Thursday, June 30, 2005

A New Quiz

I saw this one at Noli Irritare Leones.

Lynn also offers some thoghts on what might lure a woman who never views porn and comes from the Quaker tradition to view porn if it were done differently.

Your Deadly Sins

Gluttony: 40%

Sloth: 40%

Lust: 20%

Envy: 0%

Greed: 0%

Pride: 0%

Wrath: 0%

Chance You'll Go to Hell: 14%

You'll die from food poisoning - and then the natives will feast on your fatty limbs.


WOW! This Story is Poweful

From a blog going by the name "Waiter Rant", and ex-seminarian who seems to now wait tables tells a powerful and moving story about what ministry is really like - reminding me that much of what I blog about is all straw.


Thoughts on the Church "Promoting" Contraception

Frequent readers know that though I do not use contraception, I believe that the Church's own teaching regarding natural family planning seems to imply that contraception within a marriage may be morally licit.

This said, I need to clarify that it is not my position that the Church needs to "promote" contraception.

I bring this up because I have received a couple of emails from folks on the liberal extreme that feel the Church should promote condom use for various reasons.

Basically, the Church taught non-infallibly all the way up until 1968 that procreation was the primary end of each and every conjugal act within marriage.

This was the major reason she opposed contraception, though there has never been a solemn definition regarding this teaching.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, which is not itself infallible, but affirmed two important progressive developments in the Church's understanding of the deposit of faith.

The first of these two notions is that "responsible parenthood" implies a moral obligation in certain instances to limit the number of children. Abstinence is certainly a morally licit way to do this.

The second of these two notions is that couples who feel obligated in conscience to exercise such "responsible parenthood" may engage with deliberate and willful planning and foreknowledge in conjugal acts that are closed to the possibility of procreation during a woman's infertile periods of her monthly cycle. Such acts are considered morally licit.

What makes this second point, called natural family planning, morally licit is that procreation is no longer considered the primary end of each and every act in the sense of an intentional result of each act.

In this case, the unitive dimension of conjugal acts is recognized as the proper end of the conjugal act.

Paul VI also recognized that the unitive dimension of conjugal love renders conjugal acts for infertile couples morally licit. He recognized that medical procedures that unintentionally make a person infertile do not thereby make conjugal acts with a spouse morally illicit for that person.

In these cases, the unitive dimension of conjugal love is also recognized as sufficient grounds to render an act morally licit.

The unitive dimension of conjugal acts was always latent in the tradition in the Church's teaching on the proper matter and form to consummate marriage and make it indissoluble. It finds explicit expression in the documents of Vatican II and therefore could be considered as a definitively held doctrine of the ordinary and universal magisterium.

If the unitive dimension of conjugal acts by itself render a conjugal act morally licit where the act is deliberately, freely, and knowingly chosen during a time when procreation is impossible, we must conclude that the unitive dimension of conjugal acts actually is the primary end of conjugal acts, instead of the procreative.

If this is true, there is no moral reason that I can comprehend why a married couple may not choose to use temporary means of artificial non-abortificient contraceptives instead of natural family planning.

I also do not see any clear prohibition to contraception in Scripture or infallible teaching.

All of this said, where both the unitive and the procreative end of conjugal love is deliberately thwarted, such as in the case of casual sexual encounters with a prostitute, we can rightly say the act is immoral according to Church teaching.

Most of what the Church has traditionally taught is sinful, is, in fact, missing both the procreative and the unitive ends of sexual activity.

This would be true of masturbation, adultery, fornication, and almost any sort of promiscuity.

Perhaps masturbation is the least sinful of this list, and we can debate when one crosses from venial to mortal sin, or whether mitigating factors reduce personal culpability for sin.

And lest I be accused of hypocricy, I make no claim that I have never sinned sexually. I have, and I've taken it to God in confession, done my penance and seek the grace to continue to grow in chastity - and by God's grace, I have grown in it!

Nevertheless, where neither the unitive or procreative end of human sexuality is present, I stand faithful with the Church in questioning whether the act is objectively morally licit.

Gay sex that is promiscuous would be immoral in this world view.

Gay sex in a committed monogamous bond may resemble the marriage of infertile heterosexuals or heterosexual couples past the age of female menopause. Here, I'll part ways with the adamance of the Vatican.

If contraception and gay sex may be morally permissible in certain instances that the Church as a whole has not yet come to recognize, should the Church ever come to a point of "promoting" contraception?

Many people who are spending their lives fighting HIV/AIDs across the globe would like to see the Church promote the use of condoms.

Others who see unwanted pregnancy and overpopulation as a global threat contributing to poverty feel similarly.

Finally, some feminist feel that reproductive freedom is the front-line battle for women's equity, and feel that the Church's resistance to contraception is rooted in sinful sexist bias.

I do not believe that the Church should promote condom use or contraception.

Rather, I think the Church's stance should be somewhat like her stance on smoking cigarettes.

The Church does not explicitly teach that smoking is a sin, but nobody would accuse of the Church of promoting smoking. In some ways, she may even discourage it without condemning every instance of it.

German Cardinal, Walter Kaspar, who was considered papible when John Paul II died, caused a stir by saying publicly that the commandment "Thou shall not kill" applied to failure to use a condom if you have HIV or AIDs. He was right in my mind.

What got ignored is that Kaspar also said that the Church encourages abstinence for all people outside of marriage. That is also my position.

The Church's response to HIV/AIDs, unwanted pregnancies and overpopulation, or women's dignity is that all human persons have freedom regarding our sexual choices, and abstinence outside of marriage is the ideal that the Church promotes. Period.

However, this said, it is a graver evil to commit murder than to commit fornication, and a person with HIV therefore should not multiply his or her sin by engaging in fornication that might be deadly to another person.

Young people should be taught that abstinence prior to marriage is the ideal, and that the ideal is achievable, and that this is the preferred choice for those striving for holiness and the ultimate human happiness.

I'll join women concerned about equity in the battle for women's ordination and contraception within a marriage, but after that, we might part ways.

I do not support abortion (which terminates a human life) or sexual promiscuity.

Rather than promoting contraception as the path to equity, I'd rather promote a mindset in my brother males that women's bodies deserve more respect than is shown in causal sex!

This said, if a person is going to violate chastity, it is more moral to limit the harm than to fail to limit the harm. If fornication is potentially a mortal sin, your soul is 'dead' already.

Refusing to use a condom on religious grounds doesn't bring the soul out of the state of mortal sin, while limiting the harm of your sin does mitigate some of the guilt.

Am I saying fornication with a condom is only a venial sin as opposed to a mortal sin?

No. At least not where there is full freedom, deliberation, and knowledge.

I'm simply saying that even when we deal with mortal sin, some mortal sins are worse than others.

It is worse to torture an adult than to consensually fornicate with an adult. This is common sense to all but the most legalistic interpreters of moral law.

In a like manner, it is worse to fornicate without a condom than it is to fornicate with one, but both are sinful.

The ends do not justify the means, and the Church should not promote unchastity by promoting condom use in order to reduce the spread of AIDs.

On the other hand, the Church should not promote the spread of AIDs by implying that it is morally superior to fornicate without a condom than with one either.

Some liberals will say I'm being too idealistic and impractical. I don't see anywhere in the Gospel where we are called to be pragmatic realists, and my issues of dissent with non-infallible teaching have never been based on pragmatism.

How should the Church really approach contraception?

I think the Church ought to simply say something like the following:

Sex is best when it celebrated in a consensual permanent and publicly committed monogamous union where the two individuals are open to procreation or child rearing.

Family life is holy. Children are a blessing from God that should not be considered a disease to be prevented by pills or removed by surgery.

The natural ends of conjugal acts are procreation and the expression of unitive love. Where neither end is present, a sexual act is deemed morally illicit.

Couples in a consensual permanent and publicly committed monogamous union do have a moral responsibility to exercise parenthood responsibly, meaning they have a moral obligation in certain instances to limit the number of children through morally licit means.

Natural family planning and temporary non-abortificient contraceptives may be morally licit means to limit the number of children when the duty of conscience demands it.

Those who are not in such unions are encouraged to embrace chaste abstinence.

Those who fall from chastity, whether in partnership or not, are encouraged to limit the harm of their fall as much as possible lest they add more serious offense to their sin.
I suppose the conservatives will find my view still too liberal, and maybe some liberals will find my view too conservative.

