Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Question of Authority

As I sit down to write tonight, it is already 11:36 PM, and as a family man who had to work and put a baby to sleep, I'm a bit tired.

Forgive me for not citing my sources to raise this question.

I probably don't need to site many sources to make the obvious point that Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox have different notions of the exercise of authority in the Church.

The Roman Catholic looks to the bishops as successors of the Apostles, and primarily to the bishop of Rome, who succeeded Peter and Paul.

The pope and bishops are not above scripture, but when there is conflict over what is implied by scripture, Catholics look to Rome.

The Eastern Orthodox don't really take issue with the Roman Catholic point of view except that they feel that Rome has overstepped its boundaries and forgotten the other Apostles - primarily the other eleven Apostles than Peter.

From the Orthodox point of view, the issue runs deeper than whether Peter had any sort of primacy. The Pope added the "filioque" to the creed without the backing of an ecumenical council.

Even if Peter had some sort of primacy, some Orthodox consider this act a grave abuse of power, and even possibly a heresy.

Yet, for the Catholic, the issue of the filioque is resolved by the authority of the petrine ministry.

The Protestant believes that we all have equal access to God through Christ, and we are all called to be apostles, priests, prophets, and kings.

The key theological issue for Protestants was not the filioque, but whether salvation by grace alone also implies salvation by faith alone apart from works - especially where works involve the sacramental system administered through clerics.

There is a sense that all notions of an office possessing authority simply dissolve for the Protestant, who relies sola scriptura (only on scripture) as the revelation of God to the individual that mercy covers all sin if we merely accept the gift.

My own view is none of these, which is frustrating as I try to communicate it.

I am definitely not a Protestant, though salvation is by grace alone without question (through faith and grace inspired works).

It seems clear to me even on the grounds of sola scriptura that different Christians have different callings.

The eye is not the foot, and the body is not whole without either.

There was an Apostolic ministry that was authoritive - an office - very clearly present right in the New Testament.

Along with the Eastern Orthodox, I question the Roman Catholic emphasis on Peter at the expense of the other Apostles.

Maybe Peter had primacy over John, James, and Matthew, but a church founded by Matthew is an "orthodox" church with valid sacraments - part of the mystical body of Christ and a place where the true Church of Christ subsists as surely as it does in Rome.

Yet, going a bit deeper, it isn't only the other eleven I am concerned with when I consider Apostolic succession.

Paul was very clearly an Apostle, and he was never one of the Twelve. So was Barnabas.

In saying this, I mean precisely that episcopal lineage can be traced to Paul and Barnabas.

Furthermore, Paul mentions five hundred Apostles, of which he is the least (1 Cor 15:9) and he calls Junia and Andronicas Apostles (Rom 16:7).

The patristics unanimously support this reading, as far as I know.

The bishops who "succeeded" the office of Apostle were not cherry picked by the Apostles for succession. Theirs was an elected office for centuries - elected by the local community, for the people and by the people.

There was local variation among the bishops, and universal decisions effecting the whole Church worldwide were reserved for ecumenical councils.

The democratic impulses of early Christianity were preserved in the practice whereby the pope continues to be elected by cardinals, and ecumenical councils continue to seek a two thirds consensus, and the leaders of religious orders are elected by their communities.

Furthermore, (and here is where I am too tired to site all my sources), there were other offices with real ecclesial authority in the Church.

The Apostle named Phillip, one of the Twelve, is believed to have had four daughters who were prophets - an authoritive office.

The role of prophet vied with that of Apostle in the early church.

The Didache even seems to place the prophet above the Apostle!

Where are the prophets today?

Paul also speaks of "teachers" (theologians?) and "administrators" (parish business managers?), and overseers (bishops), presbyters (elders - men and women) and deacons (servants - men and women), as well as "workers" (benefactors? - mostly women) and "evangelists" (lay catechists?) and many other ministers holding authority in the Church.

The canonical Gospels provide ample evidence that Jesus was more egalitarian than many modern and post modern Christian communities, even if there was a defined structure to his movement that became the Church.

In addition to the Twelve, he commissioned somewhere around seventy ministers in Luke 10:1-2.

It also seems that "the laity" of the earliest Christian communities were able to hold rational discourse, charismatic passion (including speaking in tongues), contemplative wisdom, and reverence for tradition in some sort of balance.

The patristics speak of excorcists, porters, lectors, acolytes, and many other ministries. The office of patriarch also developed.

Sometimes there is a clear "hierarchy", while other times, the "hierarchy" is not so clear depedning on the office in question and the time and place of composition of the text.

The Old Testament even witnesses to separate roles for priests and prophets and kings and music ministers and so forth.

When monasticism arose, the hermit and the monk were never priests - and were almost unanimously anti-clerical and very critical of bishops and presbyters.

There was a role, even mentioned in the New Testament, for widows, as well as for virgins and celibates - all considered very distinct and different roles at the time.

Even into the late middle ages, nuns sometimes held so much authority that the abesses were called bishops!

Married vocations were honored, and for 1,139 years, married priests were the norm. The New Testament makes specific mention that Peter, the first Pope, was a married man who took his wife on mission.

Deaconesses once held a prominent role, and there is New Testament reference to presbyteresses and women Apostles, fully in character with Jesus' radical behavior around women.

And from the Old Testament into the Pauline texts through Aquinas' exposition on the common good to the decrees of Vatican II and the Church's current social justice teaching, there has always been a role for the politician and other secular occupations.

Yet, not every single non-ordained or non-celibate person was consigned to politics and secular vocations.

There have been and even are forms of religious life for married people.

My view is not the Protestant view (in its purest and most radically expressed form).

A bishop is not a deaconess is not a theologian is not a music minister is not a prophet is not the leader of a house church is nto a celibate hermit is not a married worker.

Each of us have unique callings.

The Protestants are simply wrong to say we all have the same calling and we are all things at once. We are not ALL eyes, ears, hands and feet at once.

(In lived reality, every Protestant on earth knows I am right on this, and feels a bit of a sting when it is said so flatly).

My view is not the Roman Catholic view in the sense that the Catholic view seems locked into rolling all ministries into an all male celibate three-fold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon, with everyone else being a lay person without authority.

My view is not the Orthodox view, which is simply the Catholic view times eleven.

My view is the Orthodox view times five hundred with all proper respect to what papal primacy likely should mean in the context of other authoritive ministries.

My view is the view of the New Testament and the patristic sources, based on where the evidence seems to lead rather than where "sects" say it should lead.

There was a myriad of ministries - each having authority - where prophets could be more authoritative than priests, and teacher/theologians who weren't always ordained were taken very seriously, even more so than popes on occassion.

Look at the reverence we still give to Aquinas, who was never a bishop!

There were also literally hundreds of Apostles to whom the bishops trace their lineage - and I mean real Apostles - office holders commissioned by Christ with charge over bishops and presbyters.

And women may have been and probably were among the Apostles, meaning women can hold every other office in the Church.

Reading the book by Elaine Pagels that I mention in the post below only adds to the angst I feel - not only in the alternate vision she presents of the Gnostics, but in the "orthodox" sources she sites.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, writing in the early second century - more than 80 years after the resurrection - makes it very abundantly and ambiguously clear that bishops celebrate the Eucharist - NOT PRESBYTERS (Priests)!

The priesthood as we know it today was not "instituted" by Christ in his earthly ministry, but arose in time as theology developed.

Theology - our collective understanding of the deposit of faith - develops and changes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to meet the needs of the times discerned by the signs of the times through the sense of the faithful.

As doctrine develops and an old office seems to die out, we do not reject the authority of the old office. It can be retrieved, since whatever the Church has done, she is authorized to do again.

Saint Clement of Alexandria, writing in the early third century (c.a. 215) sings the praises of women and highlights the roles they hold or have held in the Church - more feminist than any other orthodox male Christian to come for another 1600 years.

Do new times and new signs call for a retrieval of what already was at a prior time?

And it's not just women who are being short changed.

We all are.

Married men called to priesthood, and celibate priests called to marriage are being abused by an abuse of authority by bishops consolidating power and by Rome consolidating it further.

When the abuse involves children and sex, we are all justly outraged, but there are many other types of abuse - and they all seem to involve control.

That the issue is one of control is even stated explicitly by the "orthodox" and unambiguously in the various writings through the centuries against various dissenters.

Push come to shove, the issue always seems to be that if you cross a bishop - especially the bishop of Rome - you will have hell to pay here on earth.

Where is the charity that God is in essense in the exercise of control at the expense of valid vocations from God?

As Catholics who believe that salvation is a process, rather than a single event in a second in time, wouldn't growth entail a continual search for truth - even among several authorities - even in unlikely or unorthodox sources along-side of and in comparison to to the orthodox sources?

Even those who railed against heresy in ages past knew what the other side was saying in their day. In hindsight, the truth may lie between two seemingly opposed sides.

And yet, what is difficult for me is that I WANT to believe that the bishop of Rome does have primacy and even a charism of infallibility.

Not only do I want to believe it, but I really do believe it.

I am not denying the legitimate authority of bishops and of the pope, but trying to say that there are other authorities - not in an "either/or" fashion, but in a "both/and".

In the non-infallible exercise of papal and episcopal authority, it is plainly obvious that the legitimate and rightful authority of many other types of ministers and ministries - including apostolic ministers and their episcopal successors - has not been recognized by Rome.

