Friday, April 30, 2004

This Blog's One Year Anniversary!

I began blogging by creating the Home Page exactly one year ago today. The intent at the time was to create more of a reference center of links grouped by topic on various topics from a liberal or progressive Roman Catholic perspective. My first entry was My petition to the Holy Father for women priests, followed with my self introduction still found at the bottom of the home page.

Within a couple of months, I received feedback from other bloggers that they preferred the standard blog formatting to the series of links off a single page. So, I turned this particular page into such a blog.

Today, I'm soliciting more feedback. After a year of blogging, what would my readers like to see that I am not already providing?

Are there topics I am not covering? Would you like a different format (I haven't spent a whole lot of time worrying about color, lay-out and graphics)? Is the site too political and not theological enough? Am I simply too verbose, or not verbose enough? Do you want more personal information (I confess I am hesitant sometimes to put too much personal info on the web)?

Let me know what you think. Feel free to email, or leave a comment below.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

Been Kind of Busy at Fr. Rob's Site Today

Spured there by Elena (who was also added to my homepage today), I have joined the discussion many people seem to be linking about whether abortion is the key issue for Catholics in this presidential election.


Progressive Catholics for Mary

In the article linked above, entitled Mary's Comeback, Father Andrew Greeley and Charlene Spretnak argue that today's progressive can and should embrace the traditional cosmic image of Mary. I wholeheartedly agree, and my own devotion to Mary ranks next to belief in real presence among reasons I would not feel comfortable becoming a Protestant (no disrespect intended to my Protestant siblings).

I confess I am a little confused by some of what Greeley writes. For example, he claims that Gary Wills, whom he considers a personal friend, holds a position that Mary should no longer be considered important to Catholics. Yet, I believe that I read somewhere that Wills maintains that he remains Catholic in large part because of his devotion to Mary. I thought I read something by him saying that he prays the Rosary every day!

Likewise, Greeley paints a picture of Sister Elizabeth Johnson as some sort of radical anti-Marian nun. While Johnson is critical of what she percieves as patriarchal images of Mary, I understand Johnson to be saying that general devotion to Mary is not a bad thing in itself - especially if we honor the image of Mary portrayed in Scripture (a prophetess of justice as she sings the Magnificat).

At any rate, I recommend this article to both liberal and conservative Catholics as evidence that one can be a progressive, and still be deeply devoted to our Blessed Mother. With Greeley and Spretnak, I consider myself a "pro-Mary progressive".


I'm not the Only Catholic Asking if Bush Really Intends to Stop Abortion

This week's editorial article in The National Catholic Reporter features a piece arguing that despite differences in rhetoric, Bush and Kerry are actually in absolute agreement on the legality of abortion. This author even argues that he believes Kerry's social policies may reduce abortions further than Bush's.


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Reason Informed by Faith, and Faith Informed by Reason

It seems that everyone within and outside of the Roman Catholic Church knows that she teaches certain things with what she calls "infallible authority". We Catholics consider Sacred Scripture to be God's word to us, and we believe that Sacred Tradition faithfully preserves and develops reflection on what occurred in Christ in such a way that the Pope and the college of Bishops can make definitive and irrevocable definitions of doctrines that all Catholics accept as matters of faith.

What sometimes seems less clear is that the Roman Catholic Church also teaches with this same infallible authority that all of her own teachings must be able to be apprehended by a rational mind (even if not fully comprehended). In other words, the Church does not teach that truth is known through appeal to authority alone. Faith and reason overlap, with some aspects of faith going beyond reason. Yet no aspect of faith should contradict reason.

In the non-religious sphere, many truths are not rational deductions. Many things that are apprehended rationally are not fully comprehended. For example, beauty, love and freedom are experienced truths that go beyond reason. The number, "infinity" is apprehnded by the rational mind, but no mind can comprehend infinity.

When the Church teaches with infallible authority, these teachings may go beyond reason, but they should never contradict reason nor be inapprehensible. There is a difference between saying a truth is apprehended non-rationally, and saying a something irrational is true. In fact, the irrational cannot be true.

The teachings of the Church must be rationally consistent and interconnected such that there are no internal inconsistencies. This is highlighted in paragraph 90 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. The paragraph reads as follows:

The mutual connections between dogmas, and their coherence, can be found in the whole of the Revelation of the mystery of Christ. "In Catholic doctrine there exists an order or hierarchy of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith."
Thus, one cannot simultaneously believe in a doctrine such as the doctrine of the Trinity, and simultaneously deny the divinity of Christ. The reason for this is the interconnectedness between the two doctrines. It is a contradiction (irrational) to believe one and not the other.

Furthermore, not only must her teachings be internally consistent, but they cannot contradict any truth whatsoever. If the rational mind really apprehends a truth - such as the fact that the earth orbits the sun, rather than the sun orbiting the earth - any dogma contradicting this truth must be interpreted in light of this truth. Many times, science and reason inform our faith. Those who believed Galileo was wrong based on irrational appeals to a mistaken notion of revelation were simply wrong.

On the other hand, there are times when faith informs our reason. For example, we cannot simultaneously believe that Mary was immaculately conceived, and doubt that an unborn child has a soul at conception. The Church believes that it goes beyond the state's authority to state that a living human organism is not a person or does not have a soul.

According to Session III, Chapter IV, Canon 5 and 6 of the First Vatican Council:
Even though faith is above reason, there can never be any real disagreement between faith and reason, since it is the same God who reveals the mysteries and infuses faith, and who has endowed the human mind with the light of reason.
God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever be in opposition to truth. The appearance of this kind of specious contradiction is chiefly due to the fact that either the dogmas of faith are not understood and explained in accordance with the mind of the Church, or unsound views are mistaken for the conclusions of reason. Therefore we define that every assertion contrary to the truth of enlightened faith is totally false.
Canon 10 continues:
Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.
The life-long intellectual challenge of a Roman Catholic is to avoid blind obedience to authority that denies the value of human reason on the one hand, and exaltation of the latest rational theory over tried and true dogma on the other. For a Catholic, reason supports faith and informs faith - and faith informs reason and even supports reason.

Part of this process is carefully examining our assumptions about what is true in secular sciences. However, part of this process is also carefully distinguishing what is really infallible teaching from what is not, and making sure that we accurately understand the intended meaning of a doctrinal pronouncement.

When we perceive a conflict between faith and reason, we are either mistaken in understanding the faith, or mistaken in our natural reasoning. Reason should support faith and faith should support reason.

There are those who are not believers who will ask how faith supports reason. The most fundamental assumption of the rationale mind is that the world perceived through reason is true - that the world itself is reasonable. This presupposes that the mind interpreting the world through reason is somehow apprehending the world as it actually exists.

In other words, the world is not chaotic and random nonsense. Reason is a function of the imagination. The condition for the possibility of using reason in the real world is that reason itself is a valid and true interpretation of the world apart from our imagination. If we approach reality with a belief that the world was created by One with a mind that reasons something like our own, even if infinitely more intelligent, then we are presupposing that all things make sense to this mind.

On the other hand, if we presuppose a universe that simply exists apart form any sort of creation by a rational intelligence, there is no reason to accept reason itself as a valid interpretation of reality!

When anyone sees a contradiction in Catholic teaching, or a contradiction between Church teaching and rational judgments in the sciences there are a few possibilities other than assuming the Church is wrong:

1) We have misinterpreted a teaching of the Church, and our reason is actually correctly in agreement with what the Church actually teaches.
2) We have made a logical or rational error of deduction, and the Church teaching properly understood will guide us back to a reasonable explanation.
3) We have misinterpreted the world perceived through the senses, or made a false rationale assumption leading to an erroneous conclusion of reason that contradicts the Church.
4) We have mistaken a widespread mistaken belief of Catholics for infallible teaching when the matter in question has not been declared or defined infallibly.

There are probably other possibilities as well.

The bottom line of this short little essay is that all doctrine should be explainable in some sort of rational framework. Either, we should be able to appeal to sciences and other agreed upon principles, or in discussing an issue that goes beyond reason to another believer, we should be able to show how our point is interconnected and logically consistent with other matters of faith. There is not a single doctrine of the Church that should rest on blind appeal to authority alone!


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Twelve Weeks and Four Days of Pregnancy Down

We went for another ultra-sound yesterday. We could see the baby kicking and I think I saw all five toes on one foot. The heart-beat was good. The baby is 71 mm from crown to rump, or about 2.84 inches.

We are both still somewhat worried because of all the trouble we have had conceiving.

Continue to pray for us!


Brief Thoughts on Women's March Last Sunday

There were around 800,000 plus or minus women and men who descended on Washington, DC for the largest gathering on the Mall ever. The mostly female crowd came out largely to demonstrate their support for reproductive rights, and particularly abortion rights. See photos and more information at Windy City Media.

I saw a piece on a news talk show last night where they played a clip of Cybill Shepard screaming something to the effect of "He thinks just because of his last name, he can manage our bushes better than we can."

The mediator of the discussion stated that other clips were so offensive that they could not play them. He invited two women panelists to comment on whether the rhetoric of the march was effective at reaching the miniscule number of people who still have not made up their mind abortion. One of the women was obviously pro-choice, and attended the march, while the other was obviously pro-life.

The mediator made the comment that even in the backroom of the news room, liberal and cynical newsroom workers were offended by what they saw. He suggested that whether one agrees with abortion on demand or not, this is not a good way to reach people.

With the help of the moderator, the two women carefully tried to avoid arguing about whether abortion is right or wrong, and stuck to the topic of whether the rhetoric and tactics of the march were effective.

On the one hand, there were some high profile names at the march, and nobody can argue that the sheer size of the crowd was not impressive.

Yet, I side with those who found the march offensive and somewhat repelling to the cause. Of course, my mind is already made up on the issue, and I consider myself pro-life. Nevertheless, as one who is adamantly opposed to Bush regaining the White House, and yet seriously struggling with whether I can vote for John Kerry in good conscience, this march was a real turn-off.

Three main lessons can be drawn from this.

1) To the pro-choice side: tone it down, because as a potential swing voter, I can say this rhetoric is a real turn off.

2) To the pro-life side: It cuts both ways. I have participated in pro-life marches where I was turned off by extreme rhetoric on the other side. We can't simply preach to the choir. We need to reach rather than repel.

3) To the Democratic party: I beg y'all to consider a compromise stance on this issue that would make it easier for swing voters and Catholic voters in particular. There is a huge middle ground of people (catholic and non-Catholic) who may support limited rights to abortion (ie - for rape and incest), but do not support abortion on demand in all three trimesters paid for by federal dollars!


Monday, April 26, 2004

Democrats See Cheney as the Crack in Bush Armor

The Democrats will raise questions regarding the trustworthiness of Cheney, who has been less than forthright with the American people about a number of issues, and most critically, the war in Iraq.