In either case, I hope the position is clear and rationally comprehensible, even if not embraced by others.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Conservative Catholic Humor

Before I get any hate mail from those offended by the link to the spoof on the Vatican by The Onion below, I thought I'd give equal time to The Curt Jester's spoof on the post Vatican II music of Marty Haugen and David Haas (both of whom have written songs I rather like).


Vatican Tightens Nocturnal Emissions Standards

A moment of humor from The Onion.


Where do Hermaphrodites Fit?

A Methodist blogger raises the issue in regards to women's ordination, and it also applies to questions about marriage.


What Not To Do on Church Websites

The author of this blog-post, Tony Morgan, is obviously a Protestant.

Yet, there is some application to Catholic parish web-sites.


Compendium to the Catechism Approved

It is not meant to replace The Catechism of the Catholic Church, but rather, seems to function as the Reader's Digest or Cliff Notes version....


Faith Based Media is Profitable and Growing

From novels to comic books to music and film, faith based media is a growing business.

By the way, I receive no income for blogging, and don't want to receive any income from it.


Steve Bogner on Consecrating the World

Steve reminds us that the Church's teaching is that the laity share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ consecrating the world through "...,all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit - indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born,..."


Bush Continues Propoganda

Trying to tap the inherent idealism of the American people, Bush makes the case to stay the course in Iraq.

The problem is that much of what Bush says simply isn't true.

It is not true that the invasion of Iraq was prompted by the events of 9/11.

It is not true that Iraq was the center of the war on terror before the American invasion.

It is not true that the commanders on the ground in Iraq say they don't need more troops.

It is less than honest to claim we will set no benchmarks, milestones or deadlines for withdrawal when your Administration officials have been arguing for a permanent presence in the Gulf for years before 9/11.

It is not true that we are safer today than 4 years ago from Osama Bin Laden or his likes.

It is not true that unilateral wars of pre-emption can ever be called morally just under any circumstances.

It is not true that our conduct in this war has been clearly superior to that of the terrorist (Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, etc...)

And it is not true that democracy and freedom can be forced on a people at gunpoint!


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Stupid Priest Alert

Before anyone beats me up for calling someone "stupid", note that Saint Paul called the Galatians "stupid" in Gal 3:1, and Christ called the pharisees and disciples "fools" on multiple occasions.

I am not making a moral judgment. I am making a judgment of the practical wisdom of a priest's decision.

This was brought to my attention over at Todd's Catholic Sensibilities who saw it at Amy Wellborn's Open Book. Amy had 204 comments on this, and Todd has one, and I suspect people are done talking about it.

But for any readers of my blog who do not read the others, the issue is that this priest in Staten Island decided to kick about 300 kids who do not attend Catholic school out of the religious education program.


Because the parents were presumed not to attend Mass as indicated by the fact that the donation envelopes were scanned with a bar code and the parents of these 300 kids placed no such envelopes in the collection.

Why is this "stupid"?

Several reasons:

1) Many people drop cash in the collection. This priest may have made a mistake.

2) Even if you told them you planned to use the envelopes to track attendance and they should drop an empty envelop in the basket for attendance tracking, many parents would rightly resent this and not do it, and will rebel on principle.

It's a matter of principle, and though my wife uses the envelopes, I have always found it difficult to bring myself to use them.

I feel like the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing, and I don't want my attendance at Mass tracked by someone - nor do I want my donation amounts known to anyone but God.

I don't mind saying generally that I go to Mass frequently and that I tithe if it inspires others to prayerfully consider increasing their own offering to at least this much - but it's nobody's business just how much a tithe is for me, or whether a tithe is really enough of an offering - since a rich man could probably afford more than a tithe.

3) You should not punish parents by punishing the kid.

4) We cannot know how grace will reach a particular individual.

Though it is highly likely that children who have parents who do not attend Mass will also not go to Mass, if there is any chance at all that a child will attend Mass because he or she was accepted in religious education, keep the kid in religious education!

He or she is certainly less likely to meet Christ without the class than with the class!

While this priest's actions may be canonical, and there may even have been a good motive involved, and some folks may not even see his actions as immoral, it's just stupid.

I don't see how a good result actually is produced by such action, and it seems the harm outweighs whatever good was intended.


A Must Read Interview

Sojourners spends some time with South Africa's Anglican Archbishop Njonkulu Ndungane. What an inspiring man of faith!

Ndungane spent time in prison for his opposition to apartheid, and later went on to become a priest and then a bishop succeeding Desmond Tutu.

Here's a few tantalizing tid-bits:

The world today is suffering a new kind of injustice - a new kind of apartheid. You have a few people in the developed world dominating the affairs of the rest of the world. It is sinful that in a world in which there's been so much prosperity because of globalization that we find this divide between the super-rich - the people with a lot of resources in the developed world - and the many people who go hungry every day. Economists tell us it doesn't have to be like this....

I hear people say, "If you work hard, then you can improve your condition." That's putting it too simply. If you're born in Darfur or in Somalia, you can't help yourself....

You see, politicians are very nice people. They like to make statements. But they are not very good at implementation.... [On developed nations canceling odious debt or giving 0.7 percent of their GDP to development efforts - which he also urges on the churches]

It's not that we are asking too much really. These things are possible. These goals are realizable. It just needs the political will. I mean, if you think that the world community this year will spend close to a trillion dollars on armaments - four-and-a-half days of that spending will guarantee universal primary education for all. And the world will be a better place. Because if you have girls going to school, they will get jobs, they will make sure there's food on the table. Notice I say "girls." Women get things done. I'd rather give my money to women's organizations than to men's organizations. That's my prejudice....
Amen bishop!


What Did Blair Know Prior to War?

The leak of confidential memos among top British officials raises questions about the justification for war with Iraq.

The memos reveal that British intelligence did not believe that the case of the Bush Administration that Saddam Hussein possessed illegal WMDs was strong enough to justify military action.

Further, there was considerable doubt that military action in Iraq could produce any sort of positive outcome.

The memos reveal that Blair was warned that war without U.N. support under the circumstances at the time of decision would be technically illegal.

The memos also shed light on the timing of Bush's decision to go to war, and reveal that the decision was already made by January of 2002 (4 months after 9/11).

Personally, I believe the decision to go to war with Iraq was made by the Bush Administration in 1991 or 1992.

It just toook 8 more years for members of the Administration to tell the right lies to place themselves in the position to make it all happen and to hold the right stocks to make money implementing their plan.


Is the Church Headed Toward Financial Scandal?

Joe Feuerherd reports on a Senate Finance Committee report on financial accountability, transparency and ethics in the non-profit sector. The most significant aspect of the report is the lack of things when it comes to the churches.

Feuerherd provides a couple of examples of recent theft and embezzlment within the Church or poor financial decisions by bishops as indications of what might find if accountability and transparency were required by law.

Accountability and transparency in the realm of sex abuse revealed a much more extensive problem than anyone realized ahead of time, and there is still work to be done in this area.

Is financial scandal in the Catholic Church next on the horizon?

My advice to the bishops: be proactive in making your dioceses accountable, transparent and ethically sound before the sh*t hits the fan.


Racial Bias Uncovered in Diagnosing Mental Illness

Unconscious prejudices appear to have led to disproportionate misdiagnosis of Blacks and Latinos as having schizophrenia or other serious mental illnesses.

Failure to recognize cultural differences in such as subtle clues as eye contact can contribute to the misdiagnosis.

Also, failure to recognize how real effects of racism could lead to a sense of paranoia that is not delusional has led to false diagnosis.


Bush and Schroeder Continue to Pressure Iran

From a theological perspective, most nuclear weapons are instrinsically evil because they kill indiscriminately. Iran should not pursue its nuclear ambitions.

That said, I question the morality of the United States, the possessor of the largest nuclear stock-pile in the world, delivering ultimatums to nations who perceive American imperialism as a threat.

Pre-emptive war is also instrinsically evil!


A Parent's Question

I am wondering if parents are genetically pre-disposed to think their children are the most beautiful creatures on earth?

Or is it simply an objective fact that my daughter is the most beautiful creature on earth?


Monday, June 27, 2005

General Rambling on Vocation

The summer before I entered first grade, I recall having a crush on a neighborhood girl named Tammy who I was convinced I was going to marry one day.

At my Catholic grade school, an elderly Franciscan priest named Father Pius used to come in the mornings once or twice a week, and we all got on our knees to receive a blessing.

One day, Father Pius asked the class how many young boys wanted to be a priest. I don't remember how many of us raised our hands, but I was one of them.