It seems clear to me that Vatican II was suppossed to restore some sense of other offices and increase the role of the laity and allow local adaptation. Is that happenning?

It is time for Rome to acknowledge that Christ and the original Apostles and patristics were not wrong or careless. Other authority does exists than the legitimate authority of the pope.

And Protestants need to admit that other authority exists than scripture.

Real and legitimate authority - actual decision making authority and truth discovering authority and truth proclaiming and love enacting powerful authority - God given political, religious, social, cultural and economic authoritive power - exists in other offices than the popes and bishops, without taking a thing from the legitimate authority of the popes and bishops.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More Reading From a Deceased Priests Library

About a week or so back, I wrote a post on the Berrigan brothers based on a book I found when a diocesan priest decided to clean out the room of a deceased brother priest.

I finished the book on the Berrigans and a short and excellent booklet on social justice teaching published in 1970 that reads as if it were written today.

I accidentally left this prize in a rented car when I finished it. I hope whoever picks it up reads it.

I have now moved on to Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels. I have read articles by Pagels before, and seen her interviewed, but this book is a real treasure.

I have already read the English translations of the Gnostic sources she is citing, and the book is not really presenting me with "new information" in that regard.

What is striking is her ability to lay out the social and political ramifications of orthodoxy vis-a-vis the Gnostics in a simple and easy to read fashion.

Of course, this book was originally published in 1979, and many of my readers may have already read it - perhaps in lieu of the Gnostic gospels or prior to the wide release of many translations of the Gnostics.

At the time it was published, perhaps the book had more "shock value".

I don't find her presentation very shocking, and she seems to be very fair to the orthodox side, showing how Gnosticism helped shape orthodoxy.

She avoids overstating the case for the Gnostics where the Gnostics lost the battle of history. She is also careful to narrow her focus specifically to those Gnostics who were most threatening to the orthodox according to orthodox writings.

There was incredible diversity among the Gnostics, and I find some Gnostic writings I have read to simply seem bizarre by today's standards.

Yet, the most bizarre writings were not what primarily concerned people like Iraneaus, Tertullian or other defenders of orthodoxy.

What concerned them most were the Gnostics who almost appeared orthodox, and worshiped in orthodox communities spreading ideas that the bishops considered false.

Pagels does an excellent job summarizing what really at stake, and why certain decisions most probably were made.

What strikes one in reading a presentation like this is that one can easily imagine that a slightly different turn of events could have easily lead to a radically different expression of orthodoxy - such as a larger role for women in the Church.

As I complete this book, I'll probably post some more. There are a few sources she sites for the orthodox positions that I want to track down online if I can find them.

More to come.


Five Points on the Minimum Wage

Steve Bogner wrote five salient points about the minimum wage on his blog, keeping the points succinct and right to the point.


Friday, May 26, 2006

NCR Editorial on Marciel

This pretty much sums up the issues nicely. I'll also highlight that the editorial does give Pope Benedict credit (even prior to his election) for doing the right thing where others in the Vatican failed.


Amen Sister Joan

Sister Joan Chittister's column, From Where I Stand was actually posted to NCR on Monday, but I just got around to reading it, and liked what she had to say about faith and politics.


I Am a Racist

The link above is to a cover article from The National Catholic Reporter entitled "Owning Unearned White Privilege" by Heidi Schlumpf.

This is an issue I was thinking about only last night, and I was pleasantly surprised to see much of what I was trying to articulate to myself stated in this in article. It's well worth reading.

I am reminded of a meeting of young adults (20 to 40) at my own parish about two months ago that my wife and I attended. The meeting involved watching the movie "Crash" followed by a discussion regarding prejudice and discrimination and racism.

The parish I attend is very multi-cultural, almost equally parts Caucasian, Latino, African American, Asian, African African, and those from the Caribbean islands.

The group of young adults was a good representative sample of the overall parish.

Sitting next to my black wife from Africa as a white man, I was getting a bit frustrated at all the ways the young adults - especially the white young adults - were going to great lengths to dissociate themselves individually from racism.

I deliberately made a sort of racist observation about the content of the movie. I posed the question of how we deal with the fact that all of the prejudices of every single character in the movie sort of seemed true.

The comment seemed to resonate with about two others, but I mostly got blank stares of disbelief that I could say such a thing.

The point I was really trying to make is that racism is not solely an individual fault.

Racism is a social sin in which we all participate with more or less consciousness, and more or less willingness - but we are all involved in it.

Individual fault can be assigned when our racism is willing, or when we refuse to become conscious of how we promote racism.

It is impossible to say "I'm not a racist" in the United States of America and mean it. It's nonsensical.

If you haven't seen the movie, watch it.

I don't want to give away the whole story line, but I want to provide enough context for my point.

We have in this movie a white cop who deliberately pulls over upper class blacks to harass them, and the viewer winds up seeing him as a decent man and hero by the end.

We have two black youth complaining about racism who are armed robbers targeting upper class whites. Again, by the end, they are heroic.

We have a Chinese businessman who appears to be a devoted family man who becomes one of the most repulsive of characters by the end.

The point I was trying to make in the parish meeting of young adults is that there ARE cops who discriminate and practice racial profiling. And there ARE black youth engaged in criminal behavior, etc....

Yet, there are cops who do not racially profile, and there black youth who do not engage in criminal behavior. And there are white youth who engage in criminal behavior and black cops who racial profile.

But somehow, we all know the stereotypes.

My point is that it is absurd in the United States of America to pretend that we are truly color-blind.

Even when a white person says something like "I know that not all blacks are not criminals", he or she is making a racist statement in a way - if not outright lying.

The statement affirms the existence of the stereotype apart from the individual's intellectual belief about the veracity of the stereotype.

Furthermore, I don't have the book handy, but I recall reading in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man" by Henry Louis Gates that he felt a certain fear in certain situations around young black males.

When an African American outspoken on issues of race like Henry Louis Gates can say something like that, we can legitimately ask why he feels fear?

The answer may be that black youth are more prone to crime, though I doubt that hypothesis explains the stereotype entirely myself.

Rather, I would postulate that in a racist society, black youth are more prone to be caught and prosecuted for crimes than white youth committing the same crime.

A 19 year old black youth dropped out of high school caught with a bag of cocaine will likely go to jail. A 19 year old white youth in his freshman year of college caught with a bag of cocaine might be let off with probation and community service, if he were even caught in the first place.

And it isn't just that one is a high school drop out and the other isn't. The black youth in college is more likely to go to jail than the white youth.

Further, if more black male youth do not go to college than their white male counterparts, or more commit crime, what are the cultural-socio-economic reasons for that?

The article in NCR outlines a myriad of advantages white people experience in this culture without even being aware of it that black youth may not experience.

And this entire situation which goes beyond the individual fault of any one person contribute to building up the conditions for the racial stereotypes.

The stereotypes may not fully reflect reality, and they may not reflect reality at all, but they do not arise from nowhere.

There is a reason white and black people are prone to associate black male youth with crime - namely, nearly half the prison population in the United States are black males, even though blacks are only roughly 13 percent of the total population.

But the fact that nearly half the prison population are black males is not indicative that blacks commit more crime, since we know that white and black cops racially profile those who they arrest, and juries make judgments partly informed by their almost unconscious racist biases.

When the jury sees a white college student caught with cocaine, some will think he is a decent young man who made a mistake and deserves a second chance. A white jury is particularly likely to relate to the young man - especially since a silent majority of white people probably smoked some dope in college.

When a jury sees a black man caught with cocaine, images of Wesley Snipes in "New Jack City" come to mind, and the jury seeks to stop this hardened criminal in his tracks before he takes over the neighborhood.

And we all do this more or less consciously: white, black, hispanic or whatever.

Even black people absorb white stereotypes, which was what I recall being the point that African American scholar, Henry Louis Gates making in his book where he admitted some fear of black male youth in certain situations.

And lest I be accused of merely perpetuating white stereotypes of blacks, even if absorbed by blacks, let us examine briefly a stereotype of whites.

How many of my readers can name a serial killer off the top of their heads who is not white?

Many of us know the names of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacey, Jeffrey Dahmer, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, and so forth. It's difficult to come up with a black name.

When my wife and I started dating, her family warned her (somewhat intended as humor) to be careful with me around knives and forks - I might want to eat her heart or something.

Many people of color perceive white people as psychotic, and every act of overt conscious and willing racism only adds to the point.

Growing up in Ohio in a community that was probably over ninety percent white, I was unaware of the stereotypes others sometime have of white people.

It isn't only between whites and blacks, though the tension between black and white is probably most extreme.

When whites see an Asian, there is a sense that the Asian looks more like him or her than the African. When an African sees any person of color, they identify a bit more with the person of color than the white.

It may be "natural" since the Fall of Adam for people to want to associate with people more like themselves than different.

To some extent, we need to face the fact that this occurs - that we all do it.

I never saw myself married to a black woman when I was a child. My wife never imagined she would marry a white man.

My brothers and I were fans of a little known rock musician named Todd Rundgren in high school. When he played in a local club after I started dating the woman who would become my wife, my brother and I wanted to go.

Todd's fans are overwhelmingly white, and my 'wife to be' spotted a black man in the crowd and was dying to go talk to him just because he was the only other black person in a crowded club.

In a like manner, just last Sunday, I attended an event at the embassy of my wife's native country, and a white man working for the caterer approached me under the assumption that I was a newspaper reporter.

