Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Don't Forget to Order Our Choir's New CD!

Not only will you hear great spiritual songs from around the world, but I just learned that other than the cost of making the CD and some possible new mikes for the choir, the rest goes to the parish and its outreach to the poor in our area - and we do have many homeless and immigrant poor people in the parish neighborhood.


Initial Thoughts on the RNC

I watched the RNC roll call and preliminary events to the RNC on public television last night wanting to let the other side have it's chance. I'll probably watch for Laura Bush's speech tonight.

Last night John McCain stated that he did not doubt the sincerity of the Democrats to win the war on terror by building up alliances. He stated that Republicans share this goal, and that the president shares this goal, and invited us all not to doubt the President's sincerity.

At this point, I don't think President Bush's motives regarding alliance building are an issue. Perhaps he sincerely wants to reconnect with the international community, but can he?

I don't think he can. I don't think our former allies will help us at all as long as G.W. Bush is in power, even if he did a complete flip-flop on the war in Iraq, called it mistake, apologized, and withdrew all our forces immediately.

Rudy Giuliani spoke of the President's courage and resolve to take tough action to end terrorism.

There was a tribute to Gerald Ford early on in the program with images of fighter jets and football. Indeed, images throughout the program last night were military images with military songs and salutes to the troops. The message was clear. We are at war, and we need to come together. You shouldn't want to change leadership in the middle of a war.

Being opposed to war when it was simply an idea, I am having a hard time with all this military imagery and talk. Each image of a fighter jet calls forth images in my mind of Iraqi women and children caught in the cross fire of shock and awe.

I sometimes wonder if Americans in general - Democrat or Republican - really think about what military hardware is.

When you see a fighter jet, does it make your heart swell with pride at American ingenuity and American power?

What I see is an expensive device designed for the sole purpose of killing large numbers of human persons made in the image and likeness of God.


Week 30 of Pregnancy Completed

The link suggests exercise, and my wife started doing pre-natal yoga. We also start some pregnancy classes including lamaze tonight.


Bush Flip Flops on Whether America can Win War on Terror

Bush, asked about "this war on terror" in an interview aired Monday on NBC's "Today" show, had said: "I don't think you can win it." But with Democrats castigating him as a defeatist, he told the annual convention of the American Legion that "in this different kind of way, we may never sit down at a peace table."
Bush later said that we should make no mistake, we will win the war on terror.

Personally, I do not believe that the way to win the war on terror is to insult our historic allies and the international community and wage a war of aggression for murky reasons against a nation that had little if anything to do with the events of 9/11.

The way to win the war on terror is to do the exact opposite. Build up historic alliances, gain new allies in the international community, work at reforming the U.N. so that it can be an effective organization, avoid war until actually under attack, and deal with individual acts of terrorism through law enforcement with solid and incontrovertible evidence.


The Da Vinci Code

I finally read Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code.

On artistic merit, Brown is good at creating suspense by leaving a loose end at the end of every chapter building up to the climax of the story. This technique creates a sort of constant cliff-hanger effect.

Also, the reader becomes caught up in trying to guess the meaning of the symbols used as clues, and I managed to get quite a few of them right. For example, I was way ahead of Robert Langdon and Leigh Teabing in guessing who the night interred by a pope was, which pope, and which orb was missing from his tomb.

The way Brown simplifies and interweaves his academic theories into readable creative narrative is commendable.

Whether Brown intended it or not, along with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the novel has generated discussion of the meaning of our faith in wider society, and this is a good thing.

Brown's story lines would sound ridiculous in summary narrative. Yet, he somehow manages to pull off drawing the reader into enough suspension of belief to go along for the ride. Like a James Bond movie, his books are fun, whether we agree with his interpretation of history and religion or not.

On the negative, the main character and hero, Robert Langdon, who appears first in Angels and Demons lacks some depth. Langdon seems to be Brown's idealized college professor, but we never really understand what makes Langdon tick.

Langdon is a child at heart who still wears a Mickey Mouse watch his parents gave him when he was ten. Langdon’s childishness expresses itself further in his unwillingness to be committed to any particular woman - but he always attracts the leading female by the end of the novel.

I'm frankly surprised that women readers haven't been critical of this stereotypical playboy. We don't really know much else about Robert Langdon's inner workings - or any other character for that matter. The "bad guys" of his novels, like James Bond movies, tend to be cartoon like characters: a mad scientist in A&D and a mad historian in Da Vinci.

Langdon's specialty knowledge of arcane symbolism gets him caught up in international adventure and intrigue of the most bizarre and normally unbelievable sorts. Yet, as I stated, Brown manages to pull it off without the story becoming entirely overly silly.

In Angels and Demons, Langdon saves the Roman Catholic Church from a mad scientist who steals an anti-matter bomb from a murdered priest-scientist and plans to blow up a conclave of Cardinals electing a new pope. The intrigue and suspense is built around the initial discovery of the murdered priest’s body and a connection of the death with the ancient secret society known as the Illuminatti.

In The Da Vinci Code, Langdon foils the plot of a mad historian to discredit the Church by unveiling the secret of the Holy Grail. The truth of the Grail is that the chalice is a symbol for Mary Magdalene, and the blood a symbol for her child. Finding the Holy Grail is discovery of the documents that prove this. The story opens with the murder of leader of the ancient keepers of the Grail, the Priory of Sion. Without giving away the plot, Opus Dei is involved in the murder and an Opus Dei Bishop is a principle character.

The two novels can each stand alone, but are tied together, with The Da Vinci Code being a sequel to Angels and Demos. The novels have captured people's imagination because the intrigue is supposedly based on historically verified records of an alternate interpretation of Western history than that which most of us learned.

In this alternate history, historically real secret societies hold the truth about our past. The Illuminati and the Masons preserved a love of science and reason and created a subculture that mocked the Church by planting their symbols within Church art, and holding secret meetings and conventions in the view of the Vatican.

Yet, even prior to the rise of the Illuminati, Jesus and Mary Magdalene are both royal Jewish blood and are married. Mary Magdalene flees Israel after Jesus' crucifixion and bears his child in Southern France. This royal line becomes part of the Merovingian royal line. The tomb of Magdalene and documentation verifying this lineage is kept by the secret society of the Priory of Sion, which in turn were the power behind the Knights Templar and had further ties with the Masons (who then were tied to the Illuminati).

In Angels and Demons, I caught only one blatant historical error. Brown confuses the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr with the prayer popularly known as the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. However, the larger critique I would make is the false dichotomy between a scientific world-view and a religious world-view. Brown seems to think the two views are opposed in such a way that it is not possible to have religious faith in an age of scientific enlightenment.

Personally, I see the resolution lying in understanding what type of question is being answered. Science tells me how things likely happen. Religion tells me why things are likely the way the are.

In The Da Vinci Code, the only factual "error" is the presumption that the Gospel of Mary is presumed to be written by Mary Magdalene. For the same reason that most Biblical scholars doubt that the canonical gospels were written by the people whose names are on them, it is also questionable that the Gospel of Mary is written by Mary Magdalene.

At a higher level, there were three points of historical interpretation where I disagree with Dan Brown's interpretation of Christian history.

First, the character of Leigh Teabing argues in The Da Vinci Code that the notion of Christ's divinity was conceived by the Emperor Constantine and promoted by the Emperor for the sole purpose of increasing imperial power. According to Brown through the character of Teabing, the Council of Nicea was entirely controlled by Constantine who dictated the outcome of the Council.

This is not an entirely accurate portrayal of history. The idea of a divine Christ was known in the first century. Even Pliny the Younger, who persecuted Christians, did so because he thought they worshiped Christ and would not worship the Emperor. Many of the early Christian writers and saints prior to Nicea made reference to Christ's divinity or primitive Trinitarian formulas.

Since Brown's Teabing does not seem to accept the canonical witness to the divinity of Christ, Justin Martry and Hippolytus make clear references to Christ's divinity in the second century. Pope Victor I (our first African Pope) in the late second century was also believed by Eusebius to have excommunicated Theodotus of Byzantium because Theodotus supposedly denied Christ's divinity.

My point is emphatically not to say that Brown's Teabing is not partially correct. Teabing is correct that prior to Nicea, there was more disagreement about the nature of Christ, and part of what Brown is trying to say is that history is always told from the side of the victors. The victors of this centuries long debate did label the losers "heretics" and shunned them, and even later shamefully killed them and burned most of their works.

However, Brown's Teabing implies that the notion of Christ's divinity was entirely invented in the era of Constantine where ample evidence exists that the notion originated among at least some of the Christians in the first century!

Teabing also claims that Constantine moved the Sabbath to Sunday because he was really a sun worshipper. However, Acts 20: 7, which no serious scholar doubts was written in the first century, clearly indicates that the early Christians gathered for Eucharist on the first day of the week to commemorate the resurrection. There are other texts of the canonical New Testament that most modern scholars believe were written to address tension in the early church over moving worship from Saturday to Sunday. Many of Christ's conflicts with the Pharisees over the Sabbath may have been early Christian apologetics for moving the Sabbath worship to Sunday morning.

