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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Senator Santorum: Iran is the Central Enemy
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Saturday, July 22, 2006Senator Santorum: Iran is the Central Enemy
Here is the link at National Review online containing the National Press Club speech by Republican (and Catholic) Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. (By the way, Santorum is an authentic Catholic Senator who crusades for the Culture of Life, unlike the fake "Catholic" senators like Ted Kennedy.) The speech is lengthy but worth reading because he enlightens us about some basic realities. Here are some of those basic realities that the speech raises. I analyze them here:
1.) The traitorous and terrible actions of certain American media outlets in revealing details of the government's programs to fight terrorists. The most recent example is the N.Y. Times' revealing details of the government's program to monitor terrorist finances. The liberal media lives in a fantasy world in which the most threatening enemy, in their eyes, is the Bush administration with Vice-President Cheney as the leading villain. The Islamic terrorists must delight in having such deluded allies and lackeys so powerfully entrenched in the American media.
2.) We should stop being euphemistic and name the enemy concretely: Islamic fascists. Their intent is to impose by force their brand of Islam on all of us. My Spanish ancestors refused to submit centuries ago and pushed the Islamic fanatics out of the Iberian peninsula. Those are the same stakes today.
3.) It is deceptive to think that our enemy is just the shadowy terror network of Al Qaeda. The most dangerous enemy is Iran, a real sovereign state with a big army and plenty of weapons and plenty of cash to buy or make more dangerous weapons. Syria is also the other sovereign state at the center of the Axis of Evil that is our enemy. Along these two, you have other nations, with different ideologies, but united in their hatred of America: Venezuela highjacked by Chavez and supporting Castro and North Korea. What we must notice is that nations like Iran and Syria love to use terrorists groups to advance their goals because it means that you can attack the U.S. and Israel but avoid being attacked yourself. Iran and Syria like to throw the rock but hide the hand that threw the rock in order to avoid direct responsibility. This shadow game must be exposed. Funding and creating terror groups to attack your enemy is the same as a direct attack, and the consequences must be the same. That's why we can no longer think of warfare in traditional, outdated terms in which a just war arises only if one nation directly attacks another with its own troops. Today, a just war also arises when one nation uses terror groups to attack another. Our rhetoric about just war and international law must catch up to this reality. Otherwise, the aggressors can always count as allies those whose outdated rhetoric tries to tie the hands of the attacked nations. Outdated rhetoric about just war fails to recognize that failure to punish nations that sponsor terror attacks only serves to induce further attacks by these same nations. Iran and Syria are delighted to have found a way to wage war without suffering any retaliation. That convenient evil stratagem must be exposed and made defunct.
The new language of just war must take account of this terrorist strategy practiced by Iran and Syria. Only then will we see the big picture and finally win secure peace, not just a lull before the next terrorist outrage. Finally, let me give my own view of all the talk about "cease-fire" in the current Israeli attacks on Lebanon. Here is another instance where our language must become clearer and more concrete for the sake of logic and common sense. A real "cease-fire" is not just stopping airplanes and rockets. A real "cease-fire" means the cessation of all hostile acts of war. Kidnapping Israeli soldiers is a hostile act of war. Refusing to release them unconditionally is a continuing hostile act of war. A "cease-fire" without the unconditional release of those soldiers is a grand lie and deception. The terrorists, of course, desire such a limited and toothless "cease-fire" because it protects them, while exempting their terrorist kidnapping from the terms of the cease-fire. So all the talk about a cease-fire that falls short of having the terrorists give back the soldiers unconditionally just plays into the strategy of the terrorists. Again, the nonsensical bandying about of the term "cease-fire," like the outdated view of just war that is blind to the Iranian and Syrian strategy, plays right into the hands of the terrorist strategy. We must examine our language and words closely. If not, we fight in a fog that is the ally of our enemies. Hezbollah has made clear that it will never unconditionally release the soldiers. So it is Hezbollah alone who is rejecting the call for a real cease-fire or cessation of hostile acts. It takes two sides to make a real cease-fire: Hezbollah refuses to go along and should alone bear the blame for the events in Lebanon today. To focus on stopping Israel's actions is to aid, albeit unintentionally by some, the strategy of the terrorists who seek to create new facts and gains by terrorists acts that are exempt from any cease-fire.