He struck up a conversation where it became obvious he was uncomfortable in an all black crowd, and was speaking to me because I am white.

It isn't that the man was "racist" in the sense of hating black people. Indeed, he had nothing but positive things to say about the African crowd.

Yet, he was uncomfortable enough that he deliberately sought out a single individual who looked like him in a crowd of hundreds of people.

I know how he felt, because I can't say that I never, ever felt the same discomfort in a room full of strangers who don't look like me.

A business manager interviewing candidates for a job needs to be aware of his or her tendency to seek a candidate in his or her own image over and above hiring the most qualified candidate for the job.

The statistics continue to bear out that blacks lag behind whites in income while unemployment higher for blacks.

To pretend to ourselves that we are color blind and unaware of racial stereotypes, and participate in no way whatsoever in the structures of culture that reinforce racism is really a sort of psychological denial in my humble opinion.

In the United States of America, the statement "I am not a racist" makes no sense.

Indeed, I wonder if there is anywhere in the world where the statement makes sense - though South Africa and the United States are two locations where it is most obvious that we are swimming in racism.

We live in a racist culture that was forged in the crucible of the cruelest forms of slavery and genocide known to humankind.

Genocide: Has any society in history ever come as close to effectively wiping out an entire race as the United States did with the Native American?

And why do we ignore Rwanda and the Sudan while we sent troops to Kosovo under U.N. auspices?

On the flip side of questions about war, how much of our decision to go to war with Iraq was fueled by either conscious or unconscious racism against Arabs?

How much of our inability to appreciate the horror of war to the civilian population of Iraq is based on our inability to empathize with those who are different than us?

The legacy of slavery in America is obvious in taking a ten minute cruise through some of the inner cities or rural south.

Might the aid to Katrina victims been a little more swift if the images we saw first on our televisions were white people drowning?

The article by Heidi Schlumpf linked above does not focus on the negative aspects of racism to the minority group so much as trying to raise an awareness of the existence of white privilege.

I think she does a great job of highlighting so many things white people take for granted and almost assume to be the American experience when it is really the white American experience.

I can certainly relate to some of the advantages in the opening paragraphs.

She also points out how we chose to perpetuate white privelege even when we know it is at the expense of others - such as chosing a neiborhood for the economic advantages for our children rather than placing diversity at the forefront of what we wish to pass down to our children.

We are all racists. As Schlumpf points out, the real issue is not whether I am a racist, but whether I am conscious of my racism or not, and whether I am working to overcome it or not.

That was the exact point I was trying to raise in my racially mixed parish gathering of young adults denying their own racism.

My wife says that she can sense a certain "fakeness" in some white people.

I know that there were times many years ago when I first associated closely with people of other races where it was difficult not to be thinking "How do I prove I'm not a racist".

The point is that I was aware of race even in my efforts to disprove it. Maybe that is what my wife senses as "fakeness" in some people.

Malcom X used to say that he would rather deal with the KKK than white liberals. With the member of the KKK, they are conscious of their racism and he knows exactly where he stands with them, and they understood exactly what his real point was.

With the white liberal, there is unconsciousness of racism, and much of what he had to say would get lost on them.

I am certainly not advocating that those of us who are white all join the KKK. As a Catholic Christian and simply as a human being, I believe racism is intrinsically evil. We must battle against it individually and in the society.

But the first step of engaging in the battle is to admit we are all deeply effected by it - that our entire culture has made it impossible to truly be color blind, and that it will take a life time to even effect the change we seek in our own hearts and minds - whether we are black, white, yellow, red or brown.

The article encourages frequent interaction across racial and class lines as a way of waging the battle. Speaking from my own experience, that is on target.

Though I admit to being a racist because I live in a racist society where I have absorbed racist thought patterns myself, there are many instances where I am truly color blind in a room full or non-whites.

That can only happen over time with intimate interaction with those who different from us.

The Church is the place where this should be encouraged the most - especially in a Church calling itself Catholic (universal).

My parish is a good example, but it is a simple statement of fact that four decades after the height of the civil rights movement, Sunday morning in the churches is typically the most segregated place in America today!

We still have work to do, and anyone unaware that racism is still an issue needs to have their consciousness raised until we reach the point where we are no longer blind to the fact that we are all racists.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

John Allen's Word From Rome

The opening story is breaking news regarding the fact that the ministry of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado has had his ministry restricted in what appears to be an indication that allegations of sexual abuse by him are credible enough to demand such action.

Degollado is the founder of the conservative order, the Legionaires of Christ, and the allegations stem from long before Vatican II.

Assuming the allegations turn out to be true, this would seem to me to be definitive proof of what many liberals have been saying for years: that so-called "orthodoxy" under tight pre-Vatican II discipline with little expression of dissent is not a guarantee that sexual abuse will not happen and be covered up.

Vatican II and theological dissent did not cause or promote the sexual abuse of children. This should be obvious by the fact that the vast majority of known abusers were ordained prior to Vatican II, as were the bishops who covered for them.

Further evidence that what I am saying is true is in the conduct of Anthony Bevilacqua who covered for abusers even while having a policy of rejecting gay seminarians and squashing theological dissent. Similarly, archconservative Bishop Kurt Kren of Austria resigned only a short while ago after scandal erupted in his seimary.

With Kren and Degollado, we also see that the problem is not isolated to the United States.

I am not claiming that there were no "liberals" who abused children either, who may have even tried to make dissenting theological arguments to rationalize their actions in the period of confusion immediately following Vatican II.

That may very well be true. Paul Shanley seems to be a case in point, though he operated under the conservative Cardinal Bernard Law for some time.

Those prone to abusing children seem very capable of holding either conservative or liberal theological views. Those prone to covering up abuse also seem to fall across the spectrum.

My point is not to say liberals have the answers, nor conservatives. Whether liberal or conservative, all of us among the laity have disgusted by the conduct of the clergy - and especially the bishops - in this regard.

The issue of sexual misconduct by priests, especially with minors, rightly angers all of us, whether liberal or conservative.

There are voices among Catholic conservatives or self defined "orthodoxy" who argue that all that is needed is a return to "orthodoxy" and an end to dissent.

Obviously, this is not the answer, or not the whole answer.

The most "orthodox" of priests seem capable of abusing minors, and the most "orthodox" of bishops seem capable of covering up or downplaying the abuse.

The elusive answer we seek is not an issue of being liberal or conservative, and transcends all of our other differences.

It is high time we looked at the radical structural reforms that would be necessary to promote full transparency so that bishops and leaders of the religious orders can be held fully accountable for results, not only to the Vatican, but to the people they serve - the laity.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Thinking Something Through

I've been slow blogging since I came back after Lent, finding it difficult to keep the daily pace I once had.

Right before the break of Lent, I stated to one commenter that I was not sure that the First Gulf War in 1991 was a just war.

I'm not entirely sure it wasn't, but I'm not sure it was either.

The issue I am struggling with is that a criteria of a just war is that it is an absolute last resort that forces us to overcome the presumption against war - and I take the presumption against war very seriously.

I am in the process of working out a thought, and I don't claim I am arrived at a "final answer".

A direct attack in progress seems to move us to the point of last resort, and Kuwait was directly attacked by Iraq to begin the First Gulf War.

For that matter, 9/11 was a direct attack that may have provided just cause for the invasion of Afghanistan.

But what about where a direct attack against another nation is not the issue - such as occurs with genocide.

I do believe the international community working through an international institution like the United Nations can authorize a humanitarian intervention.

One is very likely called for at this moment in the Sudan.

But the First Gulf War wasn't precisely about genocide and I'm not sure an international intervention was called for as a last resort at the time.

Certainly, the internation community had a role to play to mediate peace in 1991 - but was a military solution at that time the right solution - or even the last resort?

In the case of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, it seems very clear to me that we were not at the point of a last resort.

There is something else I am struggling with along the same lines - and reading about the Berrigans is helping me flesh it out some - but I'm still struggling.

It seems to me to be plainly obvious that Christians are called to exhaust non-violence to the point of the Berrigans before using force.

The Berrigans may have been deemed ineffective, and even arrogant to some people. But I do think that when we reach extremes of moral absurdity, actions like the Berrigan actions against the Vietnam war are appropriate.

I'm thinking that there are levels of non-violent action.

The first level is prevention of war - not through deterrence and economic sanction, or even non-violent protest.

We prevent war first by assuming a preferential option for the poor in support of the common good defined as promoting the dignity of each human person in all our decision making, locally and internationally - and by learning the art of dialogue and negotion that seeks a "win-win" solution for all.

The second level of non-violence is to recognize that when a true "win-win" solution is rejected by those who chose to cling to evil, we have a responsibility to pray and protest and work for change through existing political, legal, ethical and moral channels.

At this level, armed intervention would be a last resort reserved to the international community, except when a nation must defend itself from direct attack.

Prior to internationally authorized armed intervention, the international agencies must exhaust all positive dimplomacy first, and then move to punitive means like economic sanctions when pushed.

In a sense, one hopes economic sanctions would be a last resort - and many more positive actions should preceed sanctions.

At some point, non-violence can move to civil disobedience, and it is best when this is done within the nation doing evil - though it would not be wrong for the international community to take part.

Civil disobedience is different than mere prayer and protest and letter writing and using political means or even economic leverages to effect change.

Civil disobedience involves non-violently directly breaking immoral laws intentionally to expose that the law is immoral.

