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, August 19, 2006Second Seminary Papers E-Book Now Available
The new E-book is Seminary Papers on the New Testament. This book is especially suited to download format because it is only 32 pages. This small book collects four papers interpreting Pauline passages dealing with the nature of the Resurrection body, with the glory of the Cross of Christ, and with the renewed mind we receive from Christ. The book also includes two papers interpreting passages from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Matthew passage deals with Jesus as the one who uniquely reveals the Father. The Luke passage considers Jesus' rejection at Nazareth.These papers are pastoral in tone and thus intended for a general audience. They are not typical academic research papers. Some of the papers are really talks designed to be given to a Bible Study and thus can serve as models or inspirations for those involved in parish Bible studies. For a preview that includes a table of contents, see this link.
Friday, August 18, 2006A Theology of Numbers
In recently reading the book on Opus Dei by John Allen, I noticed his fixation on numbers: how many persons associated with the Work (another way to refer to Opus Dei), how many centers, how much in assets and liabilities, presence in how many countries, how many priests and bishops, and all of these figures compared to other organizations in and out of the Church. Allen consistently pointed out that the numbers of the Work were relatively small compared to the Church as a whole and to dioceses within the Church. Allen's focus on numbers is understandable because he is trying to describe and trying to be objective (he succeeded). Yet, the fixation on numbers is very misleading, especially when we are dealing with apostolic activity.
It all began in the upper room, the upper room of the Last Supper and of Pentecost. There were not many people in those rooms--but what people and what power! It all began with Mother Teresa helping a few of the destitute from India--but her witness caught the world's attention. She was even criticized for helping so few. She gave her famous reply that it is more important to be faithful than to be successful. The deeper truth she was telegraphing was this: to be faithful is to be always successful. It all began with a widowed father praying with his son in small quarters in a Poland full of tragedy--but the son became John Paul the Great.
All of the great saints and founders of movements and religious orders began small. Our Church herself began small. The Founder said that faith as small as a grain of mustard seed was the origin of power. The Founder said that where two or three are gathered in my name, He is there. Yet, we are always anxious about numbers. Frankly, I can't imagine St. Peter or St. Paul ever worrying about the size of the crowd they could attract. They simply acted and preached and kept acting and preaching. For them to ponder the numbers question, in my opinion, would have been entirely alien to their mentality. Their mentality was that they were acting with power. To focus on numbers is an admission that we are anxious. We are anxious because we lack the power.
The old cliche is right: if you build it, they will come. If you tap into the power, they will come. Even if only a few come, that is enough of a lever to change the world because the power is Holy Spirit power. When we think of Opus Dei, there is obviously the power of the Holy Spirit at work in its origins and growth. The Holy Spirit works by holy contagion, by ripple effects. We see so many persons officially associated with the Work, but the Work influences a grand multiple of that number. In his book, Allen points out how many so influenced by the Work aren't even aware of the existence of the Work.
A fixation on numbers is a sign that we are not depending on the Holy Spirit. Just imagine again how incongruous it would be to think of Peter or Paul wringing their hands about numbers. It is, at least for me, unimaginable. They lived the power, not just any power, but the power that created the universe and maintains it in existence second by second. How then could they worry about being forgotten or frustrated in small numbers?
There is even a contemporary secular insight that matches the apostolic style of acting and of witnessing with power regardless of the numbers. You can find this insight in another book worth reading: The Long Tail by Chris Anderson in which the author writes how the internet has changed marketing in the economy by allowing individually small sellers to serve an extremely large market when you aggregate all the small sellers. The author talks about the end of the tyranny of the "hit" in the sense of the hit show or hit movie or hit book. Videos, movies, and books that each have a small numerical audience together outweigh the impact of the hits with their massive audiences. This "long tail" effect is captured by a downward sloping graph in which the long tail of the graph consisting of small sellers covers a very big audience. This long tail effect is possible because the internet allows small sellers to enter markets they could never enter before in videos, commentary, book publishing, etc.
God works in myriad ways--some large but most quite small when viewed apart and in isolation from his other works. But the key is that God has pioneered the "long tail": he uses many small and medium-sized apostolates to reach people that are only reachable through precise efforts that target a small number of people at any one time. And God didn't need the internet (although today he uses that too). Instead, Christians have the most powerful technology: the wildfire of the Holy Spirit. In a way, it is so obvious as to be embarrassing to have to state it. The myriad of Catholic parishes, schools, families, prayer groups, and individuals is the way God multiplies his message to large numbers. Opus Dei follows in that pattern and explicitly emphasizes the apostolic fecundity of informal person-to-person contact. Who can measure the ultimate ripple effects of such "small" person-to-person contact? The obscure, widowed father of John Paul the Great taught Karol Wojtyla, his only surviving child, to say a prayer to the Holy Spirit every day and look what we reaped.
