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, October 14, 2006True Story of the Last Journey
A friend told me the story last night of his elderly brother who just passed away. Two things stand out. The dying brother's daughter told her dad that today, the day of his impending death, was his real "birthday." The dying brother said that he was eager to see John Paul II in heaven. Yes, the tomb was really empty. That's why it is really possible to face as Christians what so many are terrified of, with such serenity and even eagerness.
Friday, October 13, 2006Focus on Principle, Not Appeasement, on the Latin Tridentine Mass
As the media coverage on the impending papal decree, making wider celebration of the Latin Tridentine Mass easier, mounts, let me make one point that is being ignored by too many articles I have read. I do not believe the Pope is acting primarily or solely to appease schismatic traditionalist factions. The Pope is issuing this decree because it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether it appeases or satisfies schismatic factions. Of course, reconciliation would be welcome. But the universal indult is the right thing for those still in union with the Pope. That's why he's doing it. Let the chips fall where they may. If "liberals" are offended, so be it. If some schismatics come back, great. If some or most schismatics remain dissatisfied, it's their loss. The universal indult is the right thing to do because it was self-destructive and counterproductive to make it so difficult and even virtually impossible to participate in the Tridentine Mass for so many years. It was a grave prudential error that is now being corrected, not to appease any faction but to do the right thing as a matter of principle. Liturgy develops organically, not by proscription. We are returning to that fundamental principle of liturgical common sense once again. John Paul the Great paved the way. Benedict is finishing the job.
What Some "Catholic" Unversities Allow (Warning: Graphic Language; Don't Read If You Don't Want to Be Upset)
With great reluctance, I reprint a portion of an opinion column by David Brooks that appeared in the Op-Ed section of the N.Y. Times on Thursday, October 5, 2005. I say great reluctance because I have a strong distaste for the vulgar. But I also have a strong distate for denial. Catholicism in America is shot through with great denial of many highly dysfunctional realities. That's why we got the explosive scandals that, in my opinion, have been addressed internally only because of the financial pressure of lawsuits. You could write a treatise and a research project on the roots of this strong strain of psychological denial in U.S. Catholicism.
For years now, several Catholic colleges and universities have hosted the performance of a pornographic play by Eve Ensler called "The Vagina Monologues." Most famously, Rev. John Jenkins, the current president of Notre Dame University, viewed the play and decided to let it continue to be shown on campus. Here is a description of the situation at Notre Dame from the school's own website:
From Notre Dame University website at this link: http://newsinfo.nd.edu/content.cfm?topicid=16904 (from an article dated April 14, 2006).
Other "Catholic" colleges and universities, including D.C.'s Georgetown University (the oldest Catholic college in the U.S.), also host the play (see this April 3, 2006, article [PDF file] in Catholic World Report). You need to know what these so-called Catholic institutions are hosting. If you don't want to be upset, stop reading this post now. Here is the description of the play, with no further comment by me, straight out of the nation's premier daily newspaper:
[The play includes an approving scene about a predator,] a secretary, who invited a 13-year-old girl [the play has since been revised to make the girl 16 years old] from her neighborhood into her car and kissed her. Then she invited the girl up to her apartment, gave her some vodka, took off her underwear and gave her a satin teddy to wear. Then she had sex with the girl, which was interrupted when the girl's mother called. Then she made the girl masturbate in front of her and taught her some new techniques.
"A Tear in Our Fabric," by David Brooks, N.Y. Times, Op-Ed
Section, Oct. 5, 2006 (available free in print version only).
Thursday, October 12, 2006Quotable?
I have always found quotes, maxims, and proverbs fun to read and enlightening. So here, at the risk of vanity, are my own for whatever they are worth to whomever may be interested:
On doctrinal orthodoxy:
May our orthodoxy never descend to being an obsessive compulsive disorder.
The two greatest miracles today: first, the Eucharist; second, how much Christ can accomplish through people like us in spite of our many defects.
