Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Thought for the Day

The link above is to a post today at Amy Welborn's blog.

In turn, Amy links to an article in Christianity Today by a woman who has kept the faith after some disillusionment with churches.

The woman recognizes how messed up churches can be, but finds Christ in helping the homeless.

I was not so impressed with the article as with Amy's comment:

The nugget I took away from her piece was something I have often told others struggling with this - and myself. The only respite she finds from the horrors of church politics and the damage of corruption in church leadership is in direct ministry to the homeless. I told someone struggling with these issues once to decrease his internet time, spent reading about and talking about scandal, and go to daily Mass, then hang out with the old guys who'd been in attendance, and were probably going for coffee right before they went to the St. Vincent de Paul center to do some corporal works of mercy.


Monday, July 30, 2007

A Question I Seldom Think About

I was trying to catch up on my email, and ran across a question from a woman whose question I seldom consider.

She states that she is married, and has absolutely no desire to have children. Neither does her husband have any desire to have children.

I tend to argue the case for temporary non-abortificient contraception within marriage on the grounds that it is morally equivalent to the practice of natural family planning to avoid conception in a marriage open to procreation overall.

And I tend to argue for gay unions on the grounds that it is not morally different from infertile heterosexuals marrying - where infertility is unintentional.

But what about a marriage that is intentionally infertile?

What if one used temporary, yet effective means to avoid conception throughout an entire marriage until menopause?

Is that morally licit?

I think the Church's answer is clearly that it is not. But why not?

Let me rephrase to percolate the question a bit.

Would it be morally licit for a married couple to use natural family planning to avoid conception and/or strict abstinence indefinitely?

Would it be "sinful" to marry sacramentally in the Church, consummate the marriage during a period of infertility, and then live together as brother and sister till the woman is past the age of menopause?

This is difficult to imagine, but here's a scenario where it may make some degree of sense.

Let's assume that a homosexually oriented man and a homosexually oriented woman enjoy each others friendship, even loving one another, but have no sexual attraction to one another.

Further, being somewhat homebodies and introverted and preferring one-on-one companionship over one-to-many ways of relating, they see an advantage to being married for companionship compared to various celibate life-styles of church service.

Neither has felt any sort of vocation to religious life, and both know that living as hermits would bring misery and probable failures in chastity.

Both are Catholics, and want to find a manner of living in accord with Church teaching.

Neither feels any strong compulsion to have children. Indeed, they agree with the CDF that it could be an act of violence for them to raise children as homosexual persons.

Both feel that living alone may expose them to temptations to promiscuity and/or simple feelings of unnecessary loneliness. They do really enjoy each other's company.

Further, living together unmarried might cause "scandal" to the young and others.

And being good conservative Catholics, they do not wish to give any public support to a "so-called gay life-style" by being public about their orientation and life-style choice.

While both of them accept that their "disordered inclinations" seem more or less permanent, they refuse to define their entire identity as homosexual.

So entering honestly into a heterosexual marriage seems a good option for them.

They plan to consummate the marriage - but plan to do so with minimum opportunity to procreate, and then plan to abstain after that.

Both feel that their sexual impulses can be sublimated into endeavors like their work, or art, or writing, or prayer, or volunteer service - so long as they have an intimate life partner to center themselves and share the struggle (even if intimacy is not defined by sex).

Further, by marrying, they realize that they will enjoy certain social benefits, both tangible and intangible.

Would it be immoral for this gay couple to marry primarily for the sake of companionship, with no real desire to procreate?

I can imagine that some conservatives may go along with this sort of marriage, though I may be mistaken.

If this is sinful on the grounds that we are not using our biological capacity to procreate, wouldn't vowed celibacy lived in chaste continence be equally sinful?

If this sort of heterosexual gay union is permitted, does it not open the door to two heterosexuals marrying with no intent to procreate - so long as they use morally licit means to avoid conception?

Of course, nothing I am asking here is exactly the question I received via email.

The woman who emailed me is in her late twenties, heterosexual, unaware of any infertility issues.

She did not say she was practicing natural family planning, or abstaining from sex with her husband, or wanting to live with him like a brother. I presumed she is contracepting in some manner.

I got to thinking that her choice not to have children doesn't seem to hurt anyone but maybe herself or her husband. If neither of them truly want kids, they don't seem to be hurting anyone.

The golden rule does not seem violated, which Christ said is the basis of the law and prophets, and which the CCC says is a primary factor in every moral decision.

It would be difficult to argue there is sin here, unless we presume that people's desire to procreate is so strong that it causes misery not to fulfill it.

But if that is true, where does celibacy fit in the picture?

So, the question is whether a couple with no intention of procreating somehow offend God or the sanctity of marriage.

I am reasonably certain that the Church would say they do.

Yet, as I reflect on the issue abstractly, there would seem to be situations where maybe it is morally licit to marry with no intention to procreate. If so, where do we draw the line?


Friday, July 27, 2007

The True Cost of War

"Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being."
(Par 2258 of the CCC, emphasis added)
There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."
(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, in an interview with Mirchael Griffin on May 2, 2003)
The horror and perversity of war is immensely magnified by the addition of scientific weapons. For acts of war involving these weapons can inflict massive and indiscriminate destruction, thus going far beyond the bounds of legitimate defense.
(Guadium et Spes no. 80)
Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.
(Par 2313 of the CCC)
As of today, the civilian body count in Iraq due to U.S. military intervention is minimally 67,945.

Today's CNN describes the situation in Iraq as follows:
Iraqi politicians are progressively turning into warlords," Peter Harling, senior analyst with the Middle East Program of the Brussels, Belgium-based International Crisis Group. What has been unfolding in the south, he says, is a "very crude struggle over power and resources."

"Violence has become the routine means of interacting with the local population," Harling says of the militias, which have filled the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"They see no interest in seeing a functional state emerge."
Is the current state of roaming death squads, civil war, insurgency, terrorism and rampant crime preferable to the Iraqi civilian than life under Saddam Hussein, as much of a monster as Saddam was?

Is there any hope, even after the surge, that Iraqi government will be anything other than corrupt and authoritarian?

Let us recall that Dick Cheney predicted the everything we see in Iraq today as far back as 1992.

Asked why we did not roll into Baghdad to depose Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War, Cheney stated the following:
I don’t think you could have done that without significant casualties. And the question in my mind is how many additional casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is not that damned many. And we’re not going to get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq....

Now what kind of government are you going to establish? Is it going to be a Kurdish government, or a Shi'ia government, or a Sunni government, or maybe a government based on the old Baathist Party, or some mixture thereof? You will have, I think by that time, lost the support of the Arab coalition that was so crucial to our operations over there.
Back 1992, Cheney was aware of the various factions in Iraq and the difficulty in governing a post Saddam Iraq.

In The Deadly Occupation, The Nation reports that American troops are coming forward to report that non-combatants have been killed indiscriminately:
This Nation investigation, based on interviews with fifty soldiers, sailors and marines, marks the first time so many veterans have spoken on the record about civilian casualties at the hands of US troops in Iraq. They have shown notable courage in speaking out about the horrors they witnessed. Most insisted that only a minority in their ranks have killed civilians indiscriminately. Yet such abuses are common enough that many veterans have returned home with deep emotional scars.

It is time to reckon with the weight of evidence that American forces regularly kill Iraqi noncombatants. Occupying armies with little knowledge of the local culture, fighting guerrillas who mingle among the population, have usually meant disaster for civilians. In Iraq, the impossible mission, poor training and inconsistent and irresponsible rules of engagement have compounded the problem, leading many American soldiers to conclude that endangering civilians is simply the cost of staying safe; to consider all Iraqis the enemy; or, under extreme stress, to lash out in revenge after insurgent attacks.
Another disturbing report from the front lines comes from Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp in The New Republic.

In Shock Troops, writing without his last name, he describes acts of cruelty such as a soldier wearing the skull of a Iraqi civilian on his head, another soldier deliberately running over dogs with a Bradley, and his own cruel taunting of a woman disfigured by an IED.

The controversy generated by his article by right wing talking heads who denied the veracity of the story led Beauchamp to voluntarily reveal his full name.

Have we forgotten our shock at the photos of what American troops did at Abu Ghraib?

War is hell, and it does something to the psyche of those who have to fight in it, even the most morally upright of people in the most morally just of wars.