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Thousands Protest World Bank and IMF

Thousands of people came together beating pans and making noise to protest against the financial injustices committed by the developed world against the developing world. Protesters demanded immediate debt relief. In some cases, developing nations pay more in interest on debts to developed nations that their entire GNP or GDP. For more information on what you can do, go to Mobilization for Global Justice.


Friday, April 23, 2004

Week Eleven of Pregnancy Complete, and Week Twelve Almost Down

My wife's nausea continues, but is not as bad as a week ago. Indeed, she started to worry about not feeling sick one day.

She mentioned to me that she was having nightmares and strange dreams, and I really wasn't sure what that meant.

Then a co-worker asked me if my wife were having nightmares yet. The co-worker went on to explain that she thought she was going insane when she was pregnant, until she started asking around and discovered this was common. I relayed this information to my wife, and she felt a great deal of relief.

I felt relieved too. Call me superstitious, but I sometimes worry that dreams have meaning for real life (they do in the Bible and in psychological theories). I was somewhat relieved to have assurance that the hormonal changes likely cause a common experience with strange dreams and nightmares.


Powell Says Administration Will Push for UN Resolution to Keep Peace in Iraq

I've been saying since before the war started that the UN should have been involved, or we shouldn't go to war at all.

Then after the war started, and even after Bush declared victory, I said that we needed to grovel with the UN to get them to help us with rebuilding the nation. So, I can't criticize this decision if Bush manages to pull it off.

My gut feeling is that many nations will push back if Bush is the one asking for UN help. They will basically say to Bush, "You thumbed your nose at us before. Why should we help you now, you big bully?"

This is partly why I say anybody but Bush in 2004.

Every Democratic candidate said we needed UN help. Many independants said the same thing. Even a minority of Republicans publically admitted this a long time ago. I said the same thing before, during and after the war.

If Bush is now admitting that the UN should be involved, the last resistance in America to UN intervention will be overcome.

But consider this - who is more likely to obtain that support? Bush - or anybody but Bush?


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Happy Earth Day

Let's take care of our mother Earth.


Because it is Still Easter

I've found this reading form Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours to be particularly powerful over the past week and a half:

If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as (being) dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:8-11)


Joe Feuerherd of NCR Captures the Views of Catholic Politicians About Church and State Across the Spectrum

Feuerherd writes about Catholic democrats who were reported to be creating a Catholic scorecard to show that their views are more in line with Church teaching than Republicans. The politicians wound up denying the existence of such a scorecard, but Catholic Democrats have met with each other, and tried to meet with the Bishops.

After describing this, Feuerherd turns his attention to the views of pro-life Catholic Republicans.

Finally, he writes about the legacy of JFC and the whole Church and state issue.

This is an easy read, and well worth perusing.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A List of at Least a Few Military Leaders and Others Who Publically Called the War in Iraq "Stupid" or Foolish Prior to the Launch of Attack

- Norman Schwarzkopf - Five Star General, commanded the First Gulf war
- Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Commander
- Col. David Hackworth (ret), America's most highly decorated soldier.
- James Webb, former Sec. of Navy under Ronald Reagan, Decorated Marine Veteran - Navy Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart.
- Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Head of Central Command for U.S.

If Bush is not a liar, he's an idiot. The falsehoods he tells are simply so ludicrous that he must be one or the other.


The Time Has Come to Say It Out Loud by John Gerassi

This article written on June 17, 2003 by a former Newsweek and Time writer cogently argues that the Bush Administration is Fascist, and explains the fear of prominent reporters to tell the whole truth.


Sister Joan Chittister on Church, Conscience, Constitution and Common Sense

Sister Joan is not at her best as far as writing for this article. For example, I found the following paragraph clumsy and confusing:

This Catholic question is not about vouchers for Catholic schools, as in "Can a state grant them in a country built on the separation of church and state?" In that case, the bishops of the church stayed ominously silent about the morality of the Vietnam War and chose instead to melt into the mainstream in the hope, many argued, of receiving financial aid for the then ailing Catholic school system. No public moral questions were asked.
It seems to me that she had two separate thoughts in mind - school vouchers and Vietnam, and somehow she mixed them up in one muddled paragraph. But hey, we all make mistakes, and I write some pretty convoluted stuff sometimes myself.

The key question Sister Joan is dealing with is whether the Bishops should use denial of communion or even threats of excommunication against politicians who do not tow the line on Church teaching. She calls this the "Catholic question" and points out that there was a time when Catholics found it hard to get elected to national public office because non-Catholics feared that we would take orders from Rome.

Sister Joan makes the following summary comments:
From where I stand, it seems to me that giving good moral guidance and allowing the voting population to make its own decisions at the polls about whether or not a given position is moral and a given candidate a worthy legislator will have more effect in the long run on the development of the country -- and the church -- than selective coercion can possibly have now. The issue right now is not the issues themselves. It is how far a tactic like this will go.
To be honest, I have often wanted bishops to take a stronger stand on certain issues: like the women's issue and its effect on half the human race, or the nuclear issue and its effect on the life of the planet, or the war in Iraq and its effect on the life and safety of civilians -- some of whom might even possibly be pregnant. But I don't think excommunication is the way to do it. Not if conscience, constitution and even the integrity and development of the church really mean anything at all.
I agree with Sister Joan at the high level, where the specific issue of abortion is not the issue. But let's go ahead and explore her thoughts as it does apply to this issue.

I am pro-life, and would support some type of Constitional Amendment to protect the lives of the unborn. Yet, I do not think it wise, or even moral for the Bishops to threaten politicians with denial of communion or even excommunication on this issue. The issue is simply more complex than the bishops allow, and there are other equally important issues.

In saying the issue is more complex than the Bishops allow, there are at least three things the Bishops need to think through:

1) Isn't there legitimate pluralism within the pro-life camp about the specifics of a Right to Life Amendment?

How would a Right to Life Amendment protecting the unborn be enforced without violating the legitimate privacy rights of the doctor patient relationship? What good is a law that cannot be enforced?

Also, how would we legally define proper exceptions that even the Church accepts, such as the principle of double effect in cases of ectopic pregnancy or uterine cancer?

I am not saying that these are absolute show stoppers to a Right to Life Amendment - but I haven't figured out how to deal with the questions, and I don't hear the Bishops or anyone in the pro-life really tackling these tough questions. In the end, as these questions are addressed more seriously by right-to-lifers, there may be legitimate disagreement among the most ardent pro-lifers on specifics of pro-life legislation, and the Bishops need to recognize this legitimate pluralism.

2) Doesn't a politician have a moral obligation to represent his or her constituents?

In a pluralistic society where not all voters are Catholic, what moral obligation does a Catholic politician in a representative democracy have to represent the views and interests of his or her constituents when the overwhelming consensus of those constituents disagrees with Church teaching?

I would argue that a politician in such a situation can legitimately try to persuade her or his constituents to chose morally - but politicians don't always succeeed at such persuasion. I believe the politician can seek compromise (such as a ban on partial birth abortion, rather than all abortions). The polician can also abstain from voting, make a trade off on another important issue, or even resign in protest.

However, I do not believe it is moral for a politician to simply impose his or her views on people against their collective will.

To call the imposition of a policitian's will against the overwhelming consensus of his or her constituents a morally just act is to abandon democracy in support the idea of monarchs and dictators. This seems inconsistent with theological developments that were expressed in Guadium et Spes.

I don't think all of the Bishops have fully thought this through. There needs to be some further theological development of how to deal with this question. As the specifics of these questions are further developed by theologians, there needs to be some recognition of a legitimate pluralism of moral options.

3) Is there any room for compromise?

If the Bishops who would deny a pro-choice candidate communion or even threaten excommunication are acting morally, would it not also be true that there can be no compromise on the issue in question?

For example, if a Republican Catholic politician calling himself pro-life decided to push for the ban on partial birth abortions, and an end to federally funding of abortion, but refused to push for a full fledged Right to Life Amendment for fear it would cost him his office, shouldn't that politician receive the same penalty as the policician who called himself pro-choice in order to stay in office?

Aren't both candidates permitting legal murder?

Isn't a vote for Bush a vote to keep abortion legal when I have the option of writing in John Wilkes name or some other prominent pro-life leader? Or, is there legitimate moral compromise as a strategy for working toward the common good?

Aside from these three issues on the specifics of abortion, I think Sister Joan made an excellent point that there are many other issues - including life issues - that are serious enough to warrent forceful moral admonition. The war in Iraq was considered unjust by the entire USCCB and the Pope. An unjust war murders innocent people by definition.

Why aren't they being as forceful with people like Hudson Deal, Michael Novak, and others who publically dissent on this issue as they are when people dissent on abortion? Why weren't the Catholic politicians voting on the use of force in Iraq threatened and warned prior to the start of the war?

They weren't warned because the Bishops recognized the legitimate pluralism and complexity of the issue. The same is true with the issue of abortion in the United States. Unfortunately, our Constitution defines citizenship as beginning at birth - and this was not an invention of the Supreme Court, but the actual words on Article XIV.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.
I'm all for changing this through a new Amendment - but make no mistake, the Catholic politician nor the courts are at fault for writing this into the Constitution, and it changes, I believe there needs to be some respect for legitimate pluralism on the political issue of abortion.

All Catholics can and should believe abortion is a sin that we avoid - and all Catholics can and should seek to promote a pro-life attitude in our laws when voting as individuals rather than as elected officials. Bishops should preach courageously, clearly and cogently to try to persuade all people to vote in moral ways.

However, I remain convinced that there is and will continue to be morally and theologically legitimate areas of debate within the household of faith. There are and will continue to be morally and theologically legitimate reasons for politicans to act in ways that seem contrary to the teachings of the Church. Politicans should seldom, if ever, be threatened with excommunication or denial of communion over a stance held widely by their constituents. To take this course of action is forfeit the democratic process. Bishops should speak out clearly and bodly and often on all important issues - abortion, war, the death penalty, women's issues, etc... - but the tactic of exclusion from Eucharistic worhip should not be used against a politician in a pluralistic society.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Stupidity of War in Iraq

Since we haven't found WMDs in Iraq, and cannot prove a terrorist connection, people keep raising the issue of Saddam gassing his own people as justification for pre-emptive war in Iraq.

I'm not defending Saddam here, because I think in this day and age, all use of military force may be immoral. However, most of my readers believe there is still such a thing as a just war, and I'm willing to grant the possibility for the sake of argument.

With the caveat that I idealistically oppose all use of force, consider the situation Saddam was in from his point of view.

Saddam belongs to a minority group called the Sunnis.

The very existence of the Sunnis is threatened by the majority group to the South and to the East (in Iran) - called the Shi'ites.

To the north, the Kurds are another larger group that would also like to see the Sunnis dead.