In the initial stages, it is proper for the practitioner of civil disobedience to even allow her or himself to be arrested and jailed as part of exposing the absurdity of an immoral law.

This seems to be clearly the example of Jesus, who went so far as to lay down his life in being executed by the state.

Only when a "win-win" solution informed by the highest ideals of social justice was sought and rejected, and the issue was escalated through all legal channeles, and every non-violent penalty was applied and non-violent civil disobedience was tried and the agressor still attacks innocents, then and only then, do we have a just war if an agression is in progress - not a moment before.

This entire process can move quickly in a crisis such as genocide, but the groundwork is laid in the first step of doing all we can to promote human dignity and seeking non-violent negotiation long before genocide occurs.

What this means is that in order to wage a just war tommorow, we must work for international development, solidarity, and the alleviation of poverty today.

In regards to current war actions underway, they are almost all unjust - though an opportunity for a just war may arise in a place like the Sudan.

Most military actions today are unjust precisely because we are not doing what we can to alleviate poverty and promote the common good.

If half of what we spend on military were spent on poverty reduction, then some wars might be just - and not a moment before.

Since the current war in Iraq is unjust according to principles outlined above and many other principles explicitly upheld by popes and bishops and firmly supported by scripture, tradition and reason, it would be appropriate for American soldiers to lay down their arms.

In the case of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, America had not been doing what it could to promote the international common good and international development far prior to 2003. We had no international authorization for the invasion, did not protest against the brutality of Saddam, did not assist civil disobedience in Iraq, and had not exhausted non-violent punitive means. We were not under direct attack, nor was anyone else.

Therefore, the invasion was more clearly immoral than the invasion of Afghanistan or the First Gulf War - and even these two prior acts of war were highly questionable froma moral point of view.

Indeed, for any soldier who agrees with Pope John Paul and/or Pope Benedict and/or the USCCB to continue fighting in Iraq is immoral, and that soldier who agrees with them commits murder by not laying down his arms.

What this means is that beyond level one of working for the international common good, protest against America are definitely in order.

But here in the homeland, are we reaching - or have we long reached - a stage where civil disobedience to our government is not only warranted, but perhaps required?

I am wondering?


Monday, May 15, 2006

The Berrigans Today

I couple of years back, I was at a daily Mass, and a priest asked us to go to the nave after Mass to pick up some free books he wanted cleared from the rectory.

The books were taken from the room of a recently deceased diocesan priest.

It was quite a stash of great books, though much of the material was rather old. I took an armful of books, and still haven't read all that I collected.

One of the books, which I just got around to beginning to read is a collection of articles published in the year 1970 on Daniel and Phillip Berrigan.

I am not even half way through the book, but it is a fantastic read so far.

The articles are somewhat unique to someone my age.

They have the feel of a contemporary event in the way they read - though I was only five years old when they were originally published.

Older readers need to bear in mind that I never heard of the Berrigans until I was around 25 years old - almost two decades after these articles were written.

By the time I heard of the Berrigans, the events that shape the perspective of these articles was old news - even to those who tell their story with fondness.

When I'd ask, "Who were the Berrigans?" someone would say, "You don't know who the Berrigans are? They were Vietnam war protestors. How could you not know them?"

Of course, by the time I was asking, the Vietnam war was over, and the urgency was lost even in the retelling of their tale.

I did pick up the notion that they had quite an impact on their contemporaries, and gradually followed some of their more recent activities with Plowshares until Phillip died in 2002.

Reading the articles today as though things are happening currently is a fresh experience of what elder liberals might remember - with opening lines to articles like "Today, Daniel Berrigan sits in a prison cell...."

There are articles for and against what the Berrigans did.

For those unfamiliar with the history, during the Vietnam war, the Berrigans were two Catholic priests opposed to the war.

Dan was a Jesuit and is described in the articles as a poet having the spirit of a pixie.

Phil, his blood brother, was a Josephite priest armed with careful detailed analysis and well reasoned argument, described as having the discipline of a soldier applied to fighting for peace.

Both were ordained before Vatican II, and neither claimed Vatican II as the main inspiration for their activities.

The Berrigans initially began protesting the war in Vietnam around 1965 and step by step, their protests became more radical.

They started with prayer services, letter writing campaigns and small rallies.

At one point, Phil willingly gave himself over to arrest for an unlawful demonstration, and Dan initially did the same as he joined his brother's radicalism.

Up to that point, they had some opponents in the Church, but seem to have had more support than discouragement according to this series of articles.

It seems that overall, because they accepted their punishment and stuck to "safe issues" of condemning racism and promoting peace, they were considered to be on firm enough ground that few questioned their intentions.

Finally, in 1969 into 1970, they became so convinced that the American culture was corrupted by its militarism that they declared the legal system had no legitimacy.

They would no longer submit to arrest for actions of interfering in the war effort.

Dan had broken into an office above a Knights of Columbus Hall in Baltimore containing draft records, and took the files into the parking lot where he and eight others filmed themselves throwing homemade napalm on the files and lighting them on fire.

In the other prior instance, Phil had thrown human blood on draft files.

They then eluded the FBI for about four months, becoming sort of Robin Hood and Friar Tuck like characters in the imagination of the anti-war activists - eluding the incompetent sherrif of Nottingham to make a stand for the people as just criminals.

When arrested, they were initially charged by none other than J. Edgar Hoover with plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger (an apparently absurd charge, even according to their detractors).

The act of only protesting the war seems to have been more or less accepted by all - even those who passionately disagreed with them.

Even breaking a law in peaceful civil disobedience was accepted on principle, so long as the law breaking did not really interfere with others and they accepted their punishment.

For example, federal trespassing or having a "sit in" did not seem an act likely to stir the most passion in these articles.

When their acts were transformed into an act perceived as "militant" (even if non-violent) resistance, they stirred up real passion.

They were not only breaking the law, as in having a rally without a permit, but they were breaking the law in a manner aimed to interfere with the war effort by destroying draft files.

Further, they were refusing to submit to the authority of the law when threatened with arrest.

When they went to trial, they claimed as their basic defense that they wanted to put the executive branch of the federal government on trial - that the President had broken the law.

Therefore, they argued that their own criminal acts could not be considered illegal, since they were citizens in good conscience interfering with an illegal and immoral action by the state.

Their actions sure seem to have stirred up some deep reflection in the contributors to this collection of articles forming the book.

The articles deal with questions ranging from whether the Vietnam war is a just war, to whether the Berrigans did an injustice to conscientious objectors.

On this latter point, the files of those applying for CO status may have been accidently burnt in the process of their protest.

Therefore, someone may have to start over again in obtaining CO status. Some liberals said this isn't fair to the conscientious objectors.

There are tons of questions about the morality of what the Berigans did, or the effectiveness of their means raised in the articles.

Some authors even suggest that they will hinder bringing an end to the war by strengthening the resolve of the other side of the debate.

The short answer response many supportive authors provide that makes sense to me is this:

"Why are we more concerned about the morality of two men napalming paper than we are about the morality of napalming children?"

That pretty much sums it all up and crystalizes the issue to me.

It must have been a sort wide-spread slogan in 1970, because several authors repeat the sentiment.

I like the slogan, because it succinctly captures the problem of an unjust war.

How is napalming paper even remotely comparable to napalming children in the world of moral discourse?

And it makes me wonder what we should be doing today to get a similar message across.

I'm not sure such actions would work today, and I'm not advocating law breaking.

Yet, these same caveats and nuances were made in the heyday of the Berrigans.

There's nothing new under the sun.

Why can't the anti-war movement today seem to frame the debate this way?

Some of the articles by leftists of the 1970's warn against letting the Berrigans become a way of letting the rest of the war opposition to feel comfortable.

We don't need to go that far, because they already did it for us, the thinking goes.

In a like manner, it seems easy for my generation to say, "They already tried that. It didn't do anything back then. We don't need to go that route."

But are we sure?

Another constant refrain of their supporters seems to have been that the Berrigans "upped the ante" for everyone opposed to the war in Vietnam.

Again, this seems a repeated slogan, but it captures soemthing.

Have they upped the ante for every generation?

There is a detailed analysis of the issues in an article by Naom Chomsky that made me realize how very similar the arguments opposing the Vietnam war are to the arguments opposing the Iraq war today.

For example, I have posted evidence that Bush and the people in his Administration planned the invasion of Iraq before he was elected in 2000, even as Bush ran at the time on the platform of a humbler and gentler America not into nation building or foreign interventions.

In a like manner, Chomsky points out that the Kennedy Administration denied any desire to be involved in Vietnam during his campaign, even as his Adminstration was planning for war before election.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Indeed, the only slight difference is that in the case of Vietnam, Chomsky builds some argument for radicalism against "the system", itself, precisely because Congress did not vote authorizing the war in Vietnam.

In effect, because the Executive power illegally acted apart from a democratic process, Chomsky argues that the people had the right to take matters in their own hands even in violation of the law.

With the war in Iraq, Congress gave the President the authority to wage war in Iraq and Bush won re-election by a narrow majority.

So, maybe civil disobedience on the sole grounds of an abuse of Executive power is removed, or somewhat mitigated, as a rationale for law breaking today.

But there were other arguments Chomsky considers more central to the debate.

Throughout Chomsky's piece is the basic demand of human decency to recognize what a war is - what it does to children, and to a people and to a culture.