The greatest cost of the war is being born in the psyche of those fighting it!

Are we ready for these women and men when they return home with all the psychological scars of war?

My chief reasons for opposing the war in Iraq from June of 2002 to the present day always were the physical harm war would do to Iraqi civilians, and the psychic harm it would do to our American troops.

It is because of these two predictable outcomes of all modern warfare that I maintain that Pope Benedict is correct to ask whether a just war is possible today.

If it is possible to wage a just war in our times, these two predictable outcomes of all modern warfare continue to mean that the criteria of "last resort" against aggression already underway absolutely must be present.

By now, most of us know that there was not a single Iraqi on the planes involved in 9/11, and there is absolutely no evidence Iraq was involved in 9/11. There was no evidence prior to the Iraq invasion either.

By now, most of us know that illegal weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq. This is precisely what the U.N. weapons inspectors under Hans Blix told us we would find prior to the invasion.

By now, most of realize that the prophetic voices crying out that there would be a civil war between the Shi'tes, Sunnis, and Kurds were correct.

By now, there is growing awareness that members of the neoconservative members of the Project for the New American Century that make up most of the Bush Administration had advocated a military presence in the Gulf to protect our oil interests long before 9/11.
Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. (see PNAC link p.14, published in 2000)
By now, most of us realize that companies such as Halliburtan, where Dick Cheney served as CEO, have profited from the war.

By now, there is a growing awareness of the means to which the Adminstration would go consolidate executive power to prosecution this war, including obstructing justice in the investigation of the leaking of a CIA agent's name when criticized by the agent's spouse.

The erosion of freedom and our civil liberties is part of the cost of war.

And where some people still want to believe that the intentions of the Administration were good, several years of incompetence in matters like Katrina, Harriet Meyers, and so forth have led us realize by now that the invasion and occupation has minimally been terribly executed.

Those who predicted the war lead to thousands, rather than hundreds of lost American lives were correct. We are up to 3646 American troops dead, and 26,953 wounded.

That's more Americans killed in Iraq than on 9/11.

Let us not forget that 67,945 Iraqi civilians are also dead, and an uncounted number of Iraqi soldiers.

All these deaths, with the psychological damage to the survivors, are the true cost of war.

The damage to the environment is part of the cost of war as well.

Financially, those who predicted the war would cost minimally $200 billion when the President was claiming far less were also correct. The cost to date is now over $446 Million.

Imagine if we spent that much on poverty alleviation and creating good will.

The missed opportunities are part of the cost of war.

Those who predicted a post-invasion Iraq would become a haven for terrorists, and a training grounds for terrorists, and a propaganda tool for terrorists were also correct.

This insecurity, too, is part of the cost of war.

This war has gone on longer than America fought in World War II. It has divided the nation as much or more than Vietnam.

This division is part of the cost of war.

The majority of Iraqis want America out of Iraq, and the majority of Americans seem fed up with the war.

Yet, the Administration and its remnant supporters and the party candidates still speak of staying in Iraq beyond 2008. Whispers of military intervention of Iran circulate.

The Democrats do not seem anxious enough to bring the war to an end.

The nation is growing numb to the violence and craziness of this unjust, unnecessary, illegal, immoral, and insane war.

Our own psychic numbness to the death of innocent people and the pain of others is part of the cost of war.

What do we do now?

The surge does seem to be reducing incidences of violence in some areas, but that hardly says anything. Violence continues, even in areas where the surge has been employed.

The irony is that if the surge merely reduces violence, people will argue we need to stay.

Are we counting up all the true cost of this war when we suggest such things?

The USCCB is stepping up pressure on Congress for a "responsible withdrawal" that should occur "sooner, rather than later".

Reminding law makers of the "serious moral questions" the Conference raised prior to the invasion, the USCCB admits that "Our Conference is under no illusions regarding Iraq. None of the alternative courses of action are without consequences for human life and dignity. There is no path ahead that leads to an unambiguously good outcome for Iraq, our nation and the world."

The USCCB continues to pressure Congress for "end to the war".

I agree.


The Virginity Mystique

Nona Willis-Aronowitz critiques Wendy Shalit's Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be Good.

Shalit has a few good points -- there is something undeniably creepy about a 10-year-old girl in a thong. My stomach does sink a little when I see one of my peers woozily stripping her clothes off on a Girls Gone Wild commercial. And do I want Paris Hilton to be a future role model for my daughter? Hell no. The fact is, many young women are dissatisfied with casual sex, feel ambivalent about the fruits of the sex revolution and buckle under the unwanted pressure to be supersexual.
Then she goes on to say the following:
Most retro about the call for modesty is that it once again implies that women's actions are somehow responsible for men's. Since men simply cannot control themselves, poor things, women should shroud their bodies in cloth and desperately guard their virginity so as to quash men's dishonorable intentions....

..., But the idea that a woman who has lots of sexual partners forgoes her chance of finding "intimacy" and a "soul mate" is not only sanctimonious --it's just not true. Ninety-five percent of Americans have sex before marriage, so chances are a good number of the bikini-clad women making out with strangers at Cancun foam parties will be married with kiddies at the age of 30. The hookup culture isn't a sign of a loveless, commitment-free society--it doesn't even provide an alternative to matrimony.

What the hookup culture does reveal is an unconscious impulse to somehow redefine sex for our current cultural climate. To say that the stars of Girls Gone Wild and the fifth graders looking up to Britney Spears are simply victims of media saturation or feminists gone crazy is insulting. Regardless of the (sometimes harmful) results of one-night stands or sex before high school, these women are looking to experiment, to find a contrast to immediate, eternal companionship. Maybe these sexually precocious girls who fervently imitate sexualized twentysomething role models are picking up on the element of fun that sexiness can bring to everyday life.

How do feminists fit into the modesty debate? Well, awkwardly. Second-wave feminists, who made it possible for women to take control of their own sex lives, are at a loss for words when asked to comment on young women's early, sometimes ill-fated, forays into sex. As Ariel Levy points out in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs, the "new feminism"--pole-dancing and breast implants as empowerment--can often obscure how far we haven't come. The culture has not yet carved out a space for women to indulge their own fantasies rather than to fulfill those of men. Feminism has not finished its job; a version of nonmushy, nonmarital sex that makes women feel good about themselves is still hard to achieve.
I'm quoting at such length to capture the ambiguity the article conveys - the "awkwardness" that Willis-Aronowitz describes.

As a Catholic Christian, I have to say that I think there is a lot of wisdom to the practice of restricting sexual activity to marriage.

As a Catholic Christian, I also have to say that mercy triumphs over "sin", and, along with Aquinas, I hold that the sinner seeks "the good", and therefore seeks God, even in the act of "sinning".

In other words, I agree with Willis-Aronowitz, to some extent, that we need to understand that young people will make mistakes as they make sense out of life.

Nevertheless, who wants their daughter to emulate Paris Hilton?

As a Catholic Christian and a male sympathetic to many feminist concerns, I have to say that I share Willis-Aronowitz's ambiguous feelings about trying to resurrect 1950's style modesty, and the "forced expectations" of such a culture.

In her concluding paragraph, Willis-Aronowitz states the following:
The question remains after all these years: Why should sex have an everlasting warranty of love attached to it?
To me, that's a bit like asking why a sun-set should have a warranty of beauty attached to it.

The question is nonsensical.

It's like the time I was in a freshman chemistry class as an undergrad, and asked the professor after class "Why do atoms seek eight electrons in the outer shell, instead of seven or nine, or some other number?"

To ask "why" is to miss the point. Atoms do seek eight electrons, regardless of whether anyone but God (if we believe there is a God) knows why.

There is no "should" that causes sex to evoke a desire for a warranty of everlasting love. There is no reason to ask "why".

It just does.

It is simply a matter of observation made by overwhelming numbers of people on earth, alive today and through the centuries - expressed in song, poetry, art, drama, religious belief, secular law, philosophy, and even in the statistic Willis-Aronowitz sites that 95 percent of people marry - that sex at its best does have a warranty of everlasting love attached to it.


A Step Backward?

The article above is by Rita Ferrone, for Commonweal. The question mark in the post title is my own addition to her main title.

The article is about Pope Benedict's motu proprio restoring the use of the 1962 Mass of John XXIII.