Again, while it may be true that the conflict between those who worshipped on Saturday and those who worshipped on Sunday may have lasted until Nicea, the notion that the practice originated in the era of Constantine is demonstrably and blatantly false.

In other words, the argument presented by the character of Leigh Teabing is just as wrong as the "orthodox" opinion he attacks. If the "orthodox" view tends to look at Christianity as a unified body that passed down something very close to the Roman Catholic tradition in pristine purity and viewed the heretics as malicious late-comers distorting the truth, Teabing sees the unorthodox as a unified body that passed down gnosticism in pristine purity until malicious late-comers distorted the truth into Roman Catholicism.

The reality is that the gnostics and the "orthodox" and others views can all trace their lineages into the apostolic age. Constantine did not create Roman Catholicism. Rather, it already existed and Constantine wound up siding with it to defeat the other views.

Likewise, the historical record would indicate that Constantine did not so much dictate the outcome of the Council of Nicea as he simply forced the bishops to come to some sort of agreement.

Constantine did not consider himself much of a theologian, and he was not present at the Council itself entering into the debates. He wanted Christians to stop fighting one another and he forced them to sit and room and come up with a common creed and a common set of rules. But the bishops were free to come to any agreement they could reach. If they had decided that Christ was merely a prophet and worship should occur on Saturday, Constantine would likely have gone along.

Constantine acted like a parent telling two fighting sons to go to their room until they settle their disagreement, without trying to dictate which son is right and which one wrong. Nicea was the product of this forced consensus.

It may or may not be true that Constantine's interest in the bishops reaching an agreement lie in his desire to use the Christian religion to unify his people and increase his power. Those who believe Constantine was a saint will argue that his motive was benign, and based on a valid conversion experience. Those who are more cynical will see a corruption of Christianity in the very fact that Christianity became a religion of an empire when it was founded by an itinerant preacher who was crucified. Either way, Constantine's influence on core doctrine and practice is far overstated in Brown's book.

The character of Robert Langdon interjects a more moderate voice to counter Leigh Teabing. Yet, Brown has Langdon state that all religions are based entirely on fabrications. He claims that some believers come to realize their religion is entirely metaphor, but for most, the belief in fabrication is justified because it inspires them to live a good life. Again, I find this to be an overstatement.

It is true that all religions contain fabrications or use metaphors. However, even the fabrications are often based on realities. Brown's Langdon states that no purpose is served in telling the Buddhist that Buddha was not born of a lotus flower or telling the Christian that Jesus was not really born of a virgin, and the virgin birth is really a metaphor.

What I don't like about this is not that he is stating the virgin birth is a metaphor of sorts. It is a metaphor in the sense of pointing to deeper truths about who Jesus is for us.

Nevertheless, I think it close-minded to rule out the possibility that the metaphor is based on a reality that is unrepeatable. For all I know, Buddha did come from a lotus flower or something happened that brought that image to mind in his followers. Whatever the event is behind the language of faith is inaccessible to us, but I neither affirm too strictly a literal interpretation, nor deny the literal interpretation. The events of the past always remain somewhat inaccessible, and it is just as biased to assume that the miraculous is impossible as it is to assume that all miracles reported in historical texts are real.

I believe miracles happen. Most occur through secondary causality. These miracles do not violate the laws of nature, and are miracles because of the timing of the event as a sign of God's activity in the world. Most miracles are rather "ordinary", directed to an individual, and leave open the possibility of doubt. Perhaps a friend calls at a moment we really needed them. There are no coincidences. Rather, there are God-incidences.

Divine holy mystery leaves hints she is present and active in the world, but does not force herself on us. Perhaps all miracles happen through secondary causality, but I do not deny the possibility that the creator of all that exists can sometimes intervene through "primary causality".

Yet, whether through primary causality or secondary causality, I believe that occasionally God acts in such a way that a sign of her presence is made known in unique ways for unique purposes in divine providence for a community of faith.

The language that describes these powerful moments of divine presence may become embellished, or it may describe exactly what happened. We cannot possibly know with certainty unless we were eyewitnesses of the event itself. Either way, the event becomes a symbol for those who perceive God's activity in the world, and the language passing on this meaning is a metaphor bringing the presence of God to new generations.

What I resent in the way Brown's Langdon puts it is that the metaphor appears to be invented whole clothe from the imagination entirely disconnected from the event. I am insisting there is some sort of real event behind the language of religious experience. In some cases, it is entirely possible that the language is describing exactly what happened. In other cases, it is more clear in the textual records that embellishment has taken place - but there remained an event that started the process of embellishment.

I would say that the virgin birth is a metaphor that arose based on a real event in the past that lies inaccessible to the methods of modern historical science. That event does involve a real unwed mother and her real human child who would begin a movement that would develop over time and become what we now know as Christianity. In faith, I believe that event to be an extraordinary pregnancy that made it clear to some that this child is unique and has his origin in the mystery of God. Sunday after Sunday, we Roman Catholics proclaim this faith when we say, "He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary".

I have to deal with Dan Brown's contention that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. I wrote on this based on Prime Time's special entitled Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci.

It is amazing how, even without having read Brown's book, my critique of the argument was right on target. The texts he sites to justify that Jesus and Mary were married simply do not support his theory - and imply the exact opposite. The text are real and ancient, but they do not support his argument. Furthermore, he ignores abundant evidence that Jesus was, indeed, celibate (and that it caused some embarrassment to the early church). As I stated in my original critique, when Elaine Pagels is defending the orthodox view that Jesus was celibate, you have to admit your evidence is weak at best. Pagels is as far from being a defender of orthodoxy as one can get.

My biggest problem with the argument that Jesus and Mary were married is emphatically not any theological bias toward celibacy. Being a proponent of married priests, a married Christ would play to my favor. I would have no problem with the idea of a married Christ, and a married Christ could very well be a divine Christ.

My problem is not theological bias. Rather, the problem is that the available evidence does not indicate what Brown says it does. It indicates the opposite. However, it does also indicate that Mary Magdalene held a very prominent position in the early Church - perhaps that of an Apostle. Dan Brown's arguments about a married Christ seem to me to distract attention from this more solid historical point that is more pertinent to issues like women's ordination.

Finally, I have to touch on the subject of the divine feminine. Most of what Brown says about the divine feminine and the union of male and female in the Old Testament and in symbology of the secret societies is probably accurate. I will point out that the current Pope has even acknowledged the use of female and feminine images of God and the complementarity of male and female to form a union in Mulieris Dignitatem. Despite the shortcomings I might find in this letter, the Vatican does support female and feminine images of God and the notion that the male is incomplete without the female.

For example, in no. 8 of this letter, the Holy Father says the following:

This observation on the limits of the analogy - the limits of man's likeness to God in biblical language - must also be kept in mind when, in different passages of Sacred Scripture (especially in the Old Testament), we find comparisons that attribute to God "masculine" or "feminine" qualities. We find in these passages an indirect confirmation of the truth that both man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God. If there is a likeness between Creator and creatures, it is understandable that the Bible would refer to God using expressions that attribute to him both "masculine" and "feminine" qualities.

We may quote here some characteristic passages from the prophet Isaiah: "But Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me'.'Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you'". (49:14-15). And elsewhere: "As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem" (66: 13). In the Psalms too God is compared to a caring mother: "Like a child quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord". (Ps 131:2-3). In various passages the love of God who cares for his people is shown to be like that of a mother: thus, like a mother God "has carried" humanity, and in particular, his Chosen People, within his own womb; he has given birth to it in travail, has nourished and comforted it (cf. Is 42:14; 46: 3-4). In many passages God's love is presented as the "masculine" love of the bridegroom and father (cf. Hosea 11:1-4; Jer 3:4-19), but also sometimes as the "feminine" love of a mother.
If the Holy Father can accept motherly images of God, based on Sacred Scripture, any Roman Catholic should be open to these images. Contrary to the interpretation of Catholicism presented by Brown, the Church is not entirely close-minded to the idea of a Mother God/ess. I would certainly like to see the Church develop this idea further, and Brown’s references to the Hebrew shekinah in the Old Testament provide us some starting points for this further reflection.

What I am objecting to is Brown’s taking the conservative Catholic back-lash against feminism as though it is entirely and accurately a reflection of the whole of Roman Catholic belief. It’s not – not even according to the Vatican, and certainly not according to more liberal or progressive Roman Catholics.

On a final more positive note, I will once again commend Dan Brown on his ability to take a complex and controversial subject from academia and simplify it and weave it artistically into a readable narrative. Though there are specific points with which I do not agree, I am glad he was able to generate a discussion on the subject among people who may have never been exposed to so much history. In this sense, whether he is right or wrong on the specifics, he has done the Church and academia a favor.


Monday, August 30, 2004

A Liberal Reader Asks,....

I seemed to suffer some technical difficulties with my email and wasn't able to send a response to liberal reader's charge that I must be in favor of having my children molested by priests since any reference to Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) are conspicuously absent from my blog.