Chomsky challenges us to fight against the insensitivity of power that makes it easy to wage wars in any situation other than defense against direct attack.

It would seem that to Chomsky, any action short of killing another, that wakes people up to the reality of what a war really is could be considered morally licit.

He takes on the entire American economy, saying a society that depends on the military for one in ten jobs at the time he was writing is a morally bankrupt society.

There is a sense of history being made by the Vietnam war that Chomsky conveys in 1970 that we, as a nation, have already lost.

When I say this, I do not mean that the anti-war war protestors were making history.

Rather, Chomsky is refering to the unprecedented destruction of a people by American military might - the use of raw technological power against a developing nation that is defenseless against our might.

It is that act that unprecedented and that Chomsky asks us to reflect upon carefully.

This seems to be true today, as well.

To make the point to my more "conservative" readers, Chomsky has the ability to stir the same basic passions that I often feel for the unborn when I hear a good pro-life speaker.

To those on the "liberal side", Chomsky explicitly refers to "the Indochina war" as an act of "genocide" by the United States.

He paints the picture of defenseless people - especially children - suffering at the hands of bombs dropped from the sky by a nation they don't even really know exists, except in the most abstract terms.

The horror is similar to what a pro-lifer imagines an unborn child going through when saline solution or surgical instruments enter his or her world from some unknown source.

It is similar to the first Jewish victims of the Nazis entering the showers not really knowing that they will never exit alive.

Chomsky captures how shockingly repulsive such a use of power should be. And it should be repulsive to any decent human being!

Statements comparing the war in Vietnam or Iraq to genocide and abortion will likely stir some ire among some readers.

Afterall, known tyrants like Saddam Hussein have allegedly gassed their own people. How dare I compare America to Hussein?

Pol Pot caused more damage in the killing fields of Cambodia than the Americans.

The Nazis used technology in their evil aims, and genocide is occurring even today in the Sudan.

Who would defend the Soviet Empire for what was done to the Ukranians?

There have been atrocities in history dating back to Ivan the Terrible, Ghengis Khan, and Attila the Hun.

America is like none of this!

It is true that gross evil such as genocide pre-dates the very existence of the United States and that some tyrants today use technology with horrific aims.

It is true that America does not seem to act with the same intentional evil.

Chomsky's point seems to me to be that there is a sense of horror in the distinction that America is the first nation to kill so many people remotely with little understanding why we are even fighting them.

It isn't just that it is genocide, though it is.

It is that it is genocide done remotely, or from the air, against people we cannot see and know little about.

It is our lack of reflection on what we are doing that Chomsky is criticizing.

It is our blind subservience and acceptance that things just have to be this way when they don't.

We commit genocide without even being aware THAT we are performing a sort of ethnic cleansing.

People are attacked in a manner where they don't really know what hit them, and the attacker is barely conscious what was done to the victim or why.

It's something of the moral repulsion that our ancestors felt at notions of shooting or stabbing a man in the back - a notion still preserved in the old movie Westerns.

Chomsky's point is that we shouldn't be killing innocent peasants, of course. Yet, more than that.

Though he doesn't explicitly say it, if we are going to kill a peasant, he would seem to say that we should look look him or her in the eye when we do it - which, of course, no decent person could do to a child!

I think we Americans tend to take for granted that war is messy, but somehow necessary - so we don't consider the horror of war.

We take for granted that civilian casualties are part of war, so we don't reflect too hard on the moral implications of causing such casualties.

We don't even stop to think too hard about whether "the enemy" even understands him or herself to be an enemy.

Just because someone in Syria burns an American flag doesn't really mean that their entire nation understands us any better than we understand them.

How are really at hardened emnity when we know so little about one another?

We forget that much of the world is illiterate or barely literate, and lives in homes with little or no electricity or running water - or if they have such luxuries, they may not have free speech.

All of this was true in most of Afghanistan and even in parts of Iraq.

Do such people know why America is waging war in their country?

A nation where many people live in homes without electricity or running water cannot fully fathom the reason bombs are falling out of the sky on their homes.

Some folks say, "bomb them back to the stone age" with little awareness that some people on this earth already live in a relative stone age.

Chomsky was basically calling upon the conscience of every American to make a choice.

The choice at the time was whether we want to live in a world where this horrific killing unknown before Vietnam becomes normal to us, or can we envision another way of being in the world.

Indeed, all the articles supporting the Berrigans have this fresh sense of America at a cross roads - a "first" in history unfolding.

That "first" is a decision to lead the world into excessive militarism, or to design a new system that discourages every aspect of the style of militarism that could lead to a tragedy like Vietnam.

The tragedy they identify is a technologically superior nation at war with peasants, where the peasants cannot win, but in order for America to win, the peasants must all must die - each and every one - because they aren't like us, our interest are served by thw war, they threaten us, and they don't think like us.

I wonder how we can win the war on terror through military solutions unless we kill every Arab alive (and some non-Arabs). There has to be a better solution.

How do we win the hearts of Arabs so that few, if any, would target America for terrorism (or anyone else)?

There is a hope in the writing of these articles from 1970 that it isn't too late for America to make a different choice.

These anti-war writers actually believed in the 1960's and 1970's that the American people could wake up and tell their leaders, "No more."

Despite the negativity of the Berrigan supporters towards "the system" or the "military industrial complex" or "the illegal abuses of the executive power", and "the illegitimate government", they had great hope that the people of America would plainly see that their message was right.

I can relate in that I sort of thought the American people would boot Bush out in 2004 from the same sort of naive hope.

I honestly am surprised that so many people uncritically accept the war in Iraq as necessary or just.

The war in Iraq has always seemed obviously unnecessary and unjust to me, and though I have come to accept that it isn't so obvious to others, it remains obvious to me.

The writers of these articles, however, haven't lost hope in the conscience of American people - where I feel a certain pessimism setting in about the ability of the American people to fully comprehend the horror of war.

Indeed, I feel I am becoming a little jaded to the horror of war, myself.

I'm becoming accustomed to the fact that we are at war, and I can't change it, and I just need to go about my daily life.

Taking care of my own daughter is more important than thinking too hard about an Iraqi orphan girl in war torn Fallujah.

In the 1960's, it seems that even the supporters of the war understood the horror of war a bit more than my contempories do.

Even the articles written by detractors of the Berrigans admit a certain rightness to the Berrigan cause - even a certain rightness to the practice of civil disobedience so long as it doesn't become too "militant", or too "extreme", or too "radical".

It isn't protest against the war or dissent that the detractors of the Berrigans eschew. It was their interference with the war effort that was deemed dangerous, ineffective and/or immoral.

This causes me to wonder about a few things.

For one, where have all the 1960's and 1970's radicals gone?

Why is so little dissent to the war in Iraq voiced today when the issues at stake were so similar?

For another, why is voicing dissent today so spat upon in some circles?

It seems that it was understood in the days of Vietnam (and one article is even written by a dissenter to WWII) that even if you supported American military efforts, it was the defense of freedom of speech, even to critique a war, that was part of what our soldiers are trying to defend - and there was a certain willingness by war supporters to hear that war is horrific - that we needed to keep in mind that babies were being killed as part of deciding what the right thing to do moving forward really is.

Maybe those who were there remember things differently than that - and didn't feel quite as heard as I am portraying.

Yet, the anti-war movement certainly had larger numbers, and were not as dismissed in these articles as they are by war supporters today.

Some of the people contributing to this book supportive of the Berrigans are still alive. Rosemary Ruether is one contributor, though I haven't read her article yet.

Where are some of these people today to help us who are younger?

Neither of the major political parties are offering a substantial alternative vision to America as the sole superpower who will protect our interest abroad and promote democracy through the raw use of overwhelming technological superiority - the ability to inflict massive casualties on the other side with minimal casualties of our own over a long period of time.

In the days of Vietnam, it seems that this very way of thinking was being questioned - even by those who thought Vietnam was a sort of just war.

There was a willingness by war supporters to say that the Berrigans are right that America should NOT become too accustomed to killing remotely,...should NOT become too powerful,...,should NOT forget what war means to children and cultures,....,should NOT abuse its power over peasants.

Today, we don't question this vision, even if we think a war is ultimately unjust.

To my frustration and dismay, all people want to talk about today is whether the war is "effective" or "constructive" or "necessary" or can be made to have a decent end - not whether it is moral or even legal!

The war in Iraq is, by the way, an illegal action violating the United Nations charter that Congress ratified decades ago.

Does America need to have a draft to mobilize people to ask the hard moral questions about the way we use military might?

We who were too young to protest Vietnam, or not even born yet at the time of Vietnam, need mentors who remember the alternate vision - because we have less a glimpse of it than you all had.

We need to relearn how to awaken the vision that an alternative world is possible - that America is once again at a cross-roads - that the American people confronted with a moral vision will choose to act rightly.

What really worked and what did not work?

What could we be doing today that we aren't to evoke the vision again?

Was law breaking interference with the war effort an effective strategy? Was it the most effective strategy?

Is another action more appropriate today?

As I read this book, I find myself wanting to sit with some of the older people who wrote these articles and ask these kinds of questions.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Apostolic Succession

EWTN reports that Apostolic succession is the subject of Pope Benedict's catechesis at this morning's general audience before 50,000 people. See EWTN's article here.

I believe in Apostolic succession. I examined Pope Benedict's most recently available general audience on this topic at the Vatican web site.