Ferrone argues quite forcefully that this is a bad move that undermines the entire intent of the Second Vatican Council regarding liturgical reform, and the near unanimous consent of the college of bishops.

She also argues that the desire for this restoration is based upon and encourages some poor theology, and will have devastating pastoral effects.

She points out obvious deficiencies of the older rite compared to the reformed liturgy.

My own opinion, for what it is worth, and which I have stated before, is that this sort of reaction to the motu proprio is an over-reaction.

Ferrone's points are all valid, but the impact of her valid concerns to the wider Church seems over-stated, in my opinion.

It is my opinion that the motu proprio will have little to no effect in the way most Catholics worship.

The reforms of the Second Vatican Council will continue unabated, and the Mass of Paul VI will win the day among the faithful.

I have no problem whatsoever with the idea of making an effort to reconcile with conservative schismatics and/or their sympathizers on issues that are negotiable.

The Tridentine Mass was good for 1,000 years, and it seems silly to me to suggest that it is somehow harmful to the entire faithful to allow the option of using it, even if only a relative tiny minority exercises this option.

I want to be clear here. I am not a Lefebvrite in any way, shape or form. I love the Mass of Paul VI, and have no intention of going to Latin Masses.

On many key theological issues, I would passionately oppose the Society of Saint Pius X, such as ecumenism and our attitude towards the Jews, the role of women in the Church, and so forth.

I just do not see the option the motu proprio allows as being any more harmful to the wider Church than allowing Eastern Rite Catholics to worship according to their ancient rites.

If I have any pastoral concern whatsoever, the main one would be that there may be a strain on priests during a shortage to be able to provide Latin Masses where desired by a sufficient number of people, while also offering the Novus Ordo to the much larger majority that wants the reformed liturgy.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Few Thoughts on Prayer

My JustFaith experience ended about a month ago, but our group decided to continue to meet on an ongoing basis to discuss a pre-determined topic.

Last night's topic was prayer. A book was picked to read ahead of time, and one of our members attended a week long work-shop two hours per night on prayer.

The member who attended the workshop did a presentation on what she heard.

She emphasized that the Sister of Notre Dame facilitating the workshop defined prayer as a relationship, and that God initiates the relationship - not us.

I could not agree more.

She went on to discuss some types of prayer explored in the workshop such as lectio devina, centering prayer, body prayer, and ignatian discernment.

For non-Catholics or novices, lectio devina is simply a method of prayerfully reading scripture. Centering prayer is a way of resting silently in God's presence. Body prayer is somewhat charismatic. Ignatian discernment uses pre-determined imaginative "exercises" to help one discern God's will in one's life.

At some point, she took a note that the workshop facilitator had stated that nervous anxiety is the enemy of prayer. Our reading made a similar point.

I do not agree.

My feeling is that if you are feeling nervous anxiety, pray that. Don't pray to supress it. Don't pray through it. Pray that.

In other words, talk to God about your nervous anxiety. Talk to God nervously about your anxiety if that is what you feel.

The same goes for any other feeling or thought. Take it all to God.

Take even your doubts and heretical thoughts to God.

If you sit down to pray, and you feel something you did not expect, don't assume you are being "distracted" or "blocked" from "real prayer". Instead, pray what you feel.

There was a lot of discussion in our group about "techniques" for prayer, and I found this a bit of a frustrating way to talk about prayer.

Don't misunderstand me. I tend to use some very "traditional techniques" in my own prayer - such as the rosary, frequent mass, and the divine office, which is a liturgical method of praying the psalms and other scriptures.

But no technique brings one to God.

God comes to us. Prayer is response.

If prayer is relationship, "techniques" really are more like a social convention.

It's like saying "good morning" to a human person, like your spouse or co-workers.

If you don't follow these social conventions, the relationship will weaken over time.

Every morning when you see the sun rise, God is saying "good morning" to you. Not hearing or responding is like doing the same to your spouse when your spouse says "good morning".

But when you do say "good morning" faithfully, it doesn't mean it is the height of personal communication, or that you even really thought hard about the precise words you were saying.

If we do think about the meaning of wishing someone a "good morning", it is a very nice sentiment.

But we don't always consciously wish a "good morning" to the other, so much as the fact that the one to whom we say "good morning" is someone to whom we do not wish a bad morning.

Social conventions can serve especially well in introductions. I clasp someone's hand firmly, and look them in the eye, smile and say "Nice to meet you."

Having met the person doesn't mean that I am going to get to know the person well.

But if I don't go through the formality, I'm not going to get to know the person any better.

Prayer "techniques" are like this.

They introduce us to God (or allow him to introduce himself). They help us maintain the relationship.

But a formal "technique" is not always the height and depth of intimate encounter with God anymore than saying "good morning" to your spouse is the height of your marriage.

Using a "technique" is also helpful for group prayer - uniting people in a form of prayer. And even when praying the rosary alone, I feel a sort of union with others praying this common "technique".

Yet, one need not use a "technique", nor feel scrupulous in adherence to the technique - as though doing it "wrong" is not true prayer.

One member of our group said that the transcendence and incomprehensibility of God makes it difficult to understand prayer as a "personal relationship".

She could feel awe - and even a sense of gratitude or longing - but could not really think of God as "person".

She thinks of God more as a mysterious power or force present throughout the world.

She wanted "techniques" to pray that fostered this sort of awe.

Despite her protest to the words "personal relationship", I find it difficult to understand how her image is not somewhat "personal".

I do not feel grateful awe to forces and powers like electricity. I may feel grateful awe for electricity, but not to it.

Or, should I feel compelled to ask created beings to join with humanity in praise of God, I am still less grateful to the creature, and more grateful to the creater of the creature.

I asked her about that, and she said that she there is something of personal will or intention in her image of the creator manifest in a unique way in Jesus.

It is the anthropormorphic images that limit God that she really protests when she hears people emphasizing "personal relationship" with God.

She has a point, but I am uncomfortable taking it too far and reducing the mystery of God to something less than personal, even if God is more than any person I know.

Still, others in the group were concerned with "techniques" in the more traditional sense of "getting it right".

How does one pray the rosary exactly right? How does one do lectio divina exactly right? How does one do centering prayer exactly right?

I kept wanting to say "There is no wrong way. Just do it."

Sometimes I very grogily mumble "good morning" to my spouse, and sometimes I proclaim it with enthusiasm. Either way, it is better to say it than to say nothing.

Another of our members who, like me, may have been struggling a bit with the idea of strict adherence to "techniques" to pray spoke of how he thinks that the decisions he has made in day-to-day to life to be a loving person to others are a form of prayer.

For this man, reflecting on social justice is also a form of prayer.

I think this man is right, or on to something. Often, we are praying by just going about our lives trying to do the right thing.

Yet, I felt a little nervous with the idea of creating a sort of false dichotomy between this sort of preconscious unthematic prayer, and the more commonly known "techniques".

We do not need to form a dichotomy, or take an "either/or" approach, or try to determine which type of prayer is the "highest" form.

Prayer "techniques" are not "bad". I like them. I use them.

Less formal prayer, such as discerning the right thing to do in the immediate moment, feeling compassion for others, or just living life with gusto, or reflecting on social justice is also valid prayer.

We can pray and have a deep sense of peace. And we can pray with nervous anxiety. We can even get mad - even mad at God. At times, we may be sitting in wordless silence without conscious thought. At others, we may be engaged in an intellectual debate.

All we need to do is pray.

Pray any way that keeps the relationship in tact.

That's my thoughts.


Last Sunday's Homily

It's Thursday.

Why am I only now posting my thoughts on the homily I heard last Sunday?

The reason is that I absolutely loved the homily, and I don't want to get the homilist in trouble if someone who would not like it knows who I am and where I went to Mass.

Yet, as I have pondered on this anxiety, it occurs to me that those who know where I went to Mass last week are not likely to be the type to write the bishop or the CDF about what was said.

The link above is to the readings for last Sunday's Mass. The Gospel reading is short, so let's look at the full passage:

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me."

The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."
This is a familiar passage to many of us Catholics, and I'm willing to bet that many of us have heard one of two ways of interpreting the passage.

The "classic" interpretation is a sort of allegorical approach, where Martha represents the active life, and Mary represents the contemplative life.

With this approach, Christ would seem to be saying that a life devoted to contemplative prayer - sitting in the presence of the Lord - is preferable to being overly concerned with worldly affairs, as good as those concerns may be.

