the hilt: homosexual impulses, tendencies, and orientations are lurking everywhere; hence, this agenda maintains bisexuality is its natural and expected result and expression. The Hollywood line is that all of this is just human and normal, so get over it and accept it. The Hollywood elite admires itself as leading a modern-day gay civil rights struggle in which BBM plays the earlier role of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? For Hollywood, the gay agenda shares the same status as the black civil rights agenda of an earlier, more innocent era.
So, on the one hand, we have a reality check. The N.Y. Times recently reported (it was also picked up by one of the local Detroit papers and, I am sure, by countless other local papers throughout the country) about the phenomenon of "Brokeback Marriages" in which one of the spouses is homosexual. The news story recounted the anguish of women who discovered this fact, even after bearing children with their homosexual spouses. There is even a website, as I recall, for women facing these challenges. So, in one sense, here is a good result: women (most of the cases involve straight women with gay husbands) are opening their eyes and dealing with a situation that cannot be ignored. I am no canon law expert; but clearly homosexuality is so gravely contrary to the complementarity of marriage that, in my view, a declaration of nullity is in order. As I understand it from at least one priest I heard comment about this, such nullity cases are not rare in today's world. So the movie has opened an issue in a way that it never intended by puncturing the denial that may be keeping some spouses in an unnatural and even physically dangerous situation.
But, on the other hand, BBM has an even greater pernicious effect by advancing the agenda for bisexuality as normal and healthy. Here is the deeper evil: it's not just a matter of the gay agenda, but of the gay agenda in imperialistic mode. The gay characters in the movie are in the masculine, macho stereotype of cowboys. They are married and have children. The agenda is breathtaking in seeking to embed the gay identity everywhere and under every rock.
In the sixties and seventies, Hollywood succeeded, with the aid of widespread contraception, in making fornication "normal" for all, but especially for young women who would have previously feared the stigma of a "bad girl" who would have lost any chance for finding a husband. In the era when there was a social consensus that a young woman who engaged in premarital sex was by that very fact out of bounds as a marriage choice, it is no surprise that young woman were more chaste and that males insisted on chaste brides. Yet, today, fornication and what I call the "Lewinsky act" are considered badges of honor by many young and increasingly younger women. Interestingly, in an older (but not much older) generation, the "Lewinsky act" was considered a practice right out of the homosexual subculture. Yet, today, the "Lewinsky act" is taking place in school buses and school-age parties between girls and boys.
There is a parallel here with the BBM phenomenon: what was once the reality of a subculture now becomes the reality of the wider culture. In the sixties and seventies, the fornication of the subculture of "bad girls" and the signature "Lewinsky act" of the homosexual subculture became mainstream. Today, the bisexuality of BBM has broken into mainstream culture. The full consequences are not in yet. We may be in for a lot more surprises years hence as another disordered subculture becomes part of the general culture. We reaped social. psychological, and medical disasters from the first legitimization of previously stigmatized subcultures. We can expect the same, or worse, from this latest marketing of the disorders of another subculture to the general public.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006Fortitude & Losing One's Life
In the closing days of Lent (which, by the way, means "spring" in Old English--nothing particularly dark there), I want to return to a theme which I have treated before, just as all other Christians treat again and again: "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it" (Luke 17:33; cp. Mt 10:39; Mk 8:35; Jn 12:25). The last few posts have been inspired by the still relevant work of the great German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper (1904-97). This post takes inspiration from his comments on fortitude in his classic The Four Cardinal Virtues (1955), especially Chapter 4. By the way, Pieper was a married layman and father.
Pieper does not hesitate to bring together the insights of psychology, philosophy, and theology. Just as it is silly to try to see Pieper's hero, St. Thomas Aquinas, as somehow neatly divisible as a philosopher on the one hand and a theologian on the other hand, Pieper recognizes the silliness of ultimately artificial intellectual divisions in the human quest for wisdom. The quest for wisdom requires the resources of all of man's reason, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. That quest for wisdom also requires faith in the One who is Wisdom and his revelation. As John Paul the Great said: fides et ratio, faith and reason, always together, working together, seeking understanding. That is man's great dignity.