So don't be anxious or embarrassed about the numbers you reach or attract or about how many people attended your talk or meeting. Stay plugged into the power that runs the universe, the power that pioneered the "long tail" effect. Remember how ridiculous to imagine Peter or Paul worrying about the size of their crowd.
Thursday, August 17, 2006Seminary Papers E-Book Now Available
A collection of five of my seminary papers is now available as an E-book for downloading for $2.50. These papers are academic in nature and are geared for those readers seeking a more academic treatment of theological topics and who are interested in seeing the type of work that goes on in a Catholic seminary graduate program. You can view a description and preview of the new E-book at this Lulu.com link. The full title of the E-book is Seminary Papers on Genesis, Balthasar, and Moral Theology.
Opus Dei Founder Explains It All
The websites maintained by Opus Dei are a marvel to wander through and learn. Here is a link to a 1967 interview with the founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá, that explains what Opus Dei's mission is. The massive presence on the web is further evidence that Opus Dei is not in any way a secret organization hiding in the shadows. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 16, 2006More Intelligent Design
Take a look at this graphic from the N.Y. Times Science section comparing neuron cells from a mouse and a computer simulated image of galaxies and stars. Here is the link.
Catholic Analysis 2006 Book (Updated 8/20/06)
My second book is now ready for sale at independent publishing company Lulu.com. Here is the link to the print version. Here is the link to the lower priced e-book version. (There is also a link in the side margin with an image of the blue book cover.) The book is entitled Catholic Analysis 2006 (101 pp.) because it collects various blog posts from 2006 and arranges them in the following chapters:
Chapter One: Commentary on Verses from Paul's Letters;
Chapter Two: Authority & Primacy in the Church;
Chapter Three: The Charismatic Dimension of the Church;
Chapter Four: Catholics for Freedom;
Chapter Five: Christian Character;
Chapter Six: Rebuking Heresies.
Let's cut to the chase: why buy the book?
1. It's intentionally inexpensive to advance the goals of my writing apostolate. The print version is $7.94 from Lulu.com. For those who are satisfied with downloading the E-book version, also available at Lulu.com, you can do so for only $2.50. Even if you download the E-book version, you can always print the chapters at home to read at your leisure if you prefer to do your reading on paper instead of on a computer screen. The book should be available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com by October 1st, but the price will be slightly higher on those sites.
2. The book arranges selected blog posts by topic. So you get a range of posts on one single topic in each chapter, instead of posts scattered over the different dates they were published, as is normally found on a blog.
3. You get to read the posts in book form which some may find more pleasant than extended reading on a computer screen. You can also give the book to those who just don't use the internet at all or don't use the internet often.
4. The selected chapter topics are timely. The first chapter deals with significant verses from each of the Pauline letters of the New Testament. As Catholics, we need to outdo the Protestants in our familiarity with the Bible if we are to evangelize successfully.
5. The second chapter deals with authority and primacy in the Church. This argument has to be made to non-Catholic Christians so we can invite them into full communion with the Catholic Church. This argument also needs to be part of our evangelization for all people to show why becoming Catholic is crucially important. The chapter is a response to the current crisis in the Anglican communion which again highlights the necessity of the Petrine ministry carried on by the Bishop of Rome.
6. The third chapter is aimed at what is needed inside the Catholic Church: renewal. This chapter deals with the Charismatic dimension of the Church and makes a strong case that the Charismatic Renewal is for every Catholic, not just for a few. It's time to stop fearing the renewal and learn more about it.
7. Chapter four on Christian freedom focuses on the Catholic heroes in both China and Cuba who are fighting for freedom. Catholics are at the forefront of the struggle for freedom.
8. The fifth chapter on Christian character emphasizes that we need to reform ourselves. We can't just mouth pieties and leave our dysfunctional traits untouched.
9. The ninth chapter is about rebuking heresies: the still lingering impersonal Marxist view of history, the Gnosticism of the Da Vinci Code, and the contraception mentality.