Friday, July 21, 2006The Value of Less Talking, More Silence
I recently finished a great novel on the Spanish Civil War by the late Spanish writer Jose María Gironella. It's called The Cypresses Believe in God: Spain on the Eve of the Civil War and is published by Ignatius Press. The novel is lengthy but riveting in its description of the lives of families and friends in a small city in Catalonia in the five years just preceding the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. This month (July 17th to be exact) is the 70th anniversary of the beginning of that conflict. It's a conflict that is unforgettable in Spain. When I visited my ancestral village in northern Spain, I recall the list of casualties chiseled on the ancient stone wall of the parish church. At the top of the list of casualties was the name of the Spanish nationalist martyr Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera who was murdered in prison by the leftists as the war broke out. I recall seeing similar lists of casualties at other churches. I also remember one distant village relation telling me how he served in the "Movement." I finally figured out that the Movement referred to the nationalist uprising by Franco against the left-wing government in Madrid. He automatically assumed I would know what movement he was referring to in our conversations.
But, in the midst of the novel, there is solid spiritual advice good for all of us today. It's obvious that Gironella is Catholic. Here is the advice in the confessional that one of the priests in the novel gives the young man, a bank clerk, who is one of the main characters in the book:
I would advise you to do one thing that may seem to you irrelevant: a silence cure. Try it, and tell me how it works out. Manage to go a few days, a couple of weeks, talking as little as possible. Work silently at the bank, study in silence, and economize on words as much as possible. You will see the effects. Almost immediately you will feel a greater serenity. You will find that you pay attention and see things much more clearly. Words distract a great deal, you can't imagine. You come across men who, to hear them talk, you would say were enemies. And basically they are in agreement without knowing it. Others, on the contrary, talk, thinking that they understand one another, and basically, they continue poles apart.
Above all, remember this that I tell you: pay attention. Give your full attention to everything you do, everything you hear. You will discover new worlds. . . . There is no thing or person that cannot teach you something. The same thing is happening to you now that happens to most people: they don't fix their attention. We move like automatons. That is a mistake. There must be reflection. When you hear some new theory, don't say: False! Think that there are thousands who have thought about it before you. But, at the same time, don't say: the Gospel! There is only one gospel: love God and your neighbor.
If you pay attention--and don't think that all these theories are mine--they are St. Augustine's--you will without fail discover something very important: harmony. You will realize that there is harmony in everything, that everything forms part of a harmonious whole. Those very events that at first sight seem startling, you will come to understand as logical, as contributing to something harmonious and great. You will find harmony in the smallest details. This will assist you in no end in ordering your daily life. Your spirit will feel itself strengthened by forming part of that harmonious whole.
Gironella, pp. 415-16 (emphasis added).
I quote at length because the words are all worth quoting and because I aim to persuade you to read the novel. You don't have to go to a Zen master to get these insights: they are already there in our Catholic tradition. In addition, unlike the Zen master, the Catholic tradition offers you priceless contact with the living reality that created you and that sustains you in existence moment by moment: the transcendent God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus. We live in an age of empty chatter, of cell phones that mercilessly track us down like Martha Stewart with a court-ordered monitoring device around her ankles. Let us be rebels for more silence, more serenity, more focus, and thereby reap more peace. Instead of telling others to shut up, let us shut up more ourselves. We will be happier.
Today's Middle East Quote: The Instigators
The N.Y. Times quotes today the Lebanese minister of social affairs, Nayla Moawad, who hits the nail on the head. Maybe, she should be the U.N. Secretary-General. Here are her remarks:
Ms. Moawad blamed Syria for setting off the crisis, saying that she wasN.Y. Times, July 21, 2006 (emphasis added).