The email was short, but the charge stung and frankly flabbergasted me.

I understand that this is an emotionally charged issue - especially for those who may suffer personally with the issue. While I have never personally suffered sexual abuse, I know people who have and their pain seems incredible. I pray for them and want to do all I can to help. I also very obviously believe in structural Church reform.

Yet, why in the world would anyone jump to the conclusion that someone wants to see their own children abused by priests simply because they made no explicit reference to these organizations?

With all due respect for the pain that the person who wrote this email may feel, the person who wrote this email should carefully consider whether making such an absurd charge about people is an effective tactic in bringing about the desired reform in the Church.

There are at least four reasons that conspicuous references to these organizations are not on my blog.

1) I am officially a peripheral VOTF member. I am on their mailing lists, receive their emails, have made donations and signed some of their petitions. Yet, when I asked the leadership early on in their formation if they would circulate my petition for women's ordination, they pointed out to me that the focus of VOTF is solely on the issue of holding bishops accountable to laity for sexual abuse and nothing else.

I decided early on in my blogging that out of respect for everything VOTF stands for, I should not reference the organization on a blog that touches so many other controversial subjects because it could damage the group and all they stand for if someone as vocal on other issues as me were promoting them!

In other words, people might say "VOTF is obviously an organization of dissidents - just look at the type of people who promote them in blogdom."

2) I do not reference SNAP for similar reasons. I have never been personally abused by a priest or religious and therefore I feel it is not really my place to speak to this experience. Furthermore, anything I say could do damage to the group, since there may be those among the clergy who would might try to discredit SNAP by saying they associate with dissidents like myself.

3) I honestly and truly believe that in addition to accountability to laity, ordaining women and married men, and a more honest discussion of homosexuality in the priesthood and homosexuality in general are critical components to resolving the sex abuse crisis. These are my personal views and they are not universally shared by members of these other groups.

Let me be clear that I do not believe homosexuals are any more prone to abusing minors than heterosexuals - but the cloud of secrecy around the issue of homosexuality in the Church fosters an environment where all matters of sexuality are kept secret, and that secrecy is itself part of the problem. My views are not necessarily shared by VOTF and SNAP.

Therefore, I push my agenda not as a voice for these groups - but as it truly is - my own agenda and my own personal opinion!

4) Unlike some of the members of these groups, while I do want abuse to be stopped immediately and permenantly, and I do want the Church to be accountable, and I do want the Bishops to comply with civil law as well as moral teaching, I also believe that the Church has a responsibility to promote mercy to abusers and due to process to the accused.

Yes, she also has a responsibility to provide healing and justice to victims - and perhaps that responsibility to help with healing is greater than the responsibility to show mercy. It's a tough balance.

Yet, I have been one of the sole voices out here in cyberspace that will simultaneously criticize the bishops for mishandling the crisis, while praising their basic intention of trying to show mercy to abusing priests.

Note - I am not praising the means of showing that mercy, which effectively allowed abuse to continue and may have broken the law - but I do praise the basic intention I think was in many of their hearts. Christ loves even priests who molest children, and whatever means we find to stop the abuse must demonstrate to these men that Christ continues to love them.

This final point is a hard message for people to accept - whether liberal or conservative. All of us - myself included - are rightly angered by sexual abuse of minors and schemes to cover up that abuse by those in power. Our anger is just and right - but just anger must always be tempered with mercy and compassion and a desire to heal the sinner rather than simply punish the sinner.

I have posted many articles over the past year and a half of blogging that analyze the abuse crisis and I have suggested that laity and bishops work together openly and honestly to come up with creative solutions to the crisis that could become a model for wider society. I envision bishops working with victims, counselors, law enforcement, lawyers, even abusers, and other qualified laity to find ways to prevent further abuse without necessarily throwing abusers into a prison system where they might be killed.


Friday, August 27, 2004

The Number One Story in General Blogdom Seems to be the Swift Boat Veterans

I received an email about three or four weeks ago warning me about the Swift Boat Veterans, and providing links to their own sites or sites where they had posted comments. I read a bit of it, and thought to myself, "These guys are nuts. Who would take these folks seriously? Not even the die-hard Republican would listen this crew."

It seems I was wrong. They have generated quite a stir, and they have caused some damage to Kerry and distracted public discussion of the continuing revelation of Rumsfeld's involvement in Abu Ghraib. Despite the fact that almost everything they have said has been debunked and discredited by now, the damage was done.

The link above is to the most heavily trafficked blog according to site-meter, with its two current lead articles on this topic. I'm seeing the topic all over blogdom - though mostly outside of St. Blogs.

I wish I had paid more attention to that email a few weeks ago.


Ed Deluzain and Todd of Catholic Sensibilities Highlight Republican Beliefs

There are fourteen points of cognitive dissonance pointed out on Ed's site. Samples of my favorites include the following:

Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him, and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is Communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing UN resolutions against Iraq.

The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing combat pay and veterans' benefits.

A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.


Our Choir Releases it's First CD!!!

The CD is entitled Soli Deo Gloria and presents our multi-cultural music ministry. I sing in the bass section.

Buy now while supplies last!

Proceeds benefit the music ministry (we need new microphones and stuff). I believe the cost is $15 (mine was free, but I'm not giving it away to anyone).

Ordering information is available at the link above. Songs you'll hear on this wonderful arrangement are as follows:

1) Prelude: My Lord, What a Morning (Juntos Como Hermanos) - Instrumental African American spiritual transformed to popular Latin American Hymn.

2) Plenty Good Room: African American Spiritual

3) Let' Isikia: South African translates to You Hold the Key and sung in Xhoxia.

4) Granito De Mostaza: Traditional Central American hymn sung in Spanish with a lively beat that translates to If you have the faith of a mustard seed, says the Lord, you can move mountains,...cure illness,....defeat any enemy

5) Ave Marie Stellas: 11th century Latin hymn to Mary, star of the sea.

6) Hosanna: Traditional West African setting for the Sanctus sung at Mass, sung in French.

7) Lo Yisa Goy: Traditional Israeli hymn - the text of Isaiah 2:4 sung in Hebrew and English

8) Interlude: Salam Lisha'a Bir Bikful Lamakan: Middle eastern instrumental setting of the hymn translating Peace to God's people Everywhere.

9) Bwana Awabariki: Traditional East African Catholic hymn in Swahili (my wife's native tongue). The refrain translates loosely to May God grant you a blessing, evermore

10) Felicidad: Spanish hymn wirtten in the USA is a lively setting for Psalm 84.

11) How Can I Keep From Singing: USA Quaker hymn.

12) Jesus is a Rock: This African American spiritual truly rocks!

13) Siyahamba: South African freedom song translates to We Are marching in the Light of God and is sung in Zulu, Spanish, French, Swahili, and English. In our parish, we sometimes sing it in Bengla as well.

14) Postlude: Air from Orchestral Suite 5: By Johann Sebastian Bach in Germany, played as an instrumental on flute.

For more information, go to the link above.



Happy Memorial of Saint Monica

Today is the memorial of a great African saint, the mother of Saint Augustine, who was also an African and may be the most influential writer in Western Christianity.

It is from Augustine that we developed our understanding of salvation by grace alone as an absolutely free gift that God initiates through his own goodness and love. On the flip side of this doctrine is the doctrine that we all need grace in order to be saved: the doctrine of original sin, which I think may be the only doctrine of the Church that can be empirically verified.

As my seminary professors used to say, "We play in an Augustinian ballpark" and even those modern Christians who critique Augustine often do not realize how deeply influenced they are by his thought.

But tomorrow is Augustine's memorial, and today's memorial is a celebration of his mother.

What we know of Saint Monica comes largely from Augustine. In Book IX of his Confessions, Augustine tells the story of her addiction to alcohol, despite her piety. Eventually, through what we would call an intervention, she gave up the drink. Yet, the stumbling occurred long after her baptism and in spite of her otherwise prayerful life.

I highlight this story first and above other stories of Saint Monica because it emphasizes that saints are human beings - fallen sinners like the rest of us. They are people who stumble into heaven impelled by God's grace despite their fallen nature - or perhaps because of it after grace has built on nature to elevate us. Monica offers hope to all of us who struggle day in and day out with our personal demons.

Monica's sanctity was demonstrated most strongly in her love for her pagan husband and her pagan son, Augustine. She is said to have patiently prayed for thirty years for the conversion of her husband. The conversion occurred and he accepted baptism shortly before he died. She also prayed thirty years for the conversion their son, who went on to become a bishop and a great theologian and a saint in his own right. Augustine describes his mother's prayers as tears brought to God.

Monica is a model for parents and contemplatives and for all of us in her devotion and faith in the power of prayer. Many of us Catholics often wonder what the right words are to say that will lead another to conversion. We look for arguments. Monica reminds us that prayer is firing the winning shot. Placing our trust ultimately in the hands of a good and gracious all powerful God is the surest way to achieve the good.


Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Dirt on Deal Not Good for Liberals

I was trying to catch up on some of what has been going on in Catholic press while I was out on vacation, and I see that NCR finally ran the article that lead Hudson Deal to give up his position with the RNC on August 18, 2004.

I must say that despite the fact that I disagree with Deal on many things, and I found Deal's tactics with Ono Ekeh disgusting, the articles by Joe Feuerherd disgusted me even more.

According to both Deal and Feuerherd, there was an initial interview that covered politics and would have formed the basis of a story in itself had Feuerherd not uncovered dirt on Deal. I would have liked to have seen that article in a publication like NCR. I would have enjoyed and preferred a liberal critical analysis of conservative Catholic politics engaging a powerful voice among such Catholics.

Unlike Deal's attack on Ono Ekeh, Feuerherd chose to attack the man, rather than the man's position.

Don't get me wrong, I did not like Deal's tactics with Ekeh, which ultimately lead to pressure from Ekeh's bosses to force Ekeh to resign his position with the USCCB. I believe the tactic was too drastic given the fact that Ekeh made it clear he considers abortion murder, and supports John Kerry for other reasons than his specific stance on abortion.

Nevertheless, the issue was Ekeh's promotion of a candidate who supports abortion. While Deal may have gone too far in calling for Ekeh to lose his job, Deal was clearly not attacking Ekeh as a person so much as Ekeh's political position regarding John Kerry.

In turn, Feuerherd is not attacking Deal on the basis of political position he finds morally problematic. Rather, Feuerherd is simply attacking the man's moral character on the basis of the fact Deal is a sinner - which he very clearly is - and aren't we all sinners?

Feuerherd doesn't even name Deal's political position other than that Deal worked closely with the Bush camp.

I find many of Bush's positions morally problematic. I would have liked to see a liberal Catholic interview someone like Deal, or Novak, or Weigel and a dozen other leading conservative laity to ask them tough questions about those positions held by Bush that depart from the Vatican position and/or the position of the USCCB. I believe that a well done interview that asks the tough questions would be welcomed by both liberal and conservative Catholic readers alike. Such an article could have been far more enlightening in our polarized political climate.

Why do we need to stoop to digging up dirt on each other - knowing that is doctrine that there is dirt to be found on all of us?

Instead of good journalism, we got an article more fit for The National Enquirer.


Open Commonweal Editorial Letter to John Kerry

I am far more pro-life than the stance taken in this letter. However, the letter points out that even from a moderate pro-choice point of view, Kerry is not presenting the case for his abortion stance in an intelligible way, and he is not representing the views of most of his constituents.


Economic Injustice for Most: From New Deal to Raw Deal, by Charles R. Morris

This Commonweal article explores whether America is truly the land of opportunity that it once was, and raises questions about the concentration of wealth over the last two decades.


Week 29 of Pregnancy Complete

We completed week 29 of the pregnancy last Saturday. My wife is finding it harder and harder to find a comfortable position to sit or lie down. If she eats too much salt, she has some minor swelling.

From a guy's point of view, probably the most frustrating thing about pregnancy is that we sit on the sidelines the whole time powerless to do much to help. I know some guys see this as an advantage of being male, and some women may doubt the sincerity of what I am writing.

Maybe I'm just a strange fellow, but I wish in some ways that I could carry the baby for a couple of days - that we could trade off as one of us begins to tire. I am somewhat jealous when she excitedly tells me the baby has been moving all day, and somewhat frustrated that I can do so little to alleviate any of my wife's pains or discomforts.


I'm Back!!!

I'm back from vacation in Ohio. My parents seemed to really enjoy having all their children and grandchildren home for the event of their 40th wedding anniversary.

We asked Dad about their first date, wanting to know what they did. He stated that after he saw Mom's green eyes and spaghetti strap dress, the last forty years were just a blur.

I managed to avoid any major arguments like the last time we all got together. It was a nice and relaxing time. I still have a ton of catching up to do with work and personal emails.


Friday, August 20, 2004

Going Out of Town: Slow Blogging

As indicated below, I am heading home for my parent's 40th wedding anniversary!

I planned a few extra days of vacation as well, so I won't be on the computer nearly as much. I will also not be able to access my email at all. I'll be returning Thursday, August 26th, and don't anticipate I'll be blogging much between now and then.


New Study Indicates Divorce Can be Predicted Before Couple Marries

The study shows that certain basic relationship and communication skills are the basic predicters of success in marriage. The most harmful thing we can do our marriages is to make continued negative remarks about our spouse.

I thought this article would be good to post as I head of town today to return to my hometown for my parents 40th wedding anniversary!

Married in 1964 at the age of 22 and 21 for Dad and Mom respectively, they have successfully raised nine children who have all remained more or less active in the Church, made it through college, and are now marrying to have their on children. One son served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years. Another (me) tried religious for awhile.

I can't help but look at what my parents have accomplished with the highest admiration. They did this through the social upheaval and turmoil of the 1960's and 1970's when many of their peers were unable to make it work.

The skills mentioned in the article are definitely there with my parents to a large degree. They are very different people. Mom's a liberal arts major and liberal Democrat enthusiastic about Vatican II and a bit of a social butterfly. Dad's a scientist and a conservative Republican who misses much of the pre-Vatican II Church, and prefers introverted activity. Despite their very real differences, they have always (or at least almost always) been kind to one another.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Rebecca Nappi on Lack of Female Insight in Vatican Letter

Even Amy Wellborn - no liberal or radical feminist - made this observation, and I was just commenting on this yesterday in a response to a reader about the Holy Father's statements on complementarity.

I believe the Holy Father is on to something with the basic idea that men and women are different but equal. However, he seems to be trying to solve the puzzle of what it means to be a man and a woman by himself, and he may be missing the biggest piece of the puzzle - the female perspective.

Don't get me wrong - if the Holy Father were to collaborate with women, people like Elena ought to be part of the discussion. And there ought to be quite a few like her that brought into the discussion.

On the flip side, people like Rosemary Ruether, Joan Chittister, Elizabeth Shussler Fiorenza, Elizabeth Johnson, or maybe even Mary Daly should be part of the discussion too.

Women from other nations should be included too.

If the Holy Father has actually already consulted a few women, I suspect those women were few and hand-picked to be those sympathetic to views he already holds. That doesn't help the document reach the rest of womankind, and he might as well write it by himself if all he wants is positive feedback from a handful of sympathetic women.

If he would let women from around the globe, including those who have a bone to pick, join the process along with supporters, there may emerge a higher quality document that truly speaks to the lived experience of all or most women. Factual errors about what it means to be a woman could be avoided. Questions women ask (such as whether Rom 16:7 refers to a woman Apostle) could be addressed. Inconsistencies could be caught before publication, and so forth.

The women involved may learn from one another too. Imagine if Elena found she actually liked hanging out with Sister Joan.

Of course, as Pope, he would always have the final say....but a collaborative effort on such a document would be good for the women involved, the Pope, himself, and the final product of the document itself. Even if the conclusions of statements wound up the same as the current teachings, it may be worded in a way that reaches more people and answers more questions than it raises. That would be a good thing.


Father Jim Says No Difference between Bush and Kerry on the War

Quoting an article by Alexander Cockburn, Father Jim Tucker is holding the position that Kerry and Bush are no different on whether we should have gone to war in Iraq.

This is opinion is based on recent statements by Kerry that he would have still voted to give the President authority for war even he knew then what he knows now about the WMDs.

I looked at Cockburn's article, and I don't think what he says follows.

First, there is a distinction that needs to be made between authorizing the President to use military force, and actually executing that authority as President.

It seems to me that Kerry has been saying all along that in the post 9/11 world, he felt the President should have broad power to act quickly if there were an immiment threat and/or the United States needed to act quickly with the international community to mitigate a serious threat.

The issue is not whether the President should have the authority to wage war under imminent threat. Most Americans would agree he should (I might not - but most Americans would accept this).

What Kerry seems to be saying, and it makes sense to me, is that though the President rightly had this authority, he used it in a situation where the threat was not imminent.

Of course, Cockburn also refers to Kerry's foreign affairs spokeperson, Jamie Rubin, claiming Kerry would "in all probability" gone to war with Iraq eventually, even if he knew there were no WMDs. This is a more damning quotation than merely saying Kerry would have given the President authority for war if he knew then what he knows now.

However, the Washington Post article Cockburn is most likely referring to states that Kerry, himself, only said he "might" have gone to war eventually - not "probably" would have gone to war.

I think we need to separate what Jamie Rubin says from what Kerry actually says.

Cockburn coninues to quote Kerry as saying the following as a clarification of Rubin's statement:

There are four real questions that matter to Americans, and I hope you'll get the answers to those questions because the American people deserve them.

My question to President Bush is why did he rush to war without a plan to win the peace?

Why did he rush to war on faulty intelligence and not do the hard work necessary to give America the truth?

Why did he mislead America about how he would go to war?

Why has he not brought other countries to the table in order to support American troops in the way that we deserve it and relieve a pressure from the American people?
I'm not sure what to think here. The ordering of the questions is a bit strange. It seems the second question should be the first question.

