Friday, December 29, 2006

Regarding Saddam Hussein's Execution

Saddam Hussein was a man who undeniably did grave evil.

His execution was unnecessary, and therefore immoral.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. May perpetual light shine upon him, and may his soul and the souls of all of the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thoughts on the Feast of the Holy Innocents

I have been taking some time off from any heavy blogging for Advent and Christmas, partly due to some recent surgery, but also just to be quiet and pray.

I also have some time off from work, and I've been enjoying this time for prayer, family, friends, rest and relaxation.

I woke up a little later than usual today and just finished Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, and I'm in an odd mood from this prayer.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

The story goes that King Herod heard from the wise men that a baby had been born in Bethlehem who would be king of Israel.

Consulting his seers and learned rabbis, he confirmed that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David - and if we took the story of the Roman census literally, all of David's descendents were known to be gathering there.

The Gospel says Herod ordered the death of every male child under the age of two in the city.

Baby Jesus escapes only because Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and the child to Egypt.

Historical studies confirm that Herod was a cruel despot with very paranoid tendencies.

The historicity of this census is at least questionable, and we don't have any extra-biblical confirmation of the slaughter of the innocents, but it is certainly the type of thing Herod might have done.

But I don't really want to write about whether the story happened in reality or not.

Things like this happen frequently - such as in Dafur today. We are reminded to pray and work for innocents who suffer.

For years, I associated this feast with Catholic Christian longing for the world to come to respect the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until natural death.

I often pray for the unborn in a special way on this feast.

I'm sure many American Catholics share this sentiment, and that also is not what I want to write about.

What is hitting me like a ton of bricks this morning as I say Lauds is the way the "official" or communal prayers of the Church make a mockery of what we are saying occurred!

The First petition reads thus:

We rejoice in the glory of Jesus Christ, who conquered the enemy not by force of arms but with a white-robed army of children....
Throughout this morning's prayer is this implied notion that the slaughter of innocent babies gives glory to God.

There is a response to petitions that goes "The white robed army of martyrs praise you."

We are "reminded" that these innocents gave "witness" by their life's blood. We are not to despair while seeing their victory. They glory with the Lord.

One antiphone reminds us of the Psalmist's words that from the mouths of children and babies, God has found perfect praise.

The implication is that the death of the innocents, itself, is intrinsically meaninful and clearly gives God glory.


The death of a baby gives no glory to God.

If anything, the death of a single baby anywhere in the world is the greatest argument against God!

The mere fact that God allowed this to happen raises the valid question of whether God is even a good God, if God exists at all in a world where babies die!

And it doesn't matter whether the Gospel story of this particular slaughter is "true" or not, because things like this story do happen, and with rather great frequency through history.

Where is God when stuff like this occurs?

Now, I don't really want to try to write a defense of the ways of God to humanity here.

It is not my intention to set out explaining the unexplainable mystery of human suffering.

The best I can offer is that on the cross, God is with us in suffering, and through the resurrection, a promise of deliverance was made.

But suffering has no intrinsic worth that is obvious in itself.

It is certainly not my point to question or cast doubt upon the joy we hope that the Holy Innocents throughout history might be experiencing now in heaven.

Perhaps they praise God in heaven now, face to face. But we on earth do not see this!

If there is a heaven, and if God is just in any way we can apprehend, and anyone at all has made it to heaven already, it is the little babies throughout history that die before their time!

That's our hope, but our hope is not intrinsically obvious in the horrific death of a baby.

I do not fault the writers of the Divine Office for trying to find meaning in the overwhelming sadness of the suffering of innocents - which is a perfectly natural human tendency.

I fault them for claiming that the meaning is inherent in the suffering and death of an innocent baby.

I do not fault them for placing an emphasis on the ultimate hope of the mystery of the hereafter. There isn't much else we could say.

There is not much else we could say precisely because the death of an innocent person - such as a baby - makes no sense and has no inherent meaning that we can perceive in this life!

If we lose sight of the fact that the death of an innocent is inherently and intrinsically meaningless, tragic, evil, and an affront and accusation against God, we risk losing our very humanity!