The emnities between these three groups existed long before Saddam was ever born!

In all, there are about 150 different tribal groups in Iraq, more than one language, and Iraq may be the most religiously diverse nation in the middle east - but the grouping of Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds is the most important grouping for a high level analysis.

Between 1936 and 1979, there were a total of nine wars, coups, or assisinations in what we now call Iraq. Hussein took power in 1979.

From Hussein's point of view, he never gassed his own people!

From Hussein's point of view, he took pre-emptive action against armed terrorists who had tried to revolt and kill his own people even before and during the period he was in power.

And it is exactly these facts that lead me to call Bush an idiot. He completely fails to grasp the complexity of dealing with middle eastern culture and its long history of tribal and ethnic conflicts.

It simply is not possible to march in to Iraq, remove one man from power, and then leave and expect the Iraqis to all just get along just peachy in a Western style democracy.

The British tried that. It didn't work.

If the US does not leave troops in Iraq for about 20 years, I am close to 100 percent certain that that the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi'ites will try to kill one another as soon as we pull out.

To go into Iraq without a full awareness of this is stupid. To go into this with a full awareness, but not tell the American people, is deceptive.

Bush is either an idiot or a liar.

And all indications from the Administration officials who took part in the "Project for the New American Century" is that they knew this, and wanted a long US military presence in Iraq for strategic reasons.

Cheney, Rumsfled, Wolfowitz, and so forth went to war for what I consider evil reasons - and they definitely planned the war long before 9-11-2001, and I saw there plan with their own signatures on it. There is no question in my mind that these guys are not idiots. They are simply men who make what I would consider grossly immoral decisions.

So, the question about Bush is whether he is stupid enough to honestly believe democracy can be implemented in less than 20 years in Iraq, or was simply lying about our reasons for going to war.

It doesn't matter where he went to school or where he is from.

To believe the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites won't kill each other if we withdraw too quickly is just plain stupid. To say you believe this when you don't is a lie. Either way, Bush doesn't belong in the White House because he is either a liar without morals, or an idiot whose stupidity has lead to thousands of deaths.

One of the reasons I lean towards what people label passivism is that wars always seem just from the point of view of the victor - and they almost never seem just from the point of view of the loser. Almost no soldier fights in what he or she considers an unjust war. Even dictators believe that they are doing nothing truly different from the rest of the world leaders (Hitler actually admired Roosevelt, and was jealous of Roosevelt's power over the American masses).

The Christ of the Gospels invites us to settle conflicts by other means than violence. The Church's own just war doctrine demands that war is an absolute last resort. Since it is so difficult to determine a war is ever just, and we now have examples of successful active non-violent resistance to evil in figures such as Martin Luther King Jr and Ghandio, I do not believe any use of military force can ever be called just until active non-violent resistance has been tried and failed.

In this sense, Saddam Huseein's gassing of the Kurds was immoral by my standards - but so was Bush's pre-emptive war against Hussein immoral by my standards. However, I freely admit that my own standard for a just war has not yet been defined by the Church in just war doctrine.

Nevertheless, the just war doctrine as it has been defined and articulated from the earliest days clearly would label Bush's war unjust. The Church has maintained for 2000 years that all wars of agression are unjust. By this standard, Hussein's gassing of the Kurds was wrong, but so was the notion of pre-emptive war by the US against Iraq.

Iraq did not possess WMDs. Iraq had no ties to Al Queda or 9-11-2001. Bush's tactics against Iraq mirrored Hussein's action against the Kurds, and is morally wrong for the exact same reasons. And aside from the moral issues, the war was incredibly stupid, because what is left behind is a breeding ground for more ethnic conflict and future terrorist training and development aimed at the country that left this mess behind.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Fr. Andrew Greeley on Hitler's Propoganda and Bush's Big Lie

Greeley does not believe that Bush is the same as Hitler. The difference he sees is that Bush seems to believe the "big lie" his Administration has created, where Hitler and Goebbels seemed to know they were lying. If Greeley is right, I maintain that Bush lacks the intelligence to be President.

While Greeley sees differences, he also sees a similarity. Eventually, big lies turn on themselves and things fall apart. This article was written back in September of 2003, and it seems to me that Bush's support is slowly but surely eroding as people come to terms with the following truths:

- The war in Iraq has not made us safer from terrorism. It may have increased anger at the US and created a breeding nest for future terrorists.

- Iraq had no WMDs.

- Iraq had no ties to Al Queda or the events of 9-11-2001.

- Innocent people died in Iraq.

- Our troops will be in Iraq much longer than Bush originally stated.

- The war will cost far more money than Bush originally stated.

Bush remains willing to bet his presidency on the war in Iraq.

This is a war that not only failed to acheive the stated purposes of Bush. It also violated the principles of just war as taught by the Church.

- The Church has always taught that all wars of aggression are wrong. There is no such thing as a just "pre-emptive war" and there never will be.

- The Church also teaches that wars must be authorized by legitimate authority. The Church maintained that only the UN is authorized to enforce its own resolutions. The Pope, himself, was highly critical of the use of "unilateral force".

- The actual waging of war must be proportional. The "shock and awe" tactics were not proportional to the threat, and Iraqi civilians have died.

Aside from what the Church teaches, or the issue of terrorism, the very belief that the Sunnis, Sh'ites, and Kurds would all just accept one another peaceably, dance in the streets to welcome their foreign liberators, and embrace Western style democracy overnight was incredibly naive.

Hasn't anyone stopped to ask the question of whether it is democratic to use military force to impose democracy on a people who do not believe in democracy in the first place?

Has anyone stopped to ask if GW's belief that freedom is the deepest longing of the human heart and the deity's gift to humankind doesn't equate cultural arrogance if forced on others by the gun? What kind of freedom is that anyway?

I hope that democracy does take root in Iraq, but realism tells me it would take decades for that to happen. I believed this long before a single shot was fired.

Frankly, anyone ignorant or just plain stupid enough to seriously believe that Iraq could be made a democracy overnight should not be in the oval office.

This is the dilemna I have been pointing out for weeks. If Bush really believes what he says, he is a fool. If he doesn't truly believe what he says, he's a liar, and we're back to the Hitler analogies.

The same thing goes for China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Togo, the Sudan and a host of other places.

As wonderful as it would be to dream that these nations could instantaneously become democtratic, it is naive and just plain stupid to believe that the only thing holding millions of people back is one brutal person. If that were the only problem, these millions would have strung the dictator up by his toes a long time ago.

There is an entire cultural mind-set forged by historical events that creates and supports dictators, and until the culture is changed, none of these countries is quite ready for democracy yet. Furthermore, a large part of this change has to come from within the culture.

Those who disagree might try to point to Japan after WWII, but bear in mind that in Japan, the Emporer backed McArthur in the face of defeat by nuclear weapons! Furthermore, the internal strife that lead to creation of an Emporer in Japan in the first place was centuries ago. These were a united people. There was already seeds of capitalism in the Japanese economy. Yet, even with all these advantages, democracy took decades to really take root and flourish in Japan, and the US still technically has troops there to this day!

Perhaps China is growing closer to the day of readiness for democracy, but they are long way off. Many of these "younger" nations have dictators precisely because ethnic groups threaten to wipe one another out, and only a heavy hand can keep a lid on the boiling stew beneath.

The way to undermine dictatorships is not through military force. It is through ideas. Convince a dictator of ways to resolve conflict through win-win, instead of win-lose, and some victories are had. Pump humanitarian aide into the nation so that no group is starving and ready to kill others for food. Evangelize - Christianity is inherently a religion of liberation. Spread the idea of equality among the lower classes, and victories are had. Use active non-violent resistance. Martyrs change hearts and minds more deeply than the barrel of a gun. It is through evolution, rather than revolution or invasion that democracy ultimately prevails. Even American democracy started with the parlimentary houses in England evolving centuries before the New World was discovered.

The war in Iraq is the most important issue on the table in the upcoming elections. Bush isn't going to resolve abortion if re-elected, and Kerry isn't going to do more harm to the pro-life cause than has already been done 30 years ago.

It is not I who "unilaterally" decided to make the war in Iraq the most important issue of the upcoming election. Bush, himself, says he wants to bet his entire presidency on this war. Take him up on his bet.

The moment he declared war in Iraq was the very moment I became mad enough at Bush to compare him to Hitler. This war is gravely immoral. It is tremendously evil. It is also incredibly stupid. This war is based on all sorts of falsehoods that are so obviously wrong that I have a hard time believing that Bush believes himself. But if he is not lying, he is a complete idiot. Either way, he should not be in the oval office.

When the war first started, the conservatives said that President Bush must know things he hasn't told us yet. The conservatives knew that what we all knew a year ago was not quite enought to justify war. It turns out that he gave us everything he knows, and much of what he thought he knew was wrong. Conservatives need to face the facts - Bush is a skilled liar or an idiot, and either way, he doesn't belong in the White House.


Interesting Bush Proposal....

Bush is proposing that US tax payers foot the bill to the tune of $660 M to train militias in other nations (particularly Africa) for global peacekeeping efforts.

On the surface, this may seem like a good idea. Afterall, why should the UN rely so heavily on the US and British forces in peacekeeping? Also, wouldn't this add a more international character to peace-keeping operations?

However, another way of looking at it is that the US is recruiting foreigners to protect US interest ,..., sort of the equivalent of the French Foreign Legion that was so prominant in the past. In effect, these troops could become mercenaries for US interests.

I always tell my employees that if they don't like one of my ideas, they should propose an alternate solution rather than simply complain. Here's my alternative:

Why don't we spend this $660 M to recruit and train a global Peace Corps?

Why not build an "army" of humanitarian workers to help rebuild nations devasted by AIDs, war, famine, and poverty? Wouldn't this be equally effective - if not more effective - in ensuring world peace?


Saturday, April 17, 2004

Powell Refers to Cheney and Friend's as "Gestapo"!

It seems I am not the only person who sees a certain nazi like tendency in the Bush Administration - and this time, the critique comes from deep inside and very high up in the Administration itself!

Colin Powell is quoted by Bob Woodward in his new book, Plan of Attack, as referring to Cheney and associates (Feith, Libby, Rumsfled, Wolfowitz, etc,...) as "Gestapo".

Powell confirms exactly what I criticized a few days ago in a reply to PMC about what I wanted Bush to admit in his press conference. The Bush Administration lied about the motive for war with Iraq!

Director of the CIA, George Tenet, had indicated subtly to the press prior to the war in Iraq that the evidence Powell was about to be presenting to the U.N. for WMDs was unreliable and unlikely. This was alluded to as early as about February 2003 in such news sources as Newsweek. Yet, Powell gave the presentation anyway.