The Real Meaning of the Indult Milestone
The liberals or heterodox or whatever you want to call them will holler when the official motu propio or papal decree is issued by the Pope allowing wider use of the Tridentine Mass. (By the way, the U.S. bishops' Catholic News Service is also reporting that the Pope will issue this decree soon--a good corroboration of the story since the Catholic News Service is certainly by no means a "traditionalist" or "conservative" news outlet.) But the event will be a milestone that pertains to much more than liturgy. In the mind of most everyone, Vatican II comes down to one thing: getting rid of the "Latin Mass," by which people inaccurately but understandably mean the Tridentine Mass. Of course, Vatican II never sought to exile Latin from the Latin rite as events tragically conspired to do. Yet, the end of the Tridentine Mass is, rightly or wrongly, in reality the most salient concrete event in the popular mind of a liberalizing Church. When the Tridentine Mass is restored to its full dignity by the indult, the popular imagination will grasp that the liberal/progressive/heterodox agenda has failed. The "Catholic Lite" agenda is defeated. Yes, the popular imagination is too simplistic and does not understand the subtleties of the liturgical issues and what the documents of Vatican II really said; but the popular imagination will somehow in its superficiality still get the central point: the so-called progressive agenda has lost in the Catholic Church, even while it has destroyed so many historic Protestant denominations.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006London Times Religion Correspondent: Pope Signed Universal Indult
The universal indult is the permission for priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass without prior permission from the local bishop. Here is the link. We have heard these rumblings before in the media. Cum grano salis sed cum spe (with a grain of salt but with hope).
Wright's Simply Christian
N.T. Wright is a biblical scholar and the Anglican bishop of Durham, England. But the best news is that he is also a genuine Christian. He is also a first-rate biblical scholar rather than the ideologues that are common today. In Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperCollins, 2006), Wright provides a modern-day version of C.S. Lewis' classic Mere Christianity. Lewis' classic is irreplaceable and remains so in both its unmatched content and style. I am sure Wright himself would likely agree with this assessment. Yet, Wright's own book is worth reading for its insights that enable us to capture in a pastoral book the best results of his detailed and lengthy scholarly works.
I have already pointed out one of Wright's suggestions on prayer in yesterday's post based on actually praying words out of the Bible. Here is one of Wright's key emphases: "We read scripture in order to hear God addressing us--us, here and now, today" (p. 188, original emphasis). Christians don't read Scripture to justify our lifestyles, our lusts, our egotism, but to listen for God's orders. We don't read Scripture just to gain tenure, fame, or book contracts. We read Scripture to discover what our life is about from the One who creates and sustains it. We read Scripture so that we can live meaningfully, abundantly, and gloriously. Notice that it is not a meaning we impose, but rather a revelation we receive from beyond ourselves. That is the same emphasis that Benedict XVI repeats constantly, especially when he writes and speaks on moral relativism, the liturgy, and on the vocation of theologians.
This role for Scripture is an application of the two great themes of Wright's book: 1.) "the overlap of heaven and earth"; and 2.) "the overlap of God's future with our present time" (p. 218). The first theme is the overlap or interlocking, as Wright also says, of heaven and earth. Heaven is not just another place. Heaven is a dimension that is accessible now to us in Scripture, in worship, in the Eucharist, in life in the Holy Spirit now on earth. This view ties in nicely with the Catholic view of the Mass as a participation in the heavenly liturgy, with the Catholic view of the sacraments and sacramentals, with the Catholic propensity to see and hear God in the beauty of the material world and in the continuing presence and appearance of God and Mary in the world. Why do heaven and earth interlock and overlap in this way? My own way of putting it is that God loves us: He can't stay away from us. That view is in sharp contrast to the deist view of a distant God, a view that Wright takes pain to distinguish from the authentically Christian view. A distant God means that we are captains and creators of our own destiny, as the U.S. Supreme Court arrogantly announced in one of its most infamous pro-abortion decisions. In contrast, the Christian God is very much involved here and now and is the source and arbiter of our best destiny.
The overlap of God's future with the present is a manifestation of that overlap of heaven and earth. God promises Resurrection not just in words but in actually raising Jesus bodily from the tomb so that the tomb remains forever empty. Wright is in my view the foremost scholar of the Resurrection event. He adheres, with the no-nonsense approach of the historian, to the authentic Christian belief that Christ's Resurrection was a real, bodily event, not the psychological projection of desperate, imaginative disciples. Yet, the Resurrection life is not just for the future. The Resurrection begins in this world as we live in anticipation of the bodily Resurrection "through the powerful work of God's Spirit," the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (p. 222).