In this time space continuum where we currently live and breathe and have our being, the death of a baby screams to heaven for vindication.

When we see no vindication on earth, God continues to appear guilty of an horrendous crime along with the Herod's of the world.

I cannot explain why God allows babies to die.

What I can say is that the death of a baby is tragic, and gives glory to nobody!

Claiming the death of a single baby gives some sort of glory to God in this life is not only absurd, it is obscene!


Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Hanukkah

I don't rember exactly why I was in the synagogue. Whatever the event was has been forgotten.

What I remember is that when I entered, to my immediate left was a sort of mosaic in the wall.

It depicted nothing other than people spiraling upwards from some sort of abyss, with various things behind the people or in their hands.

As I stared at the mosaic, I began to recognize some of the people based on hints to the Biblical narrative.

There was Noah.I don't exactly recall how I knew. Maybe he had the Ark behind him.

Moses was clearly identifiable. Maybe he was holding the tablets of stone.

I recognized David, maybe by a crown.

There were women too. And people I did not recognize who seemed to be of a clearly post-biblical age.

For a moment, it struck me how much the mosaic was like an image I'd seen of the face of the crucified Christ formed by saints and holy people throughout history.

For a moment, I thought about how similar this piece of art is to some of what I know in the Catholic devotion to the communion of saints.

And then, it dawned on me in that moment that there was something very different about what I was looking at.

This was a family portrait!

I was standing in a building constructed as a gathering place by and for some of the direct biological descendants - blood relatives - of these holy people - this holy family.

I was standing where this blood family congregates to live out traditions older than my own, and that form the basis of my own traditions. From this biological family, came the one I call my savior.

Prophecy, priesthood, royalty and holiness runs through the veins of this people - the chosen people.

Salvation is from the Jews.

Happy Hanukkah to our elders in faith.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Great Article on Interreligious Dialogue

The link is to an article first published in Communio 25 no. 1 pp 29-41 in 1998 by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger - now known as Pope Benedict XVI.

I think it is probably the best online article on what interrelious dialogue should be that I have ever read.

Not everyone will agree with my positive assesment.

It would be best to read it yourself, but the basic gist is that we should not hope to unite all religions in our life-times or make the whole world one religion.

Nor should we, nor could we believe that our own religion possesses a lock on truth and we alone are saved while everyone else is going to hell.

Nor should we each form our own private synchretism in an individualistic and reletavist fashion.

Nor should we assume that all religions really teach the exact same thing at some deep mystical level that could be discerned by reducing all religions to some elusive lowest common denominator.

Rather, the right attitude in his mind - the attitude all believers in any of the major world religions should hold - is that their own religion DOES possess the fullness of truth necessary for salvation - AND that others share aspects of this truth - AND that when we talk to each other, we are not presenting something entirely foreign to one another.

In Ratzinger's view, it is the debate over truth that is to be desired by all.

The process is the end itself. In dialogue, both parties learn even if they never agree. The dialogue serves no extrinsic purpose leading to unity.

Where we have disagreements, we should not seek to abandon our own faith claims in pursuit of that ever elusive lowest common denominator. Nobody should do that - whether Christian, Jew, Muslim or whatever.

Instead, each participant in the dialogue should DEFEND his or her faith claim, and even try to persuade the other of the truth of the claim.

Thus, in Ratzinger's mind, the call to mission and evangelization and the call to religious dialogue and ecumenism are one and the same and identical calling.

If converts are made to Catholicism through this process, we'll give praise to God. If two parties do reach complete agreement, we'll give praise for that.

Yet, if no complete agreement is reached, we'll still give praise to God for what we learned while in dialogue.

And we remain open to partial concessions.

For example, the Christian can accept that a Jew is saved in the same way we already believe Moses and Isaiah were saved. Ratzinger invites the Jew to accept that Jesus is at least a servant of God, if not the unique Son of God.

Further, there are genuine points of agreement on particular points that can and should be celebrated. Both Jew and Christian share much in common through the Hebrew scriptures we call the Old Testament.