Thursday, July 20, 2006Running Out of Indulgence
Columnist Victor Hanson, in my opinion, gets it right concerning the refusal of Israel's enemies to negotiate seriously precisely because they simply wish to annihilate Israel. Hanson points out that such rejection of negotiation means that a conventional war against states like Syria and Iran that support terrorists may end up being the default outcome. Here is the link to his article. The West is running out of patience. Or better said, not out of patience, but out of indulgence. Yes, Christians are called to patience; but no Christian is called to indulging the destructive and the irrational.
And speaking of running out of indulgence, what is an American to make of a recent anti-Israel demonstration in Dearborn, Michigan, in which the demonstrators cheered when someone raised the portrait of the terrorist leader of Hezbollah? Hezbollah recently declared its intention to attack the U.S. all over the world. That includes here within the United States. The FBI is apparently now working to track down Hezbollah sleeper cells inside the United States. I cannot be the only American who had this thought cross his mind: shouldn't we deport and/or legally prosecute people who cheer publicly on American soil those who have explicitly announced their plan to attack us? I also got a second thought: how many of those demonstrating or even those staying at home are privately cheering Hezbollah, the enemy of the United States? How many privately cheered September 11th? These are hard questions. Let us be patient, but never indulgent. Being indulgent does not benefit anyone, not even, and especially, those exploiting our indulgence.
Today's Verses from Hebrews
Most today do not believe that the Letter to the Hebrews was written by St. Paul, even though in the East Paul's authorship was accepted. One prestigious reference source notes that "Hebrews has consistently been attributed to Paul since antiquity" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible s.v. "Hebrews, Epistle to the"). This source says that the "internal evidence of the book precludes" Paul's authorship, yet also says that the letter's "reference to Timothy probably indicates that the author belongs to a Pauline circle." Prof. Peter Kreeft, in another book, points out that this reference to Timothy in Hebrews 13:23 favors Paul's authorship. So many say that the internal evidence excludes Paul as author, but admit that the internal evidence at Hebrews 13:23 points to a connection to Paul. The external evidence of tradition points to Paul's authorship. Personally--and I think reasonably, I favor the testimony of Christian tradition because tradition was closer to the events under discussion and does not share the modern, irrational bias toward suspecting anything traditional in Christianity. I am not persuaded that the internal evidence precludes Paul's authorship. The criterion of internal evidence is notoriously subjective, sort of like your high school English teacher opining literarily on the style of a poem or novel. This criterion of internal evidence, in my opinion, also remarkably limits the range of literary talent of a religious and rhetorical genius like St. Paul-- who was a God-inspired genius at that! Maybe, some of the professoriate just can't believe Paul was beyond their own literary limitations. And so, I go with the tradition that says Paul was the author; and our reading of the epistle will, in no practical way, be the worse for it.
Now, let's turn to today's verses:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1 (English Standard Version).
My favorite moment in the Easter Vigil liturgy is the litany of the saints. In my mind's eye, I see the saints marching into a great temple dressed in white. I see all the famous names: Augustine, Teresa of Ávila, the apostles, etc. Many were impressed by the litany of the saints heard during the funeral of John Paul the Great. These saints are the great "cloud of witnesses." Why do I find that vision of the saints marching in so moving and impressive? Because each of us is part of that family, that family that also suffered and struggled with sin and with enemies, that family that endured and won the race, a family of saints that aids us today here in this vale of tears and that will welcome us to one day join their assembly. There is your truest family. What we experience here on earth as family is but a pale, very imperfect imitation, full of contradictions, of the real family.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006Today's Verse from Philemon
"So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me."
Philemon 17 (ESV).