There is a focus on the role of the Twelve in the Holy Father's catechesis that began last week:

The Twelve Apostles were chosen and sent forth to proclaim the Gospel and the living presence of the Risen Lord in his Church. With the help of the Holy Spirit, they and their associates handed on, by their preaching, example and institutions, and by the inspired Scriptures, all that they themselves had received from Christ for the salvation of the world. The Church in every age preserves and transmits what Saint Paul calls the "rich deposit of faith" (cf. 2 Tim 1:14). Tradition can thus be understood as the living voice of the Gospel, proclaimed in its integrity by the Apostles and passed down by their successors.
Yet, it is interesting that Pope Benedict brings up the name of Paul.

Recall that Paul is called an Apostle, and he was never counted mong the Twelve.

I have explored the topic of who was and who was not an Apostle in an article in my sidebar back in 2003. Here is the link: Apostolic Succession: It's not Just the 12...,a Woman and Elected Married Men?.

The evidence is clear in the scriptures and all early sources - including the most "orthodox" - that there were many other "Apostles" than the Twelve.

There is strong evidence women and married men were counted among the Apostles, and that there successors in the episcopacy were elected.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Enigmatic Christ

The link above is to today's readings at Mass.

What struck me is how enigmatic and evasive Jesus was being over the request for a direct answer to a simple question that would seem essential to understanding his mission.

Here is the Gospel passage:

The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem.
It was winter.
And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon.
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him,
"How long are you going to keep us in suspense?
If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
Jesus answered them, "I told you and you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father's name testify to me.
But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father's hand.
The Father and I are one."
A few things jump out at me on the surface.

First, he doesn't directly answer the question with a "yes" or a "no", though he claims he did already provide answers at some prior point. I'll come back to this.

Second, his response, as portrayed by the evangelist, points way beyond messianic expectations. He is asked if he is the Messiah - the Christ - God's Anointed, and he responds that he does the work of God and he and God are one in some way.

Third, he seems to imply in a way that many would perceive as arrogant that if you understand this enigmatic response, you are going to receive and eternal reward, and if not, you will perish.

Returning now to the first point, John's Jesus claims, "I told you and you do not believe."

The closest Jesus comes to an explicit admission of being the Christ in John's Gospel is Jn 4:26, when the woman at the well says "I know the Christ/Messiah is coming,..." and Jesus responds, "I am" [Ego Emei].

There were no eye-witnesses to this conversation other than the Samaritan woman, herself. Further, any "I am" saying could be a reference to divinity, rather than a reference to being the Christ.

Recall that the Jewish messianic expectation is not that the Christ is God in human flesh. The hope for a Messiah is a political hope for a deliverer king like David who will restore the ancient kingdom of Israel.

In the other Gospels, Mark 14:61 has Jesus respond to the high priest with "I am" in response to the question, "Are you the Christ, the son of the blessed one" on the night of his crucifixion.

According to all accounts in all Gospels, he had not clearly said so before that moment. Again, this could be a reference to divinity.

In the parallel stories of Mt 26:25 and Lk 22:67, he doesn't even answer the high priest directly, but makes an enigmatic statement that could be translated loosely as "If you say so."

When Jesus asks the disciples "Who do you say that I am?" and Peter responds "The Christ,...", all Gospels explicitly say that he told them NOT to tell anyone he is the Christ, which could mean either that he told them to keep it secret, or that he denied that portion of Peter's claim entirely.

I went to Bible Gateway and did a key word search in the Protestant NIV for "Christ" in the four Gospels, and Jesus never explicitly refers to being the Christ in any other passage than what I have sited above.

There are many places where others are asking him the question and he is refusing to answer directly, or he tells his disciples to be on guard against those claiming to be the Christ, but in the 59 occurrences of the word, Jesus never says "I am the Christ" prior to his crucifixion.

Clearly, the Gospel writers call Jesus the Christ. I am not denying he is the Christ.

Rather, I am pointing out that Jesus never seems to have clearly and unambiguously claimed that title for himself prior to the crucifixion or maybe even the resurrection.

Instead, he warns against those claiming to be Messiahs, and when asked if he is the Christ, he seems to answer with what would appear almost incomprehensible riddles implying that he is one with God.

Assuming some sort of history behind these texts, I imagine his own disciples, much less his opponents, wondering if he means these enigmatic responses in some sense like a Hindu mystic claiming oneness with Brahman, or was he literally claiming to be "Ton Theon" or "YHWH" in the flesh, or a prophet uttering God's word through some sort channeling, or something else entirely?

Of course, the faith of the New Testament writers seems clearly to me to be consistent with later developments leading to the conclusions of the Council of Nicea.

I am not questioning the New Testament basis for dogma, nor am I denying something in Jesus' own words and deeds gave rise to that faith.

I even give my own assent of faith to the creedal formulas of Nicea.

All I am saying is that the words of Jesus as remembered in the earliest sources are very strange and enigmatic and would be confusing to almost anyone if he said exactly what the evangelists record in the precise context the evangelists present.

And ultimately, no matter what he meant by claiming to be one with God, he doesn't seem to ever give a clear answer to the question of whether he is the Messiah in the received texts.


A Da Vinci Code Catechism

A youngish looking Opus Dei priest takes a crack at answering 8 questions in a simple "Baltimore Catechism" format regarding the Da Vinci Code.

I generally do not like simplicitic answers to complex questions.

However, these answers are simple without being simplistic.

His responses very succinctly and nicely sum up a solid Catholic response informed by faith to some questions raised by readers of Dan Brown that liberal or conservative Catholic could likely embrace and champion.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Is There a War on Christianity?

The Washington Post opened up a discussion entitled "In today's culture, do you see evidence of a war on Christianity?"


Friday, May 05, 2006


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Overcoming Discord in the Church: by Timothy Radcliffe

I confess that despite the fact that we both might be called liberals or progressives, I often don't like Radcliffe's writing.

I started reading this article with low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised for several pages up to the point where he provided two practical examples.

In fairness to Radcliffe on these two examples, he states that he is over generalizing and simplifying points that need further reflection.

Nevertheless, I feel he misses the mark in precisely the manner that I often find so dissapointing in his writing.

He presents a picture of the left that is simply indefensible in my opinion.

Yet, i liked most of the article, so let's look at everything.

He abandons the terms "liberal" and "conservative" and speaks instead of "Kingdom Catholics" and "Communion Catholics".

The former is represented in the theolgical journals by contribiters to Concilium such as Rahner, Schillebeeckx and Gutierrez.

The latter is represented in the theolgical journals by contribiters to Communio such as Hans von Balthasar and the then Joseph Ratzinger.

Radcliffe does an excellent job describing the common sense of "root shock" or spiritual homelessness both groups share in common.

He does an excellent job explaining how each has a unique way of seeing church as a home, and makes the case that a way out of polarization is having a conversation about this common experience.

He acknowledges how and why Communion Catholics are distrustful of the notion of "dialogue" if this means sacrificing "truth".

I'm reading this and thinking "Bingo".

He goes on in defense of "dialogue" understood as "conversation", and I'm liking what he is saying.

He uses Aquinas as an example of an innovator in conversation with a tradition Aquinas, himself, holds in reverence.

Again, I'm thinking "Bingo".

He points to something I myself have considered.

We are "Roman Catholics" - where "Roman" is local, specific, and strong on identity, and "catholic" is universal, all inclusive, reaching out to the world.

I'm loving this.

He tells the story of his own long-haired youth, and I'm chuckling at the images in this moment of self-deprecating humor. He takes a pot shot at his own group in the way they abandoned the uniformity of the habit to embrace the uniformity of black polo neck jerseys and blue jeans.

Then he introduces the examples of liturgy and sexual morality as examples of where "conversation" can bear fruit.

His presentation is such that I would definitely take sides - and take sides with the Communion Catholics (the more conservatives). And that is where I think he misses the boat.

I feel this way often when I read him. I wind up siding with conservatives against him.

In the liturgy debates, he states that the tension is between those who see liturgy as something received, and those who see it as something created anew in each time and place.

The tension is expressed as follows:

This is the difference between those priests who begin the Eucharist by saying, "The Lord be with you," and those who say, "Good morning. It's wonderful to see you all here today."
I see liturgy as something received in this dichotomy - which is simply a false dichotomy.

What is received is something that someone created, and others have re-worked. I do not recreate it out of whole clothe. Adherence to the rubrics matter.

If you don't say "The Lord be with you", you're robbing people of the beauty of what is received - as though you were cutting the edges off a fine painting.

If you replace "The Lord be with you" with "Good morning. It's wonderful to see you all here today", worse than cutting the edges off a painting, you are painting over top of a masterpiece - and in a manner like putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

It's just sacriladge!

But, if you started by saying "Good morning. It's wonderful to see you all here today. The Lord be with you".....

Well, maybe like the innovators of the past, you are adding something of beauty to what is received,....

Think of the liturgy as a group painting,..., or authors who collaborate on a novel, or a play where each actor plays off the others in expressing feeling even while retaining the script.

There are portions you have no right or ability to "tinker with" and portions where you can add to the beauty by creative innovation.

On sexual morality, Radcliffe makes it seem that the tension is between truth and "pastoral solutions".

If that is the choice, I choose truth.

But's that's a false dichotomy in my mind. We are all after the truth on the hot button issues of sexual morality.