Another approach to the passage, which seems consistent with the first reading, is to see it as an example of the Biblical virtue of hospitality and the ministry of presence to one another.

I won't bog down the reader with "proof texts". Throughout the Bible, hospitality is held up as one of the greatest virtues, and inhospitality is among the worst of vices.

We see this virtue displayed in the first reading when Abraham welcomes three strangers and feeds them a choice steer with curds and milk, waiting on them while they eat in the shade.

We twenty-first century Americans hardly think about hospitality and inhospitality in the manner people did in the Biblical world.

However, many people in the Middle East or in developing nations today instinctively grasp the importance of hospitality.

When I visited Africa to meet my wife's family prior to our wedding, I was overwhelmed by the hospitality shown me.

In some instances, the ways this hospitality was displayed were uncomfortable for me.

For example, I recall being asked to sit to eat before everyone else would even sit at table at one home.

My father-in-law, who had lived in America some time ago, and recognized my discomfort and confusion, explained to me what was happening.

The idea was to make sure the guest ate the choice portions and had his fill before anyone else sat down and took any food.

Not wanting to insult anyone, I ate alone in silence, wishing that the others would understand that from my point of view, the company was preferable to the food, though the food was great.

Thus, what Jesus may be saying in a similar cultural context is that simply being with others is more important than what we do for others or give them - and I think that is abstractly true in general.

Having read the readings ahead of Mass, I was expecting the homily to cover one of these two approaches in some manner.

I was intrigued as the married permanent deacon began his homily by stating that today's readings are about the role of women in the Christian community.

"How's he going to make that point?" I thought to myself.

I want to note that this deacon tends to write out his homilies, and read the homily with little emotional expression.

His homilies tend to be well thought out, but he is not going to win any prizes for delivery as a motivational speaker.

It did not take him long at all to make the point.

He did not waste any time addressing the interpretations I just went through above.

Yet, I'm going to relay some more of my own personal experience among Africans as background for the point the deacon did decide to make.

Another thing I have noticed over the years being married to an East African woman is that in the African culture, men and women are more segregated in social settings than we Westerners.

It is not uncommon at all to be at a party of Africans, even here in America, and see the men congregate in the living room, and the women in the kitchen.

Well. Our deacon made exactly this point about first century Jewish culture.

I don't remember exactly what he said, though I do recall how much I could relate to it as possible through my experience with African culture.

The radical message in the Gospel has nothing to do with contemplative prayer over action, or one form of hospitality over another.

The shocking portion of this story is right in the second line: "She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak."

What the heck was Mary doing in the living room acting like a disciple?

Why was she at Jesus' feet while the women were supposed to be out in the kitchen doing whatever women do at social gatherings (like cooking for the men)?

This was not just shocking to the men who benefited from a patriarchal culture. It was shocking to the women who remained in the kitchen. It shocked everyone.

Tying it back to the first reading, the deacon pointed out how Abraham hosted his guests:
Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah,
"Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls."
Even when I read this passage before Mass, I was thinking to myself "Boy. If I barked out orders to my wife like that, I'd probably be headed for divorce court."

My wife has become too Americanized for me to treat her the way an African would have back in the village.

The deacon highlighted that the first reading shows that the cultural milieu of Jesus' time was that a woman's place was in the kitchen - as it had been for centuries - going back to father Abraham.

My wife and I looked at each other, and simultaneously whispered, "Of course."

It was just one of those "aha moments" when a Biblical passage you've heard or read maybe a hundred times seems to leap to life with a whole new meaning.

The deacon went on....

In the Gospel, Jesus is doing what he does throughout his ministry.

By word and deed, Jesus is always breaking down social barriers - reaching out to the poor and underclass, those publicly branded as sinners, the sick and unclean, the marginalized, oppressed, and outcasts.

In the Gospel, Jesus was acknowledging that a woman can be a full disciple, just like a man.

The deacon tied this theme back to the second reading, saying "it is Christ in you". We are to "fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ".

We are called to continue to do what he did - breaking down the barriers that separate people and lock us into roles that don't fit our personality and do not recognize our common human dignity.

And the deacon went even further....

He stated that Holy Spirit was guiding the post resurrection church to see that in Christ, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28).

He stated that in the New Testament, women were the first to bear witness to the resurrection, and they were the heads of the household churches, and even deacons.

(I would add that may have been "apostles" ).

Then the deacon said that something happened as the apostolic age was coming to a close. Women were being forced back into the kitchen and into a second class sort of discipleship.

"But", the deacon said, "The Holy Spirit hasn't forgotten how we started. She has been agitating ever since."

(The emphasis mine - but the words in bold were his).

The deacon then spoke of "signs of the times" where social barriers are being broken down, such as the civil rights movement in North America and liberation movements in Latin America.

Then he stated it was time to admit the "glaring inequity" that continues in the Church, itself, today. It was time retrieve the notion that women are full disciples, and that women can "preside at our masses."

As he closed his homily, I was so excited that I shouted "Amen" and the entire congregation broke into a long sustained and very loud applause - which was remarkable given that this man's delivery is somewhat dry.

As he sat down next to the presider, he was blushing a bit over the continuing applause. As the applause died down, the presider smiled and said "You seem to have struck a resonate chord."

Amen to that!


Pope Calls Conflict Between Evolution and Creation Absurd

LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy - Pope Benedict XVI said the debate raging in some countries — particularly the United States and his native Germany — between creationism and evolution was an “absurdity,” saying that evolution can coexist with faith....

"They are presented as alternatives that exclude each other," the pope said. "This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such."

He said evolution did not answer all the questions: "Above all it does not answer the great philosophical question, 'Where does everything come from?'"
The Holy Father went on to issue a challenge to embrace environmentalism as an urgent issue of our times - inviting us to listen to the "voice of the earth".


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Andrew Sullivan on Green Conservativism

Of course, to some extent, the environment involves a public good that only the state can regulate.... It's foolish to deny this. What traditional conservatives can uniquely bring, however, is a way of improving environmental policy to embrace more market-friendly structures, and a better appreciation of how the private sector is most likely to come up with new energy sources. There's a fruitful right-left synthesis here if we can all grow up and find it.

I also believe that conservatism's aversion to radical change, its instinctive love of country, and its appreciation of the contingency of place and time and our attachment to both has a distinctly green aspect to it....So environmentalism is strongest, it seems to me, when it works with this grain of human nature, makes us want to preserve what we have made our own, rather than an abstract notion of the "environment" as such. Harnessing our affection for home, for things as they are, for beauty as we find it: this can help bolster the arguments for conservation and global stewardship. And it is a conservative sensibility.


Are Permanent Deacons Bound to Continence?

The link above was posted by a reader in my comboxes, and raises a very interesting question. According to the article, canon 277.1 binds all clerics to "perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven". Implied in this, they "therefore are bound to celibacy".

Of course, with the restoration of the permanent diaconate after Vatican II, we have many permanent deacons that were married before their ordination. Canon 266.1 clearly states that "Through the reception of the diaconate, a person becomes a cleric...."

Thus, it would seem that even though the married permanent deacon is not technically a celibate, he is technically obligated under canon law to observe perfect continence.

The author of the article states that the counter argument tends to rely on Canon 4 of The 1983 Code of Canon Law, which states the following: "Acquired rights and privileges granted to physical or juridic persons up to this time by the Apostolic See remain intact if they are in use and have not been revoked, unless the canons of this Code expressly revoke them."

I would have to agree with the author of the article that Canon 4 does not seem to provide an "out clause" for the continece obligation. The problem is that canon 4 is explicit that it cannot be used to over-ride the laws that will follow.

While canon 4 might imply that the indissoluble bond of a valid marriage remains in force, mitigating the celibacy obligation in a technical sense, there is nothing in Canon 4 that can be implied to over-ride the explicit obligation to continence.

Just to clarify terminology, it is my understanding that celibacy is the state of being unmarried. Chastity is the virtue of using sexuality only in morally licit ways (i.e. - only within a valid sacramental marriage in accord with all canon laws). Continence is the practice of complete sexual abstinence, whether celibate or married.