In sum, the book calls us to be more biblically knowledgeable for our own sake and for the sake of evangelization. The book sets the case for inviting Protestants to enter the Church that has the authority needed to protect all of Christian truth. The book also makes the case for internal renewal of the charismatic dimension of the Church. The book points out the Catholic struggle to liberate enslaved nations. Finally, the book rebukes several deceptions still being offered to humanity. You can preview the book's content at Lulu.com.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006St. Josemaría Escrivá of Opus Dei
I have begun reading the new book Opus Dei by John Allen (2005) which just made it to my local public library. Now, Allen is a liberal Catholic reporter for the heterodox National Catholic Reporter and his liberal agenda has been, in my opinion, prominent in his earlier books. But this time, Allen appears to be making a concerted effort to be objective. So far I have read two of the four sections of the book, and he appears to have got it right. Based on past experience, I will reserve my final judgment until I finish the book. (But one thing I have detected already is that liberal Catholics just don't seem to get: Catholics who embrace all of the teachings of the Church--no matter how difficult they might be to follow in daily life--don't have much motivation to cooperate with liberal Catholics who distort the Catholic faith. Why? Because we love the truth and don't want to be part of the liberal Catholic distortion of the truth. We don't want to be coopted into legitimating heterodoxy. Somehow that simple human reaction is apparently hard for some to understand.)
Yet, the real reason to read the book is not to learn about a liberal Catholic reporter/author and rehash tiresome controversies but to learn about the subject matter. The founder of Opus Dei was St. Josemaría Escrivá (1902-75), a Spanish priest, who was canonized by John Paul the Great in 2002. His main contribution to Catholicism was his anticipation of Vatican II's call to holiness for all Catholics, not just for the ordained or those in religious orders. Escrivá made Opus Dei into a world-wide organization that includes laity and clergy working together to advance spiritually. The main charism of Opus Dei is that the laity find sanctification in their daily work, however exalted or however humble their jobs may be in the eyes of society, whether it is the daily work of a surgeon or of a bus driver. Because Opus Dei rightly emphasizes orthodox Catholic teaching and a special loyalty and bond to the Pope, many liberal Catholics hate the organization--another good sign!
Here are two great anecdotes about Escrivá taken from talks he gave in Venezuela in the nineteen seventies. He took questions from the audience. Here is Escrivá on Jews:
Speaker: "Father, I'm Jewish . . ."
Escrivá: "I love Jews very much because I love Jesus Christ madly, and he is Jewish. I don't say he was, but he is. Iesus Christus eri et hodie ipse et in saecula ["Jesus Christ yesterday and even today and forever"]. Jesus Christ continues to live and he is Jewish like you. And the second love of my life is also Jewish--the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ. So I look on you with affection . . . .
Speaker: I think you have answered my question, Father.
Allen, p. 67 (my translation added).
At another point in the book, an Italian cardinal is quoted as comparing Escrivá to Saint Ignatius Loyola: as the Spaniard Loyola was the saint who implemented the Council of Trent, so the other Spaniard Escrivá was the saint who implemented the true vision of Vatican II (Allen, p. 17). (By the way, before reading this quote from a cardinal, I had written much the same thing earlier in this blog.) Here is what Loyola himself said about the possibility of being Jewish: "I would consider it a special thing to be united to Christ, our Lord, and to Our Lady, the glorious Virgin Mary, with ties of blood!" (quoted in Roy H. Schoeman, Salvation is from the Jews, Ignatius Press, 2003, p. 341). In my opinion, Escrivá was indeed our latter-day Ignatius Loyola.
I end with another anecdote that exhibits the charisma of Escrivá in response to another question from his audience in Venezuela:
A woman rose to say that she had a seriously disabled child at home and was in contact with other parents who had children in similar conditions. What could Escrivá say to her? "Congratulations," Escrivá began. The woman appeared puzzled. "Congratulations," he repeated, "because this child is a great honor for you. God sends these children to families that have enormous capacity to love." He encouraged the woman to be in contact with associations who work with disabled children and to get the help she needs, but never to stop feeling proud of the privilege God had given her.
Allen, p. 71.
My thanks to John Allen for bringing the charisms and personality of this great saint into greater focus for me and his other readers.
Update: Having finished reading the entire book, I urge any and all to get it and read it. John Allen has transformed himself from a spinner for liberal heterodox points of view into an objective researcher. I predict this book will be a watershed in setting straight the distortions that lack of information and plain old envy have hurled at Opus Dei for decades. I hope that Allen can eventually sever his connection with the heterodox National Catholic Reporter. He can certainly do better than that, and sentimentality is no reason to keep career ties that no longer match his professional evolution from spinner to objective researcher. If he sticks to this pattern, he will regain the credibility he lost in some of his prior writings. I applaud him and tip my scapular to him. I hope I don't have to take back my praise in the future.