Tenet may have believed that Iraq possessed WMDs, and later says he stood by the evidence according to Woodword. Yet, I recall reading standard news sources indicating Tenet's doubts about the evidence prior to the war. When Powell made his presentation, I was thinking, "Is that all you got?" It seems to me that Bush is actively trying to make Tenet and the CIA take the fall, but Tenet was smart enough to let the doubts about the evidence get out before we went to war.

It was also well known that Powell was in no rush to go to war, and I find it unbelievable that Powell would have intentionally lied or overstated the case to U.N. without some pressure and some people feeding him false information. He had already publically embarrassed the Administration by calling the war plan into question, and he would have had no motive to present material he did not believe was true.

So, if Powell believed he was getting reliable information from the CIA that the CIA director himself was hinting to the press that he did not support, who was giving Powell false information and who was pressuring Tenet to back the evidence?

There are only two people with enough clout and authority to overide the judgment of Tenet and ensure that Powell's presentation contained the information that it ultimately did. These two people are George W. Bush and Richard (Dick) Cheney!

Think about that very hard!

When I keep comparing Bush to Hiltler, I constantly go back to the fact that he waged a war of aggression that killed innocent people without sufficient evidence that the UN was unsuccesfully containing Hussein.

In my mind, anyone who would do such a thing with deliberation and forethought has absolutely no regard for human life, and no matter what pretext they give it, they are as evil as they claim Hussein to be.

Hans Blix had told the world that Hussein had no WMDs, and the Kay report confirmed this after the war. Anyone who had been reading the papers after the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania knew that Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were enemies - and that Iraq, whatever evil it might have done, had no ties to Al Queda. There were no Iraqi hijackers involved in 9-11-2001.

Hussein's own pre-emptive strike using chemical weapons was against people who really did plan him and his people (his ethnic tribe) harm and had the means to carry such harm out! What made Hussein wrong was acting pre-emptively with disproportionate force.

How is Bush's "shock and awe" war with Iraq morally any different from Hussein's pre-emptive war with the Kurds?

Indeed, the only real difference I see is that Bush was plain wrong about the threat posed by Iraq, where Hussein was probably right about the threat the Kurds posed to him.

Think about that very hard!

I think Saddam Hussein was an evil man, and I am glad he is no longer in power. I honestly hope that somehow, despite the ethnic tensions in Iraq, democracy will take root and spread through the middle east.

I always believed this unlikely, given the history of conflict between the Kurds, Sunnis and Sh'ites - and when I wrote the President and my legislators prior to war, I advised that we need to plan about 20 years of "nation building" because of these tensions if we chose the path of war.

This was partially Powell's concern prior to war as well - he knew that American troops would be there a very long time and in a very bad situation. In Woodward's book, he advised the President, "You own it", referring to a pottery store's slogan that if you break it, you own it.

But Bush chose to press forward capitalizing on the world's common hatred for Hussein.

However, I have stated before that if Hitler defeats Stalin, this is no real cause for celebration. Just because one man is evil does not make the other man good!

Bush's defeat of the evil Hussein does not make Bush a good man. By his actions, Bush has aligned himself with terrorists. Wars of agression (even if labeled "pre-emptive" ) are always and everywhere wrong. Period!

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger reminded the US that pre-emptive war is not in the Catechism just weeks before Bush declared war. There is always and everywhere another option than pre-emptive war for settling conflict - and that other option is always and everywhere the option God prefers we take. To do less is sinful. Period!

Furthermore, only the UN is authorized to enforce its own resolutions. The US has no more right to unilaterally enforce UN resolutions than the state of Texas has the right to wage war without US Congressional support. The Pope has affirmed this. The USCCB affirmed this. Bush's own bishop affirmed this. The ends do not justify the means. The war was and is not just. Period!

Bush wants to bet his presidency on this war, and this war was gravely wrong according to 2,000 years of Christian tradition. This is worse than saying "I'm personally opposed to such and such but..." or "I believe in a separation of Church and state." Bush is saying that if he is right, 2,000 years of Christian tradition and sacred scripture itself is wrong!

The quagmire left in Iraq will breed generations of terrorists to come. America had an opportunity through UN support to truly deal with terrorism after 9-11 through an international law enforcment effort. Instead, Bush and Cheney chose their war - a war planned long before 9/11 - to assert US superiority over the UN. We blew it, and no American will be safe from terrorism for decades to come.

After the war officially ended, voices slowly came out confirming what I already knew from standard news sources. People like John Dean, Paul O'Neill, and Richard Clarke all came out and said that Bush and Cheney wanted war with Iraq on their first days in office, and that their motivation had nothing to do with a terrorist threat.

The war - which has killed hundreds of thousands of people - including women and children, was and is about power and money and oil. To take the lives of innocent Iraqi people for these reasons is plain evil, no "ands", "ifs" or "buts"!

People who would contemplate such evil should not hold the reigns of power over the executive branch of the US government.

Indeed, Bush and Ashcroft were ignoring the threat of terrorism, and focusing more on drugs. As Condi Rice says, "We weren't on a war footing", in the sense of believeing we could be attacked. Heck, we the people, seemed to believe we couldn't be attacked. We elected a man who did not know the names of the leaders of two nuclear powers and a terrorist haven that were already on the verge of war with each other (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India). Except for me, nobody seemed bothered that candidate Bush publically humiliated these men by saying he didn't need to know their names.

I don't really blame Bush for not anticipating 9-11. However, I do think the US foreign policy before Bush is largely to blame (and this includes Bush's father). We created and armed Hussein and Bin Laden and a host of other terrorists and dictators. No wonder the world hates us. But I don't blame GW and Cheney directly for this. I do blame them for looking at 9-11 more as an opportunity than a tragedy. I do blame them for lying to us about their plans for an unjust war!

What none of us knew in 2000 was that we were on a war footing. It simply wasn't a defensive war against terror as Bush has lead people to believe. Rather, it was a war of aggression planned long before 9-11. It was a war of agression for power and money and oil. It was a war planned by Cheney and one that Bush wanted before he ever entered the White House. When 9-11 occurred, Bush and Cheney saw their window of opportunity and siezed it.

Prior to the war, I and many of my progressive friends began to realize the truth. We were circulating the the link to Project for the New American Century web-site where all could read papers written as far back as 1997 by Cheney, Rumsfled, and Wolfowitz stating that Iraq was a strategic target for the U.S. because it supplies oil to France, Germany, and Russia, and by controling those oil fields, the U.S. would gain superiority over the UN and the emerging European Union.

After the war began, we added that Halliburton Oil, Dick Cheney's company, was profiting directly from the war. Halliburton also does business in Iran, which may be illegal! Likewise, Cheney is connected to companies such as Enron and World-Com. He was on Enron's board, and he sat on the board of EDS, which was in an alliance with World Com to win the largest IT outsourcing deal in history to the US Navy Marine Corp. And all these companies had been outsourcing jobs abroad despite all the tax cuts he was giving them! This is a man without ethics whose sole interest are increasing power and wealth for himself.

As further evidence of Cheney's selfish politics, consider that USA Today ran an article just yesterday on how pollution is higher than it ever has been in US history. Yet, Cheney had one of the worst environmental records of any Congressman, and the Bush Administration remains anti-environment, but pro-business. They also rolled back the successes of the civil rights movement for Blacks, scaled back succesful social service programs, and have given huge tax cuts to the rich who outsource jobs while running up a half trillion dollar deficit. It all ties together in an attitude that puts profit and power over the value of human life.

Not only did hundreds of thouands of innocent Iraqi's lose their lives, but hundreds of US soldiers are dead. I support our troops, and never wanted them to die needlesly for a cause of money, oil, and power. I don't blame them so long as they do their job with honor and dignity. I blame the Administration that sent them. I want the troops to come home safely.

If any soldier were convinced the cause is not just, I would support him or her if he or she laid down their weapon. For those who chose to follow orders in such difficult circumstances, I give the advice that Saint John the Baptist gave soldiers. Do not bully anyone, and avoid looting. My anger is not directed our our troops, but at the unethical powers that would have them killed to inflict injustice in the world.

Now, things seem to be so bad that even the loyal soldier, Colin Powell, is speaking out, and he is not mincing words. In Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, Powell refers to Cheney and his associates as "Gestapo" and says they have set up their own government within the US government!

And what is most brilliant about these evil men is that they really don't hide their actions or try to supress free speech. They realize that some people don't care because they gain from the Bush-Cheney duo (all the beneficiaries of their tax cuts to the rich). Some people don't care because 9-11 convinced them that the US needs to be the most powerful country by any means necessary, even if those means are morally questionable if not outright evil. Some people don't care because they simply don't believe it - they keep hearing it, and are convinced the liberals are making it up. Finally, there are those who rightly want to stop abortion, and therefore hate Kerry and the Democrats.

Bush has learned to pay lip service to the pro-life folks, but he has never really indicated any deep belief that human life begins at conception. All Bush and Cheney need to do is be careful to neither confirm nor deny what is obvious or what they said before entering office, mention the word "terror", drop the name of "God" on occassion, and everything goes fine for them. These are the propoganda tools to help keep the support of the poor and the working and middle classes who otherwise would be asking "What's in this for us?"

But if the truth does start to hurt there popularity, they have demonstrated enough secrecy, deviciveness and willingeness to use force that many of us fear that our very freedoms will be taken from us. They have repeatedly hinted to be against them is to be with the terrorists (which is sikmply absurd). Let's not forget the Patriot Act and Gutanamo Bay, the recently reinstituted federal death penalty, etc ,..., are hanging over our heads ready for use.

And my opinion of Bush remains that he is either an idiot being manipulated by Cheney, or he is a master deciever in cahoots with evil men to destroy everything America values for personal gain and profit. My opinion of Cheney is that he's no idiot. He's simply a deeply immoral man based on his actions (I can't possibly judge his heart).

Now Powell seems to be indicating such, along with Dean, O'Neill, and Clarke. How many Administartors need to speak up before the common people will listen? As hard as it is to believe, megolomaniacs without regard for human life have gained control of the White House, and we need to do something about it!

It's time for regime change in the United States of America!


Friday, April 16, 2004

Todd of Catholic Sensibilities Makes an Open Request Inviting Our Bishops to Avoid Embarrassing Us

I was flying on business today, and I saw a bishop board the plane, and I wanted so badly to sit next to him and tell him exactly this....Unfortunately, he was flying first class, and I was in coach.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Reflections on Resurrection in Morning Prayer

During this Octave of Easter, the central readings for Morning Prayer (Lauds) in the Divine Office seem to be from Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter eight. I can hardly add to what the great Saint is saying, so I thought I'd simply post his words from this chapter of Romans:

If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, siblings, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, "Abba, Father!" The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:11-23)


Gregory Books: An Online Catholic Bookstore

I received this link from a reader advising of an online Catholic bookstore with some works by more progressive theologians. I took a quick gander, and there is actually good reading for everyone on the full spectrum of Catholic thought.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

A Thought After the Article Linked Below

As I was reading the editorial from NCR linked below, I was somewhat baffled that there was any question that Israel had nuclear weapons. So I did a quick google to see which countries have nuclear capacity. This helped me understand why I was confused. There are several countries that everyone knows have nuclear weapons, but these nations make no official statement that they have them.