Personal Note: I am not arguing what should be the case, or what I want the rule to be. Personally, I support the idea of a married priesthood, where ordained priests can have morally licit sex with their wives. I do not favor the notion of binding married permanent deacons to continence. My point is merely that the current Code of Canon Law seems to make such an obligation, whether the rule is enforced or not, and whether married permanent deacons have ever been made aware of the rule or not during their formation.

It could be argued, I suppose, that the way the current Code of Canon Law is written simply contains a mistake. Canon law is not "infallible". Perhaps the error is simply understood in the lived experience of the Church. Nevertheless, the rule, as written, implies that married permanent deacons are obligated to practice perfect continence.

If the intent is not to bind married permant deacons to continence, the rules should be clarified. The reason is that there is historical precedent for understanding the rule as a demand for continence, as many saints in the middle ages did practice continence after marriage. If the rule is not revised to clarify that a restoration of this practice is not the intent, I would not put it past the Vatican to try to enforce the rule as currently written.


Signs of the Times

This is funny.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

How Does One Discern A Celibate Calling?

I don't know the answer. That's partly why I'm posting the question.

In posting the question, I am only partially interested in the responses any celibate may offer.

My intention is more to plant the question in the mind of those who haven't really felt strongly called to celibacy.

I am prompted to plant this question in the mind of lay people with little to no inclination to celibacy partly by a conversation I am having in this thread at Mark Shea's.

But you don't need to read the thread to join me in pursuing the question of how one knows one is called to celibacy.

Using your own experience and your own knowledge and your own theological assumptions, how do you think celibates know they have a calling to celibacy?

Do you think that when your pastor was born, the doctor turned to his parents and said, "Congratulations. You have a priest."

Probably not. More likely, the mundane "Congratulations. You have a boy." was what the doctor said. You likely knew that.

Do you think Jesus appears to someone and tells them they have a calling to celibacy? Or, maybe the Blessed Mother?

Perhaps that was the case for Blessed Jacinta at Fatima, but I doubt that most of the priests or nuns you know have such stories to tell. You probably know that.

Despite my passion for gender equity, I do believe that men and women are different.

Perhaps men will understand more of my particular way of examining the question in a little more depth than some women.

Maybe celibacy is actually more attractive to women than men (nuns have long outnumbered priests and male religious).

So let's focus on male celibacy for the rest of the post to avoid complication.

When exactly would a male know that he is called to celibacy, if he is called to it?

Would it be the case that a celibate male is someone who never experiences attraction to a female?

If so, does that make him gay? Bi-sexual? Pedophile? Aesexual?

Let's ponder the aesexual option a moment.

If you are male, in your own experience, would it be possible to pass all the way through puberty and into your thirties without a sexual impulse?

Isn't it more likely, based on your own experience of being a human being and a male of the human species, that a Catholic priest has felt some sort of sexual impulse?

I mean, face it.

If you are a male over the age of 21 and reading this, I'd bet my next pay-check that during adolescence, you probably thought about sex at least once a day.

And I'd even wager that you'd likely agree that's a conservative estimate, by the way.

Even if I lose the wager with one reader, I'll make out like a bandit on the next nine before I lose again.

Most of us are familiar with the statistic that nine out of ten men masturbate at least once during life.

Is the priesthood really largely made up of the one out of ten who don't?

What sort of people are these one in ten men who have never masturbated?

Some say they are liars. I won't presume to know this.

If nine out of ten men masturbate at least once in life, how many masturbate only once?

Maybe the preisthood is comprised of the one in ten who do not masturbate, and a few who only masturbate once or twice.

But I'm going to ask my male readers to examine their own experience again.

In your own experience, is it probable to have masturbated only once or twice in life, or never at all?

If you haven't figured out by now what I am really asking, how does a "normal" male discern a calling to celibacy?

Maybe there is nothing "normal" about the man called to celibacy. The calling is extraordinary, and therefore extraordinary men must be called to it. Right?

I think that some people believe this.

I don't believe this. At least not in the sense of some sort of biological extraordinariness.

I also think that if you asked your parish priest if he thinks he is extraordinary, he probably wouldn't accept such a label.

At least not in the sense of being with an extraordinary nature.....

I suspect that he would tell you that he is an ordinary guy - a "normal" sort of guy.

Oh sure. We all know by now that some priest will admit that they are not "normal".

Some will admit they are homosexually oriented, and that makes sense of why they might chose a life-style other than heterosexual marriage.

We also know that whether admitted not, some priests have been pedophiles or ephobophiles who aren't all that interested in heterosexual marriage.

We also know that at least some priests are heterosexual, but not chaste.

In considering all of these known sub-sets of the priesthood, many Catholic laity who never felt a strong calling to celibacy tend to think, "Well. Sure. There are some gay priests, and abusers, and straight guys who aren't chaste - but none of those men really had the calling."

Ok. If that is so, who does have the calling?

If the man who really has the calling must be heterosexual, how would he know he has the calling?

What would distinguish him from any other male heterosexual reading this post?

If he never or very seldom masturbated, how would he even be sure he is heterosexual?

We might be back to the idea that he is somehow aesexual.

Are there people who are aesexual?

Is there anything "normal" about being aesexual?

What sort of person is an aesexual person?

Is there a sort of objective psychological test for aesexuality that bishops could administer so that we know "Yes. This man has the calling. That man doesn't." ?

Assuming it is beginning to dawn on you (or you already knew) that it is almost absurd to believe that the majority of priests and religious males are "aesexual", how did any of them discern the celibate calling?

Is it as simple as saying to one's self "I think I want to be a priest."

I felt that. I've felt it most of my life. I can't seem to shake the feeling, even though I am a married man with children.

I've met a good number of Catholic men who tell me that they never wanted to be a priest.

I've also met a good number who say they seriously considered at some point in life - perhaps before puberty.

And I have a circle of friends like myself - men who considered priesthood strongly enough to give seminary life a try, but who all left for one reason or another - typically to marry.

What is different between myself and this circle of friends and the heterosexual man who is really called to celibacy?

When did he know his calling?

Did he ever have "a fall" before discerning his calling to celibacy?

Did he ever have a fall after discerning his call?

Again, I ask the male reader, in particular, to consult his own lived experience regarding the probability that such a celibate may have had a fall at some point.

Let's presume that out of the approximately 445,000 priests in the world, some sub-set is "normal" and heterosexually oriented, but has either never masturbated, or rarely masturbated and never broke his vow.

Let's presume that such persons will live in perfect or near perfect chastity their entire lives.

What percentage of the 445,000 priests is this?

And what is their lived experience? How would it feel to be in their bodies when they look out at the congregation and see so many women every week?

If we can imagine their experience at all, how did they discern, despite their heterosexuality, that marriage was not their calling?

Is it simply that God gives someone a desire for priesthood, and the person given the desire happens to have the right talent for ministry, somehow is raised in perfect "orthodoxy", and along with all of that, is one of the few who never or seldom masturbate - but is also somehow not entirely aesexual?

Or, is it more likely the case that the man called to celibacy is a bit like yourself - the male reader - regardless of your own orientation or stuggles.

Is it more likely that priesthood is comprised of men who, when it comes to masturbation and lustful thoughts, run pretty much the same gammit as the general population.

If so, some of them knew some period where they may have been masturbating every day - perhaps more than once a day. Others may masturbate less frequently, but often. Others, still, may rarely or never masturbate.

In other words, maybe priests and male religious fall in the same nine out of ten as everyone else.

And if that is the case, which seems probable to me, we are still left wondering, what is special about these men that they knew they are called to celibacy?

We have already addressed that some may be gay, or pedophiles, or somehow not attracted to heterosexual marriage.

Many Catholic apologist admit this condition exists, which is hard to deny since the sex scandals erupted.

However, it seems the apologist believe that men in priesthood either would look like the general population, or look "healtheir and holier", if possible.

Well, let's take either assumption. If priests look like the general population, how are they different from YOU who did not chose priesthood?

What in their own experience of being a human being and a male enabled them to embrace celibacy and live it any better than you think you would live it?

Maybe you think you could live celibately. Maybe you even are. Then why aren't you a priest? We certainly need them.

Assuming you are not a celibate, but you think priests are made up of men just like the general population, what makes a "normal" man desirous and capable of living in chaste celibacy?

If priests are like the general population, wouldn't you expect that at least as many priests cheat on their vows as married men who commit adultery?

Maybe priests and male religious are actually healthier and holier than the rest of us. That's what makes them desirous and able to live in chaste celibacy.