In first grade, I developed quite a crush on a girl named Sally, and that crush would last until about eighth grade. Tammy moved away and became a distant memory.

I went through much of grade school not really reflecting much on how there might be a contradiction between being a priest and being married, and somehow, I wanted to do both.

Thoughts of priesthood were not exactly constant, but they did prevail.

One day, I'd want to be a priest. The next, I'd want to be a fireman. The day after that, I'd want to be a priest. Then a doctor,..., then a priest,..., then a astronaut,..., then a priest, etc....

I used to take a sheet and wrap it around me in the style of a chasible sometimes. I would crush a piece of white Wonder bread and cut it into a circle and fill a wine glass with grape juice and play Mass - using the missals to get the words right.

I joined the altar servers (who were all boys) in sixth grade.

In sixth grade, the year being about 1976, we were invited to do vocation retreats at a Franciscan high school seminary. My best friend and I decided to "come and see".

I went to those retreats again in 7th and 8th grade, and my parents were supportive of the general idea that I might have a vocation to priesthood.

Prior to confirmation in eighth grade, I spoke with a Franciscan priest named Father Rock. We were supposed to do some sort of interview as part of our confirmation preparation.

Father Rock was one of those people who always seemed to have a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

During the interview, I asked him if he were happy as a priest, and he responded with a wink and said that if he had to live his life over, he'd do everything exactly the same.

I found this inspiring, and wanted to live my life where I would do it exactly the same all over again.

So, when I went on that eighth grade vocation retreat, I was seriously considering high school seminary. The year was now 1978 (and John Paul was elected pope in that year).

But I could not get over the fact that I felt I was supposed to marry Sally!

Nevermind that Sally had absolutely no interest in me.

Anyway, I told my mom and dad that I would not go to high school seminary because I felt like I probably needed to have some dating experience, because I might be called to marriage.

My dad then breathed a big sigh of relief and explained that he never intended to let me go to high school seminary anyway. He only let me go on the retreats because he did not want to stand in the way of a vocation if I truly have a calling.

Had I decided I did want to go to the high school seminary, he explained that he was not going to let me, but he would have encouraged me to try again when I was ready for college. He explained that if I do have a calling, it will still be there when I am 18.

It would not have mattered anyway. The high school seminary closed in 1979.

In high school, I met a couple of times with Franciscan and diocesan priests to talk about possibly going to seminary college. I even had my standardized test scores and transcripts sent to a seminary.

Yet, I still felt this strong pull towards marriage as a senior in high school. I was considering the possibility of maybe doing married deaconate.

Unfortunately, I did not date much in high school due to a combination of shyness around girls, thoughts of priesthood, and I was just generally a very short, skinny kid with acne who did not have girls knocking down the door to go out with me.

I wound up going to a state university consciously thinking that maybe the best way to discern if I truly have a calling would be to try to completely ignore the idea for a few years.

I chose chemistry as a major, because I figured it would be very cool if I ever did become a priest to have a background in the hard sciences under my belt. Also, my dad is a chemist. I don't recall ever really having a love of chemistry per se.

The acne cleared up and I filled out a little bit and started dating quite a bit my freshman and sophomore year in college. I also started to go to college parties and was not living the most sinless life.

While I enjoyed dating, I sort of bottomed out on partying much faster than most young people. I also was doing very poorly at my chemistry major.

For some reason, I thought that this year or two of college life made me unworthy of seminary life. So, I decided to change my major try to find a nice girl to marry.

I remember speaking to my dad about how I loved philosophy and maybe I could major in that.

He advised that I major in English instead, so that I could at least get a job, and if I wanted to read philosophy, so long as it was written in English, it would fall in my major.

That seemed like good advice, so I did. It wasn't that I had any idea how to translate an English major to a job, but I knew he was right that it looked better than philosophy on a resume.

I practically had to start college over again and I met a girl named Beth about this time, and fell in love. I was 21 when I met her, and within about 2 years, I asked her to marry me. I was now 23.

But almost as soon as I asked her to marry me, the thoughts of priesthood grew stronger than ever.

At first, I thought it simply could not be the case that God would want me to hurt Beth by ending an engagement.

I began to idealize poverty and hoped that maybe by living simply and in prayer as a married man, and being open to the possibility of deaconate in the future, I could make this feeling go away.

Yet, I continued to feel called to priesthood.

I started reading the Scriptures more frequently and the writings of the saints trying to discern why I felt this way.

The example of Saint Augustine leaving the mother of his child shocked me. So did Thomas Merton's similar story.

Gospel passages such as we heard in Yesterday's Gospel about leaving family to follow Christ haunted me.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
In 1989, at about 24 years old, I broke off my engagement and sought to enter a formation program.

Once I was in formation, my initial reaction was shock. I was surrounded by a large number of men who were either still in the college partying mind-set, or gay men who never felt called to heterosexual marriage.

As I continued through formation, I began to understand how God's love is an incarnational love that expresses itself in self-emptying into the human condition.

Love is committed. Jesus loved to the point of death. His love expressed itself for others in simple acts of sharing bread. The other part of yesterday's Gospel started making sense:
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because the little one is a disciple--
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.
I began to realize in seminary that the love between husband and wife does not compete with the love of God. Rather, Christian spouses love one another because of God's grace working in them.

We pick up our cross when we are willing to love another to the point where it involves some sacrifice. Parents know the cross intuitively - perhaps better than some celibates.

Listening to yesterday's Gospel, it struck me that I do not love my wife more than God anymore than I love my wife more than my daughter or my mom and dad. I love my wife, my daughter, and my mom and dad equally but in different ways.

And the love I have for each of them is not more than my love for God, but is instead grounded in my love for God whom I love because God first loved me.

When I left formation in 1995, with the coursework for a Master's in theology complete.

I left because though I could not shake the feeling that I am called to priesthood, I also could not shake the feeling that I am called to marriage - to a ministry of building a domestic church - to the ministry of small acts of love on a day by day basis that equate to laying down my life for another.

As a married man, I am generally happier than I was while trying to live celibately.

Yet, there is a piece that is missing.

I still feel the call to sacramental ministry: to presiding at Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick, preaching the Word, presiding at weddings, funerals, baptisms and confirmations.

I still feel called to spiritual direction and teaching and community building and fostering a healthy devotional life which would include such things as the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, Bible study, Holy Hours, the stations of the cross, and prayers to the saints, as well as an openess to newer forms of devotion such as centering prayer or the charismatic renewal.

I still feel called to spending whatever time is not involved in such "religious" or "pious" practices in the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, freeing those in prison and burying the dead.

I still feel called to perform these works of mercy on two levels of direct service for those in need, and in analyzing and changing structures of evil that place people in dehumanizing conditions.

I still feel called to live simply and occasionally engage in acts of asceticism such as fasting to enter into solidarity with those who hunger physically and spiritually.

But I cannot really live what I feel called to do - at least not exactly.

Instead, I must secure work in the paying world where specialization requires that I can really only do one of the many of things I might feel called to do at a time.

My desire to do all of these various sacramental works and spiritual and corporal works of mercy does not mean I am holier than thou. All honest labor contributes in some way to the works of mercy.

For example, I currently work in an information technology company that provides services to clients so that our clients can ultimately help people back on their feet who are homeless due to natural disasters.

It's meaningful work - accomplishing one of the corporal works of mercy.

And, as a manager, I hope that the way I lead my team and develop my people has a spiritual component, and that the way I conduct business is ethical and moral and gives an example.

Most people probably seek meaning in their work and many people rightly find some sense meaning in their work.

Whether you are a real estate agent or a brick-layer, if you like your job, you likely have some intuitive sense of how it is the best use of your talents for some higher purpose.

Money alone is not the primary motivation for many workers. We all seek a sense of vocation, and many people find it in their specialized field.

Yet, my current work is not really what I feel called to do.

I still feel called primarily to sacramental ministry, and secondarily to spiritual works of mercy with time to participate in all of the corporal works of mercy in some fashion.

I suppose that those who have never felt called to priesthood may have some difficulty understanding this sort of "jack of all trades" sense of vocation.

When I was with the Friars, there was a friar who was a nurse in his former life.

Though he became ordained and does sacramental ministry day in and day out, he also continues to heal the sick with work at a clinic. As a priest, he is also a community organizer in his inner-city parish.