The overiding question I have about Bush' policy of pre-emption is that it seems to me that the case is overwhelming that the neoconservatives sought justification for war with Iraq even before 9/11, and that their motives were not entirely national security or a humanitarian concern for oppressed people.

Mixed in with these concerns was a more dominant desire to assert U.S. military and economic superiority over the United Nations and the emerging European Union in order to maintain sole superpower status. I'm not making this up. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Scooter, and others wrote this down all through the nineties. In my mind, this is a grossly immoral motive for war. It is also hard to ignore that Bush-Cheney cronies personally profited from the war. This is also a morally repulsive motive for war.

The "hard work" of giving the American people the truth should have been to prove beyond reasonable doubt that these motives were not at play.

If there was an imminent threat from Iraq, the "hard work" Bush should have done was to engage his strongest critics to tear apart the evidence presented for war, and demand that the CIA respond to those critics until all reasonable doubt were removed that national security was at stake and/or Iraq possessed illegal WMDs. The evidence should have been so overwhelming that even France would be embarrassed to deny it.

Bear in mind, too, that Hans Blix and the U.N. inspectors had already failed to find WMDs, so the case against Iraq prior to war needed to explain why Blix failed to find what we could know with certainty was there.

Of course, since Iraq never possessed the WMDs, such a case could never have been built, and without such a case, we would have no justification for war. Though I lean toward active non-violent resistance and never resorting to war, even the staunchest just war theorists would admit that without WMDs or an imminent threat, a war of agression with Iraq is wrong - especially a unilateral war supposedly enforcing international sanctions.

If Jamie Rubin believes that "in all probability" Kerry would have gone to war in Iraq, I hope that he means that there is evidence that national security was at stake. Bill Clinton has consistently maintained that Iraq was a true threat. I was never wholly convinced of this, but perhaps Bush, Kerry, and Clinton all know something I do not.

What I am saying to John Kerry is that if you want to get my vote and you mean to say that American security was truly at risk, as I demanded of Bush, I will demand of you to make the evidence of the threat known to us. If such evidence is non-existent, do not argue that "in all probability" you would have gone to war, and do not allow your supporters to argue this, because such a war is wrong!

All wars of unprovoked agression are wrong without exception.

The other three questions Kerry raises are also valid in my mind - and I fully understand how Bush has failed on these other three questions while Kerry has been consistent even before the war in saying we should not go to war without international help, a thoughtful plan for waging the actual war, and a plan to win the peace. Bush has done a lousy job on all these counts, and these are critical issues once the decision for war has been made. But they are not critical until the question of why we needed to go to war in the first place is answered!

What I want Kerry to be clear about is that he probably would not have gone to war in the first place, even if he can conceive of circumstances that may have changed that probability. If that is not what he is saying, I may wind up considering staying home in November.


The Immorality of Natural Family Planning

Over the past couple of days, I have tried to get out of talking about contraception. For some reason, those readers who disagree with most of what I write find this to be the singular topic that most interest them. Personally, I just don't see the issue as that big a deal.

In my emails, as well as some of my comments, someone will say to me about once a week that I am denying 2,000 years of Church teaching by questioning Humanae Vitae. Sometimes, I receive a list of quotes from early saints like these below.

For the puposes of this post, "natural family planning" will refer only to the use of deliberately conjugal acts during a women's period of infertility to limit the number of children in a marriage, and not to its other uses such as the planning of conception and increasing the number of children.

So, without further ado, let's eamine what the 2,000 year tradition of the Church really has to say about natural family planning:

"If we marry, it is only so that we may bring up children." St. Justin Martyr ("First Apology," c. 160 A.D.)
According to Justin Martyr, the sole purpose of marriage is procreation. The unitive dimension of married love is not a reason to marry or celebrate the conjugal act.
"God made the male and female for the propagation of the human race." St. Irenaeus ("Against All Heresies," c. 180 A.D.)
Saint Irenaeus agrees with Justin Martry that the very purose of marriage is procreation. There is no mention made of "responsible parenthood".
"Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted. To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature." St. Clement of Alexandria ("The Instructor of Children," 191 A.D.)
Saint Clement of Alexandria is quite forceful and clear that any conjugal act that is not open to procreation is sinful. To deliberately have sexual relations during a woman's infertile period would fall under Clement's definition of vain ejaculation and waste that becomes an injury to nature.
"On account of their prominent ancestry and great property, the so-called faithful want no more children from slaves or lowborn commoners, they use drugs or sterility or bind themselves tightly in order to expel a fetus which has already been engendered." St. Hippolytus ("Refutation of All Heresies," 225 A.D.)
Saint Hippolytus is condemning abortion, especially among the wealthy.
They (certain Egyptian heretics) exercise genital acts, yet prevent the conceiving of children. Not in order to produce offspring, but to satisfy lust, are they eager for corruption." St. Epiphanius of Salamis ("Medicine Chest Against Heresies," 375 A.D.)
Saint Epiphanius seems to be clearly condemning the practice of any genital act that is not open to conception. These Egyptian heretics were likely practicing natural family planning!
"...and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having of children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome. Many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have mutilated nature, not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live." St. John Chrysostom ("Homilies on Matthew," 391 A.D.)
Permenant sterilization or surgical sterilization is condemned by Saint John Chrysostom, who emphasizes that children are a blessing to be sought.
"But I wonder why he (the heretic Jovianianus) set Judah and Tamar before us for an example, unless perchance even harlots give him pleasure; or Onan, who was slain because he grudged his brother seed. Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?" St. Jerome ("Against Jovinian," 393 A.D.)
Saint Jerome would not approve of the methods of natural family planning since sexual intercourse during a woman's infertile period is not aimed at procreation!
"You may see a number of women who are widows before they are wives. Other, indeed, will drink sterility and murder a man not yet born." St. Jerome ("Letter 22," 396 A.D.)
Jerome seemed to see contraception as akin to abortion.
"And then, fearing because of your law against child-bearing...they copulate in a shameful union only to satisfy lust for their wives. They are unwilling to have children, on whose account alone marriages are made. When this is taken away, husbands are shameful lovers, wives are harlots, bridal chambers are brothels, fathers-in-law pimps." St. Augustine of Hippo ("Againt Faustus," 400 A.D.)
Saint Augustine, like Justin, Clement and Jerome, is clear that procreation is the sole purpose of the conjugal act and marriage itself!
"For necessary sexual intercourse for begetting (children) is alone worthy of marriage. But that which goes beyond this necessity no longer follows reason but lust." St. Augustine of Hippo ("The Good of Marriage," 401 A.D.)
Saint Augustine clearly saw absolutely no other purpose for the conjugal act than procreation, and would have considered conjugal acts during a women's period of infertility sinful had he understood the reproductive cycle!
Since, however, We have spoken fully elsewhere on the Christian education of youth, let Us sum it all up by quoting once more the words of St. Augustine: "As regards the offspring it is provided that they should be begotten lovingly and educated religiously," - and this is also expressed succinctly in the Code of Canon Law - "The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children." (Pius XI: Casti Connubbii no. 17)

Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.Pope Pius XI: Casti Conubbii no. 56)
Pius XI did not say that one could deliberately time the conjugal act during a period of natural infertility. Rather, he says that the primary purpose of marriage and the conjugal act are procreation, and that it violates the natural law to deliberately do anything that would frustrate this purpose. Under this line of reasoning, natural family planning would be a mortal sin in the context of the constant tradition of the Church. Pius XI did make the statement that would later develop into natural family planning:
Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin. Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved. (Pius XI: Casti Connubbii no. 59)
Note that Pius is not saying one should deliberately time the conjugal act during a period of infertilility. Indeed, he is saying the exact opposite in the final sentence. In each and every conjugal act, the secondary ends must be subordinated to the primary end.

What he is saying is that if there is no intention to forgo conception, you do not sin if it were discovered from a God's eye point of view that you could not have procreated in that specific act.

When Pius XI made this statement, he introduced the unitive dimension of sexuality into theological discourse thrugh his authority of papal magisterium. Note that the saints of the early Church did not believe that marriage and sexuality had any "secondary end", and the idea that is a secondary end is not the constant tradition of the Church.

The constant tradition of the Church prior to the twentieth century would have understood natural family planning as sinful, because the constant tradition was that each and every conjugal act must be aimed at procreation and open to it, and marriage itself has its sole end as procreation. When a couple practices natural family planning, any conjugal act deliberately timed during a woman's infertile period is closed to procreation, and therefore would have been considered sinful!

Anyone who disagrees, please find any canonized saint, pope or council of bishops prior to Humanae Vitae that specifically says natural family planning is an acceptable practice.

Why would a so-called "liberal" make this arguement?

First, because it seems to be true. To the best of my knowledge, the Church never taught that natural family planning is an acceptable practice prior the twentieth century. What the Church seems to have taught for 2,000 years is that any attempt to "plan" to limit children in marriage is wrong, and every deliberate effort to side-step procreation as the ultimate aim of each and every sex act is wrong.