Many of us who find ourselves in disagreement with "Communion Catholics" are not simply saying that the Communion Catholics need to be more pastorally sensitive in presenting their case - as though they're ultimately right, but we don't want to scare away those who find it difficult to live the ideal.

We're saying they might be flat out wrong about the ideal - about what God is revealing about sexual morality through scripture, tradition, and natural law.

Note I said that the Communion Catholics "might be" wrong.

Kingdom Catholics aren't absolutely sure who is right or wrong, but all of our promotion of "dialogue" or "conversation" is meant to say that we want a better reason to believe some of the truth claims of Communion Catholics than "The Pope said so. This is our identity. If you don't like it, get out."

Persuade us instead of bullying us, and if persuasion is truly impossible, admit you might be in partial error in the truth claims themselves.

Despite these two weak examples in my mind, the article is worth a read. I'd be especially interested in what Communion Catholics seeking a stronger "Roman" identity think of the article.


Response to a Reader's Comment on "Because I'm Human (Part II),....

My response wasn't fitting my comboxes, which probably means I'm using more words than necessary.

Regardless, here is the quote and response:

Is the idea here that knowledge of and union with God is a means to the end of being fully human by loving all other human beings according to the golden rule?

No. The idea here is to flat out say that if you do not love people, you do not know God. Period.

Your acts of prayer are idolatrous if they lead you away from loving people. You pray to a false god unless your prayer is resulting in greater love of others.

... As opposed to morality being a means to the end of knowledge of and union with God?

Morality is not an ends to the means of knowing God. You know God by doing the works of God to your ability. God is love, and when you love others to your maximum capacity, you know God to your maximum capacity.

And/or is the idea here that the two cannot be separated?

Exactly. Love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated.

The first epistle of John makes this perfectly clear.

Whoever claims to love God while hating his neighbor is in darkness (1 Jn 2:11) and a liar (1 Jn 4:20), and where there is love, God is (1 Jn 4:16), and the love of God is brought to perfection in love of neighbor (1 Jn 4:12).

The epistle also warns us not to love "the world" but clarifies this to mean "the things of the world" and "its enticements" (1 Jn 2:15-16).

When things are valued more than people, you are in idolatry.

For example, if your career comes before your family, you are in idolatry, and this is a far bigger "family values" issue than whether gays can legally marry.

Even if the notion of loyalty to family comes ahead of loving another person, you are not following God's voice (Lk 14:26 makes this explicit). We are called to love ALL people, and not just family.

Of course, when the demands of two people conflict, the law may give us guidence as to what is most loving.

For example, love for others even over family does not mean we have sanction to commit adultery. Broken promises to one we love are not excused by making the same or lesser promise to another.

Yet, love for others outside of family does mean that we may be called upon to forsake family for a greater good, such as when Martin Luther King gave his life for the cause of all African Americans.

A more practical example might be refusing to do evil simply because your family engages in it - such as practicing genocide with your brother and cousins.

The writer of the first epistle of John also states that whoever denies Christ come in the flesh walks in darkness.

Yet, we must remember he is writing to believers, and the emphasis should be on what the author means by "in the flesh" - that God is revealed in flesh and blood, not abstractions that lead away from love of flesh and blood people.

In the same vein, much of Paul's railing against the law pitting grace against the law is aimed at conveying the notion that flesh and blood people come before the abstractions of the law.

Paul is an abstract thinker - perhaps more than any other writer. The issue is not thinking abstractly, per se, but placing ideology over people.

Paul recognizes that the concrete test of abstractions is love expressed in concrete deed.

Saint Paul sums up the point very succinctly in Rom 13:10 - that love of neighbor is the essence of the law.

In presenting the golden rule in Mt 7:12, Christ says that the rule is the entire law and prophets. Many of Christ's criticisms of the pharisees aim at placing adherence to law above love.

If they cannot be separated, then please elaborate on how "the secular humanists and the agnostics and the atheists so ofteen see the basic demands of being a decent human being before the rest of us ('religious')!"

Many secularists reject formal religion because of the cruelty of religious people comitted in the name of God.

A Muslim blows himself up with innocent civilians claiming Allah rewards such acts. Christians fight in crusades and holy wars or initiate inquisitions to burn heretics in the name of God (or just run blogs refering to gay rights activists as nazis and democrats as the evil party). Jews have siezed land from others in the name of God. Hindus wage war resorting to terrorism against Muslims in the Kashmire or other places. Cults form like in waco under david Koresh. And so on,....

In many cases, those who would take an axe to the head of another do so with a certainty that God commands the action - a certainty they seem to have reached either during hours of prayer, or despite hours spent in prayer.

The test of knowledge of God is not in the amount of time spent in formal religious practice or the type of formal religious practice.

The test of knowledge of God is solely and entirely your capacity to love people.

If hour upon hour of formal prayer is making you more loving to people, then your prayer is working to help you come to know God.

Maybe some people start from a place in the journey towards God that becoming a hermit seems the best way to grow in love, but even the hermit must learn to love others, or he or she is no saint.

Jesus' prayer in the hillsides nourished his capacity to continue to "go about doing good."

If you are not prayerful and not loving of people, perhaps hour upon hour of prayer will help you become more loving.

I'm not knocking prayer, and I could not live or love without prayer.

However, if you spend hour upon hour in prayer and can still commit an act of terrorism, you either have growth to achieve yet, or your prayer is to an idol - a false god, perhaps even the devil.

In what ways does the perspective advocated in the "Because I'm Human" posts complement or contrast with the old Baltimore Catechism bit that "God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven" ?

God is love (1 Jn 4:8).

We all know that "falling in love" is one of the most ecstatic of human experiences.

Unless I totally misunderstand him, Pope Benedict made exactly this point in his only encyclical to date - that erotic love leading to ecstacy is the foundational experience that moves us to agape in one action of eros becoming agape.

Eros leads to ecstacy and ecstacy takes us out of ourselves until we lose ourselves in the other, at which point, the concerns of the other become our own concern.

If I lose myself in God, God's concerns are my concerns, and we all know intellectually that God loves everyone with an unimaginable love.

If your prayer isn't leading you to translate this intellectual belief into practice, it is not true prayer.

It doesn't matter whether you pray the rosary or engage in the wordless meditation of the zen buddhist or spend an hour reflecting on scripture or offer incense to rama krishna. If what you are doing enables you to love, you are drawing closer to the true God.

If we are praying to the true God, as we lose ourselves in him, the concerns of the people around us become our concerns.

This acceptance of responsibility for the happiness and well being others is not the drudgery of obediently doing a duty imposed from without compelled by fear. Perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn 4:18).

Rather, we accept concern for others as a responsibility because we are ecstatically lost in love for the other.

When we love humanity deeply, we are already experiencing a foretaste of perfect union with God.

We learn what God is not through memorized creed.

Rather, we learn what God is by doing what God is, which is love. Creed merely tries to express what is discovered in love.

I'm not knocking creed, because I do think the creeds sum up love.

The atheist or agnostic who loves humanity deeply with no awareness of God as a separate being is actually in closer union with the being we believers call God than anyone sitting around in private meditation trying to discern the nature of God through intellectual abstractions.

This post was not a treatise against prayer, however, because I emphasized that prayer is in the nature of the human person, and even Jesus retreated to the hillsides to pray.

But the measure of being a decent human being in both the eyes of God and the eyes of humanity is emphatically NOT in the amount of time or the method of quiet time in the hillsides.

Rather, the measure of our knowledge of God is love for others, and the one who loves others more because of quiet time in the hillsides is on the right path.

This is a joyful path that will carry one through even the trials of love. Every loving parent knows that love hurts, but the pain doesn't over-ride the joy of parenting.

The cross is inevitable in the life of love.

Yet, the cross is not acts of freely chosen asceticism. Jesus did not commit suicide. He was brutally murdered by those who fail to love, because in some way, the radical love he preached and put into practice seemed threatening to them.

This radical love is threatening. We're talking about a loss of self in concern for others.

Yet, even in saying that we lose ourselves, we do find ourselves, as the gosples repeatedly remind us. The one who forsakes the selfish demands of family to obey the demands of love will gain many more family members until his or her family embraces all of humanity.

If the rule is to treat others as we want to be treated, we never lose sight of what we wanted before the demands of love drove us out of ourselves.

An interior process begins of distinguishing wants from needs so that we begin to recognize the "enticements" of the "things of the world" for what they are - idols.

Thus, we come to recognize - like a parent with a child - the needs of others as distinguished from the passing wants of the other, not because wants are evil, but only that they are of lesser importance to the overall good of the other.

A parent knows his child wants food and wants chocolate. The parent may say to the child, "You can have some chocolate after you finish your dinner", not because chocolate is evil, but because the craving the child has for food cannot be met by chocolate alone.

Our own personal wants and needs never vanish in authentic Christian asceticism, because our basic cravings at the most primal and non-verbal level are good. Sin distorts cravings to the point of unhealthiness.

In revelation, we recognize our unhealth - our sickness - when it reaches the point where we no longer are moved to compassion for the suffering of another.

If we sit eating chocolate to our heart's content while our neighbor is starving, we are sick, and no amount of ritual adherence to prayer is going to change the fact that we are sick.

The prophets of the Old Testament railed against those who sat in luxury in the courts of the king while poverty increased in Israel, and directly tied this situation to idolatry and spoke of it as sickness.

Getting well is through conversion, which is the true meaning of "penance". Stop eating chocolate and give it to your neighbor whoi is hungry.