Combing through several articles and links, here a list of nations with nulcear capacity:

1) The United States of America has the largest stockpiles, and is believed to have chemical and biological WMDs as well, including smallpox virus.

2) Russia has the second largest stockpile and is also believed to have chemical and biological WMDs. However, there has been little to no investment in these WMDs and the quality never reached the level of the U.S.

3) China has nuclear weapons.

4) The United Kingdom has nulcear weapons.

5) France has nuclear weapons.

6) India "unofficially" has nuclear weapons.

7) Pakistan "unofficially" has nuclear weapons.

(Note India and Pakistan have been long time historic enemies that border one another.)

8) South Africa "unofficially" has nuclear weapons.

9) Israel "unofficially" has nuclear weapons.

The followings countries may have inherited some nuclear or other WMDs from the former Soviet Union:


The following countries have made some attempt to develop nuclear weapons capacity, but are believed to have none at this time:

The former Iraqi Republic

North Korea boasts that they have nuclear weapons now, but some experts seem to doubt whether these WMDs actually work effectively.

The following nations are deemed technologically capable of developing nuclear weapons, but have made no attempts to do so, nor expressed any desire to do so:

All of Europe that does not currently possess nuclear weapons.
New Zealand
South Korea

Apparently, Algeria and Egypt may have hinted a desire to possess nuclear weapons in the seventies or eighties. However, neither nation is believed to possess or desire nuclear weapons today, and most experts believe them incapable of developing such weapons capacity any time in the near future.


Resurrection in a Time of War

This NCR editorial by Claire Scaeffer-Duffy offers hope for peace workers in a time of war and setbacks. I thought this was an appropriate reflection for the Octave of Easter.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

George Bush is John Kerry's Best Campaigner

Asked several times tonight of he made any mistakes regarding 9-11 or the war in Iraq, President Bush insists no major mistakes were made. Challenged on the issue that Iraq has no WMDs, Bush inisisted we'll find them.

Asked why he needed Cheney with him when he appears before the 9-11 Commission, instead of appearing separately, he responded they look forward to appearing. Asked to simply name his biggest mistake, he admitted that he did not have a canned response, and couldn't think of one. Asked if he felt the families of 9-11 victims deserved an apology, he responded that he owed them no apology for what Bin Laden did. Asked how long the troops will be in Iraq, and he responded, vaguely, "As long as necessary and not a day longer."

In the final question, a reporter pointed out that critics find the President to be a poor communicator. The reporter stated that critics strongly disagree with Bush's often optimistic and simple and repetitive statements, and simply repeating the same simple repetitive message fails to communicate, as polls clearly demonstrate support for the war in Iraq is seriously waning. The reporter asked the President if he would at least consider the possibility that his communication is not clear. In response, Bush repeated that his message is simple and clear, and he feels strongly that war with Iraq was the right thing to do, even if Iraq had no WMDs.

If Bush believes what he is saying, he's lacking the creativity and intelligence of one who can consider serveral alternative solutions to the problems and challenges posed by 9-11. If he doesn't believe what he is saying, he is a skilled liar with incredible acting skills. Either way, every word he utters makes me want to vote for Kerry more and more, and I have disliked Kerry!

Bush is Kerry's best asset.


A Belated Welcome to the Newly Baptized

On Holy Saturday, I was winding up my seven part meditation on the cross, and Easter Sunday, I did not want to spend time on the internet. I neglected to post a welcome to our newly baptized. In my parish, I made sure to congratulate the newly baptized and confirmed at the Vigil, but I neglected to post a welcome to everyone in the wider Church on this site.

So, let me apologize and say it now. Welcome to the Church!

May God bless you in this journey that is only just beginning. Trust the one who started this work to bring it to completion.

In some ways, I envy those who receive baptism as an adult. Infant baptism is a powerful reminder that we are saved by God's free grace and his initiative. I do not doubt the power of infant baptism to have effects years down the road.

Nevertheless, the adult convert is a reminder to all of us "cradle Catholics" of an important truth that is so obvious that we often overlook it. The Protestants often say it better than us. We each individually must have a personal relationship with Christ. We each must choose what we believe, and why we believe it. We each must appropriate the faith for ourselves. We each must reach out to Jesus in trust, knowing that he is risen, and accepting him as Lord in our lives.

Catholics generally avoid this type of language because we have a strong sense of the communal aspect of our faith. We are keenly aware of ourselves as part of a communion of saints. We are keenly aware of our need for the Church, and the ways that Christ is mediated to us through others. We tend to have a strong distaste for the "individualistic" style of some Protestant preaching that sometimes comes across to us as "Me and Jesus, and to hell with the rest of the world". We focus on "We and Jesus, and hopefully the rest of the world too."

Yet, just as a wheel has many spokes but a single hub, we who make up the community of faith known as the Church are each individually united to Christ at our center. True, there is also an essential bond of love on the outer portion of the wheel - the rim, where the rubber hits the road. We need each other, but our center is always Christ. The Protestants are ultimately right in saying each one of us needs to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Adult converts to Catholicism are often powerful witnesses to what a relationship with Christ can do in a person's life. They have the greatest stories to tell, and their very presence among is a wonderful gift. Every convert affirms and strengthens our faith.

It would be exciting to have been consciously aware of what was happening to me while I was being baptized. It would have been exciting to have been more aware of my cooperation in God's plan through much of my childhood. The adults brought into the Church this last weekend have a truly memorable experience, and that memory often can be communicated to others in ways cradle Catholics cannot share.

Of course, with this exciting event comes a danger. The danger for the adult convert is that now that the excitement of anticipating the Vigil and the long preparation through the R.C.I.A. process is over, how will your faith continue to grow and be nourished?

I know it is difficult, but one of the things all Christians need to learn is "everyday holiness". We need to learn to get excited at the small and still moments where we encounter the risen Christ. We need to learn to get excited with the small moments of moral challenge where grace moves us to do what is right. As we grow in our awareness of grace already everywhere present, we avoid the deep lows that can follow an extreme high like our first Easter Vigil and initiation into the faith.

I once recall reading somewhere a story of a man raised prior to Vatican II, who embraced the Council, yet missed some aspects of the old ways. He wrote of how he sort of missed the feeling that the fate of the entire universe almost seemed to hang on whether he ate meat on Friday or not.

There is a danger of scrupulosity in such a spirituality, but I think the author was on to something. The Christian life becomes richer and fuller and more joyful when we begin to find the infinite love and power of God at work in very small and insignificant things ,..., when we can begin to see that simply taking out the trash causes angels and saints to sing praise in heaven, and leaving the trash for another day could make demons giggle with glee, while the saints pray fervently for you.

Becoming a Catholic is waking up to the truth that we - the whole human race - are bound together in just such a way that the smallest acts effect a distant child in Africa, a saint in heaven, and the man, Jesus Christ, himself. The divine Risen One offers us freely forgiveness for past sins, and the grace to do good and avoid evil. Let us continue to grow in our awareness of his presence.

And welcome once again to the Catholic Church!


Week Ten of Pregnancy is Complete

My wife is feeling very nauseous almost all day long, and says she is also very tired and has sporadic headaches. I feel bad for her. She says I have to carry the next one.


Monday, April 12, 2004

My Seven Day Holy Week Meditation on the Cross

This may be easier printing or emailing than what is below if anyone wants it.....I've also added a link to the homepage.


The Resurrection!

I wrote this article and posted it to my homepage almost a year ago. I thought it would be a good time to recycle it. It's a bit more academic than Saturday's post, and I hope people find it interesting and meaningful.


Sunday, April 11, 2004



Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Kerygma

Part Seven of Seven on the Cross

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

In the center of all of the Eucharistic prayers of the Church, just after the bread and wine are consecrated to become for us the living presence of Christ, we proclaim the central mystery of our faith:

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This part of the Mass is referred to as the kerygma, which simply means "proclamation". The kerygma is the central proclamation of faith - our earliest and most basic creed.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

The Apostles creed, the Creed of Nicea, our belief in Word and Sacrament and all our rituals, moral laws, Counciliar decrees, and everything we do and say related to faith is centered on the kerygma.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

We are winding up our week long meditation on the cross as we prepare for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Easter Vigil.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This entire week is directed not to Good Friday, but to Easter Sunday.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

I complete my meditations on the cross with a point made in the first meditation: without the resurrection, the cross is a meaningless absurdity.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

The kerygma looks in three directions. It looks back in time to the absurdity of the cross:

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the kerygma to save those who have faith (1 Cor 1:21).

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

"And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith (1 Cor 15:14).

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Much of our meditation this week has taken us on a journey exploring the utter foolishness of the cross,...,the senselessness of human suffering,...,the misinterpretations of the cross by those who seek pain for themselves and others in a masochistic fashion,..., God's presence with us in suffering,..., even his sorrow that we suffer,....

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Volumes could be written on the cross. Volumes have been written, and we have only begun to scratch the surface. The Christian faith is so simple a child can grasp the kerygma, and so deep that the greatest genius can never fully comprehend it,....

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Yet, what has happened in the past is not the totality of the Christian kerygma. At the center of the kerygma is the present tense. Christ is risen.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Christ is not simply a preacher who lived a long time ago and established a set of rules and rituals by which our lives are planned and controlled. Christ is a living and personal power whom we encounter today.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

The risen one is encountered as a glorified body, a presence beyond description who is at once corporal, and beyond physical limitations of time and space.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

He comes bearing the wounds of his cross, and we can place our hands in his hands, his feet and his side when we enter into solidarity with those who suffer.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

In the Eucharist, we are united with him here and now. We bring our crosses to him, knowing that he has conquered all sin, suffering and death.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

The absurdities of our own lives are transformed by the paschal mystery.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

The meaningless of our own sufferings are transformed by the paschal mystery.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Our own sins are covered in his blood in the paschal mystery.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

His own sorrow for our suffering is revealed in the paschal mystery.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

His vindication over our suffering is revealed in the paschal mystery.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

And the future promise is revealed in our encounter with his risen presence.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

The one we experience in Word and Sacrament and in each other cannot be put to death again. Death has no power over him. Where, O death is your sting!

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

A man - a human being - has risen from the dead in a new state beyond our imagining. What happened in this man can happen in us!

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

No matter what we will face tomorrow, we know the outcome.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This power revealed in the resurrection can only be the very power of God. Even if he never said it in his earthly flesh, we know this power we encounter in our lives is divine!

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that all who believe in him may have eternal life.

Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.