Second, because this is a good example of how doctrine develops. Teaching is not judged as "true" by the criteria of neing old. If it were, NFP would be a mortal sin because of its very newness. Pius XI introduced new ideas into magisterial teaching (the unitive ends of marriage) and those became enshrined at Vatican II. Those ideas can continue to develop over time.

Third, because when the Church "authoritively" accepted NFP, it also accepted that the unitive dimension of sexuality can justify a conjugal act even when procreation is impossible and not intended with forethought, knowledge and deliberation. This raises the question whether the same principle may apply in other circumstances.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Celiac Disease and Communion

I'm not sure which blogger started the discussion, but as I surf around, I am seeing several posts on celiac disease and Communion. Celiac disease is a deadly allergy to wheat gluten, and such people could die taking the host at Communion. The Church teaches that Christ's body and blood, soul and divinity is entirely present in each species offered at Communion.

Thus, the presider should ensure that a chalice of the sacred wine made blood is kept separate from the main chalice where the bread and wine are mixed. The person with celiac disease is encouraged to receive from this separate cup. Such a person still receives the same mystery we all receive.

On a separate note, alcoholics should not feel obligated to take from the cup under the same line of reasoning.

What is a person to do if the person is an alcoholic with celiac disease?


Ed Deluzain Asks an Interesting Question

Ed and I don't see eye to eye on abortion - I'm against it from the moment of conception, where he only opposes it in the second and third trimester. Nevertheless, he asks a very good question on his blog.

Quoting another source, Ed poses that many Catholics define being Catholic so strongly with pro-life politics that if making abortion illegal were truly accepted by wider society and laws truly changed, they would have nothing left to identify themselves as Catholic. How would such folks define themselves?


New Look For This Blog!

Blogger seemed to inserting things into my template to make the search and navigation bar at the top of the screen appear. That was not my doing, but whatever they are doing, it was severely messing up the formatting of my page. So I selected a new ready made template.

I actually like the new look, except that it means more scrolling to read my rather verbose posts. I'll be playing around a bit with the template to see if I can make it a bit easier to read. Symbolically, I like the fact that my posts appear on the left hand side of the screen!

What do others think?


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

How Would I Rank Various Issues?

I recently made a comment in a thread below that I seem to be asked for a response or clarification on my view that Humanae Vitae is internally inconsistent about every other day, and it is an issue I really don't care passionately about personally. I thought I'd briefly summarize what theological issues are important to me and why.

1) Women's ordination: because if the Vatican is wrong and it is true that God is calling women to ordained ministry, it is an injustice not to ordain them. And if I am wrong in the reasons I question this, I have faith the Vatican will come up with good answers eventually.

NOTE: One cannot argue from a starting point that it is not an injustice to deny ordination to women, therefore the Vatican must be right. This is a logical fallacy. One must first demonstrate that the Vatican is right in order to demonstrate that no injustice is being done.

2) Married priests: because if the Vatican is wrong and it is true that some married men are called by God to ordained ministry, or that some celibate ministerial priests are called to marriage, it is an injustice not to let them pursue their other vocation. And if I am wrong in the reasons I question this, I have faith the Vatican will come up with good answers eventually.

NOTE: I place women's ordination ahead of married priests because even if an injustice is being done to men with the dual calling, at least they capable of choosing to be priests. Furthermore, the position of the Vatican is already an admission that this is a discipline rather than a doctrine.

3) Blessing gay unions: because if the Vatican is wrong and God intends gay people to enter into monogamous permanently committed unions, it is an injustice not to support such a union. And if I am wrong in the reasons I question this, I have faith the Vatican will come up with good answers eventually.

4) Democracy in the Church: because bishops were once elected by the people, and the Church even holds as doctrine that there is a "sense of the faithful" by which doctrine comes to be known as infallible, and it is possible to have a hierarchal structure with some democratic processes. I am not saying the Church is a democracy. Rather, I am saying that there ought to be a channel for change to occur bottom up as well as top down. Fostering such systems may help prevent injustices by the Vatican in the suture. And if I am wrong in the reasons I question this, I have faith the Vatican will come up with good answers eventually.

5) Being inclusive: by this I simply mean that we are no rush whatsoever to exclude people from the fold. Denial of Communion, excommunication, and labels such as "heretic" should only be used as an absolute last resort, and only by one in the proper authority to do it, and it should almost bring horror to the one in authority to feel the need to use this type of authority. Declaring an excommunication ought to have something of the same emotional feel as pulling the switch on the electric chair.

NOTE: To those who would argue that the Vatican must be correct on all five of these issues simply because the Church cannot error, there needs to be a distinction between the Church and the Vatican, between teaching infallibly defined and not infallibly defined, and between small "t" traditions and big "T" Tradition. The Vatican has erred in the past in ways that fostered injustice. Slavery is a prime example. The crusades could be another. Even on purely abstract doctrinal issues, Pope Honorius I was condemned at Chalcedon as a monothelite heretic.

While the Church as a whole cannot err, and the charism of infallibility can be exercised by the Pope acting alone, the Vatican and even the popes can and have erred in the past. My most passionate concerns are those instances where the possibility of error indicates a potential injustice on a grand scale.

Contraception really doesn't make the list of what I consider vitally important issues to the Church. If the Vatican is wrong on the issue, it's a little hard to argue they are committing a grave injustice to others by holding their erroneous opinion. If the Vatican is right on the issue, most people using it today could hardly be said to be in mortal sin, because few understand why it is wrong. They do not act with full knowledge and deliberation. Perhaps my framing of the question will help the Church clarify itself.

To me, the contraception issue is only important in the sense that the questions the current teaching raises are tied to the other issues. If Paul VI was correct that sexuality and procreation can be separated through the practice of natural family planning, one can naturally ask if the same principles that make this true also apply to gay unions.

On political issues, I am actually less liberal than I let on. For example, I am pro-life, and abortion is a dominant issue in my voting decisions. I value family and chastity. I am fiscally conservative (meaning I believe in balanced budgets, whether achieved through expense cuts or increased taxes). I actually do understand the principles of supply side trickle down economics. I understand that even when I argue for increased taxes, we can only go so far before we damage the ability of business to create new jobs. I believe in checks and balances and limited powers of government and the principle of subsidiarity. I am actually registered a Republican.

On the liberal side, even as a child, I believed something ought to be done to reverse racism. I supported most of the civil rights reform I knew about as a child, even before I could vote. Even if race based affirmative action were not the best solution, could class based affirmative action work - as a Black Republican proposed decades ago?

I also always leaned more toward non-violent resistance to evil than militarism, and part of what I would do to balance a budget would be to cut defense spending.

I also oppose the death penalty, support gun control, and believe something should be done to conserve the environment.

Finally, even as small child, I always felt that in the United States of America, nobody should ever be homeless or go to bed hungry. If the supply is there, we, as a society, must find a way to ensure that in our great nation, nobody goes without basic necessities.

Prior to the presidency of Bill Clinton, I tended to be critical of Democrats not because I didn't think their hearts were largely in the right place. Rather, I thought they were wrong in the head.

Growing up, I remember double digit inflation and unemployment over seven percent and what seemed like a huge deficit under Carter, and Mondale running on a platform of promised tax increases as we seemed headed into a recession. While Reagan never promised to solve all social problems, I saw his optimism that we could solve some problems as hopeful. I believe that most Americans felt this way, and that's why many of us voted for him. Plus, he was pro-life. I voted for Reagan in my first legal election.

I never voted for him, but Clinton convinced me that we could build a strong safety net for the poor, protect the environment, combat racism and so forth and still balance a budget, have low unemployment and almost no inflation. Unlike Reagan, he didn't say we can only solve so many problems and the rest is not the government's business. He set out to do it all with one of the most activist governments in history, and he managed to get it done without turning our government into communism, socialism or some other form of dictatorship. If only he were also pro-life and faithful to his wife, we'd all be saying he was a great president. I will never again listen to the naysayers who say it can't be done.

I am extremely critical of the Bush Administration, because I do not believe he supports a single conservative issue I support, and he does not support a single liberal idea I would support. Maybe he's not the anti-Christ, but he is the anti-jcecil3. I am diametrically opposed to almost everything Bush does.

I honestly believe he only pays lip service to pro-lifers, and has no plans to make abortion illegal.

Furthermore, he would wage a war of aggression, which is always and everywhere unjust. I understand that the Vatican teaches that the state has the authority to exercise "prudential judgment" in self defense, and therefore we cannot say that all war is "inherently" unjust, sinful or evil in the sense that abortion is inherently evil.

However, the Church does not teach that the state can exercise "prudential judgment" to wage a war of pre-emption. The Church has consistently taught the exact opposite for two thousand years. Wars of aggression are wrong by definition, and nearly every other criteria of just war was also violated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Thus, even if Bush were truly against abortion, which I do not think he is, I would consider the war in Iraq a more dominant issue. My reasoning has been stated before. There is a huge difference between the state allowing citizens to kill on their own, and the state actually using its own authority to kill. Waging an unjust war is not the moral equivalent of permissive abortion laws. It is the moral equivalent of state mandated abortion!