Another Friar was once a lawyer. Again, he does sacramental ministry day in and day out, but also puts his legal talent to use to advocate for those in substandard housing or help a young kid stay out of jail.

Just about every priest in the Roman Catholic Church, by simple virtue of the office, is involved in some sort of community building and spiritual direction on top of their sacramental ministry.

Just about every priest in a parish exercises the skills of a business or operations manager and professional fund raiser and part time accountant.

Of course, those priests called to contemplative life might not relate to some of what I am saying.

And some married people may think it impossible that a married man could perform this sort of multi-tasking.

However, I did not ever get the impression that the priests I lived with or observed in formation were working more hours than a doctor or lawyer. They were working less focused hours - but not longer hours.

As proof, consider that Jewish rabbis have always been married, and the Eastern Orthodox as well as Eastern Rite Catholics have always had married priests. The Protestants do it too.

Doctors and lawyers and business executives and computer programmers and farmers and small business owners and teachers all work long hours - as long or longer than any priest.

But unlike any other profession, the priest and many religious have more flexibility to stretch themselves beyond a particular area of expertise.

I think that is why I still, to this day, feel called to priesthood and always have felt called to it.

I don't really like working at the same thing for eight to twelve hours per day every working day for years at a time.

I've been working on the same account for the same company for nine years, though I've held five different jobs.

Yet, even with job progression, I don't get quite the same thrill as a minister who might do a funeral mass and a wedding on the same day.

It's a bit hard to describe - but think of it like being a part time business manager, part time wedding planner, part time funeral director, part time psychologist, part time inspirational speaker, part time community activist, etc....

I want the variety of experience that priesthood offers.

I've been searching over the years for a different job than I currently do that might come closer to what I felt called to do as a priest. It's difficult.

For one thing, the non-profit world often does not pay enough to support a family, even if the family lives simply.

But even where there are non-profit jobs that pay enough for a family living simply to get by, the work isn't always exactly what I am looking to do.

And no job, not even such noble professions as a doctor or a social worker, has quite the same meaning to me as the sacramental ministry component of priesthood - which is the most important element of priesthood and the foundation for his involvement in so many other types of work.

I'm not saying that other vocations and jobs are not graced, holy, and good. They are.

Indeed, there is an old saying that the jack of all trades is the master of none. Perhaps specialization makes a doctor a better doctor and a plumber a better plumber and a short order cook a better cook.

Perhaps most people would find the life-style of a priest with the juggling of so many taks that are so different from each other maddenning.

But that's still what I feel called to do.
I don't know if I am making any sense to anyone but myself here.

If I am, I am wondering if others feel this and if anyone has found a way to live "the life" as a Roman Catholic who is not vowed to celibacy.


John Allen on a Little Bit of Everything

The most interesting speculation here is that a Catholic Christian right is forming in Europe that deliberately looks to the American "Christian Coalition" as a model.


Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Brief Thought

In my parents' generation, the nuns tried to force left-handed children to write with their right hand. They even resorted to smacking left-handed children or tying their hands.

The origen of the word "sinister" is the Latin for "Left-handed".

Few people today would find moral fault with someone using their left hand predominately or even exclusively. We accept that a minority of people are just born that way.

What is it that compels so many of us to force a certain mental image of what a well ordered world should look like upon others, even when there is no violation of the golden rule in the minority behavior?


Sister Joan Chittister with Good News

Sister Joan can sometimes focus too much on the negative (I'm sometimes as guilty of this as she is). This week's column is more positive and upbeat than usual.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Another Thought on Dogma

Yesterday, I posted a piece on the importance of solemnly defined dogma as an aid to growing in our relationship with God.

I suggested that when we go beyond simply trying to understand the technical definitions of the formulation, and beyond the questions of how the formula can be supported by Scripure, Tradition and reason, we can see dogma as "revelatory" - as a way of coming to an "aha moment" on who God is for us.

In order to get to this experience, we need to ask questions of dogma that go beyond "What is the dogma?" and "How is it known?"

We need to ask, "What does this say about God?" or "What is God telling me, personally, about who he is for me in this dogma?"

Having made this case, I want to circle back to how a doctrine becomes an infallible dogma, and suggest that there has never been instance where the formulators of solemn dogma did not do this before proceeding to an infallible definition.

This is partly why I have so much trouble accepting that the current teaching on women's ordination which has not been solemnly defined will ever become solemnly defined.

I cannot see how this teaching, if accepted as true, conveys something relevant about who God is for me in any manner that would no be included in a Church that ordained women.

I do experience God as spouse - through my wife and marriage, rather than through the maleness of my parish priest.

It just seems to me that saying that women are the image of Christ and therefore the image of God fully incoporated in the body of Christ in the Eucharist is more beatiful than whatever an exclusively male priesthood conveys.

On an issue like the divinity of Christ, Arias and Athenasius were both able to appeal to Scripture, tradition and reason. Indeed, this is what made Arias so hard to combat. This is why the Jehovah's Witnesses can so effectively use his arguments today.

But the side of Athenasius ultimately won out because the bishops and pope came to slowly recognize the implications of what it would meant to say that Christ was not a divine person throughout his life.

If Jesus was not divine, his life and death has no universal significance. His life is no more meaningful or relevant to me than countless other crucified criminals or religious gurus who ran into opposition with others.

If Jesus is divine, his life is relevant to me, and the very idea that God became flesh is revelatory in the sense that if the creator of the entire cosmos became human, humanity must be the center of attention of the source of all that is!

It was the beauty of the doctrine - it's meaning to the human person - that lead the fathers to side with Athenasius.

And later, they affirmed the full humanity of Christ because if Jesus is divine but not human, his life and death once again has little relevance to human beings.

Some folks see the charism of infallibility as a club to squash dissent with has always been taught.

They seem to think infallible truths were passed down and accepted by everyone until evil dissenters arose and infallibility had to be invoked to shut them up.

Very few of the solemnly defined doctrines of the Catholic Church were explicitly taught in the apostolic age - and some of them could not possibly have been understood in the sense we understand them today.

For example, it is impossible that Mary's immaculate conception was fully understood as we understand it when our concept of biological conception is radically different than the Apostles, and the doctrine of original sin was still very unclear.

Some folks think that saying a teaching a is not infallible means it is not true. This is not the case either.

The doctrine of papal infallibility was held by many Catholics at the time of the Protestant Reformation, even explicitly - and the Protestants knew that was the Catholic position, but this doctrine was not solemnly defined until the nineteenth century.

When we say a teaching is not solemnly defined or not infallible, we do not mean a doctrine is not true. What we mean is that the current formulation is not known with certainty to be free of error.

How do we reach certainty that a doctrine is free of error?

Part of the process of reaching this certainty is examining Scripture, Tradition and historical precedent, and natural reason weighing evidence whether the teaching is true or not.

But I beleive another part of the process is asking the question, "If this is true, what does it say about who God is for us, and is that image consistent with what we already know about who God is for us?"

It's the search not only for rational or authoritative "proof" of the doctrine. Rather, it's the search for the beauty in the doctrine.

And if a doctrine conveys more ugliness about God than beauty, it should not be considered infallibly certain to be free of error.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Now Here's an Interesting Perspective!

I don't recall ever spending any time at the site linked above, called "Catholic Apologetics International".

What prompted me to the site linked above was an article naming names and accusing almost all of Catholic higher education of succombing to the culture of death in the most recent edition of Crisis.

I did not like the tone of the article.

It struck me as a bit like a wild and unbelievable conspiracy theory where secularistic pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-embryonic stem cell research thugs somehow snuck into the Catholic universities and seminaries to push their blood lust on an unsuspecting Catholic populace.

The author, Patrick Reilly, is obviously passionate about life issues - as I am. The author is also obviously convinced the Terri Schiavo case was no brainer for Catholics with absolutely no room for dissent with the Vatican.

While I was opposed to removing the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo, I expressed only yesterday that her case actually shook, rather than strengthening, my conviction on this subject.

Anyway, after reading the Crisis article, I was a bit peeved that there was little in the way of cogent argument about why Terri Sciavo should have been kept alive.

Instead, there was this wild conspiracy theory with a cry to fire all these conspiring professors who came down on the side of removing the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo.

So, I decided to do a google search on the names of the editors of Crisis and some of their major writing contributors.

Now, I was expecting to come up with some liberal pundit blasting these guys for the typical liberal reasons - including the war in Iraq, or support for the death penalty or torture.