Part of dialogue is sharing and discerning our likeness and commonality, even while part of the dialogue is also aimed at distinguishing difference and trying to persuade one another.

Some people put too much emphasis on finding commonality while sacrificing what is unique. Others focus so much on differences that we come to feel there is no common ground.

The truth is in a "both/and" that preserves our differences while celebrating our common ground.

In Ratzinger's mind, if you enter dialogue with no intent to proseletize, it isn't a genuine, honest, and frank dialogue that seeks truth with a capital "T".

This makes some degree of sense to me, because the bottom line is that many religions have at their core that they are under a moral imperative to spread the good news of their claims.

To abandon this imperative is to abandon the faith itself - to water the religion down to something it was not at its origin - to invent a new religion, and not a very vibrant one at that.

It isn't only Catholics who have a tendency to "triumphalism". Anyone who has engaged in dialogue with many Muslims or many conservative evangelical Protestants knows that many religions believe they possess something of value that differentiates them from others - and genuine dialogue must respect that position.

Yet, if you proseletize with a belief the other cannot be saved in his or her current faith and you have no intend to understand the other and no reverence for what the other already believes, you may very well be doing the devil's work.

Post modern contemporary Western society is rightly suspect of fanaticism that assumes others are in a such a lower state that they need our intervention.

We have come to recognize scientifically, politically, philosophically, and even theologically, that there is such a thing as being absolutely certain and absolutely wrong about your absolute certainties.

We have come to see how some forms of certainty are rooted in the sin of pride and can contribute to evils like terrorism.

Ratzinger points out that even the effort in the West to find a rational objective stance above all religious claims in secular humanism is an impossible goal wrought with the same dangers of excessive certainty about things that cannot be known so certainly.

If he seems to be advocating a practical relativism, he is also asserting that there is such a thing as truth - capital "T" objective truth - which all religious believers intuitively know and seek.

Ratzinger explicitly states we must accept valid criticism from others, and that others will have valid criticism of Catholics and Catholicism.

Yet, he wants others to accept our valid critique where it is offered.

Though the term isn't used in this article, the notion of reciprocity so prevelant out of the Vatican today is implied in his thinking.

He wants to defend Catholic tradition, Catholic identity, and Catholic values and faith claims.

Yet, even while doing so, we should seek to really and truly understand the faith claim of the other that is being presented and defended before us - with an assumption that in that foreign claim, something perhaps already seminally known as true from within our own tradition is being presented to us BY GOD.

As the prophets sometimes saw the hand of God in Assyrian or Babylonian conquest of Israel, Ratzinger believes God sometimes uses non-Christians to bring a clearer understanding of truth to Christians.

Ratzinger is going so far as to imply that it is impossible to really and fully apprehend the fullness of the essential message of Christianity if one is unable to appreciate with reverence and genuine understanding the gift of contemporary Judaism or Islam.

And he boldly proclaims that the same holds true for the Jew or Muslim. If they fail to understand Christian claims, they miss something within their own tradition.

It's an almost arrogant claim - since he is making a claim about what is true for Jews or Muslims.

Ratzinger acknowledges that a Muslim can be a better Muslim and a Jew a better Jew, and a Christian a better Christian through inter-religious dialogue - though he is very explicit that this is not the goal, per se.

While we all may be enriched, the goal is to approach truth, which Ratzinger believes is already fully possesed by the Church, even as he is aware other believers think they possess the fullness of truth.

You have to look at his argument to make sense of it. To put it simply, what is foreign always reminds us that all religions do hold that God is always beyond words even as we insist that the words we use are "true".

In Christian terms, as God empties himself into the human condition and assumes a nature other than God's own, Christians must empty themselves before others and assume something foreign.

Yet, as Christ never lost an iota of his divinity, so too, we must never lose what is essential to our Catholic faith.

In the mystical and apophatic traditions of all major religions, as well as in some claims of all major theisms, a similar stance can be affirmed.

We can all strive to be empty before each other and to assume something foreign from the other without losing an iota of ourselves, and in doing so, we ourselves are enriched.