Friday, April 09, 2004

God's Apology

Part Six of Seven on the Cross

Today is Good Friday, and the Passion narrative for the Good Friday Service will come form John's Gospel. Jesus' final words are "It is finished".

The original Greek carries a connotation of a debt paid in full. On this day, we will hear preachers around the world speak of how Jesus lived the perfect life in our place and took our sins to the cross to pay the debt owed for the evil we do in this life.

In order to unpack Jesus' final words further, we could go to the beginning of the Biblical narrative to understand this finished work that pays the debt in full.

In the beginning of the narrative, God created woman and man in his image and likeness. Humanity was the absolute height of God's creation, and he sat back to rest and enjoy what he had made when he finished making us. But then, God decided that while his children were just a few days old, and ignorant of good and evil, he would allow them to be put to a test with life and death consequences, with the future of all humanity hanging in the balance.

When the height of his creation failed this test, this God who thought of himself as perfect now repented of his creation. So he sent a mighty deluge to wipe out humanity. But not being able to make up his mind, God decided to let one man live named Noah.

Perfect God was still upset with the imperfection of his creation, so he thought maybe that he should demand Abraham to offer a sacrifice. He asked Abraham to kill his beloved son, Isaac. Once again, God changed his mind, but not until after Abraham had already tied up Isaac and put quite a scare into him. Thinking that maybe this type of sacrifice might be drastic, God decided he would settle for the foreskin of the male penis from that day forward.

The all powerful and all knowing God, despite his perfection, couldn't seem to gain control of his imperfect creation. He decided that there were just too many human beings for him to pay attention to all of them, so he focused his attention on the children of Abraham.

As we hear it told, the first thing God decided to do with the children of Abraham was to send them into slavery for four hundred years. When he finally heard their cry for deliverance, he lead them into the desert to die of starvation, plague and snake bites. Before killing them all himself, he commanded Moses to have the elders of the community execute a certain number in mass: twenty four thousand in all! (c.f. Num 25:1-5)

According to the Scriptures, the next thing God did was to tell Joshua to go into a foreign country and slaughter all the people who live there, including the women and children. Joshua and his troops weren't entirely successful, so God had to raise up various judges later to continue the killing. But he kept tiring of offering his help, so he did things like abandon Samson because Samson had his hair cut. We're not entirely sure why God had such a preference for long-haired men.

The people he created still seemed a bit unruly, so God decided to raise up a king. As the Bible tells the story, he chose a psychotic named Saul at first. That wasn't working too well, so he selected a murdering adulterer after that. This seemed to work a bit better, and he let David's polygamous son take the throne next.

But then, the whole king idea wasn't working out either, so according to the narrative, God decided to give up on the project. He allowed the children of Abraham to be lead into exile and slavery once again.

At this point, the people banded together and looked to prophets and began to compile a literature we would come to know as the Old Testament. The people cried out to God for mercy. They asked this God to have compassion. Despite all that God had done, they prayed and hoped for a day when God would give liberty to captives and freedom to the oppressed. They wanted good news in their poverty. They longed for the day when God would let the blind see, the lame walk, and lepers would become clean. They became anxious for the day when even the dead would rise!

The written expression of the people's hope came to be desired so strongly that humanity has come to see this hope as inspired by a higher power than ourselves.

God seemed moved by the people's hope. In Jesus, this hope began to be realized.

Perhaps, rather than taking our own sins to the cross, the Biblical God went to the cross to show us the depth of his own sorrow for the pain and suffering he has allowed in the world. The debt is now paid in full.


Thursday, April 08, 2004

God is With Us!

Part Five of Seven on the Cross

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us." (Mt 1:23)
Why do bad things happen to good people?

The existence of evil is probably the strongest argument against the existence of the God of Christianity. Why would a good and all powerful all knowing God create, permit, or allow suffering in the world?

In his book The Case For Faith, popular Christian author, Lee Strobel, deals almost exclusively with this subject. Strobel claims he was a one time atheist who worked as a journalist and developed the skepticism of his trade. In this book, he starts with an interview of a former Protestant evangelists who worked with Billy Graham several decades ago. The man's name is Charles Templeton. Templeton has become an agnostic, and at the beginning of Strobel's book, he is in the first stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Templeton describes his journey from apparent faith to agnosticism for Strobel, and most of the rest of the book is written as an answer to Templeton's questions. Agnostics may criticize Strobel's methodology. He stacks the deck by interviewing only one serious agnostic, and then interviews eight different believers to answer the question of why a good God permits suffering. While the agnostic has a valid philosophical point, the book is a still worthwhile, and I highly recommend it to any believer experiencing doubt during a time of trial.

Methodological critiques aside, I wish to start this meditation in the same place Strobel starts his book. Templeton describes to Strobel the exact moment he began to consciously doubt his Christian faith after his initial "born again" experience. He states that he was looking at a photograph in Life magazine:
"It was a picture of a black woman in Northern Africa," he explained. "They were experiencing a devastating drought. And she was holding her dead baby in her arms and looking up to heaven with the most forlorn expression. I looked at it and I thought, 'Is it possible to believe that there is a loving or caring Creator when all this woman needed was rain?"
"How could a loving God do this to that woman?" he implored as he got more animated, moving to the edge of his chair. "Who runs the rain? I don't; you don't. He does - or that's what I thought. But when I saw that photograph, I immediately knew it is not possible for this to happen and for there to be a loving God. There was no way. Who else but a fiend could destroy a baby and virtually kill its mother with agony - when all that was needed was rain?" (p.14 of The Case for Faith)
The agnostic reasons, if God had the power to send the rain, but chose not to send it, he is not good. If he wanted to send rain, but could not, he is not all powerful. Thus, the existence of suffering and evil is proof that an all good and all powerful God does not exist.

For this purpose of today's meditation, I only wish to focus on the first interview in Strobel's book with a believer. The first interview presented in response to Strobel was with Peter Kreeft. Many of my readers are familiar with the works of Kreeft already. Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher who has written a number of popular apologetic works. What I will present is merely a high level summary of the discussion. Strobel's journalistic style is far more lively and captures the excitement of a real discussion.

Strobel poses Templeton's challenge to Kreeft and asks how he would respond. Kreeft points out right from the start that Templeton's argument is philosophically wrong because it implies the existence of a good God. He elaborates that Templeton's sense of outrage at the apparent injustice of the suffering of the woman implies that there is a supreme good by which we can judge the scenario as evil. Since the supreme good is the definition of God, God must exist in order for us to judge that this situation is truly tragic.

Of course, such a solution is highly intellectualized, and comes across to most people as a play with words. As logical as the string of propositions may sound, we left somewhat unsatisfied. Kreeft acknowledges this, and responds that the fundamental problem is that we are judging the event as a human being, and lack a God's eye perspective on the situation.

Kreeft creates an analogy of a bear caught in a trap. Along comes a hunter who decides out of compassion to free the bear from the trap. Because the hunter is far more intelligent than the bear, the hunter can anticipate that the bear will react in fear if he approaches it. So the hunter decides to shoot the bear with drugs that will cause the bear to sleep. From the bear's perspective, his fears are only confirmed. The hunter appears to be maliciously attacking him. The analogy is extended even further with more detail, but the point remains that the bear is completely unable to understand that the hunter is inflicting more and more pain on the bear in order to ultimately free the bear from his painful dilemma.

Getting a little more real and down to earth, Kreeft also brings in analogies of parents with children. When teaching a child to walk, we let her or him fall. We don't do their homework for them if we want them to learn to think critically for themselves.

Perhaps Christ used parental images of God so often precisely because he saw that this image can most adequately convey the notion of trusting a person who does not wish you harm, but may allow short term pains for your benefit. The Gospels invite us to see all suffering in an eternal perspective and look beyond the immediate moment.

Kreeft argues that when we are faced with suffering, a person of faith is not being irrational, but is acting on a belief that somehow short term suffering has long term benefits that only an all knowing God can fully understand. At one point in the interview, he alludes to a saying by a Saint Teresa (which one is not specified): "In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel."

Kreeft makes an astonishing claim that faith is "prejudiced". He argues by analogy that if the police came to his house and told him his own wife was guilty of a gruesome murder, he would not believe them, no matter what evidence they presented. He knows his wife better than the police could possibly know her. His faith in his wife is not purely irrational or without evidence, but his faith in his wife would completely ignore the evidence of the police in such a way that the police would call it an irrational faith.

This is how faith in God works for those who believe. Faith is not simply knowledge. We do not have faith that two plus two equals four or that the sun will rise. We have faith in persons. The person who believes in God through suffering is not simply denying reality. Rather, such a person has reason to believe in God that enables them believe even when the evidence sometimes seems contrary to their belief.

Where the unbeliever asks "Why is there so much suffering in the world?", the believer might counter, "Why is there also so much good in the world?" Faith in God is "prejudiced", but not wholly irrational.

As a further argument, Kreeft suggests that many people find that their faith is strengthened in suffering. Indeed, there is an old saying that there are no atheists in fox-holes, and study after study shows that nine out of ten people believe in God despite all evidence to the contrary. What interests Kreeft in such studies is that the strongest faith is often found among those with the most suffering.

The agnostic may counter that this is more a wish than a reality. When suffering, we wish it would end, and our pain is made more bearable by hoping a good God will come along and save us. However, such a faith is just a childish illusion, like Santa Clause. Furthermore, Kreeft's answer still doesn't explain why a good God permits any suffering whatsoever.

Kreeft points out an argument I have used when trying to explain why I think hell must remain a real possibility. A world without any pain and suffering, and an eternity where we can never choose between good and evil and never even know of evil is a world without freedom. In some sense, the mystery of suffering is tied to the mystery of freedom, and without freedom, there is not love. Yet, freedom means the possibility of sin exists, and in some way, suffering is bound up with the mystery of sin. Kreeft invites anyone who doubts this to simply try the imaginative exercise of creating a detailed world in their own mind that would be free of pain and suffering, and decide if their own creation is truly better than reality as we know it.

This is an abstract exercise, and a very abstract argument. While I understand Kreeft's point, and have made the same sort of argument myself in essays on my homepage, not everyone can except the argument at face value. Strobel tries to pin Kreeft down to the concrete. He wants to get past the abstracts of such philosophical wrangling. So Strobel asks Kreeft to consider the woman in the Life magazine photograph, and the following dialogue takes place:
"If she were here right now," I said to Kreeft, "what would you say to her?"
Kreeft didn't hesitate. "Nothing," he said simply.
I blinked in disbelief. "Nothing?"
"Not at first, anyway," he said. "I'd let her talk to me....,the first thing we need to do with this woman is to listen to her. To be aware of her. To see her pain. To feel her pain. We live in a relative bubble of comfort, and we look at pain as an observer, as a philosophical puzzle or theological problem. That's the wrong way to look at pain. The thing to do with pain is to enter it, be one with her, and then you learn something from it." (p. 48-49)
Pain and suffering are not an abstract exercise. We can and should certainly try to mitigate natural risks that cause suffering. Knowing that sin has consequences, avoiding evil is a good way to avoid unnecessary suffering. When confronted with any kind of suffering, we can and should do everything in our power that is not sinful to alleviate suffering. After all of our best efforts, the reality of suffering remains, and abstract philosophical reasoning means far less than compassion - being present to and one with the suffering. When we are suffering, if the suffering cannot be removed, we want someone to be with us.