So, what does that look like? What would it feel like? What would you realistically expect of them? For example, is expecting them to never masturbate realistic?

If you are willing to accept that most priests probably masturbate at least once and awhile, are we on a slippery slope to saying they might cheat on thier vows with another person once and awhile - even if less than married men?

What sustains a priest in his celibacy? Is it prayer? Perhaps.

If that's what you think, you have no excuse for any unchastity yourself, except that you must not be praying enough.

Most Catholics probably should pray more regularly and often with a goal of unceasing prayer, so I won't knock your theory.

If you're a bit like me, you probably know that intensive prayer doesn't usually work overnight to produce results in chastity or any other virtue....at least not universally.

So, prayer may very well be the cornerstone of sustaining chaste celibacy for a priest. Yet, if he is like most of us, prayer worked its effect over time.

Would it be reasonable to assume that most priests have known unchastity in life? Perhaps when they were young? Did they "grow into chastity" ?

I believe this is probable, and admit my questions are somewhat pointed with Socratic effect to lead you to perceiving that this may be possible as we explore other questions.

But what does that mean - if priests all "grew into chastity" ?

Wouldn't it mean that priests might be tolerant of one another's failures, especially as a man is younger?

I am less likely to judge a man harshly for the same sin I know I commit or committed, and perhaps needed to go through to get where I am.

Could this be part of the root cause of the tendency of "covering up" sexual abuse?

I make no secret of two beliefs I have presented often on this blog that are being challenged in the thread at Mark's.

Belief #1 is that half or more of male priests and religious in the Catholic Church are not heterosexually oriented.

Belief #2 is that enough priests have skeletons in their closets that there is a tendency to cover for one another and support a culture of secrecy and cover up.

There is a tendency among apologist for the status quo in the Church to dismiss any emperical evidence that may support my beliefs.

But there is a form of empiricism that I am inviting such apologist to explore aside from any statistical data available. Look at your own experience of being a human male.

I would argue that nine out of ten men know intuitively that my beliefs make sense of the data available.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

History Verses Theology

Jesus said, "Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human." - The Gospel of Thomas v. 7, written sometime between 50 and 140 AD.

Next, he was going through the village again and a running child bumped his shoulder. Becoming bitter, Jesus said to him, "You will not complete your journey." Immediately, he fell down and died. - The Infancy Gospel of Thomas 4:1-2, written sometime between 140 and 170 AD.
In the first century, a philosopher named Apollonius of Tyana lived in an area of what is known today as Greece.

Few historians doubt the existence of the man, though miracles were attributed to him that lead to comparisons to Jesus of Nazareth.

I haven't been saying much about the Pope's book, Jesus of Nazareth, since I completed the Chapter on the Kingdom of God. I have just accepted that the book is not really historical investigation.

However, a couple of comments in my comboxes leave me feeling a need to explain what the historical-critical method is all about.

A couple of weeks ago, I criticized the Pope for treating the Gospel narratives of Jesus' temptations while fasting as "history", and suggested that a good historical argument can be made that the Jesus of history opposed the practice of fasting.

A reader asked me if I feel fasting is ever appropriate.

What I think about fasting is entirely beside the point.

The goal of historical investigation is to determine what Jesus most likely thought about fasting, not what I think about fasting.

The Gospels can certainly serve as a primary source of historical information to answer the question. Anyone who claims Jesus opposed fasting does need to explain how the story of Jesus' fasting winds up in the texts.

But the case of Apollonius indicates that simply because a text makes a claim to miracles or other events that many people come to believe does not mean the text is is accurately reporting history as we mean history today.

As another case in point, the Gospel of Thomas and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas quoted above were written around the same time as portions of the canonical New Testament.

Yet, few Christians think Jesus said lions become human, and fewer Christians find it plausible that the boy Jesus made another boy die for bumping into him.

Not everything written is equally probable.

To simply say that because the texts of three synoptic Gospels indicate Jesus fasted does not mean he actually did fast.

I don't want to go through all the arguments of whether Jesus fasted or not, per se.

I simply want to try to explain very simply and at a very high level what people mean when they distinguish the "Jesus of history" from "the Christ of faith", and suggest that some of the Gospel stories don't convey "facts" in the manner we mean today.

I once ran into an African-American man in my undergraduate days of college who told me that Jesus was a black man with African or negroid features.

As evidence, he sited Rev 1:14-15 which describe Christ as having hair like wool and feet like bronze. He argued wooly hair is nappy hair, and bronze feet are brown feet.

To his credit, there is probably not a shred of counter-evidence, and I have no idea what skin color or racial characteristics Jesus actually had.

Theologically, and personally, I could care less what skin color Jesus was.

And this brings me as simply as I can to the point: certain questions about Jesus are simply matters of historical investigation, rather than theology. These are questions of fact.

What color was he? When, exactly, was he born? When, exactly did he die? Did he say what the Gospel of Thomas says he said? Did he say what the Gospel of Mark says he said?

Theologians cannot predetermine the answers to such questions anymore than theologians can determine that the earth is the center of the universe, is flat, and was made in six days.

Some of the Nazi's tried to form a theology that the Aryans were the true Hebrews, and twisted history to their theology - rather than letting history shape their theology.

History, as a science, is not as "certain" of its results as the natural sciences - but like natural sciences, historical investigation today employs rigorous methods to uncover the most probable sequence of events behind ancient texts that play fast and loose with the facts by our standards.

One reader commented on a critique of Pope Benedict's book I posted that stated most scholars reject the transfiguration as an historical event.

She stated that if we start with a bias against the possibility of a miracle like transfiguration, we miss the obvious meaning of the passage.

Philosophical musing about the possibility or impossibility fo a transfiguration entirely misses the point.

I might believe that genuine miracles surround Padre Pio, while thinking the healing ministry of Ernest Angley is fraudulent.

I may believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and have sincere doubts about Elvis Presley sightings.

I may believe in miracles as a general principle, but I don't believe David Coperfield is a miracle worker.

I may believe in miracles, and question the veracity of my parent's claim to me as a child that a fat elf miraculously comes down our chimney on Christmas Eve.

And while I question this particular tale my parents told me, I trust them to be conveying the truth, even when they speak of "seeing fireworks" upon their first kiss.

The question is not whether unexlainable phenomenon can happen. The question is whether such an event actually happened, or was intended to be understood in the manner we tend to take it today.

It is not what is possible or impossible that primarily guides the intepretation of history, leading many scholars to doubt the historicity of certain New Testament passages.

There are various linguistic clues for an author's intentions in telling a story.

If I begin a story with the words "Once upon a time,..." a twenty-first century American does not likely believe I'm about to relay objective historical facts.

The dating of texts is not done arbitrarily to cast doubt on historicity.

If you read the word "neocon" in a document, you have a pretty good idea that the document was not written prior to the 1990's.

I do not not have the time today, nor the inclination, to try to offer a full course in historical methodologies.

My point is that when a widesprad consensus is formed by historians - including leading Catholic scholars who served on the Pontifical Biblical Commission, like Raymond Brown - we have pretty good reason to believe that there is good argumentation behind what the scholars are saying.

The arguments need to be weighed on their own merits.

It must be presumed that when the diverse personalities that form the academic body reach a wide-spread consensus on some point, there is more to the argument than a personal bias in the crassest sense.

While all people have biases, the argument that is convincing these diverse personalities that form the academy must be logically compelling in its own right to gain a consensus.

Of course, the scholarly consensus can shift and change. Scholars can be wrong.

Newton's physics was displaced by Einstein's. That doesn't really take away from Newton's contribution to the advance of science and civilization.

I'm not claiming current scholarly consensus is infallible.

I am arguing it is not simply one person's bias against the Church that leads to a scholarly consensus or to its conclusions.

Scholars painstakenly examine details and weigh evidences and debate one another vigorously, and when a consensus emerges, it is because an argument seems to make a lot of sense of the data.

Some scholars are more painstaking than others, but by the time one is graduate school, one is learning to pay attention to detail and back up your arguments and document your sources and tie it all together logically.

Historical studies is not theology. It precedes theology.

Theology cannot predetermine the outcome of historical investigation anymore than it can predetermien the result of a scientific experiment.

Rather, theology must be informed by history.