Insead, I hit upon the article linked above by Robert A. Sungenis. This is a guy who reads Wanderer writer, Paul Likoudis and quotes him authoritatively.

This is a guy who still takes Pat Buchanan seriously, and who seems to like William Bennet.

This is a conservative Roman Catholic heavy into apologetics who is not at all adverse to calling Democrats evil.

In other words, whether you think he is brilliant or a nut, he's no liberal by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet, he does criticize the editors of Crisis, First Things, and The National Review precisely over their dissent with the Pope on the war in Iraq.

And like the article in Crisis, Sungenis lays out an elaborate conspiracy theory.

And this conspiracy theory is a good one - tying the Catholic neocons to the Jews, gays, Protestants, the CIA, Yale club "Skull and Bones", the Nazis and even the Free Masons (of which, Pope Paul VI was a secret member).

The names on the list of conspiring psuedo Catholics trying to woo faithfaul Catholics away from the true faith include Deal Hudson, George Weigle, Michael Novak, William F. Buckley, Mary Ann Glendon, Jeb Bush, John Neuhause, Midge Dector, Henry Hyde, Tom Managhan, Bernard Lewis, Raymond Arroyo, Kate O'Breirn, and Sean Hannity.

This is a virtual who's who of the American Roman Catholic right.

And Sugenesis sees all of them caught up in a web of conspiracy that ultimately formed with the Free Masons and is currently building up to a "New World Order" of American Imperialism opposed to orthodox Catholic faith.

As a liberal, there is much that struck me as anti-semetic in tone, or homophobic, or anti-protestant, etc....

My critique is more on his tone than his substance, and it would be difficult to pin him down on a charge of anti-semitism without reading between the lines.

On the substance, though I dislike elaborate conspiracy theories, most of his facts stripped of interpretaion are right.

On interpretation of facts, though Bush and Kerry were both members of Skull and Bones, I find it hard to believe Kerry was the neocon back-up plan in some Hegelian plot as implied.

I also find it difficult to imagine how Bush's grandfather's Nazi ties fit well with Zionist conspirators involvement in this elaborate plot.

But the facts are all laid out to demonstrate that behind it all, the Free Masons are forging a New World Order that will ultimately undermine the Church.

The connections between these people and the Bush Adminstration and each other and some of the groups he mentions (such as PNAC) is undeniable and well documented.

Indeed, while I dislike elaborate secret conspiracy theories, the thing about the Bush Administration is that their conspiracy to wage war in Iraq and woo Catholics to the cause was simple and done out in the open, beginning in the 1990's.

What's distressing is that something so simple and done so openly worked. Shame on us.

Sugenesis' critique of the notion of pre-emptive war is straight out of Vatican teaching.

Even his critique of the forward leaning philosophy of the neocon movement is backed by the Vatican.

Perhaps those Catholics defining themselves more as conservatives than liberals who find my own critique of the war a bit off-putting may want to read a critique from the far right. Maybe this will make more sense to you.

For the rest of my readers, I posted this link simply to show that the approach of the Crisis article can be turned back on Crisis itself.


Bush Losing Catholics

We've likely all seen reports of Bush's approval rating dropping to about 46%.

Zogby reports that the biggest losses are in "blue states" and the biggest gains in "red states", especially among Protestants.

In addition to "blue state" losses, the most significant downturn comes from Catholics and independents who actually helped him win re-election.


Ever Heard of PLAGAL?

PLAGAL is the Pro Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians.

The President, Cecilia Brown, defines hereself HERE religiously as a Roman Catholic, and politically as a moderate Green Party member willing to vote "other" depending on the issue.


The Importance of Dogma

Based on some feedback from all ends of the theological spectrum, I have been thinking a bit about why dogma is important.

There seems to be a common conception in America that dogma is either useless abstraction that does not foster a personal encounter with God or a relationship with Christ, or having a personal relationship with Christ is not important, so long as one adheres to dogma.

Both of these perspectives get it wrong in my mind. Dogma is important and dogma is important because it helps us grow in a relationship to God in Christ. Dogma reveals who God is for us.

I’m not saying that one cannot be saved without knowing dogma. To even suggest such a thing would make the baptism of infants a waste of time.

I am saying that for an adult Christian, understanding what the Council fathers intended to say when they defined a doctrine like the Trinity can be an "aha moment" where one gains new insights into the very nature and person of who God is and what he intends for you.

The apologists tend to approach dogma asking two basic questions: What is the dogma (what does it literally mean) and how is it known to be true through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, human reason and authority?

For example, with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the apologist will carefully point out that the dogma is a different dogma than the virgin birth, and refers to Mary's sinlessness from the moment of conception. This is correct.

Then, they immediately jump to proving this doctrine is consistent with Scripture and dates to the early church and in no way denies Mary needed a savior. This is also technically correct.

But they seldom go beyond these two questions. It almost seems at times that the only issue at stake is whether the Pope was right to define the doctrine infallibly.

Often, I get a sense that some Roman Catholic apologists invest much time and effort into defending a particular dogma less because the particular dogma is meaningful to the individual, and more because if he or she can defend this one, it bolsters the notion that another dogma held by the same authority is true.

For example, an apologist may defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary less because of what the doctrine says about grace and its effects, and more because they see it as important to defend the infallibility of the pope so that they can use papal teaching to clobber fundamentalist Protestants or pro-choice activists.

The other end of the spectrum tends to attack the apologists by simply claiming that faith goes beyond questions of what is to be known and how is it to be known.

In taking this approach, these folks open themselves up to accusations of reducing faith to subjective experience and relativism.

There is another way to approach dogma.

The way I approach dogma is not to limit my questions to the two questions of what is the literal meaning and how is it known.

I ask a series of questions that go something like this:

Is the teaching in question a solemnly defined dogma?
What is literally conveyed by the Church (same as the apologists)?
How is the doctrine known (same as the apologists)?
What is not conveyed?
What cannot be known about the dogma?
What is God trying to tell me through this dogma if I assume it is true?

These questions often branch out to all sorts of speculation. The last question is the most important question in my mind: what does the doctrine or dogma mean to me as an individual? What does it tell me about God?

Take something like the immaculate conception again.

Is the doctrine solemnly defined? In this case, yes.

What is literally conveyed? What is conveyed is that by a special gift of God's grace, Mary was without sin throughout her entire earthly life from the very moment of her conception. She was free even of the sin of original sin.

What is not conveyed by the Church? As the apologists point out, the dogma is not about the virgin birth of Christ. Nor does the dogma deny that Mary actually needed God's grace to remain sinless, and in this sense, she could refer to God as her savior, because without God's grace, she knew she would sin.

If we think of sin like a big hole in the ground, most of us are saved by being pulled out of that hole. Mary is saved in the sense that God pulled her back from falling into the hole in the first place.

The dogma makes no claim that Mary had a soul at the moment of conception, but only that she is without sin even from this point.

The dogma makes no claim that she was without sexual attraction of some sort, or that she never experienced just anger, and so forth.

The dogma makes no claim that she did not die a natural death, though it remains possible that she did not, etc...

Similarly, we cannot know if she experienced pain in child-birth or not.

All that is claimed is a very limited point that she was free of sin throughout the entire course of her earthly life. It is important to understand the limits of what is conveyed in a dogma so that we don’t get pinned into defending more than the Church claims with infallible certainty.

How is the doctrine known? Like the apologist, I see early development of the idea in second century texts as the Church reflected on the meaning of Luke's strange description of Mary as "full or grace" or "highly favored" (Lk 1:28 ).

It is not necessary to try to defend some notion that Luke or the early fathers explicitly held to the current dogma of the immaculate conception per se, since it is highly improbable that they understood biological conception in the same sense we do today.

In our appeal to Scripture or Tradition, we simply mean to say that the dogma is not contradicted and is in some way implied in seminal form that leads to a later development of understanding.

We ultimately know that the dogma is free of error through the charism of papal infallibility invoked by Pius IX in the nineteenth century to solemnly define the doctrine.

Up to that point, the doctrine was a popular opinion among Roman Catholics, but not solemnly defined or known infallibly.

What cannot be known through the dogma? We cannot know the subjective experience of being sinless and free of original sin.

Thus, we cannot know with certainty some of the things I already mentioned when dealing with what the dogma does not convey. We cannot know if Mary died a natural death. We cannot know if she found Joseph attractive in some sexual manner that does not involve sinful lust. We cannot know why she chose to remain a virgin after Jesus was born, or how she experienced feelings of just anger similar to Jesus' own anger in the temple.