Monday, August 14, 2006The Irrationality of Appeasement
The mentality of appeasing is alive and well in the Democratic Party and in other parts of American society. It is a scenario eerily familiar to that of England in the nineteen thirties which appeased the world right into World War II rather than snuffing out the Nazis in their initial forays to take over the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia. We have the super-rich Ned Lamont in Connecticut who is now the new Democrat icon. Pardon me, but let me be honest. Lamont comes across as the effete, shrill, and haughty product of a decadent, excessively affluent society.
But let me move quickly away from the personal and get to ideas which are always the better things to discuss. Today, the seminal "good war" is World War II: the struggle against the demonic movement of Nazism and its allies. Yet, also today, we have many who explicitly or implicitly would have advised us to sit out World War II. In fact, they would have advised us to appease Hitler throughout the thirties, the approach that made World War II an inevitable reality. How can that mentality still exist just sixty or so years after the end of World War II? These are not just people who opposed war in Vietnam or Iraq. Many, whether they are willing to admit it today or not, would have opposed a strong stand even against Hitler.
The irrationality of the appeasers remind me of some people who strongly criticize Israel. At first, you listen politely assuming that they are rational; and then, not uncommonly, the other shoe drops: they descend into an anti-Semitic reading of history or similar anti-Jewish tirade. Then your eyes open, and you realize that there was nothing there worth listening to in the first place. A similar eye-opening experience occurs when you realize that today's appeasers would have appeased even Hitler.
Thank goodness that St. Michael and the angelic hosts are not appeasers, or else the book of Revelation would end quite differently. In the face of irrational evil, there comes a point when you fight. That is reality, a reality that is part of the tragedy of evil. The better way is non-violent resistance. But the better way is not always possible. Gandhi could do it in the face of a civilized, democratic British Empire in India. Martin Luther King, Jr., could do it in the face of a civilized, democratic United States. But the Germans could not do it in Hitler's Germany. The Iraqis could not do it in the face of Saddam Hussein. And Israel cannot do it in the face of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran whose stated goal is to destroy Israel--whose absolute hatred for the very existence of Israel is so great that some of them even refuse to pronounce the word "Israel": they use the circumlocution "Zionist entity." My friends, that refusal to even utter the word "Israel" is a sign of the demonic nature of Israel's enemies.
What can Christianity do? Is Christianity inevitably pacifism? Or is Christianity just an indifferent bystander to the tragedy of war? I can share only my personal opinion which is not official Church teaching. The Christian is a knight, a happy warrior, who seeks to advance the Kingdom of God on earth. As such, he or she is a knight for the conditions of peace and for nonviolent resistance. Nonviolent resistance works between and among democratic nations that respect individual rights. That's why it worked against British imperialists and American racists. But nonviolent resistance does not work against Hitlers or Middle East dictators. So the Christian knight struggles to promote democracy and human rights as the arena where war can become unnecessary because nonviolent resistance is feasible in that context.
But when irrational evil raises its head, we cannot bury our heads. We must be willing to give our lives for the oppressed. We must be willing to come to the rescue of others. And that means that armed conflict is inevitable against the forces of irrational evil. Recognizing that inevitability early is the best way to avoid world wars.
Many today still have not learned that lesson. Yet, it is a reality all around us everyday. A reality we depend on, especially in daily life in the United States: the policeman is armed and is willing to stop the criminal with force if necessary. We could not live in the United States without that daily, unquestioned threat of force by police departments throughout the nation. Yet, the same people who are able to live in peace and security in the United States only because of the threat of force against the irrationally evil refuse that same peace and security to millions throughout the world threatened by irrational evil. The policeman has the right and duty to resist irrational evil with force for the sake of our lives. The policeman cannot be a pacifist or a full-time practitioner of non-violent resistance. Yet, in a world full of irrational evil, many spout the fantasy that no policeman is necessary in the affairs of nations.
We have long heard that, for Christians, we are both body and soul. We cannot be indifferent to our bodies in sexual morality because our bodies are essential to our full humanity and personhood. We must also hear again that we are also rational creatures. We cannot be indifferent to common sense because rationality is also essential to our full humanity and personhood. And common sense recognizes that the use of force to fight evil is in many tragic situations a moral obligation. Yes, thank God, that St. Michael and the angelic hosts are not pacifists.
Timely Update: Here is the excellent Real Clear Politics Blog on the Sixty Minutes interview with the Iranian Hitler.