Ratzinger acknowledges the pragmatic value of seeking to establish a common ethical framework that promotes "peace, justice, and the integrity of creation".

It should be well known by now (as he most recently affirmed in Turkey) that Ratzinger believes it intrinsically evil (always and everywhere, regardless of circumstances) to kill a human being in the name of God.

Whatever a "just war" is to Ratzinger, it is not a divine mandate.

Perhaps his recent Regensburg address was aimed, at least in part, at trying to spark a dialogue about the very issue of whether God ever demands killing - and Ratzinger wants to persuade everyone that God cannot make such a command without violating Her own nature.

This seems to be part and parcel of what he is saying in this article, even if he doesn't explicitly bring it out.

Dialogue is respectful of basic human dignity. So is proselytism, since the two are one and the same action.

If we violate human dignity by killing or unjust coercion, we are not in dialogue and we are not proseletyzing. We are simply committing sin, plain and simple - and Christians in dialogue with those who don't accept this must try to convince the other that the ground rules ARE respect for the human person.

So, he favors seeking a pragmatic common ethic - but points out that such an endeavor will inevitably involve debates and disagreements and pluralism.

In other words, the effort itself is morally obligatory. The result is absolutely unachievable in our life times. It is the process that matters. Not the result.

What he is saying is that we can agreeably disagree, and must do so.

Presumably, he favors working with others on common cause projects where common cause exists.

We know from his criticisms of "inter-religious prayer" that he makes a distinction between the notion of praying for the same thing in the same place with others, and claiming to pray to the same God in united voice.

He accepts the former, but rejects the latter as sometimes impossible.

Even when he recently prayed in a mosque, one can imagine that he may very well have been silently saying a Hail Mary while the Muslims bowed to Allah.

Or, even if he were engaging in a prayer directly to God, it is clear from everything he has said in the past that he does not believe that Allah of a Muslim and God of a Christian are exactly identical synonymns.

I think a way of putting it is that my wife and my daughter will never - ever - in their entire lives - relate to me in the exact same way, even though both relate to the same being (Me) every day.

Ratzinger is saying it is foolhardy to claim all religions draw us into the exact same sort of relationship with God.

But it is also simply erroneous to say absolutely and universally that we aren't relating to the same being.

We love God, and we therefore want to know God.

If I want to know my Dad better, it is certainly a good idea for me to talk to Dad.

But I also can gain some insight into who Dad really is by talking to Mom or my siblings or any number of other people who know my Dad.

Talking to Mom will give me insights I would not have otherwise gained into who my Dad really is. But I will never be the wife of my Dad no matter what.

We know that Ratzinger once said that all other religions are in a deficient state compared to Roman Catholicism.

Ratzinger obviously sees the Christian in a privaleged relationship with God (perhaps as sons and daughters of the Father - or as the bride of Christ).

Presumably, his view is that others could, or even should say the exact same thing about their own faith, and defend it.

He is well aware that we will disagree. In his mind, universal agreement is neither possible, nor particularly desirable.

It is the debate, itself, with an openess to new insight gained by each participant through the process of debate, that is desirable.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Feeling Much Better

I went in for my post-op check up today, and the doctor says that I'm healing well.

To me, the real sign things are getting better is that I have about 72 hours now without any major pain.

I wish I had something profound to say about pain from this experience,..., but I don't.

About all I can say is that when you know it will have an end (which I always did), it seems bearable, and it sort of hightened my awareness of how really, really good the world normally is.

I'm not in a rush to get back to daily and frequent blogging just yet. I'm sort of enjoying the Advent season without trying to turn everything I think or experience into fodder for writing. Maybe when we get into the new year, I'll be up and running as usual.

In the meantime, I will point to a wonderful little meditation on Giving to the Poor in the recent Commonweal. It seems a very timely topic for the Advent/Christmas season.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Update on Where I Am

After Thanksgiving, I had surgury scheduled that was supposed to be a routine outpatient procedure with only a day of recovery.

Nothing life threatening has occurred, but the procedure did not quite go as planned.

I am in a lot of pain, and will not blogging until I am more fully recovered.