What I personally feel about fasting or the possibility of a transfiguration or the color of Jesus' skin is entirely irrelevant to what color Jesus' skin actually was, and whether he actually was transfigured, or whether he actually practiced fasting.

On the other hand, when a scholar like John P. Meier sifts through all the evidence (including every concievable relevant text from the canonical scriptures and/or early tradition) available paying minute attention to every detail and presents step-by-step and argument that indicates that the weight of evidence is that Jesus opposed fasting, I find that intriguing.

When the Pope ignores the process of going through such detailed analysis, I am unconvinced that he has presented me a case that Jesus did, in fact, fast.

Because of the lack of certainty in historical studies compared to the natural sciences, it is true that we can choose between competing but equally well argued and equally well reasoned historical theories, and pick a theory most in line with our theology.

It is even true that because there are equally compelling and competing paradigms, we can remind the community of historical scholars from time to time that their theories are never absolutely certain. John Meier or Raymond Brown would never claim absolute certainty.

What we cannot (or should not) do is formulate a theology with no consideration of history, and then try to formulate an historical theory based on our theological presuppositions.

For example, we cannot approach the Bible for the first time saying "I've been told and taught all of my life that this is the word of God, and God would not make his word difficult for me to understand, and therefore, every word must be literally true in the manner I understand it at first glance."


Monday, July 16, 2007

Los Angeles Pays $660 M for Abuse Cases!

Cardinal Mahoney stated the following yesterday:

There really is no way to go back and give them the innocence that was taken from them ... The one thing I wish I could give the victims, I cannot -- and that is a restoration to where they were originally,... It should not have happened, and should not ever happen again,...
I am still wondering if the structures are in place and effective to prevent this from happening again, and/or deal with it responsibly if it does.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Hat Tip to "Stranger in a Strange Land"

I ran across this blog, and liked it. Here's a great quote from Thomas Merton that seems a permanent feature in the side-bar:

A theology of love cannot afford to be sentimental. It cannot afford to preach edifying generalities about charity, while identifying 'peace' with mere established power and legalized violence against the oppressed. A theology of love cannot be allowed merely to serve the interests of the rich and powerful, justifying their wars, their violence and their bombs, while exhorting the poor and underprivileged to practice patience, meekness, longsuffering and to solve their problems, if at all, non-violently. The theology of love must seek to deal realistically with the evil and injustice in the world, and not merely to compromise with them. Such a theology will have to take note of the ambiguous realities of politics, without embracing the specious myth of a "realism" that merely justifies force in the service of established power. Theology does not exist merely to appease the already too untroubled conscience of the powerful and the established. A theology of love may also conceivably turn out to be a theology of revolution. In any case it is a theology of resistance, a refusal of the evil that reduces a brother to homicidal desperation.


Love Means Being Able to Say 'I'm Sorry'

I ran across this article on cnn.com.

Picking up on the line from Love Story where Ali MacGraw tells Ryan O'Neal that "Love means never having to say you're sorry", Martha Beck suggests that if Ali's character lived longer, she'd have realized how wrong that statement is.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bush Concedes CIA Leak Likely Came From Administration

President Bush on Thursday acknowledged publicly for the first time that someone in his administration likely leaked the name of a CIA operative, although he also said he hopes the controversy over his decision to spare prison for a former White House aide has "run its course."


Our Fathers: by David France

I'm still reading the Pope's book, Jesus of Nazareth.

However, I had some public library books to return on Tuesday, and while I was there, I saw a book entitled Our Father's: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal, by David France.

I picked it up out of curiosity and sat down for a few minutes to browse the book, initially thinking I may come back later to check it out.

It was published in 2004, but for whatever reason, I hadn't read it and don't recall hearing about it - though I may have seen a review somewhere or heard some buzz some time ago.

Within 10 minutes of browsing through the book, I knew I had to check it out at the counter immediately.

Every day since, I find this book hard to put down, though I have to in order to get on with the rest of my life.

It reads like a work of fiction, though it isn't fiction.

Well,...., it's mostly not fiction.

France has a way of using the art of story telling to present his journalistic research into the explosion of the sex abuse scandals that rocked Boston a few years back.

It's a real page turner. France is a great story teller.

The book contains some difficult material, such as descriptions of abuse that will anger or sadden most of us. Even more troubling is the inaction of the diocese when abuse was reported.

I'm not finished with the book, and I am sort of going back and forth between this and Pope Benedict's book.

I do recommend that anyone who hasn't read France's book take a look.

As a totally unrelated aside about the author, his own web site quotes a blurb from NCR's review as follows:

"[France] is one of the first writers to explain the scandal from the perspective of a gay person. He describes the fear that gay priests feel as Ratzinger begins a crackdown on gay clergy, and explores their thoughts and feelings as some Catholics begin putting blame for the scandal on gay priests. 'Our Fathers' will appeal to a broad audience . . . 'Our Fathers' is a good read, well-balanced and well researched."
Why is this an unrelated aside?

I went to France's web-site largely because I wanted to know about the author of this well written book, but also because I was simply curious about something....

Was he openly gay?

Why was I asking this?

Well, in the way he is telling this page turning story so far, the relationship between homosexuality in the priesthood and the abuse scandals is being thrown in my face as a sort of sub-text.

Perhaps I should already know something about this author, but I didn't.

I was curious if the author may have a slant that will subtly lead the reader down the path of concluding that gays are more likely to be pedophiles....

Or, is he subtly raising the question in order to dismiss it later....

Or, will this subtext simply remain an open ended question....

And, as "weird" as it may seem, when I looked at his picture in the dust jacket, I thought, "I don't know why, but he looks gay to me for some reason I can't identify, even in this black and white picture. Surely, he won't be leading me to conclude gays are pedophiles."

Note that I cannot put my finger on why this man's photograph led me to think he was gay, but it did, and he is.

Interestingly, David France has written an article, linked on his web site, and entitled The Science of Gaydar.

The opening lines of the article say this:
As a presence in the world - a body hanging from a sub-way strap or pressed into an elevator, a figure crossing the street - I am neither markedly masculine nor notably effeminate. Nor am I typically perceived as androgynous, not in my uniform of Diesels and boots, not even when I was younger and favored dangled earrings and bright Jack Purcells. But most people immediately read me (correctly) as gay. It takes only a glance to make my truth obvious. I know this from strangers who find gay people offensive enough to elicit a remark - catcalls from cab windows, to use a recent example - as well as from countless casual social engagements in which people easily assume my orientation, no sensitive gaydar necessary....
The article is worth reading in its entirely.

It is a very careful and properly nuanced examination of the evidence that homosexuality may be a matter of biology.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

CDF Release on the Doctrine of the Church

This short "response to doubts" attempts to clarify what is meant by the Second Vatican Council's teaching that the one Church of Christ "subsists in" in the Roman Catholic Church.

The first question addressed is whether the Church teaching changed, and the response is that it has not changed, but been clarified.

This is my own view, though I would point out that the reality of "apparent change" is very real, and should not be glossed over.

There is no contradiction between Vatican II and prior counciliar and papal teaching when those prior councils or papal teachings are read in light of of the teaching of Vatican II.

However, it is difficult to defend the position that the Vatican II interpretation of those prior teachings was obviously implied. If anything, the opposite is true.

What was implicit lay deeply hidden and needed to be developed quite a bit through the centuries to reach the articulation of Vatican II.

The second question and response provides the more "interesting" fodder for further discussion and reflection.

The doubt is framed as follows:

What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?
You can read the full six sentence response yourself. I just want to highlight one sentence and the immediately following phrase:
It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word "subsists" can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone....
What does that mean?

I confess, I am not sure I understand what "subsist in" means if these two sentences belong together.

The one Church founded by Christ can be present and operative in churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church.

I presume - perhaps mistakenly - that the one Church founded by Christ also cannot be divided. It cannot be partially present anywhere. It is either present, or it is not.

I have no difficulty understanding the concept that the one Church founded by Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. I would not be Catholic if I did not ultimately believe that.

I even have no problem with the notion that the fullness of truth is found in the Roman Catholic Church. Again, why settle for less in a Church to which I chose to continue to belong.

I expect a Lutheran (or even a Muslim) to feel the same about his or her own choice of religious affiliation.

I also feel compelled to say as caveat that even where the Church subsists, and the fullness of truth is contained, any institution comprised of human beings will be made up entirely of ignorant people who are also, to the last one, sinners.