For some readers who have followed along so far, what I am about to say will seem too abstract - a dodge to the problem of evil. Others will burst into tears at the total concrete and perfect beauty of the reality and truth of what I am saying.

On the cross, God is with you in your suffering!


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The Way of the Cross

Part Four of Seven

I just served a half day of jury duty today and was let out early because the trials settled before going to us. I won't have to serve again for another three years.

During the jury orientation, we were shown a film presentation featuring Ed Bradley and Leslie Stall of Sixty Minutes on the importance of the jury to our justice system. The film opened with an image of a trial taking place in the middle ages where a man was tied up with ropes and thrown in the water. The voice of the narrator was describing that historically, trial outcomes were determined by methods such as trial by ordeal.

One form of trial by ordeal was to stick the defendant's hand in boiling water. If it healed in three days, he or she was innocent. If it took longer, she or he was guilty.

Another form of trial by ordeal is what we were watching in the action of the film. The defendant was tied up tightly and thrown into a body of water. If they floated, they were presumed guilty because of the demonic power allowing them to float. If they sank, they were innocent.

Obviously, in such a system, nobody would want a criminal charge brought against you. The innocent suffer injustice in such systems.

A judge came to us during orientation and stated that our troops in Iraq are fighting for what we are doing. She stated that the jury system is a cornerstone of democracy that prevents dictators and tyrants like Saddam Hussein and other bullies from taking over.

One of my favorite shows on television is The Practice. I liked it better a few years ago, and the somewhat idealized version of the lives of defense attorneys fascinates me. I confess that I have a bias towards defense attorneys. I sometimes wonder if I should not have studied law instead of theology, or maybe I should still go to law school someday. Were I a lawyer, I would love to be a public defendant (though it doesn't pay much).

In Sunday's meditation, we looked at the absurdity of the cross, and speculated that Jesus, in his humanity, was tempted to despair by Satan's assault on his faith. Jesus may have been tempted to believe that his suffering was meaningless and that death was being thrust upon him before his earthly mission was complete. His cry "Let this cup pass" was a real human desire to live and to avoid suffering. Jesus had no more and no less faith in his own resurrection than is humanly possible, and Satan used the weakness of human nature to try to push Jesus into a lack of trust of the Father. Satan sought to use suffering to bully Jesus into despair by having Jesus executed by the state with religious approval.

Christ kept faith until his last breath that the Father would vindicate him. While Jesus may have known that persecution and even martyrdom were immanent, he probably did not wish to die, nor see his death as central to his mission. While he clearly believed and taught that the resurrection of the dead will happen, he may not have known that his resurrection would occur so soon, and whatever he knew, he knew with human certainty.

Rather than marching to the cross with a sense of mission, he was willing to lay down his life for his cause if necessary, hoping it would not come to that. His cause was to initiate the reign of God, which is a humanistic cause whereby the blind will see, the lame will walk, prisoners will be set free, and the poor will have good news proclaimed to them. If his cause could be achieved without death (and it could have been had Satan not been able to use us as his instruments) Jesus would not have sought to die. Jesus was not suicidal, and he did not live to die!

An interesting theological question asked through the ages that the Church has never developed an authoritative doctrine to address is whether God would have become incarnate if we had not sinned. I believe that it was Augustine who argued that he would have, since to say otherwise is to imply that we force God to do things he doesn't otherwise want to do. I believe that the incarnation event reveals God's love for humanity, and he loved before, during, and after the Fall. The incarnation would have occurred without the Fall, but the cross is the result of the fault.

On Monday, we looked at how the meaningless and absurdity of the cross was transformed by Saint Paul as he reflected on the events in light of his experience of the Risen Christ. Paul struggled to understand how and why an innocent man bore a curse. He concluded that a righteous man bore the curse of the unrighteous and developed a theology of atonement that went beyond what the historical Jesus probably taught.

Paul conveyed the same loving image of God through his theology of atonement that Jesus sought to convey in his proclamation of the reign of God. Paul likely saw the need for blood sacrifice as appeasing a strict law of justice as interpreted by the power of Satan, the Accuser. The blood of Jesus allowed the just judge, our Father in heaven, to have Satan's case thrown out of court. When we stand before the judge at final judgment, we know he is sympathetic, and we have the Holy Spirit as our advocate, and what Christ has done has demolished Satan's case. Satan is a finger pointing bully trying to drive us to despair by condemning all humanity through rightly exposing all our faults.

Yesterday, we meditated further on Jesus' humanity and how the cross serves as a sign of contradiction that reveals our own sinfulness. We examined how the words and deeds of Jesus were life-giving and fill the deepest desires of humanity in concrete ways: healing of sickness, expulsion of demons, forgiveness of sins and a message of liberation that has political and cultural consequences even if not directly central to the message. We saw that the power that lead to Jesus' death is the human failing of our desire to control other people.

When we try to control others, we join forces with Satan, acting as a bully. Sometimes, this desire to control can come out in a form of spiritual bullying, whereby we use religious teachings to badger others. We become like the Accuser in self-righteous finger pointing, judgmentalism, and a legalism that aims at tearing others down rather than building others up or guiding our own inner transformation.

In earlier meditations this week, we have suggested that the sayings in the Gospel referring to picking up our cross and rejecting family and sacrificing ourselves may not have been the precise words of Jesus. While there may have been some intuition on Jesus' part that death was immanent, the Gospel writers may have been paraphrasing Jesus' actual words in light of the crucifixion and resurrection event to meet the needs of the community of faith under persecution. What has not been said clearly up to now is that I believe these writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit whether they are conveying the actual words of Christ or not.

Whether Jesus actually said that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses or not, the sayings of the Gospel are true. Like Jesus, when we give of ourselves to build up and empower others, we will face the cross. This is an inevitability. If we love other people, we will be hurt.

While I acknowledge that verses admonishing us to pick up our cross are divinely inspired, I am concerned many times with how I see these verses used in Christian circles. We seem to be heavily tempted to use these verses to justify spiritual bullying, self-righteous finger pointing, and driving others to despair. The verses are directed more at certain groups of people than others. We are all called to love, and in loving, we all will be hurt.

The Gospel has political and cultural consequences. It may sound strange to suggest that a command to love until it hurts can have political consequences.

Yesterday, I provided to examples from two polar camps within the Church. The conservative American Republican who is Catholic can see political implications of the Gospel in the issue of abortion. Love for the unborn child and the desire to defend the dignity of human life has a political consequence. The more liberal camp that may embrace liberation theology can see how the simple act of teaching the poor and oppressed to read can become a dangerous political act in an oppressive political system.

There are times love impels us to confront demonic powers in the world. There are systems and institutions that dehumanize and degrade people. Slavery was a dehumanizing institution. Wars of aggression and state sponsored genocide are obviously evil. Laws restricting religious freedom are wrong. Corporate greed can ruin thousands of lives and the environment. Those who stand up to these institutions will bear a cross.

Love impels us to care for others, to seek to empower others, to do good for others, to listen to others in humility and seek to understand their point of view, to forgive others - to lose control of others and seek mutual relationship instead. This process is often painful but has rewards as well - the resurrection experienced in this life and the next for those with faith.

When we in the Church speak to each other about carrying the cross, I am sometimes concerned at the way the image is used. There are those who speak of carrying our cross in a such a way that a non-Christian would become convinced that being Christian is to be miserable all the time. This cannot be the case. If this were true, the Gospel would not be Gospel - good news!

We do not pick up our cross through acts of self imposed asceticism.

As good as occasional and moderate fasting may be, Jesus did not make fasting central to his teaching. Indeed, he was asked why his disciples don't fast when the Pharisees and followers of John the Baptist did fast (Mk 2:18).

As good as celibacy may be for those who are called to it and can live it in a healthy and life-giving way, Jesus demanded it of nobody, and Paul said it comes from the evil one to demand it of someone (1 Tim 4:3).

Our cross is not something imposed on the self. Jesus did not commit suicide. He was brutally murdered. An act of asceticism or self-discipline is not a cross at all. A self-imposed penance is an act of the will to control our pain, and Jesus gave up control when faced with a cross that was thrust upon him against his wishes. The cross comes to us as an injustice, and it is thrust upon us from without because we love and because we stand up for justice.

The pain sometimes involved in turning away from sin can be a cross, but there is a resurrection in turning to righteousness. A man cheating on his wife knows the misery of living a dual life, and the pain he causes his spouse. As painful as breaking the adulterous affair and being honest with his wife may be, continuing the affair is a worse pain. But seldom is the image of the cross used in this precise manner in the New Testament. More often, the cross is to be carried by doing what is right, rather than turning from what is wrong.

There are examples of people who picked up the cross in more modern times. Martin Luther King Jr. carried a cross. Gandhi carried a cross. All the martyrs of the Church who have ever lived have carried a cross that earned actual physical pain.

When we stand up for others, Satan will send in his troops and try to drive us to despair.

To love until it hurts is what it means to pick up the cross. Picking up the cross and exercising self denial is always what happens when we do good for others. All Christians know this, but we don't even tend to think about it much while we do it in everyday life. A mother makes some sacrifices to stay home with a sick child. She does this because she loves her child, and it is the right thing to do. Her sacrifices are a participation in the cross. As the child grows and matures, the mother will know the pain of separation when the child seeks independence. This too is a participation in the cross. On simple day to day things, we know that love means sacrifice, and the point is not to hurt oneself, but to help another.

When we love another, we open ourselves to being hurt by the other or by what happens to the other. This is our cross, and this is what we are called to carry in big moments and small moments.

I don't want to under-emphasize the small moments we pick up our cross. Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, once said that marriage is the sacrament that saves the most people. He even speculated that it is through marriage that non-Catholics are saved. In the day to day sacrifices we make to enjoy a happy marriage, we are carrying our cross.

Jesus was remembered by the New Testament authors as sharply rebuking religious leaders who "lay up heavy burdens on others, but do not lift a finger to help them carry it." Jesus sharply rebuked those who ignore the weighty matters of the law such as love and justice, and "strain at gnats while letting camels go by." (cf ch 23 of Mt's Gospel)

For Jesus, it appears that the entire law and prophets can be summed up in the great commandments of loving God with our whole hearts and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Indeed, Jesus seems to imply that these two commandments are so intertwined that we express our love of God through our love of neighbor. Thus, he also taught the entire law and prophets could be summed up in he golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do to you.