This is the third shortest book in the New Testament (2 John & 3 John are shorter). You don't have to give a chapter cite because there is only one chapter! As most know, Paul writes to Philemon, the master of the "runaway" slave Onesimus, urging Philemon to receive back Onesimus "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother" (v. 16). Some will point fingers and say that Paul approved of barbaric slavery. That accusation is absurd. What we see is Paul transforming and transvaluing the ancient institution of slavery, putting it in a new light: the slave is more than a slave, the slave here is a brother "both in the flesh and in the Lord" (v. 16). From that vision will eventually come centuries later the abolitionist movement spearheaded by evangelical Protestant Christians in nineteenth century England.
With this context in mind, let's consider the verse in bold print above. It's a verse about the communion of saints. We could also term this doctrine the "partnership of saints." Yes, it's a partnership of prayer whereby we here on earth, the Church Militant, request the intercession of the Church Triumphant in heaven. But this partnership of saints is also horizontal: we are hospitable to each other in Christ. We are linked by Christ and so we assist each other both in prayer and in concrete hospitality. Thus, Paul commands Philemon to receive back Onesimus as if Onesimus were Paul himself. This short letter should be read in full whenever a parish wants to talk about stewardship. Why do we give money and time to our local churches? Because we are partners aiding the ministry of our fellow Christians as if we were aiding the apostles themselves. By aiding our fellow Christians who are advancing the Gospel, we are, in a mysterious way, replaying the role that Paul urged Philemon to play so long ago. If we consider the apostles in heaven still to be our partners in the communion of saints (the "vertical dimension"), we should "receive" and assist contemporary apostles as if they were ancient apostles (the "horizontal" dimension). The vertical and horizontal dimensions of the communion of saints intersect today in concrete assistance for the Church's mission.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006Today's Verses from Titus
Like the letters to Timothy, the letter to Titus is a letter to an early bishop. The letter has Titus appointing presbyters or elders "in every town" (1:5). Paul also commands Titus to exercise his authority as bishop: "Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you" (2:15). It is undeniable by reasonable readers that Titus is an early Catholic bishop. But the point I want to focus on is that Christians are called, repeatedly and explicitly, in this letter to be self-controlled. Too often we tend to wink at our flawed temperaments and personalities, our tendency to anger, quick temper, and irritation, as if that's just the way we are. But the New Testament calls for a very specific personality and temperament: one that is self-controlled. Here are the verses in Titus that come to mind on self-control:
"Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness" (2:2);
"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled" (2:3-5);
"Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled" (2:6);
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" (2:11).
You can't miss it: Christians are to be self-controlled. Temperament is no excuse: a very real and explicit character change is called for by Christianity. The Gospel is not a blank check for acceptance of our personality flaws. It's hard news. How does this happen when it seems almost impossible for so many of us to control ourselves? "[B]y the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he [God] poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (3:5b-6). The just quoted verses contain the good news: Paul commands what the outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes realistically possible and doable.
Monday, July 17, 2006Iran, Syria & Hezbollah Miscalcuate Gravely
Haters tend to miscalculate and overplay their hands because hate is fueled by irrational anger that blinds. The U.S. and, to great surprise, even Arab governments are giving Israel a free hand to eliminate Hezbollah. The Arab governments know that Iran is behind the entire aggression against Israel. The nations at the G-8 Summit in Russia issued a statement that also puts the blame where it belongs: Hezbollah. Even today's N.Y. Times has the headline that Sunni in Iraq now want U.S. troops to stay and protect them (go to www.nytimes.com). If that dramatic shift in attitude persists, the remaining major enemy of democracy in Iraq will be the radical Shiite Mahdi Army militia that is also a tool of Iran. The Middle East consensus is emerging again (as it did in the eighties) that Iran is a threat to all: to the U.S., Israel, Arab governments, and now a democratic Iraq (as opposed to the tyrannical Iraq of the eighties). When haters miscalculate gravely, the threatened tend to unite against the immediate threat. That's what appears to be happening now in the face of the Iranian-inspired aggression and provocation of Israel. As the Proverbs of Israel tell us, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established" (Proverbs 19:21; RSV).