Therefore, defects will be present alongside of the fullness of truth and grace.

I can accept that the Church founded by Christ can subsist in another church or ecclesial community, even if that other church or ecclesial community lacked the charism of the fullness of truth - or had defects not present in the Catholic Church.

What is difficult to understand is how the Church founded by Christ can be "present and operative" anywhere without "subsisting" wherever it is "present and operative".

Again. I must not be understanding something the word "subsist in" is supposed to convey.

I had taken it to mean that the Church founded by Christ is "present and operative in" a given body.

I do understand that word has a meaning of "preserved in".

The response captures some of this in its reference to the Church founded by Christ subsisting in the Catholic Church throughout time.

Yet, how can the Church be "present and operative" where it is not preserved in some fashion?

If anyone can set me straight on this, please leave a comment.

The response to the third question really causes me no heartburn. Asked why Vatican II uses "subsist in" instead of "is", the response indicates quite clearly that the intention is to clearly convey that salvation is possible outside of the Roman Catholic Church.

The fifth and sixth question seem rather technical, and clarify the lines where Roman Catholic identity and belief differs from our separated brethren, without denying salvation is possible in other communions.

While some folks may wish to downplay these differences for the sake of pastoral sensitivity and ecumenical relations, I see no reason to ignore the fact that Roman Catholics have a different ecclesiology than, say, a Southern Baptist. To say we have different ecclesiologies is to state the obvious.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Between Theology and Exegesis: by Jack Miles

Writing for Commonweal, Jack Miles reviews the Pope's Jesus of Nazareth. He hits on something I am noticing in my own reading that I could not quite figure out to articulate:

..., it is one thing to reread the Bible in a way that makes God or God incarnate once again its central literary character and subject. It is another to claim that unless God's actions as reported in the Bible - his Incarnation, for one; the Transfiguration of his incarnate person, for another - are historical, they are theologically meaningless....

And even those who are so willing may be disappointed that in this book, Ratzinger has so little to say about God, other than that he became incarnate as Jesus. There is, in the plainest sense of the word, rather little theology here; the word God remains largely an unexamined term.


Friday, July 06, 2007

John Allen's 'All Things Catholic'

A week ago or so, Allen posted Lay Ecclesial Ministry and the Feminization of the Church to NCR.

The article highlights increased lay involvement in the Church's ministry and administration, and points out that women are finding real ecclesial power through lay ministry.

Allen also suggests that the number of men who know work for the Church in paid ministry is almost equal to the priesthood decline.

The article also suggests that the dominance of women in the field may have two negative effects.

It may have an effect on the Church's ability to attract some men to the Church, and statistics gathered by unions indicate that fields dominated by women are not paid a just and living wage.

More currently, Allen has posted The Church's Search for an Environmental Stand to NCR.

His opening line states the following:

Catholic environmentalism these days seems to be an instinct in search of a cause.
Allen then goes on to suggest that current events in the Amazon may provide a defining moment for Catholic environementalism - on par with the support for Polish Solidarity during the demise of the former soviet Union.

Yet, he highlights the thing I struggle with the most in formulating a clear position on the environment:
The struggle with the Communists had moral clarity, as well as a simple way of judging success: They had to go. Things are different in the Amazon. The cattle ranchers, loggers and sorjeiros, or soy growers, usually seem the villain of the piece, given the way they bribe, bully and bulldoze resistance. It's not as simple, however, as telling them all to take a hike. Were they to disappear, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians would be out of work, deeper in poverty and more abandoned than ever....

The complexity of the challenges in the Amazon is undeniable. The goal has to be to convert the opposition, not just to conquer it, and that's always a far trickier proposition. This very challenge, however, may actually be another enticement for the global church to get involved. It means the Amazon offers an ideal case to flesh out the oft-stated goal of official Catholic ecology, which is to balance conservation against development, to defend the environment and to defend the poor at the same time.

Other than the immorality of the war in Iraq and the immorality of abortion, few issues I really care about have the moral clarity of opposition to Communism - and sometimes, two goals seem at cross purposes.

I am deeply concerned about three billion people living on less than two dollars per day, but do not see clearly how to solve the problem without destroying cultures, or the environment, or creating poverty elsewhere, etc...

Don't get me wrong. I have faith that there is a way to put compassionate justice into loving action.

It is crystal clear to me that spending over $300 billion on international development and even domestic poverty relief would have been money far better spent to prevent terrorism or reduce abortions than spending the same amount on the war in Iraq.

Yet, if a national consensus formed around spending more on making peace than making war, we still have a debate ahead of us over how to spend the money.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Chapter 4: The Sermon on the Mount

I have completed chapter 4 of the Pope's book, The Sermon on the Mount, and begun chapter 5 on the Lord's Prayer.

I have decided that it is rather pointless to critique this book on the grounds of the historical-critical method. It seems to me that what the Holy Father written is not a contemporary scholarly treatise a la John P. Meier or Raymond Brown.

Rather, this is a classic devotional meditation on the life and teachings of Jesus that uses some insights from contemporary biblical studies.

As such, this work reveals the preacher that Pope Benedict really is.

That's right. Preacher. Not historian. Not biblical scholar. Not even the theologian, though there is some theology interwoven throughout.

This book is an extended homily, and as such, it is well written and a "good" homily. If we try to read it as anything else, it doesn't work. But if we listen to the preacher delivering his well prepared homily, it works quite well.

This is not to say that there are not some thought provoking scholarly insights tucked away in this homily. There are.

Many people have written about the Pope's apparent respect for Rabbi Neusner's dialogue with Jesus in chapter 4. That is not what struck me as the most insightful portion of the chapter.

What struck me is the Holy Father's attempt to answer a question that has been rumbling around in my own mind - the same question atheist, Sam Harris, asks of so-called moderate Christians.

How do we know which passages of the Old Testament to take more or less as God's revealed word for all time, and which passages are merely historically conditioned applications of the eternal truth that may have been imperfectly formulated?

The Holy Father suggests that there are two types of laws revealed in the Old Testament - apodictic and casuistic.

Casuistry refers to case based law, and is an application of principles to a specific situation. The Holy Father suggests that when casuistic law appears in the Ol Testament, it is not explicitly stated that it comes from God. Further, such law will have a penalty assigned for a specific action.

On the other hand, apodictic law is a more general principle. The authors of the biblical passages mark it out as coming from God, and do not assign penalties for violation of the the command.

According to Benedict, casuistic law is often critiqued, revised, and developed within the canon itself. Meanwhile, apodictic law always holds its force as eternal divine law.

In passages where Jesus seems to undermine an Old Testament law, such as the law of the talon, Jesus is pushing apodictic law to its extreme conclusions, while revising and developing casuistic law. The Holy Father seems to implicitly suggest that first century Jewish experts in the law would have understood the point.

By doing this, Jesus shows himself to be a good Jew entirely consistent with the Old Testament tradition, while also claiming an authority for himself above Moses by challenging many aspects of Mosaic law that seemed essential to good social order.

Personally, I like this hypothesis, though I will need to test it by trying to discern whether the literary clues the Holy Father suggests really hold true in discerning the disctinction between the two types of law.

Soomething else about the Holy Father's personal theology is emerging as I read this chapter and the next chapter. The Pope takes very seriously that the Bible is divine revelation - probably more seriously than most Catholics are used to seeing.

Of course, every pope, bishop, priest, deacon, male or female religious that I have ever met will say that the Bible is divinely inspired. This is the official and solemnly defined dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot think of any Catholic I have ever met who outright denies that the Bible is divinely inspired.

Nevertheless, in the days since we came to reject slavery as intrinsically evil, and fed in part by post-reformation polemics and the emergence of higher criticism, many Catholics seem to interpret divine inspiration in a weaker sense than this Pope does.

More could be said about this, but I'll hold off for now as I continue to plow through the book.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Former Jihadist Critiques Theology of Terror

I'm not sure this article will actually convince anyone involved in militant Islamic jihad to abandon terrorists tactics.

Yet, the author may persuade the vast majority of Muslims who do not embrace terror to be more vigilant in marginalizing those who do embrace terror.


Andrew Sullivan's Quote for the Day

"I don't believe my role is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own," - George W. Bush on why he signed death warrants for 152 inmates as governor of Texas.