Here is how Wright describes living in anticipation of our future Resurrection life in transformed bodies in the new heaven and the new earth:
It is the way which anticipates, in the present, the full, rich, glad human existence which will one day be ours when God makes all things new. Christian ethics is not a matter of discovering what's going on in the world and getting in tune with it. It isn't a matter of doing things to earn God's favor. It is not about trying to obey dusty rulebooks from long ago or far away. It is about practicing, in the present, the tunes we shall sing in God's new world.
Wright, p. 222.
As Wright does from the beginning of his book, Christianity is definitely not a New Age pantheism or panentheism which seek to find peace and happiness by just delving deeper into ourselves and our feelings. Christianity is a revelation from a transcendent God beyond and quite different from us. Yet, Christianity is also not merely following the rules of a distant God who is merely master and overlord. Christianity is about God becoming flesh and suffering and dying as we do. Christianity is about the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to live more and more as Jesus, the God-Man, did . A deformed Christianity that instead offers just rules without the power of the Holy Spirit is just another man-directed religion unplugged from God's power. So it is not surprising that many abandon this deformed version of Christianity for other man-directed concoctions and excesses that offer immediate, temporary, desperate escape from the sharp edges of life. This yearning for escape by those who do not know a powerful Christianity is mundanely present in the consumerism that envelops us. Just think how the theme of escape pervades consumer advertising--Ford even markets a vehicle called "Escape." The name is not just a brand label, it's a way of life.
Wright's book thus reorients our vision back to the biblical Christian view of our lives and our world: the divine is peeping into our world in Scripture, prayer, sacraments, and in walking in the Holy Spirit. We live in that heavenly dimension now in anticipation of the fullness of the new heaven and new earth promised in both the Old and New Testaments.
As an Anglican, Wright does not hide the crucial importance for Christians of the Eucharist. Yet, he goes too far in trying to wave his hands over the fundamental difference between the Catholic conception of the Eucharist and that even of Eucharist-loving Anglicans like himself (cf. pp. 153-57). For Catholics, the Eucharist is the primary way God enters our world today and in which heaven and earth overlap. The key Catholic difference is Eucharistic Adoration. If God is really there in an unsurpassed way in the Eucharist, we are called to worship the Eucharist, to gaze at Him, to listen to Him, to speak to Him, to praise Him, to wait on Him. When we see Eucharistic Adoration in Anglican cathedrals, then we will know that convergence with Catholic belief is really emerging. At that point, the perceptive Anglican will realize that it is essential to return to Rome to regain the power of uninterrupted apostolic succession that enables the ordained priest to bring to us the Eucharist that is truly worthy of adoration. When a Catholic goes to adore the Eucharist in a chapel or church, that place is the most glorious manifestation of the overlap of heaven and earth that N.T. Wright so appropriately celebrates. May he and others rejoin us one day in such a place!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006The Christian Shema Prayer
N.T. Wright has written a very good book called Simply Christian (HarperCollins, 2006) in which he attempts his own version of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Of course, it is no surprise that Wright's book will never replace Lewis' classic in either style or content. In the near future, I will give a full review of Wright's book with both praise and criticism--especially criticism of his unwise and unsuccessful attempt to make the real and crucial differences in Eucharistic theology between Catholics and others seem unimportant, an area of controversy that Lewis wisely and shrewdly avoided in his irreplaceable classic. But, today, I wish to focus on something very good that Wright suggests: praying the "Christian Shema."
The Shema is the traditional Jewish prayer which begins at Deuteronomy 6:4 with this famous line: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (RSV). What Wright points out is St. Paul's Christian transformation of this prayer of his people in 1 Corinthians 8:6 which reads in part: "[T]here is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (RSV). Wright and other Pauline scholars have pointed out how Paul in 1 Cor. 8:6 splits the two terms "LORD" and "God" found together in Deut. 6:4 as "the LORD our God."