What is God trying to tell me through this dogma if I assume it is true? This is the key question that takes us beyond seeing dogma as a mere abstraction to an aid to developing a relationship with God in Christ.

If Mary was truly sinless throughout her entire life, and if such a thing were only possible by God's grace, then grace can free one from all sin - not solely in the sense of mercy for past sins, which is certainly true, but as actual freedom from committing sin in the future.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception says to me as an individual that if I could just say "Let it be done unto me according to your word" to God's free gift of grace, I too could be transformed to a person free of sinful behavior in thought, word, deed or omission.

To the alcoholic or drug addict seeking freedom from bondage and trying to turn to a higher power for help, the Catholic Church is saying that your hope is not in vain. God’s grace does have this power to transform lives if you open yourself up to letting it take effect!

Furthermore, Mary's freedom was never annihilated by grace, nor was her nature. Thus, it is within the realm of human possibility to respond affirmatively to God's grace!

While the concupiscience of original sin may make it more difficult for me than it was for Mary to say "yes" to God, it remains humanly possible to say "Yes" to God.

Take heart and fear not! God wants to help us succeed.

This dogma explains some key differences between Protestants and Catholics in the way we each see grace operating, and explains why we have such different formulations regarding the role of works in salvation.

If grace is merely a covering of sin, as the Protestants say, then there is no real lasting and deep change in behavior that can be expected.

If grace is a power given by God to overcome temptation, then saving grace must transform lives and aid one to turn from sin to do good.

On the flip side, if there is no transformation of life over any period of time after a claimed conversion, it is questionable whether grace was operative.

Many Catholic apologists never go beyond asking questions of asking how a dogma is known, and therefore never get at the real meaning of the dogma.

The apologetic approach, if it leads to any sort of sense of dogma being interconnected, the only unifying point seems to the infallibility of the pope and the obedience due to his office.

Some apologist therefore wind up claiming that obedience is the highest virtue – which is not what revelation says. Love is the highest virtue, and dogma reveals that true love is possible for human beings in this life.

On a non-infallible teaching, the apologists sometimes get frustrated with dissent because they do not want to encourage disobedience to the pope, but they also know the issue cannot be settled by simple appeal to infallible authority.

So, they resort to a strong interpretation of religious submission of intellect and will due to non-infallible teaching, and continue to reduce faith to blind obedience to the pope.

What I am trying to emphasize here is that when we go beyond the questions of authority and apologetics and start to ask what the teaching means to you and me as individuals - not what it means in the sense of merely being able to define the words - but what it means in the sense of understanding how it is relevant to my life - dogma becomes "revelatory" of who God is and what he intends to do for us.

The resurrection is not simply proof that Jesus' moral teaching was true, nor even proof that Jesus was God. The dogma of resurrection can be taken by itself as "revelatory" of who God is for us. It is relevant to my life!

If God raised a man from the dead, God can raise me from the dead, because I'm a man too. This is the core of the Gospel - the good news revealed in Jesus Christ. The resurrection can be considered the first solemnly defined doctrine of the Church.

Some dogmas were solemnly defined earlier than others, and this is indicative to me of where a dogma falls in the hierarchy of truth.

The doctrine of the incarnation or real presence in the Eucharist is more relevant to me than the doctrine of papal infallibility, even though all three are true and personally meaningful.

I know the first two are more important than the third because they came to be known solemnly prior to the third.

In this sense, the infallibility of the Church as a whole or of an ecumenical council is the condition for the possibility of papal infallibility!

Even the immaculate conception came before papal infallibility, though both solemn definitions occurred during the reign of the same pope.

I would like to invite readers who take either the apologetic approach or the approach of dismissing the importance of dogma to try a little exercise.

The exercise is this: Take the creed of Nicea we say at Mass each Sunday and don't just say it, but pray it.

Take each word of the creed and savor it. Swirl it around on the tongue of your mind. Ask questions of it.

When you say "We believe", what is the significance of this compared to "I believe"? What are all the denotative and connotative senses of the word "believe"? What does it mean to say "believe in"? What is the meaning to you when you say "and he became man". What does it mean to say "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life"? etc,...?

Spend a few hours one day with just meditating on the creed of Nicea. Compare it to the Apostles creed, and spend another day with that one. What does it mean to say "He descended among the dead" or "He descended into hell"?

For both apologetic purposes and context, it may be worthwhile to seek the Scriptural references for each article of the creed, and find the earliest testimony to each article among the writings of the saints. I am not dismissing this type of exercise.

Yet, get beyond the apologetics and ask yourself what God is trying to tell you about himself and about you in each article of the creed.

Why did God become human instead of becoming an angel or a dolphin or merely appearing in human form? What does that mean to you as a human being?

What is the significance of belief in one God? Why not many gods?

Don't be afraid of any question that comes to mind. Just keep circling the dogma trying to soak all the meaning you can out of it with faith that this exercise will help you grow spiritually.

No dogma is meaningless. Not a single dogma is defined solemnly for the sole reason of supporting another dogma.

Solemnly defined dogmas are interconnected and they do support one another, but not a single one is unimportant by itself. Each one tells us something unique and important about who God is for us.

I honestly believe that if you engage in such an exercise, your own faith will become strengthened in the things of faith that really matter – the things that even the Vatican considers important - and, ironically, you may find yourself more tolerant to questions about the faith from others, and more tolerant particularly to reasonable critical questions raised about non-infallible but authoritative doctrines.

This tolerance develops because questions become less threatening. Rather than being a challenge to faith, questions become a catalyst to ever deeper reflection and appreciation for the core doctrines and dogmas themselves – as revelatory personal encounters with Christ.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Unapologetic Catholic on Terri Schiavo

UC has been a bit slow updating his blog lately, and his most recent post comes from Friday. It deals with the reaction of pro-lifers to the autopsy on Terri Schiavo.

On the surface, I held the position he summarizes as belonging to Amy Wellborn.

UC summarizes Amy's position in his own words as follows:

She for one has been single consistent proponent of the value of any life and opposed removal of feeding tubes whether or not there was any hope of recovery simply because we treat human beings with dignity regardless of their condition.
In support of this, he quotes Amy having stated that she never based her argument to save Terri on any chance of recovery.
I for one, never made it part of my argument, and most I know and read did not either. That is not the point, and falls into the "You're human and worthy of life if you can perform" mentality.
This was also my original opinion on the Schiavo case.

I am consistent in my ethic of life as well, because I also believe in active non-violence as opposed to unjust wars, I oppose the death penalty , support economic justice, and support gun control as well as opposing euthanasia, abortion, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

I confess that even before the tube was removed, I was becoming somewhat shaken on this absolutism.

I had heard the argument that most of Schiavo's brain had deteriorated even before she was pronounced dead, and I began to wonder if it was really murder to remove a feeding tube in such an instance.

That's one of the reasons I blogged little about this issue, and kept most of the comments I did make to very brief exhortations to general prayer.

On the one hand, I want society to constantly uphold the dignity of human life even when a life is not considered productive by society. Human life has value for its own sake.

Yet, in saying human life has such value, I really think I mean something more like human personhood....though I am learly to give the state the right to define who is and who is not a person.

That's the dilemma.

I feel the same way about embryonic stem cell research, which is another topic I don't blog about much.

I'm not positive embryonic stem cell research involves murder.

I'm not positive embryonic stem cell research does not involve murder either, which is why I am opposed to it.

An embryo is destroyed, but some sort of human life continues after the process of destroying the embryo.

That human life - the stem cell strain - is not a person.

Was the embryo a person either?

I don't know, and neither does the Church (see DV 26, where the Vatican explicitly denies we can know personhood exists in the embryonic stage of human development).

I am opposed to embryonic stem cell research and even early abortion not because I have any certainty that a person is being killed.

Rather, I have no certainty that a person is not being killed.

The other odd thing about embryonic stem cell research is that the victim is still in some sense alive. The stem cell line is still human and still alive and came from those embryos.

How can there be murder if the victim is still alive?

Or is the victim alive?

I'm not sure what the answers are, so I side with caution on life issues.

I applied the same logic initially to the Terri Schiavo case. I could not be certain her personhood was still with us, but I could not be certain it wasn't either. So, I sided with preserving her life.

When I heard about the potential that most of her brain had more or less disintegrated, it forced me to wonder about my position.

I started wondering about how it could occur that technology could develop to a point where we could preserve life for possibly hundreds of years, but not preserve any sense of personhood - no chance of recovery, no brain function to speak of, etc...