Innocent people have died in Iraq and they were killed by U.S. bombs dropped from U.S. planes flown by U.S. service-people representing the U.S. government in an act of unprovoked aggression.

Moreover, against the very principles of subsidiarity and limited government that have lead me to vote Republican for years, Bush has passed the Patriot Act and put a grand inquisitor in the office of the Attorney General. He has consistently expanded and abused executive power and even considered the use of torture in the White House!

To fully absorb the moral import of the fact that Bush admits that torture was considered even though he claims he never approved it, consider how you would feel if the president of the United States were seriously considering rape of innocent women and child abuse as a way of demoralizing the enemy. Torture is that wrong. It should never be considered at any level by American government. The Vatican would agree with that position!

Bush is also pro-death penalty, anti-affirmative action, and claims we don't have the money to spend on building on a safety net for the poor. Yet, he is running up the largest deficit ever - completely contrary to any conservative ideology I was aware of prior to his elections (I was not following the "neoconservatives" ). He is a naysayer and Clinton already convinced me that I don't want to hear the naysayers. I want presidents who get it done on economics and social justice at least as well as Clinton.

To me, the neoconservative agenda is a diabolic plot to assert military and economic dominance over the rest of the world to benefit a very small handful of Americans - those who benefited most from Bush's tax cuts. These people seem willing to do and say almost anything to gain and maintain ever more power and wealth. I see the makings of a dictator in G.W. Bush.

So, on the political front, as opposed to the theological front, the most important issue to me is not any single issue of legislation or any given political party. The most important issue is removing George W. Bush from power.


What the Heck is Blogger Doing?

Don't ask me what happened to the banner at the top. I didn't do it. Hopefully, it will be fixed soon.


Another Catholic Deals With Stanley Kurtz and Andrew Sullivan

William Bole in Commonweal takes a look at the very debate that was posted by my more conservative readers that prompted my three part series on saving marriage. Tongue in cheek, Bole suggests that people who value marriage ought to consider moving to Massachusetts, where divorce rates are lower than the Bible belt or Texas.


Name That Theologian

Without opening the link above ahead of time, see if you tell which famous Catholic theologian made the following statement:

Since in marriage a man and a woman are associated sexually as well as in other respects the good must be sought in this area too. From the point of view of another person, from the altruistic standpoint, it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, i.e. the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved.
I'd have never guessed.


Monday, August 16, 2004

A Pastor Speaks Out Against "Radio Orthodoxy"

Brian McLaren argues in Sojourners that "radio orthodoxy" is clouding an authentically Christian vision in this election season, and that pastors have a responsibility to help congregants see the other side of the issues.

He proposes that pastors should learn "radio orthodoxy" so well that they can make it sound like their own belief. Each sermon should start with a presentation of the radio orthodox belief stated so well that it sounds convincing if the preaching stopped mid-way. Then the sermon should turn to the other side of the argument and be solidly based in Scripture. Catholics might weave Tradition and the Church's social teaching in as well.

He also proposes parish prayer discussions based on a group viewing of the presidential debates. Not a bad idea.


Chavez Wins Landslide Victory in Venezuela

Critics have called him a dictator in the making, including U.S. government critics. It is known that Chavez is extremely popular among the poor. His victory was decisively established with 58 percent of the vote going to him.


Sunday, August 15, 2004

In Honor of Our Mother Assumed Into Heaven

This article deals more with the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception (Mary's sinlessness from the moment she was concieved) and the doctrine of the Virgin Birth (Jesus' conception in Mary without a male partner). Yet, the doctrine of the Assumption (that Mary is body and soul in heaven) is touched on briefly. I post this article today because today is the Feast of the Assumotion. The article is apologetic in tone, rather than a critical examination. Indeed, it was prompted by an argument with an Evengelical Protestant seeking the Scriptural justification for these teachings. Enjoy.


Saturday, August 14, 2004

Pregnancy Update

We have completed week 27 and week 28 of pregnancy. The baby's eyelashes are forming. My wife is really showing now, and she looks beautiful!

The pains my wife felt last week were likely normal stretching of the ligaments. The baby is moving around a lot and my wife worries about the umbilical cord getting wrapped around the baby's neck.


Hurricane Charlie Rips Through Florida

Let us all pray for the victims of this tragic storm.


Friday, August 13, 2004

Social Sin Verses Personal Sin

1869 Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. "Structures of sin" are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a "social sin." (John Paul II, RP 16).
There were some commenters to my three part series on saving the institution of marriage who seemed to feel that the breakdown of marriage represented by rising rates of cohabitation and divorce cannot be blamed on socio-economic factors.

Instead, they prefer to speak of personal moral responsibility. The attitude is that couples do not cohabitate out of economic factors that lead young people to marry late. Rather, young people deliberately and wrongly chose to disobey natural and divine law out of lust, and these couples as individuals are solely responsible for their personal sins. Divorce is also a result of the personal sin of individuals.

The paragraph of the CCC quoted above indicates that personal sin can give rise to social situations and institutions that form "structures of sin" that actually lead the victims of the structure to do evil. In my series, I am arguing that the worker is made a victim of economic injustice because she or he is not paid a living wage that would support a family, nor provided time by an employer to build up family life and cultivate spiritual values.

While there is some truth to the fact that people who cohabitate prior to marriage are committing a personal sin, my argument is that these couples are victims of a "structure of sin" that is bred by the capitalist system. Where in the Gospel does it state that the profit motive is the sacrosanct principle by which goods are to be distributed?

In Gregory Baum's Religion and Alienation: A Theological Reading of Sociology, chapter IX, Critical Theology, I first came to understand what the social justice advocates in the "progressive" wing of the Church meant by social sin. Here's a quotation:
In the scriptures, we find a twofold language about sin. There is personal sin knowingly and freely chosen, and there is social sin accompanied by collective blindness. There is sin as deed and sin as illness. An example of personal sin is King David's adultery with Bathsheba and the premeditated murder of her husband, Uriah, in which the king acted against his better judgment and for which he did penance after the prophet's reprimand. Yet, even this story had a social message, for the prophets of Israel, accustomed to a confederate structure of authority, were suspicious of the new kingship and feared the possibility of despotism. They made the story of King David's sin remind the people that the king was a sinner and that they should never abandon their critical attitude toward royal authority. (Paulist Press, New York, NY (1975) p.198)
This critical attitude toward royal authority that Baum speaks of finds expression almost universally through the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, and culminates in the New Testament denunciation of Herod by John the Baptist. At times, the critical attitude is aimed at the priests of the high court as well the king himself. In the words and deeds of Jesus, a critical attitude is expressed largely toward religious authority even when that authority was not aligned with the royals.

Baum speaks of social sin as being the primary topic addressed in prophetic preaching and literature. The prophets speak of "collective blindness, group egotism, and the pursuit of national life that betrays the covenant and violates the divine command." (p. 198). In the first reading at Mass just yesterday, we heard the following line from the prophet Ezekiel:
The word of the LORD came to me:
Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house;
they have eyes to see but do not see,
and ears to hear but do not hear,
for they are a rebellious house.
(EZ 12:1-2)
While personal sin involves a knowing and deliberate violation of conscience, social sin is often an unconscious or unintentional act by a collective body that does evil nonetheless. Thus, it is spoken of as a group of people in darkness, blindness, illness, and other metaphors that emphasize the unknowing or undeliberate character of the sin.

Yet, we saw in the paragraph of the CCC that social sin results from personal sin. Perhaps one of the most striking examples I can imagine is the African slave trade. Though there existed Christians of European descent who held no personal animosity or hatred toward black Africans, and perhaps never even owned slaves personally, few Christians questioned the very institution of slavery for centuries. Indeed, there was a time when speaking prophetically against slavery would have one labeled a heretic, and Biblical texts were sited to justify the institution of slavery and the racism that lead Europeans to enslave Africans in particular.

The first personal sin was committed by the European explorer who first encountered an African with the attitude that the human person standing before him was a means to an end, rather than a fully human person who is an end in himself.

Baum speaks of four levels of social sin.

In the first level of social sin, dehumanizing tendencies occur almost without reflection as people go about their daily lives. These dehumanizing tendencies are then institutionalized without anyone being fully aware of what is happening. To use my example of slavery, the first explorer returns to Europe and sells others on the idea that "the savages" in African could be sold profitably into slavery (which was an already existing institution in Europe and Africa).

In the second level of social sin, cultural and religious symbols form and become operative on the collective conscience of a people to harden the social sin into a false ideology. For examples, theologians argued that the African had no soul, or that being a son of Ham, he was fated for slavery. Economist argued that slavery was necessary. Philosophers argued it was in accord with natural law.

In the third level of social sin, a false consciousness is created by the institution and ideology such that people who involve themselves in the destructive tendencies of the sin act as though, and may even believe that they are doing the right thing. For example, the African slave trader argues that the slavery of a European Christian is immoral, since we now have souless sons of Ham to replace the Christian slave.