Paul pairs "God" with "Father" and pairs "LORD" (it's all in caps because the original Hebrew is the divine name of God that was customarily not pronounced out loud) with "Jesus Christ." By thus transforming the Shema prayer, Paul inserts Jesus the Messiah (what "Christ" means) into the deity. Messiah Jesus enters the Godhead. Here is the Trinity without the explicit label that Tertullian would coin later.
But Wright is not so much focused on such points as he is in his voluminous and excellent scholarly works. In this particular book, Wright is more the pastor and spiritual advisor suggesting that we pray "slowly and repeatedly" this new Christian Shema which Paul gives us in 1 Cor. 8:6, much as many already pray the "Jesus Prayer" in similar fashion (Wright, p. 170). We can pray over Scripture we have read. We can also actually pray the Scriptures as expressions of praise and recognition of the majesty of God and, as Wright points out, as an expression of commitment. Many of us have a hard time remembering that prayer is more than just petition (which, of course, is essential); prayer also gives us the freedom simply to praise God. Praying Scripture has been part of the Catholic tradition for centuries in the Liturgy of the Hours as we pray the Psalms and also the Magnificat and the Canticle of Zechariah, both from Luke chapter one.
Wright's pastoral suggestion is to add Paul's new Christian Shema to the list. Try it and see. Or in more biblical language, taste and see! What Wright saw is this: "To meditate on God in this way is to gaze out, like a balloonist on a clear day, over the whole majestic landscape of the loving purposes of God, enabling us to pick out this or that particular feature for special attention without losing the larger sweep of the whole" (p. 170). Wright even gives his own suggested translation of 1 Cor. 8:6 for our use in such prayer: "There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we to him; and one Lord, Jesus the Messiah, through whom are all things, and we through him" (pp. 169-70).
Monday, October 09, 2006The Noble Sport
Now, I wade into real controversy: I comment on the world of sports. Part of any Catholic analysis is not just remaining within the conventional boundaries of theology per se, but of engaging in cultural observation and critique, or even praise. After all, religion and the Gospel are about life; they are not little compartments to trot out for Sunday mornings only. Today (shamelessly twisting Shakespeare), I come not to bury either football or basketball, but to praise baseball. It's unavoidable in a region where the Detroit Tigers are now contending for the American League championship, beginning tomorrow.
Baseball is, in my very personal yet reasoned opinion, the noble sport of America. In baseball, as in other sports, every player has a position; but here is the difference: in baseball, every player is a "quarterback." Sure, the pitcher takes center stage; but every player gets to throw, every player can come to bat. Every player can have a shot at the home run or the grand slam. In Christian terms, everyone has his assigned role and place; but everyone can "star" regardless of his assigned role, however humble in comparison to that of other players.
In baseball, you also see more "grace": you see individual skill that gets lost in the crashing human bodies of football. Football is about power, about stomping to the endzone. Baseball is about individual skill, finesse, and grace--as Hemingway would say--under pressure. That's why the detailed individual stats matter more for baseball fans: they quantify the singular "life" mission of each player. Basketball also has its sort of grace where many handle the ball. Yet, at least to me, basketball's grace is quite diminished by the fact that the goal stays in place; while the players get taller and taller. The challenge is plainly diminished if you can just plunk the ball in the hoop because of your exaggerated height.
Baseball is also more about tradition--something Catholics especially appreciate. Baseball is, as noted before, not brutal at all. In football, the emphasis is on crushing others. In baseball, the emphasis is on hitting the ball out of the stands. So, forgive the prejudices of a newly enamored Detroit baseball fan--but consider that baseball is more ennobling than either the brutality of football's crashing waves or the unimpressive sight of basketball's extremely tall dunking baskets as they peer down at the goal. Baseball speaks of individual skill more than the other sports, of a slower time when people were more patient, of playing at a ball park, of winning by skill and grace and not by ruthlessly rolling over someone else. Baseball is the noble sport of America, the sport with the most potential to call forth that greatly missed species called the gentleman.
Update: Here is a link from a 1987 Washington Post column listing reasons (some dated) for why baseball is so much better than football. There is some food for serious thought in the list amidst the obvious humor. For example, here is Reason No. 89:
"Football is played best full of adrenaline and anger. Moderation seldom finds a place. Almost every act of baseball is a blending of effort and control; too much of either is fatal."