The question began to occur to me that at some point, maybe this is not what God wills. Just how long should we preserve a human life just because the cells are human and the organism is alive and we can?

In the beginning of life, the issue remains a little clearer to me in the sense that whether a person exists yet or not in the embryo, we know the potential for personhood is there.

At the end of life, once we are beyond any hope of recovery, is it really right to keep a body alive indefinitely - even when the means for doing so do not seem particularly heroic?

What do we even mean by heroic and extraordinary measures anyway?

In my wife's country, a feeding tube is not something the average villager would have the opportunity to obtain, no matter what the person's chance of recovery.

If I give blood at a local clinic, there are live cells in that bag. My blood is "human life", but nobody, not even the most ardent pro-lifer, claims that bag of blood has a right to life that must be preserved at all cost due to the dignity of human life.

Typically, when speaking to those who are not pro-life, I refer to the rights of human "beings" in order to avoid two extremes: defense of all human life including a bag of donated blood on one extreme, and allowing the state to define who is a "person" on the other extreme.

I want to avoid discussions of who is and who is not a person for many reasons, and Amy hit it in her reference our worth measured solely by performance.

Historically, Native Americans were not considered persons in the United States, and Blacks were only 3/5 of a person.

In Nazi Germany, Jews were non-persons.

In Soviet communism, political dissenters became non-persons.

The term "person" is so abstract, I prefer the more concrete term of "being" - an observable living organism.

Terri Sciavo was a human being the moment the feeding tube was removed. Embryos are human beings. In each case, a self-contained living organism with human DNA is at stake. These are human beings.

But in neither case is it clear that a human person is at stake - and yet, I do not want to hand any power to the state to define personhood.

Maybe some pro-lifers still think the Terri Schiavo case is black and white, even after the release of the autopsy findings. I tend to want to side with the pro-lifers.

There is some side of me wondering what happens when and if it becomes common to keep human life going for hundreds of years after personhood seemed to fade away.

Terri's case hasn't radically changed my mind yet in remaining basically oriented to the pro-life position.

However, Terri's case has shaken the certitude of my position a little.

As technology continues to develop, the lines may become more gray than I like them on something so fundamental as the right to life.

Perhaps this is what many of us who define ourselves as pro-life are really trying to say,...,not that we are certain of ourselves on each and every issue,...,but that we are concerned with how blurry the lines are becoming.


Score 1-0 in Favor of Vatican in Newest EU Culture Wars

John Allen analyzes the recent victory for the Vatican in managing to get out the "don't vote" message on an Italian referendum on IVF.

What struck me more is noticing how different the European situation is than the situation here in America.

In Europe, Allen mentions that the church in Spain still receives government funding, and I have met Germans who tell me their taxes are designated in part to the church of their choice.

In America, the churches received no direct funding at all from the state throughout our history, though some might argue that faith based community initiatives and certain elements of the tax code are undermining this principle in recent years.

In Europe, the multi-party systems and special referendums permit voters in all parties to continue to identify with the Church and the moral values vote, separating out single issues when important enough without loss of party loyalty.

In America, the two-party system with no mechanism to vote directly on the issues forces us to decide at election time between such issues as abortion and embryonic stem cell research on the one hand, and economic justice, the death penalty and unjust wars on the other.

Another difference seems to be that the Europeans who identify themselves as atheists, agnostics, secularists or some other type of non-believer seem to be far more "militant" in their rhetoric than their counterparts in America.

Don't get me wrong, there are atheists in America who want no prayer in public schools, no nativity scenes at Christmas, and who consider their rights violated when we say "one nation under God" during the pledge. This can seem pretty militant to many Americans.

Yet, over the last year or so, Allen has described an attitude among European secularists that sees itself not only wanting to drive religion into the private sphere of the home, but to make religion almost illegal to practice anywhere, even inside of the home.

Maybe some of these differences in the European and American context of the so-called culture wars help us to make a little sense of Pope Benedict's theory of a "dictatorship of relativism".


Friday, June 17, 2005

Writer's Block

I combed through the usual blogs and news sources that usually provide some fodder to my writing, and I'm just not feeling like I have much to say today at least on current events.

I am thinking about something, and trying to find some way to articulate it.

So, I decided to just start writing and see what comes out.

I'm thinking a lot about "Truth" and how we know "Truth" and whether there can be one "Truth" that is known in radically different ways by two different people.

What sparks these thoughts is simply that I feel myself simultaneously in basic fundamental agreement with almost everything Pope Benedict writes or says.

Yet, there will be some little piece in almost everything he writes or says that sends me in a tizzy.

I wind up saying to myself, "That just isn't true. It's not the 'Truth' and misrepresents the 'Truth', or at least claims certainty for something as true that should be considered highly dubious".

I was reading Pope Benedict's - then known as Cardinal Ratzinger's - piece in Communio last Fall entitled, An Introduction to Christianity: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and I started to draft out some thoughts on that article, but decided against posting it today.

Maybe another day.

Much of the article is great, but I think he misrepresents the views of others at times: particularly the liberation theologians.

There is this little line in the article where he also speaks to religious experience, and he states that authentic subjective experience is undeniable at the many World Youth Day events facilitated by John Paul II.

I have never been to such an event, but I know many people who have, and it does seem to have been a genuine encounter with divine holy mystery and a life changing event for many attendees.

He then contrast this experience with the use of illicit drugs.

Now, I do not advocate illicit recreational drug use. I do not use illicit recreational drugs. I think illicit recreational drug use does have the potential to be immoral. At its worst, it can become an escapism that impairs our ability to relate to others.

Regardless of its morality, it can be unhealthy or even deadly in some instances.

Finally, it is illegal, and for that reason alone, nobody should use illicit recreational drugs, since it is almost inconceivable that conscience places a moral obligation upon one to violate civil law for mere recreational purposes. To do so is to place an incredible drain on police resources and possibly fund worse criminal activity for the sake of mere recreation.

All of this said, the Rastafari use marijuana in a way that they say leads to an encounter with God. Native Americans have long used peyote in a sort of sacramental way.

I believe Aquinas said somewhere that even the sinner seeks God in the act of sinning. Since God is Absolute Goodness, any person seeking what the person believes to be good is in some way seeking God in the shadows.

It is my understanding that some of the dangers of some illicit drugs like crack or heroine are not really true of marijuana or peyote. I don't wish to debate this point.

Rather, I wish to ask whether it is true - the "Truth" - that God cannot be found in the use of drugs.

If marijuana and peyote were legal, so that the moral implications of draining police resources and funding criminals were removed, can we say with absolute certitude that marijuana and peyote cannot be used as aids to an encounter with God?

We get into deeper waters here with such a question. God cannot be controlled, and I think it would be heresy to suggest that smoking pot definitely leads to an encounter with God.

There is no "technique" for reaching God. We do not earn God's grace. It is given to us. We do not so much find God, as God finds us.

Yet, every religion and spirituality marks out a sort of path to God, as though we can find God by treading along this road or that.

We Christians ultimately know that no road leads to God. God finds the road to our hearts.

Yet, even when we come to realize this, we Christians act and speak as though it isn't true - the "Truth".

It is one thing to say we don't need drugs to encounter God. It is another thing to say that nobody encounters God in the use of drugs. The first sentence is true, while the second is dubious at best, if not outright false.

But Benedict seems to imply there is a direct path to God such that are other paths must be denied.

Many Christians accept such an implication and use it to make judgments of others.

Thus, some Catholics insist that the Latin Mass is the only way to experience God, and some Evangelical Protestants seem to think that if you aren't falling on the floor clapping and speaking jibberish, you haven't found God yet.

I do not think one needs to fall on the floor clapping and speaking jibberish to find God - nor do I think an encounter with God necessitates that one will fall ont he floor clapping and speaking jibberish.

But I do think many people who fall on the floor clapping and speaking jibberish have encountered God.

I don't think one needs to participate in the Latin Mass to encounter God, but I do think people who participate in Latin Masses encounter God.

I don't think one needs to go to World Youth Day to encounter God, but I do think many people who go to World Youth day encounter God.

Maybe people who speak of a high from marijuana as though it is an expereince of the divine are speaking the truth. Who am I to judge?

This is my problem with Pope Benedict's statements on gay unions over the years.

When he speaks of the beauty of the married vocation, I am right with him as a straight married man, saying, in his words, "That's it! That's what my nature points to and seeks." (From Truth and Consceince).