When you recognize that the chocolate was not needed by you and does not meet the real need of your neighbor for real nourishment, stop purchasing so much chocolate and buy food that will nourish you and your neighbor.

When he or she is strong enough, like a child learning to feed him or herself, teach your neighbor to obtain his or her own food, but not as an abdication of responsibility to your neighbor.

When both of you are well fed, don't go back to eating excessive chocolate, but work together to save another starving person.

Keep the circle of loving concern growing more and more and wider and wider until it encompasses everyone - not just in abstract philosophies of saying it is good idea to love all people - but in concrete deeds that meet the most urgent needs of real people.

Believers in every religion have come to recognize this, and even some atheist "get it" and reject organized religion because so few believers seem to "get it".

It is in this practice of loving people that we come to know God.

In the corporal works of mercy, we are not doing something in order to pray, but bearing the very fruit of true prayer in the most direct encounter with God possible - finding God in another person.

What we do to the least person, we do to Christ, which is to say we do it to God.

In the incarnation, God is telling us to stop looking in our navels or seeking the heavens to find him. The incarnation is God screaming at us that She stands right next to us in other people.

We see this concretely in the sacraments Christ instituted. Not a single one of them can be done alone.

Every one of them require at least two living people.

Baptism involves baptizer and baptized. Confirmation involves the person administrating and the recipient, as does reconciliation and ordination and the annointing of the sick. Marriage involves husband and wife before witnesses. Even a private mass requires the presence of an altar server with the priest, and is discouraged if a full congregation can be formed.

Christ is present where two or three gather, and when we pray in our closets, we pray with the communion of saints THROUGH the man, Jesus, the Christ.

We never act before God alone, but always with all his other sons and daughters, which is ultimately every person created in the divine image.

Even the notion that Christ founded a Church aims to say that we human beings need each other to be fully human and fully alive and fully in union with God. A Church cannot exist as only one person and God.

These scriptural inferences are all signs of the distinctively Christian way of saying that we need each other and in each other we find God, but all "organized religion" is a communal encounter with God.

When we find ourselves competing with other religious bodies to the point where acting in unloving ways to one another becomes thinkable because of our religious differences, we are losing our way and falling into idolatry.

It is not us against them when it comes to true religion, but our way of talking about how we are all inter-related in dialogue with another way of talking about how we are all inter-related.

The ultimate test that we are straying from the true path is that when the unthinkable becomes thinkable, we are lost, no matter how much we were praying and adhering to laws of religion.

Genocide is unthinkable to a child. Ethnic cleansing is learned behavior, and learned with great difficulty.

Ask any child if these things like this make sense and he or she will respond with ease that killing others in the name of God is simply not fair.

Thus, the scriptures can say that out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom to foil the enemy and we are to accept the reign of God like children.

Our common humanity is more central to identity than our being Roman Catholic, and any theory of what it means to be Roman Catholic that robs us of seeing others as bound in common with us as human beings is a heretical notion of what it means to be Roman Catholic.

In what ways does the perspective advocated in the "Because I'm Human" posts complement or contrast with the old Baltimore Catechism bit that "God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven" ?

God made me to know him, and I do not know him except in loving my neighbor.

God made me to love him, and I cannot love him in any other way than in loving my neighbor.

God made me to serve him, and I serve him when I serve my neighbor.

God made me to be happy with him here and forever in the next life, and when I lose myself in ecstatic love for others in this life, I am already tasting this happiness that will see me through the trials of this life until we get to heaven where every tear will be wiped away and we will all celebrate together in a banquet of joyful love.


Response to a Co-Worker's Question

A co-worker in the world outside of cyberspace who likes to have a glass of wine with dinner asked me how to respond to a friend who believes all alcohol consumption is a sin.

I imagine many Roman Catholics run in to this question from time to time, though my co-worker is a non-denominational Christian.

Anyway, I wrote and handed her the following to pass on to her friend.

The Bible and alcohol:

Nowhere in the entire Scriptures is there a single command that forbids the drinking of alcoholic beverages.

Many verses warn against excessive drinking to "drunkenness", and there even verses that warn of forming an addiction to strong drink.

However, there is not a single verse from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 that absolutely forbids drinking.

Indeed, the Bible is heavy laden with verses that seem to encourage the moderate use of alcohol and/or use the joy of alcoholic wine as a sign or symbol of God's reign.

Here are some specific passages to the point:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of what food you eat or what you drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others. (Rom 14:17-18)
Saint Paul writes against those who believe that salvation depends upon specific works of self denial. In the above passage, he is explicitly addressing a variety of opinions in the early church.

The context clearly indicates that those whom he addresses are ascetics who are strict vegetarians, and/or those who cling to kosher regulations, and even those who refuse to eat meat offered to an idol because of the scandal it may cause.

Included are those who do not ever drink any alcohol and look down on those who do with self righteous indignation.

Elsewhere, Paul says to the self-righteous ascetics:
Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Tim 5:23)
Clearly, wine may be drunk for medicinal purposes if no other reason.

Contemporary health studies confirm that a glass or two of wine per day can be beneficial for health, and alcoholic beverages have been used through the centuries in palliative care for surgical patients prior to the discovery of stronger narcotics.

Did Jesus drink alcoholic wine?

It is sometimes argued that references to Jesus drinking wine in the New Testament are really indications that Jesus drank grape juice.

If this were true, how do we make sense of the following parallel passage found in Matthew and Luke:
To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, 'We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, 'He is possessed by a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, 'Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is vindicated by her works. (Mt 11:16-19)

Then to what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, 'We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.' For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, 'He is possessed by a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, 'Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is vindicated by all her children. (Luke 7:31-35)
How could the opponents of Jesus call him a "glutton and a drunkard" if it were consistently his practice to avoid any alcoholic beverage?

Consider the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine. This is a Jewish wedding among people who have not yet come to faith in Christ.

Have you been to a Jewish wedding?

What sort of Jewish wedding would serve grape juice in lieu of wine?

Furthermore, this is an age prior to the discovery of chemical preservation and the refrigerator.

How does one store grape juice without it fermenting into wine for any period of time?

Some arguments are made that the alcoholic content of wine in the days of Jesus was weaker than today's wines, and there is some possible truth to this. Yet, the verses above indicate that the wine of Jesus' day was sufficient to make one drunk.

In the verses from Matthew/Luke above, Jesus seems to be saying that when the ascetic, John the Baptist, came advocating a more severe life-style of self-denial (singing the funeral dirge), he was said to be possessed by a demon and eventually beheaded.

When the Christ came preaching the reign of God is like a wedding banquet (piping the flute for a dance), he was called a glutton and a drunkard.
Jesus ate and drank (wine) with public sinners such as prostitutes, treasonous tax collectors for Rome, and other "heretics".

The clear witness of scripture is that Jesus drank alcoholic wine and did not discourage it among his disciples.

The witness of Christian history:

In later Church history, a Christian missionary from Italy to England in the fifth century wrote back to the bishop of Rome that "These people are different than us. They drink to get to get drunk."

There is a cultural difference between the English speaking world and the Mediterranean people that many anthropologist note even in our own day.

All around the Mediterranean, alcoholic wine is often drank with meals because the water was historically impure, and wine came to be associated with the joy of life.

Yet, in these cultures, most people do not drink to the sort of drunkenness that English speaking countries associate with alcohol consumption.

The scriptures are clear that we are to avoid drunkenness – that point of alcohol consumption where one may lose control of your actions and cause harm to others or do things that would normally violate conscience.

We are also avoid substance addiction that can become a sort of idolatry whereby things are placed at a higher value than love of neighbor or love of God.

However, there is no indication anywhere in scripture that the moderate enjoyment of alcohol or the use of alcohol for medicinal purposes is forbidden.

This is not only the common understanding of all Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, but also nearly all European Protestants. The early reformers, such as Luther, were known to preach in taverns with beer in hand!

The strict prohibitions against alcohol in Christian communities finds its sole expression very late in history and almost exclusively in English speaking countries with Protestant majorities.

In such cultures where populations may have historically been more prone to alcohol abuse prior to the arrival of Christianity, it is understandable that many Christians would chose abstinence as a counter-cultural witness.

Yet, historic Christianity has never witnessed to absolute prohibitions on alcohol consumption. Indeed, Catholic monks and nuns make some of the best spirits in the world between praying the scriptures seven times per day.

The point of a witness to abstinence from alcohol cannot be an absolute moral prohibition on all consumption of alcoholic beverages as though such consumption is intrinsically evil.

Rather, abstinence from alcohol should be understood as analogous to the witness of John the Baptist's diet of locust and honey, or the practice of fasting, or the celibate witness of Saint Paul and today's Catholic priests.

The Biblical parallel is to the Nazarite vow to refrain from wine and haircuts.

Such a witness is not meant to be a rule applying always and everywhere to every Christian.

Rather, it is a special calling or vocation given to an individual as a prophetic witness against a certain prevalent excess unique to a given culture.

In addition to those called to prophetic witness, those who have a family history of alcoholism or personal experience with drug addiction may do very well to embrace total abstinence from alcohol.

The general "rule" outlined in the Word of God that applies to all people and all times is NOT to total prohibition, but moderate enjoyment of this gift God gave us foreshadowing the joy we will have in heaven at that banquet where Christ will once again share the fruit of the vine with us that he gave his disciples at the last supper.