Finally, in the fourth level of social sin, the institution will strengthen, magnify, and increase its destructive tendencies through the use of power made by collective boards, councils, and other authorities. For example, the kings, bishops, and wealthy classes would support the slave trade, seek to expand it across the globe, and label any resistance heretical revolutionaries.

In the days of slavery, if an African slave exploded in anger and killed his master, there would have been plenty of people to condemn the slave for murder and rebelliousness. It was even a legal crime for a slave to rebel. There would have even been those who felt some sympathy for the slave who still would have encouraged the slave to submit to his master and accept his life of drudgery as a union with the cross.

Critical theology allows one to take the perspective of admiring the virtue of the submissive slave, and condemning murder of the master while calling into question the very institution of slavery that leads the rebellious slave to desire murder. Critical theology is willing to look at both strengths and weaknesses of both sides of an argument, and to critique structures that make people victims even as it critiques individual behavior.

Baum uses two examples from the Catholic Church in Canada in the 1970's to highlight how critical theology can work.

When a minister from Quebec was killed by French speaking political revolutionaries, an English speaking bishop denounced the violence and called on all Canadians to unite peacefully. This is not critical theology. Later, the bishops of Quebec made a joint statement that expressed horror and denunciation of the violence, but then called on all Canadians to reflect on the injustices in their country that lead to this awful crime. This is critical theology in practice.

Baum also highlights a pastoral letter of the Canadian Bishops in 1974 entitled Sharing Daily Bread, where the Bishops stated the following:
The present market is designed primarily to make profits, not to feed people. The supply and distribution of food is determined mainly by effective demand, not by human need. Effective demand is usually defined in terms of ability to pay. Food supplies are often controlled in such a way as to drive up prices on the market.
These bishops were using critical theology to examine the institution of capital markets and potential injustices of such a system in light of the Gospel. They were asking people to reflect on unconscious biases and practices that had become part of daily life, but may have created dehumanizing and unjust conditions.

Baum even speaks of how poverty can create crime. If you doubt his analysis, think of the neighborhoods most of us avoid and the average income in those areas compared to your own.

When critical theology crosses over to taking the side of the oppressed victim, it becomes liberation theology, which is an outgrowth of critical theology. The liberation theologian argues that the God takes sides in conflict, and always sides with the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. This is an outgrowth of the Gospel and the Church's own traditional teaching of the dignity of the human person - especially the poor and marginalized. The liberation theologian argues that the God of the Bible and the reign of God preached by Jesus is encountered precisely in the liberation of oppressed people.

The conservative liberation theologian will argue the slave may not have a right to murder his master, but he certainly has a right and even a duty to try to escape slavery. The less conservative liberation theologian might argue that the slave who murders his master is exonerated of personal sin.

Personally, I tend towards the position of more conservative liberation theology. So does the Vatican when it affirmed certain aspects of liberation theology while critiquing its more radical manifestations. Many believers in active non-violent resistance to evil also espouse the more moderate forms of liberation theology, which uses civil disobedience and critical theology to help evolve institutions entangled in "structures of evil" into more just systems without dehumanizing the oppressor or seeking violence against the powerful.

Yet, one can engage in critical theology without being a liberation theologian. The key to critical theology is merely recognizing that structures of evil exist and become institutionalized, rationalized, and blindly accepted by almost an entire society. These structures of evil are larger than the faults of an individual person - though they may have started with the sins of individuals. These structures do make people victims, and the victims of such structures are lead to do evil. Indeed, there is a sense in which those who hold power are also victims of the institution.

For example, I once a heard a story of a nun who watched a Nazi guard in the concentration camps brutalize a Jew and commented, "That poor man." Another witness said, "How can he take such a beating?" and the nun replied, "I mean the guard."

Critical theology is the practice of examining social structures and institutions, including the institution of the Church, in light of what is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. This does not mean that there is a rule of faith above the Church. However, it does mean that within the teaching of the Church, itself, is the revelation of Christ that calls into question any structure of evil that can arise in the Church as a result of sin. It is as though the Church has antibodies of its own to ward off disease, and those antibodies are the prophets willing to engage Church teaching critically.
Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition; in other words, not every tradition that arises in the Church is a true celebration and keeping present of the mystery of Christ. There is a distorting, as well as a legitimate, tradition.... Consequently, tradition must not be considered only affirmatively, but also critically.

- Ratzinger, Joseph. "The Transmission of Divine Revelation," in Vorgrimler, Herbert, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 3. New York: Herder and Herder, p. 185
The issue of women's ordination has proposed a challenge to the Vatican. Is the exclusion of women from ordained ministry really rooted in the revelation of Christ? Or, is the exclusion of women from ordained ministry a "structure of evil" that has grown out of unconscious denial of the full humanity of women?

Almost every ordained Roman Catholic priest in the world has been exposed to at least some critical theology. Ratzinger was once an enthusiast of critical theology, but has become more conservative in his personal views, while continuing to use the tools of critical theology to attack his opponents in the media.

Most Catholic bloggers seem to be well versed in apologetic theology: which is the theological and philosophical defense of Catholic doctrine from attacks from without. This is very different from critical theology. I like to dabble in apologetics from time to time when engaged by a rabid fundamentalist Protestant, Muslim or atheist.

Many Catholic bloggers are also well versed in mystical or contemplative theology that examines our personal relationship with Christ in prayer and sacramental encounter. A few Catholic bloggers are interested in sacramental theology, and especially theology of the liturgy. However, very few Catholic bloggers are familiar with the idea of critical theology, and tend to view it as an attack from outside to be countered with apologetics. Critical theology is actually a tool in the Vatican's tool-box and there is nothing inherently wrong with it.

Indeed, not only is there nothing wrong with critical theology, but it is necessary to learn to think critically and examine "structures of evil" if we are to truly help the victims of social sin to avoid evil. It is also necessary to engage in critical theology in order to change the "structures of evil" so that we can build the common good.

Acknowledgement of social sin and "structures of evil" does not mean that personal sin does not exist. It does. Anytime you violate the golden rule, you are in sin. Any time you treat people as means rather than ends, you are in sin. Also, the ends do not justify the means. You must obey your conscience. The two great commandments and the golden rule and the ten commandments form a basis for judging personal acts of morality, always considering the ends means and circumstances.

Yet, to knowingly participate in social sin once the veil of blindness has been lifted from your eyes is to make social sin a personal fault. To completely avoid thinking about the possibility of social sin can even be a personal fault of the sin of omission. As Churchill once said, all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men [sic] to do nothing.

In an article I wrote last month entitled What Does "Advancing Progressive Views" Mean?, I argued that doctrine develops in the Roman Catholic Church through a process of debate. I used the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as a primary example of doctrine developing and shaping further clarity over time through theological debate. Then I used Humanae Vitae as a test case to demonstrate how critical engagement with the authoritive teaching of the Church can meet the requirement of "religious submission of mind and will" outlined in LG 25, while also pointing to possible areas of development in the Church's teaching that may strike out in directions not quite envisioned yet by Paul VI.

In our current cultural situation in North America, in the year 2004, I believe one of the areas of concern for critical theology is examining the structures of evil that lead the United States to a war of aggression and beginning to determine how to dismantle those structures of evil.

The Church has consistently taught for 2,000 years that all wars of aggression are inherently evil. The state has killed innocent people, which is worse even than permissive abortion laws, and is more like mandatory abortion laws. This was an elected government acting with the overwhelming consensus of the people at the time the war began. Many people are beginning to question the war over a year after it started, but I saw it as a gravely evil undertaking before it began. There is absolutely no justification for the invasion of Iraq in the way it occurred. What were the structures of evil that lead nearly the entire American people to blindly go to war without provocation?

We can condemn the evils of Saddam Hussein and the unrelated terrorist attacks of September 11 while honestly asking what is wrong with American culture that we would all so blindly wage what is so obviously an unjust war. We can even ask if the same illness that lead to the unjust invasion of Iraq may have contributed to the creation of a group of terrorists who would do the unimaginable evil of September 11. We can also ask if the same illness that lead us to war is the same illness that lead to the rise of Saddam Hussein, with U.S. backing, in the 1980's.

Critical theology makes use of historical criticism, literary criticism, and other forms of analysis to identify areas for potential critique. However, faith is not placed blindly in the secular sciences. The ultimate goal is to bring all things together in Christ. All things must be tested against the revelation of the person of Jesus Christ.

As a Roman Catholic who would engage in critical theology, I accept the authority of Sacred Scripture interpreted through Sacred Tradition as defined authoritively by the Magisterium. Yet, there are levels of assent that we are required to give, and levels of authority with which teachings are defined.

The fullness of truth subsist in the Roman Catholic Church, but that does not mean that everything the Church does or teaches is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Nor is all truth of equal weight. Critical theology will help the entire Church to find the fullness of truth and define it ever more clearly and understand its weight more clearly. Even erroneous opinions will help truth come to the surface as the dialogue in history called Tradition unfolds in the progressive process of debate. We are assured of this by the promise by the Master that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.