I am very leary of telling someone else that they need to bear some cross unless the pain I am asking them to endure benefits others in tangible ways, the way Christ's actions benefited others in tangible ways.

Religion, theology and spirituality are often made too abstract. A religion that proclaims God incarnate and crucified and encountered in the physicality of simple bread and wine, water and oil and touch....such a religion is a celebration of the concrete historical reality of the present world. Everything Jesus said and did gave immediate joy in concrete ways to those around him. Even the next life will be a resurrection of the body, so we need to learn to do physical good for one another.

In conflict situations, such as a conflict between justice and mercy, or a conflict between authority and those without authority, or a conflict between scripture, tradition, and/or reason it seems that Jesus always gives a "preferential option for the poor". He always takes the side of the marginalized or the weaker party. With all that has been said this week about the cross, I am expressing how clearly it seems to me that in the cross, God has revealed he is not usually on the side of power and authority. He is more often on the side of criminals and outcasts.

If Satan is a prosecuting attorney and a bully, we need to have the mindset of defense attorneys or trial lawyers who fight for the little guy. By doing so, we become like the Paraclete, and we share in the mind and mission of Jesus.

If we cannot point to concrete harm to another person done by another's actions, I don't think we can rightly call those actions sin. If we are doing good for others or joining others to fight for real justice, and we encounter opposition, disappointment and challenge, we are bearing the cross.

In the development of Sacred Tradition, it appears to me that the Holy Spirit has constantly guided the Church to only define infallibly through extraordinary magisterium those things that are life-giving and fulfilling to the human person. The Sacred Tradition of the Church continues Jesus' radical humanism.

For example, the doctrine of the incarnation says that humanity is the absolute center of God's attention and love. God became human, rather than an angel, or a monkey or a dolphin. One can argue that by joining creation, all creation is sanctified, and I would accept this as a legitimate development of thought. Nevertheless, the incarnation starts with affirming human dignity. This was one of the earliest infallible definitions of the Church, and much of the Trinitarian debates of the first six centuries centered on making the full humanity of the incarnate God clear.

Indeed, when one looks at the challenges to the doctrine, there were far more serious and deadly challenges from those who de-emphasized Christ's humanity than those who made mistakes on his divinity. Those who made mistakes on the humanity of Christ often did horrendous things to other human beings or to themselves. The Arians were pretty nice people.

Take relatively recent doctrines like the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. These came historically at a time when the question of the role of women in the Church is only beginning to be asked in a serious way in modern times. These doctrines also affirm the power of grace and the goodness of the human body.

Furthermore, there are areas where the Church acted in ways that did not affirm human dignity, and we very clearly came out later and admitted mistakes were made, apologized and set out to correct ourselves. Slavery is a prime example.

Think of some of the key issues being debated in the Church today. These issues have not yet been ruled on with an infallible definition by extraordinary magisterium, though the ordinary magisterium has been quite clear so far.

People talk about women's ordination. Here we have women who want to do good for people. They want to serve the Church in what all Catholics would consider a great way - the provision of the sacraments. There is absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that the Church needs more good priests. Even many opponents of women's ordination do not question the sincerity of these women's desire, nor their ability to do very fine ministry.

Let's apply the golden rule. It seems obvious to me that I would see it as an injustice if someone other than a bishop told me that I am not permitted to do good deeds for the service of God and the Church in a capacity for which I have the talent during a time there is a need for my service. If it is immoral for someone other than a bishop to do this, why is it moral for a bishop to do it?

But instead of the golden rule, the opponents of women's ordination seem to want to appeal to crazy theological schemes that are not rooted in anything the Jesus of history actually seems to have taught.

The argument is made that Jesus did not ordain women. This is highly questionable since he first revealed his resurrection to Mary Magdalene, and the New Testament makes explicit mention of women such as Junia and Phoebe holding ordained positions in the post resurrection Church. The only way to call these women non-ordained is to resort to the notion that Jesus ordained no-one (and there are liberals who prefer this argument to saying women were ordained).

Furthermore, even if Jesus did ordain men exclusively and the early Church did not ordain women, are we bound by this? Is this what Jesus actually taught - that things never change until he comes again?

With absolute certainty we can say that Jesus never ordained a non-Jew. According to the New Testament, Jesus never drove a car. Jesus never had to answer a question about abortion or contraception. Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. Jesus never did a lot of things, and we are not bound by exact imitation of every detail of his earthly life.

Jesus started a movement of people who believed with him that God loves us all equally, and that God wants our deepest desires met. If a woman wants to be a priest, and she has the talent to serve the Church well as a priests, that is all we need to know.

It appears to us liberals that it is spiritual bullying to deny her desire! It is potentially a sin!

The pain women who seek ordination feel is a cross.

Look at the issue of married priesthood. If a priest says he wishes to be married and to continue as a priest, he is told that he needs to accept the cross of celibacy. This is absurd. Marriage is good. It is so good that it is a sacrament. The Jesus of the Gospels would never deny a desire to do something good to anyone. Even if he truly said there will be Eunuchs for the sake of the reign of God, he never imposed it on his disciples. Peter was married, and he was our first Pope. We know from Paul that Peter took his wife with him on mission (1 Cor 9:5)!

Jesus did not impose punishment on himself, and he did not encourage his followers to impose punishments on themselves. The cross was thrust on Jesus as an injustice because he stood up for little people against those who had power.

Ministerial priesthood is a calling from God. Marriage is a calling from God. God has called certain people to both vocations, and we know this with absolute certainty because Jesus, himself, chose the married man, Peter. To deny a man called to marriage the right to actually marry is not what Jesus would do. And to deny a married priesthood is not what Jesus did!

Look at the way The Catechism speaks of homosexuality in paragraph 2358: "These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."

The condition is described as a cross, and it is for many people. I don't think anyone would freely chose to be permanently homosexual if it were left to choice in a homophobic society. Liberals would say that homosexuals that chose to stand up against every form of discrimination will encounter the cross as they are opposed. Liberals see a goal at the end of the cross that gives meaning to life for the homosexual person. The battles you fight for equity today will benefit those in your condition tomorrow.

Conservatives admonish the homosexual to pick up the cross by living in perfectly chaste celibacy, even if the homosexual feels no calling to celibacy. This is a life-long commitment to repression and suppression with no apparent benefit. While some homosexual people may have a genuine calling to celibacy that is life-giving and freeing for them, there are many others who find perfectly chaste celibacy akin to spiritual suicide.

I'm sensitive to the argument of this latter group because I found that while I was in seminary for six years, trying to live chaste celibacy was leading me to depression. I kept hoping that the feeling would go away or subside, and that I would experience the joy some of my classmates experienced. I eventually discerned that God placed the calling to marriage in my heart. I am heterosexual, and when I chose to marry, I have never felt the same depression since. It's not entirely about sex either. My wife and I have not been able to have sex as frequently as many married couples for medical reasons.

However, I find married life fulfilling due to the intimacy of sharing my life with another person. As Christians, we are called to love. There are pains and challenges in loving my wife rightly, but there is resurrection and joy as well. This is the critical difference. I believe that in doing good until it hurts, we also experience joy and find encouragement from those we help, and those who join our struggle. This is what it should mean to be Church - to share our crosses together.

What is wrong with a homosexual person seeking to share his or her life with another, and why is it wrong for such committed love to occasionally find sexual expression?

The Church is utterly failing to make clear how two adult homosexuals seeking to publicly express a loving commitment to one another are hurting each other or anyone else. I do not see how they are violating the golden rule, and those who get into a huff over gay civil unions seem to be treating others in a manner they would not want to be treated. How can happily married heterosexuals say that marrying the person you love is not important to you? Don't you feel you have a right to marry the person of your choice?

To say a homosexual person is free to marry any person of the opposite gender she or he wishes misses the point. They do not want to marry the opposite gender anymore than heterosexuals want to marry the same gender. If a heterosexual were forced to marry a person of the same gender, we would feel a human right was violated.

The best arguments anyone can come up with are that these two people may be harming themselves since they are going to hell. How can anyone be certain of this? Isn' this making an a priori assumption about something that is impossible for any human being to know? And there are those who insist that this couple is somehow threatening heterosexual marriage.

This last position is also absurd. The only heterosexual marriages such a couple would threaten are those people who are truly gay, and entered a heterosexual marriage to hide their sexuality from themselves and others. Gay marriages are not going to tempt a single heterosexual person to enter a gay marriage. Gay marriages are not going dissuade a single heterosexual person from entering into heterosexual marriage if they feel called to it. Gay marriages are not going to be a catalyst for any heterosexual couple deciding to divorce.

Again, if we apply the golden rule, it is obvious that none of us would like it one bit if we felt called to marriage, found our partner, and then were told it cannot be done because it never has been done that way in the past, and a few verses of ancient texts taken out of context say so.

In my mind, the very desire of someone to comb through the Bible and find proof-texts to try to use against homosexuals is itself a form of spiritual bullying. Why do people even bother to put so much effort into such things?

The same thing goes with whoever first combed through the entire Bible to come up with the sin of Onan and try to apply it to the contraception issue in an isogetic fashion.

We saw this in yesterday's meditation on the cross how the cross reveals sin. Religious bullies will gather around anyone who says that religion is not tool for keeping social order. They will listen intently to such a person trying to trap the person in their own words. There was always a group of pious people gathered around Jesus trying to trip him up.

There are readers of my blog trying to do just that. I can't judge hearts, but I am speaking of the actions. There are those who jump at every opportunity to find fault with what I write, and if they can't find one, they will resort to ad hominem attacks. Truth be told, some of them might even wish they knew where I live. There are those who wish I would quit the Church and go join the Protestants. There are those who may want me excommunicated. I once received an email from a person defining himself as a traditionalist and a member of the SSPX who stated that I would burn in hell, and that the inquisitions should be restored to deal with people like me.

I may be wrong on a whole bunch of things, but on this, I feel certain: Christ came to gather the lost sheep. He came for the sick, not for the healthy. According to 1 Tim 2:4, God desires the salvation of all people. To be a Christian is to have an attitude that would always prefer to include rather than exclude. His attitude would always give the benefit of doubt to an opponent, and seek to forgive and preserve the relationship.

It seems to me that anyone who seeks to see others driven out of the Church or silenced when they aren't hurting anyone is not really getting the full meaning of the cross. I pray one day we all will "get it". We are to be a people of compassion who want everyone to feel included, and who demonstrate this in our actions.

At times, love will lead us to have the attitude of one condemned unjustly, to enter into solidarity with those who live such a reality, and to get fired up against the injustice. We must love others till we feel hurt by it.

This is the way of the cross.