Pieper notes that, according to modern psychology, "the lack of courage to accept injury and the incapability of self-sacrifice belong to the deepest sources of psychic illness" (p. 134). How interesting that self-sacrifice comes most naturally, easily, and promptly to those who love. The Lover never hesitates to sacrifice. It is in his nature to find joy in sacrifice for the Beloved. So to preach sacrifice without love is to preach into a void: you will find no human echo in the hearts and minds of men and women. Pieper goes on: "All neuroses seem to have as a common symptom an egocentric anxiety, a tense and self-centered concern for security, the inability to 'let go'; in short, that kind of love for one's own life that leads straight to the loss of life" (p. 134). Think of it: when you have been most irritated by the obnoxious person, is it not when that person is in the very throes of that "egocentric anxiety," that "tense and self-centered concern for security"? It is easy to see it in those others that irritate us the most. But, of course, it also manifests itself in us at our worst moments.
In contrast, love engenders, through amazing grace, amazing fortitude:
The Christian who dares to take the leap into this darkness [what St. John of the Cross called the "dark night of the soul"] and relinquishes the hold of his anxiously grasping hand, totally abandoning himself to God's absolute control, thus realizes in a very strict sense the nature of fortitude; for the sake of love's perfection he walks straight up to dreadfulness; he is not afraid to lose his life for Life's sake; he is ready to be slain by the sight of the Lord ('No man beholdeth me and liveth"--Ex. 33, 20).
Pieper, p. 137 (emphasis added).
Notice how Pieper in one sentence draws together the insights of a mystical saint, of psychology, of moral philosophy, and of the Bible. The "dark night of the soul" is not just an inner, mystical experience. The "dark night of the soul" is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane--a scene we will hear about even more in the coming days. The "dark night of the soul" is the shock of evil and suffering in a world truly gone mad, a world which demonically dares to call the truth itself "mad," just as Jesus himself was called mad, even by members of his own family.
That is the story that explains every human life--if we dare to embrace the story. That is why Fr. Neuhaus was, of course right, in saying that the story of Jesus Christ is the grand story (or "meta-narrative") that ultimately contains all our individual human stories. Love of the God who is none other than the living truth, goodness, and beauty that we love engenders fortitude in those dark nights, so different in particular circumstances and yet, at the same time, so much the same for each of us. That fortitude arises when "man accepts insecurity . . . surrenders confidently to the governance of higher powers . . . 'risks' his immediate well-being . . . abandons the tense, egocentric hold of a timorous anxiety" (pp. 138-39). How different from the prescriptions of many of our self-help books and consultants: "the ego will become involved in even greater danger the more carefully one tries to protect it" (p. 135). The only explanation for fortitude as a virtue is love. Again, love makes sense of the life in which we find ourselves. It is no surprise, as our other great contemporary Pope, our current Pope Benedict, has reminded us: Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love").
Monday, April 03, 2006True Christian Humility
One of the most insidious distortions of Christian teaching has been the caricature of humility fostered by the enemies of the Church and even by some Christians themselves. That caricature sees Christian humility as "an attitude, on principle, of constant self-accusation, of disparagement of one's being and doing, of cringing inferiority feelings" (Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Harcourt Brace, 1965, at p. 189). And so Nietzsche would mock and disdain Christianity as destroying the vitality of the strong and the healthy and replacing it with a sickly cult of weakness. But we don't have to go to the mentally unstable Nietzsche to get some of the same reaction. Many people on the street simply look at Christianity as not having what it takes to make it in the so-called "real world." This reaction has always been common among men. It probably is common among women too in today's very different society in which women are in the thick of the working world.
But Josef Pieper (1904-1997), the great Thomist, brings the common sense of Thomas Aquinas to bear on this distortion of Christian humility by noting that humilty travels together with high-mindedness in the writings of St. Thomas:
High-minded is the man who feels the potentiality of greatness and prepares for it. . . . The high-minded man despises everything small-minded. . . . Fearless frankness is the hallmark of high-mindedness; nothing is further from it than to suppress truth from fear. Flattery and dissimulation are equally removed from the high-minded. The high-minded does not complain; for his heart is impervious to external evil. High-mindedness implies an unshakable firmness of hope, an actually challenging assurance, and the perfect peace of a fearless heart. The high-minded man bows neither to confusion of the soul, nor to any man, nor to fate--but to God alone.
Josef Pieper, p. 190.
That is the Christian image of the strong, sane, and healthy man or woman. Remember this when you start hearing the caricatures of Christian humility, whether in or out of church. For, as Pieper concludes, humility that is "too weak and too narrow to be able to bear the inner tension of cohabitation with high-mindedness is not true humility" (p. 190). (For more on Pieper, see this obituary of sorts from the April 1998 issue of First Things.)