But when he says that gays in partnership do not share something of this experience, I am left wondering, "How do you know that? Did you ask any of them?"

Now, I know that Pope Benedict is supposedly on a rampage against a distorted notion of freedom that he calls a "dictatorship of relativism" and that many will say I am a relativist based on what I am writing here.

But I'm not actually a relativist.

This is the most frustrating aspect of many debates I have on this blog, and with reading Pope Benedict. Opponents of my thought assume I am a libertine relativist, when I am not, and it makes me and those who think like me feel unheard.

I hold to some things absolutely, and many of the things I hold absolutely are right in line with Pope Benedict's experience of God - or at least his description of it in words.

He and I would see eye to eye on the significance of the incarnation event, the personal nature of God, and the dignity of the human person revealed in this mystery. We start from the same dogmatic premises, but keep seeming to wind up in different places (i.e. - on women's ordination).

What seems to happen in almost every thing I read is that I'm following an argument along from point A, to point B, then C, D, E, F, and then all of the sudden, he says what sounds to me like "....,and from G, we know that ultimately 10 follows".

I'm left confused, because I thought we were headed towards Z.

I ask myself, "Am I the one saying 10, and he really said Z, and somehow I have been confused about the way the last letter of the alphabet is supposed to look and sound? Do we start with numbers after the alphabet runs out, and I just didn't see the transisition? Or, were we really talking about something other than the alphabet all along, and I'm not seeing the real topic?"

The leaps that Pope Benedict makes also seem to usually involve a dichotomy of sorts: an either/or proposition that I am made to feel that I must accept if I am to continue to call myself Catholic, or reject - rejecting points A through F along with it according to him.

And within points A through F, there was a premise that Catholic thinking is not either/or....and I don't know why Pope Benedict seems to want to force a dichotomy.

In many instances, I sense he is building straw men of a position that he wishes to juxtapose "the authentic Catholic position" against.

I am left wondering, am I missing something in what the other side was really saying? Did they really say what he says they said? Even if some of them said that, do all of them say that? Am I understanding Benedict correctly in the first place?

It's seldom what Pope Bendict is presenting as the authentic Catholic position that I question. When he speaks to the Catholic experience of "Truth", I am saying "That's it...."

It's what he is saying wrong with the world or the so-called dissenter that I am often bewildered by.

Even on this count, we do often find some common ground. In the "Introduction to Christianity..." article, he condemns some things in the world very specifically like sexual slavery and torture, genocide, and so forth. I'm with him on that.

But as I said earlier, I think he misrepresents the liberation theologians - or maybe I don't know as much about them as I thought.

I mentioned already that I am not a relativist. I not only believe in dogma and sacraments and the idea of "Truth" and so much else with Benedict, but I do believe that there are moral absolutes.

Murder of an innocent human being is always wrong. Lying is always wrong. Torture is always wrong. Adultery is always wrong. Rape is always wrong. One nation initiating war against another makes the intitiator an unjust aggressor and therefore wrong. Racism is immoral. I could go on.

Pope Benedict and I do not disagree that there is "Truth". Nor do we disagree that there absolutes. Nor do we even disagree to some extent that a love of "Truth" is a safeguard of freedom.

Yet, I find myself almost always in disagreement with some little piece of what Pope Benedict says - not because I am relativist seeking personal freedom - but because what he is saying - especially of the way other people experience God - strikes me as untrue.

I believe it possible the Rasta man knows God as well as I do, or at least well enough to get by an get to heaven. I believe it possible that two lesbians in a 30-year partnership with children know God as well as I do, and maybe even better.

If I am going to judge a particular person's experience as "sin" - missing the mark - the path where we should not ever seek God - it needs to be demonstrated that direct harm is being done to another human being.


Because at the core of what Pope Benedict and I share in common is the belief that God became human flesh, and in doing so, revealed that God is with us in our relationships with each other. Because when this God became incarnate, he explicitly taught that the basis of the whole law and prophets is the golden rule. Because the ordinary and universal magisterium has always affirmed that the golden rule is the center of moral thought.

I don't know if I am making any sense. This post is largely rambling as I try to think through a frustration I've been feeling since Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict.

Maybe part of my frustration is not even with him, but with the way Catholics in cyberspace quote him and use what he says to condemn everything from contraception to rock and roll music.

I don't know. There will likely be some clarification to this rambling in the near future.


Austin Diocese Experiments in New Paradigm of Financing

Joe Feuerherd first reported on this in NCR, and the link above is to a more recent editorial in the same magazine. I don't claim to fully understand all this, so I have no comment of my own.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Objective Test Reveals I am Roman Catholic

You scored as Roman Catholic. You are Roman Catholic. Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.

Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal




Reformed Evangelical




What's your theological worldview?
created with


Patriot Act Takes a Blow

House Republicans concerned about government intrusion on privacy joined with Democrats to curtail the Patriot Act. Bush promised to veto any limitations on the Act.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

We Know the Facts

This Commonweal editorial asks how it is that we, as a nation, opposed torture at one time. We all know about the use of government sanctioned torture in the war on terror. Yet, not a darn thing has been done about it.


John Allen's Recent Word From Rome

Allen sounds a bit like an apologetic theologian for Pope Benedict this week.


Bolton Nomination Losing Ground

Should someone who scoffs at the U.N. unless he can reform it to serve U.S. interest be made ambassador to the U.N.?


Spector Calls Gitmo System a 'Crazy Quilt'

It wasn't a clear comdemnation of torture and the erosion of human rights, but it was criticism comming from the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Maybe there is hope that the injustice will end soon.


Maybe We Can Unite!

A few days ago, I asked why we can't unite in reference to believers on the right and left. Today's Washington Post points out concrete ways it is starting to happen.

The Rev. Rob Schenck is an evangelical Christian and a leader of the religious right. Rabbi David Saperstein is a Reform Jew and a leader of the religious left. Both head political advocacy groups in Washington, and they have battled for years over abortion, gay rights, stem cell research and school prayer.

This summer, each intends to preach a bit of the other's usual message.

Schenck said he plans to tell young evangelicals at a Christian music festival on July 1 that homosexuality is not a choice but a "predisposition," something "deeply rooted" in many people. "That may not sound shocking to you, but it will be shocking to my audience," he said.

Saperstein said he is circulating a paper urging political moderates and liberals to "demonstrate their commitment to reduce abortions" by starting a campaign to reduce the number by half within two years.
The article goes on to highlight how various religious leaders are joining on issues like hunger (the One Campaign).

There are signs of hope!


Back to Christendom: by William Wood

This Commonweal article by a Chicago Divinity School doctoral candidate raises questions about a speech at a conference made by Francis Cardinal George, and implies that the Cardinal and perhaps the Pope seek to reinstate Christendom.

Without knowing what Cardinal George actually said, I have no basis to judge the veracity of the author's critique of the Cardinal's words.

However, I do find myself in agreement with his critique of any notion of restoring Christendom.

On a related issue that extends to what many perceive as Pope Benedict's top priority, truth as the basis of freedom as an antidote to a dictatorship of relativism, Wood states the following:

Like Pope Benedict XVI, George believes that contemporary democratic societies are awash in relativism. Indeed, George seems to believe that secularism is the same thing as relativism, and that all secular, relativist societies will inevitably meet the same end as the totalitarian societies of the Soviet bloc.

For example, he likened the present pope's coming fight against secularism to the previous pope's fight against communism. The lesson of both, said George, is that "you can't deliver a stable society if, in order to protect personal freedom, you sacrifice objective truth and, particularly, moral truth. It's a fault line, and it will destabilize our societies and bring them certainly as the fault line in communism effected its demise."

This is an unfortunate confusion. Secularism isn't the same thing as relativism, and neither is tantamount to state-enforced atheism. Convenient though it may be to think so, it simply is not the case that critics of the church are committed to the denial of all objective truth. Nor are they committed to the proposition that all is permitted and nothing is immoral.

The conflation of secularism with relativism is an unfortunate mistake because it misrepresents the real pastoral context in which the church finds itself. The church must find a way to engage secular and religious people who embrace alternative moral codes and values that are genuinely compelling, though they are not the codes and values of the church. This is rather harder than thundering against imaginary relativists.

As Alasdair MacIntyre said at the beginning of the conference: "In the entire universe, there are absolutely no relativists who are not American undergraduates!" The church hierarchy would do well to take those words to heart.